A bronze statue of a girl representing victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery is seen in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul on Wednesday. Photo by Elizabeth Shim/UPI


SEOUL, March 13 (UPI) — Views among South Korean activists of Japan’s apologies for “comfort women” are remarkably different from those, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who have suggested Tokyo has sufficiently acknowledged wartime sex slavery.

During their 1,378th Wednesday rally outside the old Japanese embassy compound, activists of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan said more action is needed. They also told UPI not all compensation is the same.

Han Gyeong-hui, secretary general of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance, said the issue is not remorse, but rather a matter of the Japanese government accepting blame for past wartime crimes.

“The issue of [comfort women] victims is also an issue of war crimes, the issue of sexual violence during wartime,” Han said. “Japan has to recognize that as a nation they sanctioned these crimes. But not once have they acknowledged responsibility.”

Japanese apologies have a difficult past that date back to the early ’90s, when the issue of wartime sex slaves began to be raised on the international stage.

Japanese prime ministers from Kiichi Miyazawa to Abe have “apologized,” but for South Korean survivors, now in their 90s, and the women who organize and stage the weekly protests, there is a distinction to be made between saying sorry and taking a trust-building approach to addressing grievances.

In 2015, Japan and South Korea agreed to create a foundation to provide nearly $10 million in funds as reparations to surviving comfort women.

Some of the funds were distributed to victims, but others refused to take the money because of its non-governmental origins.

For activists like Han, who have opposed the fund’s creation without consultation, the money does not represent the Japanese government’s position.

“There was no such thing as formal recompense received” by the women, Han said, making a distinction between official compensation and “compensation benefits.” The foundation’s money was the latter, and not the former. It was designed to console the aggrieved but stopped short of acknowledging Japanese government responsibility, the activist said.

Remembering ‘grandmother’ Kim Bok-dong

As gusty winds knocked down nearby traffic barricades, activists, including those representing Christian organizations, took turns to speak on a makeshift stage. Protesters, including teenage girls, cheered the speakers with handheld clappers that clacked like castanets.

Several musicians performed songs dedicated to survivors of wartime sex slavery; purchases of albums will go toward helping the victims, they said.

Speakers remembered former comfort woman Kim Bok-dong, who died in January after battling cancer. Following Kim’s death, the activists were showered with funds from the Korean public. A surplus of $100,000 was used to fund other movements in labor and women’s rights, activists said.

“At the young age of 14, [Kim] was recruited into sexual slavery,” said Min Gyeong-ja, a Christian activist with Korea Church Women United. “History must not be repeated.”

Others expressed anger at the Japanese government.

Yun Hye-suk, another activist with KCWU, urged the protesters to bring together a multitude of “little voices” to shout for “peace” to the point the “Japanese embassy collapses.”

The rallies, which began to be staged in the ’90s, have become a regular affair that consistently attracts media attention.

On Wednesday the audience included a small group of Japanese activists.

Keiichi Mitsuba, a Japanese activist with a group calling for a “people’s solidarity” between Japan and South Korea, said he had traveled to Seoul to join the protest.

“Abe is bad. He doesn’t care for weak people,” Mitsuba told UPI, as he gave the prime minister a thumbs down.

“I wish the Japanese government apologizes to the grandmothers.”

Before her death, Kim repeatedly called on Abe to apologize directly to the women.


Written by By Elizabeth Shim, UPI