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Comfort Women and the Legacy of WWII

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 9 months ago

Table of Contents


Comfort women, ianfu (慰安婦), or Military Comfort Women, jūgun-ianfu (従軍慰安婦)


The sexual exploitation of women in the Asia-Pacific region by Japan was not an unprecedented occurrence prior to the establishment of the military comfort women system (practicing prostitution in Japan is still not illegal, although the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 does prohibit acts such as coercing a person into prostitution, soliciting for purposes of prostitution, etc). As early as the late-Tokugawa period, mid-nineteenth century, young women were smuggled out of Japan and sold into brothels in the neighboring Asia-Pacific countries. These women were called karayuki-san, literally “a person traveling to China” as China was one of the main recipient countries of these women. The number of karayuki-san increased through the nineteenth century, especially after the establishment of the modern Japanese state in 1868 during the Meiji Restoration. Although the state passed a law in 1896 prohibiting women from leaving Japan to become overseas prostitutes, by that time the prostitution smuggling rings were firmly entrenched and difficult to counter, not to mention the state’s awareness, and thus reluctance to strongly enforce the law, of the economic need for the foreign currency the prostitutes were sending home. However, as broad as the karayuki network was, the military comfort women system was implemented on an even more extensive scale.


Starting from the Manchurian Incident in September 1931 to the end of WWII in the Pacific in August 1945, the Japanese Imperial forces perpetrated a system of sexual slavery as a way to prevent venereal disease and mass rape. These comfort stations were set up with the full and complicit knowledge of the Japanese government officials in Japan, all the way up the chain of command to Emperor Hirohito himself (this was famously determined during the 2001 Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery). The women in the system were named ‘comfort women’. Many were Korean, sold by their parents, or cheated by the promise of a good job overseas, as Korean women were more readily procurable and understood the Japanese language (a result of the official colonization of Korea by Japan in 1910). Other comfort women were Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipina, Eurasian (Dutch Indonesian), Indonesian, or even Japanese. Estimates for the number of women caught in this system of sexual slavery vary from 80,000 to 200,000 or more.


However, it would be foolish to think that a few paragraphs can sufficiently address the issues of the comfort women system. That’s why you will find this page to be mostly devoted to links. If you’re relatively new to the comfort women issue, I suggest you skip to the Books section; nothing can beat the detail that is found within those excellent books. If you’re already somewhat familiar with the issue, and want to expand your knowledge, I suggest you visit the Official Documents, Articles, Documentaries, Art, Photo Galleries, and Other, and Museum Exhibitions sections. Whether you’re looking for papers for a research paper or a museum exhibition to visit, all the sites in those sections will provide you with valuable information from a variety of perspectives. Hopefully, after reading all those materials, you will be pumped up enough to check out the Organizations, where you will find not only more information on the subject, but also a narrowed down focus for the purposes of activism.


Also, please visit the Additional Issues of Concern section. The comfort women issue is not a standalone issue; and it is important to be equally as aware of these other concerns.




Links and Resources


Official Documents

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan “On the Issue of Wartime “Comfort Women””

2001 Letter From Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to former Comfort Women


House Concurrent Resolution 226 June 23, 2003, 108th United States Congress, 1st Session, introduced by Rep. Lane Evans (Illinois 17), referred to House Committee on International Relations; not passed

Report No. 49 Japanese Prisoners of War Interrogation on Prostitution United States Office of War Information, Psychological Warfare Team attached to the US Army Forces India-Burma Theater, 1944

UN Commission on Human Rights Speech on Comfort Women during it's 51st Session





Amnesty International’s Comfort Women page

Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center (Their English feminist journal, Voices from Japan, has wonderful articles not only about the comfort women issues, but issues women in Japan face in general)


Asia Women’s Fund (Japanese) (English)


The Comfort Women Project

Global V-Day Campaign for Justice to ‘Comfort Women’

The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan

Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, “The Victims”

Stichting Japanse Ereschlden - Japanese Honorary Debts Foundation (The Netherlands)

Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation

Taiwan Comfort Women

Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues

Women Against Violence and War (Japanese) (English)





