Yuha Park, How We Should Consider the Comfort Women Issue Based on Discussions between Ikuhiko Hata and Yoshiaki Yoshimi

Yuha Park (Sejong University)

How should we consider the comfort women issue? I would like to discuss this issue, which has caused a great deal of confusion in recent years, first of all, based on the discussions of the two historians regarded as the foremost experts on the comfort women issue.

My discussion in this paper will be based on “Points of Contention in the Comfort Women Issue Considered with the Foremost Experts on the Matter, Mr. Ikuhiko Hata and Mr. Yoshiaki Yoshimi,” broadcast on radio in June 2013. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated he would like to “defer the judgment to historians.” As seen in the fact that discussions among historians, even between the “foremost experts,” have hardly been able to find common ground, however, the comfort women issue is now in a state where what “historians” think alone can no longer lead us to an agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea, let alone consensus within Japan.

It has become difficult to reach consensus within Japan itself or between Japan and the Republic of Korea on the comfort women issue because it has developed into a political problem after being left unresolved for many years. As a result, many people from both countries have gained fairly detailed information on the issue. This situation has arisen not by discrepancies in information and points of view on comfort women themselves but rather by the fact that the current political positions of various individuals and emotions associated with them have found their way into this issue. Furthermore, there are a great number of people involved in this issue, either directly or indirectly, and most of these people have become indirect parties to the issue. Moreover, because of the length of their involvement, their respective arguments have even taken their own sets of values or political positions. This is the major reason why it is very difficult to achieve a departure from existing ideas or positions.

In considering the comfort women issue, the following matters seem to be most necessary:

Settlement as early as possible;

To that end, it is necessary to understand this issue in terms of the conditions surrounding the existence itself of comfort women first of all, as well as the conditions surrounding movements and conflicts over the past 20 years; and

It is necessary for learned individuals and ordinary citizens, whose involvement in this issue does not affect their livelihood or political positions, to engage with this issue and consider it together with the directly involved parties.

1. Who are Comfort Women?

In the modern era, there were many men who went abroad without their families as a result of developments in modes of transportation, and their own internalization of the desire of states to expand their sphere of influence. The movements of women also increased in order to support such men. In the case of Japan, those women were provided first for foreign servicemen coming to Japan, but from around the same time, they were sent overseas as well. They were called “Karayuki-san” and most of these women came from poor families, sold off by their parents or otherwise sacrificing themselves for their families.

These women also emigrated to Korea for Japanese soldiers stationed there and other Japanese men who relocated there in line with the national policy of encouraging emigration. Before long, the state-regulated prostitution system was introduced on the Korean Peninsula as well, and Korean women came to work there. There had already been women who “comforted” soldiers since the time of the Russo-Japanese War, and they had been called “Joshigun,” or the women’s army, in the sense that they played the role of supporting the military forces.

In other words, the term “comfort women” basically means women who moved to areas that became battlefields, occupied territories and/or colonies as a result of the state’s policy of expanding its political and economic influence. Comfort stations used by merchants and servicemen were in place from early on. Such terms as “comfort stations” and “comfort women” apparently took root in the 1930s, but their functions should be taken as having emerged alongside the imperialism of the modern era, including that of the West.

2. Comfort Women and Korean Comfort Women

In the case of Japan, as comfort women were provided for men who went to overseas locations far away from home for the sake of the state, they were naturally seen as Japanese women. After Japan colonized Korea, however, Korean women as well as Taiwanese women became incorporated into this mechanism. Already in the 1920s, Korean women went to China and Taiwan for the Japanese, and also Koreans who became Japanese, staying abroad. They should be regarded as the predecessor of what later became known as Korean comfort women.

3. Karayuki-san-turned-Joshigun

Among the Karayuki-san, there were some women, who despite being sold to work at prostitution facilities, were able to build their own bases and were in a position to lend money or places for backroom meetings to so-called “soshi,” or brave young men, who left home to work overseas for the state. They came to be called “Joshigun” because of this, and, while still being disdained, they were thus able to raise their status as well. At the same time, these women, for their part, took some pride in indirectly supporting men working for the state and easing their homesickness (needless to say, this also meant that these women were deceived by the imperialistic statements by the state on the fast track to war). Thus the term “comfort women” is underpinned by such mechanisms.

