Comfort women

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British officer interviews a Chinese girl rescued from a "comfort battalion".
It was living hell for the 'comfort women'. They simply had to stay in bed. They had to wait for the next customer, they had to submit. And this went on for hours, this went on for days, this went on for months. And they could not do anything. At their most extreme, the acts of violence would involve not just rape, but using almost anything to penetrate the woman - bottles, sticks, blunt objects. And of course it created scars for life. Sometimes the women were left for dead.
—Ricardo Jose, University of the Philippines, describing conditions faced by kidnapped Filipinas.[1]
Not just a river in Egypt
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♫ We're not listening ♫

"Comfort women" was a euphemism used by the Japanese military and government from 1932 to 1945 for women used in officially-organized sexual slavery (or forced prostitution).

During the 1930s and 1940s, Japan's colonial satellites (Korea, Manchukuo,[note 1] Taiwan, Japanese-occupied parts of mainland China and of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) forced women to become sexual slaves of the military. Even Japanese women were forced to become sex slaves of the Japanese army.

Controversy over and protests against the term "comfort women" persist, especially from surviving women and in the countries from which they were taken, about how wrong it is to continue referring to the women as "comfort women" when in fact they were "sex slaves".

Japanese military sexual slavery (instituted in 1932), Unit 731 (founded in 1932), and the Nanjing massacre of 1937-1938 are the three most remembered war crimes of Imperial Japan associated in the popular mind with Japan's participation (1941-1945) in the Second World War of 1939-1945.


Modern Japan's right-wing to far-right have been trying to discredit the claims of 'comfort women'. Denialist arguments come in four main flavors:

Claim Response
"The Japanese never forced or coerced women into becoming sex slaves, they were willing."[2][3] (also courtesy of Shinzō Abe)[4]Fuck you, Shinzō.[5]

"The Japanese government was not involved with mobilizing comfort women."[6]Uh, yeah it most certainly fucking was.[7]

"The actual number of comfort women was only about 20,000, not 200,000. The math doesn't add up based on the comfort stations in Korea and Manchuria."[8][9]Just about every historian not from Japan says 200,000.[10] Also, to say that the math doesn't add up based on the numbers from just Korea and China is absurd. Comfort women came from all over East Asia, from places like China, Taiwan, the Philippines,[11] and Indonesia.[12]

"Comfort women are only an issue because of the lies perpetrated by unpatriotic scholars and fake news designed to slander Japan!"[13]This is a disgusting attempt to trivialize the suffering experienced by women all over Asia. We can also track the rising awareness of Japan's sexual crimes in Korea and demonstrate that no, it has nothing to do with "fake news" or any scholarly deceit.[14]

Shinzō Abe's government is particularly energetic when it comes to shutting down discussion of comfort women. In recent times, Japan has made numerous attempts to stop the construction of comfort women memorials,[15] harassed foreign media for reporting on comfort women,[16] harassed foreign textbook publishers,[17] and encouraged domestic newspapers to redefine the definition of the term "comfort women" from "women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II," to "Women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers."[18][3]

Legacy and memorials[edit]


In 2015, China opened its first memorial hall dedicated to Chinese comfort women in Nanjing.[19] The symbolic significance of that particular location is like being poked in the eye. About a year later, China opened a comfort women museum in Shanghai to help expose the crimes of the Japanese military; items on display include discarded condoms, photographs, and victim testimonies.[20]

South Korea[edit]

Comfort women memorial statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

The South Koreans are arguably even angrier. A civic group installed a 1-ton memorial statue of a woman symbolizing all of Japan's Korean sex slaves directly in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan.[21] The Japanese government took that about as well as you might imagine. The issue turned into a serious diplomatic meltdown when Japan withdrew two top-level diplomats from South Korea and then halted trade talks.[22] Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary commented on the dispute by saying "The fact that the girls' statue was set up has an unfavorable influence on relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and it is extremely regrettable."[23] There's also a memorial statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, facing the entrance with an angry expression and clenched fists.[24] The South Korean government itself became proactive on the issue of comfort women under the presidency of Moon Jae-in, sponsoring and unveiling its own memorial statue in Cheonan in 2018.[25] Moon's government also reversed the 2015 deal with Japan which obliged Japan to pay a one-time lump sum of 1 billion yen ($9 million) to support surviving comfort women; Moon said the deal went against wishes of the surviving women and instead budgeted South Korea's own support fund, calling for a renegotiation of the deal.[26] However, after Japan's government warned that renegotiating the deal as a whole would damage relations between the nations beyond repair, Moon eventually backed down.[27]

South Korea, especially the surviving comfort women, still demands an official apology from the Japanese government;[28] the Japanese, for their part, seem to wish that the whole matter would just go away, as consider the entire issue settled with the “final and irreversible” 2015 reparations deal.[29][30] The Japanese will likely not have that wish fulfilled, especially with the abominable denialist atmosphere swirling around them. Comfort women statues have recently started showing up on Korean bus seats.[31]


Taiwan has also stepped into the modern comfort women controversy. A nonprofit group built yet another statue in Taipei in 2018, prompting Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary to call the event “extremely disappointing”.[32] A coalition of 16 Japanese right-wing groups visited Taiwan to ask the government to remove the comfort women statue, but that likely won't happen because their leader was caught on surveillance camera angrily kicking the memorial.[33] The moral of the story? Don't be a shithead when you're asking someone to do something, especially when the thing you're asking someone to do is to help cover up war crimes you committed against them.

