Book highlights victims’ struggle

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Book highlights victims’ struggle

Five years after being dragged away by Japanese soldiers and put into a military brothel, the woman who returned to finally stand in front of her mother was virtually unrecognizable.

She was abruptly taken by several men in suits who visited her home when she was just 16. She eventually arrived at a military station for Japanese soldiers fighting in Taiwan during World War II and was forced to serve as a sex slave, like thousands of other girls who were uprooted from their homes and endured horrible suffering.

“If I am born again as a woman, I would absolutely live a life of an ordinary woman,” she said, shedding tears. “I have deep sorrow in my life because I could not live an ordinary life - that of a woman who marries a man she loves, gives birth and lives just like any other.”

Lee Yang-su, a Korean resident in Japan who interviewed her about her stories, said he would never forget her face.

The woman died in 2011, after finally breaking her silence and divulging her painful past.

Lee is a co-author of “Can You Hear the Voices of These 12 Girls?” a book of interviews with 12 Korean women who were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military under colonial rule.

It was published in February by the Commission on Verification and Support for the Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism in Korea, a special committee under the Prime Minister’s Office of South Korea.

Although the book was already published using the state’s budget from the Prime Minister’s Office, Lee said he decided to publish the book in Japanese to raise awareness among local people about the brutality inflicted on thousands of women and girls across Asia.

“The book has vivid stories from the 12 women who were slavery victims,” he said.

“It is also the first report published by the Korean government about the interviews with the women.

“I want to draw sincere regret from Japanese society by publicizing the detailed experiences of these women,” Lee added.

The commission accepted his proposal. Two Japanese civic activists, Ken Arimitsu, the head of the Japan Network for Redress of WWII Victims, and Aiko Utsumi, a visiting professor at Waseda University, translated the Korean publication.

Still, the translation was not easy work, Lee said. The Japanese activists exchanged emails with Lee whenever they had trouble understanding the nuances of Korean expressions or got confused figuring out the exact name of a certain region. They said they sometimes stayed up all night debating the interpretation of the women’s comments.

“Just reading the interviews of the women so frequently was heartbreaking for me,” Arimitsu said.

The two finally completed translating the 416-page book on May 26, Lee said. The commission said it would review the translation and go forward with the copy editing and printing.

The commission has even set up an ambitious plan to promote the book and will distribute the Japanese translation to various public places in Japan, including the parliament, local university libraries and civic groups.

However, the writers and translators were soon hindered in their plans when the commission told them in June that it lacked the budget to actually publish the book and carry through with its initial plans. It was estimated that the publication, which was estimated to cost about 6 million won ($5,829), was subsequently postponed.

For Lee, the book’s publication is imperative; four of the 12 women interviewed for the book have already passed away.

One of them, Gang Do-ah, who died in 2007, told Lee before her death, “I wish that my story will be helpful for the next generation.”

“Throughout the Shinzo Abe administration, the Japanese have increasingly denounced these women, calling them ‘prostitutes,’” Lee said.

“I want to reveal the historical truth to the Japanese as soon as the book is published in the Japanese language.”


BY JANG HYEOK-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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