4. Various Types of Comfort Stations

Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that the Japanese military did not come up with the idea of the comfort women system out of the blue when it created comfort stations in the 1930s. Instead, it had simply systematized what had already existed at the time. One difference compared to other countries was that Japan used patriotism as a mechanism. Among prostitution facilities (which included some restaurants and cafes) that were managed from the perspective of good hygiene and such (managed domestically by police), the Japanese military designated those satisfying the necessary criteria as comfort stations to be exclusively used by the military, for use by occupation forces that advanced into Manchukuo and China for the Sino-Japanese War. However, with growing numbers of troops being stationed abroad and for greater convenience, the military decided to incorporate them into a system. The military eventually used “recruiters” to “recruit” comfort women, but recruitment methods were quite varied.

In other words, places now considered to have been comfort stations were not necessarily those newly created by the Japanese military. They included existing facilities established during and after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War, and in some cases, the military provided places it acquired to house women who were already working individually. In addition, there were cases where the military treated recruiters as “gunzoku” (or quasi-gunzoku), which were civilian employees of the military, in order to provide them with the conveniences of movement and management.

However, the above is only applicable to comfort stations established by the military alone. Thus, corresponding to the various forms of comfort stations, there also were various types of recruiters. In some cases, recruiters themselves built shabby comfort stations at such locations as small islands to start temporary operations (a form of the dispatching of comfort women). Whatever the case, however, as movements on battlefields required the military’s permission, there is no doubt that the military was basically aware of many such movements and supervised them. However, in many cases, senior officers and others used ordinary restaurants as comfort stations, instead of comfort stations designated by the military.

Other than the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and anti-espionage, the reasons the military established (or designated) comfort stations apparently included the convenience of locating them closer to stationed troops and making them available at lower costs as the number of solders using comfort stations increased. These comfort stations charged what were referred to as public rates.

It is necessary to bear in mind that comfort stations took various forms depending on when and where they were, and did not exist in just a single form.

5. Different Kinds of Comfort Women

Therefore, in the true sense of the term, we cannot use the term “comfort stations” to refer to all facilities designed to satisfy the carnal appetite located in areas where Japan engaged in warfare. For example, prostitution facilities staffed mostly by local women should not be referred to as “comfort women” in the original sense of the term. In other words, women at those facilities merely served as the outlets of sexual desire and cannot be described as “Joshigun” in the sense of supporting servicemen of Japan and easing their homesickness. In a strict sense, women who were provided on battlefields and were forced to work in the form of semi-constant rape and victims of one-time rape on battlefields cannot be called “comfort women.”

Therefore, we should not refer to all the women who served the carnal appetite of Japanese soldiers during the Asia-Pacific war as “comfort women,” and we should limit “comfort women” in the true sense of the term only to Japanese women, and Korean, Taiwanese and Okinawan women who were made to become Japanese.

However, the situation was highly convoluted and confusing, since women at ordinary prostitution facilities were also engaged in sex work for Japanese soldiers in the same way as comfort women and accepted them with advertising signs such as “Patriotic Diner” (these facilities would surely also have been designated by the military).

Nevertheless there were evident differences in the relationship with servicemen between women who were raped once or continuously on battlefields and comfort women, including Japanese women.

As seen above, comfort women encountered different experiences depending on their nationalities, periods of work and locations (either on the front lines or behind battle lines).

Nevertheless, the manner in which the comfort women issue was handled considered all of these women as comfort women, and that was where the main confusion began.

Whichever category these women fell into, however, the foremost premise in discussing the comfort women issue is to recognize that women made to engage in sex work were always the socially weak, that most of them were susceptible to disease and that they found themselves in a miserable plight in which they faced a constant risk of death.

6. Forcible Recruitment

Therefore, circumstances under which these women came to engage in sex work for soldiers naturally were not identical. Some of these women were already there even before the all-out recruitment commenced.

The person who first raised the comfort women issue in the Republic of Korea mistook her personal experience as part of a “teishintai,” or women’s volunteer corps, for that of comfort women. Given that her own experience with “teishintai” entailed fixing her personal seal at her school, she thought the recruitment for the volunteer corps represented coercion. As shown by the fact that the recruitment of teishintai was made at the school level under a national mobilization order, that recruitment covered educated women, while most comfort women received only the low level of education or some without any school education. People in the Republic of Korea came to believe that comfort women were forcibly recruited due, first and foremost, to this misconception in the 1990s, rather than because comfort women lied, as claimed by those in Japan who deny the existence of comfort women.

