Judo ace puts spotlight on sport's 'secret Koreans' | india | Hindustan Times
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Judo ace puts spotlight on sport's 'secret Koreans'

Yoshihiro Akiyama's victory in the Asian Games judo competition has cast the spotlight on the issue of dozens of Japanese sportsmen who seek to conceal their ethnic Korean roots.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2002 15:24 IST
PTI

Yoshihiro Akiyama's victory in the Asian Games judo competition has cast the spotlight on the issue of dozens of Japanese sportsmen who seek to conceal their ethnic Korean roots.

Akiyama is one of the few Japanese athletes of Korean descent to be frank about his heritage, even if after defeating former compatriot Ahn Dong-Jin in the 81kg final he said the question of his nationality was of no interest.

"I have mixed feelings. The nationality has nothing to do with it," said Akiyama, a fourth-generation Korean resident of Osaka, who trained in South Korea for three years before he came home and obtaind Japanese citizenship last year.

"I am just happy with the fact that I have won."

Regardless of Akiyama's apparent indifference on the issue, the 21-year-old's victory has drawn attention to other athletes like him who are in a similar position.

Korean residents in Japan, often descended from those who were brought over from the Korean peninsula under Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, frequently complain of social and legal discrimination against them.

Accordingly, many choose to keep their roots a secret.

One ethnic Korean sports official leader said their were many Japanese athletes of Korean descent who had kept their heritage quiet.

"There are quite a few people of Korean origin in all fields of sport (in Japan.) Many of them are naturalised and have won medals for Japan," he told AFP, without revealing details.

"I cannot say who because it concerns the privacy of the people concerned. It should be left at that unless they offer to talk about it by themselves," said the official, a senior member of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan).

In contrast, Korean residents loyal to the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang seem to be more open about their ethnic identity.

A total of 14 athletes and several officials, sent by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents (Soren), are among North Korea's 356-strong delegation here.

They include four golfers, three of whom are corporate executives in their 40s.

Pak Hye-Jong, North Korea's women wrestling coach, is reported to be a granddaughter of the late Korean-born Japanese professional wrestler Rikidozan, whose Korean name was Kim Shin-rak.

With his Korean roots rarely mentioned, he enthralled the entire nation in the 1960s in the early days of television, often playing the role of a good guy entrusted with cutting down "villain" Americans with his trademark "karate chop."