Fukuoka, Yasunori “Koreans in Japan: Past and Present.” Saitama University Review, Vol. 31, No. 1

Hayashi, Hirofumi Professor at Kanto-Gakuin University, documents and research on Japanese War crimes

Horn, Dottie Jan 1997 Endeavors Magazine article presenting the story of a Korean women forced to become a comfort women

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism Voices of the Minority Women in Japan

John Correll’s letter to the Co-Curator of the Last Act Exhibition National Air and Space Museum Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC concerning the comparison of Japanese suffering at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japanese acts of atrocities

Journal of Asian American Studies Vol.6, 2003

Research paper and photo gallery of comfort women

Soh, Chunghee Sarah

  • Institute for Corean-American Studies Fellow (links at bottom of page to three of her works concerning the comfort women issue, including Japan Policy Research Institute Working Paper No. 77, May 2001, "Japan's Responsibility Toward Comfort Women Survivors")
  • "The Korean "Comfort Women": Movement for Redress" Asian Survey, Vol. 36, No. 12: 1226-1240
  • “Japan’s National/Asian Women’s Fund for ‘Comfort Women.’” Pacific Affairs 76, No. 2 (summer 2003): 209-233.
  • "Uncovering the truth about the "comfort women"." Women's Studies International Forum (1998), Vol. 21, No. 4: 451-454.
  • “Women’s Sexual Labor and State in Korean History.” Journal of Women’s History 15, No. 4 (winter 2004): 170-177.


Tokyo Kaleidoscope June 7, 1996, "Japanese Army Sex Slaves"


Chung, Chin Sung. “The Origin and Development of the Military Sexual Slavery Problem in Imperial Japan.” positions: east asia cultures critique 5, No. 1 (spring 1997): 219-253.


Hein, Laura. “Savage Irony: The Imaginative Power of the Military Comfort Women in the 1990s.” Gender and History 11, No. 2 (July 1999): 336-72.


Hsu, Yvonne Park. “ ‘Comfort Women’ from Korea: Japan’s World War II Sex Slaves and the Legitimacy of their Claims to Reparations.” Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal 2, No. 1 (winter 1993): 97-129.


Kim, Hyun Sook. “History and Memory: The ‘Comfort Women’ Controversy.” positions: east asia cultures critique 5, No. 1 (spring 1997): 73-106.


Kim-Gibson, Sai Sil. “They Are Our Grandmas.” positions: east asia cultures critique 5, No.1 (spring 1997): 255-274.


Min, Pyong Gap. “Korean ‘Comfort Women’: The Intersection of Colonial Power, Gender, and Class.” Gender and Society 17, No. 6 (December 2003): 938-957.


Park, Won Soon. “Japanese Reparations Policies and the ‘Comfort Women’ Question". positions: east asia cultures critique 5, No. 1 (spring 1997: 107-134.


Park, You-me. “Comforting the Nation: ‘Comfort Women,’ the Politics of Apology and the Workings of Gender.” Interventions, Vol. 2 (2), 199-211.


Ueno, Chizuko. “The Japanese Responsibility for Military Rape During World War II.” Asian Studies Review 17, No. 3 (1994): 102-107.


Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashi. “Comfort Women: Beyond Litigious Feminism.” Monumenta Nipponica 58, No. 2 (summer 2003): 223-258.


Watanabe, Kazuko. “Militarism, Colonialism, and the Trafficking of Women: ‘Comfort Women’ Forced into Sexual Labor for Japanese Soldiers.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 26, No. 4 (October-December 1994): 2-17.


Watanabe, K. "Trafficking in Women's Bodies, Then and Now: The Issue of Military "Comfort Women", Women's Studies Quarterly, 1999, Vol. 27, No. 1/2: 19-31


Yang, Hyunah. “Revisiting the Issue of Korean ‘Military Comfort Women’: The Question of Truth and Positionality.” positions: east asia cultures critique 5, No. 1 (spring 1997): 51-71.


