WASHINGTON, June 29 (Yonhap) — An elderly South Korean victim of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery on Monday urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to own up to the atrocity while at the same time calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to “guide a friend onto the right path.”
Kim Bok-dong, 89, issued the appeal after arriving in Washington to attend a protest rally to be held in front of Japan’s embassy on Wednesday to denounce Tokyo’s attempt to whitewash the atrocity and to call for a clear apology and compensation.
The rally would represent the 1,185th “Wednesday rally” sexual slavery victims and activists have held in front of Japan’s embassy in Seoul since 1992. It would also mark the first time for a sexual slavery victim, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” to hold a rally front of Japan’s embassy in Washington.
“Even if Abe didn’t do it and the emperor did it, he should ask for forgiveness for what his ancestors did because it is him that is now holding power,” Kim told reporters at a news conference, urging the Japanese leader to offer a legal apology and compensation and restore the honor of victims.
Kim, who was born in 1926, was forced into sexual slavery at age 14 and had to provide sex for Japanese troops in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. It was when Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945.
Kim said she was told she was going to a military uniform factory, but ended up at a Japanese military-run brothel. In an attempt to cover up the sexual slavery at the end of the war, Japanese authorities also had victims work as nurses, Kim said.
Kim said she even had to donate blood for Japanese troops.
“Those who even stole my blood are now denying this,” she said.
Kim said she thinks Korea has not been liberated from colonial rule yet as the sexual slavery issue has not been resolved.
Before Washington, Kim attended a United Church of Christ workshop in Cleveland and spoke about the hardships she went through.
While in Washington, Kim also plans to attend a George Washington University seminar on the issue and hold a meeting with State Department officials, including Cathy Russell, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.
Kim’s effort to raise issues on forgotten comfort women was recognized internationally. Earlier this month, the 89-year-old was honored as one of the top 100 “Information Heroes” by the the Paris-based group,Reporters Without Borders.
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. But Japan has long attempted to water down the atrocity.
The sexual slavery issue has been the biggest thorn in frayed relations between Japan and South Korea, with Seoul demanding Tokyo take steps to address the grievances of elderly Korean victims of the atrocity and Japan refusing to do so.
Kim Yeon-hee, one of the Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, passed away Wednesday night. She was 83.
Her death follows that of two other “comfort women,” as they are euphemistically known, who passed away two weeks ago.
According to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic organization supporting the victims, Kim died at about 10 p.m. at a hospital in Yongin, Gyeonggi.
She died of natural causes, the group said.
Kim was born in 1932 in Daegu, according to the organization, and moved to Seoul at age 5.
In 1944, just a year before Japanese colonial rule ended, Kim was forcibly brought to Japan by her elementary school’s principal, a Japanese national. She was in fifth grade at the time.
Kim was forced to work in a military brothel in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan for about seven months after working at a factory in the central Toyama Prefecture for about nine months.
After the peninsula was liberated in 1945, she returned to Korea where she received treatment at a mental facility due to the trauma she experienced in the brothel. She worked as a housekeeper and never married.
Kim is the third former comfort woman to die this month alone, which brings the total number of surviving Korean victims to 49. A total of 238 former sex slaves were officially registered with the government.
Kim Oi-hwan, the youngest of the survivors, and Kim Dal-seon passed away on June 11, dying within half an hour of each other.
The comfort women issue has long been a source of historical dispute between Korea and Japan, adding to tensions and straining relations. The Japanese government has yet to issue a formal apology to its victims.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, so it is hoped that new developments may bring the issue closer to a resolution.
Earlier this month, President Park Geun-hye told the Washington Post that “considerable progress” had been made between Seoul and Tokyo in negotiations regarding an apology by Japan and reparations to the victims.
On Monday, President Park met Fukushiro Nukaga, who visited Korea as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s special envoy, at the Blue House, where he pledged to facilitate progress in ongoing negotiations for the issue.
Nearly 200 scholars have signed a statement urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to renew apologies for the country’s imperialist past and offer to compensate former “comfort women,” victims of its wartime brothel system.
The move comes as the nationalist Abe prepares a statement he is expected to deliver in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is being closely watched for any sign of backsliding on previous Japanese apologies.
The scholars included experts on Japanese and Korean history. The statement, released Monday, implores Abe to repeat his predecessors’ explicit apologies for Japanese violence.
The statement, which was also signed by dozens of journalists, lawyers and rights activists, says Abe’s announcement “must reaffirm that invasion and colonial control caused harm and pain to neighbor countries . . . and it must express renewed sentiments of regret and apology.”
It says Japan must face up officially to its responsibility for the sexual enslavement of thousands of females, an issue at the heart of the bitter enmity between Japan and South Korea, from where most of the women came.
“We emphasize (the need for a) resolution of the comfort women issue at this time, as the relationship between Japan and South Korea has been strained,” said one of the organizers, Haruki Wada, a historian and professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo. “We hope Prime Minister Abe will reflect our voices in his statement.”
Sitting prime ministers offered explicit apologies for Japan’s colonial rule and aggression on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the war’s end, but Abe has hinted he is unlikely to repeat that — saying instead he wants to issue a “forward-looking” statement.
That sentiment has caused disquiet among Japanese liberals and anger in Beijing and Seoul, which insist Tokyo has not made amends for the war.
