Korean woman, 96, realizes childhood dream and finally goes to school



Korean woman, 96, realizes childhood dream and finally goes to school

Pak Sang Im, 96, a Korean resident of Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, is going to school, realizing a childhood dream.
Pak is a student at a night junior high school in Tenri, also in Nara. The school, based in an elementary school’s classrooms, has some 40 students ranging in age from their 20s to 90s. Classes start at 5:30 p.m.
ADVERTISING
Pak said she has dreamed since childhood of
going to school “even just once in my lifetime.”
In a recent class of nine students, Pak slowly read a Japanese-language text prepared by her teacher.
Night junior high schools are for people who were unable to receive an education as children, for reasons such as the disruption caused by the war or economic woes. There are 31 such schools across Japan run by the state or municipalities, while others are organized by volunteers.
Unlike ordinary schools, where students study for their futures, night schools are in part “places where students look back on their life,” said Toshihiro Fukushima, 61, a retired teacher who has taught Pak.
Fukushima used to ask each student about their personal history. In Pak’s case, this included her memories of Korea before her move to Japan at the age of 21.
“I cannot imagine the loneliness Ms. Pak experienced in a foreign land where she did not understand the local language,” Fukushima said.
Pak was born in 1919 in a village in Gyeongsangnam-do in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, which was then under Japanese rule. Her mother did not believe girls should receive an education, but Pak snuck out of her home to a nearby elementary school from time to time and enjoyed watching classes through the window.
Pak got married in the village and then followed her husband to a village in Kyoto Prefecture in 1940 at a time when war was in the air. Encountering deep-rooted discrimination against Koreans and a shortage of rations, she learned at a community chief’s home how to appear to be Japanese, such as how to drink tea and carry herself. She also learned “Kimigayo,” the Japanese national anthem.
As war conditions worsened, Pak’s husband received a draft notice. Pak was scared because another Korean man who had settled in the village had been drafted and had yet to return.
Fortunately, her husband was not drafted because he was prone to illness. But the family moved to a more remote area in the prefecture in search of work and ended up in a settlement of six Korean households. The war then ended.
The family remained mired in extreme poverty after the war. But Pak managed to have her six children complete junior high school despite her husband’s opposition, blaming illiteracy for the hardship in her life.
Nearly 50 years after her arrival in Japan, Pak returned to her birthplace in Korea for the first time. She visited her mother’s grave on a high hill and shed tears after she was told her mother had wanted to be buried in a place high enough to “see my daughter.”
Her mother had been aware of Pak’s hard life in Japan, though Pak had not written to her about it. One day, Pak received a letter from her mother saying she would pay for her to return to Korea, but she did not reply because she had North Korean citizenship at the time and was not allowed to enter South Korea following the Korean War.
After all of her six children became independent, Pak enrolled in night junior high school, as encouraged by a friend, and began to learn the Japanese letters. That allowed her to write messages to one of her daughters who is still living with her, saying for instance, “I’ll be at school.”
Pak and her husband plan to spend the rest of their lives in Japan, although many of their neighbors have returned to Korea.
“Our children consider Japan their country because they were born and raised here,” Pak said.
She now enjoys writing essays in class. “I hope our grandchildren will live in an age free of discrimination,” she wrote in one.
Fukushima said, “I hope study (at the school) will help students see their life in a positive light.

CULLED FROM JAPANTIMES