“”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.|
|Not just a river in Egypt|
|♫ 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 not even prostitution, because being a prostitute requires being paid, where as these sex slaves were not paid at all).
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 politican have been trying to discredit the claims of 'comfort women'. Denialist arguments come in four main flavors:
|"The Japanese never forced or coerced women into becoming sex slaves, they were willing." (also courtesy of Shinzō Abe)||This is a flat out lie, and it is extremely offensive to say that someone who was forced to do something degrading and traumatic was willing to do it. Shinzo Abe must be either vile or severely indoctrinated.|
|"The Japanese government was not involved with mobilizing comfort women."||Uh, yeah it most certainly fucking was.|
|"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."||Just about every historian not from Japan says 200,000. 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, and Indonesia. Also, the claim that there were only 20000 comfort women strongly resembles another similar claim about the Holocaust made by Holocaust deniers|
|"Comfort women are only an issue because of the lies perpetrated by unpatriotic scholars and fake news designed to slander Japan!"||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.|
Shinzō Abe's government was particularly energetic when it comes to shutting down discussion of comfort women. In recent times, Japan made numerous attempts to stop the construction of comfort women memorials, harassed foreign media for reporting on comfort women, harassed foreign textbook publishers, 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."
Japan's major political parties, including the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and even the liberal Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, are hindering the construction of the Comfort Women monument. Also, Japanese government has hindered the UNESCO listing of Comfort women-related materials, and so far they have not been listed on UNESCO.
This historical revisionism in Japan is very different to Germany's thorough liquidation of Nazism. The Japanese politicians have made diplomatic efforts to remove the Comfort women monument in Germany, but many German people and German politicians disagree with this Japanese nationalist-based perspective. Mainstream German media, including Süddeutsche Zeitung, criticized only Japan, citing Japan's historical revisionism in the Japan-South Korea conflict. The Japanese government and the Japanese people's denialism of Japanese war crimes add fuel to anti-Japanese sentiment in the biggest victim countries of China and Korea.
Legacy and memorials
In 2015, China opened its first memorial hall dedicated to Chinese comfort women in Nanjing. 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.
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. 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. 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." There's also a memorial statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, facing the entrance with an angry expression and clenched fists. 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. 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. 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.
South Korea, especially the surviving comfort women, still demands an official apology from the Japanese government; 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. 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.
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”. 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. 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.
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.” 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. There is also a memorial in Glendale, California, built with funds raised by the Korean American Forum of California.
- Unit 731
- Rape of Nanjing
- Nippon Kaigi — Extreme rightist historical revisionist position on this issue.
- 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—from the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
- Modern-day Manchuria
- The house where the Philippines' forgotten 'comfort women' were held. BBC News.
- What can stop Japan from continuing to deny the truth China Daily
- 'Comfort women': anger as Japan paper alters description of WWII terms The Guardian
- Japanese PM denies wartime 'comfort women' were forced The Telegraph
- 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.
- 2018-12-19 Negotiating the “Comfort Women” Issue in the 21st Century Institute for Security and Development Policy
- Government, the Military and Business in Japan's Wartime Comfort Woman System The Asia-Pacific Jounal.
- Stories about comfort women not accurate: historian Asia Times
- Estimates Based on Facts: ‘200,000 Comfort Women’ Defies Math Japan Forward
- Japan must do more for WWII 'comfort women': UN experts France24
- History of the Comfort Women of World War II ThoughtCo
- Comfort Women: Untold Stories Of Wartime Abuse NPR
- 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
- 'Comfort Women' Denial and the Japanese Right The Asia-Pacific Journal.
- “The Comfort Women were Prostitutes”: Repercussions of remarks by the Japanese Consul General in Atlanta The Asia-Pacific Journal.
- Testy Team Abe Pressures Media in Japan The Asia-Pacific Journal
- Japanese Government Pressures American Publisher to Delete Textbook Treatment of Wartime Sexual Slavery: An Interview with Herbert Ziegler The Asia-Pacific Journal
- 'Japan Times' Newspaper Redefines 'Comfort Women' And 'Forced Labor' NPR
- Memorial hall for 'comfort women' opens to public in Nanjing China.org
- 'Comfort women' museum opens in Shanghai China Daily
- 'Comfort women' statue installed near Japanese consulate in Busan Japan Times
- Why this statue of a young girl caused a diplomatic incident CNN
- Japan recalls diplomats from South Korea over 'comfort woman' statue CNN
- See the Wikipedia article on Statue of Peace.
- South Korea to unveil monument for "comfort women" next Tues. Kyodo News. Aug 8, 2018
- S. Korea gov't approves fund to supplant Japan "comfort women" fund Kyodo News
- The Japan-South Korea ‘Comfort Women’ Agreement Survives (Barely) The Diplomat
- South Korea's surviving 'comfort women' spend final years seeking atonement from Japan Reuters
- Japan-South Korea ‘comfort women’ deal under threat Financial Times
- 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
- 'Comfort Woman' Memorial Statues, A Thorn In Japan's Side, Now Sit On Korean Buses NPR
- Taiwan Unveils Its First Statue Honoring ‘Comfort Women’ Smithsonian Magazine
- Taipei says Japanese activist kicking ‘comfort woman’ memorial was unacceptable South China Morning Post
- New York City’s first ‘comfort women’ statue remembers sex victims QNS
- Why did this statue of a little Korean girl spark outrage? San Diego Union-Tribune
- Statue Brings Friction Over WWII Comfort Women To California NPR