“Who the Hell Should I Talk To? Does Heaven Know about This?”
Bong-i Kim is a name she used since the time she was working as a comfort woman for the Japanese Army until she settled in Gwangju after returning home. The witness decided to use this name in order not toreveal her real name.
- Born in Gochang, North Jeolla Province
- (16 years old)
- The Japanese army was arrested as a "comfort women".
Living in Japan "comfort women" in Japan.
- (19 years old)
- Return home and arrived in Gwangju.
- (22 years old)
- Began living with a man named Wang.
- (30 years old)
- Marriage registration.
Gave birth to a daughter.
- Around 1970
- (44 years old)
- Her husband died.
- (67 years old)
- Registered as a comfort woman through the Association for the Pacific War Victims.
- (78 years old)
- Her lives alone in Gochang, North Jeolla Province.
Jangseong→Japan (specific location unknown)→Gwangju
“I was called a smart girl when I was young. I didn’t do anything wrong in my whole life and I wonder why my life is like this. After I came back from that, I’ve been living my life like a sinner.
“I am ashamed of myself. I didn’t know other people knew. But now everybody knows. I always have this lingering feeling that people look down on me.
“Whenever I feel bad and beat myself up, [my friends say] did you go there because you wanted to go? Back then, everyone went crazy and that’s how you were forced to go. Don’t think that way, it wasn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself, they say. If I hadn’t gone to Japan alone, I wouldn’t have fallen victim to the bastards and would have lived a normal life.
“I understand that [publishing a book]. That’s because you have to find the Japs who did the bad things to us and put a stick up their ass … . So that’s why I am telling you this. But never use my name.
“In the future I don’t want my children and grandchildren to know about it.
“Without my name and picture, everything else is okay. Send the information to Japan. To hunt them down to hell.
I Was Running Away and Then Got Caught in Jangseong .
“I think it was in the spring when I was 16.
“Before leaving for Japan I used to live with my father. My mother passed away when I was small and my family, before going to Japan, was me, my older brother, and father. I received a draft notice.
“It was a draft notice to go to Japan. I was running away and then got caught in Jangseong. To tell you the truth, what are worse than Japanese people are Korean lapdogs. They were so cruel. You have to get away from them no matter what.
“It was a red or yellow slip. It said “To a factory in Japan.”
“Officially it was a draft notice to some factory work. But in reality it was prostitution work. But people back then knew it was prostitution. So everyone talked about it. All young women tried to hide and run away. But once they were caught, there was no mercy.
“Damn, just thinking about what happened back then, I feel anger in my chest.
“The bastards looked everywhere to find women in hiding. Most of the girls were found and had to go. But some of them hid in a big jar with cotton cover on it. So they were saved. That’s what I heard.
“I spent some time inside our home and I went to Jangseong to buy some medicine. That’s where I was caught. My father was sick so I went there to buy drugs for him. So I was caught.
“Back then my older brother was home. But he didn’t want to go to the military service; it was called heitai. He was away from home to avoid the draft. So I was the only one left. That’s why I went to buy the drugs.
“Strangers, two of them, took me and dragged away. The manhunters, they were Koreans. There was no use if there were bystanders nearby. They didn’t care if there were people or not. They just came and took people. That was it.
“At the time, if a bystander tried to butt in, he would have been beaten. Who are you to meddle in some other people’s business? They would just stare without doing anything to restrain them.
“One or two persons, it didn’t matter. They just took people at random. They just dragged them away. If there was a car nearby, they would take it.
“They collected the abducted people in one room. Once we arrived, there were some waiting for us. About four or five people. I was basically a prisoner – I couldn’t go anywhere. If I had to use the bathroom, I was followed. There was nothing I could do. So I spent a night there and boarded a ship the next day.Those were very difficult times. Only the heavens know what I’ve been through. It’s hard for me to talk about. I didn’t even know where I was most of the time. Some people died right there on the ship while traveling. Those people were just thrown overboard without a care. [The soldiers] would beat us for the smallest things. I was hit [on my head] with the butt of a rifle. I still get awful headaches to this day because of it. Right here on top of my head, on the right side. It would have been better if it had been an open wound and I bled, but it just swelled up into a big bruise. It was very painful, and I couldn’t even stand straight because of the dizziness.
