The following is a loose translation of a summary of Dr. Park Yuha’s Comfort Women of the Empire in English.
I first confronted the comfort women issue in 1991. It was near the end my study in Japan. As a volunteer I was translating former Korean comfort women’s testimonies for NHK. When I returned to South Korea, Kim Young-sam was the president, and Korean nationalism was on the rise. The anti-Japan lobby “Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan” or “Chong Dae Hyup” (정대협) in Korean was really gaining momentum. Its leader said publicly it was determined to discredit Japan for the next 200 years. Its propaganda turned me off, so I stayed away from this issue for years. I regained my interest in this issue in the early 2000’s when I heard that Chong Dae Hyup was confining surviving women in a nursing home called “House of Nanumu.” The only time these women were allowed to talk to outsiders was when Chong Dae Hyup needed them to testify for UN interrogators or U.S. politicians. But for some reason I was allowed to talk to them one day in 2003. I could sense that women were not happy being confined in this place. One of the women (Bae Chun-hee) told me she reminisced the romance she had with a Japanese soldier and the sorrow when he died in combat. She said she hated her father who sold her. She also told me that women there didn’t appreciate being coached by Chong Dae Hyup to give false testimonies but had to obey Chong Dae Hyup’s order. When Japan offered compensation through Asian Women’s Fund in 1995, about 60 former Korean comfort women defied Chong Dae Hyup’s order and accepted compensation. Those 60 women were vilified as traitors. Their names and addresses were published in newspapers as prostitutes by Chong Dae Hyup, and they had to live the rest of their lives in disgrace. So the surviving women were terrified of Chong Dae Hyup and wouldn’t dare to defy again.
1. The origin of comfort women
With Japan’s victory in Sino-Japanese war (1894 – 1895) the Korean Peninsula was no longer under the control of Qing Dynasty China. As Japanese military personnels and male workers began to spend time in Korea, women (mostly from Nagasaki and Kumamoto) followed to comfort them. Most of these women were from poor families.
2. Korean comfort women
At first comfort women were all Japanese. But after Korea became part of Japan in 1910, ethnic Korean women (Japanese citizens) also became comfort women. By the 1920’s Japanese women along with Korean women traveled abroad to comfort Japanese men and ethnic Korean men there. These Korean women were the predecessors of who later became known as Korean comfort women.
3. Comfort women and female troops
Although women were working as prostitutes, some of them had accumulated enough savings to lend money and rent places for secret meetings to men who were fighting for the nation. That is why they were also called female troops and they took certain pride in their contribution.
4. Comfort stations
One shouldn’t think comfort women system was created suddenly by Japanese military in the 1930’s. At first Japanese military licensed existing prostitution houses in Manchuria as comfort stations. As Japan advanced into China and Southeast Asia, more comfort stations were needed. So Japanese military commissioned prostitution brokers to recruit more women and create more comfort stations. Japanese brokers recruited Japanese women in Japan. They owned and operated comfort stations employing Japanese women. Korean brokers recruited Korean women in Korea. They owned and operated comfort stations employing Korean women.
5. Two types of comfort women
There were two types of comfort women. (1) Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese women (all Japanese citizens) They were not coerced by Japanese military. (2) Local women in the battlefields (Dutch women in Indonesia, Filipino women in the Philippines, etc.) Dozens of them were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers. These two types should have been treated differently. But when the comfort women became an issue in the early 1990’s, all women who provided sex to Japanese military were treated uniformly, and that created a big confusion.
6. The Myth “Korean comfort women were coerced by Japanese military”
The Korean woman who first claimed this in the early 1990’s belonged to Chongsindae during the war. Chongsindae (also called Teishintai in Japanese) was a group of teenage girls conscripted by Japanese military. They worked in factories to manufacture military equipments and uniforms. Since she was conscripted, she thought comfort women were also conscripted. It wasn’t that she fabricated the story. It was an innocent mistake on her part. When I examined initial testimonies of former Korean comfort women, none of them claimed she was coercively taken away by Japanese military. It should be noted, however, that Korean brokers sometimes lied about description of work. (They sometimes hinted women would be working as nurses and so on) So although Korean comfort women were not coerced by Japanese military (Japanese military was NOT in Korea), some of them were recruited on false pretenses by Korean brokers. Other Korean women were in the world’s oldest profession, and they did volunteer to earn good money.
