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In November 1990, several Korean women’s organizations formed the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWS). In August 1991, Kim Hak-sun was the first Korean woman to testify that she had been forced to serve as a comfort woman. In February 1992, Yun Chung-ok petitioned the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate the military sexual slavery as a human rights violation. In August 1992, a coalition of organizations from South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan created an Asian network of people concerned with the plight of these women at the Asian Conference of Comfort Women Problem in Seoul.
For decades after the war, concerns for family honor kept the former comfort women silent. Japanese veterans of the war also did not want to admit that the military had forced women to provide them with sexual services.
In January 1992, Professor Yoshimi Yoshiaki of Chūō University found evidence that proved the complicity of the Japanese military in arranging for the system of “comfort stations”; his findings were published in the Asahi Newspaper in Japan. In light of the evidence, Prime Minister Miyazawa officially apologized to the Korean people on a state visit to Korea in January 1993. In August 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kōno Yōhei admitted the involvement of the military and police authorities, and the forced recruitment of comfort women, offering sincere apologies and expressing remorse on behalf of the government.
Historians and journalists have unearthed the story of the sexual enslavement of women in the Pacific War by examining declassified records, reading the memoirs and diaries of soldiers, and by interviewing the comfort women themselves. The researchers found some chronological inconsistencies and contradictions among the accounts of Korean and Filipina comfort women. Some conservatives have argued that the only evidence of forced recruitment comes from the testimonies of comfort women, not from government or military records.
The so-called comfort women provided sexual services to Japanese soldiers and army/naval civilian employees. The Japanese military controlled comfort stations, supervised the managers of these stations, or designated stations that were specifically for soldiers. The consulates and the military police also ran the military comfort stations, but during the Pacific War, the stations fell under the exclusive control of the military. The military set the comfort stations’ rules, fees, and schedules, and provided medical examinations to the women.
The first known comfort station was established by Okamura Yasuji, Vice Chief of Staff of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force in 1932, to prevent the rape of local women. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Japanese conquered Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanking, Wuhan and Canton. More than one million regular soldiers were eventually stationed in China. Following the fall of Nanking at the end of 1937, a large number of comfort stations were established over the million square kilometers of Chinese territory that Japan held.
The comfort stations were built everywhere except on the front lines. Once unit commanders decided to open a comfort station, paymasters took over the details, converting hotels, mansions, or other large buildings. Comfort stations that were attached to a military unit frequently traveled with soldiers.
Public records confirmed the existence of comfort stations in China, Hong Kong, French Indochina, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, British Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, Thailand, New Guinea, the Okinawa archipelago, the Bonin Islands, Hokkaido, the Kurile Islands, Sakhalin, Macao, and Borneo. In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, some Japanese civilians were permitted to avail themselves of the comfort stations. Some comfort stations served local members of the Japanese military auxiliary (Yoshimi 2000a:90-91).
The comfort stations were established in order to prevent soldiers from contracting venereal diseases from local prostitutes, to keep Japanese soldiers from raping women of the occupied territory, protect soldiers and officers from revealing military secrets through “pillow talk,” and to provide a sexual outlet for soldiers. In order to prevent the rape of Chinese women, the Area Army Chief of Staff of the North China Area Army ordered each of his units under his control to set up comfort stations. A Ministry of War notice of March 1938 urged the North China Area Army and the Central China Expeditionary Force to obtain comfort women in order to keep the trust and respect of the local people (Yoshimi 2000a: 42-59).
Soldiers convicted of rape were harshly punished by the military laws. According to the Army Penal Code of 1908, those who stole from civilians on the battlefields or in occupied lands face at least a year’s imprisonment. During the course of the robbery, if they also raped women, they would face between seven years and life in prison. If the soldiers killed them, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment or death. After 1942, those who raped women would face at least a year imprisonment, and if they raped and killed them, they would face at least seven years’ imprisonment (Kasahara 1999:120).
Few soldiers were actually prosecuted on rape charges. With the exception of rapes committed in the course of a robbery, general criminal laws were applied to rapes if the victim or their families made an accusation. However, most victims were too frightened of revenge to make such accusations. Many soldiers who committed rapes murdered their victims to keep them from going to the authorities (Yoshimi 2000a:45, 67).
There is still no way of knowing the actual number of comfort women or that of comfort stations. By September 1942, the Army Ministry established 400 comfort facilities for soldiers in China, the South as well as Sakhalin (Hayashi 2000:355). The 21st Army set the ratio of comfort women to soldiers was one to 100. On another occasion, the army tried to gather 20,000 comfort women for more than 800,000 soldiers participating in the “Special Maneuvers of the Kwuantung Army.” The surviving documents and testimonies of former soldiers and comfort women place the total of comfort women in the rage of 50,000 to 200,000, and the minimum number of comfort stations is at least more than one thousand (Yoshimi 2000a:29-30, 91).
No documents categorize comfort women on the basis of their ethnicity, but military records do show that they were Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipina, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Dutch, and Australian. Memoirs and testimonies mentioned Malays, Thais, Burmese, Indians, Chinese expatriates, and Eurasians. In China, most comfort women were Korean and Chinese, while in the Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the majority were local women. One military physician claimed to have examined about one hundred comfort women, 80 Koreans and 20 Japanese for sexually transmitted diseases in Shanghai in 1938. It seems that the largest numbers of comfort women were, in descending order, Korean, Chinese, South Asian, and Japanese (Yoshimi 2000a:29-30, 53).
