Author Archives: Jan Banning

Reactions to Comfort Women exhibition in Tokyo

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A few quickly made translations of reactions to the Comfort Women exhibition in Tokyo’s Kid Ailack Hall (organized by the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM). From the Guest book:

“I would like to apologize to those women as one of the women who was born and is living in Japan. Truly, truly, I am sorry. Each person’s photo and sad and harsh experiences made me cry. I never forget the cruel thing that Japan has done. Facing the truth, I would like to raise my voice so that no other women or girls in the world be victimized this way. Thank you very much for surviving, telling the harsh experiences, and accepting to be photographed. The face of each person is so beautiful: beautiful eyes. I felt … sorrow, anger, strength, hope. I will buy a book and will look at each woman once in a while. I never forget each person, I reflect my own life. I will make effort that people will know and acknowledge, as many as possible.”
– 32 years old, women, nursery/ housewife

“I am glad I could know a little something about something I did not know before. I realize I need to know not only something to glorify when Japan was stronger but also what Japan has done before.
Education is very important and difficult thing, but we have to change it for the future.
I would like to send messages something familiar. Thank you so much!!”

“Seeing these pictures I felt like being thrown into the battle field at that time. These face of the women showed me the image of Japan in history.”

“There are too few places in Japan where we can learn about the Japanese aggression. I am interested in education the most: we need to teach about it in Japan. I am going to become a teacher and I myself will definitively teach about it. Thank you.”

“The photograph of the women on the poster (Wainem) was so powerful that I felt the pain of the raped women. What terrible things the Japanese military did! Probably it was due to the military system at that time, but victims are always the weak, women, especially girls. Such culture is still alive in Japan. We, women should be more angry about it.”

“I knew a Dutch lady, who was in Indonesia during the Japanese occupation, and who came, lived and died in Japan. She told me that her brother was killed by Japanese soldiers. She thought that Japanese men were lecherous (horny), and she didn’t like them to come close to her. I missed the chance to learn about the details, but it is not hard to imagine what she went through. It was not her idea to come to Japan. Luckily her daughter was always kind to her until she passed away. For the memory of this Dutch lady I came today to see the exhibition.”

“The words of the woman saying “I don’t want to remember that” made me realise how deep their pain and suffering is. I wonder how I should respond to their words, and how we can pass their stories on to our children, who will have nothing to do with them. I am sorry that my son, a university student, won’t come here.”

“To my shame I didn’t know anything about Comfort Women in Indonesia. The faces of these women appealed to me strongly: their anger, sadness, suffering, and long history. They made me cry.I hated white Americans because they discriminated native Americans, but Japan did the same.Jan said in a symposium that one woman told him ‘Take my photograph, I am the living proof’, although many others refused to talk due to their trauma. I was impressed by her courage.”

“I was overwhelmed and could not hold back my tears.”

“I knew about these Indonesian ladies thanks to the TBS (Japanese tv) documentary broadcast on tv (in which Hilde interviewed some of the women). But I felt like being electrified when I saw these photographs and read their stories. There was one women who was born in 1928. This Indonesian lady is as old as my mother and she went through such hardship. That was the moment when the history was connected to my own life.”

“I was impressed by the personal stories of all these women. It was good that they could overcome the past when the women were abused by Japanese soldiers, and that they could raise a family of their own. But it could be that they were the lucky ones.”

“Abe’s statement ‘we make peace by wars’ is a lie.”

“It is a nice exhibition, which really suits the gallery space. I thought about the dignity of each woman and the cruelty of violence which has harmed them.I came after I gave a lecture about the Comfort Women and the Nanking massacre at Meiji university. I thank Mr. Banning and the organizer for their efforts.”Kozo Nagata [ex-producer of NHK, who made a documentary of Comfort Women in 2005, which was seemingly sabotaged by Abe, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary at that time, a few days before the broadcast. Kozo left NHK and became a professor].

“Once in the gallery, in a quiet atmosphere, I am almost shuddered by the gaze of the old ladies who were made into “comfort women”. I am not sure of what their eyes are trying to convey, whether sorrow or anger. I felt they were appealing “please understand/know about us”.

“The existence of each person here are all true.
I think this is reality and they are testifiers of history.
I have not even tried to notice before.
‘But it is true.’
‘This is a true story.’
I felt like each person was talking to me.
I would like more and more people to see (the exhibition/photos).”

Thanks to WAM’s Mina Watanabe and to Fumi Hoshino who translated the reactions of the exhibition guestbook.
Thanks to Yamamoto Munesuke and to Ahn Sehong (last photo) for the use of their photos.

The exhibition was held in the Kid Ailack Hall (Oct 10-25, 2015) and organized by the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM).

