Following a series of remarks by influential people playing down Japan’s wartime sex slavery, a Tokyo museum has launched a five-month exhibition aimed at young people to provide a basic picture of the atrocity.
Many panels in the “Exhibition of ‘Comfort Women’ for Junior High School Students” explain how sex slavery started in many parts of Asia where the Japanese military advanced and how the system operated.
“Comfort woman” is a euphemism used to refer to wartime sex slaves.
Visitors to the Women’s Active Museum in Shinjuku Ward can also read the testimonies of former sex slaves as well as Japanese soldiers.
Among the victims is Remedios Felias, who was born on Leyte Island in the Philippines in 1928. She failed to escape during a counterinsurgency operation and was caught at the age of 14 by Japanese soldiers who raped her.
Detained by the Japanese military, she was forced to do household chores during the daytime and was repeatedly raped at night, “living a slavish life,” according to an exhibit panel.
A condom and an ointment to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, both of which were used by Japanese soldiers at the wartime brothels, are also on display.
“We hope to provide basic information, as references to the sex slavery have almost disappeared from junior high school textbooks, eliminating opportunities to learn about it in classrooms,” said Eriko Ikeda, director of the museum, known as WAM. “We have also been stirred by the attempts of public figures, including politicians, to gloss over it.”
Ikeda referred to a remark last year by outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who said Japan’s wartime system of sexual servitude was considered necessary before and during World War II, and to another remark by the president of public broadcaster NHK, Katsuto Momii.
During his inaugural press conference in January, Momii said sexual servitude existed in “every country,” and is only considered wrong by “today’s morality.”
WAM immediately issued a statement of protest saying Momii’s comments “deeply hurt the victims who are still suffering even now and struggling to restore human dignity.” The statement also said, “It is unacceptable and shameful for a person who affirms the war crime to assume the top post of a news media organization,” calling for Momii to resign.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stirred controversy in 2007 during his first stint as prime minister, saying there was no evidence to back claims that the Imperial Japanese Army procured women to work in the military brothels.
Abe has also faced criticism more recently, particularly from neighboring countries, over the Japanese government’s examination of the background of its 1993 landmark apology to the former sex slaves, known as the Kono Statement.
The move to review the statement was viewed as another attempt to downplay past atrocities Japan has inflicted on its Asian neighbors, although Tokyo has since vowed to uphold the spirit of the statement.