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Hero of Asia Cup final at ease with his Japanese-Korean identity

23 Comments

On Jan 29, during the final of the Asia Cup soccer tournament in Qatar, substitute Tadanari Lee broke a scoreless tie, kicking a goal in the 108th minute to lead Japan to a 1-0 victory over Australia.

"Lee got a great assist by Yuto Nagatomo...but most of all, I think that kick came about because of his incredibly strong desire to decide the game," sportswriter Kiwamu Kabe tells Shukan Shincho (Feb 10). "All the difficulties and trials, the pressure and fighting spirit of Tadanari Lee were wrapped up in that one shot."

The Chinese characters in Lee's given name are interesting, since "Tadanari" can be translated as "to become loyal." But loyal to whom? Lee, who was born Yi Chung-sung, is a naturalized Japanese of Korean descent. And during the tournament, he found himself in a crossfire of brickbats by some South Korean media, which denounced him as "yakuto" (phonetic), meaning a traitor.

The Korean media had apparently pounced on Lee after he'd been quoted as saying he hoped "he could kick a goal" in the game against South Korea.

"When other athletes' remarks were quoted in the Korean media, nobody made anything out of it," Kabe complains. "Just because he's a 'zainichi' (ethnic Korean in Japan), there was an overreaction to an arbitrary interpretation of what he said. But what else could he say? As a striker, his job is to kick goals."

The reaction in the Korean media has by no means been monolithic. A correspondent based in tells Shukan Shincho that the Dong-A Ilbo, a major daily newspaper, ran a story titled "Yi Chung-sung kicks away spite," and related how Tadanari was subjected to abusive treatment by his Korean compatriots during tryouts for the under-19 youth league in 2004, when he was called "panchoppari," a pejorative used to slang Koreans in Japan.

"The article said that Lee was able to assert, to both Koreans and Japanese, that he'd overcome his hardships and dispelled the hard feelings," the correspondent adds.

"As opposed to those who criticized him for 'abandoning' his native country, some Koreans still felt a sense of pride in him as a compatriot," remarks the aforementioned Kabe. "Whether pro or con, I sense they regret an outstanding athlete like Lee wasn't representing South Korea."

Lee's father, Lee Chul-tae, a third-generation zainichi who operates a Korean-style barbecue restaurant in Tokyo, gave the magazine a profile of a Korean family that regards Japan, for better or worse, as home.

"My son's dietary preferences are different from the Korean athletes," he said. "Some might think that Koreans eat kimchi every day, but that's not the case at our home...My son likes umeboshi (pickled plums) and natto (fermented soy beans). Even if his roots are Korean, he grew up in Japan and Japan is his home country. We discussed which country it would be best for him to play for, and we decided on Japan."

Lee Chul-tae says his father (Tadanari's grandfather) watched the final on TV and nodded "Yokatta" (well done).

"My father voluntarily enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army in WW2," Lee continues. "He cheered for his grandson, who came onto the field waving a 'hinomaru' (Japanese flag). My grandmother, who was the first generation in our family to come from Korea, passed away last year. She would have wanted to see Tadanari in action."

As far as Tadanari's own sentiments are concerned, he diplomatically posted on his blog that his winning kick had been propelled by "the expectations of everyone."

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

23 Comments
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I would not like to be in this guys shoes, Koreans can be scary when it comes to nationalism, and being considered a TRAITOR, not good, he is lucky it was against Australia, because if it had been his goal against South Korea, I think there would be riots.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The Koreans are ridiculous. This guy is a 3rd generation Korean-Japanese. He's 100% Japanese. It doesn't matter what his nationality was/is, he was born and raised in Japan, he's Japanese.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@ Poppler

I think you are confusing ethnicity with nationality.

His nationality is Japanese. Ethnically, he's Korean.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This guy is a 3rd generation Korean-Japanese.

If the father is 3rd generation, then he's 4th generation. But he was the first to acquire Japanese nationality, and that only happened after he didn't make the squad in Korea.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This Japanese news story is ridiculous. I keep a close eye on Korean media, and none of the Korean media wrote he was a traitor. Of course there were some Korean internet users who accused him of being a traitor, but I sure didn't read any Korean media article saying he was a traitor. The media here were actually very sympathetic to this guy, telling of the story of how he decided to turn Japanese after he was called a "half-Jap" by a Korean U-19 player in Paju training center. And when he scored the winning goal against Australia, he was given very positive stories in the media.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

All of it just shows how ridiculous people can be. To grow up your whole life in one country and not be expected to have emotional ties to it regardless of your origin is not realistic. Best of luck to him. Buy him a rink if I could. Let him know there are human beings out there that support human beings.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think you are confusing ethnicity with nationality.

