Tokyo exhibition shows ‘comfort women’ ordeal in Dutch East Indies

An effort to shed light on the painful experiences of females procured for brothels for the Japanese military during the war is underway at a Tokyo museum ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

In a yearlong exhibition through the end of next June, the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace addresses the issue of sexual exploitation under the Japanese occupation in what is now Indonesia with a panel display that depicts testimony and photos from about 70 former “comfort women” along with memoranda from Japanese soldiers.

“While many local women and those of the former colonial power, the Netherlands, suffered damage, such history of Indonesia has remained unknown,” said Eriko Ikeda, director of the museum, known as WAM. “We expect people to learn through this exhibition that the comfort women issue is not only a problem between Japan and South Korea but also an issue affecting a wide area.”

The testimonials were collected by researchers, journalists and people who have supported the victimized women.

Some women said they were kidnapped by Japanese soldiers after Japan occupied the Dutch East Indies in 1942, while others said they were told by local officials they would engage in household chores but instead were dispatched to wartime brothels.

Dutch women, who had been detained at internment camps following Japan’s invasion, were forced to work in brothels against their will, according to the testimonials.

One Indonesian woman’s testimonial said at the age of 14 she had an abortion without the benefit of anesthesia after having been raped repeatedly by soldiers.

According to her account, Japanese soldiers proffered tickets that were never cashed in. She was labeled “a prostitute for Japanese” after she came forward with her story in 1993.

Some Japanese soldiers, meanwhile, write of “dining on fine meals” when they were routinely allowed outside and went to “comfort stations,” or brothels, to satisfy their sexual appetites.

“By comparing the memories of the women and the soldiers, visitors to this exhibition will be aware of the big differences in where they stood,” Ikeda said.

It is unclear how many comfort stations were operating and how many women were exploited in the Dutch East Indies, as sufficient research has not yet been conducted. Even so, the issue is drawing interest among young professionals.

“There are young film directors and photographers in Indonesia who show interest in the comfort women issue there. It looks quite hopeful,” Ikeda said.

The comfort women issue has cast a shadow on Japanese diplomacy, with South Korean President Park Geun-hye declining to hold a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since they took office — Abe in 2012 and Park in 2013.

If or how Abe touches on the issue in his upcoming statement to mark the World War II anniversary is the focus of much attention.

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