Wedensday July 9, 2014
The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military
Every Wednesday since 1992, people gather in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, seeking an apology for the women in World War II who were abducted, enslaved and repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers. During the war, there were young girls kidnapped from across Asia and held in what were called “Comfort Stations” for the Japanese soldiers.
The women, commonly known by the watered down term Comfort Women, are the ones who began this protest. Though many Japanese people participate in the protests and many have come to offer their apologies, the Japanese government has offered no apology. Many of these women have died, all are elderly, many have never come forward. I was touched to see so many schoolchildren at the protest.
Afterwards, Eunhee Kang, the lovely translator/life saver hired by Geumcheon Art space, accompanied me to the House of Sharing, where some of the surviving women live, and there is also The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military.
Though it is absolutely heartbreaking, this was by far the best use of the concept of museum that I have ever seen. I appreciate the idea of creating a museum to honor moments like this in history. The unspeakable horrors that must be spoken so that we do not continue to repeat them, like the abductions of hundreds of girls in Nigeria who are sold as sex slaves and millions of others across the globe that we never hear of.
We began by watching a short documentary that focused mainly on one woman, Deok-Kyung Kang, who spoke of being abducted at age 16 and repeatedly raped. In the painting below she depicts her first rape. She had not even begun menstruating yet, and had no understanding of what was happening to her.
They showed us scenes from her funeral where the other women sobbed for her, as well as Deok-Kyung Kang on her death bed with an oxygen mask on, barely able to breathe or speak, still demanding justice.
When we speak of “rape culture” we mean a global patriarchal society where women like these are invisible. Where they are so shamed that for decades they did not speak about the atrocities that they have experienced. In 1991 Hak-soon Kim was the first to testify.
Every Wednesday since 1992 they have gathered, asking merely for justice.
The museum shows the artwork of the women who are lovingly referred to as the Grandmothers. It shows artifacts from their lives. Their shoes and fans and passports and letters they wrote but were never able to send home. The beautiful paintings and drawings that the Grandmothers made during and after art classes taught by volunteers. Through their art they depict the horrors that they have experienced. There is sadness seeping through the walls here. It does not matter if you look away, you can feel it. It is everywhere.
Outside of the space there are statues honoring Grandmothers who have died. The entire place is one of great honor and dignity. Even though they had to wait decades to be treated as they deserved, the love and care and respect is very evident here whether they ever receive their apology or not. And I must say that I am so sorry that they had to go through what they went through.
Note: Please research on your own for complete historical details. This is merely a record of my personal experience.