I screamed and asked where they were taking me. That’s why I was hit. The only way to avoid a beating was to stay quiet and accept what was happening.
Anyone who resisted was beaten to death and thrown overboard. When we made a fuss, they simply responded that we would be earning money in a factory in Japan. They said that we would be enamored by the sheer size of the factory.
I didn’t know where we were headed. I matured sexually very late. Menstruation? I hadn’t even started yet. I didn’t even start after I arrived in Japan. Everyone else had started, but I didn’t start until I was eighteen years old. I really thought something was wrong with me.
I changed my surname to ‘Kim.’ I come from a line of Korean nobility, and I didn’t want to taint our family name. I went by the Japanese name Kintoki-san. They asked for my name on the ship, so I just blurted out any name that came to my mind. I told them my name was ‘Bong-i Kim.’ One of the girlshad the same last name, and she treated me like family.
Even dogs and pigs were treated better than how we were treated. I don’t know how I made it back alive after that ordeal.”
They shoved us into each room, and the men would come after us.
“I went to Japan. I could tell by listening to people speak. You know how Chinese people speak Chinese, Russians speak Russian, and Japanese people speak Japanese? People only spoke Japanese where I was staying.
Of course, there was no factory to be seen. There was a barbed-wire fence around a house with lots of small rooms. They shoved us into each room, and the men would come after us. All types of men.
The building didn’t even have a name. You know those long linear houses built in Korea? It was like that.
Soldiers with guns stood guard outside the main entrance. There were armed soldiers outside the main door with a barbed-wire fence beyond that.
There weren’t any Japanese women. They were all Koreans. If anyone died, [the soldiers] quickly took them away somewhere.
[The house] was at the foot of a mountain. We were all placed in rooms with nothing but a tatami straw mat. There was nowhere [for the comfort women] to run away to because there were guards always on watch. One of the girls ran away, but where would she go? She didn’t know where to go. I just heard that she was captured and taken to some godforsaken place.
The tatami mats, on which we slept, were just large enough for one person. There was also a small area for shoes.
A tatami was nothing but a mat woven from straw. They didn’t provide any heat. In the winter time, the mats were so cold that I sat with my toes curled.
I had just one knee-length skirt, and that was kept wrapped in a cloth sack. I also wore a blouse with the skirt.
There were no side dishes. We were only provided with lightly salted rice balls. When we took our dishes [to the kitchen], we were given rice balls like they were dog food. But we had no choice but to eat the rice balls just to survive.
We mostly ate by ourselves in our rooms. Sometimes we’d gather and eat in a cafeteria. There was one long table in the cafeteria. That’s where the soldiers ate. They just stood at the table to eat. No one even talked while they ate. They just ate as fast as possible and left.
There were times when there was nothing to do. We literally just sat still. Where could we go? We just sat in our rooms. Sometimes we’d stand in the yard inside the barbed-wire fences then go back inside the rooms.
There was hardly any time to talk to anyone. We were maybe able to exchange a few words while standing outside on slow days, but that was about it. We were busy day and night, so there was no time to even see daylight.
There was something called chiisai sanpo. We’d all go outside and sing “Kimigayo.” It was the Japanese national anthem called Kimigayo. Of course, there would be repercussions if we didn’t sing it.
So we’d all gather and sing the national anthem. But it wasn’t every day. We’d sing in order. There were different groups for different days like Group One, Group Two…”
When I resisted, the soldiers beat me and told me that I was nothing but an “accessory.”
“Back then…when I think about back then … . Maybe that’s where my mental illness started. I was just fifteen years old at the time. A soldier would remove his trousers, expose his penis, and say, “Chinpo kudasai. Omanko kudasai.” I was so scared that I just froze with my legs shut tight. He just yelled “baka yarō!” (idiot) and beat me for not complying. I was cut badly from that beating.
