Comfort women

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Comfort women
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 慰安婦
Simplified Chinese 慰安妇
Japanese name
Kanji 慰安婦
Hiragana いあんふ
Alternate Japanese name
Kanji 従軍慰安婦
Korean name
Hangul 위안부
Hanja 慰安婦

Comfort women were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories before and during World War II.[1][2][3]

The name "comfort women" is a translation of the Japanese (慰安婦),[4] a euphemism for "prostitute(s)".[5] Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 20,000 (by Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata[6]) to as high as 360,000 to 410,000 (by a Chinese scholar[7]); the exact numbers are still being researched and debated.[8] Most of the women were from occupied countries, including Korea, China, and the Philippines.[9] Women were used for military "comfort stations" from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan (then a Japanese dependency), Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), East Timor (then Portuguese Timor),[10][11] and other Japanese-occupied territories. Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, Burma, New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and French Indochina.[12] A smaller number of women of European origin were also involved from the Netherlands[13] and Australia.

According to testimonies, young women were abducted from their homes in countries under Imperial Japanese rule. In many cases, women were also lured with promises of work in factories or restaurants; once recruited, they were incarcerated in comfort stations both inside their nations and abroad.[14]

Establishment of the comfort women system

Chinese and Malayan girls forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as 'comfort girls' for the troops[15]
Studio portrait of Jan Ruff O'Herne, taken shortly before she, her mother and sisters, and thousands of other Dutch women and children were interned by the Japanese Imperial Army in Ambarawa. Over the following months, O'Herne and six other Dutch women were repeatedly raped and beaten, day and night, by Japanese personnel.[16]

Japanese military prostitution

Military correspondence of the Imperial Japanese Army shows that the aim of facilitating comfort stations was the prevention of rape crimes committed by Japanese army personnel and thus preventing the rise of hostility among people in occupied areas.[17]

Since prostitution in Japan was well-organized and open, the Japanese government and military developed a similar program to serve the Japanese Armed Forces.[18] The Japanese Army established the comfort stations to prevent venereal diseases and rape by Japanese soldiers, to provide comfort to soldiers and head off espionage. According to Japanese historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, however, the comfort stations did not solve, but aggravated the first two problems. Yoshimi has asserted, "The Japanese Imperial Army feared most that the simmering discontentment of the soldiers could explode into a riot and revolt. That is why it provided women".[19]


The first comfort station was established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Earlier comfort women were Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for such service. However, as Japan continued military expansion, the military found itself short of Japanese volunteers, and turned to the local population to coerce women into serving in these stations, or abducted them.[20] Many women responded to calls for work as factory workers or nurses, and did not know that they were being pressed into sexual slavery.[21]

In the early stages of the war, Japanese authorities recruited prostitutes through conventional means. In urban areas, conventional advertising through middlemen was used alongside kidnapping. Middlemen advertised in newspapers circulating in Japan and the Japanese colonies of Korea, Taiwan, Manchukuo, and China. These sources soon dried up, especially from Japan.[22] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs resisted further issuance of travel visas for Japanese prostitutes, feeling it tarnished the image of the Japanese Empire.[23] The military turned to acquiring comfort women outside mainland Japan, mostly from Korea and occupied China. Many women were tricked or defrauded into joining the military brothels.[24] The Japanese forced Hui Muslim girls in China to serve as sex slaves by setting up the "Huimin Girls' school" and enrolling Hui girls into the school for this purpose.[25] The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote that a major issue that no historian has examined is whatever the soldiers of the Indian National Army "...were permitted to share in the "comfort" provided by thousands of kidnapped Korean young women held as sex slaves by the Imperial Japanese Army at its camps. This might have provided them with some insight into the nature of Japanese, as opposed to British, colonial rule, as well what might be in store for their sisters and daughters."[26]

Under the strain of the war effort, the military became unable to provide enough supplies to Japanese units; in response, the units made up the difference by demanding or looting supplies from the locals. The military often directly demanded that local leaders procure women for the brothels along the front lines, especially in the countryside where middlemen were rare. When the locals were considered hostile in China, Japanese soldiers carried out the "Three Alls Policy" ("kill all-burn all-loot all") which included indiscriminately kidnapping and raping local civilians.[27][28][29] By taking women from other Asian countries occupied by Japan to serve as "comfort women" was intended by the Japanese state to symbolically "castrate" other Asian men to show that they could not defend their women as fathers, brothers, husbands or boyfriends (the ultimate failure of a man in the patriarchal, Confucian cultures of East Asia) and to degrade the women themselves.[30]

In 1944, the United States Office of War Information reported on interviews with 20 Korean comfort women in Burma which found that the girls were induced by the offer of plenty of money, an opportunity to pay off family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in Singapore. Many girls enlisted for overseas duty on the basis of these false representations, and were rewarded with an advance of a few hundred yen. Only some of these girls who had paid their debt were allowed to return to Korea.[31]

