News Column

FEATURE: Exhibition on wartime sex slavery being held at Tokyo museum

July 20, 2014

Keiji Hirano

Following a series of remarks by influential people playing down Japan's wartime sex slavery, a Tokyo museum has launched a five-month exhibition to provide a basic picture of the atrocity, particularly to young people.

Many panels in the "Exhibition of 'Comfort Women' for Junior High School Students" explain how sex slavery started in wide areas of Asia where the Japanese military advanced and how the system operated.

"Comfort woman" is a euphemism used in Japan to refer to wartime sex slaves.

Visitors to the Women's Active Museum in Shinjuku Ward can also read the testimonies of former sex slaves as well as Japanese soldiers.

Among the victims is Remedios Felias, who was born in Leyte Island in the Philippines in 1928. She failed to escape during a counterinsurgency operation and was caught at the age of 14 by Japanese soldiers who raped her.

Detained by the Japanese military, she was forced to do household chores during the daytime and was repeatedly raped at night, "living a slavish life," according to an exhibit panel.

An example of a condom and a preventive ointment for sexually transmitted diseases, both of which were used by Japanese soldiers at the wartime brothels, are also exhibited.

"We hope to provide basic information, as references to the sex slavery have almost disappeared from junior high school textbooks, eliminating opportunities to learn about it in classrooms," said Eriko Ikeda, director of the museum, known as WAM. "We have also been stirred by the attempts of public figures, including politicians, to gloss over it."

Ikeda referred to a remark last year by outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who said Japan's wartime system of sexual servitude was considered necessary before and during World War II, and to another remark by the president of public broadcaster NHK, Katsuto Momii.

During his inaugural press conference in January, Momii said sexual servitude existed in "every country" and it is only considered wrong by "today's morality."

WAM immediately issued a statement of protest saying Momii's comments "deeply hurt the victims who are still suffering even now and struggling to restore human dignity." The statement also said, "It is unacceptable and shameful for a person who affirms the war crime to assume the top post of a news media organization," calling for Momii's to resign.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself stirred controversy in 2007 during his first stint as premier, asserting there was no evidence to back claims that the Imperial Japanese Army was directly involved in procuring women to work in the military brothels.

Abe has also faced criticism more recently, particularly from neighboring countries, over the Japanese government's examination of the background of its 1993 landmark apology to the former sex slaves, known as the Kono Statement.

The move to review the statement, named after then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, was viewed as Japan's latest attempt to downplay past atrocities inflicted on its Asian neighbors, although Tokyo has vowed to uphold the spirit of the statement.

"We organized a similar exhibition in 2007 so young people, including junior high school students, could learn about the issue of the wartime sex slavery, and in the wake of the latest developments, we have decided to update the contents of the previous event," Ikeda said.

"In addition to young people, we would also welcome Abe, Momii and Hashimoto if they visit the exhibition to learn the history," she added.

The exhibition will run through Nov. 30. The museum opens Wednesday to Sunday, except national holidays, from 1 to 6 p.m. For further information, call WAM at 03-3202-4633.

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Source: Japan Economic Newswire

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