Exhibitions shed light on sex slaves, East Sea

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 12, 2014 - 20:52
  • Updated : Mar 12, 2014 - 20:52
Two exhibitions in Seoul cast new light on some of the flashpoints in the tumultuous Korea-Japan relations: the East Sea and comfort women.

The East Sea is the Korean name of the body of water between Korea and Japan, known more widely as the Sea of Japan abroad. The naming of the sea has become a point of recent contention between the two countries, after the U.S. state of Virginia passed a bill requiring all public school textbooks to juxtapose the East Sea with the Sea of Japan. It now sits on the desk of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for signature.

It is against this backdrop that Korean scholars are holding an exhibition of nearly 70 ancient maps as part of their “truth-based” approach to the issue, although their Japanese counterparts may make counter-arguments. 
An ancient Japanese map to be displayed at the Seoul Calligraphy Art Museum of Seoul Arts Center designates the waters between Korea and Japan as “Sea of Joseon,” referring to Korea’s last ruling dynasty. (Seoul Arts Center)

Opening on March 22 at Seoul Calligraphy Art Museum of Seoul Arts Center, Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, the East Sea exhibition will feature maps from Korea, Japan and other countries collected by ancient map specialist and collector Kim Hye-jung.

Among the maps to be displayed is a map drawn up by Shogo Mitsukuri, a notable Japanese cartographer, in 1844, which names the water “Joseon Sea,” referring to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) on the Korean Peninsula.

“The maps are evidence that the ‘Sea of Japan’ is the holdover from Japan’s imperialism,” she said at a press conference Wednesday. The name “East Sea” has been in use for over 2,000 years before imperialist Japan started to promote it as Sea of Japan, she claimed.

The exhibition, which runs from March 22 to April 6 at the museum of Seoul Arts Center, will go on a national tour, organizers said. They also plan to take it to the United States and hopefully to Japan.

At the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, central Seoul, an exhibition is currently underway, shedding light on another thorny issue in the shared history of Korea and Japan: former comfort women.

Comfort women refer to up to 200,000 women, many of them Korean, who were coerced into sexual servitude by the Japanese Army at front-line brothels during World War II.

Of the 237 Korean women who reported themselves as former sex slaves, 55 are still alive.

At the exhibition, dozens of cartoons that portray the former Korean sex slaves are on display, following a successful exhibition in France.

The cartoon works received media spotlight earlier at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France, despite Japan’s vigorous lobbying efforts to block the event.

Titled “I Was There Without Me,” the exhibition also features former comfort women’s voice recordings, drawings and photos, as well as videos produced based on the testimonies from the victims.

“Through this exhibition, we want to enhance the recognition of the comfort women issue around the world, expanding social consensus on this urgent and unsolved historical issue and urging Japan to acknowledge and apology for its past mistakes,” said Kim Wang-sik, director of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History.

It runs until April 13.

By Lee Sun-young (