Kim Puja (b. 1958) is a professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, specializing in gender theory and history, specifically in relation to colonial Korea, wartime violence, sexual exploitation in Japan and Korea, and war memory and responsibility. Kim is a second generation Korean born in Japan, which has influenced her scholarship and gives her a personal perspective into issues of the Korean diaspora and treatment of Korean women in Japan. Korean Japanese people, who are sometimes referred to as Zainichi 在日 (literally "residing in Japan"), often face discrimination in various forms: sexual violence, racism, lower wages, and a second class citizenship status. Korean Japanese history in Japan has been colored by states’ legal decisions regarding citizenship, ranging from the forced or coerced movement of Koreans to Japan before and during the Pacific War, forced citizenship/identification as either “South Korean” or “North Korean” (the latter of which leaves them stateless and more vulnerable to Japanese immigration policies and imprisonment), and the exclusion from the koseki system, which can prevent employment or housing. Prior to her work as a professor, Kim worked as a member of the The Violence Against Women in War Research Action Center (VAWW RAC) and participated in the Japan Construction Committee for the War and Women’s Rights Museum, both in Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, South Korea. Kim’s scholarship ranges several of these topics, including her works Japan's Civil Society and the 'Comfort Women' Problem Resolution Movement, Colonial Modernity as Seen from Gender History and Education History, The Day Abandoning the State: Focusing on the Issues of Social Security and Postwar Compensation for Korean Residents in Japan, and Rewriting the Educational History of Colonial Korea as Gender History. In 2007, she became the first recipient of the Award for Scholars in Women's Studies for her work, Education and Gender During the Colonial Period in Korea. She frequently lectures on topics related to historical revisionism, feminism, colonial Korea, imperialist Japan, and sexual violence related to war and colonialism. She was an organizer of the 2000 Women’s International Tribunal. Kim’s current research includes fieldwork involving the anti-sex trafficking women’s movement in South Korea, gender violence and Japanese military sexual violence in Shanxi, China, and a study of courtesans, prostitutes, and brothel society in early-modern to modern Japan.
"In the course of finding commonality in our difficulties and sharing awareness, we encountered the issue of the “comfort women.” We found our way in the resolution of this issue. … In other words, we found the “comfort women” issue to be the epitome of our problems. We have engaged with it to reflect our way of life and to change our society, in the belief that this will relieve the souls of the “comfort women” who died in silence or live today." Kim Puja, writing in in Atogaki.
“On a personal note, I write from my perspective as an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan who has been deeply involved in efforts to find a solution to the “comfort women” dilemma consonant with the needs and wishes of living victims.” Kim Puja, The “Comfort Women” Redress Movement in Japan.
My work is the result of much personal and internal research about my identity. Having been born and raised in the suburbs of the Midwest, I grew up within the bubble of an ideal and romanticized American childhood. Through serigraph, chine colle, collage and drawing, I layer and combine visual cues and symbolism of cultural identity and gender expectations. Images of Filipino textile patterns and trinkets, combined with stereotypical symbols of Filipino, Asian, and American culture, work together to create scenes that either stem from my childhood memories or reflect how I think I fit into and between these cultures and identities. My work is honest – it’s simply the result of me trying to make sense of past memories, experiences and thoughts. The process of creating my work has become a vehicle for personal reflection, and helps me better understand what has shaped me to be the person I am today.
When I was invited to participate in this exhibition, my lack of knowledge about this topic caused me to question if I could do justice to commemorate the work of feminists in Japan. My interest in Kim Puja stemmed from the fact that she is an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan. That aspect made her feel relatable to me. In my research about Puja and her work, I realized that the piece I wanted to create wasn’t going to be about what happened to comfort women, but more about the fact that they exist, and the work Puja did to make sure these women were recognized and acknowledged.
Puja helped organize the 2000 Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal, in which women from nine countries testified about the crimes committed against them. Rather than creating an image of Puja herself, I decided to focus on the women who participated in the Tribunal.
The background of my piece is divided into nine sections. Each section features a textile or pattern motif from one of the nine countries represented by the women present at the Tribunal. Some sections are difficult to see, as they’re behind overlapping images, but one can see patterns if they look closely in empty areas in the forefront. In front of the patterns is a combination of images of comfort women. The overall shape of the comfort women is cut into the silhouette of the group gathered together at the 2000 Tribunal. In essence, the group of the women gathered in 2000 at the Tribunal represent the comfort women of World War II. The colors hark back to my personal artwork, in reference to traditional Filipino textiles and keepsakes.
The title of the piece references what Puja herself wrote about one aspect of the Tribunal: “…the realization of the Tribunal offers one model for a form of feminism that transcends national borders.”
For further learning
- Puja Kim. 2020. The “Comfort Women” Redress Movement in Japan: Reflections on the Past 28 years. In, Japanese Military Sexual Slavery. The transnational redress movement for the victims. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter
- Rumiko Nishino, Puja Kim, Akane Onozawa, eds. 2018. Denying the Comfort Women: The Japanese State's Assault on Historical Truth. London: Routledge.
- Kim Puja and Kim Yon. 2018. Colonial Brothel: Japanese Military and the Korean Peninsula. Yoshikawa Kobunkan.
- Kim Puja. 2001. "Global Civil Society Remakes History: 'The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal 2000'" positions 9(3): 611–620.
- 尹貞玉他著。1992。朝鮮人女性がみた「慰安婦問題」 : 明日をともに創るために 。東京 : 三一書房。
- Seo, Akwi. 2017. "Toward Postcolonial Feminist Subjectivity: Korean Women’s Redress Movement for 'Comfort Women.'" In, Rethinking Japanese Feminisms, Julia C. Bullock, Ayako Kano, and James Welker, eds. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
"The Tribunal, organized by NGOs from Japan and six other countries, sought to gather and publicize testimony and reach judgments on a war crime not addressed by the postwar Tokyo trials – the subjection of women from colonized or occupied countries to institutionalized rape and sexual abuse in so-called 'comfort stations' established by the Japanese military. Although the Tribunal had no official backing, and thus no power to impose punishments, its judges and legal team included a number of individuals with extensive experience of UN and other legal tribunals, among them Gabrielle Kirk Macdonald, the former president of the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal. A major aim of the 2000 Tribunal was to provide a public hearing of the testimony of women, many of them now rapidly aging, who had experienced extreme sexual abuse in 'comfort stations' during the war, and who had failed to receive recognition or compensation in other legal forums. It was hoped that the Tribunal's findings would provide a basis for further proceedings in more formal national or international judicial forums." Tessa Morris-Suzuki, "Free Speech - Silenced Voices: The Japanese Media, the Comfort Women Tribunal, and the NHK Affair"
JenClare Gawaran is an artist and educator, born and raised in Metro Detroit. As an educator, she teaches drawing, design and printmaking at various colleges & universities, working with young emerging artists. Her prints have been shown locally in galleries such as the Detroit Artist Market and The Scarab Club. JenClare has also exhibited nationally and abroad, from Los Angeles & New York to Jerusalem, Finland & China.