About 20 years ago, I first heard about the comfort women. There was a small group of elderly women protesting in front of the Japanese Embassy for an official apology, and they made the newspapers, two whole columns worth in the back pages. It was just a single picture of an elderly woman crying out for justice. I saw the pain in her eyes not yet washed by 50 years. These ladies beside her were the lucky ones. They had survived the atrocities of being coerced and tricked into brothel houses and prostitution by the Japanese government during the occupation in the 1940′s. They had survived the physical brutalities and the shame and ostracization from their own families and communities. In those two columns, I cried for strangers I had never met, but felt such a part of.
It made me angry that I had never heard of these women before. I was angry at my own ignorance, but at the education system that didn’t mention anything about these women. It’s been estimated that anywhere upwards of 200,000 women were affected and spanned many ethnicities, including 300 Dutch women living in Indonesia. All official documents have been destroyed and an agreement between the Japanese and Korean governments during the reconstruction brushed this part of history under the rug. There have been debates, depending on the bias of the historians, whether the comfort women, as they were called by the Japanese government, were volunteers or victims and the number of women this had affected, ranging from the 40,000 from to 200,000. Even at the most conservative number of 40,000, isn’t even one too many?
Politics and historic biases aside, after these few remaining women pass away, there stories and fight die with them. Whatever the official stance history takes, I felt it important to preserve these women’s personal stories and for others to be able to hear them in their own words and images, not manipulated by an editor’s bias or told via a third party. As strongly as I felt, I also lacked the experience and frankly the confidence to feel like I could do anything about it.
Fast forward 20 years later, the remaining comfort women are still fighting for that apology that will never come. They’ve always been on my mind, but it isn’t until now that I felt like I can do something about it. My goal is to capture as many of the comfort women’s stories as I can, stream it online in a multimedia educational experience, and preserve the raw footage for future documentarians. I want to give these women a voice and perpetuate their stories so that future generations can hear their personal stories. I want to change the way we view history, not through the filter of the editors and political bias, but through people who were actually there having experienced that moment in time. I don’t want to vilify anyone nor place blame. My sole purpose is to preserve a moment in time, teach others who want to learn and hopefully give voice to a small group of people who otherwise may be shouting into a silent void.
My hope is to travel to South Korea and visit the House of Sharing, where a few of the comfort women live under the care and charity of a Buddhist organization, in May and launch my project. I am not a film maker nor a developer. The one thing that has always stopped me was that nagging scary voice that says, “Who do you think you are? What makes you think you can do this?” I guess I am just a person who decided that thinking about something for 20 years is long enough. Time to do something about it. The rest I’ll figure out as I go along.