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Comfort women were women and girls forced into a prostitution corps created by the Empire of Japan during World War II. The name "comfort women" is a translation of a Japanese name ianfu (慰安婦).[1][2] Ianfu is a euphemism for shōfu (娼婦) whose meaning is "prostitute(s)".[3]

Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 20,000 from some Japanese scholars [4] to as high as 410,000 from some Chinese scholars,[5] but the exact numbers are still being researched and debated. Many of the women were from Korea, China, and the Philippines,[6] although women from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Japanese-occupied territories were used for military "comfort stations". Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, Burma, New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and French Indochina.[7]

According to testimony, young women from countries under Japanese Imperial control were abducted from their homes. In many cases, women were also lured with promises of work in factories or restaurants. Once recruited, the women were incarcerated in "comfort stations" in foreign lands.[8] A Dutch government study described how the Japanese military itself recruited women by force in the Dutch East Indies.[9] It revealed that a total of 300 Dutch women had been coerced into Japanese military sex slavery.[10]

Establishment of the Comfort Women System[]

File:The Allied Reoccupation of the Andaman Islands, 1945 SE5226.jpg

Chinese and Malayan girls forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as 'comfort girls' for the troops

File:Jan O'Herne.jpg

Studio portrait of Jan Ruff O'Herne, taken shortly before she, her mother and sisters, as well as thousands of other Dutch women and children were interned by the Japanese Imperial Army in Ambarawa. Over the following months, O'Herne, along with six other Dutch women, were repeatedly raped, day and night, by Japanese military personnel[11]

Japanese military prostitution[]

Military correspondence of the Japanese Imperial Army shows that the aim of facilitating comfort stations was the prevention of rape crimes committed by Japanese army personnel and thus preventing the rise of hostility among people in occupied areas.[4]

Given the well-organized and open nature of prostitution in Japan, it was seen as logical that there should be organized prostitution to serve the Japanese Armed Forces.[12] The Japanese Army established the comfort stations to prevent venereal diseases and rape by Japanese soldiers, to provide comfort to soldiers and head off espionage. The comfort stations were not actual solutions to the first two problems, however. According to Japanese historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, they aggravated the problems. Yoshimi has asserted, "The Japanese Imperial Army feared most that the simmering discontentment of the soldiers could explode into a riot and revolt. That is why it provided women."[13]


The first "comfort station" was established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Earlier comfort women were Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for such service. However, as Japan continued military expansion, the military found itself short of Japanese volunteers, and turned to the local population to coerce women into serving in these stations.[14] Many women responded to calls for work as factory workers or nurses, and did not know that they were being pressed into sexual slavery.[15]

In the early stages of the war, Japanese authorities recruited prostitutes through conventional means. In urban areas, conventional advertising through middlemen was used alongside kidnapping. Middlemen advertised in newspapers circulating in Japan and the Japanese colonies of Korea, Taiwan, Manchukuo, and China. These sources soon dried up, especially from Japan.[16] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs resisted further issuance of travel visas for Japanese prostitutes, feeling it tarnished the image of the Japanese Empire.[17] The military turned to acquiring comfort women outside mainland Japan, especially from Korea and occupied China. Many women were tricked or defrauded into joining the military brothels.[18]

The situation became worse as the war progressed. Under the strain of the war effort, the military became unable to provide enough supplies to Japanese units; in response, the units made up the difference by demanding or looting supplies from the locals. Along the front lines, especially in the countryside where middlemen were rare, the military often directly demanded that local leaders procure women for the brothels. When the locals, especially Chinese, were considered hostile, Japanese soldiers carried out the "Three Alls Policy", which included indiscriminately kidnapping and raping local civilians.[19]

The United States Office of War Information report of interviews with 20 comfort women in Burma found that the girls were induced by the offer of plenty of money, an opportunity to pay off family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in a new land, Singapore. On the basis of these false representations many girls enlisted for overseas duty and were rewarded with an advance of a few hundred yen.[20]

Late archives inquiries and trials[]

