62-year-old Japanese photojournalist Takashi Ito is decidedly disturbed by efforts and movements in Japan to deny the plight of women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Army during World War II. As a strong and resolute reply to these, Ito has published a collection of testimonies and photos of Korean women who were part of the “comfort women” coerced to work in military brothels during the war.
Ito published his book in late February amid growing criticism of the 1993 “Kono Apology”, given by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, which apologized to these women and admitted the Japanese military’s involvement in the sex slavery during WWII. The book is called Mugunghwa no Kanashimi: Shogen–‘Seidorei’ ni Sareta Kankoku-Chosenjin Joseitachi (“Mugunghwa’s sadness: Testimonies – Korean women who were forced to become sex slaves”). “Mugunghwa” is the Korean term for the rose of Sharon, a flower popular on the Korean Peninsula. “Do you think that elderly women tell lies before they die? I want you to think about that question by reading all of their testimonies,” said Ito, who resides in Japan’s Mie Prefecture. Ito has interviewed over 90 women in South Korea, North Korea, China, Taiwan and other regions since 1991, when a South Korean woman revealed her experience as a comfort woman for the first time in her country. Of the 90 women Ito interviewed, half of them have died, including the 18 women featured in his book. Ito says that their testimonies are their “wills.”
In 2012, controversial Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said, “Japan’s view is that there was no clear evidence to prove that those women were brought in against their will.” This remark – while considered by some in Japan and a huge number outside of the country as controversial – was what led Ito to collect the photos and testimonies that he had and collated them into a new book. Ito says that he regrets the Abe administration’s efforts to re-examine the interpretation of the 1993 Kono Statement. “Even if there is no written evidence, does that mean that the women are telling lies? We should listen to their words and face up to history,” Ito said.