Japan from the inside out

Where are the Japanese comfort women?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 14, 2007

But love and hate…good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in differing proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, and one had merely to scratch the surface….Two people in each person. – Patricia Highsmith

While most of us understand what Highsmith is saying intellectually, more than a few of us fail to apply the insight of her observation to the judgments we make of others. For example, some of us overlook the obvious flaws of our heroes. American feminists champion the careers of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, despite behavior those same feminists would find odious in other people.

Others overlook the occasional wisdom of people they despise. Very few of us would support the segregationist policies of J. Strom Thurmond, but those who adopted his exercise and diet regimen might also live very healthful lives to the age of 100. (He fathered four children after the age of 68 with a former beauty queen one-third his age and did pushups for reporters in his Senate office when he was in his 90s.)

An awareness of this duality is probably the best approach to take with Shinichi Kiyotani—an author, special Japan correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, and a columnist for the unconventional monthly magazine, Cyzo. Kiyotani also has written a book on modern tank technology and contributed to a London guidebook. He writes a blog in Japanese called Sakigake! (roughly, To the Fore!).

While I don’t think he’s the type to ride around in black sound trucks, some of his ideas do fall within a pre-war intellectual tradition that espouses a militarily strong Japan and takes a dim view of Westerners. (Here are some chapter titles from one of his books: America, the country of children; Japan, the country of adults / There’s no fear in going it alone / Why should we follow the lead of a country like America? / The Self-Defense Forces know nothing about war and the Foreign Ministry knows nothing about diplomacy.)

Yet in this Japanese-language post about comfort women, Kiyotani makes a point worth considering that everyone else seems to have overlooked: Why isn’t anyone talking about Japanese comfort women?

Put aside the mass media’s embellishments. We know there must have been Japanese comfort women during the war. (I’ve seen a report stating that half of the comfort women in China were Japanese.) Many of them may have been prostitutes, but so were some of the Korean women. Some of the Korean women were sold into prostitution by their indigent fathers—not unheard of in those days—but that would also be true for some of the Japanese women.

Then why haven’t any of them come forward to receive compensation? They certainly could find groups in Japan to back their claims in court.

A summary and translation of Kiyotani’s post follows. Remember this is Kiyotani speaking and not me.

“I really wonder why no one is talking about the Japanese comfort women. If there was organized prostitution under state management through the use of military comfort women, isn’t it reasonable to assume that a majority were Japanese (not counting the Taiwanese and Koreans as Japanese)?

“It’s strange that no Japanese are among the women coming forward to claim they were comfort women. Many prostitutes serviced the military, and prostitution was legal at the time anyway.

“So that would mean the Japanese military rounded up military comfort women from among those women in the domestic population who weren’t Japanese.

“In that case, a complete distinction was made between military comfort women and Japanese prostitutes. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the possibility there were Japanese military comfort women, but for some reason they don’t come forward.

“Therefore, the people now causing such an uproar and denouncing Japan should also add Japanese comfort women to their list of victims. Yet it’s odd that they aren’t.

“For this issue, we should first clearly define the term ‘military comfort women’, Otherwise, the prostitutes engaged in business at commercial bordellos would also be among the victims. There must also be a debate about why the Japanese comfort women do not come forward. This would include whether or not they actually exist.”

At this point, Kiyotani starts sailing at the edge:

“After Japan’s defeat in the war, the US government ordered the Japanese government to create ‘comfort stations’ for the occupation army. If they hadn’t, the GIs would have attacked women from the general population in violation of the military code. (There probably aren’t ‘comfort stations’ in Iraq, so why are the American forces upholding the military code? Have Americans evolved?)

“At present, there is no objective evidence that the Japanese government and the Imperial Army and Navy systematically created ‘comfort stations’ and rounded up comfort women. Yet there is unimpeachable evidence that the US government ordered the Japanese government to create ‘comfort stations’.

“Strangely enough, despite the existence of clear ‘sexual slavery’ and ‘military comfort women’ in Japan, the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party (former Socialists) and others do not blame the Americans for their inhumanity, nor do they submit resolutions censuring them. This is rather astonishing for the Communists and Social Democrats, who supposedly hate ‘American imperialism’.
“While the non-Japanese comfort women suffered serious harm, was the harm suffered by the Japanese women who fell prey to the American soldiers so trifling?