On April 17, 2007 Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Hirofumi Hayashi announced the discovery, in the archives of the Tokyo Trials, of seven official documents suggesting that Imperial military forces, such as the Tokkeitai (Naval military police), forced women whose fathers attacked the Kenpeitai (Army military police), to work in front line brothels in China, Indochina and Indonesia. These documents were initially made public at the war crimes trial. In one of these, a lieutenant is quoted as confessing to having organized a brothel and having used it himself. Another source refers to Tokkeitai members having arrested women on the streets, and after enforced medical examinations, putting them in brothels.[21]

On 12 May 2007 journalist Taichiro Kajimura announced the discovery of 30 Dutch government documents submitted to the Tokyo tribunal as evidence of a forced mass prostitution incident in 1944 in Magelang.[22]

The South Korean government designated Bae Jeong-ja as a pro-Japan collaborator (chinilpa) in September 2007 for recruiting comfort women.[23][24]

Number of comfort women[]

Lack of official documentation has made estimates of the total number of comfort women difficult, as vast amounts of material pertaining to matters related to war crimes and the war responsibility of the nation's highest leaders were destroyed on the orders of the Japanese government at the end of the war.[25] Historians have arrived at various estimates by looking at surviving documentation which indicate the ratio of the number of soldiers in a particular area to the number of women, as well as looking at replacement rates of the women.[26] Historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, who conducted the first academic study on the topic which brought the issue out into the open, estimated the number to be between 50,000 and 200,000.[4]

Based on these estimates, most international media sources quote about 200,000 young women were recruited or kidnapped by soldiers to serve in Japanese military brothels. The BBC quotes "200,000 to 300,000" and the International Commission of Jurists quotes "estimates of historians of 100,000 to 200,000 women."[27]

Country of origin[]

According to State University of New York at Buffalo professor Yoshiko Nozaki and other sources, the majority of the women were from Korea and China.[28][29] Chuo University professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi states there were about 2,000 centers where as many as 200,000 Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Taiwanese, Burmese, Indonesian, Dutch and Australian women were interned.[30] Ikuhiko Hata, a professor of Nihon University, estimated the number of women working in the licensed pleasure quarter was fewer than 20,000 and that they were 40% Japanese, 20% Koreans, 10% Chinese, with others making up the remaining 30%. According to Hata, the total number of government-regulated prostitutes in Japan was only 170,000 during World War II.[31] Others came from the Philippines, Taiwan, Dutch East Indies, and other Japanese-occupied countries and regions.[32] Some Dutch women, captured in Dutch colonies in Asia, were also forced into sexual slavery.[33]

In further analysis of the Imperial Army medical records for venereal disease treatment from 1940, Yoshimi concluded that if the percentages of women treated reflected the general makeup of the total comfort women population, Korean women comprised 51.8 percent, Chinese 36 percent and Japanese 12.2 percent.[13]

To date, only one Japanese woman has published her testimony. This was done in 1971, when a former "comfort woman" forced to work for showa soldiers in Taiwan, published her memoirs under the pseudonym of Suzuko Shirota.[34]

Treatment of comfort women[]

Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted disease.[35] According to Japanese soldier Yasuji Kaneko. "The women cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance."[36] Beatings and physical torture were said to be common.[37] Revisionist Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata claims Kaneko's testimony is false since he testified about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre but he was not in the Army until 1940.[38]

Ten Dutch women were taken by force from prison camps in Java by officers of the Japanese Imperial Army to become forced sex slaves in February 1944. They were systematically beaten and raped day and night in a so-called "Comfort Station".[37][39] As a victim of the incident, in 1990, Jan Ruff-O'Herne testified to a U.S. House of Representatives committee:

"Many stories have been told about the horrors, brutalities, suffering and starvation of Dutch women in Japanese prison camps. But one story was never told, the most shameful story of the worst human rights abuse committed by the Japanese during World War II: The story of the “Comfort Women”, the jugun ianfu, and how these women were forcibly seized against their will, to provide sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army. In the so-called “Comfort Station” I was systematically beaten and raped day and night. Even the Japanese doctor raped me each time he visited the brothel to examine us for venereal disease."[37][39]

