The Georgia Straight - - Contents - By Sylvia Yu Fried­man

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion con­tin­ues to elude Asian women who were taken as sex slaves dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

On Au­gust 14, 1991, a slight, pep­per-haired woman in white tra­di­tional Korean dress took the stage at a news con­fer­ence in Seoul, Ko­rea. With a brood­ing in­ten­sity in her wrin­kled face and hol­low eyes that be­lied her or­di­nary ap­pear­ance, 68-year-old Kim Hak-soon did some­thing com­pletely out of char­ac­ter for women in her cul­ture. She tes­ti­fied tear­fully that as a 17-year-old, she was forced into sex slav­ery by the Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary in north­ern China. She was raped by up to 30 Ja­pa­nese sol­diers a day in Manchuria dur­ing the Ja­pa­nese war against China.

Ja­pa­nese ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists and right-wing con­ser­va­tives called Kim and oth­ers like her vol­un­tary pros­ti­tutes when they bore wit­ness in the me­dia about be­ing forced into sex­ual servi­tude for the Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary be­fore and dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Kim re­futed that she was a will­ing pros­ti­tute.

“How did I be­come a pub­lic wit­ness? When I read news­pa­pers and watched the news, Ja­pan kept deny­ing the truth,” Kim said. “They took us forcibly, put us di­rectly in the mil­i­tary com­pound, and turned us into com­fort women.”

Kim suf­fered pro­foundly with her se­cret for 50 years be­fore break­ing her si­lence. You could say Kim had the very first “Me Too” mo­ment in Asia.

I WAS 15 when I first heard of com­fort women and Kim Hak-soon from a Korean news­pa­per ar­ti­cle that my mother shared with me.

“Com­fort women” was a eu­phemism for tens of thou­sands of young women from Pa­cific Asian coun­tries who were forced into wartime sex­ual slav­ery by the Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary from 1931 to 1945. For 14 years, girls and women were raped by as many as 60 sol­diers a day. There were more than 1,000 “com­fort sta­tions” in China alone.

The girls were in­tended to “com­fort” lonely and trau­ma­tized Ja­pa­nese sol­diers to pre­vent mil­i­tary se­crets from be­ing leaked and to pro­tect the men from sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases, lead­ing to an in­creased de­mand for younger girls and women who were vir­gins and dis­ease-free. The vic­tims in­cluded Kore­ans, Ja­pa­nese, Dutch (in In­done­sia), Tai­wanese, Chi­nese, Eurasians, Filipinos, Burmese, Malays, Viet­namese, Thai, and Pa­cific Is­lan­ders.

I found no men­tion of “com­fort women” in my high-school his­tory books or in the in­dex of any warhis­tory book in the li­brary. I was dis­turbed by what seemed like the era­sure of suf­fer­ing Asian women, many of whom were en­slaved when they were my age.

Grow­ing up in an all-cau­casian neigh­bour­hood in Burn­aby, I was the only Asian girl in my grade. I be­came dis­con­nected from my Korean her­itage, mostly be­cause of the hu­mil­i­a­tion of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. I was called a “chink” and asked, “Is Ko­rea in China?” Some class­mates be­trayed my trust by mak­ing fun of the kim­chi jars in my fridge and laugh­ing that I smelled like Korean food. I was mor­ti­fied. Ashamed of my Korean her­itage, I vowed to never speak Korean at home and asked my par­ents to never ad­dress me by my Korean name, Sae­jung, ever again. I joked that I was a white per­son trapped in a Korean body—a “ba­nana”, white on the in­side, yel­low on the out­side.

Then I learned about the com­fort women. A pro­found gen­er­a­tional anger, seem­ingly em­bed­ded in my DNA, cropped up. Although I ex­pe­ri­enced no racial ten­sion with a good friend who was a Ja­pa­nese Cana­dian, I sud­denly be­gan to feel un­com­fort­able around the Ja­pa­nese man and his fam­ily who rented the base­ment in our house. As I learned more about the ex­pe­ri­ences of the wartime sex slaves in the United Na­tions re­ports, I felt an in­ex­pli­ca­ble pain and anger to­ward the cul­ture re­spon­si­ble for these and other wartime atroc­i­ties that seemed as if it had been passed down from my an­ces­tors.