[The soldiers] just forced [their penises] inside me. Undress? They just ripped my clothes off. They wouldn’t take a second to undress me. One of the soldiers told me not to even bother wearing underwear. That way I could just lift up my skirt when he came in. I asked other girls, and they all told me that they did the same.
They didn’t care if I was bleeding.
They just kept going. They’d say, “I don’t know if I’m going to die today or tomorrow. Who cares?”
Korean soldiers would tell me that the Japanese soldiers were crazed. They didn’t care about anything. The Japanese soldiers basically figured they could die at any time, so they might as well [have sex] before they died. So [the Korean soldiers] just called them crazy.
You had to be alert to survive. I tried to be careful, so I was a little better off than the other girls. If any of the girls gave birth to a child, the baby was taken away, too.
All those soldiers... There was a war taking place, so there were countless soldiers.
And they had no regard for time or place. The soldiers came in continuously until about ten o’clock at night.
Of course there were lots of soldiers during a war. That’s why we were all taken [to the comfort stations].
What did they call me? A [war] “accessory?” When I resisted, the soldiers beat me and told me that I was nothing but an “accessory.”
They would come in one after another. The guards would stand outside, and there was a barbed-wire fence around [the comfort station].
The least I would receive in a day was about seven or eight men.
All the girls were in one place. I’m not sure how many. In tiny rooms – just big enough for one person to lie down. One room here, one there...
I was in one room, and my friend, the ‘older sister,’ was in another room. One of the girls, who somehow had her baby aborted in her room, was farther away. There weren’t any places to [perform abortions]. The girl was in horrible pain, but the men didn’t care and would just do what they wanted to her.
If Korean soldiers didn’t [rape the girls], they would receive beatings [from the Japanese soldiers]. There was a time limit, too. [The soldiers] had to finish by a certain time. So, one would leave the room, get dressed, and go off carrying his rifle. The Korean soldiers were much kinder. They would say that if [the girls] weren’t Korean, maybe they could partake, but they just couldn’t [rape] Korean women. The Korean soldiers would just pretend and then leave. Some lousy Korean soldiers would just [rape the girls] anyway.
The men would remove their condoms, complaining that [the sex] wasn’t pleasurable.
They brought the condoms themselves. The military provided them with condoms to prevent pregnancies. They would just remove them after a while. If I told [the soldiers] that they had to wear the condom, they would call me baka yarō.
I contracted gonorrhea not long after I arrived [at the comfort station]. There were lesions and pus…it was very painful.
So I asked one of the Korean soldiers [for assistance]. I asked him to find ‘gonorrhea plants’ in the mountains. The plant was in Japan, too. I asked him to find some for me. He brought some to me, but there was no way to [properly prepare the medicine]. I washed the plants by a stream and brewed them to make [medicinal tea]. I drank [the medicine] and applied some [to the lesions]. That’s how I recovered.
Some of the elderly in my neighborhood - when I was about five or six years old – would find the plants to [use as medicine]. I asked one elderly woman, ‘What is that?’ and she replied, ‘It’s a gonorrhea plant. You use it to make medicine and drink or apply it [to lesions] when there’s pus discharge or pain in your genitals. I never forgot that. [The gonorrhea] was very painful. I remembered how to make the medicine, so I asked someone to find the plant for me. One batch was enough for about two or three [doses]. The pain was absolutely unbearable – it burned whenever I urinated. But it subsided after I drank the medicine. I taught other girls about the medicine when they asked [about gonorrhea].
The men were very sloppy. That’s how the girls ended up contracting [gonorrhea]. Men who have gonorrhea…you contract [the disease] by sleeping with those men.”
I felt like I was going crazy.
“Smoking cigarettes makes the pain bearable. If I don’t [smoke], I feel stifled right here in my chest. Whenever I think about what those bastards did to me … . I think that’s how my [mental illness] started.
I would say [inappropriate] things. One of my friends [at the comfort station] would stop me from running away, telling me that I would die if I ran away. She held me down and locked the door to prevent me from running off. I found out later – I would start cursing uncontrollably.
