This is a long story about the resilience of immigrants, about identity and belonging, about the historical trauma that echoes through the generations. But although its themes are universal, Pachinko is rooted in a specific story, a critical chapter of which is in danger of disappearing.
This reality makes the last minutes of the season especially remarkable.
The eight-episode season, which describes how Japanese colonialism shaped the lives of Sunja and her descendants, ends with documentary footage of real Sunji, Korean women who moved to Japan between 1910 and 1945 and remained there after World War II. The interviews with these women of the first generation offer a look at this period, which is not found in history textbooks.
“It was a group of people whose stories weren’t considered important enough to record or record,” showrunner Su Hugh told CNN recently. “There’s not that much photographic evidence, especially from this first generation. It told me it was a story worth telling.”
The eight women briefly described at the end of Pachinko are almost all over 90 – one over 100. They face countless difficulties and systemic discrimination in what they now call home, but, as they say. in the final series of the season, they endured. And yet, Hugh said, many of them were made to feel theirs the lives were not remarkable.
Fearing that women’s stories might be lost in time, Hugh wanted to include their voices in the series. She wanted to honor their experiences so that the world could see them.
Pachinko captures a painful story
Pachinko’s protagonist Sunya left her village in Korea in the 1930s and went to Japan after unforeseen circumstances forced her to marry a man traveling to Osaka. When she arrives, she discovers that the lives of Koreans in Japan are mostly struggle and sacrifice.
For many Koreans of this generation, Sunya’s experience is familiar.
“I came here at 11 and started working at 13,” said Chu Nam-sung, one of the Koreans interviewed for the series in the documentary. “I grew up in sadness. So it’s hard for me to be nice to other people. I wonder if it’s because of the way I grew up.”
When she began interviewing first-generation Zaynichi women 25 years ago, she realized she was learning a story that is rarely written about: What everyday women did to survive.
“They really painted a canvas from the lives of migrants and the daily struggles,” said Kim Wachutka, whose book Hidden Treasures: The Lives of First-Generation Korean Women in Japan became a must-read for the Pachinko Writers’ Room. “And their daily struggles were not just for their home. Most of the women worked outside the home.”
Just as Sunya sells kimchi in the markets to support her family, the women Kim Vachutka met through her research they intensified during the colonial period of Japan in order to earn a living. They resorted to brewing illicit alcohol and traveled to the countryside for rice that they could sell on the black market. Whatever skills they had, they were used.
“In all these women’s stories, I see so much of Sunya in Pachinko,” she said.
So when Hugh came to her with the idea of interviewing some of these women about the adaptation, Kim Wachutka gladly agreed. It was important for her to see the parallels between the characters of the show and the real people who lived this story.
Women like Sunya fought and survived
Despite Japan’s hostility to Korean migrants, Sunja remained in the country even after the end of its rule over Korea.
For future generations of the Sanja family, including the other protagonist of the series Solomon, Japan is home – although they are often made to wonder if they really belong.
While most Koreans in Japan returned to their homeland after World War II, the women Kim Wachutka interviewed at the end of Pachinko were among the approximately 600,000 Koreans who remained.
“I can’t go to Korea,” Chu Nam-Sun told Kim Wachutka in a mixture of Japanese and Korean. “I can’t go to my country, so now this is my hometown.
“I don’t like to say that, but my children couldn’t live in Korea,” said Kang Bun-Do, 93, in an interview. “So I made sure they assimilated into Japanese society.”
The lives of first-generation women interviewed at the end of Pachinko are marked by struggle, but that is not all that defines them. Ri Chang-Won hints at how proud he is of his son and grandchildren. Chu Nam-Sun is shown flipping through a photo album, wondering how long these memories have looked. However, she did not look back.
“There were no difficulties for me in the life I chose for myself,” she added. “I made my own path, my own path, so I do not regret the path I chose and set out on the path.
Their accounts help us to reconcile with the past and the present
Sharing these stories with the world, Hugh said he wanted to ensure that women have freedom and do not feel used to the show. In the end, she said, many described the attempt to be interviewed as a form of healing.
A particularly telling moment comes at the end of the footage, when Kim-Vachutka comments on Ri Chang-Won’s bright smile. Ree doubles with laughter, as if surprised to receive such a compliment. When she finally regained her composure, she spoke once more.
“I’m sure it must have been boring, but thank you for listening to me,” she says of her story.
The stories of first-generation Zaynichi women, like Sunja’s trip to Pachinko, reveal important conversations about race, oppression and reconciliation – not only for Koreans in Japan, but also in communities around the world, Kim-Wachutka said. Listening to their stories, she said, could help us deal with the injustices of the past and perhaps avoid repeating them.