Korean Residents Still Grappling for Foothold Here
[part 2]

Planned ‘Korea Town’ seen as way to acknowledge resident community

OSAKA — Slated for completion in the year 2001, “Korea Town,” including a marketplace and community center, holds a prospect of change for Ikuno Ward of Osaka, Japan’s largest community of Korean residents.

Koh Haeng Sam, 38, sees the change as a good one.

The colorful Miyukimori Street, with food, clothing and other retail shops, will be the core of Korea Town, according to Koh, who heads the project’s planning committee at the Osaka Korean Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Korea Town would serve a two-fold purpose, according to Koh. One is to help boost business among Miyukimori Street merchants, who compete with other Korean shop owners in the nearby Tsuruhashi district of Ikuno.

But the second and most important goal is to present to outsiders a more positive picture of Koreans in Ikuno. A planned community center would do just that in introducing Korean culture to visitors and local residents, Koh said.

“Other big cities like Tokyo, Los Angeles and San Francisco have a Korea Town, Japan Town or China Town,” Koh says. “Why not in Osaka?”

That was how planners initially viewed it a few years ago, later establishing a committee to look deeper into the project. The Osaka municipal government has since become involved with the plans as well.

Last year, said Koh, a group of Miyukimori Street residents also met and voiced enthusiasm for a Korea Town. He added that the project’s most ardent backers were second- or third-generation Koreans, and Japanese, rather than the conservative first generation.

Even with all the support, Korea Town is progressing slowly, inching along to its targeted completion of 13 years from now. The estimated cost of the project has not yet been released.

Despite differences in products and income, the various business owners in the ward share Koh’s enthusiasm: that Korea Town would turn Ikuno around for the better, transforming a former migrant labor area into a community where Japanese and Koreans live “in harmony.”

Lee Heui Keon, president of Osaka Kogin, supports the Korea Town concept and foresees getting financially involved in it later on.

Plastics shop owner Han Kang Il, also a member of the Korean Junior Chamber, sees benefits beyond the local community: “We have to continue to appeal this type of project, not only for Ikuno but all of Japan — for as long as we Koreans are living in this country.”

Dr. Suh, the accounting professor, views Ikuno’s Korea Town as a “brilliant idea.” But he is more skeptical of the overall future of Koreans in Japan.

As Japan’s economy strengthens, some Koreans may lose their cultural roots as they strive only to be wealthy, naturalized Japanese citizens, he feared. “I’m afraid that Koreans are consciously” becoming part of the system, he said. “Money changes people. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“I feel that some people who make money in Japan believe they are well-off in Japanese society. But overall, we Koreans still face many problems…”.