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Japan must apologize for sex crimes

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Bok-dong Kim

Comfort Women victim Bok-dong Kim, 87 in the photo, cried while her interview with Fox TV during her visit in LA, 2012. Photo Credit: Won Choi / Daily Sundial

About the author: I am a member of the Korean American Forum of California, an organization dedicated to advocating for Comfort Women. After I wrote this piece, Sun-soon Choi, a Comfort Woman, passed away on Aug. 24 at the age of 87. She was kidnapped and drafted to a Comfort Station at the age of 16. Choi had been a good friend with deceased Yong-nyo Lee, and Choi’s health worsened with the shock of her old friend’s death. Choi’s family did not know of her past as a Comfort Woman until 10 months ago, when her Alzheimer’s began. She concealed her past to her family because she did “not want to embarrass them.” I pray that she is now free of all the suffering, and I stress again that the government of Japan must apologize to these victims rather than waiting for the world to forget.

The clear sound of a Chinese wooden temple block echoed among the tall buildings of downtown Los Angeles. A Buddhist monk walked slowly, hitting the block rhythmically, reciting scripture for the deceased. A man holding a picture of an old woman followed the monk. Behind him, four men holding a flower-decorated coffin marched as people with a banner and signs followed.

The banner read: “The Government of Japan Must Apologize to the Victims of Sexual Slavery. In Memory of Lee Yong-nyo (1926-2013).”

The group marched for two blocks and stopped in front of a tall building where the Consulate-General of Japan is located on the 17th floor. Participants laid the coffin and the picture on the sidewalk and read eulogies for the deceased Yong-nyo Lee.

Lee was one of the so-called Comfort Women, women who were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

I was there. I also mourned for Lee. This poor woman lived her life with trauma from her days as a Comfort Woman, enduring the insulting comments made by Japanese officials such as Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. All she asked for was a sincere apology, which she never received in her 87 years of life.

Similarly, what all the survivors are asking for is a formal apology by the prime minister of Japan and the compensation they should have received. I too ask for what these grandmas (a term of endearment for the Comfort Women) ask for.

During World War II, the Japanese government falsely drafted and kidnapped about 200,000 women from Asia and forced them into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers. Most were Koreans, as Korea was under Japanese occupation at that time. The rest were from China, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Japanese-occupied territories. Many girls were told that they would work for the army as factory girls or temporary nurses. Others were simply kidnapped.

Lee came from a poor family and worked since she was 8 years old. She was sent to a brothel referred to as a “Comfort Station” at the age of 16. Her employer told her that she could get a job in Japan which promised a lot of money and plenty of food. Lee left Korea full of hope, dressed in the modern white clothes and shoes the employer gave her. Her dad walked Lee to the port, which turned out to be the last place the father and daughter saw each other.

At the Comfort Station girls were forced to serve 30 to 50 men a day. Shin-kwon Ahn, the executive director of the House of Sharing, a home for surviving Comfort Women in South Korea, said the average age of those girls when they were taken was 12 to 14, and most were virgins. Comfort Stations were spread all over Asia where the army was present.

The main purpose of the Comfort Women system was to keep the soldiers free of sexually transmitted diseases from local prostitutes and to prevent soldiers from raping local women. Reuters reported on 91-year-old former Japanese soldier Masayoshi Matsumoto who witnessed first-hand the Comfort Women as a medic during WWII.

After the war, many women were killed in order to cover up what the Japanese army was doing. Many survivors did not go back home because of the humiliation. Some went back but lived in silence, suffering from shame and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of the survivors could not marry nor have a child because their bodies were ruined.

As the U.S. House of Representatives passed the House Resolution 121, the Comfort Women resolution in 2007, the movement for comfort women advocacy grew more active. The resolution, introduced by Japanese-American Rep. Mike Honda, demanded a formal apology to the victims from the government of Japan. It also called on the Japanese government to include Comfort Women history in their history curriculum. A few Comfort Women monuments were erected in local governments on the east coast, such as in Palisades Park, New Jersey.

The first monument on the West Coast was unveiled earlier this year in July. The city of Glendale has dedicated a portion of Central Park to the memorial. Many Japanese-Americans sent angry emails to the City Council in protest to the monument. Japanese Consul General Jun Niimi wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times that the government of Japan has already made an apology and compensations to the victims.

But many Comfort Women activists believe more has to be done. About 500 people gathered for the unveiling ceremony.

“We stand on the side of history. We stand on the side of truth,” Councilwoman Laura Friedman said before the unveiling. “[The monument] stands to honor and recognize the innocent victims of all wars.”

When the city of Buena Park decided to discuss the idea of having a Comfort Women monument in their city as well, the Japanese government acted fast. Buena Park Councilman Miller Oh said the Japanese Consul General Jun Niimi has sent letters to the council and visited the members in order to stop the plan.

Comfort Women survivor Hak-soon Kim first broke her silence 22 years ago. After this, 234 survivors in Korea reported that they were Comfort Women and began the long fight to receive the formal apology from Japanese prime minister. Since Yong-nyo Lee passed away, only 57 are left.

In 1994, Japanese Prime Minister Kono Yohei admitted the use of comfort women during WWII, calling it a crime. However, Japan’s current Shinz? Abe administration is questioning the statement. Prominent Japanese politicians like Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto are also making insensitive comments about the issue. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Hashimoto said that the practice of keeping Comfort Women was a “necessary system to maintain military discipline.”

