Last Sunday I hosted Paige Etheridge on my blog. Paige has recently written an historical novel about the pan pan girls in Japan. Pan pan was a new word / phrase to me. It is a derogatory term for a prostitute and refers to the Japanese women who provided sexual services for the occupying forces (mostly American GIs) after the Second World War. Although despised by polite Japanese society, the pan pan were in fact encouraged by the Japanese Government, with the intention of protecting their upper and middle class women from the attentions of the foreign soldiers.
The pan pan, as Paige’s novel recounts, were seen as the shameful ones, not the system that used them. By contrast the ‘comfort women’ cannot be dismissed so lightly, as there are no outside forces, or female moral turpitude, to blame. The comfort women were girls and young women who were brought into Japan during the war from Korea, which was then a Japanese colony. None knew what was in store for them when they arrived in the country; most thought they were going to work in textile factories. In fact they were taken to comfort stations where they were forced into non- consensual sex with 15 Japanese soldiers a day (and 50 on a Saturday and Sunday). That’s 175 rapes a week. Many of the women, on returning to Korea, were too ashamed to tell their families what had happened; and too traumatised to be able to marry and have families of their own.
The Japanese Government spent years trying to deny the existence of the comfort stations, or would suggest that the women had chosen to live in them of their own free will. During the 1990s however, many of the comfort women found the courage to speak out. One such was Kim Bok-Don, who was taken to Japan as a sixteen year old and did not return to Korea for 8 years. She described it for what it was – sexual slavery. She was still campaigning when she died, aged 92, in January. “What we want,” she said in 2016, “is a sincere apology and legal reparations from Japan that would help restore our honour.”
She never married, and left her money, and any posthumous reparations, to a fund for women who suffered sexual violence during the war. Apparently her last word was a swear word expressing her anger for what had been done to her. It wasn’t included in her obituary, otherwise it might have been another new word to add to my lexicon.
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