Lee Hoesung

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Lee Hoesung (李恢成)
Born (1935-02-26) February 26, 1935 (age 80)
Maoka, Karafuto (present-day Kholmsk, Sakhalin)
Occupation Novelist
Notable works Hyakunenno tabibitotachi (百年の旅人たち; Travellers of a Hundred Years)
Lee Hoesung
Korean name
Hangul 이회성
Hanja 李恢成

Lee Hoesung[1] is a Zainichi Korean novelist in Japan. In 1972, he became the first ethnic Korean to win the Akutagawa Prize. Other representative works of his include Mihatenu Yume (見果てぬ夢; Unfulfilled Dream) and Hyakunenno tabibitotachi (百年の旅人たち; Travellers of a Hundred Years).[2]


Lee was born in 1935 to Korean immigrant parents in Maoka, Karafuto Prefecture (the southern half of modern-day Sakhalin), and lived there until age 10. After the surrender of Japan which ended World War II, Lee's family, having gotten mixed in with Japanese settlers, escaped from the advancing Soviet troops and fled Karafuto. They went as far as the Ōmura detention camp, a processing center for migrants repatriating from former territories of the Empire of Japan,[3] but finding themselves unable to return to Korea as they had planned, they settled down in Sapporo, Hokkaidō. At that time, Lee's older sister had been left behind in Karafuto; in his later works, he describes the traumatic impression this left on him. From Sapporo's West High School, Lee advanced to Tokyo's Waseda University, where he studied literature. While there, he was active in exchange student activities. After graduation, he first aimed at creative work in Korean, but then decided to become active in Japanese instead. He was also employed at the Chōsen Shinpō, a Korean newspaper run by pro-North Korea ethnic activist group Chongryon, but afterwards separated himself from them, and 1969, having been awarded the Gunzou Prize for New Writers for Kinuta wo utsu onna, threw himself into the literary world. Kinuta wo utsu onna was notable at the time for its sporadic use of Korean words.[4]

In 1970, he secretly visited South Korea, and went again after winning the Akutagawa Prize in 1972. At that time, he held North Korean nationality. Afterwards, due to the problem of his nationality, he was refused a visa several times by the South Korean government, and it would be until November 1995 before he was granted permission to enter again. However, in 1998, with the start of Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy, he was able to obtain South Korean citizenship. He was later criticised by fellow zainichi writer Gim Seok-beom (金石範) for his comments about the democratization of South Korea and his naturalization as a South Korean, over which the two had a vigorous debate in magazines.

On the problem of North Korean abductions of Japanese, Lee has stated: "The confession of Kim Jong-il, who apologised for his errors, should be accepted by Japanese people in the spirit of historical consciousness and the peace constitution."[5]


Major works[edit]

Note: not official English titles, for informative purposes only

  • Kinutawo utsu onna (砧をうつ女)
  • Watashino Saharin (私のサハリン; My Sakhalin)
  • Kayakono tameni (伽倻子のために; For Kayako; made into a movie by 小栗康平 in 1984)
  • Imujingawa wo mezasu toki (イムジン江をめざすとき; Eyes on the Imjin River)
  • Ryūminten (流民伝; Refugee Tales)
  • Kanōsei toshiteno "Zainichi" (可能性としての「在日」; "Zainichi" as a possibility)
  • Chijō seikatsusha (地上生活者; Living on land; third portion being serialized in Gunzou Magazine)


  1. ^ Preferred spelling in English. See Fukumoto, Yumiko (Winter 1998). "Titles Introduced in Japanese Book News Published in Other Languages 1991–98" (– SCHOLAR SEARCH). Japanese Book News (The Japan Foundation). [dead link]
  2. ^ Ryang, Sonia (2002-05-01). "Dead-End in a Korean Ghetto: Reading a Complex Identity in Gen Getsu's Akutagawa-Winning Novel Where the Shadows Reside". Japanese Studies (Routledge) 22 (1): 5. doi:10.1080/103713902201436714. 
  3. ^ For general information about the detention camps, see Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. "Invisible Immigrants: Undocumented Migration and Border Controls in Early Postwar Japan". Japan Focus. Retrieved 2006-11-30. 
  4. ^ Matsuura, Yoshiko (November 2000). "Ethnic Identities and Various Approaches towards Japanese Language: Analysis of Ri Kaisei, Kin Kakuei, and Tachihara Masaaki". Purdue University. 
  5. ^ 「過ちを認め謝罪した金正日の告白を、日本人は歴史認識と平和憲法の精神で受け入れるべき」. Tokyo News (東京新聞)