In order to collect comfort women from Japan, Korea and Taiwan, the Japanese military appointed civilian traders or asked army units in Japan, the Taiwan or Korean Army to choose an agent. In the occupied areas, the military staff in cooperation with military police and the local police, asked village heads to recruit comfort women. In some cases, the women’s consent was neither sought nor needed. Most comfort women claimed that they had been tricked or abducted.
According to their testimony, many comfort women were in their late teens and early twenties. Japanese comfort women were supposed to be 21 years old or older because Japan signed and ratified the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children. But Article 14 of the Convention allowed signatories to ignore their requirements in their “colonies, overseas possessions, protectorates or territories under its sovereignty or authority.” Therefore, Japan did not apply the Convention to Korea, Taiwan and Kwantung.
Japanese comfort women were frequently reserved for high-ranking officers. For enlisted men, most comfort women were Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian, or Pacific islander. Enlisted men could use comfort stations during the day, non-commissioned officers and staff during the evenings, and officers at night. For example, according to the “Regulations for the Use of the Soldiers’ Club” for the 13th Independent Infantry Brigade Chuzan Garrison, stationed in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, enlisted men could use the comfort station from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm, noncommissioned officers from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and officers could use it from 8:30 pm until morning. However, in many other places, comfort stations were reserved for officers and/or unit commanders.
Comfort women earned relatively large sums of money. According to the rule of comfort stations for personnel from the 2nd Independent Heavy Siege Artillery Battalion stationed in Changchow in 1938, the soldiers paid 2 yen for Japanese comfort women, 1 yen and 50 sen for Korean comfort women and 1 yen for Chinese comfort women (Yoshimi 2000a:136-138). In Shanghai and Nanking, rank-and-file soldiers whose monthly salaries were 8 yen and 80 sento could go to the comfort station once a month because it cost 2 yen for a Japanese comfort woman, 1 yen and 50 sento for a Korean comfort woman and 1 yen for a Chinese comfort woman (Kasahara 2000:201-213). According to the “Regulations for the Management of Comfort Facilities and Inns” (1943) issued by the Malay Army Administrative Inspector, comfort women received 40 to 60 percent of the fees soldiers paid, after paying 3 percent for savings. Over two thirds of the money they received was used for the repayment of their cash advances for their loans (Yoshimi 2000a:142).
In December 1944, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese comfort women in Hainan Island in China received an average of 250 yen in wages (nurses earned 90 yen) (Yamada 1995:209). In Burma, comfort women were paid in military coupons which became worthless at the end of war. One Korean former comfort woman, Mun Ok-chu, working in Burma, saved 26,145 yen for two years and seven months, 843 yen a month, and sent 5,000 yen back to her parents, though she was not able to withdraw money when military currency lost its value in 1945 (Yoshimi 2000a:143-144).
After the war, most comfort women were sent home, though some were left stranded and unable to return their own countries. Afterwards, many former comfort women suffered from disease, injuries, psychological trauma and social exclusion. Few were considered “respectable” enough to marry.
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After the end of Japan’s isolationist policy in 1854, thousands of Japanese moved abroad in search of work. Many Karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes overseas) and prostitutes living in Japan had been sold into prostitution by their poverty-stricken families. Many women from Kyūshū area, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures went abroad as Karayuki-san; women from Tōhoku area went to Tokyo, and women from the west part of Japan went to Osaka, Kyoto and Kōbe. In the 1910s, Karayuki-san lived in China, the United States, Russia, and Southeast Asian countries, as well as in Taiwan, Korea and Sakhalin. However, new Karayuki-san could not emigrate to the U.S. after the 1908 Japan-U.S. Gentleman’s Agreement, where no one without a sponsor in the U.S. could receive a travel permit. After 1921 when the League of Nations passed the “International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children,” many Karayuki-san in Southeast Asian countries were forced to come back to Japan (Yamasaki 1972, 1999; Kim 1997:315; Kurahashi 1994).
In Japan, licensed prostitution started in 1617, and by 1720, Japan had 25 brothel towns with licensed prostitutes. Through several ordinances in the 1870s, prostitutes were able to form contracts with brothel owners. Many prostitutes worked off the debt as a prostitute, with the agreement of their fathers mostly because of poverty. According to the 1900 Rule to Control Prostitutes, licensed prostitutes had to be at least 18 years old. The government registered, taxed, and licensed prostitutes; it also checked them for venereal disease (Hayakawa 1995:187-190).
The earliest records, dated 1932, indicate that Japanese comfort women were sent from Nagasaki and Fukuoka to Shanghai. According to a notice from the Police Bureau in 1938, Japanese comfort women headed for China had to be currently working as prostitutes, be over the age of twenty-one and be free from sexually transmitted and other infectious disease. Most Japanese comfort women seem to have been former prostitutes. Many were usually assigned to high-ranked officials, rather than enlisted men, and earned high salaries. Their fathers might have received advances of several thousand yen from brokers, but the debts were usually repaid quickly. The comfort women received 40 percent of their earning until the debt was discharged and 50 percent from managers of the comfort stations. Many saved a large amount of money, though the military money became worthless after the war (Yoshimi 2000a:43; Yoshimi 2000b:68-69). Some girls were told that they were going to work as housekeepers or military nurses before they realized that they were going to the comfort facilities.