In their first morning at the brothel, photographs of Jan Ruff-O'Herne and the others were taken and placed on the veranda which was used as a reception area for the Japanese personnel who would choose from these photographs. Over the following four months the girls were raped and beaten day and night, with those who became pregnant forced to have abortions. After four harrowing months, the girls were moved to a camp at Bogor, in West Java, where they were reunited with their families. This camp was exclusively for women who had been put into military brothels, and the Japanese warned the inmates that if anyone told what had happened to them, they and their family members would be killed. Several months later the O'Hernes were transferred to a camp at Batavia, which was liberated on 15 August 1945.[40][41][42]

The Japanese officers involved received some punishment by Japanese authorities at the end of the war.[43] After the end of the war, 11 Japanese officers were found guilty with one soldier being sentenced to death by the Batavia War Criminal Court.[43] The court decision found that the charges those who raped violated were the Army's order to hire only voluntary women.[43] Victims from East Timor testified they were forced into slavery even when they were not old enough to have started menstruating. The court testimonies state that these prepubescent girls were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers[44] while those who refused to comply were executed.[45][46]

Hank Nelson, emeritus professor at the Australian National University's Asia Pacific Research Division, has written about the brothels run by the Japanese military in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea during WWII. He quotes from the diary of Gordon Thomas, a POW in Rabaul. Thomas writes that the women working at the brothels “most likely served 25 to 35 men a day” and that they were “victims of the yellow slave trade.”[47]

Nelson also quotes from Kentaro Igusa, a Japanese naval surgeon who was stationed in Rabaul. Igusa wrote in his memoirs that the women continued to work through infection and severe discomfort, though they “cried and begged for help.”[47]


During World War II, the Shōwa regime implemented in Korea, a prostitution system similar to the one established in other parts of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Korean agents, Korean Kempeitai (military police) and military auxiliaries were involved in the procurement and organization of comfort women, and made use of their services.[48] Chong-song Pak found that "Koreans under Japanese rule became fully acculturated as main actors in the licensed prostitution system that was transplanted in their country by the colonial state".[49]

History of the issue[]

Wikisource has original text related to this article:

The Allied Forces captured "comfort women" as well as Japanese soldiers, and issued a report on them. In 1944, a United States Army interrogator reported that "a 'comfort girl' is nothing more than a prostitute or 'professional camp follower' attached to the Japanese Army for the benefit of the soldiers."[50] The report continues, "They lived well because their food and material was not heavily rationed and they had plenty of money with which to purchase desired articles. They were able to buy cloth, shoes, cigarettes, and cosmetics ... While in Burma they amused themselves by participating in sports events with both officers and men, and attended picnics, entertainments, and social dinners. They had a phonograph and in the towns they were allowed to go shopping."[50][51] In South Korea, during and after the Korean War, separate "comfort stations" were maintained for UN/U.S. and South Korean soldiers. The women were called "Western princesses" as well as "comfort women" (wianbu).[52]

There was no discussion of the comfort women issue when the last stations were closed after the Korean War. It did not enter into discussions when diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea were restored in 1965.

In 1973 a man named Kakou Senda wrote a book about the comfort women system but focused on Japanese participants. His book has been widely criticized as distorting the facts by both Japanese and Korean historians.[53] This was the first postwar mention of the comfort women system and became an important source for 1990s activism on the issue.[54]

In 1974 a South Korea film studio made an adult film called Chonggun Wianbu, "Women's Volunteer Corps", featuring comfort women and Japanese soldiers. The first book written by a Korean on the subject of comfort women appeared in 1981. It was a plagarism of a 1976 Japanese book by the zainichi author Kim Il-Myeon.[55][56]

In 1989, the testimony of Seiji Yoshida was translated into Korean. His book was debunked as fraudulent by both Japanese and Korean journalists, but after its publication, a number of people came forward attesting to kidnapping by Japanese soldiers. In 1996, Yoshida finally admitted his memoir was fictional.