Later archives

On April 17, 2007, Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Hirofumi Hayashi announced the discovery of seven official documents in the archives of the Tokyo Trials, suggesting that Imperial military forces – such as the Tokkeitai (Naval military police) – forced women whose fathers attacked the Kenpeitai (Army military police) to work in front-line brothels in China, Indochina, and Indonesia. These documents were initially made public at the war crimes trial. In one of these, a lieutenant is quoted as confessing to having organized a brothel and having used it himself. Another source refers to Tokkeitai members having arrested women on the streets and putting them in brothels after enforced medical examinations.[32]

On May 12, 2007, journalist Taichiro Kajimura announced the discovery of 30 Dutch government documents submitted to the Tokyo tribunal as evidence of a forced mass prostitution incident in 1944 in Magelang.[33]

The South Korean government designated Bae Jeong-ja as a pro-Japanese collaborator (chinilpa) in September 2007 for recruiting comfort women.[34][35]

In 2014, China produced almost 90 documents from the archives of the Kwantung Army on the issue. According to China, the documents provide ironclad proof that the Japanese military forced Asian women to work in front-line brothels before and during World War II.[36]

In June 2014, more official documents were made public from the government of Japan's archives, documenting sexual violence and women forced into sexual slavery, committed by Imperial Japanese soldiers in French Indochina and Indonesia.[37]

A 2015 study examined archival data which was previously difficult to access, partly due to the China-Japan Joint Communiqué of 1972 in which the Chinese government agreed not to seek any restitution for wartime crimes and incidents. New documents discovered in China shed light on facilities inside comfort stations operated within a Japanese army compound, and the conditions of the Korean comfort women. Documents were discovered verifying the Japanese Army as the funding agency for purchasing some comfort women.

Documents were found in Shanghai that showed details of how the Japanese Army went about opening comfort stations for Japanese troops in occupied Shanghai. Documents included the Tianjin Municipal Archives from the archival files of the Japanese government and the Japanese police during the periods of the occupation in World War II. Municipal archives from Shanghai and Nanjing were also examined. One conclusion reached was that the relevant archives in Korea are distorted. A conclusion of the study was that the Japanese Imperial government, and the colonial government in Korea, tried to avoid recording the illegal mobilization of comfort women. It was concluded that they burned most of the records immediately before the surrender; but, the study confirmed that some documents and records survived.[38]

Number of comfort women

Lack of official documentation has made estimating the total number of comfort women difficult. Vast amounts of material pertaining to war crimes, and the responsibility of the nation's highest leaders, were destroyed on the orders of the Japanese government at the end of the war.[39] Historians have arrived at various estimates by looking at surviving documentation, which indicates the ratio of soldiers in a particular area to the number of women, and replacement rates of the women.[40] Historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, who conducted the first academic study on the topic and brought the issue out into the open, estimated the number to be between 50,000 and 200,000.[41]

Based on these estimates, most international media sources quote about 200,000 young women were kidnapped by Japanese soldiers to serve in military brothels. The BBC quotes "200,000 to 300,000", and the International Commission of Jurists quotes "estimates of historians of 100,000 to 200,000 women."[42] The Asahi Shinbun apologized in 2014 for stating the number of Korean comfort women at 200,000, which was regarded as inaccurate and the result of a conflation with an unrelated factory program.[43]

Countries of origin

Historical Marker, Plaza Lawton, Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila

According to State University of New York at Buffalo professor Yoshiko Nozaki and other sources, the majority of the women were from Korea and China.[44][45] Chuo University professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi states there were about 2,000 centers where as many as 200,000 Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Taiwanese, Burmese, Indonesian, Dutch and Australian women were interned.[46] Ikuhiko Hata, a professor of Nihon University, estimated the number of women working in the licensed pleasure quarter was fewer than 20,000 and that they were 40% Japanese, 20% Koreans, 10% Chinese, with others making up the remaining 30%. According to Hata, the total number of government-regulated prostitutes in Japan was only 170,000 during World War II.[47] Others came from the Philippines, Taiwan, Dutch East Indies, and other Japanese-occupied countries and regions.[48] Some Dutch women, captured in Dutch colonies in Asia, were also forced into sexual slavery.[49]

In further analysis of the Imperial Army medical records for venereal disease treatment from 1940, Yoshimi concluded that if the percentages of women treated reflected the general makeup of the total comfort women population, Korean women comprised 51.8 percent, Chinese 36 percent and Japanese 12.2 percent.[19]

