S. Korea’s blind masseurs mount daily protests against opening trade to all

SEOUL, South Korea – Banging their red-and-white canes on the ground, dozens of visually impaired South Koreans are protesting daily under a bridge in Seoul against a court decision they say robs them of one of the few ways they can make a living: working as masseurs.

In a decision last month, the Constitutional Court ruled that a law granting massage licenses only to the visually impaired was discriminatory against others who wanted to practice the trade.

The decision legalizes all massage parlors, and visually impaired masseurs fear the competition will drive them out of business.

The May 25 ruling has drawn outrage and daily protests from visually impaired massage therapists, who have pressed for the government to step in. One masseur committed suicide by jumping from a building over the weekend in an apparent protest, and authorities fished other protesters out of a river after they dove in during a demonstration earlier this week in Seoul.

“What else can we do other than working as masseuses?” asked Yun Kyung-ok, 39, who has participated in the daily protests along the Han River that runs through Seoul.

On Wednesday, the crowd numbered about 150. But a reported 5,000 visually impaired and their supporters attended a memorial demonstration for the dead masseur earlier this week.

The massage law was passed in 1963 – formalizing a practice in place since 1913 under Japanese colonial rule – to provide the visually impaired with a way to make a living in South Korea, where the government has been historically reluctant to provide social services.

More than 6,800 visually impaired masseurs are now registered across the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Despite the law, hundreds of other salons employing sighted masseurs offer “sports massage” to get around the rule.

The main opposition Grand National Party has also called on the government to help the visually impaired in light of the court ruling, but asked for patience as it works out a way to help find them jobs. The ruling Uri Party said it was reserving official comment for now.

Son Ki-taek, one of the petitioners in the court challenge to the massage law and head of the Korea Whole Person Healing Theological Seminary, said he wasn’t trying to put the visually impaired out of business, but was seeking to prevent sighted masseurs from being targeted as criminals.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mel Jennings sits in his structure during a point-in-time count of people facing homelessness in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Mel has had a brain and spinal surgery, and currently has been homeless for a year. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Annual homeless count aims to give snapshot of housing crisis

Volunteers set out into the rain Tuesday to count all the people facing homelessness in central Everett.

Catherine Berwicks loads ballots into a tray after scanning them at the Snohomish County Elections Ballot Processing Center on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 in Everett, Wa.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Lawmakers push to boost voting in county jails across the state

A House bill envisions an approach similar to what’s been happening in the Snohomish County Jail for several years.

Vandalism at Seaview Park on Jan. 21, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Edmonds Police Department)
Police seek suspects in repeated vandalism at Edmonds parks

Vandals have done over $10,000 of damage to parks across the city, including suspected arson and graffiti with hate speech.

One worker looks up from the cargo area as another works in what will be the passenger compartment on one of the first Boeing 787 jets as it stands near completion at the front of the assembly line, Monday, May 19, 2008, in Everett, Wash. The plane, the first new Boeing jet in 14 years, is targeted for power on in June followed by an anticipated first flight sometime late in 2008.  (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing workers long-exposed to carcinogen far above legal limits

The company confirmed in depositions that parts of its Everett plant still don’t meet 2010 standards.

CarlaRae Arneson, of Lynnwood, grabs a tea press full of fresh tea from Peanut the server robot while dining with her 12-year-old son Levi at Sushi Hana on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. CarlaRae said she and her son used to visit the previous restaurant at Sushi Hana’s location and were excited to try the new business’s food. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Peanut the robot waitress is on a roll at Lynnwood’s Sushi Hana

She’s less RoboCop and more Rosey as she patrols the restaurant, making sure everyone has a drink and good time.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Boeing settles with Everett security guard claiming chemical exposure

Holly Hawthorne was assigned to Building 45-335 at the south end of Paine Field, while employees used aerosolized chemical sprays nearby.

A section of contaminated Wicks tidelands on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port acquisition marks next step in toxic cleanup on Everett waterfront

Private owners donated land near the contaminated Wicks Tide Flats to the Port of Everett. Cleanup work could begin within the year.

FILE - In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee is joining state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to propose limits to magazine capacity and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Democrats advance assault weapons ban, new rules for gun buyers

The measures passed a House committee without Republican support. They are part of a broader agenda to curb gun violence.

U.S. Attorney Nick Brown and the victim of a brutal attack in 2018 answer questions from reporters on Jan. 27, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Jake Goldstein-Street / The Herald)
White supremacists sentenced for racist beating at Lynnwood bar

A federal judge handed out stiffer sentences than prosecutors had asked for in a series of sentencing hearings Friday.

Most Read