Korean residents of Japan on Thursday shared in the excitement of the landmark reconciliation pact signed by North and South Korea late Wednesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung wrapped up their three-day summit in Pyongyang — the first since Korea was divided — the same day.
In Osaka’s Ikuno Ward, where roughly 25 percent of the population is Korean, many hailed the fact that the two Koreas have finally come to the table in what could be the first solid sign of easing animosities between the two states in over five decades.
Many customers at bars and restaurants in the area toasted the agreement, the details of which were reported after midnight.
Kim Hyang Chu, 48, a second-generation South Korean who runs a shop near JR Tsuruhashi Station, said: “I’m so happy, I almost can’t believe (the news). I thought that just having the two leaders meet was a 100 percent result, but seeing such progress (as the signing of the agreement), I want to give the meeting a mark of 300 percent.”
Along the Miyukinomori shopping street, which is dotted with shops selling traditional Korean clothing and kimchi, residents clutching the morning newspapers were discussing the North-South summit.
Chong Su Jong, a third-generation North Korean resident of Japan who works at a grocery shop, said the dream of Korean reunification suddenly seems a realistic goal.
“There was little way of knowing what kind of person Kim Jong Il is, but (after seeing the televised images) I now have no anxieties,” Chong said.
Joy was also in the air along a street in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward where many Korean shops are grouped together.
Paek Ok Son, 68, said tears came to her eyes as she watched the news on television.
Paek, who now runs a karaoke bar, released a record 21 years ago titled “Mother of the 38th Parallel,” in which she sang of the emotions of a mother separated from her children.
Paek said she continues to sing the song at charity functions and said she was glad to have kept singing.
“While I doubt unification will suddenly speed up (with the accord), it is significant that both sides are now at the starting line,” she said.
In Tokyo’s Kita Ward, students at Tokyo Korean Junior High and High School were told of the news before the start of classes, and many broke out in applause.
According to the Korean school, Japanese students will be invited to the school’s first-ever festival on June 24. The good news has added fresh momentum to preparations, staff said.
The pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union (Mindan) said Thursday that it would call on the General Association of Korean Residents (Chongryun), which supports North Korea, to begin efforts to work together toward unification.
The ties between the two bodies, which largely represent the ethnic Korean community in Japan, have long reflected the strain between North and South Korea.
However, upon Wednesday’s signing of a Seoul-Pyongyang bilateral reconciliation pact, Mindan officials said they hope to visit Chongryun headquarters and urge their counterparts to discuss the creation of healthy ties, saying “the time has come for solidarity and unification.” Chongryun issued a statement the same day, saying, “We vehemently urge all Korean residents of Japan to unite themselves for the realization of a unification of our homeland, irrespective of creed or which organizations we belong to.”