Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"To Women": Inscribing the Memory by Hong Yun Shin

Asia21 Award
「"To Women": Inscribing the Memory」
Hong Yun Shin(612)

The memories of people who disappeared like "Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard)." Psychiatrist Frankl committed to the concentration camps at Auschwitz expressed that the word Auschwitz reminded him of hunger, terror, and the oven that had burned dead bodies. All of them are a kind of elemental. While conducting research on the Battle of Okinawa, I learned from people in Okinawa. Beautiful sea can be turned into barbed wire of concentration camp. I think there is something that the postwar-born generations are asked, other than saying "We have no memory of war." Rather, what we should concern is how we can connect the beautiful sea in front of us with Auschwitz.
With mild breeze throughout the year on this island and the sea tinted with all the colors of rainbow. The flat island has no mountain. The moon shows the big face, which I have never seen such, at night. Miyakojima (Miyako island). Five years ago in the winter, I associated this beautiful sea surrounding the island with Auschwitz and met people who remember their memories forever.
"Beautiful women were sitting here on the way back from Tsugaga (in Ryukyuan) or the well for washing. Once there was a huge shade under the tall tree."
As I introduced myself to him and said I was a student from South Korea, this old man stopped his hands in field work and then, took me to the huge rock isolated in the middle of the land. His name is Yonaha Toshiharu (born in 1933). During the war, he would live near "bordello for soldiers." "The beautiful ladies" who Mr. Yonaha called were "comfort women" from Korea. They were just "beautiful ladies" for him as a child. He would give them red peppers which they liked very much. It was after the war when Mr. Yohana finally came to understand their agony.
Mr. Yonaha never forgets memories of the war and "comfort women", which took place on the Okinawan islands. He wished to place a big rock in the place where those ladies used to sit down for resting, and make a monument for them. He asked me so hard to help him achieve his wish, just because I am from Korea, the very same place of origin as the "beautiful ladies." The very location contains his memories.
Miyakojima is the least areas of attention in the studies of the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa is known as the only area where US troops and Japanese troops waged a ground war and as "the island of US base" in the post-war period. Because US troops fortunately did not land on Miyakojima, the island had been seen as "the area of less-hit." But, the final straw of my meeting with Mr. Yonaha by accident triggered a Japan-South Korea joint research project on islanders' memories of battlefield and "comfort women."
Our research found many residents in Miyakojima remembering "comfort women." Their recollections include giving them red peppers, mending their clothes by sewing machine, and learning how to sing the Arirang from them. On the island where water shortage is everyday concern, islanders and "comfort women" would get along exchanging words friendly despite of the limited time because they were passersby to the well, which was far from where they were. Okinawa seemingly had 130 locations for "comfort women." In Miyakojima, 17 of them were confirmed.
In the course of the research, a fund-raising with no support from any organization started, led by Mr. Yonaha and research team members who happened upon the memories of the islanders. The victims who used to be "comfort women" in Miyakojima were searched out. And when we received a contribution from a woman, who had been hospitalized in South Korea, through some human right activist, she had already passed away.
The memories of people in Miyakojima thus appeared in a monument for "comfort women" on September 7, 2008. The big black rock was named "the Monument of Arirang" and in the place where once the tall tree was, a small flamboyant named "Tree of Hope" was planted, and behind it, three stone monuments bear the inscription "To the women" in twelve languages of the women who came from places like, Australia, China, Taiwan, Guam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Holland, Thailand, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. The women had spoken out their own experiences as "comfort women" during the Asia-Pacific War.
In some hot summer, "Tree of Hope" shall shade the monument of Arirang. And one day, some traveler shall sit down under the tree and see "the Rock of the Memory" which shows inscription written in unfamiliar Asian languages, and then read a passage as following.
"We remember the agony of the individual woman who was subjected to sexual violence by the Japanese military, lament the victims of wartime sexual violence throughout the entire world, and pray for the peaceful world without any more war."
Then, what would the traveler come to think of? Could s/he be possibly wrapped with the warmth of people who tried to celebrate the hearts after having been familiarized the moving reminiscence attached to the place, filled with lived experiences of people who were born in Okinawa, where once became battlefield, and live with the US military, and the memories of women who used to sit down here? I do not know. But, the sea I am watching from here looks like human face somehow. The monument stands in the battlefield. It is the place where humans lose humanity. It insists that people who shared same space by accident had thought through "how to be humans".

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