The Eclipse Also Rises

Kei Fischer’s American father met her mother in Japan as an English language teacher. They married and sired her shortly thereafter. Years later, they immigrated to the United States. “I know it sounds clichéd,” Fischer said as she related her story. It may sound like every other story where an American visits Japan and returns with a wife. There’s just one thing. Kei Fischer’s mother isn’t Japanese. She’s Korean.

She didn’t discover this until after death of her grandfather. It was then that her mother finally came clean. She deliberately passed herself as Japanese to avoid the negative stigma associated with Koreans in Post-War Japan.

Kei Fischer constitutes a marginalized minority in Japan called Zainichi. The Zainichi consist of multigenerational Koreans who immigrated to Japan after the annexation of their homeland in 1910. Some of these minorities sought economic opportunities and scholarships abroad, while several others worked as slave laborers under Japanese Imperial Rule.

Koreans eventually lost their Japanese citizenship after the dissolution of Japan’s colonial reign. Many returned to their broken homeland while others decided to stay and resume their lives in Japan. Since then, they’ve faced fiscal and prejudicial hardships resulting from institutionally discriminatory practices in Japan.

Fischer learned about this as she set out to explore this forgotten part of her life. Her journey eventually led her to the Bay Area, where she met Miho Kim. Like Fischer, Kim was a Zainichi from Japan and together they formed an organization called Eclipse Rising with other Zainichi Korean Americans. As founders, Kim and Fischer have been a driving force behind the organization, which doubles as an activist group rather than merely a club of solidarity. “[We want to] develop a Zainichi community that’s physical and recognize a unique perspective that our experiences offer that really can’t be understood beneath a lens of nation states and internationalism since we’re essentially stateless,” Kim said.

Other parts of their mission statement include cultivating stronger relationships with other oppressed groups like the LGBT community, Burakumin (‘untouchables’ in Japan), Okinawans, and Ainu among others. In addition to this, they campaign for the peaceful reunification between North and South Korea. As wide reaching as this objective is, it maintains the consistent focus of supporting, empowering, and granting further rights to Japanese minority groups like them. “We’re really fighting the root cause of structural racism within Japan because that’s the only way we can really bring resolution to what has perpetrated this subjucation of Zainichi,” Kim said. She further related her experiences as a Zainichi to those of the Japanese Americans interned during World War II. “Being immortalized, criminalized, and banished, your entitlement taken from under your feet overnight.”

Some of their past activities included a recap of their 2010 U.S.-Japan Solidarity Tour. They hosted this as a joint holiday party at the School of Unity and Liberation Office in Oakland, California on December 16th, 2010. The participants of this tour reported the findings of their 9-day long trip where they met the political prisoner Kazuo Ishikawa, The Burakumin Liberation League, Women’s Active Museum On War and Peace for Korea’s “comfort women,” The Funreai House community center for minorities living in Japan, and the Iju-ren solidarity network for migrant workers. In addition to this, Fischer and Kim had the opportunity to visit Pyong Yang, North Korea, in 2008. They rallied to stop the Korea US-Free Trade Agreement with other on January 14th, 2011 in front of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office in San Francisco under the pretense that it would sacrifice jobs and further erode workers’ rights.

These combined activities have brought the members of Eclipse Rising a long way from where they once stood. The days of passing and living in shame are as foregone as their history in Japan. This isn’t to say that their historical and emotional scars are effaced, but no longer are they hiding in the shadows and as a result moved beyond their previous state of victimhood to taking a stand for others.