When she got off the ship in Guangdong, China, 14-year-old Kim Bok-Dong was met with high-ranking Japanese officials.
Upon learning her age, the men talked among themselves, discussing that she might be “too young”.
But that did not stop them from using Kim as a “comfort woman” for the next eight years.
A “comfort woman” was usually a young female forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World World II. They were stationed at occupied territories.
During those eight years, Kim “worked” at Guangdong, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
Now 93, Kim shares her story with Asian Boss in an 18-minute interview, published on Oct. 27, 2018.
Tried to kill herself
After the Japanese official’s assessment in Guangzhou, an army medic examined Kim’s body before she was ordered into a dormitory, which the then-young girl thought was either a big school or a factory building.
In any case, the building had a number of rooms where one could see what was going on on the inside.
People were having sex in those rooms.
“The first time I got dragged into one of the rooms and beaten up a bit. So I had to comply. When the guy finished, I was bleeding badly because it was my first time. The bed sheet was soaked in blood.”
Afterwards, Kim went back to her dormitory upstairs, where two girls were crying — they had received the same treatment Kim did.
Thinking that they were better off dead, the three girls tried to figure out a way to commit suicide.
Knowing that large amounts of alcohol could lead to death, they settled on that — but had no money to purchase it.
However, Kim had one Korean Won with her, which was considered a significant amount of money back then.
The money was given by her mother, to buy food in case she got hungry.
Kim used it to try and kill herself instead.
Calling the cleaning lady over, Kim requested for something strong enough to “knock her out”.
The cleaning lady produced a bottle of kaoliang wine, a strong distilled liquor with 38 to 64 percent alcohol content.
Kim was advised to drink the solution with some water after.
After the first swig, Kim described that her mouth was on fire and her throat had turned numb.
The three girls finished the entire bottle and were knocked unconscious.
And they would have died on that day, except for the fact that their absence was noted.
The trio were subsequently discovered in the evening, unconscious on the floor.
Medics then arrived to pump their stomach.
To this day, Kim is unable to properly digest food, as her stomach has been permanently damaged by the suicide attempt.
She woke up 10 days later with her resolve renewed.
“Anyway, I woke up 10 days later, and the room was spinning and I wasn’t there mentally. That’s how I ended up living instead of dying. So I decided that no matter what, we should live to tell what happened.”
A queue of Japanese soldiers
To stay alive, Kim had to comply to their demands. And if she did what she was told, she would be spared a beating.
She had sex with Japanese soldiers every day.
On Saturdays, these sessions would start from noon and end at 6pm.
The soldiers stood in queues for their turn. If there was a delay with one soldier, the next in line would start banging on the door.
The soldiers used condoms and sometimes lubricant, Kim reveals.
“Even one or two times a day was difficult for me. But I did it so many times a day that I lost count. By 5pm, I couldn’t even get up. I couldn’t walk properly. My entire lower body was in pain.”
Medics came at the end of the day to administer shots and treat areas of the body that needed it. The “comfort women” were also told to take medicines.
On Sundays, the sex would last from 8am to 5pm.
Kim believes that it was a miracle that she was not shot and that she made it out alive.
Duped into slavery
Kim did not willingly, or even knowingly, enter sex slavery.
Born in the city of Yangsan in the South Gyeongsang province, Kim was raised in a “tight-knit family”.
At that time, all Korean men were conscripted into Japanese military, as they were under the latter’s rule.
However, when World War II started, even male students were pulled out from school to fight as “student soldiers” for Japan.
The girls were not left alone either.
The Japanese visited Kim’s home, telling her mother that Kim was going to a factory that made soldiers’ uniforms.
They also promised that Kim would be allowed to return once she was old enough to marry, and threatened the family with exile if they did not agree.
Thinking that they would be safe if she was working, Kim told the soldiers that she would go with them.
The Japanese then took her to a port in Busan and got on a night ferry.
There were 30 to 32 other women on the ship, all around 18 to 20 years old. Kim was by far the youngest at 14.
After journeying on three different ships during which Kim suspected nothing, the women arrived in Guangzhou, where the horrors began.
Unable to tell her family
After the Japanese lost in Singapore, they tried to cover up the existence of these comfort stations by turning the women into nurses at an army hospital.
But the Japanese wouldn’t admit defeat, and tried to stop the American soldiers from landing on Singapore soil.
Kim was in Singapore when the Japanese troops surrendered and Allied forces returned. She then worked as “nurse” for a year.
Eventually, the hospital was shut down and the Koreans were told to gather at a US army camp.
After being kept for a few days, a boat for the refugees arrived, and Kim travelled back to Korea where she finally met her family again.
She was 21 years old when they reunited.
However, her family had no idea what she went through — they thought that Kim had worked in a factory for the years she was away.
“How could I have told them about my experiences? As a woman, I had things done to me that were unfathomable.”
But when Kim refused to get married, her mother insisted on finding out the real reason.
Kim confessed: After all the abuse her body had endured, she didn’t want to screw up another man’s life.
“It should just be my problem,” she told the interviewer.
After finding out the truth, Kim’s mother was so distressed that she could never talk about it again.
Sadly, the older woman suffered a heart attack and passed away subsequently.
Covering up the existence of “comfort women”
It was only when she turned 60 that Kim found the courage to tell her story.
“I was angry and bitter whenever I thought about it. And I thought things could get resolved if I just told the truth. But it still hasn’t been resolved to this day.”
As it is, Japan claims that these women were paid prostitutes who wanted to make money.
Kim said in response:
“Is that what a 14-year-old does to make money? How could I have thought about selling my body at that age?”
In 2015, Japan and Korea made a deal where Japan paid 10 billion won (S$121 million) in reparations.
The lump sum was to “establish a foundation for the purpose of providing support for the former comfort women”, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But it’s not about the money for Kim.
“What I want is… an apology from Japan for having dragged us away and asking us to suffer. I want a formal apology. They should say, ‘What we did was completely wrong, and we’ll correct our history textbooks. And say to us, ‘We sincerely apologise.’ If they wrote that kind of formal apology, then we can forgive them.”
While Kim feels that Japan is trying to make the issue go away, she fights to make sure that they do not succeed.
According to Kim, when Park Geun-hye served as the president of Korea from 2013 to 2017, the administration reached a deal of their own to get rid of the status of “comfort women” without consulting them.
Yet today, Kim regrets coming forward, as the issue has dragged out for so long.
“If no one knew, then I could have just lived quietly. […] But I’m 93 now. There is no resolution in sight.”
Nonetheless, Kim is ready to forgive. She understands that this is not something current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did.
But she has yet to find peace.
“At this age, when I should be at peace, the Japanese government keeps dragging out this issue. So, whenever I have to talk about this over and over, I am heartbroken beyond belief. “
At the end of the video, it is revealed that Kim is in the final stage of cancer.
She had only three months left to live at the time the interview was filmed.
You can watch the full video here:
Top image screenshot from Asian Boss