Thursday, August 2, 2012

The House of Sharing & Korea’s Comfort Women


Locations of Japanese Military Comfort Stations. The total number of comfort women is somewhere between 50 000 and 300,000, the majority of which were Korean women.

LEFT: comfort women sitting on a temporary bed at POW camp in Myanmar.
RIGHT: comfort women in transit to a new location by truck.

(mochi thinking)
the women sit down in the wooden track were all of japanese,since they wear Kimono,japanese traditional cloth. to wear kimono, it is needed some training,so korean women couldn't wear kimono.

*(mochi thinking)
the system is similar with modern massage parlor.
the customer choose his favorite woman,and appoints to her name tag in shop.
today's korean prostitution put japanese name in massage parlor,for knack for charming customers.

wooden name cards of comfort women. Women were all given Japanese names. These cards were flipped over to their blank side if women were unavailable (eg: being treated for STD. when i first heard this, I thought this 'leave of absence' was an act of compassion, but of course it was more for the Japanese soldiers, so that they didn't get sick and then be unable to fight.



Basement chamber of the Historical Museum of Sexual Slavery by the Japanese Milit ary. These photos are of comfort stations in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan.

the docs underneath the photos are as follows:
bottom left: test result of venereal disease, 1942
bottom middle: hours and fee schedule of comfort station
bottom right: regulations of comfort station.
Comfort women were made to 'service' up to 30 men a day, more on weekends. Soldiers were supposed to wear condoms, but there was no way of enforcing this or any of the other rules. Women who fell pregnant 'disappeared'. Those who caught STDs were kept away until cured, . Many women were given mercury shots in an attempt to cure them of their STDs.


These 2 pictures show the weekly demonstrations outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. The 800th demonstration recently took place. The 7 surviving halmonis (Korean word for grandmother, used instead the more distressing 'comfort women') still go every week, waiting for an apology that they more than likely will never get.


Pae Pong Ki halmoni, 1915 - 1991.


Above and below: Artwork in the museum


"Testimony", photographs of halmonis. The black photos represent those comfort women that never came forward with their stories. What I didn't realise until today is that this issue was only revealed in the early 1990s, meaning that both in Korea and Japan there were 40 years of silence on this topic.


"Apologize Before US", by the late Kang Duk Kyung

"Beauty of Light, Nobility of Life", by Yoon Suk Nam. This work symbolizes comfort women who could not return home, and souls of the dead.

close-up of "Beauty of Light, Nobility of Life


"Kidnapped" by Kang Duk Kyung. Halmonis were given the opportunity to learn painting at the Sharing House.

"Purity Lost Forever" , by Kang Duk Kyung


"Punish Those Responsible", by Kang Duk Kyung


"Unblossomed Flower" by Kang Duk Kyung

Memorial garden for halmonis that recently passed away. Time is running out for these women, most are now in their mid 80s.


one of two works, this one shows the life these women imagined, ...

... while this one shows their horrific reality.

"River of Pain", a log sculpture expressing the halmonis past pain as comfort women, and traces of their harsh present lives.


"Unblossomed Flower" statue outside the museum


"Woman of Earth"

Han Dae Soon, one of halmonis living at Namun Sharing House. She very kindly shared her story with us. She didn't talk about the war itself, but she didn tell us about her escape from soldiers in the dying stages of the war. Maria (closer to the camera) is a regular volunteer, and translated for us.

The House of Sharing & Korea’s Comfort Women
Posted on June 25, 2012 | 2 Comments
At this time a year ago, I was in the midst of coping with the end of my schooling years, the impending doom of adulthood creeping up on me as I hurriedly prepared for my upcoming year in South Korea. I knew very little about Korea, especially the recent history of this peninsula and its mother continent, and I began to realize how much knowledge I was about to acquire in the next year. This past weekend was one of the most special realizations of this gap of knowledge, and seriously put into perspective the triviality of those “young adult” worries.

Korea has a tumultuous recent history, due in large part to the Japanese occupation from 1910-1945. During the later years of occupation, falling under the time of WWII, the Japanese military systematically set up euphemistically named “Comfort Stations” throughout their occupied territories all over southeast Asia, which served as brothels for its soldiers. It was in these stations where women placed under sex slavery lived, to service soldiers wherever they were stationed. Impoverished women—as young as 14 years old—from all over southeast Asia (and a very large percentage from Korea) were either kidnapped or told they were being given factory jobs in a different occupied country, and placed at Comfort Stations for as long as 7-8 years.

Photo in the museum of Korean Comfort Women, taken by American soldiers at a refugee camp, during or right after WWII.
They were specifically removed from their home countries so that they could not run away, and were severely punished or killed if they attempted to escape. They were raped dozens of times per day by Japanese soldiers, and many died from venereal disease or injury. The women were commonly given injections of Mercury 606 to rid them of STIs, and it often forced hysterectomies or worse upon their bodies. It is estimated that 200,000 Korean women were abducted to serve as sex slaves, and they were transported to other countries such as Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, China, and more. Later in life most were unable to conceive children, if they survived the comfort station system. Each woman’s freedom, livelihood, and future was stolen in a systematically organized system run by the Japanese military, in a continent where shame and sexual purity are deeply engrained, major components of the culture.

