The designation and scope of the literature written by Zainichi Koreans, or ethnic Korean residents of Japan whose roots trace back to the forced occupation of Korea by Imperial Japan, defies categorization. It is sometimes referred to as “Zainichi Chōsenjin Bungaku,” “Zainichi Kankokujin Bungaku,” or “Zainichi Korean Bungaku,” but strangely the most common term in Japan is simply “Zainichi literature” (Zainichi bungaku). The title of an 18-volume collection of the literary works by Zainichi Koreans published in 2006 was An Anthology of Zainichi Literature (2006), and when Shakai bungaku (Social Literature) and Shin nihon bungaku (New Japanese Literature) published a special issue on the subject in 2007 and 2003, respectively, the term used was also “Zainichi literature.” The lack of either “Kankokujin” or “Chōsenjin” to explain their works is a result of the ideological conflict amongst Zainichi Koreans following the division of Korea into the South and the North. It is as if NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, were to air Korean language lessons under the program title “Hangeul Lessons,” which would only indicate a fraction of what was being taught.
As such, the literature of Zainichi Koreans shows the complex and various aspects of their lives by dealing with the themes of diaspora, identity, minorities, nationalism, the subaltern, racism, as well as of nationality, language, fatherland, ethnicity, ideology, and division.
The first generation of Zainichi Korean writers, including Kimu Saryan (Kim Sa-ryang), Kimu Tarusu (Kim Tal-su) and Chan Hyokuchu (Chang Hyok-chu), wrote in Korean, still their mother tongue, and were acutely aware that their motherland was Korea. The second generation, including Lee Kaisei, Kimu Hagyon (Kim Hak-yeong), and Kimu Sokubomu (Kim Seok-beom), found distance from the Korean people and language, and assimilated into Japanese society. While the first generation had to merely adapt to a new society, the second generation had been born into that society and was confused about whether they belonged to Korea or Japan, or North or South Korea.