National, transnational, and cosmopolitan: Korean drumming and complexity of Zainichi identity in contemporary Japan

This presentation introduces the performance culture of Zainichi Koreans (Korean residents in Japan) and discusses how their construction of and engagement with traditional Korean culture in Japan manifest the flexibility of national and traditional culture in a transnational context. Pungmul or nongak, Korean folk drumming, is one of the most prominent traditional Korean musics practiced by diasporic Koreans, including the Zainichi.

Over the last four decades, it has become popular in Japan as a tool for Korean heritage education and a marker of ethnic identity. Noticeably, pungmul in Japan has become a creative context in which Zainichi artists shape themselves as global and cultural citizens through their proactive promotion of the music domestically and internationally. The majority of pungmul musicians in Japan are third- or fourth-generation Korean migrants presenting a complex mix of state, national, and cultural affiliations as North Koreans, South Koreans, and naturalised Japanese.

Their introduction to, training in, and practicing Korean drumming thus vary greatly. Considering the community’s social and historical complexity and the distinctness of each individual musician, Zainichi musicians’ engagement in pungmul can teach us much about the trajectories of Korean national and traditional culture as diasporic entities.



Dr Sunhee Koo is a Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology/Anthropology, the School of Social Sciences, the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She specialises in East Asian performing arts, with which she examines the construction and negotiation of identities. Based on her ethnographic research on diasporic Koreans in China, Korea, and Japan, Koo has published a number of articles and, in 2021, her first monograph, Sound of the Border: Music and Identity of Korean Minority in China, with the University of Hawaiʻi Press. Contracted with the same press, she is currently working on her second monograph project, Homes Away from Home: National Music and Transmigration of North and South Koreans.


Click here to join our mailing list.

Refreshments provided at the seminar.

Event details

Event date

Thu, 11 May 2023, 3:30 - 5pm