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Comfort women (Japanese: 慰安婦 ianfu) or military comfort women (Japanese: 従軍慰安婦 jūgun-ianfu), a euphemism for the up to 200,000 women who were forced to serve in the Japanese army's brothels during World War II. Historians and researchers into the subject have stated that the majority came from Korea, China and other occupied territories, recruited by force or deception to serve as "sex slaves."
Japan's justification for abducting Korean, Chinese, and Southeast Asians to serve as Comfort women in military Comfort Stations throughout the Japanese theater during World War II lay in the desire to meet their warriors every need to win in battle. During the 1930s, the Samurai-Shinto faction defeated the humanistic-spiritual faction in Japan, creating a militaristic society that led Japan into the catastrophic Pacific theater of World War II. Unfortunately, the deeds of the military faction leading up to and during World War II await believable repudiation by the current Japanese government.
Some Japanese historians, using the diaries and testimony of military officials as well as official documents from the United States and other countries, have argued that the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy directly or indirectly coerced, deceived, lured, and sometimes kidnapped young women throughout Japan’s Asian colonies and occupied territories. Evidence supporting accounts of abuse by the Japanese military—includes the kidnapping of women and girls for use in the brothels, testimony by witnesses, victims, and former Japanese soldiers. Much of the testimony from self-identified victims state that Japanese troops kidnapped and forced them into sexual slavery and historians have said evidence discovered in Japanese documents in 1992 show that Japanese military authorities had a direct role in working with contractors to forcibly procure women for the brothels.
Some historians, researchers, and politicians, mostly from Japan, have argued the evidence supporting sexual slavery within the Imperial Japanese military is weak or nonexistent. They deny that the Japanese military participating, either directly or indirectly, in recruiting or placing women in brothels frequented by Japanese military servicemen. Japanese historians and laypersons continue to contest the existence, size, and nature of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. The majority of researchers, politicians, and interested persons outside Japan believe the Japanese military culpable in the forcing of women into sexual slavery as "comfort women."
Lack of official documentation has made estimation of total numbers of comfort women difficult. Historians have arrived at various estimates by looking at surviving documentation which indicate the ratio of number of soldiers in a particular area to the number of women, as well as looking at replacement rates of the women. Historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, who conducted the first academic study on the topic that brought the issue into the open, estimated the number between 50,000 and 200,000. Historian Ikuhiko Hata estimates the number more likely between 10,000 and 20,000.
Most international media sources quote that the Japanese secured about 200,000 young women for Japanese 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."
Japanese and international historians dispute the numbers that originated from each country. Internationally, the media quotes that most Comfort women originated from Korea and China.However, according to Kanto Gakuin University professor Hirofumi Hayashi, the majority of the women were from Japan, Korea, and China.Chuo University professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi states there were about 2000 centers where as many as 200,000 Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Taiwanese, Burmese, Indonesian, Dutch and Australian women were interned.
Nihon University professor Ikuhiko Hata estimated the number of women working in the licensed pleasure quarter was fewer than 20,000. They were 40 percent Japanese, 20 percent Koreans, 10 percent Chinese, with "others" making up the remaining 30 percent. 200,000 might be an overestimation because the total number of government-regulated prostitutes was 170,000 in Japan during World War II. See Ikuhiko Hata. Ianfu to senjo no sei (Comfort women and the sex in the battlefield) (Shinchosha, ISBN 4106005654) (in Japanese)</ref> Others came from the Philippines, Taiwan, Dutch East Indies, and other Japanese-occupied countries and regions. Historian Ikuhiko Hata's study concludes that 40 percent of them came from Japan, 20 percent from Korea, 10 percent from China, and "others" making up the remaining 30 percent. According to Kanto Gakuin University professor Hirofumi Hayashi, the majority of the women came from Japan, Korea, and China.
Given the well-organized and open nature of prostitution in Japan, organized prostitution in the Japanese Armed Forces seemed natural. Japanese authorities hoped that providing easily accessible prostitutes for soldiers would improve their morale and, consequentially, the effectiveness of Japanese soldiers in combat. Also, by institutionalizing brothels and placing them under official scrutiny, the government hoped to control the spread of STDs. Military correspondence of Japanese Imperial Army gives evidence of a concern to prevent rape crimes by Japanese soldiers drove the creation and maintenance of comfort stations, with the aim of preventing a rise of hostility among people in occupied areas.
In the early stages of the war, Japanese authorities recruited prostitutes through conventional means. Middlemen advertised in newspapers circulating in Japan and the Japanese colonies of Korea, Taiwan, Manchukuo, and mainland China. Many of those who answered the advertisements already worked as prostitutes and offered their services voluntarily. In other cases, parents sold their daughters to the military due to economic hardship. Why the Japanese government ceased using those avenues remains unclear. In any event, the military turned to acquiring comfort women outside mainland Japan, especially from Korea and occupied China. The allegation has been levied that Japanese tricked or defrauded women to join military brothels. A United States Army Force Office report of interviews with 20 comfort women in Burma found the women induced by offers of money, providing them with an opportunity to pay off the family debts. On the basis of those false representations, many girls enlisted for overseas duty, rewarded with advance of a few hundred yen.
