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Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Latest update : 2014-02-06

Japan's North Korean schools and university

© Hoshu, via Wikipedia: a North Korean classroom in Tokyo

Schools in Japan with close links to North Korea have been protesting Tokyo’s decision to stop giving these educational establishments financial aid. FRANCE 24 reports from these bastions of the "Hermit Kingdom" in Japan.

Most of the students at these schools were born in Japan. But, like their parents, they show unwavering support for the North Korean communist regime.

Even if it is difficult to pin down an exact number, experts estimate that around 150 000 residents in Japan are supporters of the Pyongyang government.

Their families came from the Korean peninsula to Japan, either voluntarily or as forced labour, when Korea was a Japanese colony up until 1945.

Over the years, their presence in Japan has given rise to a handful of pro-North Korean schools, and even one university.

Japan withdraws funding

The year got off to a tense start for the students of these establishments. Around 6,000 demonstrators gathered in the centre of Tokyo to protest the exclusion of certain high schools from government subsidies through the national tuition waiver programme.

All of the excluded schools have historical ties to North Korea.

"We gather today to say in unison “No to this outright discrimination, to our exclusion and to the deprivation of our rights," says Il Song, a student at the North Korea University, told FRANCE 24.

Japanese nationalists, meanwhile, lined the road to insult and mock these supporters of the closed and autocratic North Korean State, which many in Japan consider to be an existential enemy.

"If you don't want to be treated differently, leave Japan and go back to North Korea," shouted one nationalist heckler.

Supporters of Pyongyang in Japan

North Korean schools in Japan receive about two millions dollars a year from Pyongyang. But reduced subsidies to the schools all over Japan - and changing generational priorities - mean those schools, and Korea University, are losing students every year.

The flag of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - North Korea's official name - flutters above the recreation ground at this Tokyo university, where teachers and lecturers aim to imbue the 700 students with what they consider to be North Korean values.

Just as in North Korea, portraits of the country's deceased leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are omnipresent (see picture) in classrooms and dormitories.

Japan’s colonial past in Korea

Korea University is frequently accused of acting as a Japanese base for the North Korean government and for spreading its ideology.

Critics say its curriculum is often overtly anti-Japanese, although lecturers insist they are simply telling the truth about Japan’s colonial past.

"In Japan, a lot of people have the wrong idea about us. They think just because we are teaching our students about the colonial period in Korea, that we are teaching them to be anti-Japanese," said literature professor Jong Ho, Kim.

By FRANCE 24

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