Tag Archives: comfort women


Seoul to Strengthen Education on ‘Comfort Women’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The South Korean government announced on Wednesday that it will make efforts to further educate its elementary school students about Japans’s sexual enslavement of thousands of women during World War II.

According to the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s education and gender equality ministries will distribute supplementary textbooks that teach elementary and secondary school students about the victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery, who are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.” In addition to these new textbooks, the ministries plan to distribute teaching aids, including videos and PowerPoint files, to 193 education offices and 800 public libraries starting this month.

The announcement follows Japan’s approval of updated textbooks that downplay the country’s wartime aggression and strengthen its claims to the disputed islands in the Sea of Japan.

Existing Korean public school textbooks only briefly mention the victims of wartime sex slavery, sometimes in as little as a single paragraph. According to a survey conducted by a team of school teachers and researchers tasked with penning the supplementary textbooks, about 49 percent of the 152 elementary schoolchildren surveyed said they knew nothing about the subject. Meanwhile, about 24 percent said they were familiar with the topic and only a little over 19 percent said they were knowledgeable.

The supplementary text is expected to be 40 pages long and will be distributed to fifth graders and older after it is approved by the education ministry. All new materials for both teachers and students will then become public to browse or download online.

Although teachers will be encouraged by the government to use the new materials, it is not mandatory for them to discuss the contents of the new textbooks with their students, according to the Korea Herald.

Nam Sang-gu, a Northeast Asian Foundation researcher and one of the writers for the supplementary textbooks, said the new materials not only details the plight of comfort women but also emphasizes the importance of “peacebuilding and overcoming the aftermath of military conflicts.”

“While our goal is to educate our children about what happened and what we should remember so such tragedy does not repeat in the future, we also don’t want them to form a negative sentiment against Japan as a whole,” Nam told the Korea Herald. “In the material we also talk about how there are people in Japan who empathize with the victims and have worked for their rights and compensation.”

Earlier this week, a U.S. congressman told Korean reporters that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention the issue of Japan’s wartime sex slavery during his trip to Washington later this month.


Featured image via AFP


Abe Expected to Mention Japan’s Wartime Sex Slavery During U.S. Trip: U.S. Congressman

Pictured above: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence. The meeting was in Tokyo, Japan on April 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Tokyo)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

According to a U.S. congressman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention the issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II when he visits Washington later this month, reports Yonhap News Agency.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) told Korean correspondents in Washington on Monday, “We did not discuss that with the prime minister [Abe], but I have every reason to believe that one way or the other, it’s going to be mentioned during this trip to the United States.”

The congressman added that he is confident that the “issue cannot be ignored” if Abe is questioned about Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement.

Sex slavery has been an ongoing issue in the frayed relationship between Japan and South Korea. For decades, South Korea has called on Japan to acknowledge and apologize to the elderly Korean victims of sex slavery, or “comfort women” as they were euphemistically called, for forcing them to work in military brothels during World War II. However, Japan has refused to take responsibility.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Abe referred to comfort women as victims of “human trafficking” without specifying the perpetrator. Seoul expressed concerns over the term “human trafficking,” accusing Abe of denying Japan’s involvement in the forced prostitution of thousands of women.

Last week, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Abe to address the “comfort women” issue. In addition, U.S. war veterans sent a letter to Congress last month, arguing that Abe should only be allowed to deliver a congressional speech when he acknowledges Japan’s wartime conduct.

Abe is set to address a joint session of Congress on April 29 and will be the first Japanese prime minister to do so.



Shinzo Abe Invited to Address Joint U.S. Congress Session

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will speak before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on April 29, reports Yonhap News Agency. House Speaker John Boehner officially announced the invitation on Thursday.

“As the United States continues to strengthen our ties with Japan, we look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Abe to the United States Capitol. His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities,” Boehner said in a statement.

“That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade,” he added. “Prime Minister Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress, and we are proud to host this historic event.”

Abe was poised to make a trip to the United States this spring in late April to early March before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August. He is expected to meet with President Barack Obama over discussions on security and trade agreements. His speech before Congress is expected to mark the partnership the two countries have enjoyed and the peaceful path Japan has taken since the end of the war.

There is intense speculation in Tokyo and other Asian countries about how he will mark the anniversary. Abe has stirred fierce controversy over signs that his government was looking to reexamine and revise previous statements and apologies from former Japanese leaders.

