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Frequently Asked Questions About The Comfort Women in World War II

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Were Military Brothels Legally Sanctioned Under Japanese Law?

People often ask, In pre-war Japan, prostitution was perfectly legal. Weren't the proprietors of brothels simply engaging in a perfectly legal trade near Japan's warfront? Although prostitution was legal in Japan before the war, it was strictly regulated by law, which isn't generally understood.

Pre-War Japanese law provided The Ordinance on Brothels, Illicit Tea Houses, and Prostitution. This law forbade coercion, and mistreatment, of prostitutes, and stipulated that all prostitutes register, in person, at local police departments to insure that women entered prostitution of their own free will. Furthermore, all women had to do to quit as prostitutes was to petition at the police department, either written or verbally. The law stated that prostitutes, Could not be prevented from resigning under any circumstances. The law also protected prostitutes by requiring brothels to be recognized officially in order to operate. The introduction of The Law on the Management of Prostitutes, strictly limited hiring procedures to avoid the enslavement of women in conformity to the international treaty prohibiting the buying and selling of women in 1910 and children in 1925. These international treaties prohibited the buying and selling of women, even with consent of the women concerned, and prescribed strict punishments for violations of this treaty.

However, military brothels didn't honor the rules of the treaties. There is no evidence that Comfort women were either registered, or that it was confirmed that the women entered as prostitutes of their own free will. Commanding officers were given the power to provisionally govern occupied territories. This made the military brothels where the comfort women worked completely unprotected by the aforementioned laws. The war in inland China saw an alarmingly high number of rapes by Japanese troops. Japanese officers feared that this would tarnish the dignity of the imperial army, and built military brothels to stem this problem (this solution can be likened to a parent increasing his children's allowance to keep them from shoplifting). Japanese law didn't bind the Japanese military, and consequently they flouted both the requirement to register the comfort women, and the requirement to verify that the women entered service of their own free will.

Military officers frequently permitted entrepreneurs to open brothels on occupied lands, and sometimes the military would recruit comfort women themselves to work military brothels. The commanding officer set rules for use and rates for these brothels. Military doctors and military police oversaw the daily operations of the brothels, and so there can be no doubt that they were an integral part of the military.

Were Women Forced into Prostitution?

Many people still believe that these women voluntarily engaged in prostitution at these military installments. That would be a reasonable assumption if records confirmed that women had given consent to work as prostitutes, as is stipulated by The Ordinance on Brothels, Illicit Tea Houses, and Prostitution. Unfortunately, no such records exist, and so The military must have ignored this law. It is further argued that, Some points in the testimony of the comfort women don't contradict one another, so how can we believe them when they say they were coerced into prostitution. However, this line of reasoning is completely illogical.

The Japanese military employed various means of gathering women to work these brothels. As in Japan, women were sometimes sold into sexual slavery, although the recruiting process was handled as quietly as possible. Nevertheless, military telegrams reading, Send the following comfort women immediately: with a list of numbers and deadline dates appended, (e.g. Taiwan Base, military telegram #935 etc.) still exist. The primary reason for creating military brothels was to prevent rape and discord among the troops, Therefore, the recruiting stations had to find a means of recruiting enough women to service all the soldiers on the base as a part of routine base operations.

Is There Any Concrete Evidence of Forced Prostitution?

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that the military forced women into prostitution was the so called "White Horse" incident in Indonesia. In February, 1944, the 16th Division's Cadet Unit under the Southern Army brought all Dutch women over the age of seventeen, which numbered at least 65, to the Semarang military brothel where they were forced to work as prostitutes. Some excuse the Japanese military with the feeble excuse that the order to limit inductees to, Those women who wish to work as prostitutes, was not passed on. The military can't be excused for this action on the weak argument that the order not to coerce women was given, but failed to be properly relayed. Still others deny that these women were comfort women, and claim that these women were actually prisoners of war, and this incident should be regarded as violation of the Geneva Convention. Again, this claim is groundless. These women weren't soldiers, they were civilians, many of them were only seventeen years old. The Dutch Internment Citizens League vehemently protested this gross violation of human rights which culminated in a direct appeal from a colonel from the War Office in Tokyo. Fearing that this incident would be exposed to the world, Japan had no choice but to close the brothel within two months.

Many people say that little direct proof exists that the military ever coerced women into prostitution. However, the Japanese military records give elaborate accounts of such conditions in records of the "White Horse Incident." Furthermore, after the war the Allied Powers, incensed that Caucasian women were abused this way tried perpetrators of these crimes as war criminals, and the records from those trials survive as well.

Coercion of Comfort Women as Military Policy

The forced prostitution perpetrated by the cadet squad arose spontaneously in many ways, but upon examination of how the army headquarters resolved the incident during the war, the Japanese militaryÕs attitude toward this hideous crime comes into focus.

The military released the comfort women without compensation, or any plan to deal with the issue whatsoever. Military law provided for "lifetime imprisonment, or incarceration for no less than one year for rape committed on a battlefield or in occupied territories," was completely disregarded. Accordingly, if General Headquarters had really ordered that only those women who volunteered should be accepted as comfort women, then the soldiers who coerced women into prostitution should have been court-martialed for disobeying a direct command. Nevertheless, no one was ever brought up on charges.

