“As a Japanese Woman, I…”: Gender, Nationalism and Post-Colonialism in Biographies of Japanese Female Supporters for so-Called “Comfort Women” Issue

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Sara PARK, Kobe University, Japan
Wartime sex-slavery system by Japanese military has caused serious political, diplomatic and academic concern in international debates. In Japan, academia often concerns two topics, (1) facticity of oral testimony and (2) conflict between nationalism and gender. Especially, the second topic still causes serious divide in Japanese academia. Well-known feminist in Japan, Chizuko Ueno argues that there were various types of “comfort women” in Japanese military, other colonial empires also had similar problems on female status, and nationalistic movements which call for official compensation from Japanese Government actually hinder resolution of the problem. On the other hand, some scholars are strongly against the above-mentioned discourse and actions by Ueno, accusing them as “violence of relativism by Japanese feminists”(Lee 2015). They argue that Ueno blurs the vital question how Japanese and international society judge Japan’s war crime under the name of female solidarity while she blames indicters as nationalists.
At the same time, this issue is first and foremost political/social issue supported by non-academic activists in the country of concern, including Japan as well. Then, how do they, especially Japanese female supporters, support women's rights and at the same time face their own responsibility as Japanese, namely a member of the perpetrating nation?
In search for answers to this question, I conducted interviews of the activists in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. From their narrated biographies, we could see that the Japanese female activists regard formal apology by the Japanese Government and former comfort women's recovery of dignity as inseparable; they take the problem of "conflict between nationalism and gender" as pseudo-problem that is caused by ignorance of imagination for lives of individual victims and their recovering process. Recovery of women's rights and holding account of Japanese citizens consistently managed in personal friendship and supporting surroundings of victims and Japanese female supporters.