South Korea Yet To Fully Agree to Japanese Apology on Comfort Women

In 2015 December 28th a landmark agreement was signed between South Korea and Japan governments to end Japan’s wartime sexual exploitation of the Korean women, dubbed South Korean comfort women. It was then that Japan apologized and contributed a billion yen, equivalent to $8.3 million for purposes of payment for damages caused to the families of the diseased and living survivors. On their part, South Korea would settle on dialogue with civic groups in a bid to get rid of the comfort woman statue at the Japanese embassy

This agreement would be met with mixed reaction, as some sections of South Korea’s civic groups not taking the apology. Various statutes were installed by activists, such as the one outside the Japanese Consulate in Busan that was installed in 2017 January as well as in San Francisco, in November 2017. The newly elected South Korea president Moon Jae-in in 2018 January 4th declared non-support for the agreement, saying that it was in itself defective and went against the truth and justice principle. The president added that the agreement was not reflecting the victims’ views. President Moon did not readily void the agreement, however, he would from time to time advocate for fresh and more sincere apologies from the Japanese government.

The current controversy about comfort women somehow emanates from the Manichean worldview which tends to divides individual into either innocent or oppressors, those who know their rights and those who don’t. In the past, South Koreans were dragged into thinking that their North Korean counterparts were only agents of the Soviet communists and that whoever had different views would be viewed as also being communists. Currently, South Korean schools and also the media disseminate the views of the activists, that Japanese Imperial kidnapped 200,000 Korean Women and girls and that whoever is not of the same opinion is regarded as a pro-Japanese.

In the 1990s, the Japanese government investigated this abduction allegation and did not find any evidence at all. Instead, women and girls from its colonies such as Taiwan and Korea are the ones that were forced into joining the imperial military. However, it could only found out that this only happened on their combatant countries like Indonesia and China, as some of their girls and women were forcefully recruited by certain soldiers and units. Professors Sarah Soh and Park Yu-ha of San Francisco State and Sejong Universities respectively, have authored award-winning books with proof of testimonies by women who worked at comfort stations to economically support their families, or were run-away kids from their overbearing parents, or got deceived by brokers. While some women would experience harsh and abusive ordeals in the comfort stations others would receive better support.

In the books, the professors highlight the role of family and neighbours in encouraging women to join the brothels. The professors urge survivors to come out and share their experiences during this time. Nonetheless activist feels that the survivors should publicly stick to the main narrative of Japanese villains and the innocent Koreans.

Kim Hak-sun who is the San Francisco statue model was the first ever Korean comfort to come publicly. Kim’s foster father took her along with another girl to China where he was the manager of a certain comfort station. Another testimony, published in the early 90s of Lee [Yi] Yong-Su, says that she and her friend were run-away girls at the time. However, the activist has been overly recorded saying that they were abducted in the night by Japanese soldiers.

The narratives that follow are based on oral Korean comfort women testimonies of only 16 women survivors registered in the 90s. They are associated with activist organizations like the Korean Council or House of Sharing. There are up to 46 living survivors who accepted the Japanese apology and compensation in 2015, nonetheless, the media is only in the business of publicizing the comfort women stories of the 12 rejectionist minorities. Furthermore, the 61 Korean comfort women who accepted the compensation through the Asian Women’s Fund in 1994 are up to date being maligned, leave alone being viewed as traitors. The South Korean government continues to deny them subsidies.

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