7. The Myth “200,000 young girls were coerced by Japanese military”
Two hundred thousand was the number of factory workers conscripted. About 150,000 of them were Japanese and 50,000 were Koreans. Many of them were teenage girls. Common misunderstanding in the West of “200,000 young girls were coerced by Japanese military” arose because Asahi Shimbun mistook factory workers for comfort women in August 11th, 1991 article, which inflated the number. The estimates of comfort women numbers vary from 20,000 to 70,000 depending on the historians. Most comfort women were Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese, and they were recruited by brokers, not by Japanese military. In the battlefields of Indonesia and the Philippines, dozens of Dutch and Filipino women were abducted by lower ranked Japanese soldiers and were taken to comfort station operators. (Those soldiers and operators were court-martialed, and some of them executed) Most comfort women were not teenage girls but were in their 20’s and 30’s. So the correct statement should instead be “Between 20,000 and 70,000 worked as comfort women, of which dozens were abducted by Japanese soldiers.”
8. Japanese military and Korean comfort women
Korean comfort women worked in kimono using Japanese names. Since they were working for Japan’s victory, lower ranked soldiers committing violence to women were punished by higher ranked officers. Korean comfort station owners exploiting Korean women were also punished. Korean women typically made about 750 yen a month including tips. (A house in Korea cost 1000 yen at the time) Women attended sports events, picnics and social dinners with both officers and men. They were also allowed to go shopping in towns. Romances between Korean comfort women and Japanese soldiers were common, and there were numerous instances of proposals of marriage and in certain cases marriages actually took place.
9. Korean prostitution brokers
There is no evidence to support that Japanese military permitted Korean prostitution brokers to lie or use violence when recruiting Korean women or operating comfort stations. In fact there are documents which indicate that Japanese military sent orders to police in Korea to crack down on Korean brokers who engage in illegal recruiting. Any coercion, violence or confinement was exercised by Korean brokers against the orders. So if one wants to use the term “sex slaves” to describe former Korean comfort women, they were sex slaves of Korean brokers. They were not sex slaves of Japanese military. Japanese military personnel visited comfort stations only as customers. A diary written by a Korean comfort station manager was discovered in 2012, and it makes it clear that Korean brokers not only recruited women in the Korean Peninsula but also owned and operated comfort stations employing Korean women. And Korean women were treated badly by Korean brokers according to the memoir written by a former Korean comfort woman. Japanese and Taiwanese women worked at comfort stations owned and operated by Japanese brokers and were treated much better. That is why we hear little or no complaint from former Japanese and Taiwanese comfort women. Again, the common perception in the West that Japanese military operated comfort stations is incorrect.
10. Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1910
Some argue that since not all Koreans agreed to this treaty, it is not legally binding. However, even if some Koreans did not like this treaty, official Korean representatives did sign the treaty, and treaty documents do exist. So it is not reasonable to say this treaty is not legally binding.
11. Japan-South Korea Treaty of 1965
1965 Japan-South Korea Treaty was concluded to decide how to distribute assets. Japanese government asked South Korean government during treaty negotiation to identify and separate individual claims from the treaty because Japanese government wanted to make sure victims received compensation by delivering compensation directly to them. South Korean government declined, accepted the entire sum of 800 million dollars in place of its citizens and spent all of it on infrastructures and so on. Therefore it is not reasonable for South Korean government to keep asking for additional compensation from Japan.
12. Kono Statement in 1993
Kono Statement acknowledged that some Korean comfort women were recruited on false pretenses by Korean prostitution brokers. But it did not acknowledge that Japanese military coerced them. Therefore, there is no need to revise Kono Statement. Some might argue that if some Korean women were recruited on false pretenses by Korean brokers, why was it necessary for Japanese government to apologize via Kono Statement. Well, no matter who recruited Korean women, they still suffered. So Japan’s apology was a good gesture.
