“History is written by the victors” ~ unknown
I remember hearing some of the sad tales of the “comfort women” when I was younger. I was shocked, horrified, outraged, angry for all the women that were forced into that life, a life of servicing the Japanese military during the first half of the 20th century. The more and more that I heard about the situation the angrier I became at Japan (really the Japanese government but for the sake of simplicity I’ll just say Japan) . I didn’t/don’t really expect many none Asians to know about the lives of “comfort women,” mostly because Korea is the forgotten country, the forgotten war, the forgotten people to most people/countries around the world. But I was shocked by the number of Korean nationals that are my age or older who have told me that they have no clue about what I’m talking about, that they’ve never heard of “comfort women.”
My friend Shauna called me last week because she found out there was a tour going to the House of Sharing and wanted to know if I was interested in going, which it took me all of a nanosecond to say, ‘Of course!’ The House of Sharing is a community of former “comfort women” who are trying to raise awareness in Korea and around the world of the atrocities that they were forced to endure during Japanese occupation.
It was an amazing experience to visit the House of Sharing, to meet some of the halmonis (the proper term to address one of these amazing women), and to hear their stories. There was a room that was a replica of a comfort station room that I could not bring myself to enter, I could only look through the small window on the side. In the documentary that I watched later, they said that a halmoni fell down after seeing the replica room because it was so similar to the room that she was forced to occupy and service Japanese soldiers. Also, the documentary said that many of the halmonis suffer from auditory hallucinations (ie the sounds of heavy footsteps on wooden floors especially).
Shauna made friends with Bae Chun-hui, who wanted Shauna to sing “Summertime.”
One of the halmonis, Oak-sun, was telling her story, she was orphaned at an early age, when she was fifteen, she was approached with an offer: a childless Korean couple wanted to adopt her and send her to school. She jumped at the chance to have a family and to be educated because up until the mid to late 1980s women really weren’t educated. Instead her “adoptive” family made her into a servant. One day when she was walking to the market, a Japanese and a Korean man jumped out of nowhere and threw her onto a truck, then she was taken to a comfort station. From the get-go she was a hellraiser, standing up to the proprieters of the comfort station, talking back, she even escaped once, but she didn’t know the way to safety so she was eventually captured. When she refused to promise that she would never try to escape again, a soldier stabbed her in the foot with his knife, to this day she has problems with her foot.
Another halmoni’s story is that her mother died when she was 22 and her father died when she was 23, she came from a big family that struggled financially. She had a love whose family forced him to marry another women because Oak-sun was an orphan, so that made her inelgible. Later after she had been forced to become a “comfort women” and they had reunited, his family again refused their blessing. They spent about three months together but then he enlisted and eventually committed suicide. Oak-sun gave birth to their daughter, who unfortunately died five months after her birth.
Another woman (sorry I can’t remember her name) was married, her and her husband applied for jobs at Japanese controlled factories so that they could make enough money to support their family. One day several Japanese soldiers cornered her at the factory, ignored her protests that she was married and raped her. She was then taken to a comfort station and forced to remain there.
Their stories were just some in the sea of stories from this time period. Each and every one of them are guarenteed to break your heart. Recently the halmonis held their 900th demonstration outside the Japanese embassy, many of them just wanting Japan to acknowledge, really acknowledge their role in the destruction that they caused many (numbers range from 20,000 to 500,000) young girls and women, to truthfully teach Japanese children, etc. The halmonis would love to see the day that they are not made invisible or ignored, but truthfully each of the women who have come forward are quite a bit old and their health is not doing well.
While you’re in Korea, you should visit the House of Sharing, spend some time getting to know this issue and the women, click on the second House of Sharing link above if you are interested. I plan on going to one of the protests while I’m still here in Korea, so we’ll see how that goes.