July 21- Seoul
Hotel Vabien II is very nice! I changed roommates because Robin is not participating in the final day. I am now with Sheri from Toronto, a retired teacher of the deaf and hearing impaired. We went to the North East History Foundation located just down the street, for our sessions.
Seoul looks like Manhattan! Modern, lots of cars -none from Japan- all Kia and Hyundai. No one finds me interesting or different as in China. The obvious standard of living is higher and we have INTERNET again! I defiantly felt the difference being in China as opposed to Korea. Especially in Harbin, where the tv had only military movies- no news. I felt very isolated from the world.
The morning session included Korean students who did some presentations in regard to the Comfort Women. The director of the center, Dr King presented to us. The center was established in 2006 to foster peace and reconciliation in NE Asia. Teachers also spoke about peace education. Professor Asakawa ( Japanese) started the “Bridge for Peace” program. The other presenters included Arita Jungya- secretary of the Nigata Peace Center, Hae Soo History teacher at Bopung HS in Korea. The history teacher told us that their SAT includes extensive questions about national perspective in modern day politics. The teachers spoke about the ‘grades’ being so important and that issues are on the back burner. School is from 8 am until well after 4 pm and many stay until 10 pm for ‘extra’ classes.
Peace is difficult to define in Korea. Text books are skewed and biased. A new text book is in the works for history, that focuses on the relationship of North and South Korea in order to create global citizenship. Education in Japan in remiss about teaching WWII. Many stories told about the atomic bombs but virtually nothing about Japan’s part in China. However, more teachers in Japan are on board to change this paradigm. The teaching about chemical warfare and forced sexual slavery is taught ‘under the radar.’ Korean curriculum is nationalistic. Anti- Japanese rhetoric is embedded in text books.
Over lunch, I was able to talk to the students, who all spoke English quite well. I asked about what they learned in school about The Holocaust. They responded that they did not learn much about European Jewry and that the Holocaust is about 2-3 pages in their text books.
We were shown a documentary which featured Japanese soldiers who spoke about some of the atrocities they committed and, similar to the Nazis, said they were following orders. Although some regretted what they did. One soldier said he looted, killed in the name of the Emperor- but rape he did that for himself! They felt themselves a superior race therefor it was easy to commit these crimes against humanity (sound familiar?). The documentary also included the testimony of a Philippine civilian (Phillipines were also invaded by the Japanese and subjected to atrocities) ironically, he tells about the terror and then drives away in a Honda.
Comfort Women is a focal point of this trip. The euphemism used is similar to what the Nazis used such as resettlement, special treatment, bath etc. The survivors do not use the term and prefer to be called “Halmoni” meaning grandmother. Much like my students who have met Holocaust survivors, these teens in Korea, China and Japan who are fortunate enough to meet any of the known 54 comfort women, are the last generations what will meet any of them in person. They are all in their 80’s and 90’s. There is little government involvement in support of the remaining women, although the “House of Sharing” a place in Korea that is like an assisted living community for these women is subsisted as a welfare residence. There was an estimated 250,000 women forced to become sexual slaves to the Japanese military- an unprecedented event in wartime. The survivors remained silent for many reasons: Cultural shame, embarrassment, fear and wanting to forget. It was not until the 1990’s that any one came forward with her story. The Japanese government has denied the forced sexual slavery and every Wednesday for 20 years there is a demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy by civilians, school children, the remaining Comfort women and all advocates that want to see the Japanese government pay restitution and acknowledge what they did. Our group attended the Wednesday demonstration. It is peaceful but nonetheless many police are there. The embassy closed its blinds during the demonstration and use back entrances to avoid any contact with the demonstrators.
Photos from Museum, survivors, and demonstration day