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Triumph Over Discrimination

by Makiko Fujiwara
Japan

The Fujiwara family. Makiko (front row, right) wearing a hanbok with Tetsukyu (second from right) and Hiromi (far right)
The Fujiwara family. Makiko
(front row, right) wearing a hanbok
with Tetsukyu (second from right)
and Hiromi (far right)

The Fujiwara family living in Japan's Kansai region illustrate the complexity of identity issues facing Koreans in Japan. Ms. Makiko Fujiwara's father was Korean and her mother Japanese. Makiko is officially Japanese, but her husband, Tetsukyu, a second-generation Korean resident in Japan, is Korean. Each of their five children has chosen his or her own nationality, and three are Koreans and two are Japanese.

Although there are ancient historical links between Japan and Korea which have given rise to Japanese Buddhism, writing, construction techniques, art, music and culture, Japan's attitude to its cultural benefactor has frequently been one of prejudice rather than respect and appreciation. The initial responsibility for this discrimination lies with the Japanese colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. During this time, the Japanese government invaded and desecrated Korea, and Koreans living in Japan were treated with contempt by most Japanese who blindly followed their government's lead. Koreans were made to adopt Japanese names and then forced into slave labor in Japanese mines and factories. After the war, second- and third-generation Koreans in Japan continued to struggle against xenophobic discrimination.

Tetsukyu, who now manages an organic food business, can still recall the discrimination and bullying he suffered as a child. When he was a schoolboy, discrimination against Koreans was blatant: his teacher told him it was pointless for him to attend senior high school because he wouldn't be able to get a job upon graduation. In 1953, Tetsukyu and his mother became members of the Soka Gakkai after hearing about Buddhist teachings related to equality and the meaning of life. The Buddhist teaching which clarifies that every individual, regardless of nationality, possesses the Buddha nature was something he had been seeking for many years.

Makiko joined the Soka Gakkai in 1961 and started work in a beauty salon after leaving junior high school. Her parents had divorced, and she and her brothers were living with their mother and stepfather. She started practicing Buddhism when, after the tragic death of her brothers in a fire, she was inspired by the encouragement and support of local Soka Gakkai members. Eventually, she opened her own beauty parlor.

Makiko frequently experienced discrimination and prejudice while she was bringing up her five children. However, she continued to live in accordance with her ideals, transforming every adversity into an opportunity for growth.

Makiko believes that her strength to triumph over discrimination came from her Buddhist practice. She has always brought her children up to treasure their Korean heritage. Her eldest daughter, Hiromi, once performed a Korean dance wearing a hanbok, Korea's traditional national dress, at an arts festival at Kansai Soka Kindergarten. After the performance, SGI President Ikeda, the school's founder, talked to the student body about Yu Kwan-sun (1904--1920), a patriot schoolgirl in the independence movement who is considered a Korean Joan of Arc, and who was tortured and killed by the Japanese military during the brutal colonial occupation of her country.

Listening to Mr. Ikeda's speech, Hiromi recalled the discrimination that had prevented her father from completing his education. She has subsequently campaigned for universities and colleges in Japan to open their doors to applicants from special schools for Korean children.

Makiko's greatest inspiration came in 1999 when Dr. Oh Man Wan of Korea's Cheju National University visited Japan. At that time, SGI President Ikeda reflected on the cruel devastation wrought by Japan on its cultural benefactor, calling on the Japanese people to apologize from the bottom of their hearts and deeply respect their Korean neighbors. "Before I am a Japanese," he declared, "I am a world citizen. In my heart, I believe that the same blood flows in all of our veins."

For Makiko, this was a vindication of her perseverance in educating her children to treasure their Korean inheritance. "Differences in race and color are trivial; it is the heart that is important," she declares.

[ Courtesy April 2002 SGI Quarterly ]

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