Yoshimi, Yoshiaki. The First (Second) Report on the Issue of Japan’s Military “Comfort Women”: Historical and Legal Study on the Issue of “Military Comfort Women.” Osaka: Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s War Responsibility, 1994.





Tanaka, Yuki. __Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the US Occupation__, London, Routledge: 2002.


Barkan, Elazar. “Sex Slaves: Comfort Women and Japanese Guilt.” In __The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices__. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000.


Chai, Alice Yun. “Korean Feminist and Human Rights Politics: The Chongshindae/Jugunianfu (“Comfort Women”) Movement.” In __Korean American Women: From Tradition to Modern Feminism__, eds. Young L. Song and Ailee Moon. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998.


Chung, C.S. (1995). "Korean Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan". In H. Keith (Ed.), True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women (pp. 11-30). New York: Cassell.


Fernandez, Ida Mae V., ed. International Symposium on Filipino Comfort Women: Papers and Proceedings. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Law Center, 1994.


Hata, Ikuhiko. “The Flawed U.N. Report on Comfort Women.” In __Women and Women’s Issues in post World War II Japan__, ed. Edward R. Beauchamp. New York: Garland, 1998.


Hicks, George

  • “The Comfort Women.” In The Japanese Wartime Empire__, 1931-1945, eds. Peter Duus, Ramon H. Myers, and Mark R. Peattie. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • __The Comfort Women: Japan's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War__. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995.
  • Jeff Roberts review of __The Comfort Women: Japans's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War published in H-Women, Oct. 1996


Howard, Keith. __True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women: Testimonies__. London: Cassell, 1995.


Hyun-Kyung, C. (2000). ""Your comfort versus my death": Korean comfort women". In A.E. Barstow (Ed.), War's Dirty Secret: Rape, prostitution, and other crimes against women (pp. 13-25). Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.


Keller, Nora Okja. __"Comfort Woman"__, London, Penguin: 1998.


Ruff-O’Herne, Jan. __50 Years of Silence__. Sydney: Editions Tom Thompson, 1994.


Sajor, Indai Lourdes, ed. __Common Grounds: Violence Against Women in War and Armed Conflict Situations__. Quezon City, Philippines: Asian Center for Women’s Human Rights, 1998.


Sancho, Nelia. “The ‘Comfort Women’ System during World War II: Asian Women as Targets of Mass Rape and Sexual Slavery by Japan.” In __Gender and Catastrophe__, ed. Ronit Lentin. London: Zed Books, 1997.


Sancho, Nelia. War Crimes on Asian Women: Military Sexual Slavery by Japan during World War II: The Case of the Filipino Comfort Women, Part II. Manila: Asian Women Human Rights Council, 1998.


Schellstede, Sangmie Choi. __Comfort Women Speak: Testimony by Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military__, New York: Holmes & Meier, 2000.


Stetz, Margaret and Bonnie Oh, eds. __Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II__. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2001.


Yang, Hyunah. “Re-membering the Korean Military Comfort Women: Nationalism, Sexuality, and Silencing.” In __Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism__, eds. Elaine H. Kim and Chungmoo Choi. New York: Routledge, 1998.


Yoshiaki, Yoshimi. __Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military During World War II__ Columbia University Press, Jan. 2001.





Breaking the History of Silence: The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (Video Juku, VAWW-NET Japan, 2001, 68 minutes)


Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women (1999) documentary by Korean-American Film Director Daisil Kim-Gibson


Other films about the Comfort Women issue




Art, Photo Galleries, and Other

The Art of Tomiyama Taeko

  • Her recent exhibition “Remembrance & Reconciliation: The art of Tomiyama Taeko”, at Dittmar Gallery, Northwestern University Jan. 3- Feb. 12, 2006
  • Recent exhibitions and articles about her work
  • Jennison, Rebecca. "'Post-Colonial' Feminist Locations: The Art of Tomiyama Taeko and Shimada Yoshiko" in U.S. Japan Women's Journal, English Supplement No. 12, 1997, Special Issue: Gender and Imperialism (84-108)
  • Tomiyama, Taeko. "My Feminism: Running Along with Art and the Century," in Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center, Women's Asia 21: Voices from Japan--Women's Resistance against War, Violence and Sexual Exploitation (No. 9, Summer 2002: 48-52)