In 1997, Bruce Cumings, a historian of Korea, wrote that Japan had forced quotas to supply the comfort women program, and that Korean men helped recruit the victims. Cumings stated that between 100,000 and 200,000 Korean girls and women were recruited.[50] In Korea, the daughters of the gentry and the bureaucracy were spared from being sent into the "comfort women corps" unless they or their families showed signs of pro-independence tendencies, and the overwhelming majority of the Korean girls taken into the "comfort women corps" came from the poor.[51] The Army and Navy often subcontracted the work of taking girls into the "comfort women corps" in Korea to contractors, who were usually associated in some way with organized crime groups, who were paid for girls they presented.[52] Through a substantial minority of the contractors in Korea were Japanese, the majority were Korean.[53]

A Dutch government study described how the Japanese military itself seized the women by force in the Dutch East Indies.[54] It concluded that among the 200 to 300 European women found in the Japanese military brothels, “some sixty five were most certainly forced into prostitution.”[55] Others, faced with starvation in the refugee camps, agreed to offers of food and payment for work, the nature of which was not completely revealed to them.[56][57][58][59][60]

To date, only one Japanese woman has published her testimony. This was done in 1971, when a former comfort woman forced to work for Showa soldiers in Taiwan, published her memoirs under the pseudonym of Suzuko Shirota.[61]

Treatment of comfort women

Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted diseases.[62] Beatings and physical torture were said to be common.[63] The women who were not prostitutes prior to joining the "comfort women corps", especially those taken in by force, were normally "broken in" by being raped.[64] One Korean woman, Kim Hak-sun stated in a 1991 interview about how she was drafted into the "comfort women corps" in 1941: "When I was 17 years old, the Japanese soldiers came along in a truck, beat us [her and a friend], and then dragged us into the back. I was told if I were drafted, I could earn lots of money in a textile factory...The first day I was raped and the rapes never stopped...I was born a woman but never lived as a woman...I feel sick when I come close to a man. Not just Japanese men, but all men-even my own husband who saved me from the brothel. I shiver whenever I see a Japanese flag...Why should I feel ashamed? I don't have to feel ashamed."[65] Kim stated that she was raped 30–40 times a day, everyday of the year during her time as a "comfort woman".[66] Reflecting their dehumanized status, Army and Navy records where referring to the movement of "comfort women" always used the term "units of war supplies".[67] One Japanese Army doctor, Asō Tetsuo testified that the "comfort women" were seen as "female ammunition" and as "public toilets", as literally just things to be used and abused, with some "comfort women" being forced to donate blood for the treatment of wounded soldiers.[68] At least 80% of the "comfort women" were Korean, who were assigned to the lower ranks while Japanese and European women went to the officers with for example Dutch women captured in the Netherlands East Indies (modern Indonesia) being reserved exclusively for the officers.[69] Korea is a Confucian country where premarital sex was widely disapproved of, and since the Korean teenagers taken into the "comfort women corps" were almost always virgins, it was felt that this was the best way to limit the spread of venereal diseases that would otherwise incapacitate soldiers and sailors.[70]

Ten Dutch women were taken by force from prison camps in Java by officers of the Japanese Imperial Army to become forced sex slaves in February 1944. They were systematically beaten and raped day and night.[63][71] As a victim of the incident, in 1990, Jan Ruff-O'Herne testified to a U.S. House of Representatives committee:

Many stories have been told about the horrors, brutalities, suffering and starvation of Dutch women in Japanese prison camps. But one story was never told, the most shameful story of the worst human rights abuse committed by the Japanese during World War II: The story of the “Comfort Women”, the jugun ianfu, and how these women were forcibly seized against their will, to provide sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army. In the “comfort station” I was systematically beaten and raped day and night. Even the Japanese doctor raped me each time he visited the brothel to examine us for venereal disease.[63][71]

In their first morning at the brothel, photographs of Ruff-O'Herne and the others were taken and placed on the veranda which was used as a reception area for the Japanese personnel who would choose from these photographs. Over the following four months the girls were raped and beaten day and night, with those who became pregnant forced to have abortions. After four harrowing months, the girls were moved to a camp at Bogor, in West Java, where they were reunited with their families. This camp was exclusively for women who had been put into military brothels, and the Japanese warned the inmates that if anyone told what had happened to them, they and their family members would be killed. Several months later the O'Hernes were transferred to a camp at Batavia, which was liberated on August 15, 1945.[72][73][74]

The Japanese officers involved received some punishment by Japanese authorities at the end of the war.[75] After the end of the war, 11 Japanese officers were found guilty with one soldier being sentenced to death by the Batavia War Criminal Court.[75] The court decision found that the charge violated was the Army's order to hire only voluntary women.[75] Victims from East Timor testified they were forced into slavery even when they were not old enough to have started menstruating. The court testimonies state that these prepubescent girls were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers[76] while those who refused to comply were executed.[77][78]

