Sandy Lee: Zainichi Korean Study Group

The Zainichi Korean Study Group has been working towards showcasing exhibitions regarding Korean Schools in Japan at three different major school festivals in Kyoto.  Students met outside of club time to prepare for the actual exhibitions. Work was separated between students. Some made the handouts, some made the posters, etc. I helped out near the end of the preparation by coloring some of the posters and tracing.

The first exhibition was held at Ritsumeikan University.  I helped set up the room and the exhibition by hanging up posters and arranging the photos exhibition. Afterwards, I was made to wear the traditional hanbok/chagoli dress and stand on the street to pass out flyers to festival attending students. However, I was able to bond with some of the members there who were passing flyers along with me. The next exhibition is at Kyodai and Doshisha afterwards. Similar to Ritsumeikan, I also dressed up in the traditional Korean dress and passed out flyers to passerbyers. The people I bonded the most with are those who were with me passing out flyers. Because I showed up on the last day, I also helped clean up the exhibition. After the cleanup on the last day at Kyodai, we had nabe party. I think it is really important to be able to attend all of the food functions because that is where you can talk with members. At the Doshisha exhibition, I was more able to talk with the staffers because I was able to stay inside the exhibition room more of the time than standing outside passing flyers.

The school festivals have definitely helped me bond with my group much more than attending the bi weekly meetings could have. At the meetings, I did not really recognize anybody and there was little opportunity to talk. Through the festivals  I was able recognize more faces and am surprised that people actually know my name. Hence, showing up at all of the meetings do help you become recognized by the community. Although I did not show up to help out at all of the festival days, I showed up at least once at every location: once at Ritsumeikan, twice at Kyodai, and twice at Doshisha. The more I showed up, the less awkward it had been when I tried to start conversations with people, whether it was commenting or offering food. Spending a lot of time together with the same people helped people become more easy around me. Also, because the festivals are multiple days in a row, being able to see someone in a consecutive amount of time really helped people recognize me. A lot of photos were taken of us during the events and in the preparation. Being able to be in the Facebook albums online I think is a success. Communication wise, the head of the group has really taken a great care of me because she kept sending me updates, called me to invite me to a field trip, and I have also responded to all of them. Sometimes I email her questions and received responses. I think this however depends on how big the club is and how interested they are in opening their group to foreigners. Exchanging contact information with the regular members was also a great step forward for me. One of them even gave me his business card because we talked for a couple of days.

My failure so far is not being able to remember people’s names. I always ask people’s names during the introduction but I can never remember them. Having Facebook helped a little bit, but it is still quite difficult. Most of the time I do not refer to people by their names and it has worked well, except in the cases in which I need to use the “you” pronoun. Everyone knows my name and I feel bad that it turned out this way. But, because I am staying here for a year, I think I will come to know everyone’s names. I definitely look forward to the next gathering or function. Participating in the festivals helped me break the ice, but I think it is your own will to show up, participate, and to reach out that makes the differences.

4 thoughts on “Sandy Lee: Zainichi Korean Study Group

  1. Seems like you’re getting along with with your group. By Korean schools in Japan, do you mean schools that teach Korean or schools specifically for Korean/Korean-Japanese people? Also, are people in this group mostly Japanese with an interest in Korean culture, or are there some Koreans in it as well?

    • By Korean schools I mean, schools in Japan which do not follow the public Japanese school system. It is kind of like a private school in which all courses are taught in Korean. Math, science, literature, music, etc. I am not sure if they have Japanese class, but when I visited the school, when the teacher wasn’t paying attention some kids started speaking in Japanese, so I guess they would have Japanese class also. There is also English class I believe. So it is a cultural school, except the problem is that the government isn’t accepting them as a formal educational institution and hence the students do not qualify to attend public colleges. Some private schools like Doushisha however, recognize Korean schools and hence accept graduates from Korean schools. Another problem is that apparently the government has begun to give free tuition to Chinese schools? and not to Korean schools, so the Koreans are taking that as a form of discrimination.

  2. I totally agree with you, names are a big problem for me, especially when my sports circles all have like 40 people coming to practice… I found one thing that helped was to exchange address book info on my cellphone, so I had something to look at to memorize some people’s names. I’m glad you were able to go out to eat with your group (I think nabe and okonomiyaki are great bonding foods 😀 ). What do you think your group members think about their identities as Korean-Japanese?

    • Many of the students in the group have either 1) been enrolled in the Korean schools, 2) are of Korean descent, and 3) Japanese + others(me) who have interest in Korean culture. I think outside of the Korea study group, they are also part of a Korean student network community. They know about Korean cultural events and they spread that news to each other through cell phone texting I believe. I sometimes see them at events that are not advertised on the email listerv, so I guess thats how they communicate. Because the Korean community is pretty small, these Korean students probably know almost everyone of “them” even though they attend different universities. It is a good thing I think. Although they really dont advertise such things on the listserv, which I guess is more pertained to the study group as a “study” group itself.