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[World News] The Kimchi Women of Yamagata Province

Posted November. 25, 2005 08:29,   


Yamagata Prefecture is located in the northeastern mountain areas of Japan. Its population is only 1.2 million, but it is where a heated kimchi competition among about 10 kimchi companies is underway.

It all started when Korean women came to the region to marry not-so-young Japanese bachelor farmers and sold kimchi on the side.

The Korean Residents Union of Yamagata Prefecture says the number of Korean women who married Japanese men to settle there is 1,700. They started doing so in the late 1980s, and the number is increasing every year. Now, more than 100 women start their married lives there in the rural villages of Yamagata every year.

Quite a number of couples happily settle in, but about 30 percent end up in a failed marriage, so they either return to Korea or wander around in entertainment districts in big cities like Tokyo.

The Power of Korean Women at Kimchi Factories –

Kim Mae-young (45), the president of “Umechan Kimchi,” which takes up the highest market share among total local kimchi companies, is a member of the first generation of Korean women who came to Japan for marriage in 1992.

Her senior in her company settled in Japan earlier than she did, and she introduced Kim to a man five years older than her. Kim left for Japan to live with him. Living with her parents-in-law as an ordinary housewife, she started to teach how to make kimchi to her neighbors eight years ago. Since then, she has run her own company.

Even long before the Korean Wave started in Japan, while Korean women have been selling kimchi in a competitive manner, kimchi was the locals’everyday side dish in the Yamagata Prefecture. In late autumn, they hold “Kimchi Festivals.”

Kim said, Some Korean women would just dream they would be rich in Japan anywhere they go, but having such a dream would end up in failure,” adding, “For one, you have meet the right person, and then you need to learn about Japanese culture and their lifestyles before coming here.”

Severe adversity; deceitful brokers, divorce and disappearances–

Korean women started to go to the Yamagata Prefecture for marriage in the late 1980s when a village in the region held an exchange event with a region in North Chungcheong Province in Korea, which led to international marriages. Just like Korean women, Japanese women avoid living in rural areas, so there are many unmarried Japanese men well over 40.

Shortly after the 1997 financial crisis, there were increasing cases where Korean divorced women went to Japan with their children. Recently, ethnic Korean women in China get married in Korea, receive Korean citizenship, and then go to Japan as “Korean brides.”

As fraud cases concerning international marriages between Japanese and Koreans increase, brokers are expanding their scope to neighboring regions, such as Iwate and Akida. At first Japanese men preferred Korean women who are comparatively similar-looking than other ethic groups, but now women from China and the Philippines seem to be more popular.

Nito Haruko (Japanese name, 55), who successfully settled in Japan 14 years ago with her Japanese husband, said, “Living in rural areas of Japan, I realize Koreans should not look down upon brides from southeastern countries and show warmth to them.”

Won-Jae Park parkwj@donga.com