Boss Cannot Force Zainichi Man To Use Korean Name, Rules Judge


Today a judge from the Shizuoka District court ruled that a zainichi Korean man could not be forced to use his real name at work, after his boss had repeatedly prompted him to. The judge ruled that to do so would be to go against the man’s rights as an individual, and ordered the man’s boss to pay compensation.

The question of Koreans resident in Japan, or zainichi Koreans, using Japanese tsumei, or “aliases” instead of their Korean birth names remains a contentious one. Many zainichi Koreans feel more Japanese than Korean, and would rather use Japanese names as a means of being fully accepted in society, while others prefer to keep their Korean names as part of their ethnic identity. But those who do adopt Japanese aliases are often accused of “hiding” their “true identity” as a Korean.

This article quickly gained over 5,000 comments on Yahoo! Japan, with many of the comments being upvoted tens of thousands of times.

From Yahoo! Japan:

Forcing Zainichi Man To Use Real Name At Work Is Ruled Illegal, CEO Of Company Ordered To Pay Compensation – Shizuoka District Court

On April 24, the Shizuoka District court handed down a judgment in a case where a zainichi Korean man in his forties, from Shizuoka Prefecture, sued the CEO of his company for 3,300,000 yen [approx. $27,751] in compensation, claiming that it was a violation of his rights as an individual to be forced by the CEO to use his Korean name at work. Judge Ogikubo Masamichi ruled that the CEO pay 550,000 yen in compensation [approx. $4,625].

Summing up, Judge Ogikubo said: “Names are a symbol of an individual. To force zainichi Koreans to use a particular name is an illegal invasion of their right to self-determination”. Since the man had consistently been using his Japanese name since entering the company, Judge Ogikubo deemed that he was able to recognize that the man had never had any intention of using his Korean name.

According to the judgement, the man has Korean citizenship, but was born and raised in Japan, and uses a Japanese name in his daily life. Since entering the company in 2001, the man had been living under his Japanese name, but between November 2012 and May 2013, the CEO had continually remarked in front of other employees, “How about using your Chosen name?” [NB: “Chosen” is the old Japanese term for Korea, and its use is sometimes perceived as derogatory].

Comments from Yahoo! Japan:

古谷経衡 [Commentator]:

・In the 1970s, some activist and left wing groups that had zainichi Korean issues at their heart frequently advocated that “Using Japanese names makes us think about the soshikaimei policy under Japanese colonialism, which forced Japanese names on Koreans, and is something that damages our pride as a people. We will use our ethnic Korean names without adopting Japanese ones”. This was the so-called “Call me by my real name” movement.
・Following this, the movement weakened due to people saying “Actually, if I use my ethnic Korean name I get discriminated against”, and “It’s more convenient in society to use my Japanese name”, as well as an increase in people returning to Korea.
・The CEO who was ordered to pay compensation in this case seems to have been insisting on exactly the same thing as the left-wing activist forces in the 1970s, as far as we can tell from this article, but putting this together with reports of the original case from 2013, somehow the CEO didn’t know the context of the issue. I’m guessing it would have been absurd if the CEO had said “Use your real name”without knowing the historical background of the issue.
・Just goes to show that as times change, so does our position on things.

前田恒彦 [Former Police Prosecutor]:

In this case, what is being made an example of is not just that the CEO remarked repeatedly that the man use his “Chosen” name, but also because the CEO revealed the man’s ethnicity to colleagues who were unaware that the man was Korean, despite the man himself concealing this fact. This is a problem that arises precisely because we have a system of using tsumei, or Japanese aliases.


The boss was in the right.
Please don’t give up.
Still, it’s probably better if you don’t employ suspicious people who refuse to use their real names.

hoon makes me job:

Do your best, Mr. CEO


Umm, shouldn’t this be the other way around?
What’s so wrong with making people use their real names?
But it would be pretty awful to be forced to use a Japanese alias.
Me, I’m Japanese, but would it be OK for me to just call myself Brad Pitt with clients at work?


I just do not understand how it’s a violation of an individual’s rights to be told to use your real name.
What do they intend to do after July 9 [A new “residency management system” will come into effect for all mid/long term foreign residents in Japan]


No matter how you think about it, it’s the boss who’s in the right, I reckon. I wonder why the man wanted to use an alias in the first place.


Ah, Judge Ogikubo Masamichi.
I’ll remember you well.


I wish the CEO would fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.
It’s crazy that he is ordered to pay compensation when he has done nothing wrong.


I firmly support the CEO.


I don’t get what is…..?
What the….?