Following multiple testimonies the Kono Statement of 1993 was issued claiming that coercion was involved.[57] However, in 2007, the Japanese government made a cabinet decision, "No evidence was found that the Japanese army or the military officials seized the women by force." [58][59]

Apologies and compensation[]

File:Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army's 'comfort battalions'.jpg

Rangoon, Burma. August 8, 1945. A young ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer.

In 1965, the Japanese government awarded $364 million to the Korean government for all war damages, including the injury done to comfort women.[60] In 1994, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women's Fund to distribute additional compensation to South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Indonesia.[61] Each survivor was provided with a signed apology from the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, stating "As Prime Minister of Japan, I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."[62] The fund was dissolved on March 31, 2007.[63]

Three Korean women filed suit in Japan in December, 1991, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, demanding compensation for forced prostitution. They introduced documents found by history Professor Yoshiaki Yoshida that had been stored at the Japanese Defense Agency since their return to Japan by United States troops in 1958.[64] Subsequently, on January 14, 1992, Japanese Chief Government Spokesman Koichi Kato issued an official apology saying "We cannot deny that the former Japanese army played a role" in abducting and detaining the "comfort girls, " and "We would like to express our apologies and contrition".[64][65][66] Three days later on January 17, 1992 at a dinner given by South Korean President Roh Tae Woo, the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa told his host: " We Japanese should first and foremost recall the truth of that tragic period when Japanese actions inflicted suffering and sorrow upon your people. We should never forget our feelings of remorse over this. As Prime Minister of Japan, I would like to declare anew my remorse at these deeds and tender my apology to the people of the Republic of Korea." and apologized again the following day in a speech before South Korea's National Assembly.[67][68] On April 28, 1998, the Japanese court ruled that the Government must compensate the women and awarded them Template:US$ each.[69]

In 2007 the surviving sex slaves wanted an apology from the Japanese government. Shinzō Abe, the prime minister at the time, stated on March 1, 2007, that there was no evidence that the Japanese government had kept sex slaves, even though the Japanese government had already admitted the use of brothels in 1993. On March 27 the Japanese parliament issued an official apology.[70]


Japanese historian and Nihon University professor, Ikuhiko Hata estimates the number of comfort women to be more likely between 10,000 and 20,000.[4] Hata writes that none of the comfort women were forcibly recruited.[71]

Some Japanese politicians have argued that the former comfort women's testimony is inconsistent and unreliable, making it invalid.[72] Mayor of Osaka and co-leader of the nationalist Japan Restoration Party, Tōru Hashimoto, while initially maintaining that "there is no evidence that people called comfort women were taken away by violence or threat by the [Japanese] military",[73] he later modified his position asserting that they became comfort women "against their will",[74] still justifying their role during World War II as "necessary", so that soldiers could "have a rest".[74]

A comic book, Neo Gomanism Manifesto Special - On Taiwan by Japanese author Yoshinori Kobayashi, depicts kimono-clad women lining up to sign up for duty before a Japanese soldier. Kobayashi's book contains an interview with Taiwanese industrialist Shi Wen-long who stated that no women were forced to serve, and that they worked in more hygienic conditions compared to regular prostitutes because the use of condoms was mandatory.[75]

There was a controversy involving NHK in early 2001. What was supposed to be coverage of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery was heavily edited to reflect revisionist views.[76]

In December 2011 a statue of a young woman was erected to honor the comfort women. It was put up in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, under the leadership of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWDMSS), on the 1,000th of the weekly “Wednesday demonstrations” held in front of the embassy by comfort women survivors since January 1992.[77] The Japanese government has repeatedly asked the South Korean government to have the statue taken down, but it has not been.[77] In June 2012, two Japanese extremists tied a Template:Convert/cmTemplate:Convert/test/Aon signpost to the statue. The signpost read Template:"'Takeshima' is Japanese territory", referring to the Liancourt Rocks which are disputed islets known as Dokdo in South Korea.[78] In October 2012, a Comfort Women memorial in New Jersey, USA was similarly vandalized.[79] In 2013 a statue honoring comfort women was unveiled in Glendale, California. [80]

Health-related issues[]