Hank Nelson, emeritus professor at the Australian National University's Asia Pacific Research Division, has written about the brothels run by the Japanese military in Rabaul, in what is now Papua New Guinea during WWII. He quotes from the diary of Gordon Thomas, a POW in Rabaul. Thomas writes that the women working at the brothels “most likely served 25 to 35 men a day” and that they were “victims of the yellow slave trade.”[79] Nelson also quotes from Kentaro Igusa, a Japanese naval surgeon who was stationed in Rabaul. Igusa wrote in his memoirs that the women continued to work through infection and severe discomfort, though they “cried and begged for help.”[79]

The Japanese Army and Navy went to great lengths to avoid venereal diseases with large number of condoms being handed out for free.[80] For example, documents show that in July 1943 the Army handed out 1,000 condoms for soldiers in Negri Sembilan and another 10,000 for soldiers in Perak.[81] The "comfort women" were usually injected with teramycin or salvarsan every time after intercourse, which together with damage to the vagina caused by rape or rough sex were the causes of unusually high rates of sterility among the "comfort women".[82] As the war went on and as the shortages caused by the sinking of almost the entire Japanese merchant marine by American submarines kicked in, medical care for the "comfort women" declined as dwindling medical supplies were reserved for the servicemen.[83] As Japanese logistics broke down as the American submarines sunk one Japanese ship after another, condoms had to be washed and reused, reducing their effectiveness.[84] In the Philippines, "comfort women" were billed by Japanese doctors if they required medical treatment.[85] In many cases, "comfort women" who were seriously ill were abandoned to die alone.[86]

During the last stand of Japanese forces in 1944–45, "comfort women" were often forced to commit suicide or were killed.[87] At the Truk naval base, 70 "comfort women" were killed prior to the expected American assault as the Navy mistook the American air raid that destroyed Truk as the prelude to an American landing while during the Battle of Saipan "comfort women" were among those who committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs of Saipan.[88] The Japanese government had told the Japanese colonists on Saipan that the American "white devils" were cannibals, and so the Japanese population preferred suicide to falling into the hands of the American "white devils". In Burma, there were cases of Korean "comfort women" committing suicide by swallowing cyanide pills or being killed by having a hand grenade tossed into their dug-outs.[89] During the Battle of Manila, when Japanese sailors ran amok and simply killed everyone, there were cases of "comfort women" being killed, through does not seem to have any systematic policy of killing "comfort women".[90] Japanese propaganda had it that the Anglo-American "white devils" were cannibals whose favorite food were Asians, and it is possible that many of the Asian "comfort women" may have actually believed this, and so preferred suicide to the supposed horrors of being eaten alive by the "white devils". British soldiers fighting in Burma often reported that the Korean "comfort women" whom they captured were astonished to learn that the British were not going to eat them.[91] Ironically, given this claim, there were cases of starving Japanese troops cut off on remote Pacific islands or trapped in the jungles of Burma turning towards cannibalism, and there were at least several cases where "comfort women" in Burma and on Pacific islands were killed to provide protein for the Japanese Army.[92]

History of the issue

In 1944, Allied forces captured twenty Korean comfort women and two Japanese comfort station owners in Burma and issued Report no. 49. According to the report, Korean girls were deceived into being used as comfort women by the Japanese; in 1942, there were about 800 girls trafficked from Korea to Burma in this manner of obtaining comfort women.[93][93][94][95] In Confucian nations like Korea and China, where premarital sex is considered shameful, the subject of the "comfort women" was ignored for decades after 1945 as the victims were considered pariahs.[96] In Confucian cultures, traditionally an unmarried woman must value her chastity above her own life, and any women who loses her virginity before marriage for whatever reason is expected to commit suicide; by choosing to live, the survivors made themselves into outcasts.[97]

In 1973, a man named Kakou Senda wrote a book about the comfort women system that focused on Japanese participants. His book has been widely criticized as distorting the facts by both Japanese and South Korean historians.[98] This was the first postwar mention of the comfort women system and became an important source for 1990s activism on the issue.[99]

The first book written by a Korean on the subject of comfort women appeared in 1981. However, it was a plagiarism of a 1976 Japanese book by the zainichi author Kim Il-Myeon.[100][101]

In 1989, the testimony of Seiji Yoshida was translated into Korean. His book was debunked as fraudulent by some Japanese and Korean journalists, and in May 1996 Yoshida admitted that his memoir was fictional, stating in an interview by Shūkan Shinchō that "There is no profit in writing the truth in books. Hiding the facts and mixing them with your own assertions is something that newspapers do all the time too".[102][103][104] In August 2014, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun also retracted articles that the paper had published based on or including information from Yoshida, in large part because of pressure from conservative activists and organizations.[105][106][107] Following the retraction, attacks from conservatives increased. Takashi Uemura, a journalist who wrote one of the retracted articles, was subject to similar attacks from conservatives, and his employer, Hokusei Gakuen University, was pressured to terminate his position.[108]

