Boss IDs worker as South Korean


A Shizuoka resident in his 40s who goes by a Japanese name has sued his employer for invading his privacy and violating his rights by revealing to his colleagues that he is a South Korean resident and demanding that he use his Korean name.

The man, a South Korean national who was born and raised in Japan, filed the lawsuit demanding compensation of ¥3 million at the Shizuoka District Court. The defendant declined comment. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant have been identified.

The man claims he has always used his Japanese name and did not tell others he holds South Korean nationality.

But from last November to January, his boss repeatedly said in front of other colleagues that the man should use his South Korean name. In response, the man refused to do so and wished to use his Japanese name as usual practice.

Despite the man’s refusal, the company president revealed his nationality to all other employees in April.

Many South Koreans had no choice but to live in Japan for various reasons and have faced discrimination, the plaintiff and his attorneys said, stressing a decision on whether to use one’s real name should be left to the individual.

The plaintiff said he is seeking compensation for the humiliation, harassment and emotional distress caused when the president pushed him to use his real name.

  • “Many South Koreans had no choice but to live in Japan”

    Bull hockey. They are not slave laborers, they are free to live where they wish. They choose to live in Japan.

    “and have faced discrimination”

    Interesting the lawyers had to use the past tense to explain why their client should be allowed to do something now…

    “a decision on whether to use one’s real name should be left to the individual.”

    Perhaps down at the pub, yes. But not in a legal or work setting. Should I be able to insist my employer and coworkers, or all the bureaucrats at city hall, address me as Shinzo Abe at all times?

    • JTCommentor

      Wow. You obviously have no idea what its like to be disciminated against because of your race, citizenship or family lineage. Read the story – the guy was born and raised in Japan. Yet, some racist bigot is claiming he is not really Japanese, and not entitled to use his Japanese name. It is almost universal practice for people with Chinese names (this includes PRC, HK, Malaysia, Singapore etc) to use an anglo name when dealing with or living in the west – are you going to force every one of them to use their Chinese name too? It was also very common for Japanese growing up in the US after WWII and even up to the 80s and 90s to take an anglo name. I can tell you that the discimination continued, but being introduced with an anglo name instead of an obvious Japanese name reduced the incidences of this.

      The core issue is that people shouldnt be disciminated against because of where they are from or where their parents are from. But this happens extensively throughout the world still until today. In Japan, it is no secret Koreans are disciminated against. This guy was born in Japan, and raised in Japan, it is remarkable to claim that he cant use a Japanese name which is easier for Japanese people to pronounce, and doesnt open him up to the kind of institutional discrimination that exists against Korean people, that he has had to deal with since birth.

      • Did YOU read the story?

        “The man, a South Korean national…”

        There is no “claiming” that the Korean in question is “not really Japanese”, he is NOT Japanese, by choice almost certainly (unless he has a criminal record which disqualifies him from naturalizing, but that’s still not Japan’s problem). It is also hardly “racist” to point out that the Korean in question is not Japanese.

        I am well aware of the (IMHO ridiculous) habit some Chinese have of adopting a western-sounding given name. But I have yet to meet a Chinese who introduces themselves as “Bob Smith”. It is always “Lucretius Wang” or “Aristoteles Li” or something like that. And yes, in times past Japanese in the USA adopted English given names like “Bob Yamanaka”. I highly doubt doing so had a significant effect on how they were perceived by racists – it is not like a white racist is going to look at an Asian and say “Wait, your name is Bob? Oh, then you’re OK then, you’re one of us…”

        In any event, the above examples are not what Koreans in Japan do – they don’t become “Taro Kim”, they call themselves “Taro Suzuki”. It is not a “name”, it is an “alias”. It is not their legal name on their registration card, or in their family register. I completely fail to see what is so remarkable about insisting an employee, in a business setting, use his legal name instead of an self-picked (and easily changeable) alias, or insisting that in contracts etc. the person uses their legal name. Akashiya Sanma cannot sign a contract or even book a hotel room as “Akashiya Sanma”, he must, by law, use his real name of Takafumi Sugimoto. Why should Koreans be any different?

