Japan’s Me Too Movement and ‘Comfort Women’ Issue Part 2 – Intersection of History and the Translation of Culture

Posts Jo Gyeonghee (HK Professor Institute for East Asian Studies at Sungkonghoe University

  • Created at2019.12.24
  • Updated at2020.12.14
This is a summary and revision of 「Japan’s #MeToo Movement and Post-Feminism: Power to Incapacitate, Heart to Connect」 printed in “Feminism and Korean Literature” Issue No. 47 (2019).


Japan’s Me Too Movement and the Comfort Women Issue 

Part 1. Historical Revisionism, Backlash and the Comfort Women Issue  
Part 2. Intersection of History and the Translation of Culture 

‘Comfort Women’ Issue as a Medium

In Part 1, we verified that the Me Too movement in Japan has not received full exposure due to a backlash and historical revisionism after the 1990s, and that the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ issue always remained at the center of it. The right-wingers of Japan developed their political and moral beliefs through denying the ‘comfort women’ issue, and recently, they have been focusing on activities that deny the ‘comfort women’ history on the international stage, such as the UN. 

However, it is not only the right-wingers who prey on the ‘comfort women’ issue. The feminist movement of Japan also tried to ruminate the testimonies of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victims, who demanded the restoration of their sexual dignity, as the start of the Me Too movement. Japanese feminists talk of the achievements of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victims support movement for creating a new concept of ‘wartime sexual violence’ and sharing the term “sexual slavery” worldwide and actively connects the history of the victims, such as Kim Haksun, and the present Japanese society. Also, they feverishly seek the specific causes that have stopped the Me Too movement from expanding in Japan by looking into the makeup of the Japanese government and society that have yet to resolve the ‘comfort women issue’. 

The structure that attempts to connect the Me Too movement and the ‘comfort women’ issue has been emphasized to a greater extent in Japan than Korea, and a movement to exemplify Korean civil society has since appeared. As part of the ‘comfort women’ studies project, a gender researcher, Muta Kazue (牟田和恵), produced a short video called that included the images of the Wednesday Demonstrations and the interviews of the activists and researchers who have led the ‘comfort women’ movement. A young feminist social art group, Tomorrow Girls Troop (明日少女隊), also showcased “Against Forgetting” in various locations following the “’comfort women’ issue is also a #MeToo issue.” [1][1] 

This prospect of such awareness has by and large become possible due to ‘comfort women’ studies, support movements, including the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, implementing the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery in 2000, civil society’s response to the ‘comfort women’ Statue of Peace and the accumulation of a consultation and solidarity between Koreans, Japanese and the Korean residents of Japan that continue to occur on a regular basis. It not only connects with the history of the ‘comfort women’ harm, but also the temporal and spatial connections that have attempted to consult with the Korean scene and to empower the Me Too movement of Japan and led to a momentum that extends beyond the national boundaries from the sides of the Me Too movement and the ‘comfort women’ movement. It has created an exchange of perspectives that is more dynamic and complex than the method of comparing two symbolic people, Ito Shiori and Seo Jihyeon, 




Quiet Expansion of the Me Too Support Movement

The establishment of the “Open the Black Box – a group supporting the civil lawsuit of Ito Shiori’ on April 10, 2019 is especially noteworthy. Originally, this was meant to be a meeting of a few activists who held preparatory meetings under the name of “Fighting Together With Shiori (FTWS),” and it was officially established under the cause of “starting to open one black box in this society, not only the problem of sexual violence.” [2][2] 

Along with Fukuhara Monica (福原桃似花), a founder of the #WeTooJAPAN that began a signature-seeking campaign in support of Ito after her powerful press conference, the lawyer group and the existing women’s movement activists had all gathered together. It is symbolic that Yang Jingja (梁澄子), a second-generation Korean resident in Japan who led the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ support movement in Japan, was present among the 150 people who were in attendance. 

The Flower Demo is another movement against the judicial decisions on sexual violence. [3] Since April 2019, on the 11th day of each month, 200~400 women gather in large cities around the country to share their sexual violence experiences. A series of not-guilty verdicts that arrived from the districts courts around the country related to sexual violence in March and April prompted this protest movement. 

On March 12, 2019, Fukuoka Magistrates’ Court (福岡簡易裁判所) reached a not-guilty verdict for a man who had been accused of quasi-rape on the grounds that he “misunderstood that she had consented .” On April 4th, the Nagoya court reached a not-guilty verdict to a father who had sexually abused his daughter since she was in the 2nd year of middle school on the grounds that she “could have resisted if she wanted to.” In protest of these outdated verdicts, Japanese women participated in the demonstration by holding flowers or wearing flowered clothes to signify that their hearts were with the victims. So, this demonstration is called the “Flower Demo.” 

Kitahara Minori (北原みのり), a central figure in organizing this meeting, is a writer, a businesswoman and the one who has led Japan’s feminist movement. She supports the desire of women who have great enthusiasm for the Korean wave, and is an activist involved in the ‘comfort women’ movement. The questions posed in how to effectively continue with the ‘comfort women’ movement that have been accumulated by Korea and Japan mutually impacting each other, how to instill communication with Korea to build the momentum to strengthen Japanese feminism, how to make cracks in the wall that blocks their path and how to visualize the women’s issues on their own are continuous concerns of the people supporting Japan’s Me Too movement, including Kitahara Minori herself. 

