The Power of Two-minute Statements

Tomomi Kinukawa, Japan Multicultural Relief Fund

In mid-July, 2015, I received a group email from Miho, warning us about Japanese neo-nationalists' campaign against a resolution on "comfort women" memorial in San Francisco and their plans to use public hearing sessions to promote their revisionism. Alarmed, I rushed to the board meeting on July 21. Sure enough, Japanese far-rights showed up to deny the historical veracity of the Japanese military sexual slavery. More important, however, a wide range of individuals and groups filled the room and expressed their compassion for justice for victims of the "comfort women" system, deeply rooted in their diasporic, activist, and family history. From our mutual bewilderment of possible allies in the room, our trans-ethnic, trans-national, multi-interest "Comfort Women Justice Coalition" was born.

On that day prior to the meeting I had had no plan to make my first two-minute public statement. As a dozen denialists started to use their two-minute statements to deny the historical truth and allege that the memorial would divide our communities, I felt no choice but to join other activists and residents of the Bay Area to support the memorial. As I grew up in Japan, I witnessed courageous survivors of the crime against humanity, with support of feminists in Asia, testified their experience in front of courts, for media, and for school children, breaking and challenging fifty-year silence sanctioned by Japanese government. Their act, which we will remember as one of the most important landmark of women's history and world history, has allowed people, including Japanese women like my mother, to learn and to confront the past atrocities. Living true to our history has never divided our communities or provoked bashing against people. It is when the state starts to fabricate history to justify criminalizing and scapegoating a group of people that our communities suffer from violence.

Almost two months later, on September 17, a much larger group of activists and residents of the Bay gathered in the same room, before SF Board of Supervisors voted for the resolution. Here is the two-minute statement I read at the hearing.

Dear Board of Supervisors,

My name is Tomomi Kinukawa and I am here to support the memorial for the "comfort women." I am a queer immigrant and historian and gender studies scholar working at SFSU and UC Berkeley. I am legally a Japanese citizen with both Korean and Japanese ancestors.

We are at a critical moment, when Prime Minister Abe and Japanese neo-nationalists are arrogantly undermining and denying the historical fact of the Japanese military sexual slavery, a gross, systematic human rights violation, and now working on erasing its history all together, especially from textbooks both in Japan and in the US. Two years ago, Mayor of Osaka, the sister city of SF, stated that "the comfort women system was necessary" and he has absolutely no shame to say in the same breath that he cares about dignity of the survivors.

One of my grandfathers was a Japanese general during the war and yet he was never tried at the end of the war as almost all other Japanese war criminals. Instead I grew up benefiting from privileges of the part of the family, while the survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery suffered with no formal apology, compensation, or support from the state. It has been 70 long years, since the end of the war. Japanese government has let most survivors pass away without seeing justice. That in itself is a continued state-sanctioned violence against all the survivors.

Halmonis (grandmothers) whose lives were taken by Japanese military even before they bloomed, remind me of my own grandmother on the Korean side of my family, whom I got to visit only a handful times as child. We would fail to restore dignity of the survivors yet again, unless we build a memorial specifically memorializing victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery. It is only when Japanese government makes a full apology that the memorial for comfort women in SF would become a universal symbol for our struggles against all military sexual violence, sexual trafficking, and other sexual crimes against girls, women, and queer people in the world.

I feel extremely privileged that I have been able to work with a transnational trans-ethnic grassroots coalition, including organizations and individuals based in Japan, to build a memorial in SF to demand the Japanese government to demonstrate its full apology and restore dignity of the survivors today.

Tomomi Kinukawa


Shiori's Statement

JPRN would like to express our fierce admiration to our friend Shiori Horikawa, an international student at San Francisco State University and long-time youth ally of Eclipse Rising from Tokyo, Japan, speaking bravely from her perspective as granddaughter of a Hibakusha of Nagasaki, as a national of Japan, and as a believer of peace and justice for all peoples of the world.

I am Shiori Horikawa, exchange student at San Francisco State University from Dokkyo University in Japan. My grandfather is a survivor of the atomic-bomb dropped in Nagasaki 70 years ago. I am going to share my perspective on this resolution as a granddaughter of hibakusha, and as a Japanese citizen.

First of all, I support this resolution which is, as Supervisor Eric Mar stated "to honor the women who were coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II."

I think the comfort women memorial would make us remember that we must not ever repeat this history again. 70 years has passed since the end of the war. My grandfather and my 2nd generation hibakusha father and I won't ever forget about this fact of comfort women as well as about the victim of atomic-bomb, because we don't ever want either of those things to happen again to any one else.

We have to remember that the victims were ordinary people, not the people who had power and authority and controlled the country, its people, and the war — like current Prime Minister Abe and his grandfather, former Prime Minister Kishi.

I know that as a granddaughter of a hibakusha, to seek Peace, the important thing is to learn from the past. But this is not possible if we are restricted by only one way of thought: Nationalism.

So, if you don't establish the memorial in this diverse city, San Francisco, I feel that you support hiding of the facts in the name of nationalism. Surely to me and my family, and other people who seek Peace in Japan, it would seem that this city doesn't want to seek Peace with us.

I believe the resolution has the power to lead our world to peace in the future, by helping us people and the city remember the history of the victims.

Shiori Horikawa

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