Korean Comfort Women Statement for Korean Women’s International Network on April 6, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA.

By Kathy Masaoka

Good Morning. I want to speak to you as a Japanese American, as a member of Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, a civil rights organization, and as a woman.

First, as a third generation Japanese American:

Some people are surprised that Japanese Americans have spoken out in support of the Comfort Women. In fact, one man commented after Mike Honda’s speech that the Congressman’s remarks made him hopeful that he, as a Korean American, could walk hand in hand with the Congressman - in the future. Congressman Honda replied that they could walk hand in hand now. I feel the same way and want to address the issue of why it should not be surprising that Japanese Americans would support the Comfort Women. I would like to do that by sharing some of the history that has shaped our values and perspectives because it helps to explain why we support the Comfort Women.

Japanese Americans have a long history in the United States with the first immigrants arriving in the late 1800’s. In fact, this year Little Tokyo is celebrating its 130th year as a community. 130 years is a long time. My grandfather came to the US in 1905 and settled in the Santa Maria area. He was a farmer but as an alien and barred from becoming a citizen, my grandfather was also not allowed to own land by the Alien Land Law of 1913. I always wondered why my mother and her nine brothers and sisters were each born in a different town until I learned that the another law aimed at Japanese Americans would not allow aliens to lease any land for more than three years at a time, so the family had to pack up and move every three years. Ultimately, the Anti-Asian sentiments were so strong after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that all Japanese Americans, citizens and permanent residents alike, were rounded up and put into American concentration camps during World War II. My grandfather, like most of the Issei, or first generation, never recovered from the losses of their farms, crops, fishing boats, homes and businesses. I was not taught about my history in school, nor did my parents want to talk about the camps, so how did I learn this?

I was part of the generation, the Sansei, that was born after World War II and came of age during the 60’s. We were influenced by the Civil Rights movement and were part of the struggle to win Ethnic Studies in the universities. We demanded that our history be taught and we returned to our communities with a new understanding and respect for what our people had suffered. We worked in the community and started programs for the elderly, youth and families in the 70’s. We fought to preserve our community and for redress in the 1980’s and have continued to support others fighting against similar forms of discrimination that Japanese Americans had experienced during WW II, like the American Muslims after 9/11. I cannot speak for the entire Japanese American community but I think I do speak for those who understand this history and the responsibility of Japanese Americans to speak out for others.

I would like to share some perspectives as a member of a civil rights group, the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress:

On August 10, 1988, forty five years after forcibly removing almost 120,000 Japanese Americans, the United States Congress passed a bill officially apologizing and authorizing reparations to each individual whose rights had been violated during World War II. The U.S. government incarcerated all Japanese Americans from the West Coast, even those with as little as 1/16 Japanese blood, in ten camps and in numerous Department of Justice camps across the country without due process, violating their constitutional rights. Both my parents were born here and were citizens, just like two thirds of the Japanese American community.

NCRR helped to lead a grassroots campaign to win redress and we learned many lessons during the ten-year campaign. While many people in this country did not know about the camps and needed to be educated about the incarceration of Japanese Americans we also learned about others who were facing similar discrimination both in this country, in South Africa and in Japan. In 1988 we were invited to support Koreans and other minorities in Japan who were fighting the fingerprinting required of all aliens, even those born there. We met ordinary Japanese activists and citizens who were supporting efforts to remove this law and later, we were asked to support the Chinese slave laborers who were suing the Kajima Corporation for their brutal treatment in the Hanaoka mines during World War II.

The Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress has supported and will continue to support the Comfort Women’s demand for an apology and individual reparations from the Japanese Government since we first learned about them in the early 1990’s. Japan has said that they settled all claims when they paid reparations as part of the peace treaties after the war, but these monies did not go to the Comfort Women. The United States also stated that they settled all claims with the Japanese American community with the Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 which paid individuals 10 cents on the dollar for loss of property but only if they had receipts. And most did not. Some say that Japan has paid reparations through the Asian Women’s Fund but only 285 women from South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines have gotten money. Most consider it charity since the funds come, mainly, from private sources, and not a sincere acknowledgement of responsibility by the Japanese government. And although various Prime Ministers have expressed some apology, it has not been directly to each individual Comfort Woman nor has it been strong enough to prevent other officials from denying the existence of the comfort women – some have even justified it. Obviously, much clearer action by the government and greater education is needed to make sure that this history is accurately told. An apology and monetary reparations to each person and an education fund would go a long way in making Japan’s stand on this issue crystal clear.

When the US government passed the Civil Liberties Act twenty five years ago, it helped to heal the pain of those who had suffered in America’s concentration camps and showed that a country can admit its mistakes. When Japan sincerely apologizes and pays reparations to each of the comfort women before it is too late, it will help these survivors heal and show that Japan has learned from its past.

Finally and most importantly, I would like to make a few comments as a woman:

Some people question whether the comfort women were forced or whether the Japanese government and military played a role in establishing and running the comfort women stations. They need to listen to the comfort women who are speaking truth to power. It was not easy for our community to speak about the camps and the shame the felt when they spoke before a Presidential Commission in 1981. How much harder it must have been for the comfort women to talk about their treatment as sexual slaves to the Japanese government, to the members of the US Congress and to the general public. But they did and did so bravely. Too often, the victims feel the shame rather than the perpetrators.

Some people say they are confused and do not know what or who to believe. I would say to simply listen to the voices of the women. It is not necessary to argue the numbers since violence against women, even one, is wrong. But we know there were many thousands of comfort women.

For me, this is not an issue between Japan, Korea, China or any other country but an issue between the comfort women, no matter what country, and the Japanese government. Although it was the Japan of World War II that committed these crimes against women, it is up to the Japan of today to do the morally right thing by upholding the Kono statement which is clear in its call for an apology and for reparations to each comfort woman.

The Glendale monument to the comfort women is a condemnation of the disrespect, use and abuse of women during war and is a reminder to all of us that the trafficking of women and tragically children into forced prostitution or domestic slavery continues today, even in this country. And it must end.