Guidebook covers 'comfort women' museums across Asia

by Keiji Hirano


A Tokyo-based museum that focuses on issues involving wartime sexual violence against females has compiled a guidebook on its counterparts around Asia in an effort to have more of the victims heard.

Among the facilities covered is the Chinese Comfort Women History Museum, located at Shanghai Normal University, which focuses on Chinese victims forced to work in Japanese military brothels. The museum also serves as an institution for history education in cooperation with local schools and citizens.

The guidebook, issued by the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, or WAM, located in Shinjuku Ward, provides background on the establishment of each museum in English and Japanese and what they exhibit. Business hours, admission fees and other information are provided for the nine museums featured.

At the Shanghai museum, mementos of victims, including their clothes and IDs, as well as a map indicating 170 points in Shanghai where “comfort stations” of the Japanese military are known to have been located are put on display. Visitors are also able to watch documentaries featuring Chinese victims.

Four museums in South Korea are presented in the guidebook, of which the House of Sharing in Gwangju serves also as a nursing home for former victims who have reached an average age of 90.

The National Women’s Historical Hall in Busan houses photographs, books and audiovisual collections as well as material about a lawsuit on the comfort women issue.

At Lila Pilipina, Lolas Center in the Philippine city of Quezon, “lolas,” or grandmothers in Tagalog, display handmade embroideries depicting their wartime experiences, while housing testimonies of more than 170 survivors.

While the lolas have given talks at universities, they have gradually turned to Skype to share their experiences with young people around the world, according to the guidebook.

The Ama Museum in Taipei was established last December to document the struggles of former Taiwanese comfort women and to promote empowerment of contemporary women. “Ama” means grandmother in Taiwanese.

Its exhibition hall displays material educating visitors about the historic background of the comfort women system and international campaigns on human rights and women’s rights.

“Victimized women are aging and many of them have passed away, while the victimizers’ side aims to close the curtain on the issue,” said Mina Watanabe, secretary-general of WAM.

“Given these circumstances, we expect the museums to play a role in preserving the memories of the victims so the wartime sexual violence will never be repeated, despite the attempt to eliminate inconvenient history,” she said.

WAM was established in August 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II as Japan’s only resource of information on the issue of comfort women.

A summary of WAM’s activities are included in the guidebook.

Watanabe also indicated the existence of these museums shows that the comfort women issue is not a bilateral dispute between Japan and South Korea but one that should be addressed multilaterally.

The directors of the museums gathered in Tokyo in early April to share their efforts to carry on the records of comfort women, and reaffirmed that they will cooperate further so they can contribute to rehabilitating the victims and achieving a world where human rights of women are defended.

“We, the museum directors and staff, have launched a cross-border network, and we hope this guidebook will promote our effort to honor the women who have come forward, with courage and dignity, to prevent the recurrence of the tragic history,” Watanabe said.

The guidebook, which includes color photos and maps of each museum, costs ¥500. For further information, call WAM at 03-3202-4633 from Wednesday through Sunday.

The comfort women issue came to light when Kim Hak-sun became the first to come forward, demanding in Seoul in 1991 that Japan take responsibility for its war atrocities.

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