In response to speculation over Abe’s visit, a number of Korean American activists and U.S. veterans groups called on Abe earlier this month to issue a clear apology for Japan’s war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed during World War II. U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.



Shinzo Abe Urged to Clearly Apologize for Sexual Slavery, War Crimes Before U.S. Trip

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

As all signs point to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making a trip to the United States later this spring, several activists in the U.S. have called for him to issue a clear apology for war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed by Japan during World War II before he is expected to appear before a joint session of Congress.

Yesterday, Korean American civic groups, including the Korean American Forum (KAF) and Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) took out an advertisement in The Hill, an American political newspaper, demanding, “Mr. Abe must apologize to the victims of military sexual slavery by imperial Japan during WWII … before seeking a speech to a joint session of U.S. Congress.”


The ad also includes the photos of former “comfort women” Jan Ruff O’Herne and Yong-soo Lee, who both testified before Congress in 2007. Another photo shows Abe visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in 2013, an act that infuriated Koreans and Chinese, as the shrine honors a number of Japanese soldiers who were tried as war criminals.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who has previously spoken on behalf of sexual slavery victims, also issued a statement that said Abe fully “acknowledges the systematic kidnapping of girls and women during the 1930s and 1940s during the second world war, that they were responsible for, that he apologizes on behalf of the government, that the apology be unambiguous, and that he accepts the historical responsibility.”

Honda added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.

A U.S. veterans group, which includes former American prisoners-of-war and their relatives, sent a letter to lawmakers in Congress, saying Abe should only be invited to give a speech if he admits Japan’s wartime conduct. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society called the speech a “unique opportunity” for him to deliver the apology.

Tokyo and Washington were in final preparations a month ago for Abe to address Congress during a visit to the U.S. in the spring. Although the invite hasn’t been confirmed, it would be the first time a Japanese prime minister has spoken before a joint session of Congress, as well as the first time a Japanese prime minister has addressed Congress since 1961, according to the Japan Times.

Abe will travel to the States during the Golden Week holidays from late April through early May. His speech is expected to touch on Japan’s peaceful path since the end of World War II and strengthening Japan-U.S. ties for the future, particularly on the economic front through completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

This all comes before the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in August. The Washington Post notes that there is intense speculation in Tokyo—and in other Asian countries—about how he will mark the anniversary.

A Japanese government study in 1993 led to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to issue the “Kono Statement,” which officially acknowledged that the Japanese Imperial Army had forced “comfort women” to work in military brothels during WWII. The statement’s wording was negotiated with the South Korean government, then led by President Kim Young-sam.

On the 50th anniversary, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said that Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, “caused tremendous damage to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in the spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.”

Abe’s government has drawn outrage for signs in the last few years that they were looking into reexamining and revising previous statements, including the ones listed above. This hasn’t helped thaw relations with South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s government, and the two leaders never met face-to-face until President Barack Obama held a joint meeting with them last year and Abe told the Japanese parliament that he would not revise the 1993 apology.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) organization. We have also clarified that Prime Minister Abe has not been officially confirmed to appear before Congress, but that he is expected to during his trip to the U.S. in late April. We sincerely regret the error. 


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Featured photo courtesy of Yonhap.


Comfort Women

Queensborough’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center to Create Permanent Asian Comfort Women Exhibit


The Kupferberg Holocaust Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College in New York will house a permanent exhibit to chronicle the history of Asian comfort women, according to New York Daily News.

Leaders from the Asian American community and the center made the announcement this past week, stating that they wanted to make sure the painful stories of former comfort women are not forgotten over time.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Sung K. Min, president of the Korean American Association of Greater New York, joined the center’s executive director Arthur Flug on Thursday to show preliminary renderings of what the exhibit would look like.

According to Queens Tribune, Flug said the theme of keeping stories of survivors alive was the chief reason for the Holocaust Center to create the Asian Comfort Women exhibit.

The exhibit will tell stories of women, many from Korea, China and the Philippines, who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II by Japanese soldiers. These countries were occupied by the Japanese army at the time.

Community leaders will look to raise funds for the installation and maintenance of the exhibit, which could cost about $50,000 to $80,000, according to Flug and Min.

Exhibit 1
Sung K. Min (left) and Arthur Flug. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.

Exhibit 2
A rendering of the permanent exhibition at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, located at Queensborough Community College. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.