“I definitely want the leaders of the opposition party to submit legislation to the Diet denouncing the US for coercing the women of Japan to become ‘comfort women’”

End of summary

I believe in the marketplace of ideas, and I trust that intellectual market forces will handle these comments by Kiyotani in an appropriate manner. (For starters, they remind me of tit-for-tat South Korean claims on Tsushima after Shimane Prefecture declared a Takeshima Day.) Besides, editorializing about zealots is a waste of time.

But there was a reason why I wrote what I did at the beginning of the post. Kiyotani has an idea worth considering.

There must have been Japanese comfort women during the war. Why aren’t we hearing from them, or about them?

If anyone has any reliable, non-hearsay information that Americans ordered the Japanese to set up comfort stations, I’m sure we’d all like to see it.

29 Responses to “Where are the Japanese comfort women?”

  1. Infimum said

    What is the definition of “order”? Just kidding. I just googled and found thisアメリカが『作って』と言った、という資料は私は発見できなかった.

    Have you heard of 赤線?

  2. Aceface said

    From Akahata:

    JCP member of the lower diet Yoshikawa Haruko

    koudannsha used to have paperback on the subject.
    Yamada also wrote a book on comfort women.

    And from historian Hata Ikuhiko on comfort station in Vietnam.
    From Sankei March 12

  3. ampontan said

    Thanks for that Infimum. For those who don’t read Japanese, he found a blog post by someone who made an effort to find evidence of American-ordered comfort stations, but only saw second hand reports. He read of a book that supposedly had some primary evidence, but it’s not on the web. He concludes there is none on the web. He also notes that there were a lot of murders and rapes committed by GIs in Japan.

    BTW, Infimum, I found Kiyotani’s blog by accident looking at a link you sent me a day or two ago.

  4. Aceface said

    Tried to send you linkful post but it didn’t made it.Happened before when I tried to post
    left turned reactionary intellectuals.
    Found no order from GHQ but they didn’t disband them.

  5. Aceface said

    And from historian Hata Ikuhiko on comfort station in Vietnam.
    From Sankei March 12

  6. Infimum said

    BTW, Infimum, I found Kiyotani’s blog by accident looking at a link you sent me a day or two ago.

    I hope that it’s not the case that I accidentally sent my bookmark file and you ended up getting links to porn sites or something.

  7. buvery said

    Hello, Ampontan.

    I cannot believe you are serious on this matter. Of course there were bunch of Japanese prostitutes served as Ianfu, before and after 1945.

    IMO, Hata Ikuhiko ISBN4-10-600565-4
    should be the minimal knowledge required for the discussion of Ianfu. And, google RAA.

    RAA in wikipedia has some references about Japanese prostitutes.

  8. ampontan said

    “I cannot believe you are serious on this matter.”

    Why? The question for me was what happened to the Japanese women who were comfort women during the war. Why are none of them coming forward in the courts to demand compensation?

    The Hara book is out of print. I’ll have to look in libraries.

    Thanks for the info about RAA. The Wikipedia article doesn’t say the Americans ordered them to be set up. I was interested in this aspect to find out about Kiyotani.

  9. Aceface said

    They are not coming out because Japanese comfort women probably think themselves as prostitutes under contract based on free will,of which is just what many Japanese regard them.I can predict there were lot of agony and pain for being prostitute back then and they have my sympathies.But demanding compensation for victim of war crimes?
    They just have to wait our civic groups are done with blaming Japanese government(and not Washington,thank god)for allowing The Great Tokyo Air Raid.