Looking back to the colonial period, however, there had already been hearsay that “if you go to serve in the teishintai, you would become comfort women.” Comfort women were then described as those who “offer themselves” (volunteer) to “do things for soldiers.” As a matter of fact, comfort women were occasionally told to do things other than sexual consolation, including such tasks as nursing aid and laundry, and as such, the above cannot be brushed aside as a completely-mistaken notion (Korean comfort women were actually made to perform such activities as cleaning soldiers’ graves and laundry).

The percentage of former comfort women who testified that they had been taken by the military is rather small, at least judging from collections of their testimonies. And even in those cases, it is more likely that recruiters acting as civilian employees of the military appeared in military uniforms. In addition, the possibility cannot be entirely excluded that recruiters might have told them that they were going to serve in the teishintai as part of the national mobilization already under way at the time in a bid to make their recruitment work easier. It appears that recruiters were often pairs of Japanese and Korean men.

However, an overwhelming majority of testimonies said they had been deceived into being recruited as comfort women by, for example, being told that they would be taken to factories while they were alone or in a small group of women. In that sense, it should be understood that there was no forcible recruitment in the sense that they were taken by the military, or if any, they were still exceptional cases, or deviant actions by individuals. The author believes that it is wrong to conclude that the military, as an organization, engaged in the deceit or forcible recruitment (through its involvement in the planning and the consistent system of directions).

As for Dutch and Chinese women, the military was directly involved in the grouping and segregation of them for sexual labor, and the military’s actions literally represented forcible recruitment. In these cases, however, those women cannot be referred to as “comfort women” in the sense described above. While Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese women performed the role of supporting and heartening soldiers as women of Imperial Japan, the Japanese military’s actions against Dutch and Chinese women served the purpose of continuous rape of enemy women who were conquered. As all the women were simply categorized as the same kinds of victims, with no regard for the differences in their relationships with the Japanese military, those who denied or affirmed the existence of comfort women could not find common ground for the comprehension of the concepts of “forcible recruitment” and “comfort women,” thus further deepening the confusion surrounding the comfort women issue.

In the broad categorization, there are three types of women among people who are presumed to be comfort women since the comfort women issue emerged: (1) “comfort women” in the original sense of the term (this category should be viewed as members of a kind of national mobilization in a looser sense than the teishintai); (2) women working at privately-run facilities (including those that existed in occupied territories and battlefields from early on) that were designated and managed by the military from the perspective of maintaining good hygiene and so forth; and (3) enemy women captured in battlefields and subjected to continuous rape.

Of these types of women, Dutch and Chinese women were literally “forced” to provide sexual service. In the case of Korea where recruiters in military uniforms (who acted as civilian employees of the military) recruited women, as recruiters deceived them into becoming comfort women by telling them that they were being taken to serve in the teishintai (forcibly, albeit as part of the national mobilization facilitated by the creation of laws, but “voluntary” in form), it is highly likely that women with such experiences perceived them as forcible recruitment. In other words, rather than former comfort women telling lies (though it cannot be asserted definitively that there are absolutely no cases of lying), it is highly likely that recruiters, currently assumed to not exist, had lied.

7. The Japanese Military and Korean Comfort Women

Korean comfort women, in some locations, worked in kimono, given Japanese names. In other words, they were substituting for Japanese women. Comfort women carried different rates, with Japanese women going for the highest rates, followed by Korean women. Korean women, who would surely not have been involved under normal circumstances, were mobilized out of “patriotism” for Japan. In that sense, the presence of Korean comfort women was created by Japan’s colonial occupation, and in that regard, Japan is responsible for its colonial occupation. Furthermore, as Korean women arrived at comfort stations, they were often raped by military officers and army physicians, and during troop movements, Korean women, just because they were Koreans, were easily subjected to rape, in addition to designated sexual labor.

At the same time, when Korean women worked at military comfort stations, assembled for the state, they were structurally positioned as peers in a joint struggle against the enemy. There were cases where superiors clamped down on soldiers’ violence against Korean comfort women or the military intervened to regulate their exploitation by recruiters.

