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Toward Resolution of the Comfort Women Issue—The 1000th Wednesday Protest in Seoul and Japanese Intransigence

Okano Yayo

Translated by A. Tawara, N. Tajima and O. Schaefer

Japanese original text here.
On August 1991, Korean former “comfort women,” (women who were forced to serve as sex workers for the Imperial Japanese Army) including Kim Hak-sun, the first to speak publically about her experience, began to raise their voices. Before then, the issue had only been discussed quietly in postwar Japanese society. Previous testimonies had come from soldiers, partly in the form of romanticized memoirs of their time spent with the women.
One important new witness is Mizuki Shigeru, a leading Japanese manga artist, who provided detailed descriptions of a “comfort station,” that is, a military brothel, in his book “Soin Gyokusai Seyo [All of You Shall Die for Honor]” (14-15.) based on his personal wartime experience. In his afterword he wrote, “I can’t help but feel irrational resentment when I write war chronicles. Maybe the spirits of the war dead make me feel that way.” There Mizuki told of a soldier who shouted, “Thirty seconds for each!” and another who said, looking at the long queue in front of the station, “Hey Sis, about 70 more to go. Be patient.” This important historical testimony reveals how the Japanese army set up comfort stations in the very front lines at that time. (See Matthew Penney, War and Japan: The Non-Fiction Manga of Mizuki Shigeru)

The existence of comfort women, a suppressed issue that had almost been forgotten in postwar Japan, came to the fore in 1991. That was when the surviving comfort women started to talk about their own experiences. Women who were forced into providing sexual services started making people aware that the “comfort women” system had been nothing but sexual slavery. Until then, discussion of the issue had been considered taboo in Korea, and many victims had been unable to talk about it at all, even with their families.

In January 1991, some of Korea’s former comfort women and their supporters started a protest march in the bustling lunch-hour street in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. They had only one demand: acknowledgment of the crime in the form of an apology from the Japanese government to each and every one of the former comfort women. The apology — meant to make the Japanese public widely aware of the harm done to these women as a historical fact — includes a vow to never repeat the same mistake, and to acknowledge that the issue has not been settled legally.

Every week for the past 20 years, 1,000 times now since the first demonstration, they have continued the Wednesday protest. On December 14, 2011, the group marked its 1000th protest. Simultaneous protests were also held in several places in Japan, and were attacked relentlessly by vocal opponents.

Video of the event and unveiling of the monument with English subtitles and Korean original.

The comfort woman statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul is dressed according to the weather by citizens. Photo by Shin So-young.

In Osaka, some shouted “Liars!” at the protesting women despite the fact that the Japanese government had long since acknowledged the existence of “comfort stations” and “comfort women” based on official wartime documents. A high school girl responded to the shouts by saying, “I wish it were a lie.” Don’t we all. More than anyone, the victims no doubt strongly wish that their gruesome experiences were just a nightmare.

On the 1000th day in Seoul, KwonHae-Hyo, the M.C. of the event, put it this way: “Thehalmeonideul’[respected “elderly women”] wish that they would not need to hold the Wednesday protest anymore after next week.”

On that day three actresses conveyed the feelings of the Harumoni in their dramatic reading of a Korean translation of this monologue by the American writer Eve Ensler.

Courtesy of Eve Ensler and V-Day

Each year in conjunction with the V-Day Spotlight, Eve pens a new monologue. This is her monologue, written in 2006 in conjunction with V-Day’s sponsorship of a comfort women speaking tour in the United States. It is based on the testimonies of the 'Comfort Women.'

Say It

By Eve Ensler

Our stories only exist inside our heads

Inside our ravaged bodies

Inside a time and space of war

And emptiness

There is no paper trail

Nothing official on the books

Only conscience

Only this.

What we were promised:

That I would save my father if I went with them

That I would find a job

That it was better there

That I would serve the country

What we found:

No mountains

No trees

No water

Yellow sand

A desert

A warehouse full of tears

Thousands of worried girls

My braid cut against my will

No time to wear panties

What we were forced to do:

Change our names

Wear one piece dresses with

A button that opened easily

50 Japanese soldiers a day

Sometimes there would be a ship of them

Strange barbaric things

Do it even when we bleed

There were so many

Some wouldn't take off their clothes

Just took out their penis

So many men I couldn't walk

I couldn't stretch my legs

I couldn't bend

I couldn't.

What they did to us over and over:

Cursed

Spanked

Tore bloody inside out

Sterilized

Drugged

Slapped

Punched

Raped.

What we saw:

A girl drinking chemicals in the bathroom

A girl killed by a bomb

A girl beaten with a rifle over and over

A girl's malnourished body dumped in the river

To drown.

What we weren't allowed to do:

Wash ourselves

Go to the doctor

Use a condom

Run away

Keep my baby

Ask him to stop.

What we caught:

Malaria

Syphilis

Gonorrhea

Stillbirths

Tuberculosis

Heart disease

Nervous breakdowns

Hypochondria

What we were fed:

Rice

Miso soup

Turnip pickle

Rice

Miso Soup

Turnip Pickle

Rice Rice Rice

What we became:

Ruined

Tools

Infertile

Holes

Bloody

Meat

Exiled

Silenced

Alone

What we were left with:

Nothing

A shocked father who never recovered

And died.

