Lies My Teacher Told Me

I need to keep myself grounded and remember how much damage instructor insecurity or arrogance can cause.  During my productive procrastination (hey – it’s finals week) I stumbled upon a discussion of tattoos and Japan, and a thread touched on comfort women.

A Stanford-educated Chinese “expert” on Japan once told a seminar on China for the ASDP that there were no tattooing of Comfort women during WWII.  A) you can’t prove a negative – that’s basic logic.  B) That’s part of a pattern of denial that should be criminal; and C) I’m pretty sure I’ve seen number tattoos on Taiwanese women of the right age when I was in SE Asia.  The following sources rekindled my interest – or reopened a teacher inflicted wound – depending on how you look at it.

Thanks to Redditor Railzen (a recognized quality contributor to the online forum) who provided these links and said additionally:

The tattoos were forcibly applied for different reasons. Some bore the names of their enslavers, some had their “working names” applied to them, and for others it was to mark them permanently as sex slaves in case they ever escaped. It was also the subject of a viral Korean web comic, granted, you should view some of the scenes in there with skepticism. The woman is real but I haven’t verified if what’s in the comic matches up with her actual testimony. Tattooed comfort women were also the subject of a photo book of interviews.

So only now do I do what I tell all my students – go to the billington Library and search the databases.  I found  that “The testimonies of the comfort women before the Tribunal indicate that they have experienced physical pain and disabilities (e.g. back pain, hearing loss, and digestive problems) and have indelible scars and tattoos on their bodies” (Kim).



Kim, Hee-Hang. “The Comfort Women System and Women’s International Human Rights” Korea Observer, 43.2 (Summer 2012): 175-208.