They Were Naive: How North Korea tricked 94,000 people into moving there

Two videos from the South China Morning Post about the mass migration of 94,000 ethnic “Zainichi” Koreans from Japan to North Korea.  Below the fold is a second video on how North Korea persuaded ethnic Koreans into leaving Japan.

Today this wouldn’t happen, but from 1959 to 1984, people were naive enough to believe the propaganda.  Imperial Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula lasted 35 years, an estimated 670,000 people were forcibly moved to Japan and Sakhalin Island during Japan’s colonial era and the war.  After the war, they were treated no better.  As part of the “1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty” the US and Japan signed, Japanese citizenship for ethnic Koreans living in Japan was revoked, they were treated as foreigners living there, despite the fact that most alive after 1951 were born in Japan, many unable to speak Korean.  It was made clear they were unwanted, so when North Korea lied about having a “Korean paradise”, they were willing to believe it.  Post WWII, South Korea remained an agricultural society and trailed North Korea economically for many years (the Korean War certainly didn’t help), explaining why some were willing to believe the north was better.

You don’t even have to watch the full video to understand the horror, how those who moved there realized they had made a horrible mistake.  Just look at the still photo preview and other pictures of Hyangsu Park (the woman interviewed) and her family when she visited them in North Korea.  Her face is full of hope, joy, love, concern.  Her family’s faces are rigid, terrified of showing any emotion, words, or actions that could land them in a prison camp.  A fate which eventually befell Park’s entire family.

She tells how family members in North Korea would send letters asking for things, which those in Japan happily sent.

Then her uncle sent a letter asking only for a balloon.  He had given up hope.  All he wanted was to escape.


  1. lorn says

    It is something of a nagging but consistent oddity that when asked for a vision of their idolized society the right and left are completely different. Those on the left, if they have organized their thoughts, usually come up with ideals of everyone having access to good healthcare, education, housing, transport, etcetera. There is a working assumption that, if thing are run well, the vast majority of people can be moderately happy.

    This is quite different when I ask this from those on the right. Typically there is some mention of “freedom” but it always comes in some rarefied form. Some of which are simply not attractive. I don’t need the freedom to be destitute, or to sign away my civil rights. The working assumption is that there would rightly be a vast difference of general happiness and functional opportunity. While everyone has ‘choices’ the playing fields are never level and the umpired are not neutral in anything but a performative manner.

    Another operative assumption is that they are the ones the field is slanted to favor. They are the ones favored by the umpire. This even as they announce that their vision is one of profound fairness and meritocracy.

    I see the right wing as selling an American version of a ‘Return to Paradise’. A vision rooted in nostalgia for a time that never was what it claimed to be. A manufactured fiction based on Louis L’Amour novels, the libertarian (NMA) financed “Little House On the Prairie” and a profound but thinly veiled racism, jingoism, and fake masculinity.

    And yet … It sells. Spin it enough and Northern Yankee traders (or is it traitors) can be repainted as rugged western individualists. Dime store actors re-framed to be accepted to be affable and fatherly statesmen. Spin and lie and reframe enough and anything can pass for anything. Even the complete opposite of what it is.

    And that is how 94,000 Koreans in Japan were talked into going to North Korea.

    There is also a non-zero chance the right will get its utopia. No need for anyone move anywhere. They will change the nation to make all of our nightmares come true. A dystopia where Trump is president for life and failure to enthusiastically praise him is cause for your entire circle to face torture and death. A future that will make George Orwell look like a moonbeam romantic and hopeless optimist. Yes, it can be darker.

    What happens when it is no longer pain and suffering driving loyalty and production. The means to an end. What happens when pain and suffering are the point.

    A tortured soul may look back on 2023 and ask “do you remember happiness”?