▲ Pictures of Jaeil Jejuin imposed onto a map of Jeju Island. Photo by Darren Southcott
Ikuno-ku in southeast Osaka, Japan, is the center of the Korean-Japanese com-munity, the Jaeil Hangukin in Korean, or Zainichi in Japanese. A quarter of residents in Ikuno-ku are foreign, particularly among the tight alleys of Tsuruhashi, the heart of the Jaeil community.
Tsuruhashi is also home to a minority within a minority: Astute ears might catch the distinctive “ng” lexical ending of the regional dialect; sensitive noses might scent steaming bowls of fresh momguk; sharp eyes might even glimpse age-old shamanic rites; this is the world’s only “Little Jeju,” home of the Jaeil Jejuin.
The estimated 1 million Jaeil Hangukin - of which Jaeil Jejuin are part - mostly descend from 20th-century migrants, but this merely reflects a trend stretching backmillennia. Ever since Ice Age nomads walked the East Sea bed-to-be, mainland peoples have settled the Japanese archipelago, driven by migration, trade and unrest; Japan offered a maritime home for culture, technology and genes.
The 20th century saw movement on a scale not before seen as Japanese colonization (1910-45), civil war (1950-53) and poverty meant Koreans fled to Japan for a better life, or just for life itself.
These numbers were also swelled by refugees from the Jeju Massacre (1947-54) as up to a third of the population was killed or displaced as military forces razed mountain villages hunting “Reds” in an anti-Communist frenzy.
▲ An elderly Jaeil Jejuin shown on video at the Center for Zainichi Jeju People Photo by Darren Southcott
Destiny meant Osaka would become home for these refugees from misfortune. The industrial city, once known as the “capital of smoke,” is noted for its Korean heritage and Jeju settlers number 49,271, with descendents - or gyopo - as many as 126,511.
The story is told by Lee Chang-ik, director, and Kim Bohyang, researcher, at the Center for Zainichi Jeju People at Jeju National University, founded by Jaeil Jejuin philanthropist Kim Chang-In, who donated his fortune to build the center. Lee explains that haenyeo first made the trip for seasonal work as part of a regional, seasonal migration.
“1903 was the first time that it was recorded in official documents, so it had probably been going on for longer.” When news of the high wages to be earned reached Jeju’s poverty-stricken shores, more villagers boarded boats.
Ferries would call along the Jeju coast, taking aboard the young, the adven-turous, the needy, as per immigration the world over. The trickle became a flood after a new ferry line opened in 1923, says Lee.
“Between 1923 and 1945 the Gundae-hwan sailed three times per month stopping at each port on Jeju to collect passengers. It carried 685 people, which makes around 2,000 per month. How-ever, these weren’t all Jeju people as the boats stopped at Mokpo and also went through Busan,” says Lee.
▲ Lee Chang-ik, director of the Center for Zainichi Jeju People. Photo by Darren Southcott
1,000 Jeju people settled in Ikonoku in 1923 alone; by 1934, there were 50,000, one in four of Jeju’s population. By 1938, 241,619 Koreans had settled in Osaka, over a fifth of whom were Jeju Islanders, according to a UN White Paper by David Rand.
Tsuruhashi became known as “Jeju in Japan” and “Little Jeju,” in a rapidly industrializing city which provided an “excellent environment for the develop-ment of insular communities,” says Rand.
Of the 32 Japanese factories employing Koreans by 1938, 22 were in Osaka. The immigrants entered the lower rungs of society, enduring the work Japanese shunned: glass or metal factories, and even pig farms.
Many were conscripted under duress during World War II, as the Japanese war machine demanded labour. A lack of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan after liberation slowed the flow, but smaller illegal trips continued, with passengers hiding under deck.
The Jaeil Jejuin sought adaptation, but also fought against assimilation. Squeezed between Japanese culture and their own heritage, they famously held on to the Jeju dialect, little influenced by “pyojuneo,” or standard Korea.
“People speak their hometown dialect; in fact, if you meet people there you will see they speak the true old-style Jeju dialect,” says Lee. Researcher Kim adds: “If you listen ... you can hear the style of Jeju dialect that hasn’t been mixed with standard Korean.”
▲ Kim Chang-in, founder of Center for Zainichi Jeju People. Photo by Darren Southcott
However, as pyojuneo is a centrifugal force on the Jeju language in Korea, standard Japanese influences the language used in Tsuruhashi, as speakers infuse their speech with the national tongue.
Despite this code-switching, the dialect is marginalized, as also seen in towns across Jeju. However, it is not only the language that is fighting against hegemonic forces.
The decline of the Jeju religion is mirrored in Osaka, with the generational divide as vast as the cultural. As Christi-anity and Buddhism push traditional beliefs to the periphery on Jeju, similar changes are seen in Ikunoku.
Lee notes that the gut (shamanic rite) traditions practised by Jaeil Jejuin are now restricted to the first generation. A local shrine, Yongwanggung, was demolished in 2010, but there are other signs of continuity.
“The Jeju-style jesa [ancestral rite] is still performed, even to the third generation. Although it is slightly different, it still follows the traditional style.”
Such rites are eager consumers of traditional food and peddlers of momguk (pork and seaweed soup) and the famous heukdwaeji (black pig) abound at local markets.
Despite these vestiges of home in language, religion, and food, Jaeil Jejuin culture is marginalized by generational and cultural change, as the irresistible pull of Seoul is mirrored by that of Tokyo.
While the identity of the second gener-ation was fertilized with parents’ home-town stories, these stories are no longer passed down. Let alone the Jeju dialect, third generation Jaeil Jejuin barely speak Korean, severing the vital link of cultural reproduction.
“The link between Jeju and Osaka is definitely much weaker now, which is why we must work to keep it strong. Our work is to stop the link weakening further.”
To learn more about the Jeju community in Japan, visit the Center for Zainichi Jeju People at Jeju National University. The center is at main entrance of the university at Daehang-ro and is open Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and can be contacted at 064-754-3975/3978.
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