In August 1944, single Korean women between the ages of 12 and 40 were recruited to work in factories under the Women’s Volunteer Labor Service Corps Order. The recruitment for this voluntary corps confused Koreans because of the rumor that they were made to be comfort women. Many Koreans still believe that comfort women were recruited from the voluntary corps first. There might have been Korean comfort women who were deceived into working in factory as voluntary labor service corps, but comfort women were not part of the voluntary labor service corps.
Korean comfort women were usually recruited by Japanese or Korean dealers or sub-contractors who were working for the Japanese military. If the women agreed to be comfort women, brokers would pay the money in advance to their families. Due to the prevailing rural poverty, especially after the 1911-18 Land Survey Project, many women from poor families turned to prostitution. In 1916 licensed prostitution was introduced in Korea. After the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), brothels and entertainment businesses were closed or transformed by law. Many prostitutes then became comfort women.
Furthermore, many women were deceived by dealers, and believed that they would work in factories or as housekeepers. According to their testimonies, most Korean comfort women came from poor families. Those who were cheated and/or forced to be comfort women are more likely to seek an apology and compensation more often than are those who became comfort women voluntarily.
The Governor-General in Taiwan entrusted each provincial administration with the recruitment of comfort women. After 1942, the military police of the Taiwanese corps was in charge of selecting brokers to recruit comfort women. Most of the comfort women were prostitutes and professional entertainers. They also included Japanese and Koreans living in Taiwan. According to the emigration certificates issued by Governor of each province from December 1938 to January 1940, 1,013 Japanese, 623 Koreans and 269 Taiwanese worked as comfort women and comfort station owners (Komagome 2000:147-148; Nishino et al. 1995:42).
In 1992, the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation and the Taiwanese government started to investigate the claims of former comfort women. The Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation published the 1993 “Report on the Survey of Comfort Women in Taiwan,” through interviewing 48 former comfort women, including three recruited in China and one Korean woman. Twenty-eight of them were recruited in 1942 and 1943. Fourteen were sent as comfort women to Hainan, five to Guangdong, twelve to Indonesia, eight to the Philippines, eight to Burma, and the remaining four to Singapore. The dealers lied, telling that they would work at restaurants or bars, as nurses, and as housekeepers. Three of the women knew ahead of time that they were going to be comfort women. Half of them were recruited when they were between 16 and 20 years of age. Many came from poor families, and 19 out of 32 were illiterate. Seven of them admitted that they were prostitutes. Dealers targeted poor women who worked as prostitutes or in insecure jobs (Nishino et al. 1995:41-44; Shiba 2000:188-189).
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In order to protect local women from rapes after the fall of Nanking in December 1937, comfort stations were made available for Japanese soldiers, and rapes, when prosecuted, were severely punished in the military courts. By the end of 1938, the North China Area Army occupied major cities and railways of China, and started to defend these occupied areas against the forces of the Nationalists, Chinese guerrillas and the Communist Eighth Route Army. At the beginning of Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Japanese military planned to use Japanese prostitutes as comfort women; however, because of high demands, it solicited young Korean and local Chinese women.
In 1941, North China was divided into well-controlled pacified, semi-pacified, and un-pacified areas. Where comfort stations were open, the military punished soldiers who were convicted of rape. Local authorities were asked to establish and manage comfort stations. In Tianjin, the Japanese directed the local government to recruit comfort women through brokers (AS March 30, 1999). Japanese comfort women were usually served for officers in cities and large military stations, while smaller and branch military stations had more Korean and Chinese comfort women. When a corps was transferred, Korean comfort women followed them. At smaller units such as garrisons, there were mostly Chinese comfort women. They were provided by local authorities for the safety of villages or were rounded up by the soldiers. In the front lines, rapes were prevalent because there were few comfort women (Nishino et al. 1995:81-89; Yoshimi 2000a:119-122).
In South East Asia, the Japanese recruited comfort women from the vicinity, in addition to importing Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese comfort women. They recruited them through former Karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes overseas), newspaper advertisements, and local organizations, in addition to deception and abduction. In the relatively safe areas such as Singapore, the military ran the comfort stations. On the other hand, in dangerous areas like the Philippines, Japanese soldiers often kidnapped women when fighting the guerrillas (Hayashi 2000:364-366).
The Japanese occupied the Philippines in May 1942, and allowed the Filipino puppet regime to administer the Philippines in October 1943. However, many Filipinos opposed the occupation and joined the more than 100 anti-Japanese guerilla units (Ienaga 1978:172). Many rapes of natives by Japanese soldiers occurred in the battlefields, especially in the guerrilla-controlled areas. The Japanese established more comfort stations in order to reduce both the incidence of rape and the transmission of disease. Some comfort women were enlisted through the intervention of prominent members of the community; others were carried off by the Japanese.
Almost all of the 51 “comfort” women interviewed by the Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women were abducted from home, work or on the street. Seven had been kidnapped during the guerilla operations. They were taken to a nearby garrison, where they were raped repeatedly for at least a month. It was common for about ten teenage women to be held captive by an army unit. It is believed that this practice was kept from the regional headquarters.
In addition, there were comfort stations. At the beginning of 1943, Manila had 17 comfort stations with 1,064 comfort women for the rank-and-file soldiers and four comfort clubs for officers with 120 comfort women (Tanaka 2002:47-49). Few Filipinas who worked in comfort stations managed by dealers and supervised by the Japanese military admitted to have been former comfort women, probably because many of them had been recruited and paid well.
