• Comfort Women
  • Stories Making History
Table of Contents Open Contents

Why “Stories”?

Testimonies by survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery have been the most compelling evidence for raising social issues and demanding that Japan accept responsibility for its actions during World War II. The first-hand accounts of the women are imperative in resolving the “comfort women” issue. However, raising and attempting to correct such issues are inherently different from speaking about and recording the experiences of comfort women. Factually accurate testimonies may be effective in filling in the blanks left in historical records, but establishing identity by interpreting and evaluating one’s life as the subject of a narrative can be difficult. The interviewers may be biased to hear only the information they wish to hear in the process of listening to the experiences of the comfort women when expressed merely as testimonies.
Unlike the rather solemn testimonies that require strict truth, this book portrayed such testimonies as stories to emphasize the subjective experience. This was done to respect the interpretation of the experiences while at the same time to dismantle the official discourse comprised differently than that of actual personal experience.
Recalling past events of comfort women signifies a struggle for power in terms of public history and historical knowledge. If one follows the theories of Walter Benjamin, the vestiges of the comfort women’s memories as records of history contain implications of plurality. Multiple interpretations of history contain junctions or points where history can be diverted in various directions that lead to a future that differs greatly from the present. This book discards the concept that past history is objective and inevitably singular for a subjective reconstruction of history based on the experiences and memories of individuals in search of critical points.
Until now, the fracture between individuals’ private memories and the official history that comfort women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military rendered such individual memories as taboo. The history that society remembers only focused on the fact that the women were taken by force. Here, the actual pain suffered by the impoverished women who were sold into prostitution and mobilized on the battlefield in various “comfort stations” is omitted. But what differences lie in the pain suffered by the women forcibly mobilized by the Japanese military and those who were sold into comfort stations due to poverty?
The principal comfort women issue is rooted at the intersection of women’s sexual repression from the patriarchal system of the Joseon period and victimization suffered through colonial racism. The idea that the women were “dragged by force” simplifies the entire issue and undermines the interaction of various principles that underlie the problem. Such behavior prohibits the comfort women issue from being fully understood and minimizes the experiences of countless women who were sold into prostitution. Despite suffering the same violence as women who were forcibly mobilized into comfort stations, those who were victims of colonial patriarchy were treated as sexual playthings by the Japanese military and were always treated as exceptional cases and diminished in the comfort women issue. This is because the concept of comfort women was heavily focused on the aspect of enforced mobilization. However, this book contends that the concept of comfort women should be re-established by focusing on the experiences of sexual assault suffered in comfort stations and the actual memories of the victims rather than merely highlighting the mobilization in the existing concept.
This book abandons the “dragged by force” qualifier and instead highlights the personal experiences that were previously excluded in the framework of national discourse. In other words, this book reconstructs the individual experiences that were ignored in the grand narrative as “stories.”
Historicizing memories of comfort women is not intended to erase the existing national or ethnic discourse. The process of listening to and speaking about the experiences of comfort women is meant to challenge the existing historical discourse and oppose the unified strategy that simplified and diminished the experiences of survivors. The goals of historicizing the experiences of comfort women are to recognize such experiences as being a part of “women’s history” that were previously monopolized by national history and to properly present the stories from the perspectives of the survivors.

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