Among the oppressed minority groups in Japan are the Zainichi (Korean residents in Japan) and the Hisabetsu Burakumin (lit.“discriminated-against outcastes”; referred to in this paper using the term Burakumin). Members of both groups have produced prominent works of literature. Yi Yang-ji (1955–1992), one of the most important and well-studied Zainichi writers, is known for her female Zainichi characters with fractured identities. Although not a Zainichi himself, Burakumin writer Nakagami Kenji (1946–1992) advocated for and wrote about the Zainichi community, addressing issues ranging from family strife to historical trauma. Previous studies of Yi have emphasized the power of femininity in her characters, examining her work through the lens of postcolonial theory and situating it within the framework of “border-crossing” literature. Building on previous scholarship, I adopt a comparative approach in examining the representation of the Zainichi in Yi’s “Woman Diver” (Kazukime, 1983) and in Nakagami’s “Flower Boy” (Fuaramu,1980). Drawing on the theory of “postmemory” from Holocaust studies, I argue that the solidarity forged by characters and writers on the social and political margins defies the structures of Japanese imperialism and subverts the ideology of Japanese nationalism. By reconstructing the lived experiences of the Zainichi, Yi and Nakagami allow the periphery to narrate itself and resist the stigmatizing narrative of the center. Through a comparative study of “Woman Diver” and “Flower Boy”, I rethink the categorization of zainichi bungaku (Zainichi literature) and explore how the interaction between marginalized groups challenges the imperial structures pervasive in Japanese society.
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