I also no­ticed the anti-ja­pa­nese at­ti­tudes of those around me. I re­called that my great-un­cle spoke flu­ent Ja­pa­nese but owned no Ja­pa­nese elec­tron­ics and vowed he would never buy a Ja­pa­nese car. He drives an Amer­i­can car to this day. Grow­ing up in South Ko­rea un­der the Ja­pa­nese oc­cu­pa­tion, he ex­pe­ri­enced un­just treat­ment from the teach­ers at his Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment-run school.

Young and old in the Chi­nese and Korean com­mu­ni­ties whis­pered that no one liked the Ja­pa­nese. No one wanted to date Ja­pa­nese men. I heard mul­ti­ple sto­ries of grand­par­ents and par­ents in the Chi­nese and Korean com­mu­ni­ties who dis­trusted the Ja­pa­nese. Where did this come from? WHILE WORK­ING as a TV re­porter in Vic­to­ria, I heard that Kim Soon-duk, an 80-year-old sur­vivor of Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary sex slav­ery, would speak at a news con­fer­ence at the U.S. State De­part­ment in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Three hours later, I was driv­ing to Seat­tle to catch a flight. I met Kim, who asked me to tell the world about her ex­pe­ri­ence: at 16, she was de­cep­tively re­cruited as a nurse in Ja­pan, then forced into sex­ual servi­tude for Ja­pa­nese sol­diers.

Af­ter hear­ing Kim’s hor­rific tes­ti­mony of en­slave­ment, I learned of the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment’s un­will­ing­ness to ac­cept un­equiv­o­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity for di­rect in­volve­ment in forcibly and de­cep­tively re­cruit­ing girls and women into this sex­traf­fick­ing sys­tem and to apol­o­gize with­out am­bi­gu­ity for de­stroy­ing the lives of so many girls and women. I de­cided to write a book.

I moved to Bei­jing in 2004 to do more re­search. I asked peo­ple daily what they thought of the Ja­pa­nese. Young and old, Chris­tians and athe­ists, even pas­tors all said they hated the Ja­pa­nese be­cause of what they did to the Chi­nese dur­ing the war, such as en­slav­ing women and the Rape of Nank­ing. The Chi­nese learn about Ja­pa­nese war crimes as early as kinder­garten. “The Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment hasn’t made a proper apol­ogy to us,” I heard re­peat­edly. “They need to apol­o­gize!”

Over the years, Ja­pa­nese prime min­is­ters and politi­cians have re­peat­edly and pub­licly de­nied his­tor­i­cal facts and di­rect re­spon­si­bil­ity for forc­ing women into mil­i­tary sex slav­ery. Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe has said there’s no ev­i­dence that Ja­pan’s wartime gov­ern­ment co­erced women into pros­ti­tu­tion for the Ja­pa­nese Im­pe­rial Army.

As a re­sult, the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment has re­fused to give sym­bolic gov­ern­ment com­pen­sa­tion to vic­tims. Prime Min­is­ter Abe has even said he wants to re­vise the Kono State­ment, the first apol­ogy given by the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment in 1993, which was re­jected by sur­vivors and ac­tivists for its am­bi­gu­ity and an in­sin­cere tone. Sur­vivors still await an of­fi­cial apol­ogy from the prime min­is­ter that hon­ours and fully ac­knowl­edges the sur­vivors and vic­tims of im­pe­rial Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary sex slav­ery.

Since 2007, the gov­ern­ments of Canada, the Nether­lands, South Ko­rea, and Tai­wan and the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment have all passed res­o­lu­tions de­mand­ing that the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment take moral and le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity for di­rectly plan­ning and im­ple­ment­ing the mil­i­tary-sex-slav­ery sys­tem. They called on the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment to of­fer an un­equiv­o­cal apol­ogy and com­pen­sa­tion to the sur­vivors.

For a Ri­cepa­per mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle in 1999, I in­ter­viewed lead­ing civil­rights lawyer Gay Mcdougall, who au­thored the sec­ond re­port on Im­pe­rial Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary sex slav­ery as a UN spe­cial rap­por­teur in 1998. She told me that the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment had spent a lot of time and money try­ing to bury her re­port.