I also feel that this should have been the other way around.
If he’d forced someone to use a Japanese alias, then that would be a problem, but to have a trial because you told someone to use their real name…
Why wasn’t he using his real name in the first place?
Why would he hide his real name when he had given up the choice of going back to Korea?
Everything about this is just weird.


Having aliases is a crazy system.


Is it humiliating to use your real name? Why would that be?


What must that guy be thinking if he thinks that his Korean name is something to be ashamed of?


On the contrary, it is illegal to use a false name. I hope the CEO fights this right the way through and counter-sues.


Is it bad to tell someone to use their real name?


Why does he want to use an alias so much…


? I just don’t get why it’s more of a problem to be told to use your real name.


The standard for suing someone is crazy.


It’s always difficult when you get involved with that lot from over there. Do your best.

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  • lonetrey / Dan

    I feel like the judge made the right call. That’s like DEMANDING chinese immigrants who come to America to use their Chinese name at work when they’re already comfortable with an English name.

    For example, my best friend in high school was called “Jason” while his “official name” was something like “Jiang xan”. Nobody called him that, and none of the teachers forced him to used that name. Everyone was ok with calling him Jason, and there was no problem at all. Sure, if there was an official document he’d use his official name, but for day-to-day interaction, I see nothing wrong with using his American alias.

    Though, after reading this article, I can see why a few of my friends showed annoyance when other people would ask them for their “real chinese name”. It just never occurred to me that they’d like their English name more.

    • Guitar

      It’s pretty obvious why that CEO was insisting that his employee use the Chosenjin name (a derogatory name for Koreans in Japan), when the employee was born and lived in Japan all his life. The CEO wanted to make this man a special target or bullying. And the Japanese judge didn’t make the right call, I disagree with you. This kind of open work place discrimination in America would not have just costed the CEO a measly $4600 in America. And this man was only asking $27,000, how hard would it have been for the Japanese judge to give him the full award?

      • lonetrey / Dan

        Ah, i didn’t realize the compensation was so low. Definitely should’ve been more for the CEO’s bad intentions. But at least the judge went in the right direction.

        • suki

          I disagree with judge .. i think homies should use homies names like jackson or shaniqua. while whites should use whitey names like Bush or Carter. I dunt want no homies or whites using nihon names or any asian names

          • lonetrey / Dan

            So…. you disagree with me then?

          • suki

            yup i disagrees. i tink nihon leader like Abe should stop calling himself by President Lincoln’s name when he visits Yanqui congresss. Use your Japanese name when you rep Japan for gods sake!

    • Having a Japanese name in Japan is definitely the way to go. Japanese people often trouble reading foreign names even if they’re written in native script like katakana. A Japanese name saves a lot of trouble for everyone so the boss’s comment makes me think he was intentionally trying to cause trouble.

      • Forest2014

        Your own birth name written by Japanese Kanji or/with Katakana/Hiragana, pronounced by strong Japanese accent, would make it the perfect Japanese name of your own. Nothing like the one to hide your identity.

    • Rutim

      Well, Japanese people would read your name as it stands in Hanzi.

      That’s why you wouldn’t have to use your ‘American’ name in Japan as there’s no need for that. Some Koreans use it in katakana or kanji writing like they wish to.

  • zachary T

    that had to be awkward for that guy. Just use the name he wants to be called, like lonetrey/Dan said earlier in the comments, he probably uses his given name on official documents and would rather be called by his unofficial name by people he talks with. Don’t want to call the CEO racist or a bigot just because the other man was Korean, maybe the CEO just didn’t get it?

    • Vadim

      The peculiar thing about the Japanese aliases that Zainichi Koreans use is that they actually can be used on many official documents and forms instead of the person’s birth name (obviously any document that serves as proof of citizenship will be issued by Korea and have his Korean name). So it’s not even a matter of him simply preferring to be addressed like that in a “My name is Fernando, but I go by Fred” way, the alias has actual legal recognition within Japan.

      AFAIK technically any foreign resident in Japan can have an alias like that, as long as they can provide proof that people have actually called them by that alias. A similar system exists for native Japanese people who have changed their family name after marriage (in Japan people married to each other are legally required to have the same surname, though not necessarily the husband’s), but prefer to keep using their pre-marriage name for professional reasons or simply out of convenience, yet you don’t hear Japanese nationalists accuse them of “hiding their identities”…

  • Hifumi Okunuki

    Japanese society over the past couple of years has taken a dangerous turn toward extreme nationalism. My husband noted, “Since 2014, both NHK and the private broadcasters have changed how they refer to Japan, from using the word Nihon to Nippon.” The latter was used during World War II and is associated with jingoistic militarism. It also has a harsher consonant sound than “Nihon.”

