International students from the U.N.- mandated University for Peace on Wednesday met in Manila with Filipino women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, discussing the plight of the so-called comfort women and Japanese war aggression.
Japanese student Michiko Fukuda, 33, said it is important for her and her fellow Asian classmates to personally hear the accounts of the comfort women because of "the suppression of information about Japanese aggression in Asian countries that Japan invaded during the war."
"My generation's memory about World War II is only about the bombings and damages in Japan. But we were the invaders, so we are also interested to know what Japan did to other Asian nations. Japanese education does not really focus on Japan's aggression during the war," Fukuda told Kyodo News, adding that Japanese high school books lack information about the country's wartime aggression.
Fukuda, along with 21 other international students, visited the office of Lila Pilipina (League for Filipino Grandmothers) in the Manila suburb of Quezon City on Wednesday as part of a program organized by the Costa Rica-based University for Peace, which runs a dual campus system in the Philippines.
Students from the Philippines, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand held a discussion with seven Filipino comfort women, who shared their disappointment about the lack of support from the Philippine government which prioritizes strong Japan economic ties over compensation for the victims.
A male student from Myanmar admitted he had never heard about comfort women until his class prepared for the meeting with them, while a classmate from Myanmar said he only had "very limited information."
A female student said she was only familiar with the issue of Korean comfort women.
A Japanese male student, however, shared his knowledge about sexual abuse during the war, saying young girls and women from the Philippines, Korean Peninsula, and China were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war, and that, "up to this time, the Japanese government has not apologized nor accepted the issue."
Rechilda Extremadura from the Lila Pilipina group urged the students to actively work on keeping the memory alive.
"As students of peace, I'm appealing to you not to forget (the comfort women issue). Japanese military aggression did not happen only to these Filipino grandmothers. We have to continue reflecting on the role of women today in the world," she said.
Extremadura also lamented the fact that many former comfort women have died without having received acknowledgement for their suffering.
"Our grandmothers cannot have peace because there is no justice. Seventy-three of them have died without honor and dignity, and peace in their hearts," she said, reiterating the women's demand for an official apology and adequate compensation from the Japanese government.
Narcisa Claveria, 83, tearfully shared a story of abuse by Japanese soldiers in 1943 in her home province of Abra in the northern Philippines.
"My father's skin was peeled off by the Japanese soldiers because they suspected that one of my siblings was a guerilla. They also raped my mother. And while they took me and my two sisters to the garrison, I saw our village set on fire by the Japanese soldiers. I suspect my parents and other siblings were killed in that fire because I never saw them again after that," Claveria said.
"At the garrison, I was raped, and my sister, too. We would wash clothes, cook food, and clean the garrison during the day. And then, we were being raped during the night. I cry every time I share this because it brings back the experience," she added.
Despite the pain, Claveria said she will continue to seek justice until her death to ensure that the Japanese government will be held liable for the crimes.
"I was robbed of many things; my youth, the simple joys in life, education, not to mention, my family. That's why I continue to strongly fight for justice. Even after I die, I will do this through my children and grandchildren," she said.
"I don't want you and the present generation of the youth to experience what I went through. During the war, everybody will suffer, regardless if you commit some mistakes or you're plain innocent. I will never wish again that a foreign military will be in my country because women will always be abused," she added.
Japanese student Fukuda said listening to Claveria's account makes her "know the pain of the comfort women," and that Japanese people should face up to their responsibilities.
"The grandmothers already did their part in trying to seek justice, even if it's a struggle for them. We, the Japanese people and the Japanese society, should now do our responsibility. We are the key," Fukuda said, while highlighting that the majority of the Japanese society "is not interested in this issue."