In 1993, following multiple testimonies, the Kono Statement (named after then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono) was issued by Japanese Government confirming that coercion was involved in seizing the comfort women.[109][110] In 1999, the Japanese historian Kazuko Watanabe complained about a lack of sisterhood among Japanese women, citing a survey showing 50% of Japanese women did not believe in the stories of the "comfort women", charging that many Japanese simply regard other Asians as "others" whose feelings do not count.[111] In 2007, the Japanese government issued a response to questions which had been posed to Prime Minister Abe about his position on the issue, concluding that "No evidence was found that the Japanese army or the military officials seized the women by force."[112][113] In 2014, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga formed a team to reexamine the background of the report.[114] The review brought to light coordination between Japan and South Korea in the process of composing the Kono Statement and concluded that, at the request of Seoul, Tokyo stipulated coercion was involved in recruiting the women.[115] After the review, Suga and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that Japan continues to uphold the Kono Statement.

In 2014, China released documents it said were "ironclad proof" that the comfort women were forced to work as prostitutes against their will, including documents from the Japanese Kwantung Army military police corps archives and documents from the national bank of Japan's puppet regime in Manchuria.[116]

Apologies and compensation

Rangoon, Burma. August 8, 1945. A young ethnic Chinese woman from one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer.

In 1951, at the start of negotiations, the South Korean government initially demanded $364 million in compensation for Koreans forced into labor and military service during the Japanese occupation: $200 per survivor, $1,650 per death and $2,000 per injured person.[117] In the final agreement reached in the 1965 treaty, Japan provided an $800 million aid and low-interest loan package over 10 years. Japan intended to directly compensate individuals, but the Korean government insisted on receiving the sum itself and "spent most of the money on economic development, focusing on infrastructure and the promotion of heavy industry".[118]

In 1994, the Japanese government set up the public-private Asian Women's Fund (AWF) to distribute additional compensation to South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Indonesia.[119] Sixty one Korean, 13 Taiwanese, 211 Filipino, and 79 Dutch former comfort women were provided with a signed apology from the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, stating "As Prime Minister of Japan, I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."[120][121] Many former Korean comfort women rejected the compensations on principle – although the Asian Women's Fund was set up by the Japanese government, its moneys came not from the government but from private donations, hence the compensation was not "official". Eventually, 61 former Korean comfort women accepted 5 million yen (approx. $42,000[123]) per person from the AWF along with the signed apology, while 142 others received funds from the government of Korea.[124][125][126] The fund was dissolved on March 31, 2007.[121][127]

Three Korean women filed suit in Japan in December 1991, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, demanding compensation for forced prostitution. In 1992, documents which had been stored since 1958 when they were returned by United States troops and which indicated that the military had played a large role in operating what were euphemistically called "comfort stations" were found in the library of Japan's Self-Defense Agency. The Japanese Government admitted that the Japanese Army had forced tens of thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II.[128] On January 14, 1992, Japanese Chief Government Spokesman Koichi Kato issued an official apology saying, "We cannot deny that the former Japanese army played a role" in abducting and detaining the "comfort girls," and "We would like to express our apologies and contrition".[128][129][130] Three days later on January 17, 1992 at a dinner given by South Korean President Roh Tae Woo, the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa told his host: "We Japanese should first and foremost recall the truth of that tragic period when Japanese actions inflicted suffering and sorrow upon your people. We should never forget our feelings of remorse over this. As Prime Minister of Japan, I would like to declare anew my remorse at these deeds and tender my apology to the people of the Republic of Korea." He apologized again the following day in a speech before South Korea's National Assembly.[131][132] On April 28, 1998, the Japanese court ruled that the Government must compensate the women and awarded them US$2,300 (equivalent to $3,380 in 2016) each.[133]

In 2007, the surviving sex slaves wanted an apology from the Japanese government. Shinzō Abe, the prime minister at the time, stated on March 1, 2007, that there was no evidence that the Japanese government had kept sex slaves, even though the Japanese government had already admitted the use of coercion in 1993. On March 27 the Japanese parliament issued an official apology.[134] On February 20, 2014, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the Japanese government may reconsider the study and the apology.[135] However, Prime Minister Abe clarified on March 14, 2014 that he had no intention of renouncing or altering it.[136]

On December 28, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye reached a formal agreement to settle the dispute. Japan agreed to pay ¥1 billion (9.7 billion; $8.3 million) to a fund supporting surviving victims while South Korea agreed to refrain from criticizing Japan regarding the issue and to work to remove a statue memorializing the victims from in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.[137] The announcement came after Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met his counterpart Yun Byung-se in Seoul, and later Prime Minister Shinzo Abe phoned President Park Geun-hye to repeat an apology already offered by Kishida. The Korean government will administer the fund for the forty-six remaining elderly comfort women and will consider the matter "finally and irreversibly resolved."[138] However, the Korean comfort women and the majority of the Korean population regarded the resolution as being unsatisfying. The Korean comfort women stated that they were not protesting for money and that their goals of formal and public apology from Abe and the Japanese government, the correction of Japanese history textbooks, etc. have not been met. The comfort women and some citizens accused the Korean foreign ministry of colluding with the Japanese government to bring about a quick and simple solution to this complex problem.[139]


Within Japan there is great controversy related to the use of comfort women by the Japanese military, particularly in the areas of denial or minimization by Japanese politicians, activists, and journalists.

