Chung-Ja Noh, now 72, said that when she was 16 she was abducted from her Korean village and taken with 38 other girls to China amid the Sino-Japanese war. The girls were forced to have sexual intercourse, sometimes with as many as 30 soldiers a day, she said.
Two years ago, during former Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's state visit to Seoul, Noh overcame the shame and humiliation she had felt for more than five decades and joined demonstrators at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Unlike Noh, most "comfort women" did not live to return home after the war, according to Lee and other researchers. They died in the front lines with their oppressors in China, Manchuria, the Philippines, Burma, Okinawa and the Solomon Islands. Some were killed by Japanese soldiers bent on destroying evidence, she said.
With Japan's defeat in 1945, the remaining women were dumped, according to Chung-Ok Yun, the other co-chairwoman of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. She has researched the subject for two decades and tracked down dozens of survivors throughout Asia. Young women, many of them burdened with babies fathered by Japanese soldiers, were left to wander in Asia, she said. Only a few returned home.
In the last three years, at least 400 survivors--all in their late 60s and 70s--have come forward publicly to recount their nightmares.
"I cried a river when I met with survivors," said Los Angeles attorney Inja Kim, who visited Pyongyang last year.
One woman in her 70s told Kim how Japanese soldiers made a group of Korean girls in one "comfort station" submit to them. "A lieutenant who was met with resistance from one girl, cut off her arms, legs and head and showed it to the other girls," Inja Kim said.
Attorney Kim, noting Japan's announced yearlong period of self-reflection leading to the 50th anniversary of Japan's defeat next Aug. 15, said it's time the country stopped evading its "moral, political and legal responsibilities."
"No matter how rich Japan is, it can never stand tall in the community of nations," she said, as long as it does not clear its past and make peace with its Asian neighbors.
As part of the observance, Kim suggested that the Japanese government create a monument to the victims in the heart of Tokyo. "That should serve as a reminder that this atrocity against women must never repeat itself," Kim said.