I would say almost anything. ‘Kill that bastard. There goes a dog – shoot that dog dead! That dog - that dog right there.’ That’s what I would say whenever I saw a Japanese man. Would I say that if I was normal? Of course not. I would have been beaten to death. But I wasn’t in the right state of mind. [My friend] had a difficult time controlling me when we were leaving [Japan].
How could I know what was wrong with me? The things that happened to me haunted me. So whenever I saw any Japanese man, I would say, ‘That fucker … . Kill that fucker! Beat him to death! That son-of-a-bitch … . ’ I just sat day and night and felt such internal rage at all Japanese men. I have a bad konjō. I sat [cross-legged and cursed at the men]. My legs are too painful [to sit cross-legged] now.
That’s when my mental illness all started. I was in a state of shock. I become riled-up just talking about those men.
Sometimes I snap back to reality and wonder, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I thinking this?’ Then I just pound my chest. I say to myself, ‘Decades have passed – why am I still like this?’”
“You looked like a darkened corpse when you arrived, so I washed you.”
“I remember being taken very clearly. I remember being taken on a ship to Japan. After arriving in Japan, I was transported by truck. I was taken to some far away countryside – a mountainous area. But I don’t really recall returning home. I heard from others, but I don’t remember.
I was freed after three years of captivity. I didn’t even know that Korea had been liberated. There were whispers here and there, and the Japanese soldiers all but stopped coming [to the comfort station]. When I asked what was happening, someone told me that Joseon (Korea) had been liberated. I guess my mind was clear enough to remember that.
[The Japanese people] just told us to leave. So my friend and I tried to board a train. It was chaos back then. The trains were completely full – some people even rode on the roof of the train cars. [A train conductor] told my friend that he wouldn’t let [a mentally ill person] board the train. She told him that we were friends from the same neighborhood, and she couldn’t just leave me behind. She told him that she would take me back home – that Koreans didn’t leave each other behind. So we rode in a tender (coal-car). The Japanese people didn’t provide us with any food – I thought I was going to starve to death. [My friend] told me that someone gave us a meal ticket.
When we returned to Korea and arrived at my friend’s house, her mother welcomed us back. I stayed with my friend in her room, and her mother bought medicine for my recovery. I think they called it ‘opium’ (morphine) back then? I was given [morphine] injections for three months. Eventually, I stabilized. The doses were steadily decreased when I recovered enough [to hold a conversation]. [My friend’s mother] worried that I would become addicted, so I was gradually weaned off the morphine. The doses became smaller, and she even skipped one, sometimes two days.
I asked, ‘What happened to me, Mom?’ and she replied, ‘You looked like a darkened corpse when you arrived, so I washed you.’
I referred to my friend’s mother as ‘Mom.’ She washed me, placed me in a room, and nursed me back to health. That’s how I recovered.
Eventually, I found my way back to my hometown. I asked the people around town [about my family]. People told me that my father and brother were still alive. I found where they were living. When I saw my father, he asked, ‘Who are you? Why are you calling me ‘father?’’ I responded, ‘Father, I’m still alive. I’m back.’ I told him my name. ‘I’m back alive. I was taken by the Japanese, but I’ve returned,’ I said. He held me and just wept.
My father realized what terrible atrocities I experienced in Japan, and he was just glad to see me alive. I told him about the comfort station, and how I struggled to survive. He knew that reminding me of those times would just hurt me more. So he told me that he was just happy to see my face again, and that was that. He never spoke about it again. He knew they were painful memories, so he never mentioned it.
My father understood what I experienced in Japan. [The Japanese soldiers] were heartless and brutal. He knew what I went through and that my mind wasn’t stable anymore. He wondered how I didn’t just try to run away. I survived because of my friend’s help. I nearly died on three different occasions. So that’s how I feel - I made it out alive. My family didn’t know where I was, and they all figured that I was dead. I wasn’t able to contact my family during that time, but somehow I made it back and was able to see my family again.”
He said we were both one and the same, and he asked me to marry him.
“I found work as a housemaid, but I couldn’t bear it for long. The work was very difficult. I also worked at a factory, but even that was too difficult.