The center had hosted events on comfort women in previous years. It runs a class for local students, who will eventually be allowed to interview a comfort woman at the end of the course. The center has also arranged meetings for Holocaust survivors to meet with a number of aging comfort women.

For the city of Queensborough, this isn’t the first time the comfort women issue has been brought up. Councilman Koo unveiled a controversial proposal in 2012 for a possible comfort women memorial and to rename an intersection as “Comfort Women Memorial Way.” However, community leaders have been unable to find a location for either option.

Top image via Reuters. 


Choreographer Peggy Choy Explores Diverse Themes in Her Body of Work

People Mover


From a 19th-century rebellion of miners in the Caribbean to the plight of Korean “comfort women” during World War II, choreographer, dancer and director Peggy Choy explores diverse themes in her body of work.


Movement has been a constant in Peggy Choy’s family. Her father’s grandfather came to Hawaii from Korea to work on the sugar plantations. Her mother’s father left Korea for China, then San Francisco, fleeing persecution from Japan for his participation in Korea’s independence movement.

As for Choy, born in Chicago and raised in Hawaii, she stayed put in the U.S. her entire life, but her work is all about movement. The dancer, choreographer and director uses a daring combination of Asian dance, martial arts and urban dance forms to create a visceral, provocative display of storytelling through motion.

Historical events often inform Choy’s choreography, and it’s no different with her latest piece, Thirst, a captivating, dynamic production performed in late June at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. Framed as a flashback, the story revolves around an 1889 rebellion on the Caribbean island of Navassa. African contract miners, subject to brutal treatment, revolted against their supervisors, leading to the violent deaths of five managers and charges of murder.

The performance—told in nine separate segments—featured a cast of nine dancers and an actor-narrator. Set to a score by jazz pianist Michele Rosewoman, the show showcased the styles of modern dance, martial arts, the Brazilian martial art known as Capoeira, and b-boy and b-girl styles.

The male and female dancers gracefully bent, twisted and pop-and locked in ways that mesmerized the audience, moving around the shallow pools, aisles and stage in the intimate venue to give full expression to the tone and dynamics of the production.

“It throws people off,” Choy said in an interview at a coffee shop in Manhattan, of the diverse subject matter she’s pursued.

Indeed, she does not shy away from tackling a range of historical themes or subjects. In 2013, she directed The Greatest! Hip Dance Homage to Muhammad Ali, at the boxing gym Gleason’s, in Brooklyn, which featured boxers, b-boys and a jazz score.

“More likely than not, I surprise people,” continued Choy. “My solution then and now is that I strive for respecting the particular culture that I’m trying to explore. If my intentions are respectful and well-meaning, then I think that helps.”

As the founder of Peggy Choy Dance, the third-generation Korean American takes a completely unique approach to dance that incorporates a fusion of styles and gives her dancers room to experiment and explore.

“What I find different about Peggy’s productions is the way she builds things up and how it starts with just an idea or music,” Ze Motion, a New York-based dancer and choreographer who’s worked with Choy for the last four years, wrote in an email. “What I appreciate the most is the fact that Peggy leaves us a little room to express ourselves. We live in a dance world where everything is square, in a box, everyone looking alike. She allows me to be on stage, expressing myself truly in her choreography.”

At 65, Choy still has a lithe and slender frame sculpted from years of dancing and, more recently, tai chi.

During the academic year, she teaches dance and Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her dance company is based in New York, where her son and daughter, both in their late 20s, also live.

Political activism and a trailblazing spirit are in Choy’s blood: her mother’s father, who was active in efforts to mobilize Korean independence from Japan, became a minister in the San Francisco Bay area and later monitored Korean laborer conditions in Mexico. Choy’s mother, an activist in Hawaii, protested U.S. involvement in Vietnam and supported Hawaii’s sovereignty from the mainland. Choy’s paternal uncle is Herbert Choy, the first Asian American to serve as a federal judge in the United States.

Choy gravitated to dance from a young age. She began taking ballet lessons at age 7, moving on to other forms such as flamenco and then modern dance at Reed College, where she studied anthropology and archeology.

“I wanted to become a modern dancer,” said Choy, who in addition to her masters in performance and choreography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, holds a master’s in urban regional planning from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a master’s in Southeast Asian studies from the University of Michigan.

“I actually grew restless because I thought modern dance was not answering to an internal need,” she said.

Thus, in her late 20s, Choy uprooted herself and traveled to Indonesia at a time when the country was just developing as a young, free nation, after its independence from Dutch rule.