Japanese historian and Nihon University professor Ikuhiko Hata estimates the number of comfort women to have been more likely between 10,000 and 20,000.[6] Hata claims that "none of [the comfort women] were forcibly recruited".[140]

Some Japanese politicians have argued that the former comfort women's testimony is inconsistent and unreliable, making it invalid.[141] Mayor of Osaka and co-leader of the nationalist and far-right Japan Restoration Party,[142][143] Tōru Hashimoto initially maintained that "there is no evidence that people called comfort women were taken away by violence or threat by the [Japanese] military".[144] He later modified his position, asserting that they became comfort women "against their will",[145] still justifying their role during World War II as "necessary", so that soldiers could "have a rest".[145]

A comic book, Neo Gomanism Manifesto Special – On Taiwan by Japanese author Yoshinori Kobayashi (2000), depicts kimono-clad women lining up to sign up for duty before a Japanese soldier. Kobayashi's book contains an interview with Taiwanese industrialist Shi Wen-long who stated that no women were forced to serve, and that they worked in more hygienic conditions compared to regular prostitutes because the use of condoms was mandatory.[146]

In a controversy involving national public broadcaster NHK in early 2001, what was supposed to be coverage of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery was heavily edited to reflect revisionist views.[147]

In 2014, the new president of NHK compared the wartime Japanese comfort women program to similar common practices of western militaries. Western historians have countered by pointing out the differences between the Japanese government program which forced women to participate and the free enterprise institutions frequented by western troops where the women were forced only by economic necessity or by non-state actors.[148]

Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and most members of his Cabinet are affiliated to the openly revisionist organization Nippon Kaigi, that denies the existence of Japanese war crimes, including sexual slavery for the military.[149] Although his own father, Yasuhiro Nakasone, organized a "comfort station" in 1942 when he was a lieutenant paymaster in Japan's Imperial Navy, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone chairs a commission established to consider "concrete measures to restore Japan's honor with regard to the comfort women issue."[150]

International support

The cause has long been supported beyond the victim nations, and associations like Amnesty International are campaigning in countries where governments have yet to support the cause, like in Australia,[151] or New Zealand.[152] Support in the United States continues to grow, particularly after the United States House of Representatives House Resolution 121 was passed on July 30, 2007, asking the Japanese government to redress the situation and to incorporate internationally accepted actual historical facts about this program into their educational system. In July 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a strong advocate of the cause, denounced the use of the euphemism 'comfort women' for what should be referred to as 'enforced sex slaves'.[153] The Obama Administration also addressed the need for Japan to do more to address the issue.[154] In addition to calling attention to the issue, the American memorial statues erected in New Jersey in 2010 and California in 2013 show support for what has become an international cause.[155]

On December 13, 2007, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on "Justice for the 'Comfort Women' (sex slaves in Asia before and during World War II)" calling on the Japanese government to apologise and accept legal responsibility for the coercion of young women into sexual slavery before and during WWII.[156]

In 2014, Pope Francis met with seven former comfort women in South Korea.[157][158] Also in 2014, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for Japan to, as the Committee's deputy head Anastasia Crickley put it, "conclude investigations into the violations of the rights of ‘comfort women’ by the military and to bring to justice those responsible and to pursue a comprehensive and lasting resolution to these issues.”[159] U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay had also spoken out in support of comfort women several times.[159]

Health-related issues

In the aftermath of the war, the women recalled bouts of physical and mental abuse that they had experienced while working in military brothels. In the Rorschach test, the women showed distorted perceptions, difficulty in managing emotional reactions and internalized anger.[160] A 2011 clinical study found that comfort women are more prone to showing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even 60 years after the end of the war.[161]


The last surviving victims have become public figures in Korea, where they are referred to as "halmoni", the affectionate term for "grandmother". There is a nursing home, called House of Sharing, for former comfort women in South Korea. China remains more at the testimony collection stage, particularly through the China "Comfort Women" Issue Research Center at Shanghai Normal University,[162] sometimes in collaboration with Korean researchers.[163] For other nations, the research and the interaction with victims is less advanced.

