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

Posts Kyung-hee ChoAssistant Professor, Institute for East Asian Studies, Sungkonghoe University

  • Created at2019.12.24
  • Updated at2021.09.03
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).

 


‘Comfort Women’ Issue as a Medium

In Part 1, I established that the Me Too movement in Japan has not received full exposure due to a backlash and historical revisionism since 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 by denying the ‘comfort women’ issue, and recently, they have been focusing on activities that negate 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 progenitor of the Me Too movement. While Japanese feminists (1) talk of the achievements of the advocacy movement for the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victims that it created a new concept of ‘wartime sexual violence’ and disseminated the term “sexual slavery” worldwide, they (2) actively connects the history of the victims such as Kim Haksun’s to the present Japanese society. Also, they identify the reasons for the sluggish Me Too movement in Japan from the makeup of the Japanese government and society that have yet to resolve the ‘comfort women issue’.

Efforts to connect the Me Too movement to the ‘comfort women’ issue was stronger in Japan than in Korea, and a movement to exemplify Korean civil society has since appeared. As part of the ‘comfort women’ research project, Muta Kazue (牟田和恵), a gender researcher, 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. Tomorrow Girls Troop (明日少女隊), a young feminist social art group, also performed “Against Forgetting” in various locations with the slogan, “‘comfort women’ issue is a #MeToo issue.”[1] 

This prospect of such awareness has by and large become possible due to following reasons: the ongoing ‘comfort women’ researches and the advocacy movements including the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan; planning and hosting of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal 2000 for the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery; civil society’s support for the ‘comfort women’ Statue of Peace; and the accumulated referencing and solidarity among the Koreans, the Japanese and the Korean residents in Japan. The temporal and spatial connections by Japanese feminism, which not only connects to the ‘comfort women’ issue but also takes references from the Korean experiences, could lead to a momentum that extends beyond the national boundaries from both the Me Too movement and the ‘comfort women’ movement. It has created an intersection of perspectives that is much more dynamic and complex than the method of comparing two symbolic people, Ito Shiori and Seo Jihyeon.

 

 

 


Quiet Expansion of the support for the Me Too Movement

It is noteworthy that the “Open the Black Box – a group supporting the civil lawsuit of Ito Shiori” was formed on April 10, 2019. Originally, this was meant to be a meeting of a few activists who held preparatory meetings under the name of “Fight Together With Shiori (FTWS),” but now the group has officially launched with a mission to “start opening the black boxes in this society one by one, not only the problem of sexual violence.” [2] 

Fukuhara Monica (福原桃似花), the founder of the #WeTooJAPAN that began a petition drive in support of Ito after her press conference, got together with a group of lawyers and activists from the existing women’s movement. It is symbolic that Yang Jingja (梁澄子), a second-generation Korean resident in Japan who has been leading the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ support movement in Japan, was present in the center 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 experiences of sexual violence. A series of not-guilty verdicts that were issued from district courts around the country related to sexual violence in March and April prompted this protest movement.

On March 12, 2019, Fukuoka Summary Court (福岡簡易裁判所) reached a decision of not-guilty for a man who had been accused of quasi-rape on the grounds that he “misunderstood that she had consented .” On April 4, the Nagoya court found not-guilty for a father who had been sexually abusing his own daughter since she was in the second year of middle school on the grounds that she “could have resisted if she wanted to.” In protest of these anachronistic verdicts, Japanese women participated in the demonstration by holding flowers or wearing flower-pattern 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 key 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. Following issues are continuous concerns of the people supporting Japan’s Me Too movement, including Kitahara Minori herself: how to move the ‘comfort women’ movement forward that has been accumulated by Korea and Japan mutually impacting each other; how to instill communications with Korea to build the momentum to strengthen Japanese feminism; how to make cracks in the wall that blocks their path; and how women can proactively visualize the women’s issues.

The first ruling on the lawsuit raised by Ito Shiori came out on the morning of December 18, 2019, when I was about to finish this article. Along with the damages in the amount of 3.3 million yen against the defendant Yamaguchi, the court found his actions illegal, and legally acknowledged the truthfulness of the testimony. In light of the past rulings on sexual violence in Japan, which have been excessively lenient to the defendants, today’s decision deserves to be called groundbreaking. The Me Too movement Ito has started achieved victory. Although this ruling cannot offset the agonizing hours she had endured and the court battle has yet to end, this ruling that acknowledged the legitimacy of the accusation of sexual violence has huge social implications. Ito’s struggle and support movements will provide tremendous courage to numerous victims who had to remain silent due to the social atmosphere that places the blame on the victims, and the Me Too movement of Japan will slowly expand with this as a momentum.

 


Practicing a Cultural Translation and New Political Imagination

The year 2019 is noteworthy 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』 became sensational – it was on its third print after only 4 days, and had been printed 130,000 copies within 4 months. As of January 20, 2020, it is ranked No. 1 on the “Asian Literature Ranking” on Amazon Japan. Not only that, 7 out of the 10 best “Asian Literature Works” are by Korean female writers. Also, Bungei (文藝) published a special issue titled ‘Korea, Feminism, Japan,” in its Autumn 2019 issue, set a record by making it to a third printing, for the first time in 86 years since its first publication in 1933, and ultimately was published as a book. The saga 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 more than 200 reviews posted on Amazon Japan are mostly about passionate and direct sympathy with the work, such as “this is our story,” “I am also Kim Ji-Young,” “bottomless 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 longing for Korea, where this book became a bestseller, can also be found in the reviews.


There are people who settles in complacency that “the level of Japan is better than Korea,” but, on the other side, it is abundantly clear that some people are struggling within the Japanese society that forces silence. To these people, Korea’s socio-cultural power provides a model to go after. We have been observing aspirations for Korean society as it attempted to realize justice through direct political participation which was displayed from time to time in the 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 explosive 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.’ She also gave vent to her thoughts that “K feminism may be taking up the role of filling J feminism’s ‘30-year void’” where the works from 1970~80s by Tanaka Mitsu and Ueno Chizuko, etc. are too outdated. [4]  

However, the opinion that emphasizes the reversal of the cultural referencing relations between Korea and Japan runs the risk of reverting to the nationalistic desire that inversely establishes the hierarchy between colonialism and modernization theory. Korea has been able to transcend individual desires 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 regulations 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 simplifying this process as mere Korea-Japan women’s solidarity. Sympathy surrounding the stories that is based on cisgender, heterosexual people has the limitations of settling in the intellectual exchanges between mainstream women. Lastly, I want to, again, remind that the experience of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ issue was initiated by female Korean researchers and activists living in Japan.

The connection of Me Too and the ‘comfort women’ issue, and the process of cultural translation on 『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, that do not even take a form of solidarity. What is needed now is to look at the history of conflict squarely and talk more, instead of trying to resolve the history or sealing up the cracks.

 

Footnotes

  1. ^ https://tomorrowgirlstroop.com/ianfu
  2. ^ https://www.facebook.com/opentheblackbox
  3. ^ https://www.flowerdemo.org
  4. ^ 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.    http://www.webchikuma.jp/articles/-/1629

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Writer Kyung-hee Cho

사회학/일본학 전공. 연구분야는 식민지 사회사, 재일조선인, 이동과 소수자 등이다. 주요공저에 『주권의 야만: 밀항, 수용소, 재일조선인』(2017),  『<나>를 증명하기: 아시아에서 국적, 여권, 등록』(2017), 『전후의 탄생 : 일본, 그리고 조선이라는 경계』(2013), 『귀환 혹은 순환: 아주 특별하고 불평등한 동포들』(2013) 등이 있다.

 

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