Mon, Dec 18, 2000 - Page 9 News List

WWII sex slaves want Japan to wake up

Seventy World War II comfort women have testified in Tokyo of becoming sex slaves and of their sufferings at the hands of the Japanese military

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Illustration: Mountain People

Victims of Japan's wartime sex-slave system refuse to disappear.

More than half a century since the end of World War II, Japan has recovered better than other Asian countries from wartime destruction. During the 1990s, the country experienced significant changes, Emperor Hirohito's death and the Cold War's end, and the crumbling of the Liberal Democratic Party's monopoly on political power.

Japan is ready to forget and to move on from the past.

But it will not be easy for Japan to put everything to rest as long as survivors of its sexual enslavement during the war keep up their demands for justice from the Japanese government.

Established between 1932 and 1945, the military's sexual slavery system was given the innocuous sounding name -- "comfort women system."

The true brutality of the system first came to light when survivors began in 1991 to speak out about their experiences as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers. Since then, hundreds of women in Asia have come out to expose their suffering at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Forces during the war.

Occasionally, outcries from victims remind Japan of their destructive imperial drive in Asia to disrupt what some comfort women describe as the country's seeming amnesia about the matter.

Over the past two weeks at Kudan Kaidan, a conference hall in Tokyo, over 70 former comfort women from eight Asian countries painfully testified before a mock tribunal about how they were forced to become sex slaves and how much they suffered from their enslavement by the Japanese military.

Their graphic testimonies, frequently punctuated by sobs and curses, drew a vivid picture of a shockingly painful past and provoked emotional reactions from the audience.

The proceedings carried on while outside the conference hall right-wing Japanese protesters shouted: "The women did it voluntarily. They're nothing but prostitutes."

Between 1932 and 1945, according to the little surviving historical documentation and testimonies of the former comfort women and soldiers, thousands of "comfort women" were systematically rounded up and confined in "comfort stations," or brothels, where they were repeatedly raped and abused by Japanese military personnel.

Though an open secret in the Japan's former colonies, debate about comfort women was largely suppressed until the last decade.

Japanese writer Tamura Taijiro first exposed the use of Korean comfort women in his 1947 novel A Prostitute's Story. And in 1973, Senda Kako, a Japanese journalist, published a groundbreaking story on military comfort women, investigating the actual conditions comfort women endured under the sexual slavery system.

The two reports, however, did not gain much attention and the issue was not widely known until 1991, when three former Korean comfort women filed a suit in Tokyo District Court demanding an apology and compensation from the Japanese government.

Since then, a movement has grown to include women from former Japanese colonies, including North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and East Timor. To this day, the international movement has persisted in pressing the Japanese government to take not only moral but legal responsibility -- with prosecution of the perpetrators and repatriations -- for the enforced prostitution.

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