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Zainichi student fights 11 months for Japanese univ. to recognize his Korean name

Jaeho Yoo was finally able to have the name on his student ID changed from his Japanese alias to his legal Korean name after negotiations with the university over a long period of time. He is seen here in a photo taken on March 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)
Komazawa University, where Jaeho Yoo was a student, is seen here in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward on March 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

TOKYO -- Jaeho Yoo, a 23-year-old Zainichi Korean man, never imagined it would take nearly a year for the Japanese college he just graduated from in late March to allow him to change his name on his school ID and all official paperwork from his Japanese alias to his legal Korean name.

    Initially he was denied the opportunity because he apparently signed a document stating that the school "will not approve a change from the use of an alias to a legal name in the middle of enrollment" at the college.

    Nearly a year later, following negotiations with the school, Yoo was finally able to have his name on all university records switched to his Korean name. "The fact it took this much time and energy makes me feel my dignity as a Zainichi Korean national is being trampled upon," he told the Mainichi Shimbun.

    Yoo entered Komazawa University in April 2016. After submitting all his enrollment-related paperwork in his Japanese alias, the registrar's office noticed the name was different to his legal one, and urged Yoo to apply for permission to use his Japanese alias; he signed the document and stamped his seal on it. A provision in a pamphlet for incoming 2021 academic year freshmen states, "Those with foreign citizenship who wish to use aliases recorded in resident registers must submit a notice indicating that to the school after enrollment." The "application" that Yoo submitted included the following two lines:

    "The student will use their alias consistently throughout their time in school, and the school will not approve a change from the use of an alias to a legal name in the middle of one's enrollment."

    "Even if the use of an alias works to the detriment of the students, the college will not take any responsibility."

    Yoo had attended Japanese schools all the way through high school, and had used his Japanese alias in everyday life. He felt hesitant to reveal his legal name to his friends, and sometimes felt frustrated about it, so he had been planning to start living under his legal name in college. But it wasn't that he felt any resistance toward his Japanese name either, so he figured it didn't matter much if he used it on official documents.

    But as Yoo introduced himself by his real name in seminars and became accustomed to friends calling him by his real name, he came to feel it truly represented who he was. He joined a Zainichi Korean group on campus and learned the history of the Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula and Zainichi Korean nationals in Japan. He developed a desire to live proudly as a Korean man, which made it painful for him to carry around a student ID with a Japanese name on it.

    In May 2017, Yoo told the school registrar's office he wanted to change the name on his student ID to his legal name, but was told the change was not possible, citing the "application" he submitted to use his Japanese name. He also consulted with a student counseling office at the university, but was told they could not respond to ethnic issues.

    Unwilling to give up, in July of that year, Yoo sought advice from the professor in charge of his seminar class and a Zainichi Korean professor teaching Korean. With the professors serving as a go-between, Yoo had a meeting with the vice president of the school in October. As a result, the school requested Yoo apply to use his real name. At the end of the form was the following line:

    "I am deeply sorry for making this request two years later, even though I had consented to the provision that the school 'will not approve a change from the use of an alias to a legal name in the middle of one's enrollment' when submitting my application for the use of my Japanese name.'"

    In March 2018, Yoo submitted the form after he and his father signed it and stamped their seals on it. The following month, the university allowed for the change of name from his Japanese alias to his Korean legal name on his school ID and all other documents. By then, 11 months had passed since Yoo notified the school that he wanted this change.

    "The fact that I had to go this far over a name choice feels like my dignity as a Zainichi Korean was being trampled on," Yoo said. As for the "apology" on his application to use his real Korean name, he said, "I signed it because I just wanted to have my name changed as soon as possible, but I now find it very degrading."

    There are other universities in Japan requiring students to submit paperwork to use aliases. Some require them not only from those of non-Japanese nationality, but also those uncomfortable with their assigned gender, or whose surnames have changed in marriage during their time in college.

    An official at Kyushu University's student assistance division told the Mainichi, "Because aliases are used in multiple documents that the university creates, we ask that students submit paperwork concerning the use of their aliases to prevent confusion." The difference between Kyushu University and Komazawa University, however, is that at the former, students can submit a discontinuance notice to stop the use of their alias. The university official said, "The system is set up so that when a student decides they want to stop using their alias, they can do so via a smooth process." Tokyo Metropolitan University and other schools have similar arrangements.

    According to Komazawa University, it does not have a discontinuance notice system, and students who have submitted applications to use their aliases "are not permitted, as a general rule, to make any changes while enrolled."

    "Deciding on one's name, which dictates one's identity, is guaranteed by the Constitution of Japan as the right to self-determination," commented Shiro Terakawa, a professor of constitutional law at Ryukoku University. He went on to criticize Komazawa University's handling of Yoo's case, saying, "I won't criticize the establishment of rules to a certain extent to prevent confusion in clerical procedures, but the rule to 'not permit changes during enrollment' could possibly limit a student's right to self-determination, and should be reassessed."

    Noriko Ijichi, a sociology professor at Osaka City University who is well versed in the use of Japanese aliases by Zainichi Koreans, said, "Even after the end of World War II, discrimination in Japanese society has not been fundamentally remedied, and there continues to be a situation in which Zainichi Koreans are forced to use their Japanese aliases as if the soshi-kaimei policy is still ongoing."

    Soshi-kaimei, which required Koreans to adopt Japanese-like names, went into force on the Korean Peninsula under Japanese rule in 1940. Ijichi is highly critical of Komazawa University's proposal to incorporate an apology into the document that Yoo had to submit to have the school recognize him by his legal Korean name. "It's the same as the party at fault, the colonizer, forcing the victim to say, 'I was wrong.' It's a human rights violation, and is outrageous."

    Regarding the use of legal Korean names by Zainichi Koreans, the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education recognizes that "it is a factor in the establishment of students' identities," and urges instructors "to make efforts to raise students' pride and self-awareness, and guide them so that they can use their real names." Ijichi explained, "When Zainichi Korean students make the choice to live in a way in which they can be proud of their roots, it is the mission of educational institutions to respect that choice."

    The Mainichi asked the public relations department at Komazawa University for an interview to clarify what those in charge think about the constitutional and human rights ramifications of aliases and legal names pointed out by professors Terakawa and Ijichi. However, the only response that came was an email stating, "Komazawa University responds appropriately to situations by taking relevant circumstances into consideration."

    Initially, Yoo had agreed to speak anonymously with the Mainichi to protect himself from online slander and attacks. But during the course of interviews, he decided he wanted to put out into the world the name he fought hard to take back. Yoo graduated from Komazawa University on March 23, receiving his diploma in his legal Korean name. He said that going forward, he will engage in work to support Zainichi Korean students.

    "I think there are a lot of compatriot students who want to understand who they are. I want to learn about our roots together, and support them so that they can go on to live confidently as Koreans," he said.

    (Japanese original by Yoshiya Goto, Photo and Video Center; and Aya Shiota, Integrated Digital News Center)

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