Hearts of Pine: Songs in the Lives of Three Korean Survivors of the Japanese "Comfort Women."

By Payette, Jessica | Women & Music, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Hearts of Pine: Songs in the Lives of Three Korean Survivors of the Japanese "Comfort Women."


Payette, Jessica, Women & Music


Hearts of Pine: Songs in the Lives of Three Korean Survivors of the Japanese "Comfort Women." By Joshua D. Pilzer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 168 pp. Presented in conjunction with a companion website, http://www.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780199759576.

From Angry Anthems to Tragic Teuroteu: Listening to the Recalibration of Selfhood in Songs of Korean Sexual Trauma Survivors

On December 14, 2011, activists for the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan (henceforth abbreviated as the Korean Council), in Seoul, and the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues, as well as an assortment of other human rights advocacy organizations, gathered in front of Japanese embassies around the globe to hold their 1,000th Wednesday demonstration protesting the refusal of the Japanese government to offer a public apology and legal reparations to the survivors of the military sexual slavery system that was implemented during the Asia-Pacific War (1930-45). During this period an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 women were falsely promised education or stable employment by the Japanese military; they were abducted or voluntarily left their homes with no inkling of the horrors that they would face as "comfort women" (ianfu in Japanese). Imprisoned in "comfort stations," they were forced to have sex with soldiers and affiliated civilians or face brutal beatings if they refused. (1) While some women were the private sexual slaves of high-ranking officers, others were confined to tiny rooms where they had no choice but to submit to the demands of many soldiers per day. Many of these women died or committed suicide after being liberated in 1945, and the ones who lived faced societal pressure to remain silent about their experiences. For over four decades, former "comfort women" who suddenly found themselves deposited back into mainstream society in Korea and elsewhere did not openly acknowledge their past or receive therapy; they existed as an anonymous conglomerate whose nondescript story was guarded as a national secret. The terrible memories that vividly haunted survivors in their dreams could only be verbally expressed through metaphor, which is why many of them were drawn to the expressive medium of song.

In 1991, encouraged by a spirit of growing nationalism and critical reevaluation of Japanese colonization that propelled the gradual democratization of South Korea, survivor Kim Haksun delivered the first public testimony, in which she spoke about being maltreated and witnessing the deaths of other women. This prompted the organization of the first Wednesday demonstration, for the 1992 Korean visit of Japan's prime minister, Miyazawa, and the filing of a petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which brought global attention to the issue. In addition to serving as a constant reminder that Japan has not yet complied with international mandates, the Wednesday demonstrations also continue to provide a forum for survivors to interact with each other and the public as they strive to educate younger generations whose history books fail to expose them to the thousands of women who continue to be deprived of basic human rights upon being taken captive by sexual slavery systems.

In 2001 ethnomusicologist Joshua Pilzer nervously attended a Wednesday demonstration in Seoul, hoping to establish a connection with survivors despite feeling that he was "tailor-made to the worst possible subject position from which to take on the project, radically separated from these elderly Korean women survivors of sexual violence and war by gender, generation, culture, class, and experience" (ix). His knowledge of the Korean language and traditional folk songs helped him to gradually form bonds with some of the Korean survivors, who welcomed him to the House of Sharing--a rest home and museum for survivors founded by monks and followers of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism--and granted him the opportunity to listen to and record cherished songs that were sung in public and private settings. …

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