KYOTO (Kyodo) — Pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan, a target of ethnic and political prejudice in society, have been offering help to distraught Japanese victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Leading members of the minority group say they are bound by a common sense of mission to save people’s lives regardless of ethnic origin.
In Fukushima Prefecture, hit by the crisis at a crippled nuclear power plant, a pro-Pyongyang Korean primary and middle school sheltered some 30 local residents ages 6 through 84. About half of them were Japanese who fled from coastal areas hit by the devastating tsunami.
About 10 victims each were accommodated in one classroom of the school building, which was furnished with space heaters and futon. There, Japanese and Koreans talked about what to do about their bleak future and comforted each other.
Kazuhiko Hangai, a 51-year-old Japanese resident of Futaba, a town 4 kilometers (2.49 miles) away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, took refuge in the school with his father at the urging of his Korean friend.
Hangai’s 84-year-old father has diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease and needs to take 11 kinds of medicine. When Hangai talked about his father’s medical needs, an aid worker dispatched by the North Korean-affiliated General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, drove the ailing octogenarian to a hospital in Koriyama in the prefecture.
Hangai expressed gratitude, saying, “I couldn’t have saved my father on my own.”
While there were no students or teachers at the school because they stayed home to avoid possible exposure to radiation from the nuclear plant, the association sent food and fuel there. One Korean, who owns a yakiniku barbecued beef restaurant, cooked both Japanese and Korean food for the refugees.
Korean permanent residents of Japan close to Pyongyang can face harassment because of North Korea’s abductions of many Japanese decades ago, an emotional issue in Japan, and the country’s engagement in nuclear weapon programs.
But the Japanese and Korean victims at the Fukushima school cooperated to do the dishes and shared lighthearted moments, playing baseball and soccer in the schoolyard in the wintry weather.
All the refugees had left the temporary shelter by the end of March as they moved to the homes of relatives and others.
Kim Jeong Su, 59, after seeing off the last of the refugees, sounded happy and proud of what the Koreans did for the quake victims. “We all grew up in Japan. The Koreans and Japanese helped each other as fellow citizens, oblivious to their ethnic differences.”
In Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, some elderly Japanese found their temporary home in a boarding house adjacent to a collapsed Korean primary and middle school. Its teachers also visited several shelters in Miyagi and served rice balls, pork stew and barbecued beef for several hundred local victims, using supplies sent by the Tokyo-based association and other Korean residents across Japan.
As they went about their relief work, some Koreans from the school stumbled on some 100 refugees stranded at a Shinto shrine in Kesennuma, another city in Miyagi. The refugees rejoiced at seeing the Korean visitors because nobody had come to their rescue until then.
Some of them broke into tears upon receiving a gift of rice, medicine and kerosene.
“We will continue to distribute relief goods to shelters. There are no national borders among disaster victims,” said 50-year-old school principal Yun Jong Cheol.