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Japan is an ethnically homogeneous country, with ethnic Japanese being about 99% of the population, but it still has its small ethnic minorities. Among these are the Koreans. You'll never see them though.
People of Korean descent number about 900,000 in Japan. Some choose to become naturalized Japanese citizens, thus making subsequent offspring Japanese citizens by birth. Ethnic Koreans who choose not to obtain Japanese citizenship are called Zainichi
, and the popular stereotype is that they are singers or entertainers (many of the most famous individuals are). Many of those who came from North Korea
remained loyal to its regime; the group which represents their interests, the Ch'ongryŏn, is a controversial topic in Japanese politics.
Japan and both North and South Korea have long had a tense relationship, as Japan conquered Korea in the early 20th century and ruled it with an iron fist for more than thirty years
while actively trying to destroy its culture and language
. Tensions get stirred whenever the newest nationalist right-wing group from either group says something to stir the pot, and Japanese revisionism spearheaded by ultra-right wing groups creeps in from time to time.
Note that in South Korea especially, protests are quite common
, and can occasionally be pretty freaking scary. Therefore, it may be that some Japanese writers are hesitant to include Korean characters for fear of backlash.
Today, just as with naturalized citizens of Korean descent, most Zainichi
Koreans in Japan were born in Japan and fully assimilated into Japanese domestic culture, maintaining a largely informed Korean ethnic identity. They usually speak only Japanese (perhaps studying Korean as a second language), and often have Japanese names. Additionally, Koreans in Japan are not a "visible minority"—an average Korean has few or no obvious superficial "racial" differences from an average Japanese.note
All these things make Zainichi
casually indistinguishable from other Japanese people, including to their friends and neighbors in Japan.
However, Japanese of Korean ancestry
are still one of the biggest hot button issues in the country. They are still legally considered foreigners and as such face several restrictions (such as the inability to vote or hold management positions in the public sector, a law that the Supreme Court actually upheld in 2005
). They are de jure
second class citizens.
Because almost all Japanese works or works set in Japan are "Korean-free", only exceptions should be listed.
Compare Stereotypes of Chinese People
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Anime and Manga
- Manga Kenkanryu: An infamous political manga about the relations between Japan and South Korea and a response to the rising popularity of Korean entertainment in Japan. The Japanese are depicted as standard Mukoku Seki while the South Koreans look very "Asian" and ugly. Not only that, they are aggressive, are hateful towards Japan and pretend that most Japanese cultural landmarks originate from Korea. The truth is that many "Japanese cultural landmarks" do originate in other countries, including Korea.
- Blake and Mortimer: Professor Sato has a Korean assistant called Kim, who undergoes a Face-Heel Turn.
- In Osamu Tezuka's manga series:
- In Ayako a minor character is a fat Korean-Japanese called Gosei Kinjo who is revealed to be The Mole in a subplot involving a CIA agent, and is killed in the end. He looks very "Asian" compared to the other Mukoku Seki Japanese, including his manner of speaking.
- Phoenix: in the last two volumes, the main character is Nerima, a prince who escaped from the then-just-conquered Korean kingdom of Baekje. He is as Mukoku Seki-looking as the others. The fact that he becomes accepted as a Japanese citizen and gets reincarnated as a fully Japanese man in the future may help.
- Black Jack Neo: in this homage/sequel of Tezuka's manga by Mazayuki Taguchi, the first chapter is about Blackjack who gets interested in the works of a female J-pop singer. She is revealed to actually be a North Korean man who has undergone a sex-change and plastic surgery by Blackjack himself.
- Barefoot Gen has Mr. Pak, and Gen is one of his few friends.
- Early on in the manga Gen and his brother sing a racist song about Koreans (they smell bad and wear funny shoes, or something like that) and their father gives them a tongue-lashing about it, telling them that the song is ignorant and hurtful.
- The abuse and persecution that Mr. Pak and other Koreans receive at the hand of Japanese citizens and government is an ongoing subplot in the manga.
