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House of Sharing

29 April 2010

One of my yoga teachers here volunteers with a place called House of Sharing.  She often talks of her work at this place and suggest for others to educate themselves on what goes on here, so last weekend I did just that.  Here’s what I learned:

The House of Sharing is a home to some of the survivors of sexual slavery forced upon them by the Japanese during WWII.  Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Thai, and even Japanese womenCHILDREN were abducted by various Japanese military and taken thousands of miles from their home to  land unknown to them at the time and into a dark, dark world.

The House of Sharing is also a museum documenting the various circumstances these women endured pulled together by the testimonies of those who have come forward to speak of what happened to them. Certainly not an easy thing to do considering the Asian culture focus on purity, pride, and position in life, but some of those that did share their stories here.

They recall how they were forced into small rooms with nothing more than a single bed and a wash basin where they were to receive between 20-50 men a day.  ‘Receive’ likely not the appropriate word as these women were continually raped, punished, infected with various STDs, inhumanely sterilized, and striped of any and all dignity.

After the war, it is said that many of these women stayed in the country they were taken.  Lack of money, fear to return to their families, and likely having no idea where they were at all  kept them from traveling back to where they once called home.  But, of those who were Korean who did return, it wasn’t until some 20 years later that the first spoke up publicly of what happened.  Ten more years for another.  Today, only some 800 Korean women have registered as sexual slaves during this time of the supposed 200,000 from all over that were taken at that time.

Most of these women are in their 80’s.   As time passes, so to does the first hand account of their stories.  Having never received official recognition or an apology from the Japanese government for these war crimes, the 할머니 (halmoni) stand strong every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul and protest for justice.  They spread their word to those willing to listen.  They fight some 60 years later to be heard, recognized, respected.

And, if you are still with me, then you should know that visiting with the 8 women who live at the House of Sharing was extraordinary.  These feisty old women are warm, beautiful souls who love foreign and native visitors alike, who just want to sing and clap with everyone, and who despite their torturous past, have eyes that shine with the belief that they achieved more in life than what they were succumbed to by the hand of their Japanese abductors.

They are the 할머니.  All they want is to spread the truth so that others will never suffer like they did.

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