Useful Notes / Koreans In Japan
aka: No Koreans In Japan

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 almost never see them in Japanese media, though.

Japan has about 900,000 people of Korean descent. Some have chosen to become naturalized Japanese citizens; they have effectively completely assimilated into Japanese society, and their children are Japanese citizens by birth. Others choose to forgo Japanese citizenship and maintain their Korean identity; these are known as Zainichi Koreans. The stereotypical Zainichi is a singer or entertainer (like many of the most famous individuals). Many are descendants of those who came from Korea before World War II and are loyal to North Korea, the regime that more strongly promotes a unified Korean identity. The group Chongryon represents their interests and is a controversial topic in Japanese politics.

Japan has had a long and tense relationship with Korea. It invaded Korea in the late 16th century, then conquered Korea in the early 20th century and ruled it with an iron fist for more than thirty years. During that period, Japan actively tried to destroy Korean culture and language and assimilate it into the Japanese empire. Both Koreas remember this and despise Japan for it; Japan also has an unfortunate tendency to deny its past atrocities, and right-wing Japanese groups don't appreciate being accused of committing them.

This leads to why you almost never see Koreans in Japanese media. The Japanese public might not respond well to seeing a Korean in a positive light, whereas the Koreans definitely don't appreciate being portrayed in a negative light; protests are quite common against such portrayals, and they can be pretty scary sometimes. Japanese writers may be hesitant to include Korean characters for fear of this sort of backlash.

The situation may be improving, though, if only because modern Zainichi Koreans are almost all born in Japan, and many are assimilated into Japanese culture as much as naturalized citizens of Korean descent; they speak Japanese as their first language and may even have a Japanese first name. Additionally, it's easier for them to blend in, because Koreans are not a "visible minority" in Japannote . The only problem is that Zainichi are still considered "Special Permanent Residents" and not citizens; they still face several restrictions (such as the inability to vote or hold management positions in the public sector).

The stereotypical manga-Korean is uncouth, aggressive, eats weird food (including dog meat), and insists that everything cool about Japan was really invented in Korea first. They're also often drawn differently; Japanese are drawn in typical Mukokuseki style, but Koreans will be drawn with more obvious and stereotypical Asian features.

Compare Stereotypes of Chinese People — how the Japanese think of the Chinese.

Examples of Koreans in Japan:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Manga Kenkanryu is 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 Mukokuseki, but the South Koreans look very "Asian" and ugly. They're also aggressive, hateful toward Japan, and pretend that most Japanese cultural landmarks originate from Korea (which is partly true, but the Japanese don't appreciate being told that).
  • In Osamu Tezuka's manga series:
    • Ayako has a minor character, 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 Mukokuseki 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 Mukokuseki-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 the first chapter, Blackjack gets interested in the works of a female J-pop singer, who turns out to be a North Korean refugee who underwent a sex change and plastic surgery — performed by Blackjack himself — and assumes the identity of a Japanese girl who had died in a disaster.
  • Barefoot Gen openly depicted the abuse and persecution Koreans suffered at the hands of the Japanese people and government. Early on, Gen and his brother sing a racist song about Koreans before their father gives them a tongue-lashing about how hurtful and ignorant it is. Later, Gen befriends a Korean, Mr. Pak, and remains one of his few friends.
  • In Kiichi!!, Chan-Su and his mother are both Korean.
  • Kamichama Karin: Mi Yeong Yi, or Miyon, of is one of Himeka and Karin's friends. Though she's drawn with slightly different eyes, she's still has a Mukokuseki appearance, unusual for depictions of Koreans in manga.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia caused a ton of controversy with its depiction of Im Yonsoo, representing the Republic of Korea. He appeared in the manga as a childish, naïve Know-Nothing Know-It-All and Annoying Younger Sibling. He acts like a stereotypical manga-Korean; he crushes on both China and Japan and insists that all Japanese cultural icons were really invented in Korea. Actual Koreans were incensed (particularly at a scene where Korea gropes Japan, which Koreans saw as an allegory of the Liancourt Rocks dispute). The protests led to Korea not appearing in the anime version, despite having already been designed and storyboarded; this led to incredible ire and some very racist insults from Japanese fans (and American fans, oddly enough). Korea has basically been relegated to the webcomic (where the author can do what he likes without worrying about merchandising backlash).
  • Korean Go players feature prominently in Hikaru no Go. Touya Akira's school Go club teacher is Zainichi. Hikaru occasionally plays Korean opposition; he stumbles into a Korean-run Go shop and irritates everyone there by showing his complete ignorance of anything Go-related (but he does befriend the owner's grandson Hong Su-yeong by beating him in Go), and he loses the Hokuto Cup to a Korean team led by Ko Yeong-ha.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-: The Koryo arc takes place in an Alternate History Korea based on another manga, The Legend of Chung Hyang, about a legendary Korean heroine.
  • K-drama series Winter Sonata has a Japanese-produced anime adaptation. That said, all the dialogue is in Korean (voiced by the original K-drama's actors) and subtitled in Japanese. It's odd because in a field so reluctant to show Koreans, here's a popular Korean series being adapted into anime wholesale.
  • Kinnikuman has Chojin princess Bibinba (the Japanese spelling of bibimbap, a famous Korean dish). She was technically an alien, though; she started as an enemy and fell in love with Suguru. Ultimate Muscle (a.k.a Kinnikuman Nisei) has several explicitly Korean Chokin, including Namul, Jijimiman, Bossam, and Tteok.
  • Nerima Daikon Brothers has an episode involving a Korean-owned pachinko parlor. This being an over-the-top parody series, the employees have all had plastic surgery to make them look like Korean pop idols.
  • 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 (in spite of the fact that "Myung Fan Lone" is more Korean-sounding gibberish than an actual Korean name).
  • 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 Bae Yong-joon, a Korean actor most famous for his role in the popular K-drama Winter Sonata. Rika Minami snipes him in the head; this combined with the creator's right-wing tendencies and the positive portrayal of one of character's ultra-nationalist parents led to protests in Korea.
  • Presumably martial arts expert 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 and an ex-North Korean spy named Wraith.
  • Captain Tsubasa World Youth Cup features the South Korean team in its early stages. Its two top players, Cha Inchon and Lee Young-woo, are portrayed quite sympathetically. The manga focuses a lot on sportsmanship, though, so it won't go the full Opposing Sports Team route, tempting though it may be.
  • The third season of Inazuma Eleven features the South Korean team Fire Dragon as Inazuma Japan's final opponent in the Asian League. Although Inazuma wins, Fire Dragon is depicted as a formidable Worthy Opponent; its captain Choi Chan-soo is based on Real Life soccer player Park Ji-sung, who then played for big English club Manchester United. Fire Dragon also surprisingly featured recurring character Aphrodi, who was revealed through Word of God to be first-generation Korean rather than 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 the signs have Chinese characters. 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 (which quietly ignores his Korean origins), and Kintarō Ōki is plainly described South Korean in the Pan-Asian Tournament (in which he takes part as the South Korean wrestler and uses his real name Kim Il). Both were depicted as the capable fighters they actually were.
  • 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 Tae-sung, 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 Kim Yong-bi (Kin Ryuhi). He turns out to have a massively Dark and Troubled Past; shortly after The Korean War, he beat to death a man who turned out to be his long-lost father. This gave Ryuhi his massive phobia of blood. The character is voiced by none other than Norio Wakamoto.
  • Bakuman。 has Weekly Shonen Jump editor Kim Seong.
  • D.Gray-Man has Shifu, a member of the Black Order's Science Division.
  • Akatsuki no Yona takes place in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Korea, though there are still some Japanese elements.
  • Sword Art Online has a character going by the handle of "Siune" in Alfheim Online during the Mother's Rosario arc. It is revealed at the end of the story that her real name is the quite Korean Si-Eun Ahn.
  • Yuri!!! on Ice has Seung-Gil Lee, a stoic South Korean ice skater who is one of the finalists of the Rostelecom Cup but didn't make it for the Grand Prix Final.
  • Moon of Pokémon Adventures got a Race Lift during her transition from the games. In Pokémon Sun and Moon the protagonist is from Kanto, a Japanese region, and moves to Alola (which is based on Hawaii). While she still has her game counterpart's default hair, skin, and eye colors, Moon in Adventures is stated to be further modeled after a Korean actress, and her Weapon of Choice appears to be a Korean bow, so the logical implication is that she is of Korean descent.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • 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 1968 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.
  • In Yakuza Graveyard, Iwata and Keiko are both Korean, and Japanese xenophobia is a recurring theme in the movie.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and its sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation seem to portray Storm Shadow (a former member of a Japanese ninja clan, the Arashikage) as an adopted Korean. He speaks Korean in flashbacks to his childhood and he's played by a Korean actor.

