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For Koreans and Japanese, history unraveledSome of the island’s Japanese visitors and residents discuss their lives
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승인 2010.10.16  11:00:56
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▲ Left, Nagabuchi Akiko, a student at Jeju National University. Right, Moon Gong Jin shares a laugh with his students at Jungang Girl's High School. Photos by Yang Ho Geun

Nagabuchi Akiko had eagerly looked forward to her first trip to Korea in February 2000, but was concerned over lingering perceptions due to her country’s colonial occupation of Korea.

On Jeju Island during a student trip, she apologized as a Japanese citizen to some Tamna University students for the occupation’s past misdeeds. However, she said the students had grasped her hand and said, “Akiko, you don’t need to say sorry. It was not your fault. We should solve the historical problem together. We hope to reconcile our two countries.”

Akiko was so moved by their words she decided to work in Korea. Upon her return to Japan, she began studying Korean and continued to meet the students once a year on Jeju Island. Although employed in Japan, her ultimate aim was to learn Korean well enough to live in the country.

Finally her mother allowed her to go to Korea. “Akiko, go to Korea to realize your long-cherished dream. I hope your dream comes true.” She moved to Jeju in September 2009 and started Korean classes at Jeju National University.

Akiko now plays an important cross promotional role between Jeju and her home country. She endorses Jeju to Japan and vice versa on her Internet blog and on KCTV with her television segment “Konnichiwa Jeju.” In her free time she translated documents and helped publish a public relations magazine for the Jeju government.

Moon Gong Jin, a second-generation of Korean-Japanese descent, also settled down in Jeju with his son after emigrating from Japan in December 2000. He was born in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan and had lived there for 40 years. A producer for TV Asahi in Japan, Moon won several awards and earned a good salary but he felt discriminated against because of his heritage and he did not want his son to be subject to the same prejudice.

His father and mother were born on Jeju Island. His father was from Seogwipo City but passed away in Japan. Moon said his father always missed the island. His mother was from Jeju City and still lives in Japan with his siblings. He says his family is keenly aware of the pain of being neither Japanese nor Korean.

After arriving in Jeju, Moon took pictures for newly married couples before finding a job as a Japanese language teacher. He has since taught Japanese at a language institute and at Halla College.

In 2004, he applied for a teaching job as a Japanese native speaker for the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Office of Education. He was awarded the job which, not only opened a whole new chapter in his life story, but also meant Moon became the first native Japanese teacher on the island. He teaches Japanese language and culture at Jeju Jungang Girls’ High School, Namnyeong High School and Yeongju High School.

Moon’s only son is 12 and speaks Jeju dialect well. His father said, “I’m pleased that my son speaks Jeju dialect and Korean better than me.”

“Korean-Japanese [people] can play an important role between Korea and Japan,” he said. “We ... help solve the language problem and trade business with Japan because Korean-Japanese are can be either, Korean or Japanese.”

According to provincial government statistics, as of February 2010, 265 Japanese live on the island, including 64 married to Koreans, 16 workers, 11 Korean-Japanese and eight foreign students attending Jeju National University.

One of these is Nagabuchi, a foreign student from Chiba, Japan, who said she loves Jeju’s “beautiful and peaceful” nature. She learned Korean for 6 months at Jeju National University and has been a research student for the Jeju National University Foreign Language Institute since March of this year. She is the only Japanese studnet in her class.

“Korean seniors gladly help me, so I always enjoy studying in class,” she said. “I’m having fun during class translating Korean and Japanese. I’m especially interested in the difference between Korean and Japanese literature.”

In October of last year, she participated in a Korean speech contest for foreigners at Jeju National University and received First Prize. “I love Jeju dialect. It’s so cute,” she said. Nagabuchi also fell in love with Jeju’s iconic Dolhareubang (stone grandfathers), saying she now has many on display at home.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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