In the aftermath of the war, the women recalled bouts of physical and mental abuses that they had experienced while working in military brothels. In the Rorschach test, the women showed distorted perceptions, difficulty in managing emotional reactions and internalized anger.[81] A 2011 clinical study found that comfort women are more prone to showing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even 60 years after the end of the war.[82]

List of former comfort women[]

Main article: List of former comfort women

See also[]

  • 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children
  • Anti-Japanese sentiment
    • Anti-Japanese sentiment in China
    • Anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea
  • Historical revisionism (negationism)
  • Japanese war crimes
  • Joy Division (World War II)
  • Nora Okja Keller, author of the 1997 novel, Comfort Woman
  • List of War Apology Statements Issued by Japan
  • List of war crimes
  • Liu Huang A-tao, first Taiwanese woman to sue the Japanese government for compensation
  • Rape during the occupation of Japan
  • Rosa Henson, a Filipina who told her story as a comfort woman
  • Trafficking in human beings
  • United States House of Representatives House Resolution 121
  • War rape


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  2. Soh, C. Sarah (2009). The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan, University of Chicago Press. "It referred to adult female (fu/bu) who provided sexual services to "comfort and entertain" (ian/wian) the warrior..."
  3. Fujioka, Nobukatsu (1996). 污辱の近現代史: いま、克服のとき (in Japanese), Tokuma Shoten. "慰安婦は戦地で外征軍を相手とする娼婦を指す用語(婉曲用語)だった。 (Ianfu was a euphemism for the prostitutes who served for the Japanese expeditionary forces outside Japan)"
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  16. Yoshimi 2000, pp. 100–101, 105–106, 110–111Template:Cnf};
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    "A majority of the 80,000 to 200,000 comfort women were from Korea, though others were recruited or recruited from China, the Philippines, Burma, and Indonesia. Some Japanese women who worked as prostitutes before the war also became comfort women.", Horn 1997;
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  79. Stake Claiming Dokdo as Japanese Territory Found at Comfort Women Memorial in New Jersey, U.S.A - The Kyunghyang Shinmun.
  81. Min SK, Lee CH, Kim JY, Shim EJ. (Nov 2004). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of Former Comfort Women for Japanese Army during World War II.. Journal of Korean Neuropsychiatric Association: 740-748.
  82. Min, SK, Lee, CH; Kim, JY; Sim, EJ (2011). Posttraumatic stress disorder in former 'comfort women'.. 'The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences' 48 (3): 161-9.


United Nations[]

Japanese government[]

The Netherlands government[]

  • Ministerie van Buitenlandse zaken (January 24, 1994), "Gedwongen prostitutie van Nederlandse vrouwen in voormalig Nederlands-Indië [Enforced prostitution of Dutch women in the former Dutch East Indies]", Handelingen Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal [Hansard Dutch Lower House] 23607 (1), ISSN 0921-7371 , authored by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, laysummary by Nationaal Archief [Dutch National Archive] (Dutch), 2007-03-27.

U.S. government[]


Journal articles[]

News articles[]


Online sources[]


Further reading[]

  • Barbara Drinck, Chung-noh Gross Forced Prostitution in Times of War and Peace, Kleine Verlag, 2007. ISBN 978-3-89370-436-1.
  • Tanaka, Yuki Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the US Occupation, London, Routledge: 2002. ISBN 0-415-19401-6.
  • Molasky, Michael S. American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa, Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-19194-7, ISBN 0-415-26044-2.
  • D. Kim-Gibson, Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women, 1999. ISBN 0-931209-88-9.
  • Schellstede, Sangmie Choi. Comfort Women Speak: Testimony by Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military, 2000. ISBN 0-8419-1413-3.
  • Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashii "Comfort Women: Beyond Litigious Feminism"
  • Nora Okja Keller "Comfort Woman", London, Penguin: 1998. ISBN 0-14-026335-7.
  • Maria Rosa Henson "Comfort woman: Slave of destiny", Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism: 1996. ISBN 971-8686-11-8.

External links[]

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Academic research[]

Japanese official statements[]

United States historical documents[]

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