- In Kiichi!!, Chan-Su and his mother are both Korean.
- Mi Yeong Yi, or Miyon, of Kamichama Karin is one of Himeka and Karin's friends, and is drawn with slightly different eyes, but still as Mukoku Seki.
- Axis Powers Hetalia: Im Yonsoo representing the Republic of Korea. His depiction in the manga (as a child-like, naďve Know-Nothing Know-It-All and Annoying Younger Sibling who has incestuous crushes on both China and Japan) has drawn the ire of some Koreans circles. Ire that had the anime pulled from TV before its first episode aired (thank God for the webcast).
- Yonsoo also says everything was created by him, much like the first example.
- The main ire was a strip where Korea groped Japan, and Korean protesters took this as an allegory to Liancourt island controversy.
- South Korea was due to be made canon in the anime, he even had a design and personality, but has yet to be drawn and probably won't be due to the controversy surrounding Korea. Sadly, this also brought huge racism from the Japanese and American Fandom, which at some point were seen sprouting extremely ugly racist insults against South Korea as a whole. Although some people were just upset that Executive Meddling had forced a character they had thought funny and cute to be cut out of an anime they liked.
- As of December 2011, Himaruya has taken a third option. Korea is out of the merchandising and the anime, but he keeps drawing him in the webcoming strips as well as on his blog since he can do whatever he wants there. As proof, Korea has quite a colorful part in the Hetaween 2011 event.
- Touya Akira's school Go club teacher from Hikaru no Go is a Korean resident in Japan.
- Hikaru also stumbles into a Korean-run Go shop and irritates everyone there when he shows his complete ignorance of anything Go-related, especially when it comes to Korea. He does, however manage to befriend the shop owner's grandson Hong Su-Yeong after beating him in Go.
- There is also the Korean team in the Hokuto Cup, whose leader Ko Yeong-ha surprisingly defeats Hikaru to win the cup.
- Koryo Arc from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle takes place in an alternate historic Korea. The manga CLAMP based this alternate universe around, The Legend of Chung Hyang, is also about a legendary Korean heroine.
- The anime version of Winter Sonata averts the lack of Koreans in anime, as not only is the entire cast Korean, they also speak fluent Korean (expected since they're voiced by the actors from the original K-drama series) with Japanese subtitles and the story predominantly takes place in Korea.
- Kinnikuman Nisei Unlike the original Kinnikuman, there are several Korean Chojin including Namul, Jijimiman, Bossam, and Tteok.
- Though an alien as opposed to a Korean, the original series did have the Chojin princess Bibinba, the Japanese spelling of bibimbap. Starting as an enemy, she fell for Suguru and became his Love Interest and eventual mother of Nisei's protagonist.
- Nerima Daikon Brothers has one episode involving a Korean-owned pachinko parlor— and this being an over-the-top parody series, the employees have all had plastic surgery to make them look like Korean pop idols. The Hell.
- Science fiction anime with ethnically diverse casts can include Korean characters, such as Kim Kyung Hwa from Irresponsible Captain Tylor and Myung Fan Lone from Macross Plus.
- Of note is that "Myung Fan Lone" is not a Korean name at all; while "Fan" is probably meant to be a Korean "Hwan" or "Hwang" ("f" does not exist in Korean nor does "hw" in Japanese), no combination of that and "ron" or "rong" (l exists in neither) makes a name common in Korean, and while "Myun" is a Korean surname, it's pronounced "myuh-ng" and not "myoong" as it is in-series.
- Kim in Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs is a Korean studying in Japan, and while he's drawn a little different (more obviously Asian), he's depicted in the same positive fashion as everyone else. The series even mentions the Korean custom of eating dog meat without a value judgment.
- In High School of the Dead, there is a zombie that resembles to Bae Yong-Joon (a Korean actor who is well known for his live-action role of Kang Joon Sang from the drama Winter Sonata as mentioned above) that got sniped in the head by Rika Minami. Needless to say, due to Unfortunate Implications, not to mention the very positive portrayal of one character's ultra-nationalist parents and a number of uncomfortably right-wing works in the creator's past, many Koreans were NOT amused.
