Over 200,000 girls and women from across Asia were forced into systemic military sexual slavery by the Japanese Army for the duration of the war and were referred to as “comfort women.”
A new play by Red Snow Collective, Comfort, explores the meaning behind “comfort” in wartime and celebrates the resilience of women in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. We spoke with Comfort playwright & performer, Diana Tso,
SDTC: When did you first come to hear about comfort women?
DT: In 1997 I saw a documentary on TV called In the Name of the Emperor by Nancy Tong. Then I heard about Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust in Word War II and met her during her book launch and tour to Canada that same year.
While doing research for this play, what did you come across that surprised you?
I was surprised that I, and many others, did not know about this history, which is part of World War II. It surprised me that there are Dutch comfort women. Since Indonesia was a Dutch colony during WWII, women were taken as comfort women and when they returned to their home country they were not honoured as heroines and their stories were marginalized or silenced.
It upset me that our education was still very Eurocentric. We learn about World War II, but we only learn about what happened in half of the world.
It gave me hope when I went to China and Korea in ‘08 and ’09 to meet World War II survivors to hear their testimonies. Their voices and resilience propelled me and empowered me to write my plays and give voice to the silenced and marginalized stories. In Korea, I participated with the comfort women in their peaceful demonstration in front of the Japan Embassy in Seoul. These grandmothers have demonstrated there every Wednesday since the early 90s, asking Japan’s government for an apology and to face up to crimes against humanity. To this day they are still fighting for their human rights. It gives me hope that I, as a theatre artist, am able to voice their stories and in a small way stand with the comfort women across Asia, in solidarity.
It gave me hope that when I brought my previous play, Red Snow (inspired by the survivors of World War II), to China’s Shanghai International Contemporary Theatre Festival in 2012, audiences voiced their hope for peace and the power of art to propel collective global healing and to create a public platform for remembering. This next play, Comfort, continues that hope with greater strength and faith.
What do you want audiences to take away from Comfort?
I hope audiences will stay to continue the dialogue with us after show during our Q&A, to begin to advocate to stop violence against women, to take the knowledge and story they have witnessed and be impassioned to share it and to advocate for an inclusive history and to remember and honour the heroines of war and our herstories.
Comfort runs from November 26 to December 10 at Aki Studio (Native Earth Performing Arts), Daniels Spectrum
(585 Dundas Street East). Buy tickets here.