A Visit to the Place where Sim Dalryeon, a Former Sex Slave ("Comfort Woman"), was Abducted

           The Japanese group of "liberal, revisionist historians" deny that the Imperial Japanese Army or Japanese government employees were involved in abducting     "Comfort Woman " to serve the Japanese Army. However, not only in the countries under Japanese occupation at the time such as China, the Philippines and Indonesia, but also in Korea, in its colony, the Imperial Japanese Army abducted local women as sex slaves. We have succeeded in identifying the location where Ms Sim Dalryeon (69), together with an elder sister of hers, had been abducted, and wehave also met local people who had witnessed the abduction.

                             Photo and Text: ITOH Takashi

Memory Robbed by the Japanese Imperial Army

           4 April 1997. The taxi which we boarded in front of the apartment of Ms Sim (b. 5 July 1927) arrived in about half an hour at the location we were heading for: Jicheon-myeon, Chilgok-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Together with Ms Sim, who had been forced to become a sex slave of the Japanese Army, we were about to look for the house where her family used to live and the place where she had been abducted.
In Korea during the colonial period, ‘myeong’ corresponds to ‘village’ in Japan, and ‘eup’ to ‘town

           By a direct line it's about 15 km NW from the centre of Daegu where she now lives. If only you are so minded, it's within easy reach. But for Ms Sim it's incredibly far away. Once she went there to look for her former house, but to no avail. Apart from her illiteracy and poor health, she remembers very little of that distant past.
           Ms Sim lives in an apartment-block in Daegu built for low-income earners. In her room one is struck by a huge buddhist altar.

The old well still remaining in the garden of Ms Sim's former house

           She has been a member of this cult for about 20 years. Until then she was so afraid of people that she hardly dared out. She remembers well what happened after that period, but her memory of the preceding years is very vague. Her memory of the past is thus very poor as a result of the harsh treatment she was subjected to at the "comfort women" station. The Japanese Army robbed her not only of her dignity as a human being, but also of her memory.

           She says: "I was taken to an island, but not sure which." It may have been Taiwan, as one of her colleagues says. At the capitulation of Japan she was set free from the "comfort women" station, but as her mental condition had already deteriorated, she started a vagabond's life then and there. Subsequently she returned to Korea, accompanied by a Korean whom she had met there by chance. She lived several years with his family. Because her mental condition didn't improve, however, she was taken into the care of a local Buddhist temple.

In front of Ms Sim's apartment. Victims who also live in Daegu. On this day Ms Gim Bunseon (right) and Ms I Yongsu (left) were visiting Ms Sim.

About forty years ago, a younger sister of hers, who happened to visit the temple, ran into her. After questioning her for three days on a run, she was convinced that they were sisters. After this encounter they lived together twenty years. Her sister passed away since. For the first ten years Ms Sim couldn't get out because of her mental instability. It was difficult for her even to go to the toilet due to the pus from the womb as a result of syphilis passed on by Japanese soldiers and also due to fluids from her feet.
           I felt depressed, as I listened to her life story. There are too many women who, though having survived all these horrible experiences and returned home, are still suffering from the after-effects of syphilis and a fear of men. For now Ms Sim hardly suffers from a severe headache any more, but she often feels her brains muddled. Her memory is slowly coming back, but due to her mental instability she often remembers nothing.

An Old Well Brings Back the Lost Memory.

           We first tried to look for her former house. At the time of her abduction she was living with her parents, five sisters and two brothers. Her father was called Sim Chado, and her mother Man Ilbun. We wanted to locate the place of her abduction because her sister had also been abducted.

          We asked passing motorists and residents of the area, but nobody knew the name of the place we mentioned. When we visited the town hall of Jicheon, we knew why, for after the liberation the place had changed its name to Deoksan. That's why the post-war generation couldn't help.
           On arriving at Deoksan, we visited an old house facing Highway 4. We were received by a certain Mr Bak Roin (b. 1921). We talked through a window. When we told him of Mr Sim, a native of Deoksan, he said that he knew of the family. We walked north along the highway a few minutes, turning right and then another 20 metres, and then we came to the place where the family Sim used to live. We explained the reason of our visit to an elderly man who was looking after cows, and he let us into the garden.

No former buildings left unchanged, but still recognisable. She cried every time she recognised some traces of the past.

There were two buildings on the premises. One was pretty new. Ms Sim didn't have any memory of the old one. When I was about to take a snap-shot of her in the middle of the garden, she suddenly remembered something and hurried further back into the garden. Lifting a big iron lid at a corner of the garden, she saw a well. She lowered a bucket and drew water. The well wasn't that deep. As she said, "this hasn't changed," she was in tears.

The Location of Abduction Identified.

           We then headed for the place where Ms Sim and her sister had been abducted. Since the noon-time it had kept on drizzling. Having crossed the national highway we came to a concrete bridge over a narrow river. "It used to be a small bridge," she remembered. Now that we had located her former house, she lost no time in locating the place where she had been abducted. All around there were fresh green rice paddies. The only difference from the past was a number of greenhouses nearby. The most important clue for identifying the location of abduction was the Seoul-Pusan Railway extending along the same stretch as before. Trains kept running in either direction. About 30 metres from the railway and by the national highway. That is where the sisters Sim were abducted by Japanese soldiers.
The railroad connecting Seoul and Pusan. Completed in 1905, it became the aorta for the occupation of Korea and the Invasion of China.

"I was caught here when I was picking wormwood." The railway runs at the foot of the mountain behind.

