The following is a summary English translation of a book titled “Comfort Women of the Empire” by Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University in South Korea.
Professor Park Yuha
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 the 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 挺対協) in Korean was 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 the UN interrogators or the 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 rest of the women were terrified of Chong Dae Hyup and wouldn’t dare to defy again. Chong Dae Hyup (some of its members had been arrested as North Korean spies) has used the comfort women issue for its political purpose, which is to drive a wedge into U.S.-Japan-South Korea security partnership.
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 to men who were fighting for the nation. That is why they were also called female troops（娘子軍）and they took certain pride in their contribution.
4. Comfort stations
One shouldn’t think the comfort women system was created suddenly by the Japanese military in the 1930’s. At first the Japanese military used existing prostitution houses in Manchuria as comfort stations. As it advanced into China and Southeast Asia, more comfort stations were needed. So the Japanese military allowed 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. (See footnote *3, *4)
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 the 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 the Japanese military were treated uniformly, and that created a big confusion.
6. The Myth “Korean comfort women were coerced by the 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 the 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 the initial testimonies of former Korean comfort women, none of them claimed she was coercively taken away by the 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 the Japanese military (the 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 teenage comfort women were coerced by the Japanese military”
Two hundred thousand was the number of factory workers conscripted. About 150,000 of them were Japanese and 50,000 were Korean. Many of them were teenage girls. Common misunderstanding in the West of “200,000 teenage comfort women were coerced by the 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, Korean and Taiwanese, and they were recruited by brokers, not by the Japanese military. In the battlefields of Indonesia and the Philippines, dozens of Dutch and Filipino women were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers. (Those soldiers 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 (Dutch and Filipino women) were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers.”
8. The Japanese military and Korean comfort women
Korean comfort women worked in kimono using Japanese names. They 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 the 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 the Japanese military sent orders to police in Korea to crack down on Korean brokers who engage in illegal recruiting. (See footnote *6, *7) 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 the Japanese military. The Japanese military personnels visited comfort stations as customers. A diary written by a Korean comfort station manager was discovered in 2012 (See footnote *3), 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 the Korean comfort station owners according to the memoir written by a former Korean comfort woman. Japanese and Taiwanese women worked at comfort stations owned and operated by the 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 the Japanese military operated comfort stations is incorrect.
10. Japan-South Korea Treaty of 1965
During the treaty negotiations, the Japanese government asked the South Korean government to identify and separate individual claims from the treaty because the Japanese government wanted to make sure the victims received compensation by delivering compensation directly to them. The 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 the South Korean government to keep asking for additional compensation from Japan.
(Note: Korean victims recently sued the South Korean government claiming that 300 million of the 800 million dollars were meant for them)
11. Kono Statement in 1993
Kono Statement acknowledged that some Korean comfort women were taken against their will by Korean prostitution brokers. But it did not acknowledge that the Japanese military coerced them. Therefore, there is no need to revise Kono Statement. Some might argue that if some Korean women were taken against their will by Korean brokers, why was it necessary for the 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.
12. Asian Women’s Fund
Asian Women’s Fund was established by the 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 the Japanese military and all individual claims were settled in the 1965 Japan-South Korea Treaty, the 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: The 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.)
13. Why has it been so difficult to resolve this issue only with South Korea?
The anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup (정대협 挺対協) 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 the 1965 Japan-South Korea Treaty, a cabinet member decision was the best the 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.
14. 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 KAFC 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. (False testimonies of women who were coached by Chong Dae Hyup. Reference) Most Western media and scholars fell for Chong Dae Hyup’s (North Korean) propaganda and believe “200,000 young girls, many of whom Koreans, were coercively taken away by the 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 the Japanese military because the Korean Peninsula was not the battlefield and therefore the 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 reconcile with Japan and continues to spread the false claim of “200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the 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.
15. 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 the U.S. military bases are located, there are women who provide sex to the U.S. military personnels. There is no doubt that the 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 invasion into China and Southeast Asia created the demand for comfort women.
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Footnote: Professor Park Yuha’s book “Comfort Women of the Empire” was banned from publishing in South Korea. Professor Park is also being sued for defamation by anti-Japan lobby and receives death threats from time to time. In South Korea, government often uses anti-Japan lobby to hunt down people who speak out the inconvenient truth. It is now very difficult for Professor Park to publish anything in South Korea without being persecuted, but her books can be purchased in other Asian countries.
(*1) The following is a momoir written by a former Korean comfort woman, Mun Oku-chu. It shows what it was like to be a comfort woman.
(*2) The following is a U.S. military report. Except for the part where it says “Japanese agents recruited women and Japanese housemasters operated comfort stations,” this report is accurate. It should have said “ethnic Korean agents recruited Korean women and Korean housemasters operated comfort stations.” The U.S. military interrogator must have thought they were Japanese because their surnames were Japanese.
