House of Sharing

From my former blog ‘Coco in Korea’

Kunja Kim sat on her bed holding her ankle and fanning herself in her tiny room located in a place called the House of Sharing, a small village where a few of the former Japanese ‘Comfort Women’ reside. Her eyes showed years of sadness as she told the story of her life, dating back to her teenage years when she was unwillingly sent from her homeland of South Korea to China for the purpose of comforting Japanese military men, who at that point had gained control of South Korea.

She did not share details about the specifics about what happened to her while she was in the service of the Japanese men, but rather she focused on her life after the ordeal she had to go through. She told us of her long one month and two day journey walking from China to North Korea after she was freed from bondage. She spent two years in North Korea before returning to South Korea and moving to the Gangwon-do Province. During the time when she was separated from her life in South Korea, she lost contact with her two sisters. Upon her arrival in South Korea, she found out that one of her sisters was residing in North Korea. Several years after discovering her sister in North Korea, her sister returned to South Korea and was reunited with Kunja. Unfortunately, Kunja’s other sister died before she and Kunja could reunite.

Kunja’s story is just one of the many stories of women who, for years suffered under the oppressive rule of Japan and who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the Asia Pacific War and World War II. The exact number of women who were forced into sexual slavery during the time period of 1932-1945 is unknown, and only a small number of the estimated amount of women who were victimized have publicly spoken about their ordeals and have asked Japan to apologize for their actions.

The majority of the women were taken from Korea, although many women were also taken from China, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Netherlands and other Japanese-occupied territories. Some women were sometimes removed forcefully from their homes by kidnapping, others were promised jobs in factories, restaurants, or hospitals, and , others, like Kunja, were sold by their families or caretakers.

Until 1993, the Japanese government denied their involvement in the sexual slavery and exploitation of Asian and Dutch women during the Asia Pacific War and World War IIperiod. Even until this day, there are still many people who refuse to recognize the pain that the women endured. Regardless of the feelings that some people have about the legitimacy of the lives of these women during the Japanese occupation, every Wednesday, the eighty-year-old-plus women from the House of Sharing head into Seoul to the Japanese Embassy demanding apologies and peacefully demonstrating to let the world know that they were victimized.

Sexual slavery, exploitation and sexual violence are not just a thing of the past. There are still many cases of abuses against women in our present day society. From the young women in America who are forced into prostitution by their pimps, to the women who are forced into sexual prostitution and exploitation around military bases around the world, to women in third-world countries who have to commit sexual acts with foreign men to take care of their families. These ‘Comfort Women’ are just some of the examples of violence and abuse against women. These women do not want to be forgotten. They want the world to remember what happened to them and they want to make sure their stories are recorded so these things do not happen again. As philosopher George Santanya said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For more information on the Comfort Women, visit their website at House of Sharing.

The complete story can also be seen on my CNN iReport here.

*The original post was featured on my

[now closed] blog Coco In Korea in September 5, 2011. It was edited for content in March 2014.