‘It was a sunny day in April 1960. I took a ship to Chōsen [Korea] from the port of Niigata, a north-western city of Japan. When I saw my mother for the last time, she was crying. She kept saying, “Please don’t go . . . Please change your mind.” Every time I remember that moment, I can’t help but cry. I was only twenty-one years old.’
In her room in the port city of Wonsan in North Korea, Mitsuko Minakawa sighs while holding a folded handkerchief. She was born in 1939 in Tokyo and was raised in Sapporo. After graduating from high school, Mitsuko enrolled at Hokkaido University – she was the only female student among the one hundred students in her class. In the second year, Mitsuko met a Korean man, Choe Hwa Jae, and fell in love.
In the 1950s, there were about 600,000 Koreans living in Japan. At that time, some of them succeeded in business and gained an education, but the majority were disadvantaged legally and socially, suffering from poverty, as well as ethnic and occupational discrimination. As of December 1954, the total unemployment rate for Koreans in Japan was about eight times the total unemployment rate for the Japanese.