I didn’t work for a long time afterwards. I was told to lift heavy iron ingots [at the factory], but I couldn’t handle the work. I earned about ₩300 per day, but it wasn’t even enough to buy a bowl of rice. That was what I lived off back then.
People told me that I should just marry instead of working and struggling, and so I did. [My husband] also went to Japan [during the war]. He delivered munitions. He told me that one day, he and ten other people were carrying munitions and heard bombs going off around them. He hid under a large stone. When he emerged, everyone had died except for him.
My husband knew [that I had been to a comfort station]. I told him when we first met. I figured it would be best to tell him upfront.
He told me all about his experiences in Japan. He was ten years older than me.
To this day, I never had a wedding ceremony. I was twenty-one or twenty-two years old when I met my husband.
We couldn’t even officially register our marriage, because my husband’s family register was located in Gaesong. But the village foreman helped us financially so that we could register our marriage. Gaesong family registers had all been relocated to Seoul. So we [obtained the necessary records] in Seoul and registered our marriage in [Gwangju].
I was twenty-nine years old when my husband and I registered our marriage. I registered my husband’s children under my name.
My husband was a gentle soul. When he found poor orphans, he brought them home and raised them as his own. He would bring home orphans and ask me to raise them together as our children. What type of person would I be if I refused? So I raised the orphans, some from infancy, as my own children. I have four children.
People say that children grow to resemble you even if you didn’t give birth to them. My children would suckle at my [non-lactating] breasts. They all thought that I was their birth mother. I nursed them since they were babies, so they all naturally thought that I was their mother. Eventually, I actually started to lactate.
When I gave birth to my daughter, my husband wasn’t even home. I just went through childbirth by myself.
One of the elders in the village heard the baby crying after I gave birth to her. He came to my house and expressed his surprise that I went through labor alone. He cut the umbilical cord and gave my daughter a bath.
But I never became pregnant again after that. I always wanted to have a son.
Some of the elders in the village told me that it becomes difficult to conceive a child when women sleep with too many men. They said that it’s easier to conceive if a woman stays with only one man.
My husband wanted to start a business, so I borrowed some money to help him. But the business failed, and we had to sell the house just to pay off the debt. My husband was too old to work, so I worked every job under the sun [to support our family]. I did manual labor carrying bricks and working as a farmhand. I even did some smuggling just to survive.
I worked at a restaurant, moving from place to place, and we tried to find a [permanent] place to live. We moved around here and there, never staying in one place for long. Eventually, we built a makeshift house using a tarp. We put four stakes in the ground, raised a tent, and covered it with shrubs. We laid down straw mats on the ground, and we lived in that tent for a few months. The weather became too cold for us to stay there for long. My husband’s friend was living in a two-room house at the time. His friend allowed us to live in one room while he stayed in the other. After some time, we found a small room for ourselves, but that didn’t last long. Then we went to a ‘Confucius Mencius’ that was close by. My husband died while we lived [at the temple], and I stayed there for a few more years afterwards. [The monks] were very generous – we never had to pay rent during all those years.
My husband and I lived together for more than ten years. I worked as a cook at a restaurant. My husband passed away around the time that my oldest son graduated from elementary school. But I had no time for tears. All I could think about was how I would raise my children on my own.
All of my children think that I’m their birth mother. None of them know [the truth]. I told the president [of the Association for War Victims] never to tell my children the truth.
My daughter-in-law is very nice to my daughter. She doesn’t know [that her husband] is adopted. They’re all very affectionate to each other.
When [my son-in-law] came to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage, I didn’t know what to tell him. I said, ‘I don’t care about the money. I just want you two to live happily together and never fight – that would make me happy.’ He replied, ‘I promise to do my best.’ To this day, he remembers what I said to him and stops dead in his tracks in the middle of an argument with my daughter. I’m just happy whenever they’re not arguing. But my daughter couldn’t help herself but fight.
My oldest son is always beating his wife. That tears me up inside. He would tell me that he would never do it again, but I can’t stay at his house for more than a few days [because of the fighting]. I told him, ‘I’m here, because you want me to live with you. But I can’t even stand to be here for ten days. Be sure to cremate me when I’m gone.’”
