Today marks the International Memorial Day for Comfort Women, which remembers the pain and suffering endured by an estimated 20-thousand women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War Two.
August 14th was the day when one of the late victims, Kim Hak-soon, became the first former comfort woman to speak out publically in 1991.
The women have been demanding proper acknowledgement from the Japanese government for their pain, along with a heartfelt apology and an adequate redress but Tokyo has been largely unresponsive.
The issue has been one of the biggest sticking points in bilateral relations, which have soured over the past year as Tokyo unilaterally imposed trade curbs as retaliation against a South Korean court's order to a Japanese firm to compensate its wartime victims of forced labor.
Today, we take a look at the various contentious issues that did not end with the war or South Korea's liberation from Japan when it surrendered on August 15th, 1945.
We have joining us today, Dr. Elizabeth Son, Associate Professor, Northwestern University who authored Embodied Reckonings: Comfort Women, Performance, and Transpacific Redress.
We also have Tomomi Yamaguchi, Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at Montana State University, Director of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.
Last but not least, we have Nancy Snow, Distinguished Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies.
Dr. Son: The consequences of Japan's wartime sex slavery didn't end with the country's surrender in World War 2. The victims' entire lives have been affected. Also, sexual abuse of women continues to this day. How do these stories speak to us, and what should we learn from them?
Dr. Yamaguchi: The same question for you. How does this issue resonate with women today?
Dr. Yamaguchi: Since the 1990s, when the former comfort women began speaking out, they have been calling for a genuine apology and proper redress. But Tokyo has tried to close the matter with government deals, opposing any kind of acknowledgement of the issue such as the installation of statues, and some far-right politicians have even branded the comfort women 'prostitutes.'
Why do you think it's difficult to Japan's far-right or neo-liberalists to consult with the victims and have an open discussion about this? Do you think it may also be due to the societal structure of the Japanese society and its gender gap?
Dr. Snow: The two governments can't move forward in a constructive manner to resolve this issue and improve their relations. Is there any way to resolve this in a nonpolitical way?
Dr. Yamaguchi: The 2015 agreement inked by Korea's previous government did not include the victims in the negotiation process caused the current administration to step back from the deal. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that Japan take a victim-oriented approach. What do you think is the best way to settle the issue?
Dr. Son: You've met some of the victims. What would they like to see from the Japanese government?
Dr. Son: How can theater and the arts be used to promote peace and understanding about comfort women and gender-based violence? How have you been supporting such efforts with your work?
Dr. Yamaguchi: More and more facts are being revealed even to this day. Records in China, revealed on Friday contain accounts from Japanese soldiers and include testimony that thirty Korean women were raped by 4-thousand soldiers. How should the world learn from the issue of gender-based violence and wartime abuse? Why is it so important to remember the atrocities of the past?
Dr. Snow: How do you think Japan should engage South Korea and its other Asian neighbors, especially when China continues to grow in power and with the Tokyo Olympics taking place next year?
Hopefully these issues will be resolved. Especially as time is running out for the now-elderly victims. Only 17 are still alive.
This is where we wrap up the discussion. Thank you Drs. Elizabeth Son, Tomomi Yamaguchi, and Nancy Snow for your insights today.