Two bronze statutes titled ‘Eternal Atonement’, in a private botanical park in South Korea recently rekindled yet again, the uncomfortable discord between Japan and South Korea over the issue of ‘Comfort Women’. ‘Comfort Women’ is a euphemism, for all the women who were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese for their militarily during the WWII, the majority deriving from the Korean Peninsula. Portraying a prostrated man seeking atonement in front of a young woman, it is a token of apology dedicated to all ‘Comfort Women’.
Japan however has retaliated angrily, alleging the statue appears to depict the Japanese prime minister- Shinzo Abe. Japan threatens to take serious action if the reports prove to be true, resulting in an ‘unforgivable’ breach of international protocol, the repercussions could have ‘decisive impact’ on Japan-South Korean relations. South Korea meanwhile has refrained from any clarification of the allegations. When asked, the owner of the park explained the statue to represent anyone who could convey a sincere apology to the victims, regarding the issue.
Furthermore, along with the earlier publications from the Chinese Archives- The Central Party Ankan, of ‘’handwritten statements of Japanese war criminals invading China’’ referring to their sexual exploitation crimes obtained from the captured Japanese soldiers in China, new evidences have lead thirty Japanese handwritten statements to be released in Korea for the first time. Some of the affidavits from nine Japanese soldiers, made public by the Northeast Asian History Foundation, are:
‘’The Chinese houses were plundered into military comfort stations, and 30 Korean women were forced into business as Japanese military comfort women, making them targets of sexual assault by 4,000 people.’’
‘’Thirty Korean women were regarded as slaves, and they cooperated openly in depriving freedom, insulting, and sexual assault.’’
Not only do the affidavits talk of sexual exploitation, but also consequent sexually transmitted diseases these women were left to suffer from. The statements are also charged to have revealed, soldiers to have ‘kidnapped women and coerced them into becoming sex slaves’, and the brothels built right beside the military canteens for convenience.
Both the Japanese and the Koreans are ashamed of such a past, the Japanese of being the sexual exploiters, and the Koreans being the sexually exploited victims. Japan continues to insist the 2015 agreement, with Abe’s apology and arrangement to donate 1 billion yen (9 million USD) as funds to support the survivors and President Park Geun-hye’s settling to South Korea not raising an issue in international forums, had ‘finally and irreversibly’ concluded the issue. Current President Moon Jae-in, having dissolved the fund in 2018, declaring the settlement to not have been appropriate in being mindful to the feelings of the survivors, leaves South Korea free to remake accusations and demands on this issue.
Unfortunately, Japan’s apologies seem more for its besmirched reputation, it’s compensations given as funds rather than the normal monetary compensations due directly to the victims of such cases. While South Korea’s several other statues installed with similar intent as that of the ‘Eternal Atonement’, looks to be aimed at a demand for more monetary compensations and political advantage over Japan. This issue continues to affect negatively the bilateral ties between the two countries, while the sincere apology and compensation due to the comfort women forgotten in the midst of ego, political and power struggle.
The author is presently pursuing post-graduation in East Asian Studies, from University of Delhi. Fascinated with new languages, cultures and societies, her long-standing interest lies in the understanding of East Asia in particular.