13. Asian Women’s Fund
Asian Women’s Fund was established by Japanese government in 1995. (Compensation came with a personal letter of apology from Prime Minister of Japan) As for Korean women, although they were not coerced by Japanese military and all individual claims were settled in 1965 Japan-South Korea Treaty, Japanese government still offered additional compensation to Korean women through Asian Women’s Fund as a good gesture. Ironically every nation involved except South Korea accepted compensation through Asian Women’s Fund and reconciled with Japan. (Note: South Korean government and Korean women wanted to accept Asian Women’s Fund as well, but the anti-Japan lobby ‘Chong Dae Hyup’ threatened Korean women not to accept Japan’s apology and compensation so that it could continue its anti-Japanese propaganda campaign. So most Korean women could not accept Japan’s apology and compensation.)
14. Why has it been so difficult to resolve this issue only with South Korea?
The anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup (정대협) opposed Asian Women’s Fund claiming it did not go through a legislation vote in the House. But considering all individual claims were settled in 1965 Japan-South Korea Treaty, a cabinet member decision was the best Japanese government could do. (A legislation vote in the House would have breached 1965 treaty) Chong Dae Hyup has had a very close relationship with North Korea. (The leader’s husband was arrested as a North Korean spy. See footnote *9) In my opinion, the real reason why Chong Dae Hyup opposed Asian Women’s Fund was because it wanted to use the comfort women issue to block reconciliation between Japan and South Korea. Japan-South Korea discord is precisely what North Korea wants. The dynamics of South Korean politics is very difficult for foreigners to grasp. South Korean politics is split 50/50 between right and left. The right is pro-U.S., anti-North Korea and anti-Japan. The left is anti-U.S., pro-North Korea and anti-Japan. Chong Dae Hyup is a radical element of South Korean left. So South Korean rightists do not get along with Chong Dae Hyup. But anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea is shared by right and left due to decades of brainwashing by successive governments. Consequently, South Korean rightists (especially media and politicians) do not interfere with Chong Dae Hyup’s propaganda campaign.
15. World’s view
Instead of reconciling with Japan by accepting Japan’s apology and compensation, Chong Dae Hyup (≒ North Korea) and its U.S. affiliate KACE have appealed to the world by dragging former Korean comfort women (now in their 80’s and 90’s) around the world as exhibitions. UN reports such as Coomaraswamy Report and U.S. House Resolution 121 were issued based solely on materials provided by the Korean lobby. Most Western media and scholars fell for Chong Dae Hyup’s (North Korean) propaganda and believe “200,000 young girls including Koreans were coercively taken away by Japanese military.” Obviously this world’s view is not based on facts. Lower ranked Japanese soldiers did coerce dozens of Dutch and Filipino women in the battlefields of Indonesia and the Philippines. But not 200,000! And Korean women were not coerced by Japanese military because the Korean Peninsula was not the battlefield and therefore Japanese military was NOT in Korea. (Korean brokers recruited Korean women in Korea and operated comfort stations employing them) Japan apologized and compensated, and Netherlands, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan had all accepted Japan’s apology and reconciled with Japan. So there are no comfort women issues between those nations and Japan. The comfort women issue remains only with South Korea because Chong Dae Hyup refuses to accept Japan’s apology and continues to spread the false claim of “200,000 young girls including Koreans were coerced by Japanese military” throughout the world. Chong Dae Hyup is a very powerful special interest group in South Korea, and Korean politicians are scared to death to defy it. But South Korean government must somehow distance itself from Chong Dae Hyup if this issue is to be resolved. After all, Chong Dae Hyup has no interest in the welfare of former Korean comfort women. Its goal is to discredit Japan and to block reconciliation between Japan and South Korea.
16. Empires and comfort women
Just like the empires were created by European powers and Japan in the past, the United States has military bases all over the world. And wherever U.S. military bases are located, there are women who provide sex to U.S. military personnel. There is no doubt that U.S. military interventions in Vietnam, Iraq and so on had caused suffering to local people especially to women. It is rather ironic that the United States keeps coming up with resolutions to criticize Japan and comfort women statues keep going up in the U.S. Meanwhile Japan should recognize that its imperialism in the first half of 20th century was the root cause of women’s suffering.