In Indonesia, there were hundreds of comfort stations where many local women also worked alongside Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese women. According to a military doctor in Indonesia, he proposed a comfort station to prevent rapes and venereal diseases, and asked village heads to send women (Hayashi et al. 1995:99-100). Indonesian comfort women served not only in Indonesia but also in other islands, Burma and the Philippines. More than 22,000 came to claim as comfort women when the local newspaper started the registration of former comfort women for the 2-million yen compensation from Japan in 1993. The number of 22,000 comfort women is exaggeratedly high, because only 20,000 Japanese military personnel and civilians lived in Java during the war (Katō 2002:206-207).
In 1948, a Dutch military court, the Batavia Trial for Classes B and C war criminals in Indonesia, found that Japanese personnel had forced 25 out of 35 Dutch women to be comfort women. These comfort stations were operated for two months in 1944 until the Japanese headquarters in Jakarta ordered them closed. The Trial sentenced the official who established the comfort station to death penalty and six other officers and four comfort station operators to two to 20 years’ imprisonment for the recruitment of women for forced prostitution, the enforcement of prostitution, rapes and the mistreatment of detainees (Yoshimi 2000a:171-176). The Dutch military court did not prosecute anyone for forced prostitution of Asian women.
In Malay, comfort women were recruited through newspaper advertisements, former Karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes overseas), local managers, and abduction. Karayuki-san used their networks to find comfort women from the local population. By August 1942, 150 comfort women were working in seven comfort facilities. These women included local Malay Chinese, Koreans, Thais, Javanese, and Indians (Hayashi et al. 1995:99-101).
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The Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) was established in July 1995 to honor and compensate former comfort women. The Prime Minister of Japan wrote a letter of apology, private citizens donated atonement money, and the Japanese government offered medical and social welfare support. On August 15, 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war, the AWF asked Japanese people to make contributions to the AWF. On August 14, 1996, Prime Minister Hashimoto issued a letter of apology to former comfort women and the AWF started to compensate former comfort women.
Former comfort women and their supporters are split over AWF assistance. Takagi Kenichi, a lawyer for the comfort women argues that the AWF fund qualify as “formal” compensation because comfort women have received compensation money, medical and social assistance, and a letter of apology from the Japanese Prime Minister (Takagi 2001:38). However, many Korean and Taiwanese comfort women oppose the AWF and seek for a formal apology and compensation directly from the Japanese government.
The Japanese government argues that the matter of reparations for the Allied countries was already settled through under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty as well as bilateral treaties. The Japanese government has apologized for the suffering of comfort women in the Prime Minister’s letter. The Japanese government has paid the operational costs of the AWF, assisting in its fund-raising, and supplying funds for its activities. By the end of the fiscal year of 2001, the government spent 3.8 billion yen. As of May 2002, the AWF has raised more than 590 million yen in private donations from individuals, groups, labor unions, political parties, and politicians (AS May 1, 2002).
The AWF provided 2 million yen per person for 285 recipients in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines (AS January 25, 2005). The majority of recipients are Filipinas. In South Korea and Taiwan, many former comfort women as well as the Korean and Taiwanese governments did not support the AWF because the critics claimed that the Japanese government was trying to avoid making public compensation by funneling money through the AWF. Therefore, former Korean and Taiwanese comfort women who rejected AWF assistance received compensation and support money from their national governments. In Indonesia, the AWF offered 380 million yen for a ten-year project from 1997 to 2007 in order to build retirement facilities at the suggestion of the Indonesian government. In the Netherlands, in 1998, the AWF began to provide 79 recipients with 241.5 million yen for medical and social welfare support until 2001, when the project was completed (Ministry 2003). The AWF will be dissolved in March 2007.
No Japanese comfort women have requested the courts or the AWF for compensation. In 1958, the Law of the Prohibition of the Prostitution cost 47,000 licensed prostitutes their jobs. Half of them went back to their hometown, 18 percent found other employment, and 11 percent got married (Yoshimi 1992:217-228).
Since January 1992, Korean comfort women together with the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWS) have demonstrated in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, demanding a formal apology, compensation and justice at noon every Wednesday. By 1998, seven former Korean comfort women share a house near Seoul.
In August 1993, Korean President Kim Young Sam’s government decided not to seek compensation for former comfort women and started to provide them with 5 million won (about 740,000 yen), and 150,000 won a month (raised to 500,000 won in 1996) and an apartment. When the AWF started to provide compensation and support money, Korean support groups joined forces to collect donations for former comfort women. After they completed their donation project in May 1997, they provided 3.5 million won (about 470,000 yen) to each of Korean comfort women.
In January 1997, seven Korean comfort women received compensation money and a year of medical welfare support, totaling 4.28 million yen each from the AWF. The acceptance of these funds created a backlash against the AWF. Thereafter, the AWF stopped providing compensation and supports in Korea. In May 1998, President Kim Dae-jung’s government started to provide 136 former comfort women with 31.5 million won, in addition to 3 million won from private donations, in the exchange for their promise not to seek funds from the AWF. The women who accepted the AWF assistance, as well as 20 to 30 former Korean comfort women who are suspected of receiving the AWF aids are ineligible (Hata 1999).
In 1992, researchers went to North Korea to investigate the accounts of comfort women, and obtained testimonies from four. By June 1993, a survey of 131 former comfort women and their surviving families revealed that 67 had been abducted and 44 deceived into becoming comfort women (Suzuki 1993:122-143). In July 1995, the North Korean government told representatives of Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that North Korea opposed the AWF and hoped that the Japanese government would apologize and directly compensate former comfort women.
