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  • The Politics of Passing in Zainichi Cultural Production
  • Christina Yi (bio) and Jonathan Glade (bio)

Though the literal translation of Zainichi would be something along the lines of "residing in Japan," the term, as most commonly used today, designates something much more specific: ethnic Koreans who can trace their roots in Japan back to the colonial period (1910–1945). Zainichi, therefore, denotes not only a particular group of people residing in Japan but also certain historical and social conditions that have shaped their experiences in Japan. This special issue aims to deepen our understanding of those conditions and the ways in which Zainichi experiences have been represented in literature and film.

In order to accomplish this task, we have relied upon the lens of passing. Zainichi Koreans are the largest diasporic community in Japan, and their writings comprise a diverse literary corpus.1 [End Page 235] It can be argued, however, that passing—i.e., the social and legal processes through which ethnic Korean minorities pass for Japanese—constitutes a central problematic in Zainichi literature and film, whether it is explicitly articulated as such or not. That is, because passing is not necessarily a transgression but the "default condition" imposed upon ethnic minorities by Japanese society, literary and filmic representations of that passing can be both ubiquitous and invisible.2

Zainichi cultural production should be viewed as a node of interconnection, linking various discourses and bodies of literature, rather than occupying a space at the margins of a "national" Japanese or Korean culture. The lens of passing allows us to emphasize these intersections while also addressing and contributing to broader understandings of the construction of difference. Scholarship on passing has tended to focus on problematic racial relations historically entrenched in North American contexts, resulting in the theorization of passing as racialized performativity. Since Zainichi Koreans represent a case where ethnic difference does not necessarily coincide with racialized difference, rethinking passing through a study of Zainichi cultural production allows us to consider different forms of (linguistic, ethnic, textual) politics and theorize the complex relations of race, ethnicity, and gender from a global perspective. [End Page 236]

With that said, the studies grouped together here do not represent a comprehensive examination of passing in Zainichi literature and film; indeed, they only scratch the surface of this ubiquitous theme. Our aim, then, is to simultaneously center Zainichi cultural production in the intersections of the fields of Japanese and Korean studies and within theories of passing. Addressing the fraught problem of passing in Zainichi cultural production requires, at times, unconventional approaches that move beyond established chronological, geographical, and ethnic boundaries. For, as the contributions to this issue illustrate, representations of passing in Zainichi literature and film subvert and deny the conventional understandings of ethnicity, agency, and authenticity that have dominated popular discourse in Japan. The articles in this issue expand the scope of Zainichi studies in three key ways: they bridge the "August 1945 divide" by connecting postwar cultural production to earlier historical events and representations of passing; they venture outside the geopolitical space of Japan to incorporate another location of Zainichi invisibility: South Korea; and they address the broader social context by looking at connections with the theme of passing in the work of other ethnic minorities in Japan.

In Japan, passing cannot be understood apart from the workings of the koseki (household registry) and tsūmei (passing name). We therefore begin the next section by sketching out some of the intersections of the koseki and tsūmei. We then examine the varied manifestations of passing in Zainichi literature and film, focusing in particular on the Japanese-language essay "I Am a Korean" (Watashi wa Chōsenjin, 1977).3 Lastly, we situate the articles in this special issue within the overall theme of passing and highlight the innovative approaches they employ to further our understanding of Zainichi cultural production. [End Page 237]

Understanding the Practice of Passing in Japan

In her introduction to the influential essay collection Passing and the Fictions of Identity, Elaine K. Ginsberg conceptualizes passing as follows:

[Passing] is about identities: their creation or imposition, their adoption or rejection, their accompanying rewards or penalties. Passing is also about the boundaries...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6500
Print ISSN
1939-6120
Pages
pp. 235-256
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-22
Open Access
No
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