United States[edit]

Comfort women memorials have also made their way to the United States. The Museum of Korean American Heritage in New York City built its own comfort women memorial statue, an exact replica of the statue in Seoul with an inscription that reads, “This monument is an historical marker offered in the memory of the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who were forced to be comfort women, and is dedicated to eradicating sexual violence and trafficking. Their powerful history and noble spirit should never be forgotten.”[34] Japanese-Americans backed by a right-wing nationalist nonprofit sued for the removal of the statue, but the United States Supreme Court declined to review the case because this is 'Murica and we got the First Amendment, muthafuckas.[35] There is also a memorial in Glendale, California, built with funds raised by the Korean American Forum of California.[36]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Modern-day Manchuria


  1. The house where the Philippines' forgotten 'comfort women' were held. BBC News.
  2. What can stop Japan from continuing to deny the truth China Daily
  3. 3.0 3.1 'Comfort women': anger as Japan paper alters description of WWII terms The Guardian
  4. Japanese PM denies wartime 'comfort women' were forced The Telegraph
  5. Report on the mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the issue of military sexual slavery in wartime United Nations Economic and Social Council.
  6. 2018-12-19 Negotiating the “Comfort Women” Issue in the 21st Century Institute for Security and Development Policy
  7. Government, the Military and Business in Japan's Wartime Comfort Woman System The Asia-Pacific Jounal.
  8. Stories about comfort women not accurate: historian Asia Times
  9. Estimates Based on Facts: ‘200,000 Comfort Women’ Defies Math Japan Forward
  10. Japan must do more for WWII 'comfort women': UN experts France24
  11. History of the Comfort Women of World War II ThoughtCo
  12. Comfort Women: Untold Stories Of Wartime Abuse NPR
  13. Sink the Asahi! The ‘Comfort Women’ Controversy and the Neo-nationalist Attack 朝日を潰せ!「慰安婦」問題とネオナショナリズムの攻撃 The Asia-Pacific Journal
  14. 'Comfort Women' Denial and the Japanese Right The Asia-Pacific Journal.
  15. “The Comfort Women were Prostitutes”: Repercussions of remarks by the Japanese Consul General in Atlanta The Asia-Pacific Journal.
  16. Testy Team Abe Pressures Media in Japan The Asia-Pacific Journal
  17. Japanese Government Pressures American Publisher to Delete Textbook Treatment of Wartime Sexual Slavery: An Interview with Herbert Ziegler The Asia-Pacific Journal
  18. 'Japan Times' Newspaper Redefines 'Comfort Women' And 'Forced Labor' NPR
  19. Memorial hall for 'comfort women' opens to public in Nanjing
  20. 'Comfort women' museum opens in Shanghai China Daily
  21. 'Comfort women' statue installed near Japanese consulate in Busan Japan Times
  22. Why this statue of a young girl caused a diplomatic incident CNN
  23. Japan recalls diplomats from South Korea over 'comfort woman' statue CNN
  24. See the Wikipedia article on Statue of Peace.
  25. South Korea to unveil monument for "comfort women" next Tues. Kyodo News. Aug 8, 2018
  26. S. Korea gov't approves fund to supplant Japan "comfort women" fund Kyodo News
  27. The Japan-South Korea ‘Comfort Women’ Agreement Survives (Barely) The Diplomat
  28. South Korea's surviving 'comfort women' spend final years seeking atonement from Japan Reuters
  29. Japan-South Korea ‘comfort women’ deal under threat Financial Times
  30. The Announcement of the Results of the Assessment by the Taskforce to Review the Agreement on Comfort Women Issue reached between the Governments of Japan and the ROK (Statement by Foreign Minister Taro Kono) Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan
  31. 'Comfort Woman' Memorial Statues, A Thorn In Japan's Side, Now Sit On Korean Buses NPR
  32. Taiwan Unveils Its First Statue Honoring ‘Comfort Women’ Smithsonian Magazine
  33. Taipei says Japanese activist kicking ‘comfort woman’ memorial was unacceptable South China Morning Post
  34. New York City’s first ‘comfort women’ statue remembers sex victims QNS
  35. Why did this statue of a little Korean girl spark outrage? San Diego Union-Tribune
  36. Statue Brings Friction Over WWII Comfort Women To California NPR