In Taiwan, the Women’s Rescue Foundation, along with the majority of former Taiwanese comfort women refused to cooperate with the AWF because they insisted upon being compensated by the Japanese government, not by an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). So far, the AWF has provided compensation and medical and social welfare assistance for only eight former comfort women from Taiwanese aborigines. In 1997, the Women’s Rescue Foundation sponsored an antique auction, and provided 500,000 gen (about 2 million yen) for each comfort woman from the proceeds (Shiba 2000:189). In November 1997, the Taiwanese government, supporting the refusal of the Women’s Rescue Foundation and former comfort women provided 2 million yen (500,000 gen) more to each of the 42 victims, in addition to 60,000 yen (15,000 gen) per month for their living expenses (Hata 1999:310).
In the Philippines, the Asian Women Human Rights Council (AWHRC) in Manila participated in the 1992 Conference concerning the slave trade of Asian women in Seoul, where Korean women brought up the issue of comfort women and called for a protest against the Japanese government. The Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women, a local NGO, was founded, and requested the Philippine government to investigate. A radio appeal was broadcast, urging comfort women to come forward. Maria Rosa Henson as the first to answer the call, and others followed (Matsui 1995:19-20). These former comfort women had not conceal their past from their families beforehand; as Catholics, they had forgiven the Japanese soldiers.
The Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women, which changed its name to Lila-Filipina in 1994 shares responsibility for overseeing matters pertaining to comfort women matters. The Lila-Filipina, although opposed to the AWF, cooperated with the Philippines government to identify former comfort women for the AWF. Since 1996, the AWF has provided 2 million yen in compensation and 1.2 million yen for medical and welfare aid for Filipina comfort women. Many of these women accepted the compensation from the AWF.
When the Indonesian organization began looking for former comfort women to be compensated by the AWF, it found more than 22,000 women, including the victims of rapes, and wives of Japanese soldiers, who had registered as comfort women. However, there were only 20,000 Japanese people living in Java during the war (Katō 2002:207). In March 1997, the AWF initiated the “Promotion of Social Welfare Services for Elderly People in Indonesia” with 380 million yen for ten years from the Japanese government. In the project, the facilities for the elderly will be annexed to the public retirement homes. Former comfort women have the first priority to enter these facilities. So far 152 people live in these 16 facilities for the elderly (Ministry 2003).
According to a 1994 survey of the Dutch government, at least 65 out of 200 to 300 white women working in comfort stations were there involuntarily (Hayashi et al. 1995:117). The Dutch government insisted that the war compensation had already been finalized. Therefore, in July 1998, the AWF appointed the Project Implementation Committee to provide medical and social welfare services for victims of physical and psychological injury, funded by the Japanese government in the amount of 241.5 million yen for three years (Ministry 2003).
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The U.N. Human Rights Committee, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have offered advice to the Japanese government after women’s and humanitarian organizations presented the use of comfort women as a violation of human rights. The reports of the Human Rights Committee, the ICJ and the ILO encouraged the Japanese government to offer an apology and compensation to former comfort women. None of these organizations regarded the AWF and the acceptance of moral responsibility by the Japanese government as an acceptable substitute for these demands.
In February 1992, Yun Chung-ok of the KCWS (Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan) petitioned to the U.N. Human Rights Commission to investigate the claims of comfort women. Yun claimed that the Japanese government should admit that the sexual exploitation of comfort women was a violation of their basic human rights, make a formal apology, compensate each individual comfort woman, cooperate in the investigation, construct memorials, mention comfort women in school textbooks, and punish the people responsible.
The comfort women were discussed at the U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and by the U.N. Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The Japanese government argued that the 1965 Japan-South Korea Treaty had settled all claims and that Japan did not have a legal obligation to compensate individual victims. In August 1993, the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a resolution that appointed a Special Rapporteur to investigate systematic rape, sexual slavery, and enslavement during wartime.
Former comfort women told their stories at the international conferences. In December 1992, comfort women from six countries testified before a panel including Theo van Boven, Special Rapporteur for the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, at the International Public Hearing Concerning Post War Compensation by Japan. In March 1994, the Asian Tribunal on Women’s Human Rights in Tokyo, organized by the Asian Women Human Rights Council and the Women’s Human Rights Committee of Japan recognized the use of comfort women as a violation of human rights.
In 1993, comfort women were discussed by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which sent investigators to the Philippines, South Korea, North Korea, and Japan, where they interviewed about 40 victims and three soldiers. The investigators also spoke with government representatives, NGOs, lawyers, scholars and journalists. In its report of November 1994, the ICJ recommended that the Japanese government pay each comfort woman $40,000 because the Japanese government had committed war crimes against them (Dolgopol and Paranjape 1994).
In 1995, Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy opened an investigation into the military use of sexual slaves. In February 1996, she submitted her Report (U.N. Commission 1996) to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which accepted it with “take-note” status. In her report, the comfort women system was recognized as a system of military sexual slavery and as a “crime against humanity.” This problem had not yet been solved by the existing treaties; therefore, the Japanese government had legal responsibility for rectifying this violation of the international laws. The Japanese government should punish those responsible, compensate the victims, open all records, issue a formal written apology, and mention the comfort women in school history curricula.