      • JTCommentor

        I have thought about your points, and you do raise some good arguments, but I cannot agree.

        In my experience, in a business setting, people with Chinese names almost always are known by their western name. Large organisations where nobody, except myabe the person who took their job application, knows their legal name. Just like the person in question in this article here, they chose their anglo name, and can change it as they wish, just like your example. I have many Chinese friends in such a situation, and neither me, nor anyone I know is aware of their “Chinese name”.Yet, I have never heard anyone express a problem with it. Their passports and official documents have their legal name, but in day to day life, including business (and their business cards) have their anglo name, and it causes no problem for anyone involved. Standing on my soap box and yelling out “this person isnt really John, his real name is Xiang and everyone must call him Xiang” would be about as immature as an elementary school student in the west making fun of the kid with glasses when they discover that his middle name is Rupert.

        As for why people adopt a local name, there are many reasons. Sometimes its pronunciation, often its to avoid discrimination, sometimes its just to fit in. And whats the problem with that? Your point on Asian having anglo first name, while wirtten in a funny manner, is not quite right. Most westerners dont know the difference between how a Japanese or Korean or Chinese looks. After the WWII and throughout the 60s and 70s, there was a strong anti-Japanese sentiment in the US. Being known with a western first name did reduce the incidence of racism – in many cases in passing social situations, people only learn your first name. If they are out to be racist, sure they will find out where you are from, but its not advertising it. If you have never had to hide something about yourself to avoid discrimination, I ask you not to judge people who do have to.

        Your point about him being a Korean national is valid. I dont know his reasons for that, but I am pretty sure that it has to do with Japan not allowing dual citizenship, as many other countries do. Nevertheless, I argue that in a modern, global society, what is on your passport shouldnt be so important. If he was born, raised in Japan and relates to Japan enough to adopt a Japanese name – who is this person to strip him of that?

        Finally, if this is OK, I ask where do you draw the line? In a world of increasing tolerance and acceptance, is it OK to find out someone is gay, but doesnt want his colleagues to know, but to announce repeatedly to people “Everyone, this is John, he is gay. From now on we call him gay John”. How about pregnancy? Everyone mary is pregnant, from now on we call her pregnant mary. How about transgender – everyone Joanne here used to be John. She has had an operation, and for all intents and purposes is a woman, but we will still call her John.

        Having grown up on the receiving side of prejudice and discimination, I passionately argue that these things are never OK.

      • The examples in your next-to-last paragraph make no sense. No-one is suggesting that a Japanese national, with a “Japanese” name on their family register, but who happens to be of Korean ethnicity be called “Korean Yamazaki”. Is your idea of how to combat discrimination and prejudice to lie about who you are to those who might, not “will”, but *might* discriminate against you? Well, that will show them! “See, as long as you believed my lie you didn’t discriminate against me!” I wouldn’t discriminate against a Korean just because s/he was Korean, but I would discriminate against a liar in a heartbeat. Also, wouldn’t presuming that others will discriminate against you before they do so be… *discrimination*?!?

      • JTCommentor

        Its an interesting topic, and you raise many interesting points. Discrimination exists in almost every place on this Earth, and of course racial and ethnic discrimination is still very common and expressed in many ways – from extreme violence and ethnic clensing in some places of the world, to more subtle yet still harmful discimination in others. This issue should be dealt with on a large, institutional level. There is discrimination against Koreans in Japan – this is not in question. Aside from the few individual activists, fighting this kind of discrimination should be done at a higher level, through government, lobby gruops and so on. Living parrallel with that is the individual within the society. He or she has to maintain a daily life to an acceptable level the best way that they know how. It is not realistic to expect everyone to stand up and combat discimination with large and effective means. While this would be great, most would just accept that it exists, and try to minimize its effect on their life. This would be done by trial and error, and perhaps in Japan not admitting your Korean heritage or nationality, and adopting a Japanese name is the easiest way to avoid day to day discimination, and the kind of expectations that go with being “not Japanese”, in this scenario. I do not suggest that this will fix the problem, in fact it will probably allow it to contuinue, but I also do not expect ordinary people to become political activists and to try to change the world.