(*3) The following article reports that Professor Ahn Byong Jik of Seoul University had recently discovered a diary written by a Korean comfort station manager. Comfort station owners that appear in his diary are Oyama from Seoul Korea, Ohara from Daegu Korea, Uchizono from Korea, Murayama from Korea, Yamamoto from Daegu Korea, Nozawa from Korea, Matsumoto from Daegu Korea, Kinoshita origin unknown, Mitsuyama from Korea, Kanai origin unknown, Oishi from Korea, Nishihara from Korea. So although they all had Japanese surnames, most of them if not all were Koreans. The diary also mentions that whenever they needed more comfort women, owners themselves went back to Korea to recruit women. Professor Ahn Byong Jik confirms in this article that Korean comfort women were recruited by Korean prostitution brokers, not by the Japanese military.
The Korean comfort station manager’s diary (available only in Korean and Japanese) can be purchased or downloaded at the following sites.
(*4) The photo below is a recruitment ad in Korean newspaper Maeil Sinbo (매일신보 毎日新報) on October 27, 1944 by a Korean prostitution broker. There are more ads like this.
(*5) The photo below is a record of how much a typical Korean comfort woman made.
(*6) The photo below is an article in Korean newspaper Dongailbo (동아일보 東亜日報) on August 31, 1939. It says, “About 100 Korean women were abducted by Korean prostitution brokers but were rescued by Japanese military police.” There are dozens of articles like this. (other articles)
(*7) The photo below is an order sent by the Japanese military to police in Korea to crack down on Korean brokers who engage in illegal recruiting. Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi (a well known communist and with close ties to China and North Korea) deliberately misrepresented this document as proof that the Japanese military coerced Korean women. Confronted by other scholars, Mr. Yoshimi admitted to Japanese media that he lied, but he never did so to Western media. New York Times in its 2007 article used his initial statement as proof that the Japanese military coerced Korean women. Many scholars have demanded New York Times to retract the article, but NYT has refused to do so.
(*8) The photo below is an article in Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun (경향신문 京郷新聞) on June 6, 1977. It says that a female Korean prostitution broker trafficked dozens of Korean comfort women to Rabaul, Papua New Guinea to provide sex to Japanese soldiers there during World War II. It was common knowledge in South Korea until the 1970’s that Korean prostitution brokers recruited Korean comfort women and operated comfort stations, and no South Koreans contested that notion. Then Asahi Shimbun (left-wing Japanese newspaper) published a series of fabricated articles in the 1980’s falsely accusing Japanese military of abducting Korean comfort women. South Korean leftists with close ties to North Korea thought this was a great opportunity to discredit Japan and block reconciliation between Japan and South Korea. So they formed the anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup in 1990 and began spreading comfort women lies worldwide. Their strategy was to use the case of a small number of Dutch and Filipino women who were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers and make it look like the same thing happened to tens of thousands of Korean women. Since they had no evidence, they coached Korean women to testify falsely.
(*9) The photo below shows the relationship between the anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup (Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan) and North Korea.
Asahi Shimbun published a series of fabricated articles on comfort women in the 1980’s. Based on these articles, the anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup was formed in South Korea in 1990. Then out of nowhere a woman named Kim Hak-sun came forward in 1991 and claimed she was abducted by Japanese military. There is clear evidence (recorded tapes) that suggests she was coached by Chong Dae Hyup to give false testimony. If Korean women were indeed abducted by the Japanese military, it is rather odd that not a single woman claimed anything for over 45 years after the end of World War II. Former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo said in 1993 interview with Bungeishunju, “Asahi Shimbun created the comfort women issue out of nothing, provoked Korean nationalism and infuriated Korean people.”
It is ironic that 99% of Westerners fell for Chong Dae Hyup’s (North Korean) propaganda and believe 200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the Japanese military while South Korean scholars such as Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University, Professor Lee Yong-hoon of Seoul University, Professor Ahn Byong-jik of Seoul University, Professor Jun Bong-gwan of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Professor Lee Dae-gun of Sungkyunkwan University, Professor Choi Ki-ho of Kaya University, Professor Oh Seon-hwa of Takushoku University and Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh of San Francisco State University agree that the Japanese military did not coerce Korean women and that the number of women (Dutch and Filipino) coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers was less than a hundred. Only a small number of fanatics with loud voice (South Korean leftists with close ties to North Korea and radical left wing Japanese scholars such as Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Yuki Tanaka and Hirofumi Hayashi also with close ties to North Korea and China) falsely claim 200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the Japanese military. Westerners must realize that North Korean and Chinese operatives are using the comfort women issue to drive a wedge into U.S.-Japan-South Korea security partnership.
The following recording summarizes the comfort women issue very well.