Who were the Comfort Women? [reprinted from AWF]


Who were the Comfort Women?


The so-called "wartime comfort women" were those who were taken to former Japanese military installations, such as comfort stations, for a certain period during wartime in the past and forced to provide sexual services to officers and soldiers.

Authors who wrote about these women in the postwar Japan called them "jugun ianfu(comfort women joining the army)". And when the Japanese government first faced the issue of these women, it adopted this term, "jugun ianfu," and the AWF, when it started in 1995, it used this term as well. But in historical wartime documents we only find the term "ianfu (comfort women)". Therefore, we now always use this term "ianfu (comfort women)".

  -Full text (http://www.awf.or.jp/e1/facts-00.html)


The Establishment of Comfort Stations


The comfort stations were first established at the request of the Japanese military authorities, as part of war efforts in China. According to military documents, private agents first opened brothels for officers and men stationed in Manchuria, around the time of the Manchurian Incident in 1931. Then term "ianfu (comfort women)" was not yet used and the attitude of the military itself was inactive.

When the war spread to Shanghai after the First Shanghai Incident in 1932, the first comfort station was established for a Japanese naval brigade posted there. The number of comfort stations increased rapidly after the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937.General Okamura Yasuji
It was apparently Yasuji Okamura, at that time the Vice Chief of Staff of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force, who first promoted the establishment of comfort stations for the Japanese army.
There were apparently a number of reasons for establishing them: Japanese military personnel had raped Chinese civilian women in occupied areas on numerous occasions, and the military hoped to prevent a worsening of anti-Japanese feelings on the part of the Chinese people; there was a need to prevent the spread of venereal diseases among officers and men, as otherwise military effectiveness would be reduced; and it was also feared that contact with Chinese civilian women could result in the leaking of military secrets.

 -Full text (http://www.awf.or.jp/e1/facts-01.html)



Women Were Collected


Thus, comfort stations were established as a result of decisions made in those days at the expeditionary military headquarters. When the stations were constructed, the military would often designate certain people as business agents and commission them to bring women from Japan.


In early 1938, agents canvassed in different parts of Japan, hoping to employ 3,000 women to serve in the Imperial Army's comfort stations in Shanghai. Their efforts were criticized by the police in different parts of Japan, who equated the agents' efforts with kidnapping unsuspecting women and said that they were tarnishing the honor of the Imperial Army.


The reaction of the Director of the Police Bureau of the Home Ministry was to issue a memorandum on 23 February 1938, stipulating that all recruited women had already to be involved in prostitution in Japan, be at least 21 years of age, and obtain permission from their parent or guardians to go overseas. On 4 March the same year, the Adjutant of the Ministry of War issued a notice with the following instructions.

      -Omitted, please see the links -


The stipulation that the women must be at least 21 was made because the International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children, which Japan had ratified, prohibited the prostitution of minors. As the number of comfort stations increased rapidly, the Home Ministry and the Army Ministry found themselves increasingly involved in the issue. A document compiled within the Police Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs, dated 4 November 1938, contains a request that agents be designated in different prefectures to recruit 400 women: 100 from Osaka Prefecture, 50 from Kyoto Prefecture, 100 from Hyogo Prefecture, 100 from Fukuoka Prefecture, and 50 from Yamaguchi Prefecture. The recruitment, which was to be carried out in a top-secret fashion, was in response to a request from two men: (i) Arifumi Kumon, who was a Major in the army's aviation squad and a staff officer in the Furusho's Army of the South China Expeditionary Force, and (ii) the head of the Enlistment Division of the Army Ministry. Their request was: "Please help... sending,,, about 400 women for the purpose of prostitution... at comfort stations of the Southern China Expeditionary Force."
If recruitment of women from Japan homeland was carried out in above way, how were women collected in Taiwan and Korea. According to research by Zhu Delan, after the Japanese navy occupying the island of Hainan sent a request, in 1939, to the naval office in Taiwan, the office asked Taiwan Takushoku Co., Ltd., to become involved. The company committed to promote Japanese state policy, constructed comfort station buildings on Hainan, chose agents, and gave them money. The agents, who were Japanese, then took women in their employ to Hainan. These women were destined to become comfort women, and were "at least 21 years old and already involved in prostitution." In this case, it would appear that the rules in effect in Japan were also applied when recruiting in Taiwan, although whether they were always followed is unknown. Because in ratifying the International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children in 1925, the Japanese government excluded the colonies from its application.

