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Japanese Photographer Blows Whistle on Treatment of ‘Comfort Women’

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Top 3 Best , Gwangju, South Korea — Since 2000, Tsukasa Yajima A cold and poignant portrait To help the world learn about the bitter history of Japanese military former sex slaves in World War II.

More than three-quarters of a century after the war, the 51-year-old Japanese photographer has found herself at the center of a current scandal over the treatment of women who have been forced into sexual intercourse. with Japanese soldiers.

Since our founding in 1992, house of sharing, in Gwangju, South Korea, where politicians and students take on the aura of a holy land and have come to see dozens of former sex slaves euphemistically known as “comfort women.” residence.

But for the past two years, Yajima, who runs an international outreach program, has accused administrators of housing a woman in her 90s in a substandard nursing facility with six South Korean workers at the shelter. I’ve been He donated millions of dollars to enrich the Jogye Order, the largest and most powerful Buddhist order in South Korea.

The donations were collected for women’s welfare, but little was spent, Yajima and other whistleblowers said. Instead, management said her Jogye saved the money to expand the shelter into a future luxury nursing home for those who can afford to pay after all the women currently living there have passed away. said.

“Preserving the sharing home as a place of historical and educational value is important because wartime sexual violence against women continues to occur in today’s world in places like Ukraine.” said Yajima. “Their plan to turn it into a communal nursing home is a project to eradicate history.”

Whistleblowing led to criminal charges. He has two former managers on trial for fraud, embezzlement and other criminal charges. Shelter officials, including him, one of the country’s most prominent Buddhist monks, were dismissed for negligence. Angry donors sued the sharing house and demanded their money back. Giving for the first half of the year plummeted from his $1.9 million in 2019 to his $35,300.

While their actions were praised, Yajima and the other whistleblowers also had to pay for what they exposed.

Old and new managers of the shelter and those close to them have filed dozens of defamation and other lawsuits against the whistleblowers, accusing them of spreading

As a Japanese, Yajima has been the subject of much backlash. The sexual slavery of so-called comfort women is the most emotional of the many historical conflicts that have strained relations between the United States’ two most important allies in East Asia, South Korea and Japan. is.

“Why on earth are Japanese workers hired here for comfort women?” Read banner It was hung on the wall of the building where Yajima worked.People close to the manager hurled ethnic slurs at him, according to Human Rights Center findings.

Four of the seven whistleblowers quit last month after alleging harassment.

But not Yajima-san, who is adamant about staying.

Lim Mi-ri, a professor at Korea University in Seoul, said his campaign raised important issues for South Korea. According to Lim, the women were taken to meetings and protest rally They were treated as inviolable symbols of Korea’s suffering under Japanese colonial rule and warriors for historical justice. Very few people asked.

“Yajima was one of the few activists I knew who tended to focus on the comfort women as individuals, objectifying them as victims for the rest of the campaign, and using them for political agendas and fundraising. said

Yajima said she became interested in feminism and Japan’s colonial period when she studied history at Waseda University in Tokyo. He started visiting his sharing house in 2000 and from 2003 he worked there until 2006 as a translator and photographer.

“In my photographs, I try to show the collective image of women as victims, but I also show women as individuals with individuality,” Yajima said. If you develop a relationship with them, such as your grandchildren and grandchildren, living and eating together, you can see things that the occasional visitor can’t see, and people see them as heroic warriors. , when they are together, they can also argue like kindergarteners about issues such as who was given one more candy when the donated goods were divided.

In 2006, Yajima moved to Germany and continued working for the women’s movement. He helped organize lectures and photo exhibitions and invited one of his women to speak. By the time he returned to the shared house in 2019, what he had seen haunted him deeply.

When the woman fell from her broken bed, the manager refused to take her to the hospital or buy her a new bed. , exposed to monsoon rains.

An investigation by a joint panel of government officials and private experts confirmed most of the whistleblower’s accusations.

In a 366-page report seen by The New York Times, the commission said the sharing house “mobilized” comfort women for fundraising events, but refused private outings. Staff members emotionally abused m by threatening to “throw them out on the street.” The panel said House of Sharing has raised $6.8 million in cash donations between 2015 and 2019. However, she only spent $154,000 to run the living quarters where the women “lived in subpar nursing home facilities.”

“It is an act of deceiving the public that they promise to use the funds for comfort women and their activities, but do not use them to collect donations,” he said.

Sharing House made a “mistake” and “violated” the law governing donations, said Seonghwa Seonghwa, a Buddhist monk who was appointed chairman of the board of directors in May.

However, according to Seonghwa, the women receive sufficient financial support from the government. Cash donated by citizens was of little use, he

And plans to turn shelters into luxury nursing homes are being debated as an option in a country struggling with a rapidly aging population. Said. Songhwa emphasized that the future of the shelter will be decided through consultation with the government.

“We are working hard to fix the problems we find and to give the comfort women the best possible care until the very end,” he said.

During a recent visit, the shared home’s 3.4-acre grounds seemed peaceful. A bronze bust of a former sex slave welcomes you at the gate. The museum had recreated so-called comfort stations, brothels run by the Japanese military. There, women were forced to have sex with dozens of Japanese soldiers every day.

“I will never forget Japan’s war crimes,” reads the epitaph of Yong Nyo Lee, one of the eight former residents of the facility buried in the memorial

In the center of the site was rent two-story building where four of the 11 South Korean comfort women survivors spent their final days. Her number of caregivers has doubled to her ten, enabling her round-the-clock service for women aged 92 to her

But women’s ability to demand better treatment is atrophied, said Huh Jung-ah, a former caregiver who joined Yajima in a whistleblower complaint.

The women, frail and suffering from varying degrees of dementia, seemed largely oblivious to the chaos engulfing the shelter. I spoke with a few women who seemed to have more recognition than others.

“I have food, clothes and a place to live here,” said 95-year-old Lee Ok-sun, who was taken to China to work in a military brothel when he was 15. Shared home in 2001. “It’s warm in winter and cool in summer.”

Mr. Yajima was not surprised by such an answer.

“They had a very hard life in China and elsewhere, so they say they’re fine with what they got,” he said. You deserved the best care we could offer, but we failed.”

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