• Jiwoo Jeong

Comfort Women and Historical Amnesia

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Throughout history, pursuits of hegemony have often been trailed by the perpetuation of systematic rape and sexual violence. Exploitation of female sexuality has been regarded as a “spoil of war”, with women being seen by men as “chattel available to victorious warriors” (“Women 2000.”). Sexual violence during wars may take place in order to “terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic make-up of the next generation” or to “deliberately infect women with HIV or render women from the targeted community incapable of bearing children” (“Rwanda, Genocide, Hutu, Tutsi, Mass Execution, Ethnic Cleansing, Massacre, Human Rights, Victim Remembrance, Education, Africa.”).

One of the most notorious examples of institutionalized sexual violence – sexual slavery to be more precise – is that of coercing females from colonies of Imperial Japan into performing sexual favors for the Imperial military. These females are referred to by the euphemism, “comfort women”. It is said that around 200,000 women and girls from Korea, China, the Philippines, and other colonies have been exploited for sex (Fifield).

Discussing the sexual brutality inflicted by Imperial Japan and how the reconciliation is at quarrel is pivotal. History is being rewritten by right-wing nationalists and organizations, who downplay the nation’s responsibilities for past events. Japanese historians believe that comfort women can be paralleled to women working as prostitutes in Amsterdam (Fifield), claiming that these women were prostitutes by choice. Furthermore, the Japanese government has “threatened to withhold UNESCO funding to prevent comfort women documents from being added to the Memory of the World's Register, a global project to preserve historical records” (Walsh, Nicole Percy & Adam). Survivors who are still alive are having to face the erasure of their own gruesome experiences from history.

The co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, Toru Hashimoto, told reporters that “in the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives. If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that” (“Hashimoto Says 'Comfort Women' Were Necessary Part of War.”). Although the address seems remorseful, by going onto claim that the responsibility is “also” Japan’s, coupled with the remark that the slavery was necessary and understandable, there exists a negligence of wrongdoing and an impartial retrospection. It truly is a shocking claim which implies it was the responsibility of the colonized females to service the colonizers and relieve them of their fatigue. The connotation of Hashimoto’s statement is patronizing and includes a clear objectification of these comfort women as though they were a necessary possession of the soldiers. Many of these survivors have passed away without proper closure – and far from it, are now being labeled as prostitutes by the Japanese government (Walsh, Nicole Percy & Adam).

Revisionism bleeds into modern society as a toxic mentality whereby perpetrators fabricate and distort their own truths. The comfort women issue is more than “just a nationalist issue; [it] is a women's issue ... an issue of violence against women", said the Comfort Women Justice Coalition president Judith Mirkinson (Walsh, Nicole Percy & Adam). In light of recent female empowerment and the cry for equality and due justice, it appears to be more important now than ever to address these issues of the past in conjunction with those of the present: the elders who had their youths forcefully taken away from them must be respected, remembered and receive the atonement they sincerely deserve.



Fifield, Anna. “Japanese Historians Contest Textbook's Description of 'Comfort Women'.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Mar. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/world/japanese-historians-contest-textbooks-description-of-comfort-women/2015/03/17/6e5422e3-09a3-4d96-a520-8a5767ab93e4_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.16b474cb4ecd. Accessed 19 Mar. 2019.

“Hashimoto Says 'Comfort Women' Were Necessary Part of War.” AJW by The Asahi Shimbun, web.archive.org/web/20130609070505/http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201305130131. Accessed 19 Mar. 2019.

“Rwanda, Genocide, Hutu, Tutsi, Mass Execution, Ethnic Cleansing, Massacre, Human Rights, Victim Remembrance, Education, Africa.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/about/bgsexualviolence.shtml. Accessed 19 Mar. 2019.

Walsh, Nicole Percy & Adam. “In the #MeToo Era, Women Used as Sex Slaves by Japanese in WW II Are Still Seen as Prostitutes, Not Victims | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 8 July 2018, www.cbc.ca/news/world/comfort-women-japan-apology-metoo-1.4732458. Accessed 19 Mar. 2019.

“Women2000.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/w2apr98.htm#21. Accessed 19 Mar. 2019.

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