One of the more interesting scholars on Japan, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, has posted a video blog on the people who travelled to North Korea from Japan. It’s an interesting watch and can be found here. It is only an introduction, but you can find more in her article on Japan Focus:
The Forgotten Victims of the North Korean Crisis
By Tessa Morris-Suzuki
Between 1959 and 1984, these few were among the 93,340 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea in search of a new and better life. There were several particularly ironic features of this migration. First, it took place precisely at the time of Japan’s “economic miracle”. Secondly, although it was described as a “repatriation”, almost all those who “returned” to North Korea originally came from the south of the Korean peninsula, and many had been born and lived all their lives in Japan. Third, the glowing images of life which tempted them to Kim Il Sung’s “worker’s paradise” came, not just from the North Korean propaganda machine but from the Japanese mainstream media, supported and encouraged by politicians including key members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
After decades in North Korea, around one hundred migrants have now escaped the harsh realities of life there, and made the perilous return journey back to Japan. Other survivors of the same project who managed to escape have settled in South Korea.
The story of their migration has been almost entirely unheard by the rest of the world. But it urgently needs to be heard, not least because it involves an injustice that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and is still causing the deaths and untold suffering today. The history of this migration also reveals the complexity of postwar Japan’s connections with North Korea: and without understanding this, it is impossible fully to understand the impasse which their relations have now reached.
As secret documents from the Cold War era are declassified and testimony from survivors emerges, the true story of this mass movement is now starting to emerge for the first time. We now know that it was the product of a deliberate policy, very carefully designed and implemented at the height of the Cold War by the North Korean and Japanese governments often working in concert, and supported in various ways by the Soviet Union, the United States and the International Red Cross movement. It is a history that sheds important light on the complex background to Northeast Asia’s contemporary conflicts. It also evokes chilling echoes of other coerced or manipulated migrations, including the repatriation of Eastern Europeans to the Soviet Union and other Communist countries in the immediate post-war era.