By Kumiko Mendl
I am the artistic director of Yellow Earth Theatre, a British East Asian theatre company celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. We bring the voices and stories from our communities to audiences across the UK and beyond and this year I am working on two very different projects both involving the lives of East Asian women.
With our project Tsunagu/Connect we are setting out to record the lives of Japanese women living in the UK since 1945. The majority of Japanese who have settled in the UK are women, many of whom married British citizens enabling them to remain here. Through this project we aim to debunk the many stereotypes that surround Japanese women and allow them to speak for themselves. This is an 18 month project and will culminate next year in a live immersive performance using VR technology inspired by the stories and an accompanying exhibition featuring some of the interviews.
The other is The Apology, a debut play by Korean writer Kyo Choi. It’s a powerful and hard hitting story about the ‘Comfort Women’ of the Second World War. These were an estimated 120,000 women from across East and South East Asia who were tricked, coerced and forced into becoming sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War. It took many years for the women to begin to tell their stories, such was the shame and fear they felt of upsetting their families and breaking social taboos. But when they began to speak out, many women joined them across the world and the Korean women’s anger at what had happened to them, the lack of apology and lack of any compensation from the Japanese government, has given rise to the longest ever protest in the world that takes place every Wednesday outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
March 8 is a day in which women around the world celebrate their power, demand equal rights and continue to battle the sexism and patriarchy in our daily lives. Sexual violence against women not only happens in wartime. The #Metoo movement has highlighted the sexual violence that is happening around us and in the very fabric of our society.
I hope women across the globe will take courage and speak out, just as the comfort women in Korea and across East and Southeast Asia continue to do so. There is still a long way to go but I hope that both our up coming productions will not only celebrate the overlooked, the forgotten and the hidden lives of East Asian women but will give strength and solidarity and ensure our voices are heard, believed and understood.