This year, dur­ing a two-day re­view of Ja­pan’s record, the UN Com­mit­tee on the Elim­i­na­tion of Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion urged the gov­ern­ment of Ja­pan to do more for vic­tims of wartime sex­ual slav­ery and of­fer full re­dress and repa­ra­tions. Mcdougall, one of the 18 UN com­mit­tee mem­bers, said: “I think it is a wound that has been fes­ter­ing for far too long.” WHEN VIS­IT­ING Hong Kong in 2008, I at­tended a meet­ing with a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion team, a group of Ja­pa­nese civil­ians who trav­elled to China in an at­tempt to heal the di­vide between the Ja­pa­nese and the Chi­nese. Dur­ing our meet­ing, they apol­o­gized sin­cerely to the Chi­nese au­di­ence for killing and tor­tur­ing peo­ple dur­ing the war and for forc­ing women into sex slav­ery. The Chi­nese wept.

I sat rigid and stony-faced as they faced me to apol­o­gize to the Kore­ans. I doubted their apol­ogy would af­fect me, the “ba­nana” who had no con­nec­tion with the place of my birth. Be­sides, no civil­ian apol­ogy could ever re­place an of­fi­cial apol­ogy from the prime min­is­ter, de­spite the sin­cere in­ten­tions of the Ja­pa­nese team.

To my sur­prise, I wept un­til I had no more tears to shed. Their sim­ple apol­ogy trig­gered a pro­found re­lease of pain and gen­er­a­tional racial ha­tred to­ward the Ja­pa­nese. Imag­ine the pro­found depth of im­pact that an of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment apol­ogy from Prime Min­is­ter Abe would have?

I later filmed a dif­fer­ent rec­on­cil­i­a­tion team for a doc­u­men­tary. They bowed on the ground and held a sign of cal­lig­ra­phy that ex­pressed how deeply sorry they were for Ja­pa­nese war crimes against hu­man­ity such as the com­fort women. Their hu­mil­ity and love trans­formed lives. Wher­ever they went in China, peo­ple wept af­ter read­ing their sign. Their sin­cer­ity touched an­cient pain. As an an­cient Jew­ish poet de­scribed it: “deep calls unto deep.”

Sadly, the Ja­pa­nese in­volved in grass­roots rec­on­cil­i­a­tion face in­tense per­se­cu­tion and re­jec­tion by fel­low Ja­pa­nese and fam­ily mem­bers. One woman in Tokyo was or­dered by her hus­band to never par­tic­i­pate in the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion work again and asked us to blur her face in the doc­u­men­tary.

On­line at­tacks and ha­rass­ment from the right wing or ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists oc­cur reg­u­larly to Ja­pa­nese in­volved in rais­ing aware­ness of com­fort women and World War II war crimes. They said that most Ja­pa­nese have not learned about com­fort women or other Ja­pa­nese war crimes in their his­tory books, so they don’t un­der­stand the is­sue and how it im­pacts other Asian peo­ple. This same ha­rass­ment by the Ja­pa­nese right wing hap­pened dur­ing the de­bate sur­round­ing the pro­posed com­fort­women memo­rial statue in Burn­aby.

When I showed my doc­u­men­tary about the Ja­pa­nese rec­on­cil­i­a­tion team at schools and uni­ver­si­ties in China, Hong Kong, and the U.S., many wept dur­ing the film, even teenagers. One stu­dent said she was touched that there were Ja­pa­nese will­ing to apol­o­gize and that she didn’t know there were good peo­ple in Ja­pan. Oth­ers said their grand­par­ents or par­ents were af­fected by the Ja­pa­nese in­va­sion of China and they hated the Ja­pa­nese still.

I also ex­pe­ri­enced an­gry re­ac­tions when my book was pub­lished. I hid my iden­tity for a year and wrote un­der a pen name to pro­tect my­self from ha­rass­ment. An Amer­i­can who had lived in Ja­pan for many years an­grily con­fronted me at a con­fer­ence and asked why Korean sol­diers weren’t be­ing held ac­count­able for rap­ing Viet­namese women dur­ing the Viet­nam War. I told him that he was re­peat­ing Ja­pa­nese right-wing “com­fort-women de­nier” ar­gu­ments word for word. He had no idea.