- Presumably Yu Park in Daphne in the Brilliant Blue.
- There is a Korean team in Whistle!, which is the final opponent in the anime.
- In Full Metal Panic!, there is a minor Mithril member named Yang Jun-kyu. Also in the series, we are introduced to an ex-North Korean spy named Wraith.
- In Captain Tsubasa World Youth Cup, the South Korean team is featured in the early stages. Its two major stars are Cha Inchon and Lee Young-Woo, who are portrayed quite sympathetically. Then again, this is a sports manga, so there are no real rivals — as much there are jerks, but no one is beyond redemption.
- Averted in the third season of Inazuma Eleven, where the South Korean team plays against Inazuma Japan in the final match of the Asian League. The Korean team, named Fire Dragon, has the reputation of the strongest team in Asia, and although eventually Inazuma Japan beats them, the team is shown to be quite formidable. Choi Chan-soo, the captain of the Korean team, is based on the real-life soccer player Park Ji-Sung, who plays with Manchester United. Also, Aphrodi, who had made impressive appearances in previous seasons as both an enemy and an ally, is in that team, greatly shocking the audiences of both countries. Word of God says that he is actually a first-generation Korean, rather than a Zainichi.
- The Samurai Champloo manga features an oddly young and womanizing magistrate who is implied to be Korean, as his real name is Kim.
- Both Mamoru Oshii Ghost in the Shell movies take place in an ambiguous location with a seemingly pan-Asian society - the main characters have Japanese names, but the city they're in is modeled after Hong Kong and has signs containing Chinese kanji. Innocence takes this a step further by having a Cantonese-speaking faction and characters with non-Japanese names, including a hacker named Kim.
- Tiger Mask has two Real Life wrestlers from Korea: Kim Sin-rak, better known as Rikidozan, appears in various flashbacks in his real-life roles as founder of pro-wrestling in Japan and trainer of Giant Baba (his Korean origins are quietly ignored), while Kintarō Ōki is plainly declared as being South Korean in the Pan-Asian Tournament (in which he takes part as the South Korean wrestler and using his real name Kim Il). Bonus point to the authors for showing both them as the capable fighters they actually were, with Ōki dropping the average Tiger's Cave wrestler with a single headbutt and, in his Crowning Moment Of Awesome even outsmarting the in-universe strongest wrestler in history (he knew he couldn't defeat him, so he used a small chance occasion to give Tiger Mask a shot at defeating him. And succeeded).
- Ri Akitoshi, the senior goalkeeper for Enoshima High School in Area no Kishi, is ethnically Korean, as revealed in the manga such as v.18 c.149 and v.23 c.188. Kim Daesun, a midfielder for Tsujido Academy, is also Korean.
- Choe Gu-Sung in Psycho-Pass is a genius hacker and cyber-criminal, in addition to being the series' Big Bad right hand and childhood friend, making him a rare villainous example.
- In Ashita no Joe, the Asian-Pacific boxing champion is a South Korean man named Ryuuhi Kin with a massively Dark and Troubled Past in which he beat a man to death few after the Korean War... and said man turned out to be his long-lost father. Due to this, Ryuhi has a massive phobia of blood.
- There's also Kim Yongpi, a military boxer from the second TV series. Voiced by none other than Norio Wakamoto!
- For the record, this becomes a Casting Gag, as Wakamoto later voiced Ivan Drago, another military boxer, except he's Russian than Korean.
- Linda Linda Linda: In this movie about four schoolgirls who form a band, the lead singer, Son, is an exchange student from Korea. Although she has difficulty communicating with the other girls in Japanese, she's portrayed in a very positive light.
- The Bizarre Existentialist film Death By Hanging/Kōshikē features an ethnic Korean, R, sentenced to death. After he mysteriously revives, the Japanese men in charge of the execution debate on what to do with him. The racism that some of the officers hold towards the teenaged R is highlighted, deeply discussed and eventually lamented as a hurdle that cannot yet be overcome. This film is from 1968.
