Troupe Cast as ‘Comfort Women’

Koreans act out drama of dark wartime chapter

By BRIAN COVERT
REGIONAL CORRESPONDENT

OSAKA — Two modern-day Korean sisters in Japan gaze in shock as a shaman priest summons to Earth the tortured soul of a young Korean woman who committed suicide in 1945.

Slowly, the ghost tells how she and thousands of other Korean women were captured by Japanese military officials and forced to sexually satisfy Japanese soldiers daily at the front. Some of the women were later killed to cover the episode up.

Such is the scenario of a play to be performed by a local Korean women’s group Oct. 26 at the Fujin Kaikan in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

The play is one of many projects the nine-member group hopes will keep alive the spirit of former Korean “comfort women.” The members based the lead role on a composite of several real women of that period.

“If I had been born during that time, I might easily have become such a victim,” said Chung Mi Yugi, 32, the group’s spokeswoman, who also plays the role of the spirit. “That’s why I consider this my problem, too.”

Grassroots movement

Chung and the other members of the newly formed Association to Discuss the Korean “Comfort Women” Problem are second- or third-generation Koreans living in the Kansai region.

They are working with other grassroots organizations in both Japan and South Korea to shed light on what may be one of the darkest secrets of World War II.

“This issue is unique because it has taken 46 years to surface — a symptom of the depth of the problem,” said Chung.

Since the war’s end most former comfort women have been too ashamed to relate publicly their experiences, making it difficult to confront the subject, Chung said.

Only recently have four Korean women broken the silence and told how tens of thousands of their compatriots were recruited as women’s volunteer corps for the war effort, when Korea was under Japanese occupation.

However, various grassroots groups claim that recently obtained documentation linking the Japanese military to the women indicate the recruits were anything but voluntary.

Such groups estimate that at least 80,000 Korean women were forced to work at “comfort houses” in Japan and war zones in Asia by Japanese military officials or private brokers closely linked to the military.

The Japanese government maintains that the wartime military had no official connection with such brokers or with the women.

Each woman was reportedly forced to have sex with dozens of soldiers every day, Chung said, adding that some were forced to individually satisfy up to 50 or more soldiers daily. The women ranged from their teens to their 30s.

Many reportedly committed suicide in desperation. Others are said to have gone insane.

‘Left behind overseas’

Chung said the most tragic part of their story is that after the war the Japanese military left most of them behind in foreign countries. They never returned to their families. In the case of women taken to Okinawa, she adds, the military allegedly killed them to cover up their existence.

“I’ll never, ever forgive the Japanese army for trying to hide the evidence of comfort women,” Chung said, her voice cracking and eyes filling with tears.

Her group is also investigating the history behind a building believed to be a former comfort house in Tenri, Nara Prefecture, and another in Matsushiro, Nagano Prefecture that was reputedly restricted to high-ranking military officers.

In addition to performing the play, the group is also working with other nationwide organizations to circulate a petition of six demands calling for the government to recognize and compensate former Korean comfort women. The organizations plan to hand the petitions to the prime minister.

“No one who knows this issue can fail to get upset about it,” Chung said.