The first verdict on the lawsuit raised by Ito Shiori came out on the morning of December 18, 2019, when I was in the process of finishing this article. Along with setting the fine of 3.3 million yen against the defendant Yamaguchi to be paid to Ito Shiori, the court stated the illegality of his actions and legally acknowledged the truth of the testimony. In light of the past verdicts on sexual violence in Japan, which have been endlessly receptive to the defendants, the ruling on this day can be classed as a groundbreaking one. The Me Too movement started by Ito has actually won. Although this ruling cannot offset the agonizing hours she endured and the court fight remains unresolved due to Yamaguchi’s countersuit, this ruling that acknowledged the legitimacy of a sexual violence suit has had huge social implications. Ito’s fight and support movements will provide tremendous courage to numerous victims who have had to remain silent when the blame is placed on the victims themselves, and the Me Too movement of Japan will slowly expand from this.  


Practicing a Cultural Translation and New Political Imagination

The year 2019 is noteworthy too as the feminism literature of Korea, including ‘Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982,’ was actively accepted in Japan. After first being published in December 2018, ‘Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982’ was on its third print after only 4 days, and within 4 months 130,000 copies had been printed. As of January 20, 2020, it is ranked 1 on the “Asian Literature Ranking” on Amazon Japan. Not only that, but 7 out of the 10 best “Asian Literature Works” are by Korean women writers. Also, Bungei (文藝) published a special issue titled ‘Korea, Feminism, Japan,” in its Autumn 2019 issue, which recorded a third printing, for the first time in 86 years since its first publication in 1933, and ultimately was published as a book. The history of Korea’s feminism, which has gone through a feminism reboot, is in the process of obtaining popular appeal in Japan, beyond a few enthusiasts.  

The 200+ reviews on Amazon Japan are mostly about active and direct sympathy with the work, such as “this is our story,” “I also am Kim Ji-Young,” “unlimited despair in the daily lives of women,” “sorrowful feeling,” “hope at the end of despair,” “it should be included in textbooks,” etc. Direct admiration and a longing for Korea, where this book became a bestseller, can also be found in the reviews.

There are people who still display complacency in that “Japan’s standard is better than Korea,” but on the other side, it is abundantly clear that some people are struggling within a Japanese society that forces silence. To these people, Korea’s socio-cultural power provides a model to go after. The images of admiring Korea as it attempts to realize justice through direct political participation can be seen from time to time in the processes of social movements, including the candlelight protest, but it is now being expressed more widely in the midst of the 『Kim Ji-Young』 syndrome through the popular Me Too movement. 

Saito Minako (斎藤美奈子) pointed out that ‘although Japan systemized feminism through the enactment of an equal opportunity act and basic act, etc., there is no beginner’s book on feminism, such as 『Kim Ji-Young』, in Japan.’ Also, Tanaka Mitsu and Ueno Chizuko, etc. expressed that ‘Korean feminism may now be playing the role of filling the ‘thirty year gap’ of Japanese feminism,’ where the writings of 1970~80s are too outdated. [4] [3]  

Provided, the narrative that emphasizes the reversal of the cultural referencing relations between Korea and Japan has the risk of being withdrawn due to a nationalistic desire that inversely establishes colonialism, and the hierarchy of modernization theory. Korea has been able to transcend individual desire into a collective social movement while travelling on the path of a neo-liberalistic society through compressed modernization because Korea was exposed to the experience of violence from post-colonial segregation, disappointment and trauma, and at the same time, the standard to overcome these was decisively strong. Practicing a cultural translation that intersects different historicalness, beyond the desire for lineal cultural consumption and a hierarchy, is more than ever needed.

Moreover, one must avoid the complacency of summarizing this process as Korea-Japan women’s solidarity. Sympathy surrounding the stories that unfold through cisgender, heterosexual people are bound within the limitations of remaining within an intellectual exchange between mainstream women. Lastly, I want to, again, remind you of the experience of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ issue being incited by female Korean residents in Japan researchers and activists.

The connection of Me Too and the ‘comfort women’ issue, and the process of cultural translation surrounding 『Kim Ji-young, Born 1982』 is progressing through engaging with the contemporary feelings of the public, beyond the discussions of intellectuals. It is important for us to capture and nurture the numerous encounters, without maintaining forms of solidarity. Now is the point in time when we should embrace the act of facing the history of conflict and demanding that more is necessary, and not seek the methods of resolving the history nor sealing up the cracked relations.      



  1. ^ https://tomorrowgirlstroop.com/ianfu
  2. ^ https://www.facebook.com/opentheblackbox
  3. ^ 斎藤美奈子, 「世の中ラボ 【第106回】いま韓国フェミニズム文学が熱い」, webちくま 2019.2.21. 

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Writer Jo Gyeonghee (HK Professor

Writer Institute for East Asian Studies at Sungkonghoe University

Institute for East Asian Studies at Sungkonghoe University