from Felix and
Ethnic Minorities in Indonesia and Japan
Felix Ramli and Miha Chon
Do you think that the world will be truly a better place for humans to coexist in the future? In our opinion, unfortunately, it is nearly a delusion in this greedy world. As you can find out through many news stories, there are many countries in which people still despise each other and kill other people, only with reasons that they have different skin colors, cultures, languages, and religions.
We would like to compare Indonesia and Japan regarding their ethnic minorities, but in this essay we will focus on similarities between Indonesia and Japan in their treatment of their minority groups. We will present and explain all the similarities by alternating the two countries in each category. Japan and Indonesia both have their own ethnic minorities, which have strong influence in economic and political life. Chinese are well known as the largest minority group in Indonesia, and Koreans, who are not as visible as the Chinese, are a large minority group in Japan.
Many people in Japan still assert that Japan is a “homogeneous” country; this is not true, however. Residents of Korean descent today compose approximately 1% of the population in Japanese society. Why are so many Koreans living in Japan? It is obvious that it is primarily due to Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula, which continued for 35 years, from 1910 to 1945. It greatly influenced a large number of Koreans to migrate to Japan. As a result of harsh Japanese government policies, Koreans were devastated because they had no life resources. Many Koreans left for Japan in search of jobs in order to escape the poverty at home. Both my (Miha’s) grandparents came to Japan from the southern part of the Korean peninsula during this period and were forced to work as coal miners for more than twenty years. At that time there were only a few kinds of jobs which were provided to Koreans who were not fluent in Japanese. Most Korean women worked under very severe conditions The reason is because if women were single or did only housework, the Japanese military forcibly brought them to serve as “comfort women.” By 1938, about 800,000 Koreans were in Japan. When Japan was defeated in 1945, this number had increased to approximately 2,300,000. At the time, many Koreans, who resented Japan, returned to Korea, however between 500,000 and 600,000 people, including my grandparents, remained in Japan because most of their families were already in Japan and they had lost their economic base in Korea. And now, there are about 700,000 Korean residents still living in Japan.
In contrary to Japan, Indonesia is a “heterogeneous” country because there are a lot of people from other countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, and also America living there. Even though Indonesia consists of many ethnic minorities, Indonesian people still discriminate against certain ethnic groups, especially Chinese. We will clarify some discrimination against the Chinese in Indonesia and show the similarities with the Japanese treatment toward the Koreans in Japan.
The story why Chinese people went to Southeast Asia began when they wanted to find a better life. Chinese in Southeast Asia originally came from southern China to trade. They finally became settlers and gained citizenship over a thousand years. There are now just around 3 to 4 percent ethnic Chinese living in Indonesia from the total population of Indonesia, around 209,000,000, but they hold almost 70% of the Indonesian economic resources. There are a lot of different ethnic groups of Chinese descent in Indonesia, such as Hokkien, Kek, Teochiu, and many more. They also believe in different religions, such as Catholic, Protestant, and even Muslim. Indonesia has the largest Chinese population in Southeast Asia after Malaysia and Thailand.
There are so many Chinese in Indonesia because in the past they saw Indonesia as a promising land. The soil is fertile, so everything they plant can grow healthily. The history of why the Indonesians hate the ethnic Chinese began when many Chinese people in the late 1950s were working for the Dutch administration as tax collectors. From that time on, there has been much discrimination against the Chinese; they usually didn’t have freedom in association, expression, and employment.
Enough about the history of Chinese in Indonesia, let’s return to the story of Koreans in Japan. After the war, the Japanese government avoided their responsibilities toward Koreans. The Japanese treated the Koreans in an absurd way, the same way as if they were still a Japanese colony. Moreover Japanese government continued to deny human rights of Koreans who remained in Japan, even in the so-called “democratic” period. What they did at that time was strip their right to vote, and order them to follow the Alien Registration Ordinance because they did not have “KOSEKI” (family registration). Japanese nationality is strongly based on lineage and Japanese government did not consider them “true” Japanese, even though they were Japanese nationals. And this is the reason why Koreans in Japan are more invisible in Japanese society than other foreigners, in spite of the fact that they compose 1% of the Japanese population. One reason is that Koreans in Japan are virtually indistinguishable in physical appearance because most of them were born in Japan and have been brought up in very Japanese ways, eating Japanese food, practicing Japanese culture, and being slotted into Japanese society, but the main reason for their invisibility in Japanese society is that most ethnic Koreans speak Japanese as their first language and use Japanese names, called “passing names”, instead of Korean names, to live as Japanese. Almost 80% of Korean people use only Japanese names, 15% of them use both Korean and Japanese names, and only 5% use their real Korean names.
The fact that more than 80% of Koreans in Japan use their “passing names” can be explained by three factors. The first is the enforcement of Japanese names on them during the colonial period by Japanese government, for the purpose of assimilation. The second factor is that Koreans voluntarily used Japanese names to avoid discrimination. The third is that today’s young Korean generations are more accustomed to Japanese names than Korean names even though Japanese names were originally their temporary names and their Korean names were supposedly their real names. Even though it might be difficult to keep in mind, we should not forget that one’s name is a significant component which organizes one’s ethnic identity and the taking of “passing names” has done much to destroy ethnic Korean identity in Japan.
Just like Koreans in Japan, almost all of the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia are assimilated into Indonesian society. It is common to see them with Indonesian language as their mother language. Some ethnic Chinese in Indonesia might keep their language and their culture alive; it depends on where they are living.