Consul General Niimi’s attempted direct lobbying of Buena Park not only reflects Japan’s official position, but it is also goes against foreign protocol. He is intervening with a U.S. local administration instead of officially talking to the U.S. government. Niimi is also insulting the Comfort Women by spreading incorrect information.

“Japan has provided atonement money to former Comfort Women and implemented medical and welfare support projects,” he wrote to the LA Times, which survivor Bok-dong Kim said “is a total lie.”

The Japanese government is also omitting Comfort Women from their history curriculum, teaching incorrect and incomplete history about Japan’s role during the war. It’s an insult to all Comfort Women, alive or not.

They are dying. As little time as the victims have, the government of Japan also does not have much time to apologize and recover from its dishonorable war crimes.

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6 Comments

  1. Toshiaki Haginoya Oct 1, 2013

    The more Japan apologizes the more the relationship of the two counties worsens. The real problem is that the koreans are using anti-Japan sentiment as patriotic masterbation. Comfort women issue is one anti-Japan toy, Stop-using-rising-sun-flag campaign is another anti-Japan toy. Like a girl addicted to masterbation using a toy, Koreans never stop this kind of things.

  2. Jopinion Sep 29, 2013

    Michael is correct. Japanese government has paid, wow, approximately 1.5 times of Korean annual budget at the time. That does not include the investment amount in Korea that Japan has forfeited.

    If you want to condemn someone, do it right.

    Additionally, a couple months ago, new evidence, a diary of a korean worker who worked at comfort station at the time, has been discovered in Korea. in the diary, description of daily life of comfort women were nothing close to sex slave. Yet again, it favored Japanese point of view.

    In the state of governed by law, one is innocent until proven guilty.

    Ask your Korean government to bring the matter to ICJ, International Court of Justice.
    Japan is one of the few countries that accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. Which means if Korean government brings the matter to ICJ, with certain condition, Japan HAVE TO defend itself in the trial.
    People in Japan are fair and rational people. They will obey the outcome. They will actually appreciate that rather than spreading this kind of propaganda and causing innocent Japanese kids and Japanese american to have a hardship like this.

  3. Michael Sep 25, 2013

    This article is problematic for many reasons:

    First, an apology has been made numerous times by various Japanese prime ministers, and has been ratified in legislation. Here is one example:

    “Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women”

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_war_apology_statements_issued_by_Japan#Controversy

    So this is not about making an apology, but whether we interpret it to be sufficient or not.

    The deeper problem is that the author presents a very nationalistic and simplistic version of history (Japanese people enslaving Korean people). History, however, cannot be confined to such national categories, because it is too broad and it hides the diversity within them. It also can fall prey to racial essentialism (lumping every Japanese person in one category, and every Korean in another as if they are all the same).

    A better approach has been presented in Sarah Soh’s book, The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. Soh is a Professor of Anthropology at San Francisco State University.

    Rather than view the comfort issue as Japanese people vs Korean people, she views it in the lens of gender. Japanese imperialism and Korean patriarchy (male dominance) both worked together and were guilty in mobilizing women as comfort women. She shows how many of the comfort women were tricked or kidnapped by Korean men/pimps themselves or were sold by their families to these pimps, who then brokered them to the Japanese military to make a nice profit. This practice of sexual slavery by Korean men continued to exist in the post-war period, as Korean women continued to be forced into prostitution to serve US military needs.

    Also, another thing that should be brought up is that this Japan vs. Korea approach hides the fact that many comfort women were also Japanese (many of whom were also tricked/forced into prostitution or sold by their families) .

    An interesting point that is brought up in Soh’s book is that it is not Koreans who first brought up the comfort women issue to public attention. It was in fact Japanese historians who first wrote about Japanese and Korean comfort women, and pushed the Japanese government to confront it. When information about comfort women was first brought to Korea in the 1970s, a comfort women pornography film was made there.

    Also, as more sources about comfort women are researched, it seems like not all comfort women can be placed into the same narrative of pimps forcing women into sexual slavery. This newspaper article shows how Japanese and Korean historians are discovering that many comfort women actually made the conscious decision to become prostitutes themselves, so as to make money.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/13/national/koreans-war-brothel-diaries-offer-new-details/#.UkN4DoZ6bIs

    Of course, this does not mean that Japanese and Korean pimps did not kidnap Japanese and Korean women, or that the Japanese government should be excused for fostering such a system. But it problematizes the historical approach that the Daily Sundial is making, as well as the historical approach of the people who organized the Glendale statue. So long as Korean and Japanese nationalists continue to frame this historical argument in terms of Japan vs. Korea, we will not come to an agreement.

    1. Eryn Sep 26, 2013

      In 2007 the surviving sex slaves wanted an apology from the Japanese government. Shinz? Abe, the prime minister at the time, stated on March 1, 2007, that there was no evidence that the Japanese government had kept sex slaves, even though the Japanese government had already admitted the use of brothels in 1993. On March 27 the Japanese parliament issued an official apology.

  4. hkameya Sep 25, 2013

    Attn: Won Choi – Please contact me. I’m on the board of the San Fernando Valley JACL and we would like to explore a joint resolution with the OCA and your group endorsing the Glendale Library sculpture, etc. hkameya@gmail.com

  5. M2 Sep 25, 2013

    Of course Japan only remembers the two nukes dropped on it, not any sort of various atrocities ranging from this, to occupying parts of China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and even threatening Australia with the same.

    Nope, nothing on that.

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