Four former “comfort women” called on the Japanese government Friday to make a formal apology and offer compensation to fellow victims in other countries, while rejecting a December agreement between Japan and South Korea that was designed to permanently settle the issue.

The call came as a group of U.S. human rights activists, who were involved with getting San Francisco and the city of Glendale near Los Angeles to erect statues symbolizing the women who were forced into Japanese military brothels during the war, are visiting Osaka as part of trip to learn more about how the ianfu (comfort women) issue is seen in Japan.

At a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, former comfort women from East Timor, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Korean Peninsula spoke of being taken away when they were as young as 14 and raped by Imperial Japanese soldiers. They insisted that the December 2015 agreement signed by Tokyo and Seoul did not settle the issue.

“This agreement is between Japan and South Korea. I want to urge the Japanese government to scrap it because it doesn’t include all the victims, from countries like the Philippines,” said Estelita Basnano Dy, a former victim from the Philippines. “In fact, there were 11 countries that had comfort women.”

The group is demanding that the government offer a public apology to all those who suffered, that the comfort women issue be included in Japanese textbooks and that the victims be justly compensated.

For its part, the government is particularly upset about the presence of a comfort woman statue erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The idea of building public memorials, including statues, in Japan is not one that has yet been seriously discussed, either by comfort women support groups or by politicians who are sympathetic to the issue.

In the U.S., some municipal governments, among them Glendale and San Francisco, have built, or will soon build, comfort women statues, with the former planning to include the issue in school textbooks as well.

The visiting activists from California spoke in Osaka Friday night about the challenges of raising awareness of the issue.

“In U.S. schools, the teaching of WWII is very Europe-centric. There’s one huge chapter about war in Europe and a chapter about the Holocaust. Nothing about comfort women, and little about Japanese atrocities,” said Judith Mirkinson of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition. “With a state that has a large Asian population, American kids need to know their history, so we lobbied the state to have it included.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.