Japan and the Forgiveness of Women

In the wake of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, the English service of China Radio International reports that among the groups sending their condolences to the Japanese people has been a group of South Korean elderly women who organized a silent demonstration to commemorate the victims of the earthquake.

This was no ordinary group however but composed of the “comfort women” forced into prostitution for Japanese troops in World War II. Comfort women was a euphemism used for women forced into prostitution as a form of sexual slavery in Japanese-organised military brothels. Around 200,000 are estimated to have been involved in World War II, although claimed numbers range from 20,000 to 410,000. The majority were from Korea, China, Japan and Philippines but women from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and other Japanese-occupied territories were also used at so-called “comfort stations”.

The group has gathered at the same location every Wednesday for the last 19 years, to demand an apology and compensation from the Japanese government for this war crime.

However last week, putting aside any lingering animosity from the past and despite the cold weather, the group gathered outside of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul a few days after the earthquake and instead of their usual demonstration, they stood in silent tribute to the victims of the earthquake in Japan.

“Hate the sin but not the people. We’re holding a silent demonstration for that reason,” said Lee Yong-su, a former comfort woman who was participating in the demonstration.

“I express my condolences to the victims and hope for a swift recovery,” said Yun Mi-hyang, director of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

(Gaby Weiner, GEA Chair)


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