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Supreme Court rebuffs move to aid Korean schools

  • August 21, 2021
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



On July 27, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit to compel the government to provide Chosen schools in the city of Hiroshima with subsidies for tuition. Chosen schools offer basic education to Japan-resident ethnic Koreans.


Since 2010, all public high schools in Japan have been tuition-free and all other high schools have received subsidies from the government to facilitate tuition, except for Chosen schools. The Supreme Court said the government can refuse giving subsidies to Chosen schools, a decision that effectively covered five similar lawsuits.


Reporting of the verdict in newspapers was limited to what are commonly called “beta kiji,” brief articles used to fill out a page. There were no detailed explanations of why only Chosen schools are denied public funds or anything that might illuminate the situation. Given the Olympics and the sudden surge in COVID-19 infections at the time, it’s understandable that the media perhaps had more pressing things to cover.


However, Chosen schools have been a contentious issue since the Liberal Democratic Party regained power in 2012 and endeavored to remove them from the high school subsidy program enacted by the Democratic Party of Japan from when it was the ruling party. Because the LDP has pegged its withholding of subsidies to the schools’ perceived North Korean connection, that is what most Japanese people likely think about when they hear about them.


According to a Feb. 16 Mainichi Shimbun feature about a seminar in Kobe that explained the circumstances surrounding Chosen schools in Hyogo Prefecture, after the Japanese surrender in 1945, Koreans who had previously been brought to Japan to work started language schools to teach their children Korean, since they were prohibited from speaking their mother tongue under Japanese colonial rule. The American Occupation authority banned such schools in 1948, but they endured and eventually evolved into the current Chosen school system, which provides private kindergarten-through-university education to ethnic Koreans, not only in language learning but also Korean culture and history alongside general curricula required by Japan’s education ministry.


It is the ministry’s definition of “proper operations” that has prevented Chosen schools from qualifying for the subsidies. On Oct. 17, the Asahi Shimbun reported that the Hiroshima High Court dismissed the same lawsuit after noting that documents provided by Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency “deemed” that Chosen schools’ “personnel and finances” were under the influence of Chongryon, the organization that acts as Japan’s only conduit to North Korea. As a result, there was “reasonable suspicion” that the schools were not operating in line with education ministry rules. The court said the plaintiffs’ explanation was “insufficient” to dispel such suspicions, and so the schools’ exclusion from the tuition-free subsidy program “was not unreasonable.”


Afterward, lawyers for the plaintiffs angrily condemned the ruling, saying that the court avoided the essence of the suit, which was that the government’s withholding of funds violated the law’s guarantee of equal education for all. The court said that it didn’t need to make a judgment about “legality,” an opinion the lead attorney found particularly objectionable.


Although the Asahi Shimbun article covered the Hiroshima suit in a straightforward manner, it didn’t address the thinking behind the government’s insistence that it didn’t have to subsidize Chosen schools. But the Aug. 4 installment of the web talk show No Hate TV, which examined the Supreme Court appeal, provided a window on that thinking.


The plaintiffs’ argument before the Supreme Court was that the government couldn’t discriminate against Chosen schools under the law. The gist of the government’s defense had to do with the tuition-free subsidy law’s Article 13, which says that schools must “operate properly” in order to receive the subsidy. The government’s case again relied on reports from the Public Security Intelligence Agency, as well as from the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, suggesting the “possibility” that subsidies given to the school might end up going to Chongryon and, in turn, North Korea, and that such “suspicions” couldn’t be eliminated.


No Hate TV’s host, Yasumichi Noma, pointed out that the part of the law that defines which schools are eligible for the subsidy includes vocational and international schools, and in the original DPJ bill a sub-paragraph designated Chosen schools as also being qualified. However, upon regaining power in 2012, the LDP and its new education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, removed the sub-paragraph and added Article 13 in order to disqualify Chosen schools for subsidies.


Noma says the main reason for this change was that the LDP had made securing the return of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the past a central pillar of its election campaign, and since there was little chance that the matter would see any progress, demonizing schools associated with North Korea would at least make it look as if the LDP were doing something. Article 13 was inserted in the law by the education ministry after the LDP regained power, so its legality is open to challenge, which is what the respective plaintiffs were trying to do in both the Hiroshima High Court and Supreme Court appeals.


There are international schools in Japan aligned with South Korea that receive the subsidy, but they are much less widespread than the Chosen schools. Although Chosen schools were originally supported by Chongryon, the connection has weakened over time.


According to an interview in the Mainichi article with a representative of the Hyogo Korean School Educational corporation, which operates Chosen schools in Hyogo Prefecture, 70.9% of their students have South Korean nationality and 6.3% are Japanese. Only 22.7% identify as Chosen, which is not, strictly speaking, North Korean. It’s not even a nationality but rather an idea of a Korean nation that no longer exists, if in fact it ever did exist. As such it’s a convenient scapegoat for anyone who needs one, since people who identify as Chosen are powerless by definition.

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