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Book seeks to educate about an ugly legacy

Museum wants public informed about wartime sexual slavery

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

A Tokyo museum has published a book about wartime sex slaves aimed at enhancing public awareness following a series of remarks by politicians demonstrating their ignorance over the “comfort women” issue.

The book is based on a 2007 exhibition at the Women’s Active Museum largely aimed at junior high school students. Information panels explained how females were kidnapped and forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers and work in the wartime brothels known as “comfort stations.”

“We organized the exhibition to hand down the history of wartime sex slavery at a time when references to the issue almost disappeared from junior high school textbooks,” said Eriko Ikeda, director of the museum that is better known as WAM. “But we were surprised that even adults, including influential politicians, do not understand the problem accurately.”

She was referring to a remark in 2007 by Shinzo Abe, during his first stint as prime minister, asserting there was no evidence that the Imperial Japanese Army was directly involved in the forced recruitment of females into sexual slavery.

Also, earlier this year, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto drew a storm of criticism both at home and abroad for saying the wartime system of sexual servitude was considered necessary at the time.

Comments like these have drawn harsh criticism at home and abroad.

Given these developments, WAM decided to update the content of the 2007 exhibition and gather additional information to publish the book whose title is tentatively translated as “We Will Answer All Questions Over Japanese Military’s ‘Comfort Women.’ ”

The book features documents of the Japanese military that clarify that it played the key role in recruiting girls and women and in managing the brothels, which were established in part to reduce the possibility of rapes committed by Japanese forces in the field, as such incidents would trigger local backlash.

For example, a note issued by a service chief stationed in northern China dated June 27, 1938, states it was an “urgent issue to prepare a facility for sexual consolation” as rapes committed by soldiers were generating anti-Japanese sentiment.

A map in the book shows that military brothels were present across Japanese-occupied Asia.

The book also carries testimony by former sex slaves from China, East Timor in Indonesia, the Korean Peninsula, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan, as well as confessions by Japanese veterans about brutal acts, including rape.

Among them, a Dutch woman named Jan Ruff O’Herne born in 1923 in Java, Indonesia, said she was taken by the Japanese military in 1944 together with 15 other Dutch girls to a facility surrounded by barbed wire where she was gang-raped.

Even after being released, she was stigmatized as “a prostitute of Japan.” After marriage she suffered four miscarriages before having two daughters.

A Malaysian woman, Rosalind Saw, born in 1916, was kidnapped and brought to a comfort station for the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941. “I could not go out, except the once-a-week examination for sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.

On holidays, as Japanese soldiers continuously victimized her, she would lie in bed all day without putting on her clothes. She became pregnant before being released on Aug. 15, 1945, when Japan surrendered.

A former Japanese soldier, Yasuji Kaneko, who spent most of his time in the military in China, recounted that it was not out of the ordinary to rape women there because soldiers thought, “We should have all the fun as we could die at any moment.”

“I myself (was among those who) gang-raped a woman by drawing lots for turns with other soldiers,” he said. “Rape was prohibited under the army’s criminal code, but it was overlooked, as the illegal acts of low-class warriors were blamed on their (commanders).”

The book shows how the governments in the victims’ homelands, as well as human rights organizations under the United Nations, have reacted to the issue.

It also delves into the damages suits filed by the victims with Japanese courts, which have rejected all of them.

Following the remark by Osaka’s Hashimoto, the U.N. Committee Against Torture responded by calling on the Japanese government to take steps to eradicate any actions that could “re-traumatize” victims of wartime sexual servitude.

Japan needs to “refute attempts to deny the facts by the government authorities and public figures and to re-traumatize the victims through such repeated denials,” the U.N. body said.

WAM director Ikeda said it’s a constant battle to educate people on the matter.

“Currently, even young teachers do not have sufficient awareness over the wartime sexual slavery, thus they cannot teach it during their classes,” she said. “We hope young people in Japan will understand the past faults as we believe it is the first step for them to create a trusting relationship with their neighbors in other Asian countries.”

The 67-page book, priced at ¥1,500 plus tax, was published by Tokyo-based publisher Godo-Shuppan Co.

  • John L. Odom

    I grew up in the Philippines. I knew two women personally who were forcibly taken and used as sex slaves by Imperial Japanese Forces in the Philippines.

  • Jenny

    Evidence of women living among the troops was discovered after Japanese evacuation/surrender of the Aleutian Islands.