History & Culture

“Korean Comfort Women”: The Forgotten History and Distorted Memory

Choe Eunsu
148 X 225
978-89-6545-676-6 94300
October 2020

The issue of “Korean comfort women in the Japanese military,” which arose from the testimonies of the victims in the early 1990s, has been studied in various academic fields such as history, international law, women's studies, nationalism, and post-colonialism. In spite of the numerous approaches from various perspectives, there are not many studies that have analyzed “comfort women in the Japanese military” in terms of the ​​memory and representation of the “postwar Japan.” In particular, research that traces the genealogy of how the “comfort women in the Japanese military” has been recognized/represented in the Japanese society that denies/distorts the history of the “Japanese military comfort women” is hardly found in Japan as well as in Korea.

The author Choe Eunsu, who majored in Japanese Studies and Japanese Culture, asks how the “Korean comfort women in the Japanese military” has been represented in Japanese society since the defeat and what the problems inherent in those representations are. In doing so, Choe traces the historical genealogy of the theory that the “comfort women” were voluntary prostitutes, which has been claimed by Japan in recent years over the “Japanese military comfort women” issue.

In the postwar Japanese popular culture, the “Korean comfort women” were represented as “the Erotic Other,” which was the product of situations in which Japan’s proper war responsibilities and postwar processes were neglected. It can be said that it is natural for the distortions and disparagements of the “Korean comfort women” to resurface in present-day Japan, which has been built on the ideological and political base of the “postwar” situations.

Choe expands the discourse that began with the novel The Story of a Prostitute to discuss Japanese artworks from immediately after the defeat to the 1980s and the Korean Japanese character in the movie Break Through! She then turns to Korea's “peace monuments,” the young girl statues. Choe broadens the scope of her discourse to Korea based on her awareness that the “comfort women of the Japanese military” problem should be considered not just as a matter of colonial rule and violence from the perspective of Japanese war memory and representation. As far as the “comfort women of the Japanese military” are concerned, Choe claims, there is a context of violence, domination, and politics over women's sexuality and gender; therefore, a discussion beyond the frame of the victimized country and the offender is also necessary.