Depending on the area or the period of time, there is no doubt that comfort women underwent the inhumane experiences of having had to comfort an overwhelmingly large number of soldiers. At the same time, there were rules in place to protect comfort women from high-handed actions by soldiers or recruiters. Needless to say, there was no evidence that these rules were strictly observed, and Korean comfort women remained amid overall ethnic discrimination. While the notion that it is possible that love affairs existed between Korean comfort women and Japanese soldiers should not be entirely disregarded, that would not nullify exploitation within the structure that one came from the suzerain state and the other from the colony.

Some Korean comfort women, while traveling with troops on the front lines, underwent the inhumane experiences of being subjected to the insatiable carnal appetite of Japanese soldiers in the line of fire on battlefields and falling victim to gunfire and shelling. In other words, Korean women were put into such plight because of the colonial occupation by Japan, even if they earned some money under contract. Therefore, Japan’s responsibility for Korean comfort women should be accounted for first as its responsibility for the colonial occupation, ahead of its responsibility for the war.

8. Recruiters

While it is true that comfort women were recruited to meet the needs of the military, no testimonies or materials have been found until now to indicate that the Japanese military had officially sanctioned any abductions or lying about recruitment. Furthermore, in most cases, it was Japanese or Korean recruiters that forcibly recruited these women even by lying, coerced them to work even when they were sick, kept their eyes on them to keep them from escaping, or forced them to have abortions.

Some people assert that comfort women earned significant amounts of money, but many of them remained poor because of exploitation by recruiters and could not overcome debt.

Scars that remained on the bodies of former comfort women were frequently caused by recruiters. In many cases, violence against them was perpetrated by the military, but violence was banned officially.

Prof. Yoshimi asserts that comfort women had no freedom to choose where to live or to engage in business. But that was essentially because of restrictions imposed by recruiters and restrictions due to being in battle areas, and should be viewed in the same manner as the lack of freedom of movement for servicemen.

Simply put, criminal offenses related to comfort women, or actions that ran afoul of prevailing law at the time were abductions, kidnapping and human trafficking. It may be possible to view the use of comfort stations as morally problematic sin, but it is legally difficult to treat it as a criminal offense (that contravened prevailing law at the time). Compared with this, cases involving Dutch and Chinese women were clearly criminal offenses, and perpetrators were punished as individuals, not the military as a whole.

9. 200,000 Girls

The figure of 200,000represents the combined number of Japanese and Korean teishintai members recruited under national mobilization. An article of a South Korean newspaper in 1970 reported that the number was broken down into 150,000 Japanese women and 50,000-60,000 Korean women, and this number was later treated as the number of comfort women, also due in part to the misconception described above. In addition, as stated earlier, all of these comfort women did not necessarily work at military comfort stations established by the military.

Among those who became comfort women, there were actually only a small number of young girls, and girls still in their early teens were very few. Servicemen then also viewed such girls as exceptional cases. Many of those who came forward to reveal that they served as comfort women tended to emphasize that they were still young girls, and this may mean that they were actually those girls categorized as exceptional cases. In fact, most women who testified said that other people were older than me. Young girls are made to serve as prostitutes around the world, and in that sense, it may be conceivable that there actually were a lot of young girls who were comfort women. But that should be understood as resulting from the intentions of recruiters, not the intentions of the Japanese military. This is another problem that should be approached from various angles, but the actual average age of comfort women evidenced by documents left was over 20.

10. Returning Home after the War

Comfort women could not return home after Japan’s defeat in the war presumably because many had fallen victim to shelling in battlefields or caught up in suicidal attacks. Comfort women who were in China went through the same ordeals experienced by the so-called evacuees/returnees. Depending on where they were, returning home itself was difficult, and it is presumed that some died or were killed on the way back home. It should be understood that others came home or stayed behind where they were. It goes without saying that the Japanese military that mobilized them is responsible for having left them behind after the defeat. Nonetheless, in many cases, comfort women’s resentment towards being left behind is directed at recruiters, rather than the Japanese military. When comfort women were traveling with troops, they had to consider returning home amid losing battles. As such, the situations they found themselves in were quite varied, and in some cases, the military helped their return home.

