In March 1942, the Japanese military defeated the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and occupied the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). Although the Japanese military trumpeted a slogan of “Asian Liberation,” its reliance on naked violence to enforce oppressive rule, including the looting of resources and food supplies, the mobilization of males for war, and the sexual enslavement of females revealed the nation’s true intentions.
These days, “IANFU” (Comfort Woman) has joined a handful of Japanese loanwords such as “ROMUSHA” (forced laborer), “HEIHO” (Supplemental Troop) and “BAKERŌ” (Dumb Bastard) passed down by Indonesians to express the horrors experienced under Japanese military rule. The latest addition is the result of women survivors, who previously had kept their lips sealed, considering sexual violence by Japan’s military a source of “shame,” breaking their silence and coming forward to tell their stories.
Relying on the testimonies of over 70 women, this special exhibit conveys the reality of various forms of sexual violence inflicted by the Japanese military in addition to the suffering within Comfort Stations. Survivor testimonies are presented alongside the private memoirs of Japanese soldiers. We hope this juxtaposition will lead viewers to contemplate the significance of the gaps between the “comfort women” inhabiting the memories of the soldiers and the words of the victim-survivors themselves as a means of confronting Japan’s role as a perpetrator of violence.