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Unhealed Wound in Japanese History: Legacy of Forced Labor and Comfort Women


Both Japan and South Korea play a huge role in today’s economy and politics, regardless of their complicated and long-dated history. The relations between the two nations/states date back to ancient times. Japan has repeatedly tried to invade the peninsula since the 7th century and fully colonized it in 1910. The Republic of Korea was founded in 1945 as it marked the end of 35 years of Japanese occupation; however, people are not ready to forget what happened in those years yet.

With the Japan-Korea Treaty in 1910, Police had the authority to rule the entire country. Japan was in control of the media, law as well as government by physical power and regulations. Many Koreans became victims of Japanese brutalities during the colonial period. Korean villagers hiding resistance fighters were dealt with harshly, often with summary execution, rape, forced labor, and looting. By the late 1930s, Imperial Japan was starting to mobilize for World War ll. More than 100,000 Korean men served for the colonial army as it was forced upon them.

Women were also taken to Japan with the promises of factory employment and were forced to serve the men in the Japanese army as “comfort women”. The number of women from occupied countries is estimated at up to 200,000 including not only Korea but also China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Of those hundred thousand women, less than 50 are alive today. These women were brought Japanese military brothels as a form of sexual slavery, reported falsely as “nurses” in Japanese companies’ business records, saw up to 50 men a day as one of the victims says.

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After the Republic of Korea was founded, there were no diplomatic relations with Japan for 20 years. In 1965, a treaty between two states was signed and established the basic diplomatic relations. Today, South Korean media is heavily consumed in Japan, especially with the effects of the Hallyu Wave, although the topic of colonial days continues to be very sensitive even to the general public. South Koreans still fight for the rights of the victims, suing the giant Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi for the forced labor in the past and demand apology and compensation for the comfort women from Japan. In 2015, Japan agreed to pay 1 billion yen to fund the victims of sex slavery but South Korea’s Foreign Minister says “agreement failed to sufficiently reflect a victim-oriented approach, which is the universal standard in resolving human rights issues.”

Seeing that the Rising Sun flag, which represents Imperial Japan, is still used as a fashion item, South Koreans reach out to brands and companies to be more considerate of their history. In addition to the ongoing protests for Japan’s apology, diplomatic tensions keep on rising. Even though Japan is complying with the courts and paying the penalties, an authentic apology and compensation for the inhuman acts, which will make victims content doesn’t seem to be on the government's table, at least in the near future.

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