Map depicting one Comfort Woman’s forced movement throughout SE Asia from Korea; sex trafficking.
On Sunday I visited Nanum, the Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military, and the House of Sharing, located in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do, which educates its visitors on the history of and the current issues surrounding Comfort Stations. It also serves as a welfare home for the surviving Comfort Women, affectionately called “halmonie,” which literally means “grandmother” in Korean, who participate in therapeutic art classes, meeting visitors, and sharing their stories. It was the most disheartening yet inspiring day I have had in Korea thus far, and shed light on an incredibly important issue about which I knew nothing. This is also the only museum in the world solely dedicated to sex trafficking.

Since 1992, only 234 former Comfort Women have been brave enough to come forth about their pain-stricken lives, despite living in a highly conservative country, and have identified themselves to the Korean government. It is estimated that there are more still living, but are too ashamed to come forward. Many of the Comfort Women stayed in the countries in which they were enslaved for over 20 years, unable to find a way to return to Korea or afraid of the shame they would bring upon their families. But the biggest crime of all is the way Comfort Women are regarded by the Japanese government today.

Photos of halmonies who have come forward; some have recently passed away.
Every Wednesday since 1995, the halmonies and their allies have gathered at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest the lack of acknowledgement by the Japanese on the topic of Comfort Stations during WWII and the women who inhabited them. They recently held their 1000th protest. In the early 1990s, the issues surrounding Comfort Women began to surface in Korea, when the first former sex slave went public about her past. Although the Japanese government destroyed most documentation of the highly organized Comfort Station system, Japanese professors were able to find photographs and documents proving their existence. More and more women began to come forth after that, and demand official apologies from the Japanese government. On the issue of Comfort Stations and Comfort Women, the museum explained to us that the Japanese government and public are very much divided on this issue, and that the majority of visitors to their museum are actually from Japan.

Copies of documents from the Japanese military outlining the organization of the Comfort Station system.

There were plaques explaining the stories and experiences of all the halmonies living at the House of Sharing. Incredibly moving and deeply infuriating.
The surviving halmonies, many in their late 70s or 80s, and the NGOs that support them, have seven demands. They are:

Admit the drafting of the Japanese military’s “comfort women”
Apologize officially
Reveal truths about the war crimes
Erect memorial tablets for the victims
Pay restitution to the victims or their families directly from the government
Teach the truth in public schools, so the events are never again repeated
Punish the war criminals
Until this point, as was explained by the museum, Japanese officials believe that enough recognition was given in a bilateral claims treaty signed in 1965. The government today filters their monetary donations through private organizations, but refuses to give money directly from the government. They reject the halmonies’ testimonies that they were forcibly sent to the comfort stations, and insist these women were volunteers or prostitutes. It is also hardly included in the curriculum at Japanese public schools. The halmonies feel incredibly betrayed by the government of their neighboring country. This lack of apology or acknowledgement is what drives these women to the embassy each Wednesday, with posters and chanting.

Part of a Comfort Station replica. The wooden plaques have the names of Comfort Women on them, and they were turned over if the women had venereal diseases.
After an informative, guided tour through the museum by young volunteers, we were able to meet with several of the former Comfort Women in a common room at the House of Sharing. They were cheerful and eager to meet us, and passionately described their demands for apologies for the suffering they endured. They spoke with firmness in their voices and deep anger at the pain they had endured, and one woman became so angered her lips were quivering and you could truly see the sadness and pain in her eyes.

Sunday’s experience reminded me of the fact that sex slavery is still a million-dollar, worldwide industry today, that manages to function and operate in a highly systematized, organized manner. Although a complex issue that cannot be solved with one piece of legislation or treaty, spreading the word and education is critical to the eradication of sexual slavery.

The passionate halmonies, with one of the amazing volunteers. (He even gave my friends and I a ride home!)

We each had a chance to interact with the halmonies, express our gratitude for their bravery, and hold their hands. It was a beautiful experience.

Paintings made by the halmonies depicting their struggles and emotions. It’s a beautiful way for them to cope with the pain, and also spread information about their issue.
When I returned to school this morning, I realized that the kidnapped women were the same age as my bright, energetic, and altruistic students, who still have so much living to do. The halmonies’ lives were stolen from them, and this is the biggest crime of all.

For information on visiting the museum and the House of Sharing, call: +82-(0)31-768-0064, click:, and check their Facebook page.

Gorgeous memorial in the museum with gifts from visitors from all over the world, including thousands of paper cranes from Japan.

Some paper cranes and artistic gifts from visitors.

Memorial statues outside the museum.


jlgabel | June 25, 2012 at 10:17 am | Reply
Thanks for such a heartfelt post of your experience. It was wonderful to read.

Liza | June 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
wow, jules. i can feel your anger and passion while reading this. a truly mind-boggling injustice was done to these women, all that can be done now is education and awareness. i easily could have gone an entire lifetime without knowing anything about these horrific crimes, thus i’m so grateful to have friends like you who value travel and communication so we can continue to involve each other in our knowledge of the world.

(mochi thinking)
i think korean could not understand to blame against imperial japan army is as same as to critic against japanese women. 60-70% comfort women were japanese,they were from Eastern japan aria, poor farmer's daughters. if kidnapped in korea by japanese police or army,japanese women must critic to government.its our shame!! korean think that the today's descendant is held accountable for the fault of grandfather's from korean Confucius. then modern japanese are all of raper's descendants.
i analogize deeply to the old ladies,but the fact that they had continued to sell their bodies to US military to make money in Korean war.

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