Af­ter my book is pub­lished in Ja­pa­nese, I’m plan­ning to go to Ja­pan to speak on the is­sue and call for racial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion (or racial jus­tice). (It would be like an African-amer­i­can go­ing into the heart of seg­re­ga­tion in the Deep South dur­ing the Jim Crow era to talk about lynch­ing.) IN ONE of the few ex­ist­ing pho­tos of com­fort women, four women in tat­tered clothes with trau­ma­tized faces stand against a hill­side. One is ob­vi­ously preg­nant, her ex­pres­sion an­guished.

More than 50 years later, that woman made an emo­tional jour­ney back to China to tes­tify about her years as a mil­i­tary sex slave. Pak Yong-sim was 17 when she was ab­ducted from her vil­lage in north­ern Ko­rea in 1938. She and 15 other Korean girls were taken by train and truck to Nan­jing, China. When they ar­rived at a three-storey brick build­ing, Pak was placed in a tiny room with a bed, where she was forced into sex­ual servi­tude for the Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary. She was raped by up to 30 sol­diers, on av­er­age, ev­ery day in Nan­jing and then later in Myan­mar.

“One day I begged mercy from an of­fi­cer, as I was dead tired from the con­tin­u­ous rapes and hu­mil­i­a­tion,” she said. “He held his sword to my neck, threat­en­ing to kill me. Then he beat me vi­ciously be­fore grat­i­fy­ing his sex­ual lust.”

Pak was the only wartime sex-slav­ery sur­vivor to iden­tify the cur­rent lo­ca­tion of a for­mer mil­i­tary brothel, or “com­fort sta­tion”, in Nan­jing. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment later turned it into a com­fort-women mu­seum. A strik­ing bronze statue of Pak and two other wartime sex slaves sits in front of it.

I at­tended the open­ing cer­e­mony in De­cem­ber 2015. As I viewed the haunt­ing ex­hibits fea­tur­ing the tes­ti­mo­ni­als of the com­fort women, I was struck by the faces and sto­ries of the vic­tims and the un­speak­able suf­fer­ing they en­dured. For more than 10 years, I had in­ter­viewed sur­vivors for my book, but to be in the ac­tual build­ing where girls and women were raped daily was har­row­ing. I re­newed my com­mit­ment to help bring jus­tice and peace to this un­re­solved hu­man-rights is­sue in Asia that still af­fects Asian race re­la­tions to­day in the West.

Re­port­ing on these sur­vivors changed my life. Meet­ing these women helped me see that the cy­cle of slav­ery con­tin­ues and in­spired me to con­tinue writ­ing and pro­duc­ing films on the is­sue of hu­man traf­fick­ing and hu­man-rights vi­o­la­tions. I’ve in­ter­viewed girls and women forced into pros­ti­tu­tion, and in­ter­viewed traf­fick­ers, “ma­masans”, and pimps in Asia.

The UN says there are 4.5 mil­lion chil­dren and women suf­fer­ing in sex­ual en­slave­ment in Asia and around the world. How can the na­tions of Ja­pan, China, and Ko­rea co­op­er­ate to fight sex traf­fick­ing to­day if they can­not agree on what hap­pened in his­tory?

Seventy-three years af­ter the Sec­ond World War, I share my jour­ney of rais­ing aware­ness of the com­fort women to say we also need to heal the di­vi­sions within the Asian com­mu­ni­ties in Canada. For in­spi­ra­tion, we could look to the re­cent na­tional Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion that called our gov­ern­ment and churches to ac­knowl­edge and ed­u­cate oth­ers about atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against Indige­nous peo­ples through­out his­tory.

There are fewer than 50 con­firmed sur­vivors of Ja­pa­nese mil­i­tary sex slav­ery around the world. Only 27 sur­vivors left in Ko­rea have re­ported to the gov­ern­ment. In China, sur­vivors are still com­ing for­ward. Most of the sur­vivors I in­ter­viewed have, sadly, passed away. For many years, these el­derly women in their twi­light years have fought for a sin­cere apol­ogy that brings heal­ing.

Clo­sure, heal­ing, and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion are ur­gently needed. Sylvia Yu Fried­man is the au­thor of Si­lenced No More: Voices of Com­fort Women and is cur­rently pro­duc­ing a movie on com­fort women.

So-called com­fort women are still wait­ing for a sin­cere apol­ogy more than seven decades af­ter the Sec­ond World War.

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