Japan offered an apology to the former comfort women in 1993 — the words of which remain government policy — but campaigners accuse Abe of playing down any official role in the comfort women system by the country or its military.
“A renewed effort is called for from the government of Japan” in taking steps “toward the 50 or so surviving victims,” the scholars’ statement says.
A similar statement signed by several hundred academics was publicized last month. Weeks later, 16 Japanese academic societies — including the Historical Science Society of Japan — issued a statement echoing the same sentiments.
Mainstream historians say tens of thousands of girls and women, mostly from the Korean Peninsula but also from other parts of Asia, were systematically raped by Japan’s Imperial forces in military brothels.
apanese conservatives, however, dispute the historians’ numbers and claim no official documents prove government involvement in the system. They also claim the females were common prostitutes engaged in a commercial exchange.
They have argued that memories of the survivors cannot be trusted and are highly politicized in an issue that serves as one of the main geopolitical fault lines running through East Asia.
Abe has said he stands by previous pronouncements but questions the need for Japan to repeatedly apologize for events more than seven decades ago.
A powerful and emotional movie about Chinese comfort women directed by local filmmaker Zhang Yueping, was completed on May 18, according to an official announcement. “Great Cold” — which will be released in the region — is the first such feature film to center on comfort women from north China’s Shanxi Province.
A Moment of Heartbreak
The film is set in several different cities across Shanxi in the early 1940s, where numerous Chinese women and girls, the so-called comfort women, were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II (1939-1945).
Addressing various psychological problems faced by those female survivors during the war, the film reflects on how their past nightmarish memories and experiences affected them. The film’s plot-line relied on a survey and traveling investigation conducted by a former primary school teacher Zhang Shuangbing.
In fact, Zhang’s involvement into the world of comfort women was almost an accident. Around 30 years ago, he returned from a school trip one fall and was struck by the sight of a solitary old woman, who was harvesting millet with great difficulty.
“Helping her with the farm work, I later learned that the woman named Hou Dong’e was raped and put into sex slavery by Japanese Imperial officers. At that time, China had no files or records about the comfort women. Shocked by Hou’s situation, I made several visits to certain places in Shanxi to record the miserable lives of more female victims, taking down their accounts of humiliation and helping them file lawsuits,” recalled Zhang.
According to Zhang, thousands of Asian women were bound into sexual enslavement, among which at least 60 percent were divorced or unprovided for. As for Shanxi alone, 127 former comfort women were identified and 300 witnesses’ stories were recorded. Together with his team of volunteers, Zhang wandered through Shanxi Province and recorded what he saw and felt about those comfort women’s current lives. Later, in 2011, Zhang compiled his findings into a book titled “Women in Japanese Wartime Camps.”
“The film is shot based on my findings”, he said.
“Only 12 survivors are now alive. More than a hundred victims passed away without receiving any official apology from the Japanese government. Our great promises for the anti-war times and wishes for peace are still forthcoming,” said Zhang, adding that it was an urgent need to convey more about the vulnerable groups through the film, which can be seen as its main motivation.
“We want to remind people through the familiar or realistic scenes about Chinese comfort women, not to instill hatred, but for peace,” explained Zhang.
Implied Meaning Just for Peace
The feature film’s title “Great Cold” refers to the last solar cycle in 24 solar cycles. It comes around January 20 each year, and symbolizes the cold atmosphere and attitude that those who committed the crimes (the Japanese Imperial Army) took to the comfort women mainly in Asia.
“We named it after the last solar term of the Chinese lunar calendar because of our great hope for the upcoming warmth after the severe cold,” explained the director.
“Just as in the line ‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ by British poet Percy Shelley from his ‘Ode to the West Wind,’ we hope that film can warm victims’ hearts by exposing the facts in a proper and real way,” said Zhang.
When mentioning the special shooting locations in Shanxi, filmmaker Zhang describes how Yu County was one of the places that suffered the worst destruction by the Japanese Imperial Army, as well as the place where the most women and girls were raped. Therefore, including Yu County in the upcoming film makes it all the more vivid for viewers.
Great Expectation for Facing It Squarely
Earlier in May this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used the term “victims of human trafficking” as an alternative term for “comfort women”, causing a stir worldwide.
Senior officials from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) criticized Abe’s remarks as an intolerable insult to victims. Spokesperson Hua Chunying from China pointed out that Abe’s misleading statement would exert a negative influence on China-Japanese relations.
In fact, China, along with South Korea and other Asian countries that were invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army, has always been, insistently, supplied evidence to testify to the existence of comfort women.
South Korea has established memorial sculptures and a museum to remember the terrible history about comfort women who suffered during World War II. Meanwhile, people from southeast China’s Taiwan built the “Comfort Women & International Women’s Rights Museum” to educate more people on the topic.
Last year, China released its first comfort women themed drama “Er Yuelan” in Nanjing, another place where individuals were raped by the Japanese Imperial Army, partly based on the book the “The Rape of Nanking” by the American journalist of Chinese origin, Iris Shun-Ru Chang (1968-2004).
Memoirs of comfort women were released one after another to refute Abe’s distorted views about those affected. Meanwhile, the ongoing commemoration of the 70th anniversary to celebrate the victory of China’s anti-aggression war provided another facet of evidence to the terrible behavior conducted at the time by the Japanese Imperial Army. As one of the foundation blocks to provide evidence for comfort women, the above-mentioned film is scheduled to premiere in September this year.