- Very much Averted in Yakuza Graveyard. Iwata and Keiko are both Korean, and Japanese xenophobia is a recurring theme in the movie.
Live Action TV
- The four-episode romantic comedy Friends (no connection to the American sitcom) is actually a very progressive Japanese/Korean collaboration. A woman from Japan and a man from South Korea meet in Hong Kong, fall in love, and start a long-distance relationship; she goes to a class to learn Korean and befriends a Zainichi girl who's there to get in touch with her heritage.
- There's been a trend of Korean Drama series and movies gaining much regional popularity, even in Japan. Shout Outs can be seen in shows like Kamen Rider Den-O (one movie opens with Urataros dressed as Bae Yong Jun) and Engine Sentai Go-onger (Saki states that she follows Korean drama, and one episode features a high school wih a drama club that's also sending up Bae Yong Jun). Korean dramas in Japan are the equivalent to the Mexican telenovela fanbase in America, as these dramas tend to fall into what the West calls "Soap Opera".
- Iron Chef had one Korean challenger, Lee Myong Suk, who challenged Chen Kenichi in Battle Liver.
- Train Man had a subplot where a Hanshin Tigers fan had a relationship with a Korean waitress.
- King of Fighters: Kim, Chang and Choi are three Korean playable characters. They are not rendered in a stereotypical way, though the latter two may have been joke characters in the beginning, and Kim himself has faced a lot of Flanderization over the years. However, Choi became very popular with Korean players.
- It's eventually lampshaded in KOF XIII, in Kim's pre-fight chat with Goro Daimon. Kim alludes to the rivalry between Korea and Japan since Daimon is a famous Judoka who won gold in the Olympics and Kim himself is the former TKD world champion, but Daimon politely disagrees as he feels Kim's words are too pretentious for his personal taste. They reach a healthy medium via agreeing on how they want to set good examples for their kids anyway.
- Let's not forget Kim's sons Jae Hoon and Dong Hwan (featured in Garou: Mark Of The Wolves, from the Fatal Fury saga), his old friend Jhun Hoon, and his pupil May Lee.
- Kim's other pupils Chae Lim from KOF Maximum Impact and Seo Yeong-Song from Buriki One, his possible ancestor Kim Hye-Ryeong from Samurai Shodown, and Kim Sue-Il from Kizuna Encounter who looks and fights exactly like him with a staff... but was revealed to, unlike what the fandom believed, NOT be blood-related to Kim.
- Kang Jae-Mo from Rage of Dragons, Kim Dragon (certain versions claim he is Chinese) from World Heroes, and Lee Hae Gwon from Aggressors of Dark Kombat seem to be the only SNK Koreans to not use Taekwondo.
- Kim Dragon was Chinese... but only in the first game. From the second one on, his nationality was ret conned to South Korean. Most likely because latter World Heroes games would include other Chinese or Chinese-inspired characters, like Ryoufu and Son Gokuu.
- Trevor Spacey is an albino Korean in Metal Slug 4. Other than Eri, the Asians in Metal Slug seem to always have Western names.
- Han Juri in Super Street Fighter IV. Who is, of course, quite evil. But she also has Psychic Powers... The weirdest part about all this is that she was put in there because Korean fans had been asking Capcom to put in a Korean character for some time. Gone Horribly Right or Gone Horribly Wrong?
- In the obscure Street Fighter Online Mouse Generation, there is a Zainichi fighter named Shin who uses Taekwondo.
- The Shoot 'em Up-slash-Fighting Game Senko no Ronde has a Korean character, named Baek Changpo. Saying that she is a Genki Girl is an understatement.
- The video game series Suikoden happily averts, with two of the major characters in the first two games (Tai Ho and Yam Koo) being not only very Korean, but heroic.
