Inside North Korea’s bubble in Japan

Why North Korea has children’s schools in Japan.

For the third Vox Borders documentary, in Japan, I found myself visiting an elementary school. The kids were well-behaved and lively, exactly what you’d expect. But they faced hostility in their birth country, for something they have no control over: they’re not ethnically Japanese. Their heritage is North Korean.

In the 20th century, thousands of North Koreans were brought to Japan to serve as laborers and, worse, “comfort women” – a euphemism for sex slaves. Some of them ended up returning to their homeland, but many of them stayed and set down roots. Today, these people are born in Japan, speak Japanese, but are not Japanese citizens. They still venerate their heritage, and have strong ties to the regime in North Korea. They even have a university with a museum dedicated to the preservation of North Korean identity, in Japan.

But the winds of right-wing nationalism are blowing in Japan. And it’s effecting the daily lives of these North Koreans.

I went to see how this story, which spans a century, is playing out today.