By Brett Buccheri
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
A Towson University professor plans to use an academic conference in Japan this June as a platform to educate people about war crimes the Japanese military committed against comfort women during World War II.
Assistant Professor Hyang-Sook Kim, 39, who grew up in South Korea, said she has been impacted by the issue of comfort women ever since she learned about them in middle school.
“Comfort women” is a term used to describe the women who were used as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II. Women across all of Eastern Asia were victimized.
“I was shocked by the fact the Japanese military molested those women,” said Kim, who teaches public relations at Towson. “Nobody can forget about it if they learn the history behind it.”
Kim said she is designing T-shirts that she and a few friends plan to wear at the 66th annual International Communication Association conference in Fukuoka, Japan, which is scheduled to run from June 9 to June 13.
She said the tentative design is to have white T-shirts with a shadowed, simplified picture of the iconic comfort women statue that sits outside the Japanese embassy in South Korea. That will be contrasted with a yellow butterfly, a symbol of the comfort women.
“I mainly got this idea because the conference is in Japan this year,” said Kim, who will be presenting two academic papers at this year’s conference, both of which are unrelated to her protest. “Maybe people don’t show me any interest if I tell this story in some random place, but because it’s in Japan and it’s related to Japanese history, it might be more relevant.”
She said another idea of hers is to make folding fans with facts about the issue printed on them. She said fans would probably be a better way to spread her message than her original idea of handing out fliers.
“If people see a flier, they tend to just throw it away,” she said. “But when the information is on something that is useful to them, then maybe they will keep it.”
She said the fans would require some financial help from friends or other people advocating for this issue.
Friends like Eun Soo Rhee, an assistant professor of advertising at Towson, are eager to help Kim educate the current generation on a history that is often unrecognized.
“I was impressed by her determination,” Rhee said via email. “I wanted to raise awareness of this historical background so our society can protect and help the victims.”
The timing for Kim’s plan to heighten awareness for comfort women could not have been better.
In December 2015, Japan and South Korea reached an agreement under which the Japanese government apologized for its actions and agreed to allocate $8.3 million to a fund that South Korea will administer to help the 46 comfort women who are still alive.
An estimated 200,000 women were forced into sex slavery for the Japanese military during the war. Although these women came from such places as China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan, most of the victims were from Korea, according to previous press reports.
“That’s a typical approach by the Japanese government all the time,” Kim said. “They always just offer money and then no sincere actions to admit their mistake.”
Kim said she was also not pleased to hear that removing the comfort women statue in front of the embassy was part of the same agreement.
“If they truly feel shameful and they truly admit their military crimes, then they should not have asked to remove that statue,” she said. “The statue is really symbolic because it represents what happened to [the comfort women] in World War II.”
When Kim visits South Korea this summer, she said she plans on visiting the statue for the first time and take her young daughter to tell her about the history behind it.
“I’m not sure how well I can explain it or how well my daughter will understand what happened, but it’s important,” she said.
She said the statue should still be there when she visits because college students are currently rotating their time at all hours of the day to protect the landmark.
Kim said the South Korean government, specifically president Park Geun-Hye, is also to blame for the recent settlement.
“She doesn’t consider justice to be the best priority so that’s a reason why this whole settlement could happen,” she said. “The Korean government actually decreased the fund for the comfort women victims, which is ridiculous. That’s the reality of the Korean government nowadays.”
She said because she cares so deeply about the issue, it is going to take a sizable action from Japan to repair what has already been done.
“A public apology wouldn’t necessarily be enough, but it would be the first step,” she said. “They should not even attempt to remove the statue or attempt to destroy the history in textbooks. I see why they don’t want to, but they have to admit their crimes sincerely to the victims.”