KASHIHARA, Japan — A major Korean junior high school cut off from funding by Japan’s central and local governments will effectively close in March, school officials said Thursday, a sign that the tense North Korean situation is affecting the education of Korean residents.
The Higashiosaka Chosen Chukyu Gakko is in Osaka’s Ikuno district, home to one of the largest Korean communities in Japan. It is one of the Korean schools excluded from the country’s tuition support program in 2013 due to links with the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.
“We’ve taken the measure to streamline our operations due to financial difficulties,” an official of the school said, adding that the fate of the school is unknown after it temporarily moves to another place.
The number of Korean schools in Japan, which have been established by Koreans who remained in the country after the end of World War II, has been on the decline in recent years through merger and abolishment amid a fall in the number of students.
According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the number of such schools dropped to 66 from 77 over the 10 years from 2008, while the number of students fell to about 5,800 from 8,800.
The de facto closure of the Chosen Chukyu school is a highly symbolic move, given that its scale has been one of the largest in Japan. Founded in 1956, the school saw around 10,000 students graduate so far and it currently has about 270 students.
According to the operator of the school, Chosen Chukyu school will temporarily operate in vacant classrooms at Osaka Chosen Kokyu Gakko, a senior high school also in Higashiosaka city, from next spring. The land and building of Chosen Chukyu school will be sold.
A source close to the matter said the two schools may merge in the future.
Some experts have expressed criticism that excluding Korean schools from tuition-free benefits and other subsidies is “discriminatory treatment,” arguing that parents tend to send their children to those schools for learning their mother tongue and discovering their identity rather than acquiring political ideologies.
The tuition support system for senior high schools was introduced in 2010 under the government then led by the Democratic Party of Japan. Korean schools were also eligible to the benefits once approved by the education ministry.
But after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the helm of the government in 2012, Korean schools were excluded from the benefits on the back of pending issues with North Korea, such as its past abductions of Japanese citizens.
Local governments have also reduced or abolished subsidies for Korean schools. The Osaka prefectural government completely ended its subsidy program in fiscal 2011.
Students at Korean schools have often been a target of harassment especially at times when Japan-North Korea relations further soured, such as when North Korea admitted to abducting Japanese nationals in 2002 and launched ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in 2006.
There were also cases in which female students of pro-Pyongyang schools had their traditional Korean dress, “chima chogori” which they wear as a uniform, slit by strangers on the street.