11. Atonement and Compensation in the 1990s

The Asian Women’s Fund (AWF), established by Japan in the 1990s for atonement and compensation for those who came forward as former comfort women, was not the result of legislation by the Japanese Diet as demanded by the victims, but something created based on the consensus of the Cabinet ministers of the time. Some members of the Diet made efforts to enact a relevant law, but for former comfort women in the Republic of Korea, no law was enacted because the issue of state-to-state reparations had been settled under the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea and the existence or non-existence of forcible recruitment was the focal point of discussions then. The Fund was not created by legislation passed by the Japanese Diet, but represented the atonement and compensation based on the consensus of the Cabinet ministers of the Japanese Government. The Fund was criticized as a means of avoiding responsibility by those who called for legislation by the Japanese Diet, but it was in fact a means of taking responsibility by the Japanese Government, which considered state reparations as being out of the question, as individual compensation had been settled under the interstate treaty of 1965. Moreover, there were no grounds for legal responsibility, and instead the Japanese Government created the Fund to take moral responsibility. Initially, the Fund was said to be financed with donations from Japanese people, but medical and welfare subsidies equivalent to \3 million per person were paid out. While not explicitly being called “compensation payments” more than half of these payments delivered to former comfort women actually came from the national coffers. Ultimately, as much as 89% of the project’s expenses were financed by the Government. In that sense, the Fund was not simply a private-sector fund but represented efforts to provide atonement and compensation, made by the Japanese Government and Japanese people in concert.

12. The 1965 Settlement of the Past

The 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea was a treaty that addressed the aftermath of the war, and based on the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952. It was not a treaty on the settlement of past colonial occupation. This explains why the Japan-Republic of Korea treaty contained no words of apology for the colonial occupation. In fact, compensation for requisition was limited to damages after the start of the Sino-Japanese War. However, because Korea was not an opponent in Japan’s war, and rather it fought alongside Japan, this compensation was for former Japanese citizens, like government pensions. The compensation mainly covered the ex-post treatment of savings and other monetary matters in the wake of the abrupt separation of Japan and Korea.

In addition, Japan at the time suggested that the individual right of claim should be left claimable individually. However, the Republic of Korea rejected the suggestion, asserting that the Republic of Korea, as the only state on the Korean Peninsula, should be given said right on behalf of individuals, apparently bearing in mind the presence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). In other words, the “Republic of Korea” asserted that it was the only legitimate country that could claim compensation (Bak-jin Chang), in light of the historical circumstances that it was in the midst of the severe Cold War era.

Initially , the Republic of Korea intended to claim compensation for the damage (human losses, etc.) caused by the colonial occupation. It is not clear why that demand was ultimately dropped, but it might be related to the dispute that is still ongoing—that the colonial occupation was lawful, and the colonization was the result of Korea’s own decision. It is true that at that time, other former empires never apologized for colonial occupation either, perhaps showing the limitations of thinking in those times. The 1965 treaty between Japan and the Republic of Korea in no way represented Japan’s apology for its colonial rule, but it was because the times had not ripened for former suzerain states to think of apologizing for colonial rule amid the Cold War and former colonized countries, caught in the backwash of the Cold War era, also hurried on with the settlement of the past.

13. The 1910 Annexation Treaty

Looking even further back on history, there is an argument that the Japan-Korea annexation treaty of 1910 was forcibly concluded and thus was illegal. Furthermore, if the conclusion of the treaty is construed to be illegal, Japan would naturally be held legally responsible for the colonial occupation. However, even when it was evident that the annexation was led by a small number of people, as long as the annexation came about through legal procedures (at that time) in the form of the treaty, on a practical level it is difficult to argue that it was illegal, though the argument may be ethically correct. The annexation came with the approval of major powers that also had colonies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. The annexation may be regarded as illegal in that it was based solely on their own unilateral law, but as long as there exists a document showing that Korea itself endorsed the annexation, the reality is that Korea, unfortunately, cannot claim that it was illegal.

Nevertheless, the annexation, on which most of Korean people were not consulted nor notified cannot be described as having been truly approved of in that it had not obtained the consent or approval of most Koreans. However, after Korea’s representatives accepted the annexation, it was no longer illegal, however objectionable it was, and this should be understood to be part of the political limitations of the times. If future generations acknowledge that such laws were problematic (Japan’s apology made in the 1990s can already be viewed as an indirect acknowledgment of that fact), it is possible to argue that the annexation was not illegal because it had not violated the law but was morally problematic. In other words, the annexation was illegal in the sense that it was an act that was contrary to already determined rules, but as long as a value judgment was not made vis-à-vis the act (colonial occupation) during those years, it is difficult to determine that it was illegal. However, it is still possible to criticize the colonial occupation even without relying on law.

