BACKGROUND OF ‘COMFORT WOMEN’ ISSUE / Comfort station originated in govt-regulated ‘civilian prostitution’
Controversy over the so-called comfort women has been inflamed again. The U.S. House of Representatives has been deliberating a draft resolution calling for the Japanese government to apologize over the matter by spurning the practice as slavery and human trafficking. Why has such a biased view of the issue prevailed? The Yomiuri Shimbun carried in-depth reports on the issue Tuesday. The writers are Masanobu Takagi, Hiroaki Matsunaga and Emi Yamada of the political news department. Starting today, The Daily Yomiuri will carry the stories in three installments.
To discuss the comfort women issue, it is indispensable to understand the social background of the time when prostitution was authorized and regulated by the government in Japan. Prostitution was tacitly permitted in limited areas up until 1957, when the law to prevent prostitution was enforced.
Comfort women received remuneration in return for sexual services at so-called comfort stations for military officers and soldiers. According to an investigation report publicized by the government on Aug. 4, 1993, on the issue of comfort women recruited into sexual service for the Japanese military, there is a record mentioning the establishment of such a brothel in Shanghai around 1932, and additional similar facilities were established in other parts of China occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army.
Some of them were under the direct supervision of the military authorities, but many of the brothels catering to soldiers were privately operated.
Modern historian Ikuhiko Hata, a former professor at Nihon University, says the comfort women system should be defined as the “battleground version of civilian prostitution.”
Comfort women were not treated as “paramilitary personnel,” unlike jugun kangofu (military nurses) and jugun kisha (military correspondents). During the war, comfort women were not called “jugun ianfu” (prostitutes for troops). Use of such generic terminology spread after the war. The latter description is said to have been used by writer Kako Senda (1924-2000) in his book titled “Jugun Ianfu” published in 1973. Thereafter, the usage of jugun ianfu prevailed.
In addition to Japanese women, women from the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, both then under Japanese colonial rule, and China, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries invaded by the Imperial Japanese Army were recruited as comfort women.
Hata estimates that 40 percent of the wartime comfort women were Japanese, 30 percent Chinese and other nationalities and 20 percent Korean.
The total number of comfort women has yet to be determined exactly.
According to a report compiled by Radhika Coomaraswany of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1996, there were 200,000 comfort women from the Korean Peninsula alone. The figure in the report was based on information Coomaraswany had obtained in North Korea. But this report contained many factual errors, and its quoted sources lacked impartiality. Foreign Minister Taro Aso rejected the figure of 200,000 as “lacking objective evidence.”
The reasons cited for the need for comfort women and wartime brothels are as follows:
— To prevent military officers and soldiers from raping women and committing other sex crimes in occupied areas.
— To prevent venereal disease from spreading through troops who would otherwise contact local prostitutes who did not receive periodic medical checks.
— To prevent military secrets from being leaked by limiting the women who provided sexual services to officers and soldiers to recruited comfort women.
Such a system and the use of wartime brothels generally are not limited only to the Imperial Japanese military.
The U.S. troops that occupied Japan after the war used brothels provided by the Japanese side. There was a case in which U.S. military officials asked the Japanese authorities to provide women for sexual services. During the Vietnam War, brothels similar to those established for the former Japanese military were available to U.S. troops, a U.S. woman journalist has pointed out.
Hata said: “There were wartime brothels also for the German troops during World War II. Some women were forced into sexual slavery. South Korean troops had brothels during the Korean War, according to a finding by a South Korean researcher.”
(Mar. 31, 2007)