“Comfort Women” and Education

Makiko ISERI
Undergraduate Student, ICU
【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the eighth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

The repeated denials of Prime Minister Abe has again highlighted the issue of “Comfort Women” in Japan. Here, I will consider the perception and teaching of this issue in Japanese schools with reference to my practice-teaching rounds at my alma mater girls’ high school last June.

During my three-week internship, I had an opportunity to teach a class of second year high school students about “comfort women” as part of my lessons planned on the battles in Okinawa and the problem of military bases. After referring to the many “comfort-brothels” in Okinawa, I went on to explain that many foreign women such as Koreans as well as Japanese women including Okinawans, were forced by the Japanese Army to perform sexual acts as “comfort women.” I also explained that these were not acts of “comfort,” but were, rather, legalized “rape.” Before the actual lesson, I had fears of how the students would react; but when I talked of how women’s human rights were denied in their treatment as “communal toilets” to satisfy the soldiers’ (sexual) desires, using photographic panels, I felt that the students’ interests were drawn to the issue. Upon hearing the students saying that “the lesson was really good,” I felt assured that my message had gotten through, despite my many other defects.

However, contrary to my sense of accomplishment, I received strict warnings regarding the way I had handled the issue. The first warning was that, to connect the issue of comfort women with the image of the so-called image of the “battles in Okinawa” was assertive and that I should have focused more on other issues, such as the group suicides where many people (especially, non-combatant Okinawan residents) were sacrificed. From this indication, it is clear that the instructor already possessed an extremely strong preconception of the so-called battles in Okinawa, from which the issue of comfort women has been excluded and made invisible. The fact that the comfort women system was something which grossly injured human rights, and the “infringements on the female sex” has been trivialised in comparison to the fact that many people “lost their lives,” is not fully understood.

The second criticism was that my explanation of the comfort women was drastic and aggressive, and failed to convey the major premise that sex is extremely important. The instructor said that, in the education of girls, to use “extreme” words aimed to make the lesson more realistic, would implant a “biased view of males” in students who are at a developing phase and may result in a reverse discrimination against males. Also, I was told that if I were going to refer to the comfort women, it should have been accompanied with a warning or caution against matchmaking websites, enjo kosai (sugar daddies), prostitution and wearing highly revealing clothes. Yet how can teaching about comfort women have any relation to criticism of women “wearing highly revealing clothes”?

It may be true that in the education of girls, it is necessary to be cautious when the notion that “sex is extremely important” creeps in. In most situations, as in this case, “the importance of protecting the easily-invaded female sex and human rights” becomes substituted by the message “women, be chaste.” Any narration which does not fit into this framework is subject to strong censure, as it is “extreme” or “discriminates against males.”

I could not help but feel indignation and doubt about how the issue of comfort women is currently acknowledged and treated in Japanese schools. The acknowledgement of this issue is in a critical state, not only at a political level, but also in the field of education.