Maija Rhee Devine

Op-ed, The Korea Times, 8/7/2019

My op-ed, “Surviving Korean ‘Comfort Women’: How Are They Doing?

Aug. 14 marks the 28th anniversary of the 1991 announcement by the late Kim Hak-soon about her ordeal as a sex slave for the Japanese military during World War II. It’s time to assess the wellbeing of her sister survivors ― 20 of the 238 women who are “registered” in South Korea, now aged 89 to 103.

Of the 219 registered in North Korea, an unknown number are alive, while hundreds or more, who never registered anywhere, live anonymously throughout the world.

How are the “grandmothers” ― the title the comfort women prefer ― doing? Do they have reasonably satisfying lives? Are they still pockmarked by shame, as they professed in their testimonies?

Since 2011, I have visited the “grandmothers” living in the House of Sharing, a residence at the Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military located south of Seoul, where I read their testimonies, analyzed works by scholars in English and Korean, and worked on previous articles.

At 103, Jeong Bok-soo, one of the six House of Sharing residents, is the oldest. The shortest with the loudest voice, she has a gruff manner ― a part of her charm. Lee Ok-sun, 92, her hair as white as green onion roots, delivers testimonies ― with or without her dentures. As her interpreter during her recent trip to the United States, I reminded her to wear them before her speech. Back home, she attends weekly protests outside the Japanese embassy. Warm-hearted, Park Ok-sun, 95, kept my hands in hers a long while.

“Grandmothers” Bae Chun-hui, an artist; Kim Goon-ja, a devout Catholic; Kim Hwa-sun; and Yu Hui-nam, a resident of New Jersey with daughters before returning to Korea, have passed away since I met them.

An “Outside Grandmother” section of the museum’s website describes the lives of the 17 survivors living throughout South Korea. As of December 2018, half of them were ill. One was in a hospital with dementia. Others have ailments ― diabetes, high blood pressure and difficulty walking.

The rest are doing well. The Korean comfort women were mostly 11 to 20 years old during World War II. Throughout an average of two to four years, they endured an estimated 7,200 sex acts with enemy soldiers ― while suffering beatings, abortions, drug/alcohol addiction, re-capture following escapes, attempted suicides and sexually transmitted diseases.

How did they become near-centenarians? And reasonably healthy at that? How did some nonagenarians assemble the courage to deliver speeches? How did most of them maintain nurturing relationships with family and friends? Play “hwatu” card games and enjoy other social activities?

Kim Oe-han passed away at 81 in 2015, leaving behind a husband of 65 years. Born in 1934, she became a comfort woman at 11 and, after the war, married at 16. “She was beaten so severely,” her husband reported, “she had pains all our married life.”

Despite their apparent resilience, a journal of visits made by the staff of the House of Sharing in 2017 to “grandmothers” in Busan reveals the soul-gnawing shame survivors still feel, whether ill or healthy. Drilled into them are sexual morality lessons exemplified by stories verbally passed on and in textbooks, like the legend of 3,000 seventh-century Baekje Kingdom palace maidens who leaped to their deaths from the Falling Flowers Cliff to avoid molestation by enemy warriors. The survivors feel they should have defended their honor with similar determination.
Maija Rhee Devine has published 15 articles on comfort women of World War II in The Korea Times and U.S. newspapers, including The Kansas City Star.

Posted on: August 7th, 2019

“Dog-Year Fortune,” The Korea Times, 1/4/2018



My article, “Dog-Year Fortune,” 1/4/2018,  The image: A good luck charm to be carried by a woman not wishing to bear a female child. She should keep the charm until she gives birth to a son.  The charm prevents “a nine-daughter curse.”  It’s best, the Good Luck Charm book says, that a woman carry the charm after the birth of her  first daughter and not wait until she has three daughters.  There is no “nine-son curse,” as having many sons is one of the five greatest blessings in life.

Posted on: March 11th, 2018

#RAS talk, “Asian Beliefs: How Chinese Zodiac Signs Affect Women,” on Youtube



The 2/6/18 talk is now on Youtube: 


(Chinese papercut by Fang Hong)



Posted on: March 11th, 2018

How Chinese Zodiac Signs Affect Women

ImagesZodiacSignsThis lecture will be given by Maija Rhee Devine on Feb. 6, 2018, 7:30 p.m., 2nd floor, Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace, Kwanghwamun, Seoul.  Here is the description of the power point presentation.

“Folk beliefs in the power of the Chinese zodiac signs to affect fortunes of human beings have flourished for millennia in Asian regions.  Even today, in Korea and elsewhere, in tandem with world-record-breaking scientific and technological advances, the zodiac myths exert power over men and women, and contribute to the creation of various societal phenomena, including the dramatically fluctuating birth rates, increased abortions of female fetuses in certain years, population imbalances, and popularity (or unpopularity) of persons of certain signs as marriage or business partners.  In China, Korea, and other Asian countries, such beliefs enable expanding commercial activities, such as fortune telling, match making, and shamanistic rituals. . . . the lecturer will discuss how Asian beliefs in Chinese zodiac signs continue to impact lives, particularly those of women.”

The lecturer’s talk on this topic can be listened to at:  KKFI FM 90.1, “Every Woman,” 8/05/2017,

Posted on: December 21st, 2017

ESSAY: Traveling to Seonunsa Temple on 9/24/2017, an RAS/KB Excursion


#TheRoyalAsiaticSociety #BuddhistTemple #Seonunsa

Author’s TEDx Talk, 2/2014: TEDx:

Posted on: December 21st, 2017

General MacArthur and My Brother


#IncheonLanding #GenMacArthur #TheKoreanWar

Published in The Korea Times, 10/31/17:

Author’s TEDx Talk, 2/2014: TEDx:


Posted on: December 21st, 2017

Did Comfort Women of WWII Become Rich?


Published in The Korea Times, 10/20/2017.

#comfortwomen #WWII #JapanApology #JapanCompensation #KoreanComfortWomen

Author’s TEDx Talk, 2/2014: TEDx:


Posted on: December 21st, 2017

Children of Comfort Women of WWII


Published in The Korea Times, 8/24/2017

Posted on: December 21st, 2017

“46 Surviving Korean Comfort Women”

In this op-ed published in The Kansas City Star,02/16/16 (and also in The Korea Times, 2/15/16), the error of the number of Korean comfort women surviving today,46, quoted in news media, is corrected. Reports should have said, “Out of 238 former Korean comfort women who registered with the South Korean government, only 46 survive.” Today, in March, 2017, there are 36. Link:

Posted on: March 15th, 2017

3/10/16 Power Pt. Presentation on Comfort Women of WWII, KU Dole Institute of Politics

This talk went on YouTube:

Posted on: April 4th, 2016

Copyright © 2013 - 2014 Maija Rhee Devine. All Rights Reserved.

Website by PrefX

Find us on Google+