[Letters] Trying to associate ourselves with their stories

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[Letters] Trying to associate ourselves with their stories

During the Pacific War, Japan conquered and colonized many countries in East Asia. Many “comfort houses,” or brothels, were built in Japan’s colonies. The “comfort women” they housed were usually Chinese and Koreans who had been forced to become prostitutes for the Japanese soldiers during the war. I have started volunteering at a place called “House of Sharing,” a home where about twenty of the remaining comfort women live together.

I began doing volunteer work after I became interested in Korean-Japanese disputes and their affairs during the three years that I lived in Japan. When I found an organization that helps comfort women, I realized that this was something I had been looking for.

Although I was a high school student, I wanted to take a small part in helping Korea and Japan solve any disputes that had come as a result of the Pacific War. I thought that maybe by helping comfort women, I might be able to mend their wounds.

One weekend, after my volunteer shift ended, I came across an amazing opportunity. Ms. Park Oak-sun, one of the women who resides in the House of Sharing, gladly offered to tell me about her past experience. I sat across Ms. Park on a table in the living room. As she began her story, I was truly engrossed in her story of hardships of leaving her family and her everyday nightmare as a comfort woman.

Park grew up from a poor family. She was the oldest among seven siblings and had to take care of them. It was Saturday night in the winter when the Japanese soldiers pressed her into their service. It happened nearly 70 years ago, but she still cannot forget that night.

She was walking to a distant well with her best friend. The Japanese soldiers spotted them and forced the frightened Park and her friend to board a ship, telling the girls they would work in a factory and promising them that they would earn a lot of money and please their families.

However, when they arrived at a port near the fortress of Heilongjiang, China, things were not as they had expected. The factory was actually comfort house. Every day was a living, inescapable nightmare. After four years in China as comfort women, the Japanese surrendered and the war was over.

When the Japanese soldiers hurriedly retreated to their country, they took everything with them. The women were left stranded but unwilling to return to Korea because they heard that it was in chaos. Park went to a nearby village in China and lived there for thirty years. In 2002, she was finally able to return home.

As I was listening to Ms. Park talk, I learned not only about the comfort women but also about how the Japanese colonization of Korea had a significant impact on the lives of Korean women. I think that the first step to solving troubles between Korea and Japan is for people - including students like me - to truly understand their past.

I say this because many people today do not know or sincerely sympathize with their past. Then what should be done? The answer to this is talking and supporting people who lived during that time. When we hear stories like Park’s, we try to associate ourselves with their experiences and help them tell their stories to a bigger audience. I believe this is what we need.

Kim Sae-young, Anyang Foreign Language High School
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