The other night when my husband and I were watching TVO, we saw a clip of director Tiffany Tsiung’s latest film, The Apology
. The film is about the more than 200,000 women and girls across Asia who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War. “Now in their 80s and 90s, these former comfort women are demanding an official apology from a reluctant Japanese government. This documentary follows the heart wrenching and transformative journeys of Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines as they confront their painful past.”
What are “comfort women”? “Comfort women were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories before and during World War II. The name “comfort women” is a translation of the Japanese ianfu, an euphemism for “prostitutes”.”
The Japanese had what they thought were legitimate reasons for establishing the comfort stations. It was to prevent rape crimes committed by Japanese army personnel which would curb the rise of hostility among people in occupied areas. The Japanese Army established the comfort stations to prevent venereal diseases and rape by Japanese soldiers, to provide comfort to soldiers and head off espionage.
The first comfort station was established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Earlier comfort women were Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for such service. However, as Japan continued military expansion, the military found itself short of Japanese volunteers, and turned to the local population to coerce women into serving in these stations, or abducted them. Many women responded to calls for work as factory workers or nurses, and did not know that they were being pressed into sexual slavery.
How anyone could think that providing women for comfort to soldiers was a good idea, is beyond me. These women suffered such atrocities, it is heart wrenching. “Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted diseases. Beatings and physical torture were said to be common. The women who not were prostitutes prior to joining the “comfort women corps”, especially those taken in by force, were normally “broken in” by being raped.
One Korean women, Kim Hak-sun stated in a 1991 interview about how she was drafted into the “comfort women corps” in 1941: “When I was 17 years old, the Japanese soldiers came along in a truck, beat us [her and a friend], and then dragged us into the back. I was told if I were drafted, I could earn lots of money in a textile factory…The first day I was raped and the rapes never stopped…I was born a woman but never lived as a woman…I feel sick when I come close to a man. Not just Japanese men, but all men-even my own husband who saved me from the brothel. I shiver whenever I see a Japanese flag…Why should I feel ashamed? I don’t have to feel ashamed.” Kim stated that she was raped 30-40 times a day, everyday of the year during her time as a “comfort woman”.
Comfort women were seen as female ammunition and public toilets, to be used and abused. They were forced to donate blood for the treatment of wounded soldiers. The Korean women made up at least 80% of the “comfort women” but were assigned to the lower ranks while Japanese and European women were reserved for the officers. In Korea, premarital sex is widely disapproved of so the Korean teenagers who were taken into the “comfort women corps” were virgins. It was believed that this was the best way to limit the spread of venereal diseases to the soldiers and sailors because they didn’t want them to be incapacitated.
After what these women have endured, it is high time that the Japanese government apologizes to them. They are the voices of the other women who died, their cries against the injustice they suffered silenced forever. It is time for the Japanese government to step up and do what is right.
Here’s the trailer. If you live in Canada, you can watch the film on TVO tonight at 9pm.