Disgusted by denials, a photojournalist has published a collection of testimonies and photos of Korean women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
Takashi Ito, 62, published the book in late February amid growing criticism of the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, which apologized to the women euphemistically called “comfort women” and admitted the Japanese military’s involvement in managing the frontline brothels.
The book is titled “Mugunghwa no Kanashimi: Shogen--‘Seidorei’ ni Sareta Kankoku-Chosenjin Joseitachi” (Mugunghwa’s sadness: Testimonies--Korean women who were forced to become sex slaves).
Mugunghwa is the Korean name for the rose of Sharon, a flower popular on the Korean Peninsula.
“Do you think that elderly women tell lies before they die? I want you to think about that question by reading all of their testimonies,” said Ito, who lives in Mie Prefecture.
In 1991, a South Korean woman revealed her experience as a comfort woman for the first time in her country. Since then, Ito interviewed about 90 women in South Korea, North Korea, China, Taiwan and other regions.
In 2012, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said, “Japan’s view is that there was no clear evidence to prove that those women were brought in against their will.”
The remark led Ito to rearrange the testimonies and photos he had run in books and magazines into a new collection.
Of the 90 women Ito interviewed, half have since died, including 18 women featured in his latest collection. He says their testimonies are their “wills.”
One of the women said in the book, “I was kidnapped by a Japanese soldier on a truck.”
The book also carries stories by residents who survived the years of war.
Some of the stories were vague because about 50 years had passed.
However, some women provided graphic details about the barbarous acts of Japanese soldiers. The women showed burn scars on their necks or tattoos on their chests or stomachs.
They also described the misery they experienced after World War II ended.
One of the 18 women said her husband reviled her, saying, “You are a former comfort woman.” Some revealed that they were unable to return to their hometowns after the war ended.
Many former comfort women have lived in poverty. But they refused to accept “compensation” from the Asian Women’s Fund, operated under the initiative of the Japanese government, saying Tokyo’s apology is insufficient.
Confucianism, which associates sexual suffering with shame, remains strong in South Korea and North Korea. Despite that thinking, the women revealed their names and faces when they discussed their experiences. Their actions made Ito feel that they were eager to tell the truth about what had happened before they died.
Currently, Ito regrets the Abe administration’s move to examine the process leading to the 1993 Kono statement.
“If there is no written evidence, does that mean that the women are telling lies? We should listen to their words and face up to history,” Ito said.
Mugunghwa is often regarded as a symbol of the Korean people’s resistance to invasions by major powers. Former comfort women love the flower, but it also represents their sadness.
The 226-page collection of testimonies and photos, published by Fubaisha Inc., is priced at 1,800 yen (about $17.50), excluding tax