The News
Wednesday 29 of May 2024

Japan´s comfort women


Hilaria Bustamante, was kidnapped by the Japanese in 1943 and forced into sexual slavery.


The New York Times

The 89-year-old woman stood in the broiling sun outside the Philippine presidential palace hoping to make a point.

Inside, the emperor of Japan was being welcomed by local dignitaries, and the woman, Hilaria Bustamante, wanted him to know her story.

She was walking along a provincial road in 1943, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, she said, when she was abducted by three Japanese soldiers who threw her into a truck and beat her. She was 16.

She was taken to a nearby Japanese garrison and put into a shack with three other women. There, she washed clothes and cooked by day, and was raped by six or more soldiers every night. For 15 months.

“The Japanese government is responsible for what happened to me,” she said. “I never told anyone except my mother about what happened to me. I was too ashamed. But now I want people to know.”

The stories of women from Korea forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military before and during World War II are notorious worldwide. Most of the estimated 80,000 to 200,000 or more sex slaves came from Korea, where the issue has been a festering national trauma that has long hindered relations with Japan.

But the women, euphemistically called comfort women, came from other places as well, with Japanese-occupied countries — including China, Korea and the Philippines — providing the majority.

Researchers in the Philippines say that more than 1,000 girls and women in the country were sexually enslaved by the Japanese during World War II. About 70 are still living.

Japan recently offered a formal apology and an $8.3 million payment to the Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery. But the Japanese government has offered no official apology or compensation to those from the Philippines and elsewhere.

“The Japanese government did something for the women in Korea, why can’t they do something for the women here?” said Rechilda Extremadura, the executive director of the League of Filipino Women, an organization of former World War II sex slaves. President Benigno S. Aquino III “is kowtowing to Japan so he will not bring up the issue,” she said.

She said that as a matter of routine, the Japanese military established “comfort stations” in garrisons that sexually enslaved Filipino girls and women. But victims in the Philippines have not received the attention given to women in other countries, partly because of poor advocacy by the Philippine government, she said.

So a handful of surviving former comfort women, those who were able, staged several quiet protests during the recent five-day state visit by Emperor Akihito of Japan. The visit was draped in the symbolism of the countries’ often violent shared history.

The 82-year-old emperor, who last visited the country in 1962, met privately with Aquino and visited memorials dedicated to Japanese and Filipino soldiers who fought during World War II.

During his meeting with Aquino, the emperor expressed remorse for the atrocities of the Japanese military during World War II, but to the disappointment of some of the Filipino survivors, he did not specifically mention the victims of sexual slavery.

In 1993, the Japanese government issued an apology, known as the Kono statement, that acknowledged for the first time that its military had been at least indirectly involved in coercing women into sexual slavery during World War II. Later, a fund was set up by private donors in Japan that made payments to some comfort women in Asian countries.

But many former comfort women rejected the payments because they did not come from the government and found the apology by Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, inadequate in describing the scope of the atrocities.

A Philippine presidential spokesman said that the comfort women issue was a matter that should be addressed to the Japanese head of government, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and not the emperor, a largely ceremonial position.

The delicate issue of Japanese sexual atrocities during the war is often buried by the broader contemporary issues facing the two countries, said Ricardo Jose, a history professor at the University of the Philippines.

Japan is the Philippines’ largest trade partner and the country’s largest aid donor, providing more than $20 billion in development assistance since the 1960s, according to the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines. The countries also have shared concerns about China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Japan and the Philippines both have territorial disputes with China.

According to Jose, the Japanese emperor is well positioned to address historical grievances between the two countries because he is not an elected figure and can stand as a moral voice on the issue.

“He is very much respected by the Japanese people,” Jose said. “If he would recognize this problem and express grave remorse, that would be a major step forward.”

The emperor did not address many contemporary issues during his visit, though he did mention in jest to Aquino that Manila’s notorious traffic jams were caused in part by the many Japanese vehicles sold here.

Extremadura, who sat with a few surviving Filipino comfort women in their organization’s small office, said that she was exasperated.

“They can joke about traffic, but they can’t talk about what happened to these women?” she asked.

Bustamante looked down at her hands in her lap.

“I was happy for the emperor’s visit because I thought he could bring justice for us,” she said. “But he never mentioned us.”