During World War II there were many girls and women in Asia who were referred to as “Comfort Women”. Their purpose? Forced sex slavery to “comfort” the Imperial Japanese Army. The women were of mostly Chinese and Korean decent had their dignity and honour taken away. However, comfort women are still relatively unknown to the western world and only recently are we starting to find out more.
Comfort is a play written by Diana Tso and directed by William Yong (on stage November 26 to December 10, 2016 at the Aki Studio Theatre/Native Earth Performing Arts, Daniel Spectrum in Toronto) Based on true history of over 200,000 women and girls in captivity during this time, the production is inspired by the lives of the women and their stories of survival and resilience of the women during such a tragic time.
We had a chance to ask Diana about her play to find out more…
This is a heartbreaking part of history that has yet to have closure. How did you become interested in writing this play?
I was blessed with the opportunity to meet comfort women in China and Korea in 2009 with ALPHA Education, whose peace and reconciliation program takes teachers from Canada and Australia to Asia to meet World War II survivors to hear their testimonies as well as learn more about WWII in Asia. It was a precious and humbling experience that I will never forget. It inspired me to write two plays; Red Snow (2012), inspired by the survivors of the Rape of Nanjing and Comfort (2016), inspired by the comfort women and the resilience of women in war.
When you had visited some of the surviving comfort women what really stood out about them?
I visited the House of Sharing in 2009 on a day of torrential rains. A Japanese man (who at that time was supporting the comfort women, giving tours to visitors at the museum on the same property and driving them to their weekly protests) helped me across the soaked sandbags, holding an umbrella over my head, to get to the house. When we entered the grandmas hugged us with warm towels! A beautiful day in my life journey! One of them asked if I was Chinese and I nodded and she was so happy she burst into speaking in Mandarin. She learned Mandarin when she was kidnapped from Korea & forced to be a comfort woman in China. It was humbling to witness their testimonies and feel the energy of their resilience as I joined them in their Wednesday protest in front of the Japanese Embassy. Now it’s 2016, seven years later, and they are still fighting!
Anything surprise you about the women you’ve met?
Some of the things that really stood out for me were:
~Their healing process through art in the House of Sharing: in Seoul where some of the Korea comfort women live together, paint and support each in their healing from the atrocities of war; some of them even fell in love with the soldiers that raped them;
~The solidarity in the Korean comfort women’s weekly protests in front of the Japanese Embassy since the early 1990s; it was an honor to join them one Wednesday that summer of 2009! ;
~the dire situation comfort women in other countries where many are dispersed across a large country and have no collective space and community to support each other to heal;
~The Dutch comfort women (Indonesia was a Dutch colony during WWII) are still fighting for their government’s recognition and support for the suffering endured in WWII.
What strongly stood out for me was the resilience of the comfort women in their survival and fight to speak their stories despite the unspeakable atrocities they were forced to live through.
How did they move on with their lives?
Many could not move on with their lives. Few have testified due to shame. But some, now grandmothers, have become the voices for the many in the fight for justice and human rights.
Your production incorporates a love story. Is that based on a true story?
The love story is inspired by a married couple in Nanjing, survivors of WWII and the Rape of Nanjing. After the husband’s testimony of his survival under the care of John Rabe, a German businessman who made his home a safety zone, there was a Q & A session. I asked how they met and what their love story was. The wife jumped up out of her seat, very happy that I asked this question. I always feel one’s survival depends on love. She said that they were from different social classes but the moment she saw him, without a doubt, she knew he was the one she wanted to spend her life with. She was from a wealthier family so she was able to flee and hide until the war was over. He remained under the protection of Mr. Rabe. After the war, she returned and he was still alive. She proposed and they’ve been married ever since.
The cultural character in the play is the Chinese opera, “Butterfly Lovers”, which is a story about a woman’s pursuit to go to school by disguising as a man, then falling in love with her classmate and about the resurrecting power of love. It is through the young couple’s shared passion for this opera that they fall in love and find strength to survive when they are separated during WWII.
Oh Butterfly Lovers! Such a beautiful song. My own father often hummed the song at home or played the records as I was growing up. To this day, I still get teary eyed when I hear it. Thank you Diana for taking the time for this interview.
Comfort will be at the Aki Studio Theatre (585 Dundas Street East at the Native Earth Performing Arts Centre/Daniel Spectrum) from November 26 to December 10, 2106. There will be opportunities for open discussion during the Q&A session following the show. For more information and tickets visit nativeearth.ca