“In Java you have traditional stories coming through India, and these are mythical stories that have everything in it—fighting, love, lust, war,” Choy explained, crediting her three years in Indonesia under the guidance of Sasminta Mardawa with influencing her style. “It answered for me what was missing in American modern dance.”

Cul-Dance-AS14-THIRSTFrom Thirst, performed at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn N.Y. in late June. (Photo courtesy of JP Yim)

Despite her various cultural influences and interests, Choy possesses a deep connection to her Korean roots that’s reflected in her work. She has explored a variety of Korean themes, from the female Korean divers known  as haenyo in Moon Tides: The Women Divers of Jeju Island, to the plight of Korean “comfort women” who became sex slaves for the Japanese army during World War II in Seung Hwa: Rape/Race/Rage/Revolution, a solo dance performance that debuted in 1995 and included four parts.

Her early work, Choy said, generated mixed reviews from critics. “They said, ‘Oh, it’s too ethnic. Or it’s not physical enough. Or it’s just not mainstream enough,’” she recalled. “But I have never, ever gone along with what other people wanted. I just do what I do because of my background.”

In Thirst, her dancers represented the workers and supervisors that took part in the Navassa uprising, plus a trio referred to as simply “3 Ocean Women.”

“I wanted to give each of them an idea of who they were so they could give more intensity to their performances,” Choy said in staging the production. “I have to transfer my vision to my dancers, and they don’t necessarily share the same background as me.”

“I feel through dance you can transport, elevate, transform,” Choy added. “Dance has the capacity and potential to be very deep, to resonate with the individual person.”

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. 
Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


SKorea’s Stigmatized Ex-Prostitutes Face Eviction

Photo courtesy of Reuters


In South Korea, much light has been shed upon the plight of the Korean “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan during World War II. The survivors, who number about 50 today, receive government assistance under a special law, as the Korean government continues to pressure Japan to compensate and apologize to the victims.

Such efforts seem to contrast sharply with the situation of the Korean “camptown women,” the group of elderly women who used to work as prostitutes for American soldiers in the 1960s. Though the prostitution at the time was government-sanctioned, during an era of dictatorship and as Korea was suffering from great post-war poverty, these women became social pariahs in their own country. They were essentially confined to living out their lives in squalid conditions in tiny homes in the camptowns near U.S. Army garrisons.

But now, even that small comfort may be taken away. More than 70 elderly camptown women in the Anjeong-ri neighborhood of Pyeongtaek, near Camp Humphreys, are being threatened with eviction, according to the Associated Press. Because of a planned major expansion of the U.S. Army garrison in Pyeongtaek, to take place by 2016, landlords and developers in the area are anxious to build and make profits from the rising property values. As a result, they are sending out eviction orders to the camptown women living in the neighborhood, and are quadrupling monthly rental rates, according to Woo Soon-duk, director of the Sunlit Sisters’ Center, a local non-governmental organization dedicated to the women, as reported by AP.

“My landlord wants me to leave, but my legs hurt, I can’t walk, and South Korean real estate is too expensive,” Cho Myung-ja, a 75-year-old former prostitute, told the Associated Press. “I feel like I’m suffocating.”

In the post-Korean War period, the South Korean government saw the “service” these women provided as necessary for the thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed in the country, according to activists assisting the women. In 1962, the government designated such camptowns “special tourism districts” where prostitution was legal. The same year about 20,000 women were registered as prostitutes in about 100 camptowns throughout the country, said the AP story. Many stayed in these camptowns well into their senior years because they simply had nowhere to go.

Many of the women are stricken with disease, poverty and social stigma, and they depend upon a monthly government stipend of about $300 to $400, making their pending eviction all the more dire. Impoverished and sick, Cho told the Associated Press that she has rarely left her tiny home in Anjeong-ri because of leg pain. Another camptown woman told AP she can’t sleep after her landlord gave her a month to leave.

Activists and lawyers, who helped the women sue the South Korean government in June for compensation, say that the South Korean government and U.S. military officials used to regularly inspect the camptown operations. They say that the police kept the women from leaving at the time and would even lock them up if they were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, said the AP story. And now these women want their government to take some responsibility for their welfare.

A Korean government spokesperson declined AP’s request for comment, pending a court decision on the case. The news agency also reported that U.S. military officials said in a statement that they were aware of the camptown women’s case, but had “zero tolerance” for prostitution.