The House of Sharing (Nanum), Gwangjiu-si

In 1992, a small committee formed to develop the idea to establish a house that would be used by living ‘comfort women’ in their older years as a home and support space. Raising funds through Buddhist organisations and other social groups, the first ‘House of Sharing’ was built in Mapo-gu, Seoul in late 1992 and subsequently moved into several other districts before settling in its current location in Gwangju. On the site there are three houses, two are used for living and one is used as a temple. There are a number of other buildings on the site, including the Museum of Sexual Slavery by the Japanese Military, which was opened in 1998.

The museum was the first of its kind to discuss the issue of sex slaves. Comprised of two floors and a basement, the museum showcases various interpretive spaces including a World War II timeline, a collection of objects from multiple comfort stations, video testimonies and documentaries, a prayer space and a room displaying a collection of paintings depicting the ‘comfort women’ experience, painted by the halmonis themselves as a form of cathartic therapy. One of the most confronting spaces in the museum is a replicated comfort station room. After a woman was captured and sent to a comfort station, her identity was completely erased and her name was replaced with the name of a Japanese flower, given to her by the first man who raped her. The new ‘name’ was written on a wooden block and hung outside the woman’s room - if the block was face up, the woman was available and if the block was face down, the woman was already in use by another soldier or ill. This type of narrative, along with many other shocking details injects the replica room with a visceral and emotional insight into the day-to-day brutality halmonis experienced at the hands of their captors.

As of 2007, seven women who were halmonis lived in the House of Sharing (updated figures as of 2016 are yet to be received). Visitors to the museum were occasionally able to meet the women who openly shared their experiences and expressed their want for a public apology from the Japanese Government. In light of this, it is interesting to note that the most frequent visitors to the House of Sharing are those from Japan, especially Japanese students. Nowadays, the House of Sharing is primarily an educational and memorial space, allowing visitors a better understanding of the survivors' experience, both during and after the war, and for those who did not make it back at all. However, it’s origins as a survivor support network and its role in producing a most public activist movement are still most integral to the ongoing ‘comfort women’ debate today.