- Tai Ho and Yam Koo are both very plausible Chinese names, especially if you consider the variety of Chinese dialects out there that permit huge permutations in pronunciation; this seems a bit more plausible considering how Suikoden is essentially the Heroes of the Marsh story set in Fantasy China.
- Tai Ho is also not a viable name in Korean, either.
- Kunio-Kun no Nekketsu Soccer League, the Japan-only sequel to Nintendo World Cup, features the Korean soccer team. They are the weakest team in the game, being even worse than such real-life soccer powerhouses like Thailand, Mongolia, and New Guinea. Considering that in real life, the Korean soccer team is one of the strongest in Asia, and that it has a winning record against the Japanese team (especially back when the game was released, before the Japanese team greatly improved)... meeep.
- Namco Bandai sometimes includes Korean characters into their games, like Baek Doo San and Hwoarang in the Tekken Series or Seong Han-myeong, Seong Mi-na, Hwang Seong-gyeong and Hong Yun-seong in the Soul Series, Han Daehan in Ergheiz: God Bless the Ring.
- Incidentally, Hwang Seong-gyeong was originally made as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Mitsurugi for the Korean arcade version of Soul Edge (due to the fact that Korean laws banned the depictions of samurais in their pop-culture), but Namco liked the character so much (and Hwang actually became quite beloved by gamers of all places) that they included him in later versions. In Soul Calibur, which had both, Hwang and Mitsurugi, Mitsurugi ended up being replaced by another character named Arthur, supposed to be a foreigner raised in Japan.
- Kim Dae-Jeong, which was humorously translated as Kim De John, and his cousin Kim Mihee in the Shoot 'Em Up, Castle of Shikigami. Though Dae-Jeong is said to be a "Taekwondo Master", this is an Informed Ability, as he throws swords in the game.
- Park Dae Suk in Urban Reign is a goth Korean Taekwondo master who looks like a cross between Kadaj from Final Fantasy and Hwoarang from Tekken.
- A large part of the plot of Yakuza 2 involves a Korean mafia group hell-bent on revenge for the deaths of most of its members. In fact, several major plot twists in the game are along the lines of "(Character X) is actually Korean!" There's also a side mission that consists of escorting a Korean pop star named Il Yu-Jin around the city while avoiding his rabid fans.
- Yakuza 4 averts it even more, with the area of Little Asia. It's mostly Chinese and Thai, but Tanimura (who speaks fluent Korean) is often an interpreter for the police department when dealing with Korean immigrants. They're often mentioned in sideplots, especially as laborers that Tanimura wants to protect from being exploited.
- The film version of the first game averts it as well, with a Korean barber who helps both the police, as well as a Korean hitman who is in the city.
- Jonathan, the giant with the mohawk, from Metal Gear Solid 4, is a Korean-American.
- In Japan, Bowser's name is Kuppa (which was anglicized as Koopa and referring instead to the Koopa race). Kuppa is Japanese for gukbap, a Korean soup with rice. Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to name the character after a Korean cuisine dish, and considered naming him after bibimbap (Bibinba) or yukhoe (Yukke) before settling on gukbap and thus Kuppa. When the Mario series were translated to Korean, a phonetic round-trip translation was used for Kuppa, making Bowser's Korean name Kupa rather than the original Gukbap.
- The Japan-only soccer game for the Super Famicom/Super NES Super Formation Soccer 94, has one of the most unfortunate cases of this trope: The game was based in the USA World Cup in 1994, but the South Korean team was NOT included in that game, despise in the Real Life, that country qualified over Japan due of the infamous Tragedy/Agony of Doha incident, so the whole exclusion of the South Korean team was considered as a tear-jerker reaction and a Take That from the programmers. This was subverted later, since Human released another version of this game, not only with the South Korean team included, but also with other European teams that didn't even qualify for the World Cup in that time (like Wales and England).
- Yun from Pop'n Music. In her "losing" sprite, she sighs while saying "Ahniyo..." which means "No...."