Memorials and organizations


On December 1, 2015, the first memorial hall dedicated to Chinese comfort women was opened in Nanjing. It was built on the site of a former comfort station run by invading Japanese troops during World War II.[164] The memorial hall stands next to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial nearby.

In June 2016, "Research Center for Chinese Comfort Women" was established at Shanghai Normal University.[165] It is a museum that exhibits photographs and various items related to comfort women in China.


Wednesday demonstrations

Every Wednesday, living comfort women, women’s organizations, socio-civic groups, religious groups, and a number of individuals participate in the Wednesday Demonstrations in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, sponsored by “The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWDMSS)”. It was first held on January 8, 1992, when Japan’s Prime Minister, Miyazawa, visited the Republic of Korea. In December 2011, a statue of a young woman was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy to honor the comfort women on the 1,000th Wednesday Demonstration. The Japanese government has repeatedly asked the South Korean government to have the statue taken down, but it has not been. On 28 December 2015, the Korean and Japanese governments agreed that the statue will be removed. As of 3 September 2016, the statue was still in place due to a majority of the South Korean population being opposed to the agreement. At the end of 2016, the statue was removed from the original location in Seoul, and re-erected in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, South Korea. As of 6 January 2017, the Japanese government is attempting to negotiate the removal of the statue. On May 11, 2017, newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced the agreement would not be enacted in its current stage and that negotiations for a deal between Japan and South Korea over the comfort women dispute had to start over.[166]

House of Sharing

The House of Sharing is a nursing home for living comfort women. The House of Sharing was founded in June 1992 through funds raised by Buddhist organizations and various socio-civic groups and it moved to Gyunggi-do, South Korea in 1998. The House of Sharing includes “The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military” to spread the truth about the Japanese military’s brutal abuse of comfort women and to educate descendants and the public.[167]

Archives by comfort women

Some of the survivors, Kang Duk-kyung, Kim Soon-duk and Lee Yong-Nyeo, preserved their personal history through their drawings as a visual archive Also, the director of the Center for Asian American Media, Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, made a comfort women video archive, a documentary film for K-12 through college level students. Feminist visual and video archives have promoted a place for solidarity between the victims and the public. It has served as a living site for the teaching and learning of women’s dignity and human rights by bringing people together despite age, gender, borders, nationality, and ideologies.[168]


In the Philippines, comfort women formed different groups, similar to the Korean survivors they are called "Lolas" (grandmothers). One group named "Lila Pilipina" (League of Filipino Women), which started in 1992 and is member of GABRIELA, a feminist organization,[169] together with the "Malaya Lolas" (Free grandmothers) ask for a formal apology from the Japanese government, compensation, and the inclusion of the issue in the Japanese history textbooks. These groups also ask the Philippine government to back their claims against the Japanese government.[170][171] These groups have taken legal actions against Japan,[172] then against their own government to back their claims and, as of August 2014, planned to take the case the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Children (CEDAW).[173]

These groups have made demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Manila in many occasions,[170][174] have given testimonies to Japanese tourists in Manila.[169]

Similar to the Korean grandmothers, Filipino "Lolas" have their own Grandmother house with a collection of their testimonies. Also two of them have published two autobiographic books: "Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny" by Rosa Henson and "The Hidden Battle of Leyte: The Picture Diary of a Girl Taken by the Japanese Military" by Remedios Felias. This second book was written in the 1990s, after Lila Filipina was formed.

In Bulacan, a villa house Bahay na Pula was seized by Japanese soldiers during WWII and it was used as comfort station where Filipino women were raped and held as comfort women.[175] Today, the empty house is still standing as a memorial for the forgotten Filipino comfort women.


The Ama Museum in Taipei dedicated to Taiwanese comfort women.

Since the 1990s, Taiwanese survivors have been bringing to light the comfort woman issue in Taiwanese society, and gaining support from women's rights activists and civil groups. Their testimony and memories have been documented by newspapers, books, and documentary films.

Survivors' claims against the Japan government have been backed by the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation (TWRF) a non-profit organization helping women against violence, and sexual violence. This organization gives legal and psychological support to Taiwanese comfort women, and also helps in the recording of testimony and doing scholarly research. In 2007, this organization was responsible for promoting awareness in society, by creating meetings in universities and high schools where survivors gave their testimonies to students and the general public.[176] TWRF has produced exhibitions that give survivors the opportunity to be heard in Taipei, and also in the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, based in Tokyo.[177][178]

Thanks to this increasing awareness in society, and with the help of TWRF, Taiwanese comfort women have gained the support their government, which on many occasions has asked the Japanese government for apologies and compensation.[179][180]

In November 2014, "Song of the Reed", a documentary film directed by Wu Hsiu-ching and produced by TWRF, won the International Gold Panda documentary award.[181]