In urban areas, conventional advertising through middlemen accompanied the practice of kidnapping. Along the front lines, especially in the countryside where few middlemen ventured, the military often directly demanded that local leaders procure women for the brothels. That situation worsened as the war progressed. Under the strain of the war effort, the military fell desperately short of supplies to Japanese units. Japanese units made up the difference by demanding or looting supplies from the locals. When the locals, especially Chinese, resisted, Japanese soldiers carried out the "Three Alls Policy", which included indiscriminately kidnapping and raping local civilians.
Officers of the Japanese Imperial Army took ten Dutch women by force from prison camps in Java to become forced sex slaves in February 1944. Systematically beaten and raped day and night in so called "Comfort Station." As a victim of the incident, Jan Ruff-O'Hearn gave testimony to the United States House of Representatives:
"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 so-called “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."
Although returned to the prison camps within three months, Japanese authorities refused to punish the officers who abducted the Dutch women prisoners for comfort stations until the end of the war. After the end of the war, the Batavia War Criminal Court found 11 Japanese officers guilty, sentencing one to death. The court ruled the Army innocent of organizing the abduction, ruling that only the ones who raped violated the Army’s order to hire only voluntary women.
According to Unit 731 soldier Yasuji Kaneko "The women cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance." Reports cited that beatings and physical torture happened as common occurences.
In 1983, Seiji Yoshida published Watashino sensō hanzai - Chōsenjin Kyōsei Renkō (My War Crimes: The Impressment of Koreans), in which the author confesses to forcibly procuring women from Jeju Island in Korea under the direct order from the Japanese military. In 1991, Asahi Shimbun, one of the major newspapers of Japan, ran a series on comfort women for a year, often regarded as the trigger of the on-going controversy over comfort women in Japan. In that series, the Asahi Shimbun repeatedly published excerpts of his book. Yoshida's confessions have regarded as evidence of "forced comfort women," cited in the U.N. report by Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy as well.
But some people doubted Yoshida's "confession" because nobody other than him told of such crimes. When Prof. Ikuhiko Hata revisited the villages in South Korea where Yoshida claimed he had abducted many women, nobody confirmed Yoshida's confession, villagers giving accounts contradictory to his confession. When Hata questioned those contradictions to Yoshida, he admitted that he lied. Since then, nobody quotes Yoshida's book as evidence.
Initially the Japanese government denied any official connection to the wartime brothels. In June 1990, the Japanese government declared that private contractors ran all brothels. In 1990, the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery filed suit, demanding compensation. Several surviving comfort women also independently filed suit in the Tokyo District Court. The court rejected those suits on grounds such as statute of limitations, the immunity of the State at the time of the act concerned, and non-subjectivity of the individual of international law.
In 1992, the historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi discovered incriminating documents in the archives of Japan's Defense Agency implicating the military's direct involvement in running the brothels (by, for example, selecting the agents who recruited). When the Japanese media on January 12, 1993 published Yoshimi's findings, they caused a sensation and forced the government, represented by Chief Cabinet Secretary, Koichi Kato, to acknowledge some of the facts the same day. On January 17, Prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa presented formal apologies for the suffering of the victims during a trip to South Korea.
On August 4, 1993, Yohei Kono, the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government, issued a statement recognizing that "Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military of the day," that "The Japanese military was directly or indirectly involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of the women" and that the women "were recruited in many cases against their own will through coaxing and coercion." The Government of Japan "sincerely apologizes and (expresses its] remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable psychological wounds." In that statement, the Government of Japan expressed its "firm determination never to repeat the same mistake and that they would engrave such issue through the study and teaching of history".
In 1995, Japan set up an "Asia Women's Fund" for atonement in the form of material compensation and to provide each surviving comfort woman with a signed apology from the prime minister, 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."
Private citizens, businesses, and organizations donated to the fund, not the government, prompting the criticism that the government used that method as a way to deny government responsibility. Because of the unofficial nature of the fund, many comfort women have rejected those payments and continue to seek an official apology and compensation.
In 2007, Mike Honda of the United States House of Representatives proposed House Resolution 121 stating that Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner, refute any claims that the issue of comfort women never occurred, and educate current and future generations "about this horrible crime while following the recommendations of the international community with respect to the `comfort women'."
On March 2, 2007, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe raised the issue again, denying that the military had forced women into sexual slavery during World War II in an orchestrated way. He stated:
"The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion." Before he spoke, a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers also sought to revise Yohei Kono's 1993 apology to former comfort women. Abe's statement provoked a negative reaction from Asian and Western countries. The New York Times editorial said, "These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women."
A review of some of these books and a history and historiography of the issue, from a critical viewpoint, Monumenta Nipponica 58:2.
All links retrieved June 7, 2013.
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