Former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo hands in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward a cash contribution to the principal of Hiroshima Korean School, located in the city’s Higashi Ward, on April 23. (Tetsuaki Otaki)
Former “comfort woman” Lee Yong-soo felt pain in her chest when she heard the announcement that the Japanese government had cut off funding for Korean schools in Japan.So, the 90-year-old Lee, who lives in Daegu, South Korea, visited a Korean school here to hand a cash donation to the principal to help the institution continue the legal fight against the current Japanese system.
“I was forced to become a comfort woman when I was very young,” said Lee, who was part of the women forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. “I cannot stand to see children of similar ages to myself at that time being discriminated against.”
The administration, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, announced its policy to exclude Korean schools from the tuition-free high school education program in December 2012 at the start of his second administration. Hearing the announcement, Lee felt anger toward the Japanese government.
Hiroshima Korean School located in the city’s Higashi Ward appealed to the Hiroshima High Court after the Hiroshima District Court in July 2017 rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for reversal of the government policy.
Lee, wearing a light-colored traditional Korean “chima jeogori,” handed 5 million won ($4,500, or 500,000 yen) to Kim Young-woong, principal of the school, at a gathering after oral arguments were made by supporters during the appeal hearing on April 23.
Lee had been encouraged to take action by her feelings, “Why are (Korean children) discriminated against even though both they and (Japanese children) are youngsters who live in Japan?”
Lee started her donation efforts in the 1990s. Another South Korean woman, Kim Hak-sun, who died in 1997, had gone public in 1991 with her testimony as a former comfort woman.
Inspired by Kim’s admission, Lee also testified in 1992 that she had been similarly forced. Soon after, Lee started to receive living expenses from the South Korean government and has been saving part of it to make the best use of it for “something that is socially meaningful one day.”
She said she previously donated money to victims of the Vietnam War.
Lee criticized the December 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement to resolve the comfort women issue, saying, “The agreement does not reflect our (comfort women’s) voices.
“Unless the Japanese government offers an official apology, finds out the whole truth about it and legally compensates us, the issue will not be resolved.”
South Korean Kim Bok-dong, another comfort woman who embarked on demonstrations on her own calling for an official apology from Abe, died in January. The number of surviving comfort women has continued to dwindle.
Lee has been participating in demonstrations in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesdays for about 28 years. She joins in the protests calling for a “resolution” to the long-standing issue, even showing up on rainy or snowy days.
However, no clear progress has been made.
Lee laments the lack of action, saying, “Why do we, the victims, need to take action to this extent?”
By TETSUAKI OTAKI