United States

In 2010, the first American monument dedicated to the comfort women was established in Palisades Park, New Jersey.[182]

In 2013, a "comfort women" memorial statue was established in Glendale, California.[155] The statue has been subject to multiple legal attempts to remove it.[183] A federal judge dismissed a 2014 lawsuit for the statue's removal.[184][185][186]

On August 16, 2014, a new memorial statue honoring the comfort women was unveiled in Southfield, Michigan.[187]

In 2015, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to erect a memorial for the ‘comfort women’ of World War II.[188][189][190] The memorial itself would stand as a reminder that the event did in fact happen, despite repeated denials by the Japanese government, and it would be a reminder never to let another atrocity like it happen again. However some Japanese members of the community showed concerns over the memorial, believing that it would promote hatred and anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the community.[191] One of these critics was Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, a large city in Japan. Hashimoto claims in his letter written to the Board of Supervisors that the memorial should be “broadened to memorialize all the women who have been sexually assaulted and abused by soldiers of countries in the world”.[192] Japanese residents of the area have also shown concerns over the memorial as many believe that it projects hatred towards the Japanese and focuses solely on an event in committed by the Japanese during wartime instead of promoting awareness and future prevention.[191]

Several other similar memorials have sprang up in places like Fort Lee, New Jersey.[citation needed]

Notable former comfort women

A number of former comfort women had come forward and spoken out about their plight of being a comfort woman :-

See also



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  2. ^ The Asian Women's Fund. "Hall I: Japanese Military and Comfort Women". Digital Museum The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women's Fund. The Asian Women's Fund. Archived from the original on March 15, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2014. 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. 
  3. ^ Argibay, Carmen (2003). "Sexual Slavery and the Comfort Women of World War II". Berkeley Journal of International Law. 
  4. ^ Soh, C. Sarah (2009). The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. University of Chicago Press. p. 69. ISBN 0-226-76777-9. It referred to adult female (fu/bu) who provided sexual services to "comfort and entertain" (ian/wian) the warrior... 
  5. ^ Fujioka, Nobukatsu (1996). 污辱の近現代史: いま、克服のとき [Attainder of modern history] (in Japanese). Tokuma Shoten. p. 39. 慰安婦は戦地で外征軍を相手とする娼婦を指す用語(婉曲用語)だった。 (Ianfu was a euphemism for the prostitutes who served for the Japanese expeditionary forces outside Japan) 
  6. ^ a b Asian Women's Fund, pp. 10–11
  7. ^ Huang, Hua-Lun (2012). The Missing Girls and Women of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: A Sociological Study of Infanticide, Forced Prostitution, Political Imprisonment, "Ghost Brides," Runaways and Thrownaways. McFarland. p. 206. ISBN 0-7864-8834-4. Although Ianfu came from all regions or countries annexed or occupied by Japan before 1945, most of them were Chinese or Korean. Researchers at the Research Center of the Chinese Comfort Women Issue of Shanghai Normal University estimate that the total number of comfort women at 360,000 to 410,000. 
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United Nations
Japanese government
Netherlands government
  • Ministerie van Buitenlandse zaken (January 24, 1994). "Gedwongen prostitutie van Nederlandse vrouwen in voormalig Nederlands-Indië [Enforced prostitution of Dutch women in the former Dutch East Indies]". Handelingen Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal [Hansard Dutch Lower House] (in Dutch). 23607 (1). ISSN 0921-7371. Lay summaryNationaal Archief (Dutch National Archive) (March 27, 2007). 
U.S. government
Journal articles
News articles

Online sources

Further reading

  • Huang, Hua-lun, The Missing Girls and Women of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: A Sociological Study of Infanticide, Forced Prostitution, Political Imprisonment, "Ghost Brides," Runaways and Thrownaways, 1900-2000s, Farland, 2012, ISBN 0-7864-8834-4
  • Drinck, Barbara and Gross, Chung-noh. Forced Prostitution in Times of War and Peace, Kleine Verlag, 2007. ISBN 978-3-89370-436-1.
  • Henson, Maria Rosa "Comfort woman: Slave of destiny", Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism: 1996. ISBN 971-8686-11-8.
  • Keller, Nora Okja "Comfort Woman", London, Penguin: 1998. ISBN 0-14-026335-7.
  • Kim-Gibson, D. Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women, 1999. ISBN 0-931209-88-9.
  • Molasky, Michael S. American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa, Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-19194-7, ISBN 0-415-26044-2.
  • Tanaka, Yuki. Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the US Occupation, London, Routledge: 2002. ISBN 0-415-19401-6.
  • Schellstede, Sangmie Choi. Comfort Women Speak: Testimony by Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military, 2000. ISBN 0-8419-1413-3.
  • Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashii "Comfort Women: Beyond Litigious Feminism"

External links

Academic research

Japanese official statements

United States historical documents