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Reviewed by:
  • Hidden Treasures: Lives of First-Generation Korean Women in Japan
  • Barbara Mori (bio)
Hidden Treasures: Lives of First-Generation Korean Women in Japan, by Jackie J. Kim. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. 197 pp. Bibliography, index. $65.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.

Koseang koseang koseang (suffering, suffering, suffering; Korean) Gaman, gaman (endure, endure; Japanese)

In the interviews of ten women presented in Hidden Treasurers, all the women use the Korean word kosaeng (suffering) to talk about the trials and difficulties they met, but the Japanese word gaman (endurance) to refer to their ability to survive them. The purpose of the book, according to Jackie J. Kim in her preface, is to provide an opportunity to hear about the lives of these women [End Page 114] in their own words because: "Each woman's narrative . . . offers insight into the experiences and outcome of a colonial era" (p. ix). Her goal is to provide an "understanding of the roots of Japan's largest minority population" (p. ix).

Sonia Ryang, in the introduction, values the text because it enables the reader to understand that: "What is unique to these women is their participation in tumultuous times in the modern history of Korea and Japan, involving multiple displacements physically and psychologically, geographically and culturally" (p. xiii). She wonders how she will convey this uniqueness to Western readers. But are they actually unique? Weren't all Koreans and Japanese, men and women, affected by the political and economic upheavals in Korea and Japan in the first half of the twentieth century? Neither Kim nor Ryang identifies the nature of this uniqueness. If Kim could find ten women in Korea or Japan who did not suffer or will admit to not suffering any hardships during this period and interview them to learn how they managed it, their life stories would make a unique contribution to the understanding of this period.

In referring to the interviews, Kim notes "[T]he past that they reconstructed was not about lives merely lived but lives suffered and survived by women whose very strength stemmed from a belief that hardships were meant to be overcome. The ability to endure them to experience a sense of power as survivors who in the name of sacrifice could overcome all obstacles, imbuing their lives with meaning and validating their existence" (p. xxxiii). I don't think this is true only of the ten women interviewed in this book. It is also true of the men in their lives and the Japanese among whom they lived. "Women as heroic victims" seems to be a common approach to this period of Korean history. The reader can celebrate the survival of these women, but there is no mention of those who did not endure and survive except for the men. Only two of the women show understanding of the difficulties faced by the men in these same circumstances (Koda Sumi, pp. 28–29; Pak Sun Hui, p. 164). Were they any better prepared to deal with their world falling apart than the other women were?

What is important and differentiates the lives of men from those of women, however, is the role the men played in the lives of the women. The women also faced some of the difficulties faced by the men, but for all of the women interviewed, the men were a part of the problem and added to the hardships they faced. They "suffered at the hands of their own fathers, husbands and sons" (p. xxiv). "Under both the male-dominant kinship system of Korea and the sexist structure of Japanese society, these women had no entitlement to the resources of the family and lineage" (p. xxiv).

These problems included: economic insufficiency, debts, gambling, drinking, jealousy, drug addiction, beatings, unreliability of income, and an overall male lack of interest in the lives of women (Pak Sam-Yang, p. 32; Tanaka Kimiko, p. 56; Kang Yang-Ok, p. 79; Koda Sumi, p. 26; Pak Sam-Yang, pp. 43, 46). Fathers and sons as well as husbands were sources of burdens rather than [End Page 115] support in the lives of these women. The women tried to create a home for their husbands...


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