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Fight for the Sake of Descendents

Posted January. 26, 2005 23:11,   


The decade-long legal battle of a 54-year-old woman, Jeong Hyang-gyun, against social discrimination in Japan finally ended with the defeat of this second-generation South Korean born in Japan, and tears welled up in her eyes.

Jeong had filed a lawsuit against the Tokyo city government, demanding the metropolitan government allow her to take an examination in order to be promoted to a managerial post. Japan`s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that it was not against the constitution to limit the rights of foreigners to take a promotion exam.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the district court, which denied her case in 1996, saying that the metropolitan government’s right to hire was a policy-based decision.

However, in 1997, an appeals court had sided with Jeong, saying that the constitution does not ban foreigners from being hired to managerial posts at local governments, so that it was unconstitutional to restrict foreigners to apply for promotion exams to management posts in all occupations. The appeals court ruled that the Tokyo city government had to pay 400,000 yen for damages.

“I wanted to get promoted to a managerial post, but the whole point of this lawsuit was not about that. I had to keep this fight going so that my descendants would not fall victim like me to this discrimination,” Jeong said angrily.

Jeong, born to a Korean father and a Japanese mother, had been working for Kawasaki City Hospital as a nurse, when she became the first foreigner to be employed as a public health nurse by the Tokyo metropolitan government in 1988.

In 1994, she tried to apply for a promotion exam to a managerial position, but her application was rejected because of her ethnic origin. So, Jeong brought a suit against the Tokyo city government and demanded two million yen for damages.

Jeong’s later activities and the 1997 decision have led many municipal governments—excluding one district, 10 prefectures, and 13 cities including Osaka district and Kanagawa Prefecture—to abolish nationality restrictions on employment in most occupations. However, promotion opportunities there for people with foreign nationality are mostly prohibited, too.

Japan’s municipal civil servant law does not speculate that Japanese nationality is a prerequisite for employment. However, in 1953, the Japanese government stated that given the nature of works that civil servants were engaged in, hiring Japanese nationals only for civil service positions was highly proper. Therefore, based on this statement, many city governments like Tokyo have prohibited foreigners including Korean residents in Japan from taking examinations.

Hun-Joo Cho hanscho@donga.com