Academic journal article Women & Music

Music and Dance in the Japanese Military "Comfort Women" System: A Case Study in the Performing Arts, War, and Sexual Violence

Academic journal article Women & Music

Music and Dance in the Japanese Military "Comfort Women" System: A Case Study in the Performing Arts, War, and Sexual Violence

Article excerpt

Two Women's Stories

Yi Yongsu was born in the southeastern Korean city of Daegu in 1928 during the second decade of Japanese colonial rule in Korea, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. (1) Her family was quite poor and was unable to afford her schooling; she worked in a factory from a very young age. But she was keen to study, and so she attended evening classes. She had always loved to sing and received some formal training in music. In 1944, at the age of fifteen, she was taken from Daegu by a Japanese businessman and placed on a boat to Taiwan. On the boat she was raped repeatedly by soldiers and others. After that she was taken to Hsinchu, about sixty kilometers southwest of Taipei, where she was placed in a sex camp, imprisoned, and forced to have sex with soldiers. She had been made a sexual slave of the Japanese military.

The camp was near an air force airport that served as a base for kamikaze pilots, and as the war turned desperate for the Japanese, the number of suicide missions increased dramatically. One of these pilots came to visit Yi Yongsu several times and fell in love with her. One day, he told her that he was leaving on a suicide mission and wouldn't be coming back. "He gave me his photo and the toiletries he had been using. He had come to me twice before and said he had got venereal disease from me. He said he would take the disease to his grave as my present to him. Then he taught me a song." (2) In 2004 she sang this song for me at her home in Daegu:

   I take off with courage, leaving Taiwan behind,
   Riding and rising above waves of gold and silver clouds.
   There is no one to see me off,
   And this little one is the only one who cries for me.

   I take off with courage, leaving Hsinchu behind,
   Riding and rising above waves of gold and silver clouds.
   There is no one to see me off,
   And the only one who cries for me is Toshiko. (3)

Through the song Yi Yongsu learned where she was--she hadn't known before. The song was "Hikokinori no uta" (Song of the pilot), a Japanese military song (gunka) associated with kamikaze pilots. He had changed the words, adding his own place of departure and putting in the Japanese nickname he had given her, "Toshiko."

After the war, Yi Yongsu returned to the newly partitioned Korean peninsula and began her long life as an outsider in postwar South Korea. She was reluctant to marry, and she was mainlined into the burgeoning South Korean domestic drinking house industry, where she had to pour drinks, sing, and socialize with male customers. Later she ran a shop, worked in markets, and sold insurance. She never bore children, although she married an elderly man at the age of sixty, feeling "a little sad that I would die without ever having had the opportunity to wear a white veil." (4) In 1992 she came forward and began her life as an activist, seeking justice for herself and other women who suffered as she had during the war. (5)

Mun Okju was born in 1924, also in Daegu, to a family of four children. Her father died when she was eight, and her family was desperately poor. She did housework, worked in a slipper factory, and took some classes at a gwonbeou, a private school and agency for traditional female entertainers (variously called gisaeng, giiiyeo, or other names). As a teenager, before completing her courtesan training, she was already being called to sing at drinking parties. (6)

In 1940 Mun Okju was abducted by Japanese military personnel, sent to Manchuria, and forced to provide sexual services for between twenty and thirty soldiers a day. She lost her virginity this way. She escaped her enslavement in Manchuria and returned to Korea but was conscripted back into sexual slavery and spent the remainder of the war shuttled around Southeast Asia in sexual bondage to the Japanese military. An accomplished singer, she was often called to sing at officers' banquets and farewell parties, often alongside Japanese geishas. …

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