Comfort Women

This post has been kicking around for awhile now, as I tried to figure out the right way to write it. Visiting the Sharing House was a powerful experience for me and I want to make sure that I give the women all the respect and support that they deserve though this post.

‘About a month ago Jeff and I and a few of our friends made the trek to Kyonggi-do province, the province that surrounds Seoul, to visit the Sharing House. As we rode the bus to our destination I was amazed by the scenery. Living in Seoul means a lot of smog and buildings – there are few opportunities to truly be surrounded by nature.

The Sharing House is home to seven Comfort Women. The name Comfort Women was given to the hundreds of thousands of women who were used as sexual slaves by Japanese soldiers during World War Two. These women came primarily from Korea since Korea was already occupied by the Japanese. The Japanese army simply had to say that they wanted a certain number of women, and they could easily get them. Some Comfort Women were kidnapped off the street, others were told that they were to work for the labour force and then were forced into sexual slavery. These women were between 13 – 35 years old. As the Japanese increased their control over Asia, they stole more women and planted them all over Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, China, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia…) so that the soldiers could be “serviced” whenever they needed to be. These women were placed in small rooms with a single bed and were stripped of their Korea names and given Japanese names. They were raped by 30 to 40 men a day. Although the soldiers were required to wear a condom, the women were forced to use the same condom over and over again, simply cleaning it out between men. Women who became pregnant were often forced to have an abortion, and head back to “work” shortly after the procedure. Because of these sexual encounters most Comfort Women could not become pregnant once they were freed. Their dreams of children and a family were destroyed.

When the war was over many of the Comfort Women stayed where they were. Many of them did not know how to get back home. Some of them were no longer able to speak their mother tongue because they had not spoken it in such a long time. Some women couldn’t speak at all due to the physical and emotional trauma they experienced while working at the “Comfort Stations”.

Many of them did not talk about their experiences when they came home. They kept that part of their life hidden for fear that their friends and families would think that they had knowingly became prostitutes. Even today there are only 200 women in Korea who have come forward to admit that they were Comfort Women. Many of those who have come forward have been disowned by their families who are ashamed of these women who sold their bodies. The Japanese government refuses to acknowledge their role in the systematic creation of Comfort Stations, and thus the Korean government has also refused to acknowledge that the Comfort Women were anything more than willing prostitutes. Every Wednesday morning the women living at the Sharing House make the 45 minute trek into Seoul to stand outside the Japanese embassy, demanding that Japan acknowledge their role in creating and maintaining these “Comfort Stations”. The majority of Koreans do not understand why these women are “complaining”. When I told my mom’s class that I was going to the Sharing House they asked why. I told them I wanted to learn more about Korean history, and that I was interested in what happened during the Second World War.

The Korean textbooks glaze over the Comfort Women. Japanese textbooks
fail to mention that part of their history. But there is hope. In terms of people who visit the comfort house, the majority of them are Japanese. Students come with their teachers to learn about what happened to the Comfort Women during the Second World War.

One of the things that struck me the most was the fact that basically any woman over the age of 65 living in Korea could have been a Comfort Woman. This makes me look at the old women who push through crowds with seemingly no concern about others with a new eye. Suddenly these women are not just 아줌마 (adjumas), but they are women who may have lost everything when the Japanese invaded their country.

I had first heard about Comfort Women when I saw the Vagina Monologues at my university. I later picked up a book at a used bookstore for a dollar about Comfort Women. (I bought it because I had remembered hearing about them during the Vagina Monologues). Other than those two encounters I had never heard of Comfort Women before. I don’t remember every studying about these women in my history classes, and I took a lot of history classes, I have a minor in history! I have a real interest in both World Wars, but hadn’t heard about these women. Now, I know that there are a lot of things that happened during the Second World War, so much that courses can’t cover everything…. but I feel like I should have been told at some point. I took quite a few courses dealing with the Second World War in university: the history of the holocaust, war and peace in Britain during the 20th century, Canada’s role in the Second World War… and yet, none of these courses even mentioned Comfort Women

I know that there are terrible things happening all over the world these days – children are abducted and forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves, people are suffering through the after-effects of earthquakes and tornadoes, and thousands are dying in gencides that are approved but their governments. Some times it feels like the world is falling apart. But I truly believe that education about the past can help to change the actions of our future. I remember my grade eight history teacher telling us that one of the reasons we learn about history is so that we can try to stop things from being repeated in the future. This is an idealistic point of view, but I do believe that there is some truth in it. I have to believe there is some truth in it.

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~ by dawseng on June 23, 2008.

3 Responses to “Comfort Women”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I had never heard of ‘comfort women’ before reading this. Unbelievable what humans are capable of doing to eachother. It gives me incredible sadness but, as you said, I am hopeful at the same time that this someday might never happen again.

  2. Before comfort stations were created, there was an incident where Japanese soldiers invading China pillaged a small village and brutally raped and murdered many of the women. As Japan was, at that time, attempting to colonize China, this produced a lot of bad “press”. So the Japanese wanted to create a way for their soldiers to satisfy themselves – hence the comfort stations.

    It’s sadly ironic that in attempting to avoid the random outbreaks of brutal rape and murder, the Japanese simply created a systematic way of doing so.

    -jeff

  3. Thanks for the inspiration!

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