Comfort Women Interview
On January 17th, we visited the ‘House of Sharing’ located in Gwang-ju, Gyunggi-do. The "House of Sharing" is the home the former comfort women who are alive. These women used to be forced into sex slavery during World War II. Next to these women’s care house is a special place which carries the painful memories of the comfort women, called “The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military”. This museum was established on August 14th, 1998 to show the Korean public how comfort women had suffered and how their struggles continue even today. Unlike the initial impression of the museum—small, simple, and empty—this place took us through an emotional flashback to the early 1930s, from an official timeline of how the comfort women were taken to the camps, replica of the comfort camps and rooms, to drawings and art crafts created by the comfort women. The end of the museum had a board dedicated to explaining current problems in compensating the damages to the comfort women and the continuing struggle with the Japanese government in international politics to find a negotiation point. After the tour of the museum, we interviewed the manager of the ‘House of Sharing,’ Ahn Sin-Kwon, about the history museum and the comfort women.
Q1: We could sincerely feel the comfort women’s suffering during the History Museum tour. The term “comfort women,” used multiple times during the exhibit for obvious reasons, especially left me curious. The term seemed to have quotation marks every time it was used. Is there a specific reason for this?
A: We decided to put quotation marks around the word “comfort women” were marked when the history museum was built several years ago. In the United States, people can freely call these victims “sex slave” as they are victims of sexual exploitation. However, in Korea, the usage of directly translation of “sex slave” is prohibited, so we put quotation marks on the “comfort women” to protect these victims’ dignity and illustrate the term as accurately as possible.
Q2: The Japanese army´s comfort women had recently held their 1000th weekly rally. Furthermore, we have been told that the comfort women have been internationally active in raising awareness of this issue. We would appreciate it if you could explain what kind of activities they have been executing so far
A: The main activity has been testifying. In December of last year, they visited Columbia University in the City of New York to testify and discuss about international society’s roles and relations in resolving the issue comfort women have with the Japanese Government. It is hard to find an exact solution, considering how every country is so politically intertwined, but one thing that should not be ignored is that the issue of comfort women must not get involved with international politics. It is because this issue is not a political matter. It is simply the matter of soothing the victims of a horrendous “international war crime.”
Q3: It has already been 20 years since the comfort women first gave their testimony. I think it is impossible to exclude a solid image of ‘struggles’ and ‘suffering’ created by their heartbreaking testimonies. However, these women must have their own dreams and personalities as individuals; but through the decades of outcries regarding their victimization, I think they are having a hard time breaking the public’s stereotype as a victim, and only as a victim.
A: Yes, that is a good point. As victims of sexual war crime, it is extremely tough for these women to talk about their terrible experiences and even harder to go into detail. But an even more difficult task is that, even if each of them wants to pursue their own life as a woman, the general public views them only as a sad part of history, as if they are a historical monument of Korea’s shameful history. It is true that they have been through various hardships and struggles throughout their entire lives. But that does not mean they don’t want to live a life of an ordinary woman and create an ordinary family, which had not crossed their fate. In this sense, society needs to understand these women’s wounds and unfulfilled desires more sensitively.
The visit to “House of sharing” stimulated a lot of questions. Mr. Ahn’s answer to the last question particularly lingered on our way back. What was our perspective on the “comfort women” so far? They have always been the object of pity and sorrow, misery and misfortune, but that was all. The symbol of Wednesday rallies should have received more respect and dignity from their own country, as an individual, as a woman. Mike Honda, a U.S. Congressman, has played a crucial role in adopting a resolution to demand the Japanese government for an official apology. He calls the “comfort women” “my sisters.” He treats them as his own sisters, rather than the object, or monument of a sad history. Korea needs to adopt such attitude and embrace these women more like family, like one of us. If given another chance to meet the “comfort women,” we would like to ask them a few questions. What food do you like? Do you know the famous Korean comedian Yu Jae Suk? These trivial questions, which may seem like a waste of time asking, might actually the most important way to solace the pained souls of the Korean “comfort women.”
Interview by Officers Kyusun Chung & Sangrae Jo