- In the cancelled game Ken-Ju by Sammy, there was originally going to a Korean fighter named Lee Jongha
- Lee Hyun-Jung designs Pokémon from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and onwards and is a regular among the Trading Card Game's illustrators.
- Voice actress Romi Park, best known for playing Ed Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, is ethnically Korean.
- Reportedly, Yoshiyuki Tomino ripped someone a new asshole (verbally) after that someone disparaged Park because of her ethnicity. (She played the main character of Tomino's series Turn A Gundam.)
- The Japanese dub of Adventure Time is an aversion. Romi Park is Finn, and Lady Rainicorn is voiced by another Korean-Japanese voice actress (Young Bong-hi) who speaks Korean.
- Another Real Life example: DJ Towa Tei (or Dong-Hwa Chung), famous for being a member of early-90s dance group Deee-Lite. He was born in Japan, but has Korean ancestry.
- A real-life aversion is Korean singer BoA who is the only Asian artist who isn't Japanese to sell over 2 million records in Japan.
- More records have been set by Korean groups DBSK, KARA, and Girls' Generation, the latter two both reaching number one on the Oricon charts with their singles. The most recent Girls' Generation album (release June 1) has just broken BoA's first week album sales record in Japan. KARA's members jointly star in their own TV drama in Japan, as well: Urakara.
- Yet another Real Life example - Masayoshi Son, formerly the richest man in Japan (second richest currently).
- Soccer player Tadanari Lee, who plays for Southampton and is a regular in the Japanese national team, is a son of third-generation Zainichi Koreans. In fact, he had trained with the U-20 Korean team, but racism from his teammates for being Zainichi led him to opt for Japan instead.
- And another Real Life example would be Mas Oyama, the Zainichi Korean who founded the Kyokushinkai style of karate; was also featured on Badass of the Week.
- In real life, one of the most prominent Japanese fighters in the UFC was Yoshihiro Akiyama, an ethnic Korean. Known for his supermodel good looks, he was nicknamed "Sexyama" by fans and was on the main card of the biggest event in UFC history, UFC 100.
- Professional Wrestler Rikidozan, the man who essentially introduced pro wrestling in Japan, was presented as Japanese even though he was actually born in South Hamgyong in what is now North Korea. Even his real name was represented as "Mitsuhiro Momota," even though he was actually born "Kim Sil-lak."
- The trope applies mainly to the Koreans who migrated to Japan during the Japanese rule of Korea between 1910 and 1945 or the period immediately following this. Historically, the linkages between Korea and Japan run even deeper, as numerous peoples from Korean peninsula have settled in Japan for various reasons. One big wave came after the unification of the Korean peninsula in 7th century by the kingdom of Shilla, when remnants of the defeated kingdoms fled to Japan. Numerous Japanese aristocratic clans originating from this period, including Ouchi, Soga, Kudara no Konikishi (which literally means King of Baekje, as this clan was the former royal family of that Korean kingdom), and Toyota have been variously claimed to have Korean origins. Through these clans, which wielded a great deal of influence in early Japanese history and married into the imperial family, the Japanese imperial family is also partly Korean, as was explicitly noted by Emperor Akihito in 2001. Later, during and after the destructive invasion of Korea by Japan in late 16th century, many Korean craftsmen, especially makers of highly valued ceramicware, settled in Japan, by force, inducement, or both, especially in Kyushu. Until late 19th century, they were allowed to maintain their customs as long as they produced fine wares for use by the Japanese aristocracy. Some descendants of these people rose to prominence in Japan, such as Togo Shigenori, also known by his Korean name Park Moo Duk, who was the foreign minister of Japan in 1930s.
- Interestingly, during the era of Japanese imperialism, this trope was often inverted by Japanese government propaganda, especially by late 1930s and 1940s. Obviously, there were many Koreans in Japanese Empire, as all of Korea was under Japanese control. But invoking historical connections between Korean and Japanese people provided a justification for Japanese rule over not only Korea—where the Japanese had historical roots, or so the claim would go—but also Manchuria, which has long been claimed by irredentist Korean nationalists.