    In Asian country,especially in Korea,you became somekind of hybrid between Joan of Arc and Anne Frank and Anna Nicloe Smiths for being ex-comfort women now,but that was not the case even in Korea before the 90’s where majority of the population had actual experience of the Japanese colonial rule.Now all the discourse surround that age is somewhat censored by different reasons.and comfort women had gained elevated status as national suffering.ROK army had used same sort of institution during Korean war(no link I could find in English)and Americans in Vietnam.So the torn of Kiyotani might sound rather anti-american but even the most pro-american dude in Japan has to give up with the intellectual integrity of American media and Washington people and think they are somekind of hypocrite.Just read NewYork Post had put a piece by Peter Brooks the former deputy defence secretary saying out loud the newest”Japanese don’t apologize”piece.And I have to wonder,how many of these people know what they are talking about!

    Japanese communist party had been asking the responsibility of the local police station giving the authorisation to the brothel for American GIs in post war Japan from 90’s.American did not order them but did not disbanded them either despite nearly everything that relate the militarism was ordered to be ceased or banned including Kabuki and Kendo.This almost interchange the logic of Japanese military’s recruit of comfortwomen in the colonies.
    We used them but we did not coerced them to do so.

  10. ampontan said

    “ROK army had used same sort of institution during Korean war (no link I could find in English) and Americans in Vietnam.”

    Katharine Moon, a Korean-American (I think) wrote a book about Korean prostitution in which she says the Korean government organized it:

    “Korean women were offered money by the government to serve the U.S. military. What these women did not know, however, was that they would never see a majority of their earnings.[4] Women and their families were led to believe that prostitution was acceptable because it would increase a girls’ social status and worth through her economic contribution to the family.[5]”

    Moon’s book was called Sex Among Allies. I think it’s available on Amazon.

    This site has the first part of an article about Moon’s book and other aspects:

    Such as:

    “Meredith Turshen and Briavel Holcomb authors of Women’s Lives and Public Policy: The International Experience, state that this practice of women servicing government officials, foreign diplomats, and military servicemen is not a new institution in Korea.[14] This severe mistreatment of women has been a patriarchal tradition since the tenth century. These women are known in Korea as kisaeng, which means “rented wife.”[15] The term rented wife proposes that the prostitute will act as a housekeeper for the soldier and then be forced to provide sexual services. These women are forced because they are paid next to nothing, as the majority of their earnings are given to the government.[16]”


    “A general in the Thai Royal Air Force, whose wife ran Thailand’s first military sex tour agency, negotiated this treaty which initiated a huge influx of currency into the Thai economy.[23] This influx of money was due to the fact that the U.S. government wanted to fund the Rest and Recreation sites in order to ensure good morale among the soldiers. However, the American government knew that the money could not be directly invested for fear that they would be held accountable for perpetuating the cycle of military base prostitution.
    Therefore, the United States and Thailand solicited a number of international investors such as Chase Manhattan Corporation and Bank of America Corporation to “loan” money to the Thai government. These moneys (approximately $4 million) were loaned under the pretense of investing in Thai hotels, bars, and restaurants. In reality, the laundered money funded the construction of numerous Rest and Recreation sites.[24]”

  11. tomojiro said

    I heard the book by susan brownmiller “Against our will” also described forced prostitution during the Vietnam war.

    Some say that it was not that different from some so called Japanese “Comfort station”.

  12. Aceface said

    Thanks for Moon book,I googled with”comfort women”keyword for a second.

    Found Susan Brownmilller’s book(she has her own webpage,You just got to love the internet.)
    Her book “Against Her Will” is being reffered in Hata’s article.Though I hate use this as any “evidence”in the debate for a)haven’t read the book b)smells militant feminist from her other article on her web,not that is wrong,but that happend to be the same of many focus group surround comfort women pushing the issue into the realm of uncontrolable.

    Since I don’t support entirely what focusgroups say so I shouldn’t use Brownmiller as source of counterargument but then again could be vital for some or at least for me to know her existence.

  13. ampontan said

    Tomojiro: Thanks for the mention of the Brownmiller book.

    Aceface: The Brownmiller book is about rape in general. It probably uses the US in Vietnam as a specific example.

    Interesting the alliances this creates. Kiyotani uses information spread by the communists and Hata uses information from Brownmiller.

    It doesn’t bother me if someone is anti-American, but Kiyotani echoes some pre-war types in a way I don’t care for. Look around on his site and you’ll find it.

