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Dealing with the unresolved issue of the “comfort women” in Japan, sex slaves during World War II, some of whom are still alive.


  • Foster dialogue between China, Korea and Japan on broader issues of disputed history and cultural tensions between these societies

  • Identify solutions to the “comfort women” issue

  • Developing prospects of Korean-Japanese cooperation

  • Enable young people to understand the history of violence between countries without it fostering resentment and fear of the descendants of former enemies










  • Meetings with leaders of NGOs, and with community and political leaders.

  • Workshops and lectures

  • Training university students to be sensitive to cross-cultural issues

  • Working with young members of elite backgrounds to extend their leadership to deal with issues of Japanese authoritarianism as exhibited in the 1930s and 1940s, and to address resentments for atomic bomb attacks in 1945.

  • Helping Japanese understand the nuances in forgiveness and apologies and encouraging them to address the resentments of Koreans and Chinese in particular, that have deep historical roots and threaten to be disruptive of regional relations in a globalizing world.

  • Encouraging Japanese to consider complex relationships between citizenship, ethnicity, and religion and to consider the strengths that diversity brings to any society

  • Discuss the perception of America because of its involvement in conflicts such as the opium wars, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Korea




  • The Korea Christian Academy, where a number of lectures and workshops took place

  • Japanese Foreign Ministry and Universities

  • Doshisha University, Kyoto

  • Beit Shalom in Kyoto, a protestant denomination that honors the Jewish roots of Christianity


Coming to terms with its past


Japan is a country haunted by its history. Despite decades of good trade and political relations, shared popular culture, and extensive foreign aid to neighboring countries, many of its neighbors still resent Japan's actions during World War II. Beyond apologies, there is much that needs to be done to assure not only peace in East Asia, but also that Japan's goodwill of recent decades is not tainted by its past mistakes.


A similar problem exists on the side of Japan's neighbors. Museums that insufficiently distinguish between past conflict and current amicable relations disinhibit violence among generations of citizens. Such institutions perpetuate the dangerous resentment between Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese of the last hundred years and more. They create instability and hatred where there can be enduring peace and cooperation.


The Japanese government funded the Asian Women’s Fund to deal with the “comfort women” issue. But this approach has been unacceptable to the South Korean counterparts, who expect the initiative to come from the government itself. The ICFC continues to facilitate mediation and the exchange of new ideas, between the South Korean NGOs with the officials at the Japanese Foreign Ministry and with members of the Japanese parliament. These talks have not led to an ultimate resolution to the disputed history, but they are the beginning of further conciliation on this issue in the coming months and years.


We brought on an associate, Lilian Sing, former U.S. federal judge, who helped us coordinate our efforts with the Japanese American and Chinese American communities. The Institute surveyed a broad array of NGOs, government agencies and international agencies in Japan and Korea that were working on these historical disputes. Beside the "comfort women" issue, there are many others, including the controversy and anger over the messages about history presented in history museums and social studies textbooks of all three nations. Specifically regarding textbooks, we are dealing with non-governmental organizations in both Korea and Japan who are interested in, and capable of, redrafting textbooks to reflect a more accurate, multi-perspective view of the history between these two nations. Our focus is on the young generation, the new “consumers of history” who will have to negotiate for their own history from the narratives to which they are exposed. The Institute is sought funds for a “workshop to bring Japanese and Korean youth together for a summer focused on discovering conflicting perspectives on their history and mediating the meanings of their disputed histories for themselves and the relations between their societies. Our boot camp focused not only on the history and narratives these young people face about colonialism and militarism, but also the cultural debates over “indebtedness” and relative cultural influence. One of the Institute’s resident fellows, Professor Imho Bae (who teaches social work in Korea), is assisting us with the engagement. These issues, unresolved, perpetuate the dangerous resentment between Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese of the last hundred years and more. Several visits to NGOs and productive discussions with the lay and professional leadership enabled us to develop valuable perspectives on how different sets of activists in both Korea and China view the conflicts with Japan and the opportunities for resolution.


In the course of these meetings, we were able to share with them information on their counterparts on the Japanese-side and encourage certain individuals whom our staff determined had the best opportunity to communicate effectively their positions. We also discovered new relations bringing together young Japanese and Korean for dialogue and conviviality with the hope of improving relations. It is not an unusual role for the “outsider” who is unencumbered by local intrigues and resentments to be able to establish new channels of communication that heretofore have not existed. Our President, Dr. Hillel Levine, taught at a Christian university in South Korea, which afforded him the opportunity to begin connections with professional associations of clergy, particularly the Korea Christian Academy. Several wonderful introductions made by our board members, Peggy and Don Shriver, who have visited South Korea and are well known there for their writings and activities, also contributed to the effective utilization of a relatively short period of time in Korea. We wish to continue our shuttle diplomacy activities in order to convene the key stakeholders from all sides. Our staff also spent two days at the Asia Center in Odawara, Japan, where a group of approximately thirty Asian leaders were meeting to discuss future relations between their countries. We spent this time with enormously talented young people from some of the trouble spots of Asia and to help them think through their commitments to resolving local and regional conflicts.


The Institute has been exploring the possibilities for using popular media as a countervailing force to one-sided or hate-filled depictions of history in the public consciousness. One possible way both to educate and to raise a public dialogue about history, memory, and international relations, rather than to incite hatred, may be through "manga," a form of comic book popular in Japan that often contains references, stories and depictions of events set in the World War II era.  


Image by Armando Limon

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