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Tokyo’s “Comfort Women” exhibition in Asahi Shimbun

art Asahi Shimbun 15102015

Asahi Shimbun (Japan, 6.5 million+ readers), Sunday. Oct. 15:

Exhibition of portraits of Indonesian “Comfort Women”
It took a Dutch photographer 2 years

Frontal photographs of Indonesian women, who claimed that they received sexual violence from Japanese military during the Second World War, are exhibited in a Setagaya (Tokyo district) ward; “Japanese military comfort Women in Indonesia.” Remarkable are their eyes of these women.
Until 25th in Setagaya

In 2007 Dutch photographer Jan Banning (61) started taking the pictures. Together with Dutch journalist Hilde Janssen, who earlier began researching and interviewing the women, he spent two years to visit more than 50 women. Some of them didn’t want to talk or to be photographed. The research was difficult but they managed to photograph 46 women. 16 of them are exhibited now.

One of them, Ema, said that she was taken away from home when she was 16 years old and forced to work as prostitute for 3 years with a Japanese name “Miyako.” She also said that soldiers selected a girl from pictures of them shown at the entrance of the brothel. Mr. Banning decided to make frontal portraits as well now, just like these pictures at the time.

Women were in their teens or early twenties at that time. There was also a woman, who was kidnaped and confined when she was playing.

Mr. Banning said: “some people in Japan claim that Comfort Women were professional prostitutes, but these young girls could not be that. Please visit the exhibition, watch their faces, and think about them.”Ms. Jansen, who traced the women, said: “they are courageous women, who dared to talk about their past by showing their faces. Please have a look at their eyes. It is important for me to deliver their messages in order not to repeat the same thing.”

About the half of the 16 women have passed away already.
[furthermore: information about the Kid Ailack Hall in Tokyo and about the Women’s Museum on War and Peace that organized the exhibition]
Written by Maki Okubo.

Below the photo: Jan Banning (“this exhibition in Tokyo in the most important exhibition we could possibly have”) and Hilde Jansen.

Thanks to Fumi Hoshino for the translation.

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Comfort Women press conference in Tokyo’s Foreign Correspondence Club

The press conference in Tokyo’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club is now available here.

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Comfort Women exhibition review in JAPAN TIMES

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The Japan Times

Photo exhibition shows pain of Indonesian former ‘comfort women’
October 19, 2015 (Print version: October 21, 2015)

Portrait photos of 16 Indonesian former “comfort women” are currently on display at a Tokyo gallery in an exhibition focused on conveying their painful wartime experiences.

The women were taken against their will to brothels for the Japanese military as comfort women, but kept their silence for a long time until journalist Hilde Janssen and photographer Jan Banning, both from the Netherlands visited them to record their harrowing memories.

Each portrait by Banning is accompanied by an account of the woman captured in the photo — sometimes reluctantly shared — about her experience during World War II.

Janssen and Banning launched a research project in 2007, and in the following three years they interviewed and photographed around 50 women.

The women “suffered” while telling their hidden stories and “suffered again” when they were in front of the camera, Banning says.

Banning brought the women to his temporary studio immediately after Janssen interviewed them so he could “keep up the tension” stoked during their interviews, he says.

According to a description attached to her portrait, a woman named Mastia was taken from her community together with 15 other girls, and forced into service as a concubine. After the war, she underwent a religious ceremony to wash away her “sin.”

“People nevertheless continued to call me a ‘Japanese hand-me-down,’ ” she was quoted as saying.

Another woman, Niyem, was kidnapped while playing when she was around 10 years old, according to a description for her photo. She was brought to a military camp in West Java, where she was raped by soldiers in the presence of others. “I was still so young, within two months my body was completely destroyed,” she told her interviewer.

While some in Japan continue to deny the forced recruitment of women, Banning says he expects visitors to the exhibition to “look those women in the eye” to see and share their suffering.

It is clear that the Japanese government is “responsible for setting up the system” during the war, he adds.

Janssen and Banning were in Japan to attend a symposium at the start of the exhibition, which kicked off at Kid Ailack Art Hall in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward last Saturday. The exhibition, held under the auspices of the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, runs through Oct. 25.

The “Comfort Women” exhibition has already been held in the Netherlands and Indonesia as well as in the United States, Germany and France.

Banning says his family is strongly connected with the wartime history of Indonesia.

His parents were from the Dutch East Indies, which was occupied by Japan in 1942. Recruited by the Japanese military, his father and grandfather were put into forced labor, while his mother, together with her family, was confined in an internment camp there.

They may have been killed and he would not have been born had the war continued longer, Banning says.

Janssen, meanwhile, lived in India and Indonesia for nearly 20 years since 1991 to work as a correspondent for Dutch media and as an anthropologist.