There are three main reasons why many Indonesians hate the ethnic Chinese. First, they are seen as strangers and disloyal in their country, Indonesia. They are also seen as anti-Muslim because they have a new completely different religion than the native Indonesians have. To make them loyal to their country and with a reason to keep the nation in unity, the government required them to choose Indonesian names to replace their Chinese names. There were around 232,882 Chinese that had their names changed by 1969. The Indonesian people also sometimes don’t treat the ethnic Chinese as Indonesians, even though they live on the same land, breathe the same air, pay their taxes, and have Indonesian citizenship. Even now, the government sometimes gives a hard time to ethnic Chinese. It’s hard for them to study in the state university and the government also prohibits them to use Chinese characters; the government bans the publication and printing of writing and advertisements in Chinese characters and Chinese language. In other words, there are no Chinese characters allowed in Indonesia.
Japan, especially its economic power, has played great role in the global community for past thirty to forty years, and now it has been recognized as one of the most developed and democratic nations by the rest of the world. But unfortunately enough, the Japanese government does not feel ashamed of the fact that there are still hundreds of examples of discrimination existing in Japanese society and many people, especially ethnic minorities like Korean,s have never been treated equally.
The Japanese government’s assimilation policy, which Koreans consider as an oppressive policy, has extended and remarkably affected on the ethnic Korean education. There are about 120 ethnic Korean schools in Japan, including 40 kindergartens, 50 elementary schools, 30 high schools, and one university. It was originally established by the first Korean generation in Japan after the war for the purpose of teaching their younger generation about their own country, history, language, and culture in order to return someday in the future. These schools are all private schools, which are supported by their own people because Japanese government does not provide the Koreans with any subsidy, arguing that Korean schools are not under Japanese government policy so they are illegal. In these schools only Korean descendant students are allowed to enter the schools. Teachers teach students in Korean and are all second or third generation Korean residents who have also graduated from the ethnic schools. The school’s curricula basically include Korean education, social studies, history, culture, and language. All students are obliged to speak in Korean at schools. Of Korean senior high school graduates, 53% entered upper-grade institutions, including Korean University as well as Japanese universities.
Warning: There are links to very graphic and violent photos in the next paragraph. You may want to avoid the links ,”burned and “raped.”
In the beginning of the1960’s Indonesia already had the status of an independent country, but it defeated its own citizens, ethnic Chinese. In 1965 and 1966, thousands of Chinese were assassinated because of the rumor they were communist party members from China. They were looted, burned, and raped by the army.
Discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Indonesia began in the late 1950s and still continues today in some parts of the country, such as Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Flores. In the past two years the ethnic Chinese became a scapegoat for the Indonesian monetary crisis and the rise of basic goods prices such as rice and cooking oil because most of the Chinese dominate the retail economy. They were blamed for selling all their Rupiah and buying dollars that caused the value of the Rupiah to decrease. Chinese in Indonesia are seen as “rats” with no sense of loyalty to their country. In May 1998, there was a big riot, and it was even worse than what happened in 1965.
The violence against all the ethnic Chinese is usually carried out by Muslim organizations or in the name of Islam and usually supported by the Indonesian army. The Muslims, who make up the majority of Indonesians, expect a reward from Allah if they can punish the Chinese directly. We can see one example of the discrimination against the ethnic Chinese by the Indonesian government in January 1997. There was an anti-Chinese riot because of a protest from an ethnic Chinese man about the sound of the Muslim drum during the month of Ramadan. Forty-two shops and seventy-six houses were damaged; two banks, three factories, three churches, and two temples were destroyed. After the riot was over, the government gave the Chinese a three and a half year punishment because he was irreverent towards God, but the rioters were punished with only up to four months in jail.
Some additional examples of discrimination toward ethnic Chinese in Indonesia by the government are they are not allowed to write in Chinese, their I.D. cards have a code: “non-native” to indicate ethnic Chinese origin, and they cannot participate in politics or the military. They are not even allowed to celebrate the Chinese New Year and other festivals that use Chinese character.
Although ethnic Chinese have been discriminated against, they still survive and have become even more successful in business. The success of the Chinese is taken advantage of by many greedy Indonesians. Many Indonesians even shamelessly require bribes from the Chinese whenever something is done for the Chinese, for their businesses, or for personal things such as getting driving licenses or renewing passports.
After writing this paper, we found out that there are more differences than similarities between our two countries in treatment of their ethnic groups and the reasons for discrimination. Japanese people now consider themselves as a part of the western world because the U.S. has supported Japan after the war. They almost have forgotten their origin, which came from Asian continent through thousands of years, so they treat other Asian people, especially Koreans, who had controlled them for 35 years, as lower than Japanese. On the other hand, Indonesian people have never had a logical reason to discriminate against the ethnic Chinese. Indonesian people hate it if the ethnic Chinese use Chinese characters or celebrate their cultural holidays, such as Chinese New Year; they say that that’s disloyal to have something different from the ethnic majority, but the only reason is most Indonesian people are jealous of the richness of Chinese who they see as wasting their money. The rumors about the bad aspects of ethnic Chinese are almost completely not true; there is always someone who is jealous and wanting to get rid of them by provoking the Indonesian and the Chinese, so the people will hate the Chinese. Even though their choices of freedom are limited, they should keep struggling with the government in order to protect their ethnic and historical background for their future generations. After we conducted research and wrote about ethnic minorities in our countries, Indonesia and Japan, we know that no minority group in a country is free from discrimination. They always need to struggle to choose their future, whether they want to belong to their country or to their ethnic group. And we know it it will not be so easy to choose one of these.