His nationality is Japanese. Ethnically, he's Korean.

He's Korean-Japanese (ethnicity and nationality) and he's 100% Japanese (this is unrelated to ethnicity or nationality). Anybody raised in Japan is Japanese. Anybody not raised in Japan is not Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He doesn't need a rink, he doesn't play hockey!

A drink, sure ;D

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Was he cut from the squad in Korea? The news in Japan says he was ostracized by the Korean players and he can't speak Korean so he gave up and came back to Japan. He's not a zainichi anymore. Zainichi properly refers to people with Korean nationality who live in Japan. They are zainichi (in Japan) Kankokujin (Korean nationals). He is ethnically Korean but a Japanese citizen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A correspondent based in tells Shukan Shincho that the Dong-A Ilbo, a major daily newspaper, ran a story titled “Yi Chung-sung kicks away spite,” and related how Tadanari was subjected to abusive treatment by his Korean compatriots during tryouts for the under-19 youth league in 2004, when he was called “panchoppari,” a pejorative used to slang Koreans in Japan.

A few years ago, when the MVP of the Superbowl was Hines Ward (Steelers), he brought up this story of how he had a Black father and a Korean mother, and how he and his mother were cast off from Koreans for him being mixed and her marrying outside her race. But when he made Superbowl MVP, all of a sudden he was cast as a "shining example" for Korea. He went back and visited an orphanage and gave speeches to inspire them.

I say this becuase I think that the whole issue really shows the mentality of both countries. Korea and Japan both have orphanages where children need to have homes. But the common belief is that they are not "blood related" and so that they can't be real family. Yet, they get all hyped up about a guy who lived in Japan since he was born, and still he is not accepted as being truly Japanese (by some not all) and he can't be accepted of his Korean heritage by Koreans.

This is pretty silly I think. I get the whole concept of a National Identity, but I think both countries take it too far at some times. If National Identity is so strong in Korea, then any couple that is childless should be able to go to an orphange and adopt. After all, it doesn't matter who the parents were, as long as they are Korean (as you would get from their arguments), and they should be accpeting of this guy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's tough to be stuck in the middle. He's made his decision to live in Japan as a Japanese. Good for him. These types of reactions reflect poorly on the Koreans.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i do not understand how a korean person (his grandfather) could join the Japanese Imperial army voluntarily. This is treachery. Footbal is a game so it doesn't matter which country you represent but army???

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Anybody raised in Japan is Japanese. Anybody not raised in Japan is not Japanese.

poppler -- Really? Then how come everyone "raised in Japan" is not automatically given Japanese citizenship? Surely you know that the vast majority of zainichi are not citizens? So in what sense are they "Japanese"? Not by race and not by nationality. So what is it then?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So, if he didn't win ??? He would dwell in the in between category ?

I hope he feels better about himself.

Maybe the racism made him a stronger player !!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan, Korea........one is as bad as the other in these things

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nationalistic jingoism via professional sports is the new opiate of the people. In a more perfect world, people should fill a stadium to cheer school teachers and those who contribute to higher living standards, not testosterone-powered, overpaid athletes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am proud of Lee. He is great. Thanks God for his selecting Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If Canadians thought like this no one would be Canadian, we come from all over the world and are proud to be Canadian. This is a non story he's Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hope other Koreans will continue to gain recognition in Japan . . (and Vice versa). . . . . These two countries have to work together to build a new future for their next generations. . . . It is time to let bygones be bygones. We can take lessons from how European Community has pulled together inspite of huge historical frictions.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If one Australian defender was doing his job, there would have been no goal. And if he would have made one silly mistake at an important time, Japanese would be mad that a Korean was on the national team. People are so fickle.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Agree with semperfi here, spot on. He was born in Japan and raised in Japan therefore he is Japanese, regardless of whether he is recognised as such by the Government. That`s the govt.s problem, not his.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese hate him because he was born Korean Koreans hate him because his nationality is Japanese

Sadly, this would probably be the case with China as well. Let us not lose sight of Asian unity.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

For all those who say this is a non-story, you're wrong. The story highlights exactly the deep rooted sense of nationaism within the country, if not the people. I'm japanese, my parents are japanese all my grand-parents and their parents are japanese. my wife is japanese and my chidlren are Japanese. I wasn't born in japan and in fact hae only lived in japan as a result of my work. However I have a japanese passport. We're probably one of the few countries that don't allow people of other ethnicity to obtain nationality even if they were born in the country many generations over. The exception is of course atheletes and VIPs who naturalize. Tadanori Lee is every bit as Japanese if not more than I am. It's a pity that he was stuck between the two countries as an outcast, but I am glad that he is stronger than that and has achieved the recognition that he deserves.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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