These recommendations are consistent with the requests of comfort women, support groups and the 1994 ICJ report, and dispute the position of the Japanese government, which has rejected her recommendations. The Japanese government insists that the government does not have legal responsibility but that it would like to support former comfort women through the Asian Women’s Fund.
The Federation of Korean Trade Union (FKTU) filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO) that the Japanese government used comfort women as forced labor and thereby violated the convention against forced labor. In response, the ILO warned the Japanese government in 1996 and 1997 that the comfort women system was a use of forced labor, prohibited by the 1930 Convention Concerning Forced Labor and that the Japanese government should settle this problem. In 1999 and 2001, the ILO advised the Japanese government to compensate individual comfort women directly, as they wished.
In June 1998, Special Rapporteur Gay J. McDougall of the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities submitted the final report. She referred to comfort stations as “rape centers,” and regarded the comfort woman system as “the rape and enslavement of over 200,000 women and girls who were brutalized in ‘comfort stations’ during the Second World War” (U.N. Commission 1998). She urged the Japanese government to accept the legal responsibility for paying compensation to comfort women.
The Violence Against Women in the War- Network (VAWW-NET, Japan), the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWS), and the Asian Center for Women’s Human Rights in the Philippines organized the Women’s International War Crime Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery and Public Hearing on Current War Crimes, which was held December 8-12, 2000 in Tokyo. The Tribunal acted as a moot court to assign responsibility for comfort women system under international laws. Sixty-four former comfort women from South Korea, North Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Indonesia and East Timor testified before the Tribunal.
The prosecutors accused Emperor Hirohito, Tōjō Hideki and nine other high-ranking Japanese military and political officials of crimes against humanity because they approved, condoned and failed “to prevent the rape and sexual slavery of women of the countries of the Asia-Pacific subjugated by the Japanese military during World War II” (Summary of Findings). Prosecutors argued that as Supreme Commander, Emperor Hirohito had the authority and responsibility to stop the sexual violence but he did not. They also prosecuted the men who set up the comfort system, not the enlisted men who took advantage of that system. The Japanese government did not send a representative to act as the defendant. Therefore, Japanese attorneys acting as amicus curiae presented the defense.
On the final day, Chief Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald of the U.S., former President of the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal, and three other judges gave a Summary of Findings, which accepted the prosecution’s argument. The Tribunal condemned the system of comfort women as “sexual slavery,” which was illegal under the 1907 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children, the 1930 ILO Convention Concerning Forced Labor Convention.
The Tribunal found that “the Prosecution has proved its case against the accused Emperor Hirohito, and finds him guilty of responsibility for rape and sexual slavery as a crime against humanity under Counts 1-2 of the Common Indictment, and guilty of rape as a crime against humanity under Count 3 of the Common Indictment” and that “the government of Japan has incurred state responsibility, as recognized under Article 4 of the Charter, for its establishment and maintenance of the comfort system.” In addition, the Tribunal ruled that the Japanese government should admit legal responsibility, apologize to and compensate the victims directly, not through the AWF, which is “vehemently rejected by most of the survivors who testified.” The Tribunal found that all of the other defendants guilty in December 2001. Furthermore, the Tribunal suggested that the Japanese government should provide appropriate information, conduct surveys of the system of military sexual slavery, build a museum, library and monuments, include a discussion of comfort women in the textbooks and establish the equality of sexes (McDonald et al. 2000).
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By 2003, there were eight lawsuits before Japanese courts for the compensation of comfort women and one lawsuit in the United States. The plaintiffs before the Japanese courts request compensation and a formal apology from the Japanese government. However, all courts except for the Shimonoseki branch court of the Yamaguchi District Court, dismissed their requests because of state immunity and because the right of individuals to request compensation was not recognized either in the international laws or the international custom laws.
In December 1991, three former Korean comfort women (later nine) along with 41 Korean soldiers and army civilian employees sued the Japanese government for 20 million yen apiece in compensation, make a formal apology for the violation of their human rights, revise Japanese school textbooks to include mention of comfort women, and build a memorial museum. The Tokyo District Court dismissed the case in March 2001.
In December 1992, two former comfort women and two former members of women’s voluntary labor service corps (later ten plaintiffs) sued the Japanese government for a formal apology, to be made in the Diet and before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and a total of 286 million yen (110 million yen for each comfort woman and 33 million yen for each member of the women’s voluntary labor service corps) for compensation in the Shimonoseki Branch of the Yamaguchi District Court. In April 1998, the court ordered the Japanese government to pay 300,000 yen to the three former comfort women, but not to the seven members of the voluntary labor service corps. The first judgment emphasized the legal responsibility of the Japanese government to make a law for the compensation for comfort women because Chief Cabinet Secretary Kōno Yōhei’s 1993 statement admitted the forced recruitment of comfort women and the interference of the government. Therefore, the judge ordered the Japanese government to compensate 300,000 yen for comfort women because of its failure to enact a compensation law for them. Moreover, this was the first judgment to recognize plaintiffs’ requests in postwar compensation suits.
However, in January 2001, the Hiroshima High Court reversed the judgment of the Shimonoseki Branch of the Yamaguchi District Court, and dismissed the requests of the plaintiffs, saying that postwar compensation was the responsibility of the legislature. In March 2003, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of plaintiffs, and the verdict by the Hiroshima High Court was upheld.