I said I would never do it. He got down on his knees and begged – how could I refuse?
“It must have been ten to twelve years [after the war] when [the comfort women issue] became publicized. I was working at a farm when the story came up. I said [to another worker], ‘Don’t even start. I wouldn’t be satisfied if all of them died here and now.’ At the time, the president [of the Association for War Victims] was registering [former comfort women] for the government. [My coworker] heard about that and told me that I should register. I said I would never do it.
He was gathering information on … . Do you know that young man in the picture? He came to me and begged me to register [as a former comfort woman], but I resisted. He got down on his knees and begged – how could I refuse? After several visits, I finally gave my consent. At the time, I was so poor that I was on the verge of starving to death. Since then, I’ve been able to manage due to the assistance I receive from the government. I probably wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t registered.
I was asked to participate in demonstrations against Japan’s war crimes. But I didn’t have to – they told me that I could just stay home if that’s what I preferred. I participated in some demonstrations. My older brother died while working in a Japanese coal mine. My brother-in-law also died in a coal mine when it collapsed. My family has been through lots of hardships. My nephew, my brother-in-law – they’re all gone now. I had three other siblings, but I’m the only one still alive. I guess I was destined for a long life. For better or for worse, I’m still alive.
[Japanese people] came to interview me, but I didn’t want to talk to them. I just said a few things to myself but in a way that they would understand what I meant. I called them ‘sons of bitches.’
I wanted them to hear that. No one said a word in response. What could they say? They were at fault. They knew their forefathers committed crimes.
I said, ‘These Japs make me sick to my stomach. I wish I could kill them.’ I said that I would feel better if I could rip just a few Japs with my own hands. The association president said, ‘Halmoni (grandmother), please stop. These people are here to help. You’re not doing any good by cursing at them.’ I explained that my sentiments weren’t directed at just the Japanese people. Even Koreans [betrayed their country] and worked as stool pigeons (a person acting as an agent for the Japanese) for the Japanese to kidnap girls. They were even worse than the Japanese people. As far as I was concerned, Koreans and Japanese were one and the same. How could Koreans abduct their own people? They chose to work as stool pigeons just for their own survival. When I kept rambling on about Korean traitors, the people around me told me to stop. They kept reassuring me that [the Japanese attorneys] were there to help.
I told them to go back to Japan and tell people that I thought of them as enemies. I intentionally told them that.”
I still see them in my nightmares.
“I can’t sleep because of the nightmares. I have a hard enough time sleeping due to [my incontinence], but I can’t sleep well at night because of the dreams. [When I’m dreaming], it feels like [the Japanese soldiers] come into my room. I can’t make out their faint faces, but I know it’s them. Then I just suddenly wake up.
They don’t harm me in my dreams. I’m not sure if they’re wearing military uniforms, but it feels like they’re Japanese soldiers. I suppose since I considered them to be my sworn enemies, they consider me as their enemy, too. Even in my dreams.
Those bastards … . I can’t help but curse those bastards. I still see them in my nightmares. I wake up from my nightmares and just sigh. I try to calm myself by saying, ‘Those repulsive bastards.’”
Reparations and Current Life
It’s not just the money - they should beg for forgiveness while paying reparations.
“It’s just so painful. [The Japanese] abducted young girls and ruined their lives. Of course, they need to pay reparations. They should pay and ask for forgiveness. Even the President asked for forgiveness when his son did something wrong.
If I receive reparations, I’m going to buy burial sites for my husband and myself. I’ll give some money to my son so that when I die, he can pay for the funeral arrangements and perform commemorative rites. And I’ll spend some of the money as I wish. I’ll treat other people to dinner. That’s what I’d like to do. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. I don’t know if we’ll ever be paid reparations – there’s no indication of a resolution. [The Korean] government hasn’t said that reparations would be paid. What if someone said that it would be paid when there’s really no possibility [of receiving money from the Japanese government]? Then we’d all be in an uproar.
