Hiring at a sawing factory turns into a military brothel in China

Park, Ok-sun, 91 years old
Park, Ok-sun, 91 years old

When she was 14 years old, her father died. Her elder brother’s business went wrong as well.

To help her family, in 1941, at 17, she went to a place with friends to get hired as a sawing factory worker. However, right at the spot, she and her friends were shipped to China by train.  She remembered the day still vividly.

“I was so scared and kept saying, please I don’t want to go but nobody listens to me. All my friends were trembling with fear..”

Girls still did not know what and where they were shipping to. When they arrived Heirungjian Prefecture in China, girls first day started by beatings from the person in charge at the Japanese military brothel.

After 4years, Japan surrendered and the war was over. However, her ordeal had not stopped. She did not have money to go home and she involuntarily settled at a country village in China. Even in China, she could not get out of poverty.

She said, “I think my unfortunate life is my own destiny. But my children who have been suffering with me, I take that as my fault..”


“Pope Francis gave me a Butterfly badge..everything will be all right.”

91 year old Kim, Yang-joo, surviving comfort woman
91 year old Kim, Yang-joo, surviving comfort woman
Pope Francis led a mass with the Butterfly badge on him.
Pope Francis led a mass with the Butterfly badge on him.

On the bed of a nursing home, while suffering from early Alzheimer, Kim, Yang-joo, 91 years-old, former comfort woman said in a clear voice,”Pope Francis gave me a butterfly, so everything will be all right.”

Even her memory has started fading, Kim, Yang-joo remembered the day at Myoung-Dong Catholic Church, where she and other 5 comfort women attended a mass with Pope Francis. Pope Francis shared and acknowledged the pain of comfort women by attaching a Butterfly badge, which is a symbol of protesting assault,discrimination against women, at the mass.

Kim, Yang-joo, borne in 1924,with her mother, ran away home from abusive father when she was young. They were so poor, Yang-joo followed a person who offered her a good job. However, she was taken as a comfort woman.

Since then, her life has been so difficult. She has never married, earning her living as a maid to many households.

At the age of 91, her health gets deteriorated and her only wish is now that Japanese government acknowledges the fact and takes responsibility, and apologizes to her.

Not much time is left for her.

WW II ‘comfort women’ push fight for justice, compensation


Manila (Reuters) — For decades, Filipino former World War II sex slaves have been fighting for recognition and compensation for the horrors they endured at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.

But their campaign has seen little success and now the few surviving “comfort women” left in the Philippines, are hoping the next generation will continue their fight.

The group called themselves “Pamana”, or “Inheritance” in Filipino, consisting of a handful of supporters and descendants of the former Filipino “comfort women”, a Japanese euphemism for sex slaves.

Members of the “Pamana” were in charge of spreading information and joining protest actions on behalf of the former Filipino comfort women.

They regularly hold meetings at a run-down resource center, which was being co-managed by their group and women’s rights organization Lila Pilipina.

Former comfort women Hilaria Bustamante and Estelita Dy act as caretakers of the center, which holds the records of all documented Filipino sex slaves under the three-year Japanese rule from 1942-1945.

Bustamante, 89, was abducted from her home and raped inside a Japanese garrison when she was 16. She said she suffered psychological trauma growing up and cannot forget the ordeal even today.

“It’s not easy to forget what happened. We will bring this memory down to our graves. even if they give an apology, it is still difficult to forget. It is already marked in us,” she said.

Bustamante and Dy decided to offer their support in the early 90s, joining various street protests to demand compensation and justice from the Japanese government. They now live inside the center and teach visitors about the importance of women’s rights and the lessons of war.

“We just don’t want another war because if there’s another war, what happened to us may happen again to the newer generations,” said 85-year-old Dy.

Melinda Relos, a member of Pamana whose mother was a former comfort woman, said the centre was facing challenges in funding for upkeep and maintenance.

She said the center operates solely on grants and donations from non-profit groups, making it difficult to preserve and maintain the documents which were slowly crumbling with age.

Despite the challenges, Relos said members of Pamana like her will not leave the centre nor their advocacy for the former Filipino comfort women.

“Even if there are no longer any grandmothers present, we are still here. There are still surviving children, grandchildren and supporters that can join and continue the fight of our mothers,” she said.

Lila Pilipina has records of 174 Filipino comfort women when they started documentation in 1992, but said the total surviving victims could be less than 70 with many of the survivors dead due to old age.

Like their counterparts in China and South Korea, the Filipino former comfort women have been demanding justice through compensation and a public apology from the Japanese government.

Japan acknowledged in 1993 that the state played a role in forcing Korean and Chinese women into military brothels and set up a fund to provide compensation to survivors in 1995. However, Japan has refused to pay direct compensation to survivors.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a former critic of the 1993 statement, now says he will uphold it. Many Japanese conservatives say there is no proof that authorities directly coerced the women.

Photo exhibition on ‘comfort women’ from across Asia to open in Tokyo

A South Korean photographer whose past exhibition was called off amid protests will showcase portraits of wartime “comfort women” from across Asia at a Tokyo gallery from Sept. 4.

Ahn Se-hong’s newest exhibition, titled “Juju: Inerasable vestige,” will feature around 70 pictures of 46 former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex in front-line brothels for the Japanese military during World War II.

Since 1996, the Nagoya-based Ahn, 44, has photographed about 60 former comfort women from South Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor.

In 2012, the Nikon Salon gallery in Tokyo, a prestigious venue for photographers, canceled Ahn’s comfort women exhibition amid numerous protests and threats by those who accused him of falsifying history.

The Tokyo District Court ordered the exhibition to proceed, and it was held with metal detectors at the entrance. Ahn said he was forbidden to freely talk to visitors at the venue and from displaying titles and captions for his pictures.

In an ongoing civil suit at the Tokyo District Court, the photographer is demanding compensation from Nikon Corp., the operator of the gallery, and others involved, for their decision to call off the exhibition.

“I hope it will never happen again for a photo exhibition to be canceled just because the theme touches upon a specific social issue,” Ahn said.

The photographer started interviewing and photographing former Korean comfort women at the House of Sharing nursing home for such women in South Korea in 1996.

He started taking photos of former comfort women in China in 2001 and made trips to the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor to meet with surviving women in 2013 and 2014.

In his upcoming exhibition, the subjects include a Chinese woman from Shanxi province in her 90s who said she was taken away by Japanese soldiers in 1941. She was pregnant at the time and suffered a miscarriage.

She told Ahn that she was then forced into service as a comfort woman and gave birth to a child of a Japanese soldier. As she was convinced that the child would be loathed and discriminated against in her village, she abandoned the infant in the mountains.

An East Timorese woman in her mid-80s said she was taken away from her home to become a comfort woman in 1942 when she was in her early teens. Her arm still bears the tattoo of a name of a Japanese woman.

She said she was forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers for three years, as people managing her brothel threatened to kill her family members if she fled.

“Women who were forced into service as comfort women have never truly overcome the pain they suffered 70 years ago,” Ahn said.

The title of the exhibition, “Juju,” which translates as “thick layers,” is meant to express the agony of these women, symbolized by their thick wrinkles, the photographer said.

“Adding to the tragedy is the burden they have shouldered during the postwar period as they have been harshly discriminated against in their communities,” Ahn said.

The photo exhibition will run through Sept. 13 at Session House gallery in Shinjuku Ward. Admission is free. For more information, call the event organizer at 080-6952-7849.