In April 1993, eighteen Filipino comfort women (later 46) sued the Japanese government for compensation money, and 20 million yen each in the Tokyo District Court. All plaintiffs claimed that they were abducted, raped and confined by the Japanese soldiers for periods ranging from several months to two years. The plaintiffs argued that rape violated Article 46 of the 1907 Hague Convention and that Japan owed them compensation. In October 1998, the Tokyo District Court dismissed the suit, citing state immunity, the lack of international custom laws that recognized the request rights of individual victims for compensation against the country, and prescription. In December 2000, the Tokyo High Court also dismissed the case.
In April 1993, a Korean comfort woman living in Japan, Song Shin-do, sued the Japanese government in the Tokyo District Court, requesting that the Japanese government should recognize that it forced her to be a comfort woman for seven years. She argued that what the Japanese government had done to her violated ILO Convention No. 29, and the national laws and that the Japanese government should apologize to her in a formal letter under the name of Prime Minister and compensate her. In October 1999, the Tokyo District Court dismissed the case, judging that the plaintiff did not have the right to request compensation against a country, that the country did not have responsibility to compensate her damages, and that the statute of limitations for Koreans living in Japan to claim compensation for war damages had ended in 1985 according to the terms of the 1965 Japan-South Korea Agreement. In November 2000, the Tokyo High Court also dismissed her case, though it acknowledged her sufferings.
In January 1994, one Dutch comfort woman and other seven Dutch POWs and civilian internment camp inmates filed a suit against the Japanese government in the Tokyo District Court and requested $22,000 per person for compensation. In November 1998, the Court dismissed the suit, rejecting their request for the compensation because there was no international law to guarantee the individual claims, though the court acknowledged that they had been abused. In October 2001, the Tokyo High Court also dismissed the case, which was brought to the Supreme Court.
In March 1995, the Chinese government said that the 1972 China-Japan Joint Communiqué renounced its rights to request war reparation and that it would not prevent individuals from requesting private compensation (Hata 1999:312). In August 1995, four Chinese comfort women who had been abducted in Shanxi sued the Japanese government for an apology and 20 million yen per person compensation in the Tokyo District Court. In February 1996, two more Chinese former comfort women joined the 1995 suit. The Tokyo District Court dismissed the first suit in May 2001, and the second suit in March 2002, because Japan has immunity as a nation for the damages of people under the public authority in the prewar laws and the international laws. In addition, Article 3 of the 1907 Hague Convention regulates international relations, and individuals do not have direct request rights.
In October 1998, ten Chinese women who were abducted and raped by Japanese soldiers in Shanxi brought a suit to request a formal apology and 20 million yen each in compensation from the Japanese government. In July 1999, nine Taiwanese comfort women brought a suit to the Tokyo District Court, requesting a formal apology and compensation of 10 million yen apiece from the Japanese government. In September 2001, eight Chinese women from Hainan Island brought a suit to the Tokyo District Court, requesting a formal apology and compensation of 3 million yen each from the Japanese government.
In September 2000, six Koreans, four Chinese, four Filipino and one Taiwanese, filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a statute that permits foreigners to sue for abuses of international law. This is the first and only lawsuit filed in the U.S. against the Japanese government by comfort women. The U.S. government argued that the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty settled all the claims from the Allied countries against Japan. In October 2001, U.S. District Judge Kennedy dismissed the suit, saying that the court did not have jurisdiction to grant redress because federal law protected Japan from lawsuits in the U.S.. He added that the court was not the appropriate forum to discuss fifty-year old political questions (Los Angeles Times July 22, 2001; Los Angeles Times October 6, 2001).
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The references to comfort women in school textbooks appeared as soon as the issue became an international controversy in the early 1990s. Comfort women were first mentioned in the high school history textbook published by the Sanseidō in 1993. All nine high school Japanese history textbooks from seven publishers followed suit in 1994. Textbooks in world history, geography, civics, and ethics all mention the comfort women. Only the history textbook written by the National Council for the Protection of Japan: “The Newest Japanese History” refused to mention it. Japanese History B states: “There were quite a few Korean women who were forcibly brought to China and other places as military comfort women.” The specific number of comfort women such as “50,000 to 200,000 young Korean women” and “approximately 100,000 [Korean] women” mentioned in history textbooks prior to screening was eliminated during the screening process (Uesugi 1996:284-285). Many textbooks merely imply the forced recruitment of comfort women.
In 1997, all seven middle school history textbooks mentioned the comfort women, as did two geography textbooks and four civics textbooks. The most popular history textbook states, “Many young women were forcibly, against their wills, sent [from Korea and China] to the battle fields as ‘comfort women’” (Tokyo Shoseki 2000:263). Therefore, all middle school students learn about the comfort women issue in the school curriculum.
These references have outraged right-wing groups. Conservative politicians formed the Association of Bright Japanese Diet Representatives in 1996 and criticized the description of comfort women. Another right-wing groups established the Society for the Creation of New History Textbooks in order to write a new textbook that omits the comfort women. They argue that it is too difficult to make middle school students understand the meaning of comfort women and that there is no written evidence of the forced recruitment (Nishio and Fujioka 1996:24-28). Defenders of comfort women counter that no officials would record forced recruitment and that the oral testimonies of former comfort women should be believed.
In 2002, only three out of eight history textbooks mentioned comfort women or comfort facilities, even after all major textbooks included it from 1997 to 2001. The editors of one publisher said, “[Teachers] point out that it is difficult to teach the meaning of ‘comfort women’ to middle school students”(AS September 10, 2000). As a result, the right-wing movement has succeeded in convincing the board of education, teachers, the public, and even liberal publishers of their mission to erase the mention of “comfort women.”