        Also there is not a presumption that everyone you meet will discriminate against you, but I am sure there is a well found experience that enough people would (be it one per day, week, month) that using a Japanese name, if this is something the person is willing to do (in that they like and relate to Japan enough to do so), avoids those situations when they occur. We all have different tolerance levels for confrontation, and I am not about to impose my tolerance level upon others.

        Finally I dont consider the above to be lying, simply survival. I dont know the details, but as far as I can tell this person didnt say he was Japanese, he just took a Japanese name and didnt advertise he is a Korean national. I try to see it from his eyes, and imagine what he must have gone through in life to cause him to not want to admit where he is from – think about it. So many people are very proud of their country that they would never hide their nationality, or change their name. Either Korean nationality to this person is simply words on a piece of paper (in that he grew up in, and relates to Japan, not Korea) or he has suffered enough to cause him to not adverise to his nationality, where possible. Either way, I dont see a lot of difference from my, admittedly extreme, examples in my second last point above to what the “boss” did here. It is not his place to “out the Korean amongst us”. The boss was presumably born in Japan, raised in Japan. The worker too was born in Japan, raised in Japan. What difference does a piece of paper make in that sense? What difference does nationality or name make that the boss felt so strongly he had to repeatedly announce that this person is not Japanese, he is Korean?

        We are all entitled to our views. And our views will no doubt be colored by what we have experienced in our life. Having experienced discrimination, and knowing what a normal person would do to avoid it, I can relate to the person in this article, and so my views are as such. I do not mean to push mine onto you, and thank you for the thoughtful debate.

    • You have made good points. But I don’t think you’re really getting at the root of the issue, and instead are just taking issue with this article’s failure to also do so.

      He called himself (and was called by his employer), a certain name, and that was okay when he was hired, but apparently it’s not okay now.
      If he had lied, the proper course of action was to fire him for misleading everyone.
      If he was hired based on the full disclosure of information, and the business was okay with that, it’s similarly morally wrong to U-turn on this implicit agreement.

      You can’t just suddenly call a meeting to say, “Hey, this guy uses a Japanese name and we were chill with that when we hired him, but now he must have pissed someone off so we’re going to do something to him that will be perceived as a public shaming, against his will *insert justification here*.”

      That’s totally out of order, legal name or not.

      • Agreed. The article needs to be a lot clearer on the exact circumstances.

  • Kettle Roast

    Dear GMainwaring,
    Koreans born in Japan can take on a Japanese name and surname, however the government doesn’t allow them to have Japanese Citizenship because they are enthically Koreans.
    This like saying only Native American can get a US Passport since they were in America first, and all the rest have to get a Passport stating which part of Europe or South America or Africa they are from.
    Do you understand now? The man is pissed because he was born and raised in Japan and they violated his privacy because he doesn’t care about his ethnicity, he just wants to live in the country that he was born in.
    Now GMainwaring, what country were your grandparents from??

    • “Koreans born in Japan can take on a Japanese name and surname, however
      the government doesn’t allow them to have Japanese Citizenship because
      they are enthically Koreans.” FALSE. Japan, like most countries, does not grant citizenship to anyone and everyone born within their borders. In order to have Japanese citizenship from birth, at least one parent must be a Japanese citizen. Koreans are not singled out just because they are Korean. Japan does, however, allow foreigners, including Koreans, to naturalize and take Japanese citizenship – for example, Haku Shinkun, DPJ Diet member and former Cabinet Minister.