Perhaps one of the most difficult topics for anyone in Korea (or Japan) is the issue of the 위안부 (commonly referred to as ‘comfort women’ in the West; the Korean word translates roughly into Pleasure Division) and now former Miss International Ikumi Yoshimatsu of Japan is speaking out and saying that she believes that the infamous ‘Comfort Women’ were, in fact, victimized and deserve apology.
I could find no coverage of this in English so below is the original Korean and the translation:
The 2012 Ms. International winner, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, has revealed on an American radio broadcast her opinion on the issue of comfort women. She is also taking a beating from right wing ‘netizens.’
9일 일본 인터넷 뉴스사이트인 ‘제이 캐스트(J-CAST)’에 따르면 요시마쓰는 지난달 29일 CBS 라디오 방송의 대담 프로그램에 나와 “일본인 우익들 사이에서 ‘위안부는 매춘부이기 때문에 사과할 필요가 없다’는 의견도 나오고 있지만 생존 위안부의 증언을 들어보면 그렇지 않다는 의견도 있다”며 “일본인으로서 이런 발언(위안부에 대해 사과할 필요가 없다는 발언)은 부끄럽다”고 말했다.
On the 9th\ Japanese internet news site ‘J-Cast’ reported that Yoshimatsu appeared on CBS radio last month on the 29th and said the “Japanese right wing says that the Comfort Women were [hired] prostitutes so there is no reason to apologize’ however she feels that after hearing the testimony of Comfort Women survivors that this was not the case and that “she is embarrassed by the statement [that there needs to be no apology towards comfort women].”
영어로 대담한 그는 또 “(위안부 피해자들에 대한) 사과가 ‘문제’로 여겨지는 데 대해서도 분노를 느낀다”고 덧붙였다.
She also said in English that “considering the apology to the victimized comfort women as a ‘problem'” makes her “feel great anger.”
After the interview the content was eventually translated into Japanese and is causing quite a stir among internet users.
Yoshimatsu expressed on her facebook page on the 6th that “due to my lack of study there were issues with her English ability which may have created some confusion and misunderstandings for which I apologize.” She also want on to say that, while there’s that, “as the women of the comfort divisions were put into such a position without any recourse she feels a great sadness.”
For those who might be unfamiliar with situation, in the end she recanted to what amounts to the general position of any right wing Japanese: that perhaps there were issues of women being sold against their will or resorting to it out of some great poverty, which is regrettable, but there is really no need for an apology simply because they were functionaries within a contracted service.
It is said in debates throughout the internet that there is evidence that the comfort women were recruited specifically for the task. The wikipedia also notes that a surprising amount of the Japanese comfort women were even Japanese and offers up recruitment posters used in the process in various languages. There is even the suggestion that the Comfort Division started essentially in an effort to curb the amount of rapes that were happening.
I am unsure about specific evidence of women being forcibly enlisted into it. I did hear a story from a Korean woman that she was sold into it against her will by her father, and this was the most dramatic account that I have heard.
Regardless, it was an incredibly ‘dark time’ in history but, with that said, it is also a time when the average woman in Asia (and in many other places) had few rights or recourses if they were from an impoverished background. Prostitution was simply a reality — and it remains a grave reality for millions. We now come to the idea of whether or not this was particularly grosser, particularly graver, particularly worse than any of the other things happening around that period and the question of how forced were they.
The first link of the two, on the second page, provides a good quotation which perhaps best reflects the US knowledge of the comfort women at that time:
A Dec. 6, 1945, memorandum from Lt. Col. Hugh McDonald, a senior officer with the Public Health and Welfare Division of the occupation’s General Headquarters, shows U.S. occupation forces were aware the Japanese comfort women were often coerced.
“The girl is impressed into contracting by the desperate financial straits of her parents and their urging, occasionally supplemented by her willingness to make such a sacrifice to help her family,” he wrote. “It is the belief of our informants, however, that in urban districts the practice of enslaving girls, while much less prevalent than in the past, still exists.”
It appears that there might have been some circumstances of actual enslavement… But I am unsure of the evidence, and considering the sheer desperation of most people at that time, well, we are talking about a sour situation for everyone.
Long story short: it was probably terrible for all the women involved, but they also probably did not have such a bright future otherwise elsewhere. It is a lose-lose situation.
Is it insulting to say that? I am unsure. Perhaps it is just stressing the plight of women in general of that time period and the desperation of poverty. Perhaps enough time has been spent lamenting very specific crimes but little time is spent in consideration of the day-to-day horror that was afforded by war time women of Asia (and beyond) in WWII. And, perhaps, the most difficult reality for us to accept is the one in which humans are so willing to subject their fellow beings to horrific lifestyles for a bit of profit, and how through ignorance some even accepted such a pittance of a life out of the notion of helping their family.
I do not like dwelling on these topics because it shows the grave darkness that lurks within human society; and as we are human just like them, part of this darkness lurks inside ourselves.