The comfort women controversy had faded from public consciousness by the turn of the twenty-first century, and the publishers no longer feel obligated to write about comfort women in textbooks for middle schools. For the screening of the textbooks to be used in 2006 onward, one publisher submitted the history textbook that mentioned “comfort women” and two other publishers submitted the textbooks that referred to the topic of “comfort women” without explicitly using the word, “comfort women” (Yomiuri Shinbun April 5, 2005). In my opinion, the issue does not have to be mentioned, if teachers consider sexual topics inappropriate for children this young. If teachers think it is necessary to teach the topic and they approach the issue with sensitivity, they can discuss it as an issue of war responsibility without using a text (e.g., Ishide et al. 1997). Most high school students are old enough to discuss the comfort women issues as an enduring legacy of the war.
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In the early 1990s, Korean women’s organizations revived the history of the wartime comfort women, presenting it as an international human rights and postwar compensation problem. Comfort women and their supporters demanded that the Japanese government apologize and offer compensation. They petitioned the U.N. Human Rights Commission to investigate the comfort women’s stories as a human rights violation. In 1992, support groups from South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan established an Asian network of supporters in order to compel the Japanese government to compensate and apologize to former comfort women.
In August 1991, Kim Hak-sun was the first Korean woman to testify that she was forced into sexual slavery as a comfort woman. After conducting its own investigation, in 1993, the Japanese government officially admitted the involvement of the military and police authorities as well as forced recruitment of comfort women, and issued sincere apologies.
The Japanese government offered financial assistance to former comfort women in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Netherlands through the Asian Women’s Fund, a non-governmental organization. The AWF represented a compromise between the Japanese government and private groups. The government tried to appease the comfort women without accepting a legal obligation to compensate comfort women as war victims because reparation had already been settled through the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and other treaties. However, the Japanese government subsidized the AWF and provided a formal letter of apology from the Prime Minister.
The Japanese government had paid 3.8 billion yen in AWF’s management costs as well as medical and social welfare projects by the end of 2001. The AWF provided 2 million yen to each former comfort woman in South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan from private donations, which amounted to more than 590 million yen, as of May 2002. In addition, the Japanese government paid for the medical and social welfare expenses in South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines from the AWF. It also funded the construction of housing for former comfort women in Indonesia and paid the medical and social welfare for 79 former Dutch comfort women.
In South Korea and Taiwan, most former comfort women opposed the AWF and demanded a formal compensation directly from the Japanese government. The governments of South Korea and Taiwan supported their requests and awarded money to former comfort women who declined funds from the AWF.
After Kim Hak-sun came forward in 1991, 150 former other Korean comfort women spoke of their wartime experiences. Most of them received financial aid from the Korean government and support groups, while seven received AWF funds in 1997, and 20 to 30 may have accepted the AWF aid. In Taiwan, 42 women received financial aid from the Taiwanese government and support groups while eight former comfort women from aboriginal women accepted money from the AWF. Many Filipina women accepted financial aid from the AWF. In Indonesia, 152 Indonesians lived in the 16 retirement facilities sponsored by the AWF, and in Netherlands, 79 received medical and social welfare support from the AWF.
The system of military comfort women system was established in 1932 and lasted until the end of the war. Because of the severe shortage of comfort women as the war dragged on, there is no doubt that many women were tricked by dealers or abducted by soldiers. Also, the widespread poverty forced a large number of women into prostitution, and/or into becoming comfort women at the insistence of their parents. Although the comfort women were supervised by the Japanese military and were rather well-paid, the Japanese government must offer an apology and compensation. The government accepted its moral responsibility to compensate comfort women with a formal apology through the AWF. Though the AWF is a non-governmental organization, financial aid from the AWF can be considered as “formal” compensation because most of the money comes from the government, and because the government has provided a formal letter of apology from the Prime Minister.
Everyone who was identified as a former comfort woman by the AWF, the Korean and Taiwanese governments received financial aid. About 700 comfort women were eligible to AWF or financial aid from the Korean or Taiwan governments. They were only a small percentage of the 50,000 to 200,000 comfort women working during the war. The survivors are now in their late 70s, 80s or 90s. The apology and compensation came fifty years late; however, the financial aid will help those former comfort women to remain financially independent.
Korean, Taiwanese, Filipino, Chinese and Dutch former comfort women have sued the Japanese government in the courts for direct compensation. However, the courts have dismissed their requests. Especially after the Japanese government compensated comfort women through the AWF, the courts would not order the Japanese government to award them additional compensation. The AWF is the one the Japanese government has designated to compensate former comfort women who are not covered by the law.
AWF funds, although coming from a non-government organization financed by the Japanese government, and a formal apology letter from the Prime Minister could be regarded as an informal “compensation,” considering that a formal compensation directly from the government contravenes its reparations agreement with other countries.
As of 2005, most of the outstanding issues pertaining to comfort women have been resolved through the AWF, the Korean and Taiwanese governments. All former comfort women requesting compensation, including those who refused to take the AWF have been compensated. Dedicated supporters have helped plaintiffs with legal advice and representation. In order not to repeat the tragedy of military comfort women in the future, it is important to teach the postwar generations their story. The AWF completed its work in the Philippines and the Netherlands in 2001, in South Korea and Taiwan in 2002, and will complete its work in Indonesia in 2007.
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