“The visitors to the exhibition must feel as if they are watched by the 16 women, rather than watching them,” says Mina Watanabe, secretary general of the museum. “We hope the visitors will be aware of the hardships the women have gone through.”

“Comfort Women” runs through Oct. 25 at Kid Ailack Art Hall in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo (open 12-7 p.m., ¥700, 03-3202-4633). For more information, visit

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The Colombian Prison Crisis: corruption and injustice

A quick shot of women's Prison

A quick shot of women’s Prison “El Buen Pastor”, before a guard inhibited me (Colombia, Bogota).


Halfway through the allotted time in the Colombian women’s prison El Buen Pastor, I packed my gear and flounced off. The female warden, who had the demeanor of one of Hitler’s furies, looked surprised. “Estoy harto! I am fed up,” I raged at the battle-axe; “This is one big lie, sheer propaganda!” “But this is a prison,” she rebuffed. I: “Exactly! And you are trying to make it look as if it consists of workshops and education centers only.”

That was a bit unfair of me, since in this and two previous prisons, Colombia’s penal administration INPEC’s PR ladies had also offered me to photograph sports fields, and a garden. That is what Colombian prisons are made of – or that is what I am supposed to make you believe.

The overcrowded, filthy patios, the bullet holes in the guards’ cabin, things that I saw but was not allowed (and unable) to photograph… All delusions, I guess. Not to mention what some of the prisoners told me about the circumstances. Unless they pay the patio’s bully, an inmate who shares his pay with the INPEC guards, they don’t get a bunk in a half-way safe cell and must sleep on the floor in a congested corridor. They have to pay not to be beaten up or robbed of their few belongings. They have to pay to be allowed to buy some extra food or toiletries. On the other hand, if they have money, they can bribe the guards and smuggle drugs, weapons and mobile phones (a.o. used for extortion) into the prison. In April 2015, a man convicted for killing four children escaped with the help of guards.

You, my friends, will not get to see any of that. It is one thing to let Colombian media make visual reports – but foreigners: that is another matter. So no cells, no corridors in my photographs. And few inmates; we were just passing by a patio that looked like a cattle shed, when I was told that to photograph inmates would undermine their human rights. Had it been cattle in there, animal rights activists would surely have protested. And by the way, locking up animal abusers is being seriously discussed, these days.

Clearly, Colombia cares about its citizens’ human rights. A street crook who stole a mobile phone was convicted to five years; the phone belonged to an official. A perilous peddler who falsified the labels of a few bottles of shampoo and shaving cream was put away for 17 years: brand falsification, a serious crime! On the other hand, there are the former members of the FARC guerilla or the paramilitary, who have committed horrific massacres; if they surrender and confess, they get a maximum of eight years.

After months of bureaucratic dawdle, I had finally received permission to photograph in four Colombian prisons. Yes, there would be “some limitations.” But once I had arrived, INPEC tried to turn me into an unpaid propagandist…After the first prison visit, I complained to a trusted high-ranking official at the Ministry of Justice. He discussed my case with the vice-minister, only to come back and tell me that, although INPEC – which he casually described as a corrupt institute – is theoretically under this ministry, it is quite autonomous. There was nothing he or even the vice-minister of this failed state could do.

Corrupt? The last four INPEC directors were relieved because of corruption. All INPEC directors are retired military top brass. The job provides them with a nice extra buck. There are many ways to earn that, since there are many companies involved in construction, armament, food supplies and the like. And the extremely strong position of the military after 50 years of civil war makes the justice ministry’s authority a joke.

So here I am: in the other “Law&Order” countries – France, Uganda and the USA – I was able to produce a fair and balanced photo series. But what about Colombia in my upcoming book? I am hardly prepared to reward INPEC for its censorship, so I will have to do some hard thinking to decide on how to solve this in the book.

What I did do, immediately: I contacted the tv program “Testigo Directo” of Caracol TV Internacional, and the subdirector, Alexander Oyola, interviewed me. Afterwards, we went to La Modelo prison. I, to photograph; Alexander and his camera man to film me, and the possible hassle that the prison authorities INPEC might give me. But they stayed quiet – maybe because of the presence of the tv crew.
Early September, the program is supposed to be broadcast in Colombia, Spain and the USA. During one week, it will be repeated every day. Let’s hope the embarrassment will achieve something – especially for Colombia’s 120,000 inmates who are being treated like animals, or worse – even if only make it clear that power hungry and corrupt authorities cannot get away with everything.

Meanwhile, to get an idea of what INPEC tries to hide from foreigners, just enter “carcel Colombia” in your internet browser, to see photos that Colombian photographers were allowed to make. Or the revealing Spanish tv program made possible by the unexpected collaboration of some prison employees, to the great annoyance of INPEC authorities.

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