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Comfort Women play brings dark chapter of history to life

By Chang Jun | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-09-01 11:05

Efforts from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and the US to help victims and their families seek an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government for their crimes and atrocities against civilians during World War II seem to be not only unflinching but gaining momentum.

The grassroots commitment to upholding the historical truth is like an uphill odyssey - arduous, painstaking and bumpy - but so meaningful in its persistence in seeking justice for the dead and the wounded from a compulsively misleading Japanese government.

Last week, an Asian-American community in the Bay Area hosted a Japanese playwright and actress couple and their co-production about "comfort women", a six-act play entitled The Eye Holds the Truth for three performances.

Written and directed by Yoshiji Watanabe in 2013 and starring his wife Kazuko Yokoi, the story explores the suffering of two Korean comfort women, one Chinese comfort woman and a child born to a Chinese comfort woman fathered by a Japanese solider.

The son of a war criminal, Watanabe confessed that he used his plays and writings to tell the truth, which he called the purpose of his life because of his father's profound guilt and crimes.

It's the third time the pair have brought their plays to the US, following Reunion in 2001 and The Rain in 2007 and it's the first time that The Eye Holds the Truth was performed outside of Japan.

"We have given 41 shows (of the new play) in Japan, and it was very well received each time, though there were not large audiences," Watanabe, 68, said.

The couple's integrity and respect for the truth, to me and many Asian Americans, only dwarfs the Japanese government, which habitually glosses over its wartime wrong deeds and still whitewashes its atrocities committed against its Asian neighbors.

Heart-wrenching, suffocating and tear-jerking - that's what I remember sitting through the two-hour monologue on Saturday afternoon. The summer sun was scorching outside but inside the auditorium the atmosphere was icy cold.

Yokoi's interpretation and portrayal of the four characters, accompanied by English and Chinese subtitles and solemn music, transported me to one of the darkest chapters of human history in the 1930s. The testimonies of Yi Yoon Soo, Pal Young Sim, both Koreans; and Wei Shao Lan and Lo Shang Shun, Chinese, vividly depicted how Japanese invaders were burning, killing, looting and raping wherever their war machine bulldozed.

Young girls from Korea and China were captured by Japanese soldiers and taken to military brothels to serve the invaders as sex slaves. They were forced to work until Japan surrendered in August of 1945.

Wei, from Guangxi, was captured with her baby daughter by a group of Japanese soldiers in 1944. She was repeatedly raped during which her baby girl was either beaten or given candies by Japanese soldiers to keep her quiet. Three months after she was able to escape, her daughter died. She lived out the rest of her life in shame, scorned and shunned by the people around her, including her own husband.

"I want all Japanese to know the facts. I also want the Japanese government to make formal apologies," the character Wei said.

"I was continuously raped all day and night long by Japanese soldierstwo or three of them and even four at a time. They made you suffer to the brink of dying, especially for me as I was so young back then," recalled Yi, who after years of trauma and living in shame finally stepped out into the light and went public with her painful story.

Pal, whose ordeal started at the age of 14, said "I could never forget my past. I am a human. Those who forget their past do not posses humanity. I wish I could live long enough to hear the Japanese government's apology." She died in 2006.

However, the official apology the "comfort women" and peace-loving people have longed for from the Japanese government seems to be nothing short of impossible.

In April, more than 100 Japanese lawmakers including the head of the National Public Safety Commission and state minister Eriko Yamatani, paid homage at the infamous war criminal-honoring Yasukuni Shrine, one day after Chinese President Xi Jinping told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the history issue was a major matter of principle concerning the political basis of bilateral ties.

The shrine honors about 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class-A convicted Japanese war criminals from World War II.

Xi also voiced hopes at the meeting that the Japanese side would seriously treat the concerns of its Asian neighbors and send out positive signals on the history issue. Historical issues, including Yasukuni visits by Japanese politicians, are a major obstacle for Japan to mend its ties with neighboring China and South Korea as the two countries were, among others, victims of Japan's wartime aggression and colonial rule.

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com.

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