Chungmi Kim’s Comfort Women play, directed by Frances Hill


The Seoul Times Comfort Women photo gallery


Photo collection of Korean Comfort Women (historical and present day)




Museum Exhibitions

Voices of “Comfort Women” Exhibition originally at the American University Library, moved to the Martin Luther King, Jr.Memorial Library, Washington DC

Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo Comfort Women exhibition





Japan Forum Comfort Women Thread




Additional Issues of Concern


Textbook Controversy

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the existence of the military comfort women system during the Asia-Pacific War, nationalist groups are pushing to revise school textbooks to either remove or downplay the extent of the military comfort women system and Japan’s actions during the Asia-Pacific War.


Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (Japanese but there is an English version of “New History Textbook” for download)

Children and Textbooks Japan Network21 (links to articles about the textbook controversy)

Wikipedia Japanese History textbook controversy entry


Nozaki, Yoshiko. “Feminism, Nationalism, and the Japanese Textbook Controversy over ‘Comfort Women.’” In __Feminism and Antiracism: International Struggles for Justice__, eds. France Winddance Twine and Kathleen M. Blee. New York: New York University Press, 2001.


Also look to the Legal Manifestations of Feminism in Japan Textbooks section in this pbwiki




Human Trafficking

There still exist serious problems of human trafficking (men and women, for sexual and non-sexual purposes) to and from Japan.


Japan Network Against Trafficking in Persons

Human Trafficking in Japan (has a large section of links near the bottom half of the page that covers male migrant labor issues to sexual slavery and trafficking)

United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report (Japan is on the Tier 2 Watch List)


"Korea's new 'comfort women'" by Gustavo Capdevila in Asia Times Online, Sept. 5, 2002




Sexual Violence by US Occupation Troops

The abuse of the comfort system by the United States occupation forces after Japan’s surrender is another serious issue. Tanaka Yuki’s book has an extremely thorough exploration of why the United States largely ignored the plight of the comfort women and the subsequent appropriation of the system for use by occupation troops. Comfort stations, or as Tanaka calls them “special military ‘brothels’”(137) were staffed by women recruited by the Japanese police under orders from the Police and Security Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, who hoped to protect Japanese women from potential sexual violence. This logic failed to manifest in China and other Asia-Pacific countries during the war, and post-war Japan was no exception, especially when venereal disease became such a problem for the occupation troops that General Headquarters placed all brothels, bars, houses of prostitution “off-limits” on March 25, 1946. Most perpetrators of rape, including large-scale organized rapes, were never identified.


Recreation and Amusement Association The largest private prostitution station set up in Tokyo by the Japanese Home Ministry on August 28th, 1945


Japan Policy Research Institute Working Paper No. 16, February 1996. “The Okinawan Rape Incident and the End of the Cold War in East Asia” by Chalmers Johnson

“The Island Idyll and the US Occupation” by David McNeill August 17, 2004, also on the 1995 Okinawa Rape incident

The Occupation of Okinawa by United States troops Extensive historical background information


Dower, John W. __Embracing Defeat. Japan in the Wake of World War II__, New York, Norton: 1999.


Molasky, Michael S. __American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa__, Routledge, 1999.


Tanaka, Yuki. __Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the U.S. Occupation__, London, Routledge: 2002.


Yoshimi, Yoshiaki. __Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military During World War II__, Columbia University Press, 2001.




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Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 4:53 pm on Mar 12, 2006

Can anyone help me figure out why my last paragraph on the comfort women page (sexual abuse by US occupation soldiers) is italicized?

Anonymous said

at 5:28 pm on Mar 12, 2006

it was two apostrophes without a second pair to close them off after "Woman's Quarterly" in the second to last citation of the paragraph before it.

Anonymous said

at 5:33 pm on Mar 12, 2006

Yay, thank you so much Andrew! you are amazing. maybe now would be the time to start wearing my glasses...

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