The Comfort Women Stories to come out of Southeast Asia after World War 2 were surprising insights to the treatment of local women by both local brokers and the Japanese Imperial Army.
During the height of World War 2, Comfort Women were those who served in military brothels before and during World War 2. The name “comfort women” is a translation of the Japanese word “ianfu,” a common euphemism for prostitute. Estimates of the numbers of women engaged in the brothel system vary, starting at 20,000 women After the war ended, many comfort women stories came to light in various military and humanitarian reports.
Lack of official documentation makes it difficult to determine the exact number of women involved, but the estimate of 200,000 came from an erroneous publication in the Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun, which was later redacted. This number most likely refers to the number of women mobilized to work in the civil labor corps during wartime, which included positions such as nurses and cleaners.
Comfort stations were located in many of the countries occupied by Japan in wartime, including Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaya, Taiwan, the Dutch East Indies, and Timor. According to various testimonies, young women often from peripheral agricultural villages without access to education were recruited by local brokers. These brokers were referred to as “middlemen,” who then trafficked the women to locally owned brothels in order to serve soldiers during wartime. In the early stages of the war, middlemen used conventional methods to recruit participants including advertisements in newspapers.
The following testimony of Kimiko Kaneda from South Korea details her experiences in Comfort Stations. Although she was half Japanese and half Korean, she was sent to live with relatives of her father in Korea. Her father, a priest, was arrested for defaming Japanese shrines. At 16 years old, she went to Seoul to become a housemaid. After being sent to serve as a comfort woman in Zaoqiang, Kaneda became addicted to opium and sent back to Seoul in 1945.
This is a snippet of her story:
(transcribed from video testimony)
Forced to become a comfort woman
How did I feel? I felt as if we were taken here to be killed. I could not but weep. No one talked. All were weeping. That night we slept there and in the morning we were put in those rooms. Soldiers came to my room, but I resisted with all my might. The first soldier wasn’t drunk and when he tried to rip my clothes off, I shouted “No!” and he left. The second soldier was drunk. He waved a knife at me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t do what he said. But I didn’t care if I died, and in the end he stabbed me. Here( She pointed her chest).
He was taken away by the military police and I was taken to the infirmary. My clothes were soaked with blood. I was treated in the infirmary for twenty days. I was sent back to my room. A soldier who had just returned from the fighting came in. Thanks to the treatment my wound was much improved, but I had a plaster on my chest.
Despite that the soldier attacked me, and when I wouldn’t do what he said, he seized my wrists and threw me out of the room. My wrists were broken, and they are still very weak. Here was broken…. There’s no bone here. I was kicked by a soldier here. It took the skin right off… you could see the bone.
Since at the time prostitution was legal in Japan, the logic behind the formation of comfort stations was to prevent rapes from happening on the battlefield which would inevitable prevent the rise of hostility among populations in occupied areas.
The comfort women stories cited include the sale of women to the brokers of comfort stations by their families. After the official end of the war, formal apologies issued by the country of Japan (such as the 2015 Comfort Women Agreement) aimed to compensate the surviving comfort women monetarily. The defeat of Imperial Japan in World War 2 and the legacy of the comfort women will not soon be forgotten.