           "Our family was poor. We couldn't go to school. As extra food we were picking wormwood. All of a sudden we were captured by a soldier with a red band on his arm and dragged to a broad road where there was parked a hooded truck with several soldiers round about. We hadn't noticed the arrival of the truck. When they forced me on to the truck, I resisted and was kicked hard with a soldier's boot. On the truck there were already several more women."
           Ms Sim went on: "Our truck arrived at the front gate of a school some distance away. There five or six schoolgirls who were coming out were captured and put on the truck. They were a little younger than I. On the way we were hardly given any food.

           One day my sister was taken alone to some unknown location, and she came back, crying bitterly. We were put aboard a ship and crossed the sea. We were separated into groups of 20. My sister and I found ourselves in two separate groups. I desperately resisted this separation, but we ended up on two separate trucks. Since then I haven't seen my sister. I still vividly remember that day."
           The sister taken away by the Japanese Army has left on Ms Sim an indelible picture. "Even if I could boil and eat the flesh of Japanese soldiers, I wouldn't be able to get over my fury. Only if they returned to me my sister, I wouldn't ask for anything else." I was taken aback. Though she told all this with an almost expressionless calm, her fury against Japan was intense.
           This is what she told about her life at the "comfort women" station.                      "For several days after arrival there I was made to do washing and work in the kitchen, then I was raped by a large number of soldiers. When I regained my consciousness I was in hospital. But in no time I was sent back to the station. Since I was illiterate, I believe, I was hit harder by soldiers. It was a mountainous area, and it was awfully cold in winter. My health deteriorated in a few years. We were given very little food. Soldiers who raped us were also skinny. I even felt sorry for them, most of whom were very young."
           Ms Sim hurried back along the same route we had taken, for we had heard that very close to the site of abduction, just across the bridge there lives an old man who has lived here very long.

Two Witnesses Turn up.

           It was about 200 metre to the house of Mr Bak Udong (b. 1913) from the place of abduction. A dog in the garden didn't stop barking at us. Since we hadn't brought an umbrella, we began to feel cold with our drenched bodies. The photo equipment weighing about 20 kg felt much heavier than that. Mr Bak kindly invited us in, though we had arrived without any previous announcement. He was born in this house and remembered Ms Sim’s father
          "I knew him very well. He told me that his daughters had been taken away by Japanese soldiers. As he said so, he looked very sad. After the abduction a warning was passed around in the village."
           So we met someone who knew of the abduction of the sisters Sim. It hadn't occurred to us that we would be able to find such a witness that fast. I was proven right in my assumption that there must be witnesses near the place of abduction. Ms Sim kept thanking Mr Bak for his testimony, and wouldn't let go of his hands for a long time.

           We then decided to go to see Mr Bak again, who had helped us locate Ms Sim's former house. I thought he might know more about the sisters Sim. When we called to him over the hedge, he invited us in, as if he had been waiting for us. At our first visit he thought of pretending ignorance, but on hearing that our visit was concerned with "comfort women," he decided to receive us properly. When he was taken to Okinawa as a military civilian, he saw many Korean "comfort women" there, and got to know of their hardships. After we had left for Ms Sim's house, he even thought of looking for us in order to tell us more about what he knew. Then he began to tell what came to his mind:

Mr Bak Udong, who lives near the site of abduction.

Mr Bak Roin, who lives near Ms Sim's
 former house.

           "I heard from Mr Sim that his daughters had suddenly vanished, and he suspected that they had been taken to Japan. It was about a year before 1942 when I left for Okinawa. I played with Ms Sim's sister once or twice in her house. Nanok was pretty and sang well."
           This was the first time Ms Sim was reminded of her sister's name, which she hadn't been able to recall all those years.
           Mr Bak added: "I know of no other girl of this village than the sisters Sim who were abducted. I heard, however, that there was also a victim in the adjoining village, Dongmyeong." I knew at once who that woman was. It was Gim Bunseon who was abducted by four Japanese soldiers, when she was playing with friends. She was taken to the Philippines. This morning, she was with Ms Sim until we left by taxi.

"I Would Like to Kill Japanese Who Deny the Historicity of the Abduction."

           It was already pretty dark when we returned to Daegu. It was still raining. We went into a restaurant, seating ourselves around a warm hearth.
           "I feel great, having located the old site and also having met people who knew me. Thanks a lot!"
           Ms Sim looked very much relieved. She had retrieved much of her important past memory robbed by the Japanese Army. Through this experience we realise that by visiting the former sites of abduction together with surviving victims we should be able to find witnesses who can confirm their stories.

A demonstration by victims in front of the Japanese Embassy. Asian Women's Fund created a yawning cleft between women who accepted the money offered and those who refused to.

           Mr Gim Heungju, who was recruited in Uiseong-eup, Uiseong-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do and joined the 887th Detachment of Hiroshima to become a victim of the atomic bombing, witnessed women being abducted from his town.
           "In 1943, before I was recruited, I saw the town clerk taking a woman away from our town. She was followed by her crying family. After the end of the war, when I returned home, I saw the woman. The townsfolk would call her "Palao", because she had been taken to the island of Palao."
           Mr Gim kept saying that he would even like to go to Japan to kill those Japanese who deny the historicity of the abduction. He can't forgive those revisionists who distort the history and deny that Japan abducted Koreans as labourers, soldiers, and "comfort women", who have kept suffering even after the end of the war.

ITOH Takashi, a photo-journalist (b. 1952), author of several books in Japanese.

[This document originally appeared in the 16 May 1997 issue of  SYUKAN KIN'YOBI (a Japanese weekly magazine).]

Translated by Prof. emer. Dr. T. Muraoka (LeidenUniversity, The Netherlands).