 -Full text (http://www.awf.or.jp/e1/facts-04.html)




The Pacific War and Spreading Comfort Station

After the Pacific War broke out on 8 December 1941, Japan attacked Singapore, the Philippines, Burma and the East Indies (Indonesia). The military occupation swept south, spreading comfort stations with it. As the occupation widened, it appeared that there was a definite change in the way women were recruited for the comfort stations in the new southern territories. A 14 January 1942 reply from the Minister of Foreign Affairs contained the following sentence: "Because it would not be advisable to issue passports to such types of people going abroad, they should be issued military certificates and transported on ships commissioned by the military." It appeared that the transport of comfort women to those territories came to be under the control of the Japanese military without any intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Home Ministry, and the police.

Sometime between the end of February and the beginning of March 1942, the commander of the Taiwan Army received a message from the Southern Army General Command requesting "50 native comfort women, or as close to that number as possible, to be sent" to Borneo. The commander ordered the military police to conduct a survey and choose three agents. The three agents recruited the women and took them to Borneo.


We can assume that the Southern Army General Command also requested that the Headquarters of the Korea Army send Korean women. According to documents compiled by the U.S. military, the Japanese military headquarters in Seoul contacted agents in May 1942, asking the possibility of recruiting women for "comfort services" in Burma. The agents agreed to do so. The military designated certain agents and apparently had them recruit women. After the recruitment, 703 Korean women were sent in a transport to Burma.

In another document we find that a Korean couple, operating a restaurant in Seoul, were contacted by the military police headquarters. They agreed to take on the job of gathering women and girls and recruited 20 Koreans. With the payment of 300-1000 yen in the currency of that time to their parents, the couple believed that they bought these girls and that they became the couple's own property. This could be considered as the advance payment by which these girls were bound. According to information given by the women and girls, at the time of recruitment, twelve of the twenty recruits were under 21 years of age — one was 17, three were 18, seven were 19, one was 20, and eight were 23 or older. If this information is correct, it would seem to be clear that the conditions stipulated by the Police Bureau, Home Ministry in 1938 for recruitment in Japan were ignored.

It appears that the women and girls were not clearly told they would be required to serve as comfort women.
United States Office of War Information, Psychological Warfare Team "Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report", No. 49, Shiryoshusei, Vol.V, pp.203.

The nature of this 'service' was not specified, but it was assumed to be work connected with visiting the wounded in hospitals, rolling bandages, and generally making the soldiers happy. The inducement used by those agents was plenty of money, an opportunity to pay off the family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in a new land - Singapore. On the basis of those false representations many girls enlisted for overseas duty and were rewarded with an advance of a few hundred yen.

In such cases the agents tricked them, basically recruiting them against their will.

Thus, gathering from the above cited materials, during the Pacific War period, the recruitment of comfort women from Korea and Taiwan was carried down in the following way. On the request of the Southern Army General Command the Korea Army and the Taiwan Army assumed the responsibility of choosing business managers through military police and sending women collected by those managers on military transports to Southeast Asia occupied by the Japanese military. Of course, recruitment of comfort women from Japan was also continued in former way in this period.

Further, in such places as Philippines and Indonesia, native women were made to be comfort women. Research by Professor Aiko Kurasawa shows that the recruitment of comfort women in Indonesia was often done through the heads of residential districts or neighborhood groups. The general pattern seems to have been that village officials would receive a request from the occupying forces, and would act on the request. It was recognized that it was not uncommon for women to be taken against their will.

It is well known that in Indonesia some Dutch women internees were taken to comfort stations. According to Dutch government's report, one third, or one fifth of them were coerced into becoming comfort women. The case at Semarang was tried in a war crime tribunal and a Japanese officer was executed.

When many comfort women worked in comfort stations managed by private managers and set up in city areas and garrison sites, it is recognized that in rural areas many of the native women were raped and abducted to Japanese garrisons buildings and were raped continuously there for a certain period of time. Those victims who suffered most from formidable violence can be also redeemed as anothr comfort women who were forced to provide sexual services to officers and men. In Phillipines, especially, violence against women was frequent.






-This article was reprinted from Digital Museum The Comfort Woman Issue and the Asian Women's Fund-






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