About 4,000 ethnic North Korean residents in Japan are expected to rally in Tokyo on Saturday after the government made preschool education free, but excluded Pyongyang -affiliated kindergartens from the subsidies. The protesters are members of Chongryon, an association representing the 160,000 ethnic North Koreans who pledge allegiance to the Kim Jong-un regime. The group, also known in Japanese as Chosen Soren, will begin its demonstration with more than an hour of speeches and rallying cries. Members will then march through the nearby Kasumigaseki district, where many Japanese ministries, including the education ministry, are located. “We expect many young mothers to take part in the protest, along with children who are presently going to kindergarten,” said Han Gyon-hui, a professor of library and information studies at the Tokyo-based Korea University, established by Chongryon in 1956. “We believe that cancelling the financial support is discrimination against Koreans living in Japan because a lot of parents want their children to go to a Korean kindergarten but they cannot always afford it,” Han said. “It is the government’s duty to support them,” she added. “I feel that this is another policy against North Korea, and the Japanese government does not want any North Korean schools here.” It is so important that I speak the language and know my culture. That is fundamental to who I am. Chung Hyon-suk, a North Korean resident in Japan Tokyo halted financial support for pupils attending North Korea-affiliated kindergartens on October 1. Under the government’s revised US$7 billion subsidy plan for education, the maximum means-tested subsidy at an approved kindergarten is set at 42,000 yen (US$390) per month, although students at pro-Pyongyang institutions are no longer eligible for such support and the schools say they are unable to reduce their fees any further. Anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea brews as ‘trade war’ escalates Announcing the changes, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “We will transform the nation’s social security system to reassure all generations from youth to the elderly. The free education programme is an important first step.” He made no mention of North Korean schools. Subsidies for junior and senior high school students had previously been abolished, despite a number of legal cases brought against the Japanese government. The moves have sparked fury from both Pyongyang and the North Korean community in Japan. In an editorial run on October 21, the state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) lashed out at the Abe administration’s “arrogant exclusion” of North Korean preschools. The move “fully reveals the chronic national chauvinism of the island country, and shows again that the Japanese reactionaries’ hostile policy towards the DPRK and the General Association of Korean Residents of Japan, and their inveterate repugnancy and ill-intended discrimination against the Korean nation, never change”, the KCNA said. The article was published three days after Chongryon’s vice-chairman Nam Sung-u denounced Japan’s decision as “inhumane” and an “unprecedented fascist atrocity”. Nam also demanded an “all-out campaign” to defend North Korean education in Japan. What they are taught in these schools is a form of child abuse because the children are brainwashed. Ken Kato, human rights activist About 10,000 ethnic North Korean students are enrolled in the estimated 70 Chongryon-linked schools across Japan, a sharp decline from the 40,000 who attended in the 1970s. The schools were set up with North Korean funding for the children of wartime labourers forced to work in Japan during Tokyo’s colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. Classes at the schools cover North Korean language, culture, history and ideology. Inside the school where North Korea trains its next generation of leaders “It’s a complicated issue, but Koreans here want to put our children into these schools because it is a place where we learn our own language and about our own culture and history,” said Chung Hyon-suk, who went to a North Korean school as a child, and later sent her two sons to similar schools in Tokyo. “By going to that school, I know that my culture is not inferior to that of others,” she said. “I am very grateful that my parents sent me to that school because it is so important that I speak the language and know my culture. That is fundamental to who I am. “I would say that students who graduate from Korean schools are much more confident in themselves and their identities. That education gives us confidence and pride – and sometimes that can be more important than knowledge,” Chung said. With the withdrawal of the subsidy, however, it has become much more difficult for parents to pay for their children’s education, she said. Kim Jong-un’s secret weapons: his wife, his sister, his subjects Monthly expenses for her two sons when they were at primary school, including meals, transport and uniforms, worked out to be about 50,000 yen (US$460) each, Chung said. And costs rose when they entered secondary schools. But some critics in Japan say the government’s decision is long overdue, because the curriculum at pro-Pyongyang schools is akin to “brainwashing”. Ken Kato, the director of Human Rights in Asia and a long-time campaigner against North Korea’s rights abuses, is calling for all local governments to similarly scrap funding for students at Chongryon-affiliated schools. “What they are taught in these schools is a form of child abuse because the children are brainwashed,” he said. “They are taught to blindly love Kim Jong-un, that it is their duty to invade South Korea, and they completely justify violence against anyone that does not agree with them. “How can that be permitted to be taught in schools in Japan? Children should be taught respect for others, the values of democracy, liberty and opposition to all forms of violence. These schools teach the exact opposite,” Kato said. Others are broadly in agreement with the government’s new policy. “It seems hard on the children, but I do agree that taxpayers’ money should not be used to back an organisation that supports North Korea,” said Taiko Yamamoto, 36, a Japanese mother from Kawasaki. “I keep reading in the newspaper that North Korea has nuclear weapons and missiles, and I have to ask myself why they are spending money on that instead of their schools here,” said Yamamoto, who has a six-year-old son. “If they have enough money to build an atomic bomb, they should have enough to pay for their schools.” There are other indications that North Korean schools in Japan are acting at the behest of the regime in Pyongyang. Kim Kil-uk, a former head of a Chongryon school in Osaka, was accused of being involved in the 1980 abduction of a Japanese national, Tadaaki Hara, in North Korea. He remains on Interpol’s wanted list. Similarly, Cho Gyu-son was the head of a Chongryon school in Shimonoseki, in southern Japan, before founding what was ostensibly a trading company. A member of a Japanese underworld group was arrested in 2000 after purchasing 250kg (550lbs) of amphetamines from Cho in the North Korean port of Wonsan. Cho remains on the Japanese police’s wanted list. “These are the sort of ‘model North Korean citizens’ who are teaching their youngsters, and it’s absolutely not right that Japanese taxpayers’ money is being spent to promote a murderous and corrupt regime,” Kato said.