No wages

Hatred of Men

No children

No house

A space where a uterus once was

Booze

Smoking

Guilt

Shame

What we got called:

Ianfu--Comfort Women

Shugyofu--Women Of Indecent Occupation

What we felt:

My chest still trembles

What got taken:

The springtime

My life

What we are:

68

79

84

93

Blind

Slow

Ready

Outside the Japanese Embassy every Wednesday

No longer afraid

What we want:

Now soon

Before we're gone

And our stories leave this world,

Leave our heads

Japanese government

Say it

Please.

We are sorry, Comfort Women

Say it to me

We are sorry to me

We are sorry to me

To me

To me

To me

Say it.

Say sorry

Say we are sorry

Say Me

See Me

Say it

Sorry.

This video prepared by Okano Yano documents the December 14, 2011 commemoration of the 1000th Wednesday demonstration before the Japanese embassy in Seoul and the unveiling of the statue (Korean and Japanese text).

This video is a presentation of a demonstration by the Women’s Action Network, Tokyo in support of the comfort women commemoration and analyzing the issues. (Video in Japanese with English text.)

Okano Yayo, a specialist in Western political philosophy and modern political theory, teaches in the Graduate School of Global Studies at Doshisha University. Her most recent book is Justice Rooted in an Ethics of Care: Reconceptualizing Equality (in Japanese).

Recommended Citation: Okano Yayo, "Toward Resolution of the Comfort Women Issue—The 1000th Wednesday Protest in Seoul and Japanese Intransigence," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10 Issue 50, No. 2, December 10, 2012.

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Comments
Bruce Roscoe
12/10/2012
This article gives the impression that even more comfort women are being used as a football for booting around a political park. It also reads as shallow posturing. Are "their supporters" concerned individuals or an organized lobby? If a lobby, what is the lobby's name, and is this lobby the only South Korean one that addresses comfort women issues or does it compete with similar domestic and foreign lobbies. Also, it's too simplistic to bandy the word "apology" about in this way. As to "in the form of an apology", what is the wording of the "apology" that would satisfy the collective "they". In other words, have the comfort women and their supporting individuals and lobby in this case agreed on the components of the apology that they demand to receive? If they have, what are these components? And concerning legal settlement, how should the matter be "settled legally"? Should a case be prosecuted in court? If so, who would prosecute such a case? If not, what other legal settlement is sought? This is a subject that begs detail rather than generalization and simplification. Above all, scholarly treatment is needed.
Ryouta Ohmae
12/12/2012
Unbelievable that they are still calling them liars. Comfort women and Nanking massacre denialism out to be outlawed.
Caroline Norma
12/16/2012
Thank you for the translation of this valuable piece, and for the video documentaries. I understand the translators' decision to insert the explanation for readers that there were "women who were forced to serve as sex workers for the Imperial Japanese Army", but I wonder if the translators would possibly like to comment on their thinking behind the decision to use the phase "sex workers"? With thanks.
Modern Comfort Women
07/16/2013
Again, I'd like to raise the current comfort women issue. Actually I don't care about the comfort women issue Japanese army caused. That's the history and over. Also it was just a problem lasting for five years or so though it was during the war time. However, the current comfort women problem has been going on for over half a century. Yes, the comfort women issue is still going on -- they changed the customers from the Japanese army to the USA army, but their business has kept on going. Please read the Stanford or Rhode Island university reports. They're a free report, then you can see who is behind the scene. This looks the nation related problem because the government seems involved, and perhaps that's why it's so hard for people to know this problem. Modern day comfort women - University of Rhode Island. http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/modern_day_comfort_women.pdf Also you can visit the page (modern comfort women) to know more, which is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Modern-Comfort-Women/389352384499538
George Chen
11/19/2014
Ridiculous to try to try to mask Japan's guilt by suggesting a moral equivalency between the comfort women of WWII and prostitutes patronized by American soldiers. While prostitution anytime and anywhere is a tragedy, the differences between the Japanese Comfort Women system and postwar military prostitution are glaring. For starters only the Japanese kidnapped 10's of thousands of girls off the streets -- some as young as 12 -- and shipped them overseas in military convoys in what has been called the most egregious act of human trafficking of the 20th century. Three quarters of the comfort women perished, many purportedly killed by the Japanese in an effort to silence them. If you doubt that, remember that the Japanese killed 25 MILLION CIVILIANS in the occupied countries during the years 1937-45 -- they exhibited a level of barbarity that even surpassed the Germans, for example burying hundreds of thousands of Chinese alive. These were butchers of the first order. Your suggestion that the wartime comfort women system lasted "five years" shows a remarkable ignorance of the facts. The war in Asia started with the Manchurian Incident in 1931. The official Sino-Japanese War started in 1937. The first comfort station was opened in Shanghai in 1932. To say you "don't care" about this renders you not credible when you suggest that you care about abuses of the rights of women today.
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Authors: For all articles by the author, click on author's name.   Okano Yayo