While the video was reportedly shot in China, “comfort” zones for sexual services existed in Singapore during WWII as well.
Photo: The Seoul Times
SEOUL – A rare video of “comfort women” during World War II has been discovered, with researchers claiming that it is the first known film footage of these women, according to the BBC.
The Washington Post also reported that the clip was filmed by US troops in China’s Yunnan province in 1944, and supposedly depicts a few “comfort women” lining up to talk to a Chinese soldier after liberation. “Comfort women” were women who were coerced into sex slavery by the Japanese army during the second World War.
Credit: Washington Post
The footage was unearthed in US archives by a government-funded research team from South Korea’s Seoul National University. Out of the seven Korean women featured in the video, researchers claim that two have appeared in previously released photographs. They added that it is clear from the footage that the women were held in captivity.
Sung Kong Hoe University professor Kang Sung Hyun, who was a part of the study, told reporters at a news conference in Seoul, that “[the women’s] appearance, such as [their] bare feet, suggest they were enslaved.”
He added that this clip contributes to supporting evidence in the dispute over Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.
SOUTH KOREA’S STRAINED TIES WITH JAPAN OVER THE “COMFORT WOMEN”
While it is believed that approximately 200, 000 “comfort women” were from countries occupied by Japan such as Korea, China and the Philippines, the majority of these women were from Korea.
The issue was only brought to the spotlight when survivors of the wartime sexual slavery started speaking out in the 1990s. Seoul and Tokyo eventually reached an agreement in December 2015, saying that they would “finally and irreversibly” resolve the dispute. This move saw Japan agreeing to put 1 billion yen (SGD 12.1 million) into a fund to support the remaining 46 South Korean survivors then.
Photo: Chung Sung Jun/ gettyimages
However, activists groups in South Korea have not accepted the agreement, and have instead funded “comfort women” statues globally. This move has reportedly angered the Japanese government. Just recently, the Japanese ambassador in South Korea was withdrawn from the country over a “comfort women” statue placed outside the Japanese consulate in Busan. A similar statute can also be found outside Japan’s consulate in Seoul, and Tokyo has indicated that they want both statues to be removed.
Additionally, South Korea’s Gender Equality Minister, Chung Hyun Back, said on July 10 that Seoul’s new government has plans to build a museum in commemoration of the women. He told reporters, “The government plans to build the museum for for the comfort women in a place easily accessible so that it can play a role as a mecca for people to remember and recall the human rights violations that the war brought.”
SINGAPORE’S “COMFORT HOUSES”
Singapore was no stranger to the women as well, with “comfort” zones established in at least four areas on the island when the Japanese occupied Singapore from 1942 to 1945.
The zone in Cairnhill is believed to be well-known, with three accounts of “comfort” houses in the area.
Photo: National Archives Online
Former principal of the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS), Tan Sock Kern told the oral archives that the Japanese had taken over two of the houses she and her family were staying in along Cairnhill road. One house was converted into a restaurant, and the other was made into the headquarters of the “comfort” zone.
Tan also said the barricaded zone stretched from Cairnhill Circle all the way to the junction of Cairnhill Road and Scotts Road, with entry denied to all except Japanese soldiers.
She added that women “from all over the place” were kept in the terraced houses along Cairnhill Road, and that many were eventually killed.
Chee Keng Soon also spoke in the oral archives about Singapore’s “comfort” zones, and said that the women housed in the zone were fair and did not seem to be from Singapore or the region. He commented that some of the women would sunbathe on the balconies of the back courtyards in the nude weekly, which caused teachers of a school in the area to panic and shoo students who were staring at the sight.
The late Lee Kuan Yew had also noted in his memoirs, the Singapore Story, that the Cairnhill zone, which was once an upper-middle class area, was demarcated by wooden fencing.
“I cycled past and saw long queues of Japanese soldiers snaking along Cairnhill Circle outside the fence. I heard from nearby residents that inside there were Japanese and Korean women who followed the army to service the soldiers before and after battle. It was an amazing sight, one or two hundred men queuing up, waiting their turn. I did not see any women that day. But there was a notice board with Chinese characters on it, which neighbours said referred to a ‘comfort house’. Such comfort houses had been set up in China. Now they had come to Singapore. There were at least four others. I remember cycling past a big one in Tanjong Katong Road, where a wooden fence had been put up enclosing some 20 to 30 houses.”
– LEE KUAN YEW IN SINGAPORE STORIES
While the issue of “comfort women” seems foreign to many of us, it is important to remember that these women were a part of the four “comfort” zones in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. As many records of these women did not survive the war, these memories should serve to remind us of Singapore’s troubled past.