    I hadn’t noticed the nascent Nipponization until my husband pointed it out, but it’s true: Turn on the TV today and on nearly every program and commercial, you hear the word “Nippon” over and over ad nauseam. You see it in the titles of magazines, articles and even books. Even the Japanese theme song for last year’s World Cup by Sheena Ringo was titled “Nippon.”

    All this Nippon talk is no sober commentary or level-headed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a modern nation. Rather, it’s a praise-fest through and through, as the following examples illustrate (all of which use “Nippon” to refer to Japan in their titles):

    1. “Except China and Korea, Everyone Is Pro-Japan: ‘Cool Japan’ Takes the World by Storm” (a book written by Toru Sakai);

    2. “That Is Why the World Respects Japan” (a book by Manlio Cadelo);

    3. “Tokoro’s Nippon Show” (aka “Rediscover Japan,” a TBS program);

    4. “Japanese People Can Be Found in the Most Remote Places” (on TV Asahi);

    5. “The World Says: OMG, Japan Is Friggin’ Awesome!” (also on TV Asahi).

    Writing up this short list makes me so sickened that my mind slips back into my native Kansai dialect to think: Jibun kara yutara oshimai yaro! (You’re not worthy of praise if you have to praise yourself!). What on Earth is whipping up this storm of self-congratulation?

    As if puerile, blathering, bloviating self-adulation were not enough, the march of self-righteous exceptionalism has decimated our media’s interest in or concern for other countries in general, while leading many to belittle and disparage Japan’s neighbors in particular. There seems to be a desperate need to despise Japan’s alter-ego bugaboo, South Korea, and to heap praise on how different and better “we Japanese” are.

    In my humble opinion, this din of self-praise represents the death rattle of Japan’s self-confidence and self-respect. As this year marks the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, it’s surely no time for Japan to isolate itself from the outside world like a frog stuck in a well (i no naka no kawazu).

    Let’s see, where were we? Oh, yes: How does labor law treat foreign workers? Article 3 of the Labor Standards Act prohibits discrimination based on nationality: “An employer shall not engage in discriminatory treatment with respect to wages, working hours or other working conditions by reason of the nationality, creed or social status of any worker.” But does this law reflect the reality of the workplace or is it just pie-in-the-sky pretty talk?

    More than half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan (Zainichi Korian) today, mostly as a result of Imperial Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula. Many are fourth and even fifth generation. In this 70th year since the end of the war, anti-Korean hate groups are regrouping and screaming to anyone who will listen that Koreans enjoy special privileges and preferential treatment. Really? Special privileges?

    A closer look reveals that such privileges are “special” only in comparison with those of other foreigners, not Japanese citizens. For instance, Zainichi Koreans and Taiwanese — the descendents of those brought over in the colonial era, that is — are eligible for special permanent residence (tokubetsu eijūsha) status. These residents were also exempted in 2012 from the legal obligation to carry the identification cards that other foreigners have to.

    But why do these fourth- and fifth-generation immigrants not have citizenship in the first place? These people in their own countries were subjected to colonial domination before and during the war, forced to become Imperial subjects of Emperor Hirohito, to take Japanese-sounding names, and many were dragged to the archipelago to supply forced labor. Yet after Japan’s defeat, these “subjects” were unceremoniously stripped of their citizenship. Far from being a privilege, the tokubetsu eijūsha visa designation was created to mitigate the soul-destroying discrimination these “new foreigners” faced on a daily basis.

    Right-wingers also claim as “preferential” (tokken) the right for aliens to use aliases, particular “Japanese-sounding” names even though they have official Korean names. We must remember that these Imperial subjects were forced to take such names during the war. Another relevant point is that Japanese citizens and non-Korean foreigners also have the same right to use aliases, so it is in no way a special privilege.

    When I was a child, my family was close friends with a Korean family in our neighborhood. The Kims used their real name. The father opened a surgery clinic in their home. I remember my parents often saying, “Most Koreans know they will not be hired by Japanese companies so they have little choice but to use their Japanese aliases. Mr. Kim is clearly a Zainichi Korean, but he can survive because he has a medical license and his own clinic.”

    Most Japanese do not know and do not want to know the history of how Zainichi Koreans struggled desperately to survive decade after decade of discrimination and exclusion. Schools avoid the subject, but Japanese people must make an effort to learn about this painful history.

