On Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono had a formal meeting with South Korea’s newly appointed foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, during her first-time visit to Tokyo, Japan. Kyung-wha, who became the first Korean woman nominated and appointed to her position, discussed talks about North Korea’s ongoing nuclear threats, seeking closer ties with China and the controversial South Korean comfort women deal that was initiated back in 2015. The deal was made by the former president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, in hopes to end a major bilateral rift, one that involved decades of tension over territory and past actions. Park Geun-hye has since been impeached and was succeeded by President Moon Jae-in during 2017.
During and after World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army had occupied territories in countries that included South Korea, China, Thailand and areas in the Philippines. Comfort women were enslaved women and girls that were from these occupied countries. They have been captured and forced into prostitution to sexually service the Japanese soldiers stationed at nearby camps. Years after the war, Korean comfort women were so ashamed of their past that they have chosen to stay silent out of fear of being ostracized or disowned by their family. There are now several powerful documentaries that feature real comfort women stories of how they survived the wartime atrocities and powered through a post-war life in silence.
Unfortunately, the discussions between the foreign ministers had shifted mostly on the agreement to positively continue their fight against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and other related issues. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was supposedly going to discuss the current review process of the 2015 agreement, a deal that called for Japan to fully compensate all of the surviving Korean Comfort women victims. The South Korean Foreign Ministry launched a task force of esteemed experts to thoroughly review the deal to decide whether they will ultimately keep, revise or dismiss it. Japan had indeed recognized the brothels that were shamefully orchestrated by its own military and dutifully established a foundation to support the victims. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had also offered his condolences and regrets to all of the victimized women.
Actual comfort women testimonies revealed what life was truly like during the World War II war crime atrocity. These survivors came from areas located in China, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries formally occupied by Japan during the war. Some of the comfort women testimonies gave an alarming in-depth look into what they had to endure on a daily basis. One woman revealed that they had to undergo routine examinations and those that were found afflicted with any disease were killed and their bodies were discarded in unknown burial spots. Today, the exact numbers of comfort women are still being researched by scholars, but it’s estimated that there were over 150,000 women and girls forced into sexual slavery.
As far back as the early 90s, many South Korean comfort women survivors and supportive individuals have consistently staged protests in front of the Japanese embassy located in Seoul, South Korea. The 2015 agreement was also met with protests and widespread disapproval among many of the nation’s citizens. Many have felt that Japan owed them a sincere apology rather than money, which totaled over $8 million. In 2011, South Korea erected the “Statue of Peace” memorial that portrayed one of the young victims. Shortly after, other countries had chosen to follow suit and stationed memorial statues including the United States.