Drawing on his Korean heritage, Shinkun Haku hopes to enter Japan’s political world by pledging to help bring about a more united Asia.
“My dream is to eventually create an Asian economic zone or community, like the European Union, by strengthening Japan’s ties with other Asian countries,” said Haku, a Democratic Party of Japan candidate in Sunday’s House of Councilors election.
“There are many problems that must be solved for that, but I want Asia to be more organized, such as by having a single currency,” said the former head of the Japan bureau of the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo.
For starters, the 45-year-old Tokyo native wants to work on reinforcing relations between Japan and South Korea, the country of his paternal ancestry, as well as the other countries in the region, by promoting tourism and exchanges involving small businesses.
“If you’re not on good terms with your neighbors, you cannot attain world peace, so I think it would be a plus for Asian countries to interact with each other in a more organized way,” he said.
He criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s government for attaching too much importance to relations with the United States and said he wants Japan to give just as much attention to Asia.
Born to a South Korean father and Japanese mother, Haku expressed hope that his running for a Diet seat would encourage young Korean residents of Japan to have ethnic pride.
“I want to give (those) young people courage and hope by running in the election like this,” he said. “I want to tell them that things are all right now, that I’m going by the name of Haku and that we should all hang tough.”
Also known by his Korean name Baek Jin Hoon, he kept the Chinese characters of that name and adopted the Japanese pronunciation when he became a naturalized Japanese in January 2003.
His campaign poster and name card prominently display the phrases, “My mother’s country — Japan” and “My father’s country — the Republic of Korea.”
Many Korean residents of Japan, who make up the largest group of foreign residents in the country, continue to feel reluctant to disclose their nationality or ethnicity, mainly out of fear of discrimination.
A good number of them are descendants of Koreans who came to Japan during the 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and are quite firmly settled in the country of their birth.
“I’m sure many (Koreans), at least up to my generation, have experienced many things,” Haku said, referring to discrimination or prejudice in situations such as attending school and searching for work.
“I think there is an aspect of empathy among those who have felt this kind of pain,” he said, “and so we must strive to carry out politics for the sake of vulnerable people and create a gentle country that treats everyone equally.”
Haku said he also wants to address issues related to Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea and promote stronger family ties in Japan, particularly by encouraging children and their grandparents, who often live separately, to meet more frequently.
Lee Young Hwa, a Korean resident of Japan who has attempted several times in vain to run in national and local elections without obtaining Japanese citizenship, said he believes Haku’s candidacy could prompt more foreigners who have become Japanese citizens to get involved in politics.
“There’s nothing unusual about people with foreign nationalities changing their citizenship and becoming lawmakers. In fact, Japan is behind in this,” said Lee, who heads a private group involved in helping North Korean refugees in China.
In February 2002, Marutei Tsurunen of the DPJ, a naturalized Japanese from Finland whose Finnish name is Martti Turunen, became the first Westerner to enter the Diet when he took an Upper House seat vacated during the term of office. One lawmaker — a House of Representatives member — revealed in 1998 that he had South Korean citizenship until his teens.
But Haku said he did not obtain Japanese citizenship to seek public office and claimed he happened to have completed the naturalization process when the DPJ came to him late last year to talk about running in the Upper House election.
Haku, running in the proportional representation segment, said one of the things he wants to pursue as a legislator is to work on gaining regional voting rights for permanent foreign residents.
Of the more than 1.85 million registered foreign residents of Japan in 2002, 713,755 were permanent residents, the majority of them Korean — both those with South Korean citizenship and those classified as simply “Korean.”
Many of those who retained the “Korean” nationality are members of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).