    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.
  • Korean Drama series and movies are becoming increasingly popular in Japan (as in the rest of Asia), and as such Japanese shows are starting to throw Shout Outs to them. For instance, in Kamen Rider Den-O, one movie opens with Urataros dressed as Bae Yong-jun, and Engine Sentai Go-onger has a high school drama club that also sends up Bae Yong-jun.
  • Iron Chef had one Korean challenger, Lee Myong-suk, who challenged Chen Kenichi in Battle Liver.
  • Train Man has a subplot where a Hanshin Tigers fan has a relationship with a Korean waitress.

    Music 
  • Korean music, particularly K Pop, has been making inroads in Japan (along with the rest of Asia). Korean singer BoA is the only Asian artist who isn't Japanese to sell over 2 million records in Japan. KARA and Girls' Generation have both had singles that have reached number one on the Oricon charts. Girls' Generation also broke BoA's first week album sales record in Japan. And KARA's members jointly star in their own TV drama in Japan, Urakara.

    Video Games 
  • International soccer is a tricky animal; South Korea is Japan's biggest rival and has been the better of the two teams for much of that rivalry. Japan is quite reluctant to admit this, so soccer video games tend to feature implausibly underpowered Korean teams:
    • Kunio-kun no Nekketsu Soccer League, the Japan-only sequel to Nintendo World Cup, makes Korea the weakest team in the game — worse than real-life powerhouses Thailand, Mongolia, and New Guinea.
    • The also-Japan-only Super Famicom Super Formation Soccer 94 was based on the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It did not include South Korea, despite South Korea qualifying for the tournament (in fact, qualifying at Japan's expense when Japan conceded a heartbreaking late goal in "the Agony of Doha"). It's likely the programmers were just too sore over the defeat to add South Korea immediately; a later version of the game did include South Korea (and other teams who didn't actually qualify, like Wales and England).
  • Bandai Namco Entertainment sometimes includes Korean characters into their games, like Baek Doo San and Hwoarang in the Tekken series, and Seong Han-myeong, Seong Mi-na, Hwang Seong-gyeong, and Hong Yun-seong in the Soul Series. Hwang owes his existence to being a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Mitsurugi for the Korean arcade version of Soul Edge, as Korea bans the depiction of samurai in its popular culture; fans liked the character so much that Namco included him in all later versions, and Mitsurugi was replaced outright in SoulCalibur in favor of Hwang.
  • Han Daehan in Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring.
  • The Shoot 'em Up Castle of Shikigami has Kim Dae-jeong, whose name was humorously translated as "Kim De John", and his cousin Kim Mihee. 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.
  • Yakuza:
    • 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 has the Little Asia area; 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 has 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 Super Mario Bros., Bowser's original Japanese 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.
  • Yun from pop'n music is Korean. She even speaks it a little in her losing sprite ("Ahniyo…").
  • In the cancelled game Ken-Ju by Sammy, there was originally going to a Korean fighter named Lee Jongha.
  • Lee Hyun-Jung has been designing Pokémon from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and onwards and is a regular among the Trading Card Game's illustrators.
  • Hokkyoku Tsubame from Bushido Blade, despite the Japanese name, is originally from Korea.
  • Kum Haehyun from Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- is Korean. Notably, Baiken reveals in a conversation with Haehyun that the catastrophe that resulted in the Japanese nearly becoming extinct caused several casualties for the Koreans as well.
  • According to his Dengeki Nintendo profile, Teseo from Gunvolt 2 is originally from Korea.

