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TOKYO

New play tackles the touchy issue of nationalism

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Juvenile delinquency. Intersexuality. Terminal-illness treatment. These are the kinds of social issues theater troupe Fukinkobo has fearlessly tackled over the years, giving it a reputation for having the courage of its convictions to spotlight the predicament of people with marginalized social status.

This time around, Fukinkobo will address one of the touchiest political topics of late: nationalism. It comes at a time when Japan has seen a groundswell of nationalism following its territorial spats with neighboring countries and the re-election of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Set in South Korea in 1940, Fukinkobo’s newest play, “Kokugo no Jikan” (“Time of National Language”) depicts the suffering of Korean teachers brutally subjugated to relentless empire-building by an expansionist Japan. Working at an elementary school in the city of Gyeongseong (today’s Seoul) were a group of native Korean teachers who were forced to repress their true nationality and only allowed to speak Japanese. Their depression grows even stronger whenever they have to pay a visit to the homes of their students and encourage their compatriotic parents, however begrudgingly, to comply with a notorious policy called soshi-kaimei — an ordinance issued by the Empire of Japan to alter the names of Korean natives to sound more Japanese.

The story takes a drastic turn upon the scandalous discovery of graffiti scrawled across school walls, with their intended message being to overthrow Japan’s colonial rule and demand independence for Koreans. The incident drives Japanese government officials into a frenzy, and puts Korean teachers in an awkward position.

Cast members include Toranosuke Kato, Yuri Nakamura and Youji Matsuda.

“Kokugo no Jikan” will be staged from Feb. 22 to 28 at Za-Koenji Public Theater in Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Tickets cost ¥ 3,500. For more information, call: (080) 5446-5870, or visit windyharp.org/kokugo/