14. The Issue of Legality

What the Republic of Korea is demanding is reparations by Japan by acknowledging as illegal the military’s involvement in the recruitment of comfort women and the use of comfort stations (many Japanese supporters also argue in favor of this demand). However, as long as prostitution was not regarded as illegal in Japan at the time, it is difficult to determine that the military’s involvement was illegal, even when it was beginning to be internationally regarded as illegal at the time. In those years, even sexual violence was not punishable under law, and for this reason, men repeatedly carried out rape even without a sense of guilt.

However, human trafficking was recognized as illegal even during those years. Thus, the question is whether the Japanese military had given instructions to engage in human trafficking. Though the military appears to have tacitly approved actions that they knew were tantamount to human trafficking, they regulated such actions by rules. In that sense, the colonial occupation, rape or forcible mobilization (servicemen and the teishintai), though unfortunate, were not illegal at the time, and could not be helped, even though they certainly committed the sin of disregarding the positions of other ethnic groups or women. It was for this reason that Japan and the Republic of Korea in 1965 handled the individual right of claim not as war reparations as was the case among Allied countries but simply as the settlement of unresolved issues for former Japanese citizens.

15. Revisiting the Asian Women’s Fund

In that sense, the moral responsibility in the 1990s addressed precisely the atonement and compensation based on that, even if it was not a particularly conscious effort. Former comfort women who first raised the issue were recognized as existing as a result of the colonial occupation and compensation was intended for that. Furthermore, as was discussed above, it is somewhat difficult to call on Japan to take legal responsibility for the colonial occupation.

Italy and the United Kingdom have already offered their apologies for colonial occupation. As for Japan, former Prime Ministers Morihiro Hosokawa and Tomiichi Murayama have done so, too. However, though the comfort women issue was considered in relation to the colonial occupation, that approach disappeared over time, after former comfort women came forward in other countries and the comfort women issue came to be captured as a universal issue affecting all women. However, the comfort women issue in other countries/areas is considered to have been settled, at least tentatively, as they have accepted compensation through the Asian Women’s Fund. Since only Korean comfort women are currently demanding compensation by pointing to the illegal nature of the comfort women issue, it needs to be recaptured as the Republic of Korea issue. Moreover, some appropriate solutions should be considered, while bearing in mind all aspects of the situation anew. The approach to this issue as an issue of women’s human rights by considering it along with the women of the Netherlands, China and other countries does not shed light on the specific circumstance of Korean comfort women.

Some Japanese assert that other countries engaged in similar acts. However, if they were to pursue this line argument, they should call on the Netherlands and the other former colonial powers of the world to reflect on the problems caused by colonial occupation. Only by doing so would it be possible to make the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands address this issue as one of their own, that is, of having mobilized women from their own country and others to satiate the carnal appetite men from their own countries and having had them continuously provide “comfort” to their servicemen and merchants.

16. Sexual Slavery

Korean comfort women were forced to perform the roles of paramilitary personnel. It is an indisputable fact that they faced miserable circumstances, but the key players who coerced them into forced labor were recruiters as well as the military. The slavery of these women in the sense that they had no freedom was first of all the result of the relationship with recruiters, called “masters.” The issue of sexual slavery should be considered from the perspective of the nature of that relationship.

These women were also slaves of the state in the sense that they were indirectly mobilized to meet the needs of the state and even their lives were treated as collateral (from being in battlefields, and becoming sick and overworked). They were no different from military servicemen in the sense that they had no freedom of movement, no freedom to get out of the business and no freedom even to defend their lives.

17. Kono Statement

The 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged that Korean women became comfort women “against their own will,” but did not acknowledge “forcible recruitment.” In other words, the Kono Statement noted that the process of being transferred was against their will and that sexual labor at comfort stations was not of their own choice, thus acknowledging the nature of structural coercion instead of the nature of physical coercion. The statement thus contained the words that accurately acknowledged that the existence of Korean comfort women was the result of Japan’s colonial occupation, even if they appear to have worked as comfort women voluntarily. In other words, the statement did not acknowledge the so-called nature of coercion, as asserted by those seeking a review of the Kono Statement, and since the “involvement of the military authorities of the day” in the establishment and management of comfort stations is a fact, there should be no need to review the Kono Statement.