  14. […] Kiyotani in response to the recent Abe’s claim that comfort women are voluntary prostitution: I really wonder why no one is talking about the Japanese comfort women. If there was organized prost… Oiwan […]

  15. Aceface said

    One thing for Hata and JCP.Hata is a respectable historian when it come to the detailed fact.
    I don’t sometimes agree with his conclusions and so are many historians, but I’ve never read anything in my living memory that he was accused of a misrepresentation of historical facts.
    Same goes to the JCP.JCP is biased.But they do research and they do it good.Especially when they bring the issue on the debate in diet.They are more reliable than LDP or DPJ.
    About the Kiyotani chap.Yeah I read Cyzo and I know he wrote book with Ishiba Shigeru,the ex defence minister,needless to say Jane’s is a respectable defence media.But he is a bit irresopnsoble here and there.Not a credible man like Hata in my opinion.

  16. ampontan said

    “JCP is biased.But they do research and they do it good. Especially when they bring the issue on the debate in diet.They are more reliable than LDP or DPJ.”

    You know, I’m glad you said this. I’ve thought the same thing myself, but it’s interesting to know that a Japanese agrees with my observation.

    I’ve always thought the JCP can be so (relatively) honest because they know they have nothing to lose!

  17. Aceface said

    Lots of Japanese agree with your observation.In fact JCP is great opposition party
    and that is why we keep them in that status!

    Renowned liberal Japan pundits like John Dower and Herbert Bix tends to shy away to say in the mainstream American media that Japanese historical narratives were basically repentant unlike that are proclaimed by likes of Iris Chang or Mike Honda.(both Dower and Bix had wrote about this in Asahi couple years ago when they got Pulitzer award for their books as that is what they felt but said both have missed the occasion or not enough time in the soundbite of TV interview,Bullshit!)
    I was sort of giving up on foreign critics paint any objection from Japan as a proof of Japan-goes-right talk.But then again I’ve been watching teaser trailers of “300” over and over again lately and come up some other idea.(“This is where we fight!”).Turning me into a bigotry,I’m afraid.

    Critics outside better start admitting themselves that they made moral and political judgements before they actually knew the details behind the hypes(I won’t say “Truth”) on issues like comfort women et al.
    Japan is a free country with diverse opinion.You can either make it as a quasi fascist state or pacifist nation by quoting selective sources.and Tokyo correspondents are becoming increasingly selective on Japan reporting for it can’t be a hot topic if not a real sexed-up report.

    Brownmiller’s book about Nam does seemingly a report on almost the equivalent of comfort station to my eyes now.Not to intending to make this case a stale mate though.

  18. tomojiro said

    “Lots of Japanese agree with your observation.In fact JCP is great opposition party
    and that is why we keep them in that status!”

    Yeah, my uncle who was a very conservative person and basicaly a LDP supporter used to read Yomiuri Shinbun and Akahata.

    If he was angry about LDP, he chosed to vote to the JCP rather the SP (now SPD).

  19. Aceface said


  20. tomojiro said

    True 韓流drama.

  21. jost said

    What I never understood was why the JCP and SDP doesn’t form some sort of alliance.

    I mean, they share the same values and seem to be in agreement on pretty much every political, economic and historical issue..

    So why no “Social Communist Party”?

  22. camphortree said

    “Lots of Japanese agree with your observation.In fact JCP is great opposition party and that is why we keep them in that status!”

    To my knowledge JCP’s Akahata and the Asahi Shimbun were the two leading papers that elevated Mr. Seiji Yoshida’s so called testimony to be a truthful historical event. He claimed that he gathered a bunch of women from a button making factory at gun point, shipped them in a military truck to the comfort station in Cheju Island, South Korea. His claim later debunked to be a lie by both Dr. Hata and the local Cheju paper. Neither Akahata nor Asahi Shimbun have ever corrected their deceitful articles to this day.

  23. madne0 said

    Ampontan: There probably aren’t ‘comfort stations’ in Iraq, so why are the American forces upholding the military code? Have Americans evolved?

    Well, nowadays there is much easier access to pornography. Not to mention a lot more of it!
    And let’s not forget that the military is “co-ed” now…

  24. ampontan said

    MadneO: That was not my quote about Iraqi comfort stations. That was Kiyotani’s.

