The Current

Elderly women seek official apology from Japan for their sex slavery in WW II

NFB documentary "The Apology" chronicles the lives of "comfort women" in their 80s fighting to get the Japanese government to recognize the abuse they suffered, before it's too late.
A quiet moment for Grandma Gil the day before delivering 1.5 million signatures to the UN Human Rights High Commissioner. (NFB)

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During World War II more than 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. They were known, euphemistically, as "the comfort women," because they were to bring comfort to soldiers.   

Filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung tells the story of three of these women in her most recent documentary The Apology.   Grandma Gil, Grandma Adela, and Grandma Cao reveal stories of their past that they had, in some cases, kept secret from their own families. As teenagers they were kidnapped on the streets and taken to empty buildings while their parents had no knowledge of where they were or what was really happening. 

They were locked up in a garrison for months and months at a time, not knowing if they would survive, not knowing if they would ever be released.- Tiffany Hsiung
The women, now elderly, most in their 80s, are asking the Japanese government for an apology and to make their story a recognized part of the country's history. Every  Wednesday they stand in protest at the Japanese embassy in Korea to ask for recognition.  They have done this since 1992 and they say they will only stop once the apology is given and the history retold. 
Tiffany Hsiung and Grandma Cao. (Tiffany Hsiung )
As they age and die, their numbers dwindle with only a few hundred still alive. More than ever, these women and their families believe it is important to tell their stories.

The Current's guest host Kelly Crowe speaks with Tiffany Hsiung  about her documentary The Apology and the women who are asking for the silence to be broken.

The Apology opens in select theatres today.

A comment from Embassy of Japan in Canada is as follows:

The government of Japan has acknowledged that the issue of comfort women was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated on the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII, August 14, 2015:

 …we will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century…Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women's injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women's human rights are not  infringed upon.

At the Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Foreign Ministers' Meeting on December 28, 2015, the two sides reached agreement regarding the issue of comfort women and confirmed that the issue was resolved "finally and irreversibly". Based on this agreement, on August 31, 2016, the Government of Japan contributed one billion yen (approximately 12.5million CAD) to the foundation established by the Government of ROK for the purpose of providing support for the former comfort women. It is the understanding of Japanese government that this foundation initiated projects for the former comfort women in October 2016.

The Government of Japan recognizes the importance of the agreement reached on comfort women and will continue to cooperate with the ROK to ensure its faithful implementation.

Listen to the full segment at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry.