After just four years of operation, the Ama Museum on Taipei’s Dihua Street on Monday announced that it was closing its doors on Nov. 10.
It is yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, as ticket sales plummeted and tour groups were canceled, although the museum had already been struggling financially before that.
The museum details the tragic experiences of the more than 2,000 Taiwanese “comfort women” who say they were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese army during World War II. Not only were they subjected to abuse in horrific conditions, many were also shunned by their family and neighbors when they returned home, exacerbating the trauma that followed them for the rest of their lives.
Thoughtfully designed and full of invaluable artifacts, photographs, books and information that depict the lives of some of these women up to the 21st century, the museum is an eye-opener even to those who might be familiar with this piece of history.
Over the years, it has become not just a museum, but also a memorial to comfort women, and space for holding local and international events relating to gender and sexual abuse. In 2018, it hosted a joint exhibition with the Anne Frank House to highlight the suffering of women during wartime.
It took the Taiwan Women’s Rescue Foundation 12 years to find a suitable place to display its extensive collection and honor these women, and it is unfortunate that the museum has to go this way. The foundation tried to save it: Last year, it sold its main office to keep the museum open, but the losses were too great.
With just two identified Taiwanese comfort women surviving as of last year, the closure of the museum would be a blow to their remembrance. Not only does the Ama Museum give locals a comprehensive, poignant and heartbreaking insight into what happened to these women, it also helps spread the word to countless foreign visitors, as it is in the heart of the tourist hotspot of Dihua Street.
The general public mostly hears about comfort women during International Memorial Day for Comfort Women on Aug. 14, when civic groups stage protests demanding that Japan apologize and provide compensation for the historical atrocities done to comfort women.
These efforts would certainly continue to keep alive the memories of comfort women, but there needs to be something tangible, where Taiwanese and foreigners can learn about their plight, as well as the struggle for justice that continues to this day.
Japan’s continuous apathy toward Taiwan’s demands underscores the importance of keeping comfort women’s memories alive, but it is also important to remember this piece of history to prevent such atrocities from happening again, and to continue tackling the ongoing abuse of women.
Hopefully, something will keep the museum’s legacy going, whether in the form of a new space or a completely different model that is more profitable. There is a lot of creative entrepreneurship in Taipei that has given rise to vibrant and intriguing spaces, and perhaps they could partner with someone who can provide new ideas.
With just more than four months left, those who have not visited the museum should do so and take a moment to remember these brave women who faced their trauma and shared their stories with the world.
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