Despite a long history of conflict, one of the first nations to send help to Japan was South Korea. Many South Koreans are putting harsh feelings aside and trying to help the Japanese victims.
During a demonstration at the Japanese embassy in Seoul, former comfort women take a moment of silence
Two old women, wrapped in heavy winter coats, sit across the street from the Japanese Embassy. Sentimental music blares out of the open door of a van parked nearby.
The two, both in their eighties, are former comfort women. They were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during the Second World War. But they’re not talking about the past. Instead, they’ve come to express their sympathy for Japan.
Despite excellent warning systems and infrastructure, Japan was not prepared for this disaster
One of the women, Kil Won Ok, says the disaster in Japan has personally affected her. "Even one loss of life in Japan hurts my heart," Kil says. "It hurts so much to see that so many people died. We have to work together, as neighbors, to make things better."
This was the 962nd protest held by the former comfort women and their supporters. But instead of shouting at the Japanese Embassy as they normally do, this time, a ten-minute moment of silence was held for the earthquake and tsunami’s victims.
Yoon Mee Hyang represents the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. She says this week’s demonstration had to be changed out of consideration for Japan. "The pain caused by the disaster in Japan is similar to the pain caused to these Korean women in the past. So we decided to turn our protest this week into an expression of sorrow for the Japanese victims."
Millions of dollars in aid
South Korea is spending millions of dollars to help the natural disasters’ victims. The government has already sent a team of rescue workers to northern Japan. Private businesses and civic groups are also holding fund raisers and collecting emergency supplies to be sent to those in need.
The world is holding its breath amid fears of a nuclear catastrophe
Koh Jin Kwang helps run a private humanitarian organization in Seoul that recruits volunteers to go abroad to help out during times of need. He says his organization has been helping people in danger for the past 20 years. "Our members have had experience after the tsunami in Indonesia and also the earthquake in New Zealand. So now we will go to Japan to help with the disaster."
Koh says his organization is putting together a team of 150 volunteers to head to Japan’s devastated areas to help in search and rescue. Korea’s historical problems with Japan seem to be the last thing on his mind. "We do not care about the past," Koh says. "Japan is our neighbor, and when they are hurt we have to help them. And by doing that we can improve our relationship and forget about the past"
"We don't care about the past"
Yoon Mee Hyang of the comfort women support group also has hope that relations will improve between the two nations. But she says it could easily be lost once the humanitarian work is over. "It could help improve relations, but Japan and Korea still need to resolve the historical issues. Because without that, any goodwill created now won’t last very long"
Yoon and the comfort women say that Koreans should do what they can to help Japan. But they shouldn’t forget their troubled history.
Author: Jason Strother
Editor: Sarah Berning