Superordinate Identity in Zainichi Koreans (Koreans Living in Japan)

JungHui Lee, Kanagawa Dental University, Japan
Tomoko Tanaka, Okayama University, Japan
Published: August 4, 2017

Citation: Lee, J., & Tanaka, T. (2017). Superordinate Identity in Zainichi Koreans (Koreans Living in Japan). IAFOR Journal of Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences, 3(1).


In this study, we elucidated the mechanism leading to “freedom”, which represents superordinate identity in Zainichi Koreans; that is, they are not constrained by a fixed ethnic or host identity. For instance, freedom was represented by labels such as “citizen of Earth” or “individual”, rather than predetermined group categories. During adolescence, many Zainichi Koreans experience an identity crisis, whereby they identify themselves as both Korean and Japanese, or neither Korean nor Japanese. These individuals develop an alternative identity involving freedom, which favors neither the ethnicity nor the host. We conducted a questionnaire survey involving 184 Zainichi Koreans. The results of the path and correlation analysis showed that younger age, greater conflict, and lower levels of discrimination were directly associated with freedom. Discrimination exerted a significant effect on conflict (β = .31, p < .001), and conflict significantly enhanced freedom (β = .32, p < .001). These findings indicate that respondents who reported greater perceived discrimination experienced more conflict and, therefore, greater freedom. Freedom was not correlated with positive or negative aspects of mental health, but conflict was correlated with depression. In addition, if this conflict continues, individuals could become prone to depression. These results suggest that as a superordinate identity, freedom maybe used as a strategy to overcome conflicts resulting from identity-related confusion between predetermined ethnic categories in immigrants living in a majority host society.


conflict, discrimination, identity, immigrant, Japan, mental health, Zainichi Koreans