  25. Everlasting said

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Dower’s book and in most of the recent stories I’ve read, it was the Japanese government which set up the the Japanese comfort women system set up for the US Occupation. According to Kiyotani, it was the US government which ordered the establishment of the domestic system?

    Regarding why no Japanese comfort women have come forward, the reasons are probably similar to the situation in the rest of Asia. Even in Taiwan and South Korea, the number of women who have come forward to claim that they were comfort women has been less than 200 I believe. Although Taiwan and South Korea established (for better or worse) their own domestic systems of compensation for comfort women, to date there has been an underwhelming response, with very few women coming forward despite the support of their governments. Whether the individual woman was coerced or was willing, it seems that the most likely answer is that most women who were involved in the system would rather leave that chapter of their lives within the private, rather than public arena.

  26. Edith Cavell said

    1. Susie Brownmiller is dead, literally. She started the whole understanding of rape as a projection of power that has nothing to do with sex. With the Comfort Women issue this is clearly true. Even Japan’s denials smack of the need for power.

    2. The RAAs were set up by the Japanese government modeled on their Comfort Women system and based on their understanding of war, victory, and men. MacArthur shut these down about six months after the start of the occupation. In part, because they actually spread VD, in part out of fear of what would happen if Congress found out; and in part because it was clearly a manipulative move by the Japanese. Dower and many others document this.

    3. The original Comfort Women were Japanese and until several of them sued and won in the late 30s for being sent overseas against their will–considered abduction–were the first choice. The shame of being a prostitute in Japan has prevented these women from coming forward. Coercion is defined as not being allowed choices. Although these women were “professionals” they never had a choice to leave the profession or have any control over their lives. It is suspected that if any do remain, they remain under the control of Japan’s underworld and would not dare speak out. Moreover, these women like the women Japan preyed upon overseas were illiterate and poor.

    I admit to being astonished by the above uninformed discussion. It is fascinating how many young men will talk without being bothered by thought or research or scholarship.

    Edith Cavell

  27. ampontan said

    “The original Comfort Women were Japanese and until several of them sued and won in the late 30s for being sent overseas against their will–considered abduction–were the first choice. The shame of being a prostitute in Japan has prevented these women from coming forward.

    “It is fascinating how many young men will talk without being bothered by thought or research or scholarship.”

    Please show us the research and scholarship for the above paragraph, Edith. There are plenty of people who can read Japanese here, so don’t let that stop you.

    When you talk about the shame of being a prostitute, please make reference to the fact that prostitution was legal in Japan at the time. As it was in Korea.

    As a long-time resident of Japan, I think I can safely say that there are plenty of women who would have no problem these days about coming out and taking their case to court.

  28. ponta said

    It is true that Japan prepared the comfort stations in Japan after the occupation, but at the same time, according to Dower,

    Yosano Mitsuru, the head of the municipal government’s hygiene department was summoned by GHQ and asked to help apportion the prostitutes into separate districts to be reserved for use by U.S.

    And there are some Japanese testimonies that the U.S. requested to set up the comfort station for GIs
    Japanese comfort women didn’t come forward, and for that matter, Korean comfort women for UN soldiers haven’t come come forward despite the fact Korea essentially had the same comfort system she “emulated” from Japan afther the liberation.
    And it is not that Korean comfort women under Japanese rule came forward first and the media picked it up.
    If I remember it correctly rather it was a Japanese group who initiated the movement and visited Korea to search for the former comfort women.

  29. Aceface said

    “I admit to being astonished by the above uninformed discussion. It is fascinating how many young men will talk without being bothered by thought or research or scholarship.”

    Enlighten us then,Edith,with decent book recomendations or news articles.Not necessariry on the web but approachable since we are pretty much ignorant in many things.(I’m not a young man any more by the way)
    Anyway, thanks to Mike Honda, this is no longer a matter of academic research that require any scholoarships and you would agree with me that this debate has become free for all now.
    And I can safely say you don’t need to be an Eistein to think six month length of american engagement to comfort wpmen is long enough to be considered as “partner in crime”.

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