Advertisement

Anti-Korean racism on the rise in Japan, filmmaker says

By
Elizabeth Shim
Anti-Korean hate speech followed the release of a documentary about comfort women in Japan, according to the filmmakers. The movie is being screened in the United States this week at select educational institutions. File Photo by Kimimasa Mayama/EPA
Anti-Korean hate speech followed the release of a documentary about comfort women in Japan, according to the filmmakers. The movie is being screened in the United States this week at select educational institutions. File Photo by Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

NEW YORK, April 17 (UPI) -- Hate speech targeting ethnic Koreans is escalating in Japan as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed back on issuing a formal apology to comfort women, a Korean-Japanese documentary producer said.

Maeui Park, a third-generation "Zainichi" Korean filmmaker, and her mother, Soonam Park, have chronicled the lives of Korean women raped at comfort stations in wartime Japan. Maeui Park told UPI on Tuesday the government is getting away with denying responsibility for the recruitment of teenage Korean girls into the military.

Advertisement

"The government is saying the comfort women were never sex slaves," she said. "Even the press, television networks and newspapers, all say the same thing. They're shifting the blame to Korea."

Park's assessment of the political climate in Japan is a sign of steadily deteriorating ties. In 1993, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the coercion of Korean women into military or state-run brothels. A change of policy, and a diminished sense of accountability in 2019, could be a sign Tokyo is doubling down on revisionist history.

RELATED Moon Jae-in calls for 'substantive' discussions with North Korea

"Right now in Japanese society they're glorifying the wartime past instead of admitting faults," Park said, adding the general public is becoming less aware of Japanese wrongdoing during World War II.

Advertisement

Japan's approach to Korean issues receives support from long-held prejudices against Koreans, or Japanese racism that promotes the idea Koreans are "racially inferior," Park said.

Park is in the United States for the screening of her mother's documentary, Silence, a vivid film about comfort women activism in Japan that includes footage taken across three decades. On Tuesday the film was shown at the Borough of Manhattan Community College's Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

RELATED South Korea Constitutional Court overturns abortion ban

The film includes scores of interviews with comfort women who have since died. It is a collection of searing firsthand testimonies about the brutal conditions of daily sexual assault and physical beatings the women endured as teenagers.

The documentary has been attacked in Japan, Soonam Park says in the final scenes of the film, where she says Japanese right-wing activists have called for the "killing of Koreans" who "smell like garlic," a Japanese reference to Korean food.

Plight of Zainichi Koreans

Park, who was born to Korean migrants to Japan in 1935, attended a pro-North Korean school in Japan. Maeui Park said her mother attended the school because there were no South Korean schools at the time.

RELATED South Korean man arrested for killing five people fleeing a building he set on fire

Soonam Park's family history reflects the conflicting loyalties of the Korean population in postwar Japan, following the division of Korea into North and South. Maeui Park says her mother's younger sister chose to be repatriated to North Korea in the '60s, when the Japanese government was encouraging ethnic Koreans to leave the country.

Advertisement

"About 100,000 [Zainichi] people went, and [my aunt] went by herself," Park said, adding there has been "no news" from her relative.

Soonam Park, who opted for South Korean citizenship in order to travel to the South for her filmmaking, cannot visit the North, Maeui Park added.

As filmmakers, the Parks have instead adopted a family of outspoken comfort women -- activists who broke a decades-long silence to come forward about their painful experiences.

Lee Ok-seon, a former comfort woman who has said she was abducted to a rape station in Manchuria when she was 16, is one of the activists in the film with a close relationship to Soonam Park.

Lee, who survived "horrific" rapes daily before returning to Korea to raise five stepchildren, is shown in the film zipping around in her motorized wheelchair in the rural village she calls home.

Lee says in the film her greatest regret is her inability to bear children owing to the damage to her uterus after countless sexual assaults.

The former comfort woman may have been one of the luckier survivors, however; other women in the film say they witnessed dying girls "gushing blood at the mouth" after illnesses were left untreated.

Advertisement

Past and present Japanese government officials have, at times, dismissed the women as paid prostitutes. The women deny this in the film.

"They were just little girls," they said. "What would they know about prostitution?"

Latest Headlines