Young Pioneer Tours

The Sakhalin Island Koreans

Sakhalin Island

Who are the Sakhalin Island Koreans? People visit North Korea for many reasons: there are those that go just the once to check it off the list; there are some who go multiple times to really soak in the culture and the wide variety of cities and natural sights that the country has to offer; and there are the true DPRK geeks, the ones who want to see and know everything there is to know about the country. If you are one of the latter, then consider yourself in exalted company.

The first stop for the DPRK completionist is Dandong – the most popular land crossing into North Korea – followed by the rest of the DPRK-China borderlands including Yanji. But the Holy Grail has to be Sakhalin Island.

A brief history of Sakhalin Island

Sakhalin Island Koreans - An ethnic Korean on Sakhalin.
An ethnic Korean resident of Sakhalin.

Sakhalin Island has a chequered history. It was subject to a Russo-Japanese tug-of-war throughout the 19th century and throughout the Russo-Japanese War and World War II. In the early 20th century it was largely populated by Koreans who either went there voluntarily or else were forcibly relocated by the Japanese. Following World War II, the Soviets regained control of Sakhalin as part of the spoils of war. This left the Koreans of Sakhalin stuck in limbo.

Who are the Sakhalin Island Koreans?

The issue for the Sakhalin Koreans on the island was that the USSR did not recognise South Korea and most of them did not want to go to Japan (despite their historically fantastic treatment of ethnic Koreans). Furthermore, they either didn’t want to relocate to North Korea, or else were unable to overcome the equally thorny diplomatic hurdles involved in relocating there.

The end result was a large community of Koreans cut off from both the increasingly capitalist South and the isolationist North. It is for this reason that many people feel that the Sakhalin Koreans are more culturally ‘pure’ than their Korean Peninsula brethren.

How many Sakhalin Koreans are there now?

How many Sakhalin Island Koreans are there? It is estimated that there are still around 3200 first generation Sakhalin Koreans, as in Koreans that were left on the island at the end of World War 2. Most having emigrated back ot Korea since the end of Cold War hostilities. There are though still around 25,000 ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin, making it the biggest Russian diaspora in the Russian Federation. They are generally considered separately from the wide Koryo-Saram that populate the rest of the former USSR.

What is unique about the Sakhalin Island Koreans?

In some respects this is a hard question to answer, but also quite an interesting one. Whereas South Korea has had heavy influence from the United States and North Kore has been influenced by the USSR, China and the Juche ideology, Sakhalin Koreans have in a sense been left to their own devices. Whilst there are obvious instances of Russification, many feel that Sakhalin Koreans are in some respects the most “pure” Koreans, at least from a cultural perspective.

Is Sakhalin worth visiting?

We certainly think so! Aside from the Korean and Japanese influences many citizens of the USSR were exiled to Sakhalin. The island itself is a natural microcosm, and enjoys some truly great history and nature.

How can I visit Sakhalin?

There is a ferry that travels from Russia to Sakhalin that leaves when full — and by full we mean full of Russians drinking a lot of vodka. Alternatively there are flights from Vladivostok that are regular, and less regular flights to places such as Seoul and Moscow.

Young Pioneer Tours can also arrange independent tours to Sakhalin: simply contact us to get a quote and we will arrange everything for you.

Young Pioneer Tours previously ran two very successful tours to Sakhalin, and are looking at adding a brand-new one for 2020. Watch this space if you’ve an interest in visiting yourself!

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