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The Present Meets the Past: The 1923 Kanto Massacre, Comfort Women demand attention from Japan

Interview with Desun Oka


Momii Palapaz

Poor News Network


“To this day, the Japanese state continues to deny the existence of sexual slavery of comfort women during the 1930s and 1940s,” said Desun Oka of Eclipse Rising.


Japan has not admitted nor acknowledged fully the kidnapping of hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines and China. Women and girls were snatched up, enduring rape and assault. Little girls who hadn’t yet reached their teens were among those used for physical and sexual violence by Imperial army soldiers. Japan has refused to address this issue for decades.


“This denialism is common throughout much of Japanese society as well,” said Desun, “save for a few civil society organizations and activists. So we will be visiting them on the Nikkei Decolonization tour (NDT).”


On instagram, the NDT pilot tour of 2019 has posts of visits to the comfort women and activists. Desun, and other members from Eclipse Rising, traveled to Osaka and Okinawa to meet comfort women and their caretakers. “The first woman, Pae Pong-Gi, that caretakers assisted, publicly came out” to tell her story. She was “living in a shack, completely homeless and mentally ill, no one knew where she came from. She was secretive about her history, until Okinawa was reverted back to Japanese control.” During a 1970 tally of the racial population in Okinawa by Japanese officials, Pae Pong-Gi slowly told her story. This was the first documentation of comfort women and sexual enslavement.



Hundreds of thousands of women like Chen Lien Hua, were subjected to unimaginable sexual assault. May 12, 2019, Japanese Consulate, SF


“These organizations are educating people in Japan about the system which is linked to the resurgence of right wing politics, which is then connected to militarism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism all across Japan. We are visiting to understand the history as well as understand how the denial is connected to the violence Japanese society perpetuates on others”.


As a 69 year old Japanese American woman, and a descendant of a Japanese supremacy, I feel much responsibility to share what I will learn about the inhuman practices by the Japanese government. Just as US imperialism erases their bloodthirsty past, so has the government of my ancestral land, Japan.


I asked Desun about the status of being born non Japanese. He said, “Being born in Japan doesn’t guarantee citizenship. You have to have a Japanese mother or father. This locks you out of voting rights and in some places, public office.” You’re “not a citizen, but under special alien resident status, like green card holders here.” With no Japanese parent, you are “stateless” and some people “naturalize to South Korean citizenship.”


Doing harm toward non Japanese citizens, I hear, is alarmingly common in Japan. Gangs of young people similar to the racist “proud boys” in the U.S. and Japanese supremacist groups regularly taunt and assault those who are of Korean, Chinese and other nationalities residing there. AND all levels of the government do little if anything about it. There are no ANTI DISCRIMINATION LAWS IN JAPAN.


In 1910, Japan invaded and colonized Korea. The imperial army of Japan brutally controlled the Korean population. Over 100,000 Japanese moved to Korea and proceeded to settle in neighborhoods of Korean citizens. Korean citizens were forced to migrate, live in Japan and work in factories supplying the war machine. The U.S., Europe, Russia and Japan were locked into battling for land, slaves and natural resources.


In 1923, a huge earthquake, measuring 7.9, brought chaos and contributed to organized vigilantes and army units of Imperial Japan attacking and killing Koreans in Tokyo and surrounding areas. A minimum of 10,000 Koreans as well as Chinese perished. This became known as the Kanto Massacre. “To this day”, said Desun, “the Japanese State which has played a big role in initiating this massacre, has not fully acknowledged the scope of the massacre or proper redress. Fast forward to 2023, a lot of scholars and academics with survivors (descendants) of families organized a symposium to talk about this, research it and find ways to commemorate it.”



March 1st, 1948: Some of the 80,000 Korean people gathering in to commemorate Korea’s Declaration of Independence from Japan



The Kanto Massacre “shows how much violence affected the community. It erased communities and erased collective memories. 1923 provided an opportunity for the emergence of a fascist State in the 1930s. When the massacre first struck, the newspaper[s] reported that socialists and Koreans would riot and kill Japanese. The army, military and proState link[ed] Koreans with socialists, giving them the opportunity to suppress the growing working class and socialist movement. The massacre gave the State the ability to tap down on and drive a wedge between Japanese and Koreans.”


“One of the key aspects of a fascist movement," continued Desun, “is to make a cleavage between ordinary people. Divert attention away from the struggle they are experiencing or the Japan ruling class.”


Sandra, from Japan Posts reported in July 2023 that the 100 Anniversary Kanto Massacre Ceremony Executive Committee requested Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to acknowledge the massacre with a message of condolence. Although she had sent a note of condolence in her first year as Governor, Koike has refused for the 7th year in a row to make any statement or condolences on the 100th anniversary. Ceremony executive committee member, Yasuhiko Miyagawa, told reporters, “It’s completely regrettable. The governor is turning a blind eye to the historical fact of the massacre of Koreans. [Her] attitude can be seen as denying the historical fact” (Mayuko Watanabe).


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