18. Conflicts over the Settlement

The Fund created by the Japanese Government was viewed as a private-sector fund partly because of the way it was reported in the mass media. However, that recognition was generated primarily because the Japanese Government failed to fully explain its deep involvement in the Fund out of concern that this new compensation might run counter to the 1965 treaty. Nevertheless, while there were people who viewed the Fund as a compelling next-best policy, those people who strongly denounced the Japanese Government as shirking their responsibility and have until now denounced it over the comfort women issue had thought that legislation by the Japanese Diet alone would lead to the reform of Japanese society. As explained earlier, however, the focus on the forcible recruitment and the existence of the 1965 treaty make it difficult to regard the damage concerning comfort women as illegal acts by the state.

However, as a consequence, such assertions have substantially increased the number of people who resent discussions and such assertions over the comfort women issue in Japan over the past 20 years, particularly in the last 10 years. The parties involved should reflect upon the fact that their movement to solve the comfort women issue and build peace in Asia consequently generated conflicts against their intentions. Supporters held an international tribunal to brand the Japanese Emperor as a criminal, but such a movement could not enjoy broad consensus among the Japanese people. Subsequently, hate speech became prevalent in Japan, beginning with anti-Korean sentiment. At the root of these developments was resentment against the comfort women issue.

19. Global Views

From the 2000s onwards, activists adopted the approach of appealing to the international community instead of persuading the Japanese Government. As a result, the Coomaraswamy report and the majority of various other U.N. reports conclude that “as many as 200,000 young girls were forcibly taken to work as sex slaves and most of them were massacred after Japan’s defeat in the war.” Although resolutions adopted by parliaments of European countries and the United States were based on these reports, global denunciations of Japan are not necessarily correct, as seen above.

Dutch women also testified at the United Nations, and the Dutch case surely warranted the term “rape center.” However the situation face by Dutch women was fundamentally different from those of Korean and Japanese comfort women. Dutch women suffered as they resided in Indonesia, which was colonized by the Netherlands, but subsequently occupied by Japan. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for the Netherlands and other European countries and the United States, which had colonized many Asian countries, to denounce Japan alone.

20. Empires and Comfort Women

In the Republic of Korea, Okinawa and other places where the U.S. forces locate their bases, even now there are women who comfort soldiers sent far away from their homes. In other words, as was the case in Japan immediately after the end of the war, in the Republic of Korea during the Korean War as well as thereafter, military forces are continuing to create comfort women even at present. The only differences between them and the comfort women of the Japanese military are whether they were made aware of their role as being for the state and whether it was peacetime (but standing by for war) or wartime.

Those bases were previously established for the war or for the Cold War and continued to maintain their status. Now, it is the United States that is continuing to create comfort women in Japan and in the Republic of Korea. Needless to say, Japan and the Republic of Korea provide them and give tacit approval to the situation.

As states once established empires to expand the sphere of their political and economic influence, certain forces in specific countries seek global hegemony. It is truly ironic that the United States, which is at the core of such forces, continues to issue resolutions denouncing Japan for the comfort women issue.

Liberal forces that were supposed to be fighting for the weak generated conflicts between Japan and the Republic of Korea, apparently unwillingly so, and consequently helped accelerate the militarization and conservative swing of the Republic of Korea. Criticizing Japan in cooperation with North Korea would, in effect, mean playing a part in the continuation of the Cold War mindset.

Therefore, those who affirm the existence of former comfort women must shed this Cold War mindset, while deniers must become aware of the misery face by comfort women by understanding that they were not just prostitutes. Then, both side would surely be able to work towards a settlement of the comfort women issue by finding national consensus within Japan. To that end, it is desirable to first establish a bilateral consultative body at the initiative of the both governments where opposing camps can exchange views. To reach a consensus, it is essential for the consultative body to include former comfort women and third-party experts in addition to lobbying organizations. It is also desirable to set a time limit on discussions (meeting once a month for a period of six months, for example) and allow media access to such discussions for simultaneous reporting in both countries. This author personally believes that based on the results of discussions at this consultative body, the most desirable option is to adopt a Diet Resolution that incorporates the recognition that the existence of comfort women was the result of colonial occupation. Such an outcome would be significant in terms of (1) a fresh start for the efforts of the Asian Women’s Fund in the 1990s; (2) Japan’s critical response to resolutions adopted by European countries and the United States; and (3) redefinition of the self-perception of “postwar Japan” as “post-imperial Japan.”