    One Zainichi Korean sued the Hitachi conglomerate in 1970 for “unhiring” him after they discovered his ancestry. Pak Chong Sok used his Japanese-sounding alias to sit for the company exam, but during routine paperwork upon being hired, he was required to submit proof of identification. Pak submitted his foreign registry card (gaitōsho) and Hitachi immediately withdrew the offer of employment, openly stating that “We cannot hire a Korean.”

    In court, Hitachi tried to justify the firing by claiming Pak had falsified his resume by using a “false name.” The trial thus ended up revolving around a single point of contention: Did using an alias constitute falsification?

    On June 19, 1974, the Yokohama District Court ruled that “using a Japanese name did not constitute falsification because he had in effect been forced to use such a name, and the name was insufficient grounds for dismissal.” The company had violated the equal-treatment provision of Article 3 of the Labor Standards Act, as well as the “public order and morality” principle from Article 90 of Japan’s Civil Code.

    The judge elaborated in the verdict on the unconscionable and bitter circumstances suffered by Zainichi Koreans in Japan. This rare expression of sympathy for the suffering of Koreans here by a Japanese judge warrants a lengthy citation:

    “The plaintiff wrote his alias in order to appear as if he were Japanese, but the motive that led to this fabrication deserves extraordinary sympathy on many points in light of the historical and social background of Koreans including the plaintiff as explained above, and in light of the reality that Koreans living in Japan are refused employment, particularly by big Japanese companies — except with special exceptions — for the sole reason that they are Korean.”

    This case is crucial as it took on Article 3 head on. The resurgent nationalism of 2015 tries to justify discrimination against foreigners who are in the minority by emphasizing nationality, something that one cannot choose at birth.

    I believe that efforts against this kind of discrimination have made zero progress in the four decades since this landmark court case. If anything, we have turned back the clock.

    • Guest

      Too long to read.

      • Matt

        Maybe this will be more to your liking:

        If that’s still too much effort, you can try here:

        • lonetrey / Dan

          I feel like Vine is more effort than Twitter, but that’s just me. I don’t think Guest looked at your reply though, it was more than a sentence long

    • Forest2014

      Look at yen paper money, it has been always saying NIPPON GINKO.
      Do you hve any problem?

  • Reiko Matsumoto

    Contrary to how the Japanese may like to think of themselves, they are not some “Tolerant, Understanding, Accepting” society; on the contrary, Japanese people are xenophobic and discriminatory with the “Insider/Outsider” mentality. The Japanese people have a right to behave like that, anyway- it’s their country. But what if someone wanted to assimilate into that society? It’s hard for some white guy named Steve or Bob even if they used some Japanese alias, but some Korean immigrants want to fit in- why deny them that chance? Because Japan is a tolerant, understanding, and accepting society? No- because many Japanese want the chance to differentiate other people from themselves and belittle the foreigners for their entertainment. That’s the attitude I’ve faced, anyway. That’s why the judge was right in his ruling.

    • fr hy

      I like JAV with foreigners. look at all the whites and hispanics the japanese guys get to f!@#. I so jealous of Nihon men. so its not true Nihon is all discriminatory , in JAV they are not

  • Dave Park

    The Japanese will never understand the discrimination that Zainichi Koreans face.

  • Small twon

    I started thinking, if another Great Kantō earthquake(1923) happens in future, ordinary Japanese citizens will murder any Koreans they can find for crime of being Korean..again. They didn’t have hate blogs or tweeter or internet base database back then but they mass murdered Koreans anyway.

  • commander

    Given a strong and prevalent sense of exclusion for foreigners in Japan, the use of Japanese assumed names by some ethnic Koreans are sufficiently understandable.

    Would have the boss given the Korean planitiff faire treatment if he or she had used a Korean name on reigstration system? Predictably it’s a big no.

    The boss and those who want to curry favor with him or her would definitely have taken advantage of the planitiff virtually being a Korean to push him out of a company promotion ladder and to harass him or her persistently in the hopes of his or her departure.

    Japan is entering a phase of de population, and this means that it is vital to keep their minds open for incoming foreigners and residents of other nationalities there, unless the Japanses government takes a bold move to turn around a lower fertility rate.

    Without such a change, Japan will see its vitality for growth sap soon.

  • Dell

    Japan’s treatment of foreign workers deplorable, one of the worst in the world.

    • Ibyangin

      Try Korea’s treatment of foreign workers… also among one of the worst in the world…. Perhaps Korea and Japan are more similar than either party would care for to admit…

  • KoreanPeninsulaMSN

    Koreans in Japan use ( Korean names or Japanese alias). Both ways it does not matter. In the end there are Koreans!!!!!!!!

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