Rewriting the Past: Restoring Dignity to Japanese “Comfort Women”

Stream: Panel 41 - Gender Politics: Gender Based Violence 3: International Perspectives
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


The 1991 Korean silence break achieved a paradigmatic change in conceptualising Japanese military “comfort women” from prostitutes to sex slaves. Consequently, the “comfort women” issue has been globally recognized as a women’s human rights issue in which transnational activism for justice on behalf of the survivors of the war-time sexual slavery system has prevailed. However, Japanese survivors have been excluded from the movement while they have been stigmatised as voluntary prostitutes. Yet the initial victims of the sex slave system were Japanese women, many of whom were supposed to be indentured prostitutes prior to their recruitment. The Asia-Pacific War opened up space for their identity transformation from social stigma to patriotic national subjects. By all accounts, they were informed that ‘their spirits could be enshrined’ along with those of dead soldiers at the national shrine commemorating Japan’s war dead (Yoshimi, 2000, p.101). The state thus carried out a manoeuver of ‘manipulating their patriotism’ (Ibid.). Yet their experiences have never been inscribed into ‘official’ narratives. This paper demonstrates that exploring and visibilising the gendered memory of Japanese “comfort women” enables us to understand the collision between nationalism and militarism in the shaping of the modern patriarchal nation-state. To this end, I draw on oral history and feminist methodologies that give Japanese surviving “comfort women” voices, which are central to the construction of their political/historical subjectivity and open up the contested political terrain of contemporary nationalist Japanese Politics with a view to foregrounding justice for the female victims of gendered state violence.


Sachiyo Tsukamoto (Presenter), University of Newcastle