On the Discussions between Prof. Hata and Prof. Yoshimi

On the views of Prof. Ikuhiko Hata

  1. Hata views comfort women only as prostitutes, passing over the fact that they were coerced to show patriotism for Japan and particularly at comfort stations managed by the Japanese military, they supported soldiers as paramilitary personnel. They faced a miserable plight as prostitutes as well. They earned money and enjoyed their situation “because they worked for the military.” Hata tends to focus only on these aspects when they represented just part of their circumstances. For example, they enjoyed athletic festivals just to muddle through their hard life.
  2. Hata believes that recruiters were all Koreans. In reality, recruiters came in pairs of Japanese and Korean recruiters in many cases.
  3. Hata seeks to blame only Koreans. He argues that former comfort women do not say that they had been sold, but they are saying so in the collections of their testimonies.
  4. Recruiters did not simply work under the urging of the military. Some recruiters were given the status of civilian employees of the military.
  5. Women were checked apparently for the purpose of not allowing them to use such products, but this would mean that there were no problems as long as contracts were in place. However, as there were cases where women thought that they were to help the military apparently without acknowledging it, it cannot be argued that there were no problems as long as contracts were in place.
  6. The movement did develop some political aspects, but that is attributable to only some of the participants. Most of participants in the movement should be considered to be acting simply out of goodwill.

On the views of Prof. Yoshiaki Yoshimi

  1. It is correct to treat structural coercion as forcible recruitment in nature. However, as there are many people who construe that the military authorities have taken women to comfort stations, Yoshimi should give an accurate description of the differences.
  2. Sexual slavery?Recruiters and the state were responsible for restricting the freedom of comfort women. Prostitutes also face slave-like circumstances.
  3. It is highly likely that the world accepted the Republic of Korea’s arguments about the comfort women issue because of ulterior motives on the part of the movement that provided questionable materials, and on the part of European countries and the United States.
  4. The severe livelihood of comfort women was brought about by recruiters. Inflation was not the only problem.
  5. He failed to note the difference related to Dutch women.
  6. There were some purely private-sector recruiters. Not all recruiters were civilian employees of the military. Those who went to the front lines were given the status of civilian employees of the military. While there were various types of comfort stations, Yoshimi only discusses comfort stations managed by the military.
  7. Responsibility. While recruiters were responsible for human trafficking, Yoshimi does not refer to the responsibility of recruiters. It is true that the state did have a part in this. But there should be a distinction between the fact that the military knew about, gave instructions for and assisted it (the author is not entirely sure whether the use of ships alone amounted to assisting in human trafficking) and that the military knew and tacitly approved it or used it without knowing. There must have been differences depending on the periods of time and places. But he places all the blame on the military.
  8. Yoshimi failed to note the self-motivation found in the nature of structural coercion. He argues that comfort women were sex slaves as they were brought to comfort stations as a result of human trafficking, but there were cases outside of that categorization. Above all, the “masters” of comfort women were recruiters.

Both historians only consider the evidence that suits their views, and both seem to have foregone conclusions. As long as that remains the case, even discussions between “historians” cannot probably find common ground.

  • Both tend to emphasize only whether damage has been done or not. But the colony had both aspects.
  • What should be considered is who will provide compensation for the misery of people mobilized by the motivations of the state (empire). Soldiers were part among these people. Comfort women as well. The private sector (permanent settlers and adults) also has no small responsibility for having played a part.
  • The handling of the comfort women issue is thorny because the method of compensation was limited to one form despite the existence of a variety of cases.
  • Comfort women were both prostitutes and innocent girls. Such a contradiction is indeed the contradiction of the colony. Things may have changed somewhat nowadays, but prostitutes were basically a role inflicted on the socially weak, and in that sense, they represent an issue of class and are created by social structure. They could not become the “masters” of their bodies and lives. It is precisely this recognition that should be the significance of considering the comfort women issue.