United Koreans in Japan
Keiko Hira, Miki Saito, and player-manager An Yong-Hak (a former player for North Korea national football team) told the story of the United Koreans in Japan (UKJ) team. UKJ is the team of the “Zainichi Koreans”, long-term Korean residents of Japan who trace their roots to Korean Peninsula, before Korea split into North and South. They play football under a United Korean banner and they do not recognise themselves as North or South Korean, though they are arbitrarily given those passports – they are not Japanese citizens. The team is prevented from advancing through the Japanese football system due to quota requirements for the number of Japanese players in each team.
Why was the United Koreans in Japan team created?
The team of United Koreans in Japan (UKJ) is the team of Zainichi Koreans. Zainichi Koreans are the Koreans who have been educated, worked and lived in Japan for some decades. Football within the Zainichi Koreans’ communities all over Japan has always been very popular and important.
Though some of the Zainichi Korean players have been selected as national team members of North or South Korea, they do not have any chance to play international matches as a representative of Zainichi Koreans. They joined CONIFA in 2015 to make their dream of playing international matches as the representatives of Zainichi Koreans come true.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
The photos were taken before the first and second matches during the CONIFA World Football Cup in London against Western Armenia and Kabilya. They were taken at Colston Avenue Football Stadium (Carshalton Athletic FC) and Larges Lane (Bracknell Town FC).
We wanted to take photos of the smiles and tension of all the players and staff of UKJ who were delighted to play football in a stadium in the UK, the motherland of football. The playing manager, Yong Hak An (former player for North Korea national football team), instructed each player and encouraged the team tirelessly in a loud voice from kickoff to the end.
Why is football so important for the United Koreans of Japan and what is the future for UKJ football?
All the players and staff of UKJ love football from the bottom of our hearts, and we always live with football. There are many other aims that we want to attain by playing football as UKJ members, but the most important reason why we organized the UKJ team is that all of us love football.
The role of UKJ in Japanese society is to link people’s hearts together by football. We dream about a future where UKJ would cross over national borders and the racial differences just as a football bounces over walls that separate people.