It’s not just the money - they should beg for forgiveness while paying reparations. Even if the Japanese people decided to donate their own money, it would help somewhat. I was able to purchase this tiny house that I live in with [the subsidies] from the [Korean] government. The land isn’t mine, but the building is mine. That makes living a little more comfortable.
I was a fairly bright child. But Japan turned me into a fool. I’m constantly worrying if the people around me would find out about my past history. That’s why I moved from Gwangju to Gochang. I always had my head down like a fool, unable to speak to anyone. But then, everyone found out [about my past]. At first, I was scared to even leave my room. Some of my friends reassured me and said, ‘No one wanted to go – everyone was taken by force.’ They told me to come out for some air and try talking to people. It was good advice. Things improved after gradually becoming more active and talking to other people.
I started a [private fund] with some neighborhood friends. We used the money to visit Mt. Seorak. We saw the Rocking Stone and the observation deck. I could see houses in North Korea through the binoculars there. I tried to be active when I still had my vision. It’s already been seven or eight years since my vision loss started. I can’t go anywhere because of my poor eyesight. I would visit Mt. Kumgang if I still had my vision.
I was the president of a senior citizens’ center. I would help with the social events back then, but now all I can do is just sit. I can’t even do that anymore because of my vision.
The ophthalmologist told me that it’s irreversible. There’s no surgical procedure that would restore my vision. Now that I’m old, my body aches all over. It’s unbearable. I have difficulty staying mobile, so now I spend most of my days in this room, unable to do anything but sleep.
I was admitted [to a hospital last year]. I would get dizzy and fall, so I stayed at a hospital to recover. I’m doing better now – enough to prepare my own meals. I couldn’t do anything by myself before the hospital stay. I asked to be discharged whenever I could. I’d come back just to be taken to the hospital again in an ambulance.
I made a new friend at the hospital. She usually visits me on the weekends – sometimes during the week. She’s not even sixty years old yet. She visits me and calls me ‘older sister.’ She said that if I was mean or short-tempered she wouldn’t visit me, so I guess that means my temper has improved.
I don’t want others to talk badly about me. It just takes a small amount of effort to be nice to people, so why live life hearing people talk badly about you? So I try to be as nice to people as possible.
The person I want to see the most? I’d like to see my mother one more time. My mother passed away when I was a child. There’s really no one else other than her. I wish I could see my mother even in my dreams, but she passed away at such a young age that I hardly remember her face. That’s my wish – to see my mother once more. Even if I don’t remember her face, I still want to see her the most. Maybe I’ll see her when I’m gone.”
- [note 120]
- Jangseong County, South Jeolla Province.
- [note 121]
- The family members of Bong-i Kim were father, mother, two older brothers, one younger brother, and one younger sister. Her mother passed away when she was very young and her younger brother also died at a young age. At the time of the draft, her older brother had been working in a coal mine as a forced laborer while her older sister was working as a housemaid.
- [note 122]
- Due to her mental illness, Bong-i Kim could not recall her path of travel or names of destinations. In the second interview, she stated that she went to Seoul via truck before being transported to Japan. In the fourth interview, however, Kim stated that she boarded a ship in Busan, not Seoul.
- [note 123]
- A young girl Bong-i Kim met on the ship, who was three years her senior, cared for Kim while they were both forced to live as comfort women. Bong-i Kim referred to her as “older sister,” and they both returned to Korea together.
- [note 124]
- Receiving soldiers.
- [note 125]
- Designated as the national anthem in 1937, "Kimigayo" was a ritual song that praised the emperor during Japan's imperial period.
- [note 126]
- In Japanese, “chinpo” means “penis” and “omanko” means “vagina;” “kudasai” means “please.”
- [note 127]
- Japanese word meaning temper, nature, or spirit.
- [note 128]
- A nearby temple.
- [note 129]
- Picture of the Association for War Victims president shown to the interviewer.
- [note 130]
- On August 12, 2002, Japanese attorneys and representatives from the Association for War Victims visited Bong-i Kim for an interview in preparation for a trial to determine post-war compensation.