    Visual Novels 

    Real Life 
Naturally, there are real-life Koreans who have made it big in Japan:
  • Voice actress Romi Park, best known for playing Ed Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, is ethnically Korean. She also played the protagonist of Turn A Gundam (whose creator Yoshiyuki Tomino would verbally castigate anyone who disparaged her ethnicity) and Finn in the Japanese dub of Adventure Time (which has its own Korean character, Lady Rainicorn, voiced by another Korean-Japanese voice actress, Young Bong-hi).
  • DJ Towa Tei (or Dong-Hwa Chung), famous for being a member of early-90s dance group Deee-Lite, was born in Japan, but has Korean ancestry.
  • Japanese recording artist, actress, and radio host Crystal Kay was born and raised in Japan, but her father is African-American and her mother is Korean.
  • Masayoshi Son, CEO of Japanese telecom giant SoftBank and at one time the richest man in Japan, is ethnically Korean.
  • Kiko Mizuhara (born Audrie Daniel) is half-American, half-Zainichi Korean. She's famous in Japan as a model, fashion designer, and actress (she played Mikasa Ackerman in the live-action Attack on Titan). That said, she acts a bit too Japanese for Korean netizens, so don't mention her on the Korean internet. (And she's not ethnically Japanese, so don't mention her on the Japanese internet, either.)
  • Soccer player Tadanari Lee, who plays for Southampton and is a regular on 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.
  • Mas Oyama, who founded the Kyokushinkai style of karate and was once featured on Badass of the Week, is Zainichi Korean.
  • Yoshihiro Akiyama, one of the UFC's most prominent Japanese fighters, is ethnically Korean. He was on the main card for UFC 100, the biggest event in UFC history (and he also looks like a supermodel and earned the nickname "Sexyama").
  • 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 name was disguised; he was born "Kim Sil-lak", but they called him "Mitsuhiro Momota".
  • Shin Kyuk-ho (Japanese: Takeo Shigemitsu), the founder of Lotte Group, is ethnically Korean but was born in Ulsan under Japanese rule. He made a name for himself in Japan and built Lotte up into a major retail giant in both countries. Interestingly, neither country particularly wants him; Koreans consider him Japanese, and Japanese consider him Korean.
  • Japan and Korea are linked more than they would like to admit, and many Koreans wound up in Japan at several points in history:
    • When the Silla kingdom united Korea in the 7th century, the remnants of the defeated kingdoms fled to Japan and became some of Japan's more influential aristocratic clans; some of them even married into the Japanese imperial family, and Emperor Akihito explicitly acknowledged the Korean blood in the Imperial family in 2001.
    • When Japan invaded Korea in the late 16th century and basically wrecked the place, many Korean craftsmen settled in Japan (whether by choice or by force). Until the late 19th century, they were allowed to maintain their customs as long as they produced fine ceramics for the Japanese aristocracy. Some of these Koreans' descendants rose to prominence in Japan, such as Togo Shigenori (also known by his Korean name Park Moo-duk), foreign minister of Japan in the 1930s.
    • While no Americans ever became Samurai, roughly half of the foreign-born Samurai were Korean. None of them are nearly as famous as Yasuke but they generally did see combat, unlike most European-born Samurai who were simply granted the right to carry a sword.
    • Many modern Zainichi Koreans can trace their ancestry to those who fled from or were repatriated from Korea during Japanese occupation in the early 20th century. The marginalization of Koreans in Japanese society has led them to be associated with specific fields; Koreans are overrepresented among the Yakuza, and they also run many pachinko parlors (some of which funnel the proceeds to North Korea). That said, North Korea considers many Zainichi collaborators with Imperial Japan (and thus the lowest of the low). That's why it's a state secret that their leader Kim Jong-un's mother, although ethnically Korean, was actually born in Japan and that her father worked in a sewing factor for the Imperial Japanese army.


Alternative Title(s): No Koreans In Japan, Zainichi Korean

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/KoreansInJapan?from=Main.NoKoreansInJapan