'Comfort Women'

From Asia Literary Review Volume 8, Summer 2008


This piece is derived from Jeongshik Min’s paper 'A Visual Collective Biography of the Former Korean Comfort Women'. The collective biography in poetic form is inspired by ‘memory-work’ that moves towards a collective history. The Wednesday Demonstrations have been a central influence; Min’s visit to the House of Sharing, the group conversations, and the paintings by the former sexual slaves have provided material for the articulation of ‘the stories without voice’. The original text has been reworked by Shirley Lee with the author’s permission.


Memories of Childhood 
  born in 1921  
home with four siblings 
family poor; for the girls no school 
only work like an ox 
 girls from poor families 
all the same 
but never complaining 
happy to be home 
with her family 
her family united, One


in her hometown 
with parents and siblings 
everything pure, like snow 
everyone happy 
her family were One 

 living at the foot of Mount Chiri 
growing tobacco, gathering mushrooms 
wild greens on the mountainside 
 Colonial Taxation: 
Japanese took everything 
rice bowls, spoons, chopsticks 
even her father’s life 
her family broken 
family broken 

  her family plants seeds, Japan plants a colony 
Japan takes their seeds: ‘Baeari fruit’ 
(embryo buds) 
 Colonial Taxation: 
they extract oil from the seeds 
oil goes to factories 
planes go to War 
her land is a colony 



  on a ship 
there are three Chosun maidens 
who yearn for the same hometown 
 she had persuaded her friends 
to come with her 
in those days people were simple 
the girls knew nothing of the world 
they believed they were going 
to work in a factory 

if only she hadn’t persuaded her friends 
to go with her 


The Women’s Volunteer Labour Corps 

  her Japanese teacher at secondary school 
asked her to join the Corps 
she would be able to continue her studies 
 her mother wept and pleaded with her 
to marry like the other girls 
at least on paper 
to avoid the recruitment 
  but the brightest girls joined 
the head girl and she 
50 girls from Chinju 
50 girls from Masan 
became 150 in Pusan 
more girls 
more girls 
from everywhere 

 Japan was desperate for workers 
from colonies 
from everywhere in Korea 
to run the factories in Japan 
to be taken to the front 
to comfort the soldiers 
the soldiers 
  the Japanese wanted even 
the youngest girls  
young girls 
young girls were taken 
innocent Chosun girls 

 an innocent girl 
stolen, kidnapped 
 the girls would work 
in factories and hospitals – 
everyone believed it 

  she could live a comfortable life as a nurse 
she would become a nurse in Japan 
she would go to Japan 
a better place 

  a girl of 14 taken away 
she did not know where she was being taken 
one girl from each family 
  – a colonist’s law for a colony 
  the eldest, the youngest 
but only the girls 
the fearful girls 

  the girls of the colonies 
were delivered to 
                      far away 
                                        far away from home 






 Forced Initiation as a Comfort Woman

 Corporal Kobayasi Tadeo 
stole her innocence 
dragged her 
raped her  
under a tree in the dark on a road 
she was fifteen and scared 
unable to bite off her tongue 
like a virtuous Korean woman 
she had been too scared 
too scared 

   the flowers of the cherry tree blossomed 
   and sucked up a young girl’s spirit 

  young girl then abandoned in a cubicle 
of one and a half tatami  
Kobayasi came again 
and again 
and again 

  many soldiers followed 
ten soldiers a day 
thirty soldiers a day 
forty soldiers a day  
countless soldiers 
  no time to eat 
no time to sleep 
no time for the toilet 
no time  

 the soldiers rushed in 
one after another in orderly lines 
their trousers down already 
‘Hayaku! Hayaku! 
the soldiers’ swords and pistols at hand 
  too exhausted, she gave up counting 
her pants hung round her legs 
no strength to pull them up 

other girls committed suicide 
like virtuous Korean women 
  their bodies were burned 
   ‘the dead are your soup,’ soldiers told her 
       she ate and drank her friends 


Life at the Comfort Station

  she washed her clothes when there was time 
and soldiers’ clothes 
and condoms 

 Sexual Slavery Women of the military unit 
not people – 
public toilets  
piss house 

  she looked up at the moon 
they smacked her – what are you doing, girl? 
she talked to herself 
they smacked her – don’t fucking swear at us, girl! 
they told her to suck them – it was her duty 
and when she refused 
they beat her into a coma 
  she woke up three days later                                              

 no time to feel lonely 
serving the soldiers 
kept her too busy 

the soldiers preferred her 
a clean Korean girl 
  some did not care about condoms 
    to die through disease 
    to die by a bullet 
      there was no difference at all 
  soldiers always queuing outside 
waiting their turn, quarreling 
sometimes jumping the queue 
  most done in under five minutes 

  soldiers about to leave for the battlefield 
were much more gentle with her  
they gave her loose change 
said it would be of no use to them 
if they never came back 
  some soldiers wept 
too scared to go out and fight 
    comfort them 
    say to them, ‘return safely from battle’ 
  one or two made confessions of love  
some even proposed 

 the women’s vaginas are swollen  
injection No. 606: 
no space, not for a needle 
subject to torture 
day and night 
days and nights 
kicked beaten 
hit slapped 

  her menstruation starts 
while serving 
she serves soldiers while bleeding 

 malaria, jaundice, breakdown 
 every night she sat on a board 
on a puddle inside an emergency dugout 
she longed to go home 
she missed her mother 
her brothers and sisters 
she longed to go home 
  sixty years on 
  her teeth grind at the thought 



  Japan had lost the war 
Japan hurried to bury their crimes  
papers and bodies 
bodies of girls 

  they burned 
the bodies of girls 
 all men were the same to her 
even the white soldiers asked her 
to comfort them 

mother, she is back 
‘Have you returned from the dead?’ 
mother, she is back 
 she has come back 
but in silence 
  her voice has been lost 
  in the Comfort Stations 





After Telling their Stories to the Public
 she is a woman of Chosun 
whose culture of Confucian values 
respects a virtuous woman 
where the shame of a woman 
is the shame of her family 
and her family whispers this – 
    she has brought shame to the family 

was it her fault that her virtue was taken? 
had she really brought shame to her family? 
  why did she have to be 
Korean man’s property 
to be sold to Japan? 

 as youth slips away 
she is suddenly old and grey 
her womb malformed 
from abuse

 her diseases 
and shame 
have been living within her 
for her family 
for her homeland  
for her 

 she has tried to forget 
– more than fifty years on now 
aged over sixty – 
by testifying 
by meeting other Sexual Slavery Women 
by painting 
  the memory tortures her 
she is going crazy 
nightmares of the past possess her 
her screams in the night waken everyone up 
  as she voices her past 
the wounds she has kept 
inside for so long 
seem to slowly be healing 
her heart can be soothed 
she can express her happiness 
with fewer distractions 
when she cannot sleep 
she paints all night 
she forgets everything while painting 

  it was hard for her to be with 
other former Sexual Slavery Women 
in the same house 
  she came to Teochon 
the House of Sharing 
others then joined her 
  she was there  
  when drunk and lonely 
she went up to a grave 
and cried 
and cried 

    and there she imagined punishing the guilty 

 punishing the guilty –  
the Japanese emperor tied to a tree 
she aims her gun at him 

            white birds are flying to bring peace – 
            for him to say sorry to her is enough 

 who is she? 
a crushed flower 
or a bud yet unblossomed? 
these words still keep hope for the blossoming 
o unblossomed flower! 
  remembering youth 
  she mourns her innocence 
























































































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