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East convicted 12 men of crimes against humanity, of which one was executed, for their roles in the comfort women incident. However, even though rape is a serious crime by Japanese military law, a court martial was never called into session. It was probably the Headquarters of the 16th army or the General Headquarters of the Southern Army that decided to abandon the comfort women incident. However, the 16th Army's ambivalent attitude was by no means unique. A general feeling prevailed in the Japanese military that the sexual slavery that the comfort women endured should be forgotten, and the matter was summarily dropped.

Absence of records describing the abuse of comfort women at the hands of Japanese soldiers doesn't prove that it didn't happen. The "White Horse" incident clearly shows that rape laws were largely ignored. Asian women had no choice to acquiesce and tolerate their abuse because unlike the Dutch women, they had no one to speak out on their behalf. Even disregarding the testimony from the comfort women themselves, much irrefutable evidence such as the record of an inquiry of a lieutenant who forced five women to work at a military brothel on Moa Island was presented in the Tokyo Trial, still exists.

Forced Prostitution on the Korean Peninsula

Forced induction into military brothels conjures images of soldiers with bayonets prodding young women into brothels, which recalls the "White Horse Incident." However, in reality because Japan's military ran Korea as a police state where the Army controlled the police and administration of government, they didn't need to directly force women to work as prostitutes. They devised more cunning ways to coerce women.

In order to enlist comfort women, the recruiter would lure women with job advertisements for nurses or factory workers. Then they would ship all of the applicants to military brothels. In other cases, the police told young women with parents who opposed Japan, that unless they worked as prostitutes, their parents would be imprisoned or killed. In still other cases, police and military police kidnapped young women, and put them on trains bound for military brothels. Allegations have also been made of Korean village mayors and town council presidents helping to fill quotas for comfort women. However, comfort women who testified usually skirt mentioning that Koreans cooperated with the Japanese, since they see the Korean recruiters as victims of the Japanese invasion as well. As a result, the extent of Korean involvement in recruiting comfort women is still unclear.

Undoubtedly Koreans often worked as go-betweens in recruiting Korean comfort women. Many people believe that in these cases, the Japanese military can't be held responsible. It is natural to think that Korean middlemen would send home those women who were fooled or coerced into prostitution, and didn't want to do it. However, no evidence exists that they did. Some people hold that the Japanese can't be held responsible in such cases. Nevertheless, ultimately, the Japanese military ordered these women to be brought to the brothels by any means necessary. The Japanese military regarded forcible induction as perfectly acceptable, and only recruited women peacefully when it was convenient.

The Japanese military indisputably flouted the law when minors were recruited as comfort women. Among the nine former comfort women currently suing Japan, all were under 21 at the time of recruitment. According to international law, these women weren't of age of consent, and recruiting them should be punishable by law. Notwithstanding, these comfort women testify that they didn't give consent in the first place.

What Hardships Did the Comfort Women Endure?

The unimaginable humiliation of being forced to live as sexual slave should be self-evident, but according to documents of inquiries conducted by the Allied Forces, some soldiers emphasize that the comfort women led relatively easy lives. From the perspective of the troops, a visit with a comfort woman was exorbitantly priced. However, both the military and the brothel managers took a rake off of the profits, and the comfort women lost much of their remaining income to debts owed to the brothel managers.

At that time, the military paid all wages in military scrip, which it freely issued as needed. This currency became completely worthless after the war.

Comfort women were divided into three classes: those for the generals, those for the officers, and those for the enlisted men. The comfort women who serviced the generals were professional Japanese prostitutes, and the ones who served the enlisted men were other Asian women. In the worst cases the comfort women who served the enlisted men had only straw matting hung to serve as walls to their "room." Japanese soldiers lined up outside waiting for their turn, which was likened to queuing for a public toilet. The comfort women for received a set wage in exchange for taking care of the enlisted men, one after another, unceasingly. Frequently the comfort women were forbidden to go outside, and the conditions of their living quarters were usually unsanitary. Also, many comfort women were stationed near the front, and so few lived to see the WarÕs end. In fact even in the document that was quoted to have said that life as a comfort woman was easy, it can be gleaned that the comfort women were largely virginal Chinese and Korean under the legal age of consent. After the War, the ex-comfort women, though emotionally scarred, had to guard their wartime exploitation as a secret. In fact, even now, only a small handful of comfort women have come forward with their story, because only the ones with no family to shame with their confession have had the courage to speak out.

Did All Military Units Have Comfort Women?

Whereas rape and prostitution are part and parcel of any war, the Japanese military had an unusually high number of rapes, and comfort women came to be a part of every unit. Even members of the Japanese military heavily criticized military brothels. Army doctor Lieutenant Hayao indicated in an essay, "The troops seem to have an insatiable sexual appetite, and in order to prevent the Chinese women from being raped, we have constructed military brothels. Even so, rape is commonplace and when the good Chinese people see Japanese troops, they fear being raped." Neither the American military nor the British military had brothels. and in fact no countryÕs army in any war in the modern era has constructed brothels as extensively as Japan. Granted, the German army also had military brothels, but these weren't so much to prevent rape rather than to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease.

The factors that gave rise to JapanÕs deciding to construct military brothels can be explained by the unique situation of the Japanese military. In Wartime, soldiers at the front succumb to battle fatigue after a time, and are no longer able to fight effectively. Ordinarily, the army periodically rotates its troops for rest and relaxation to emotionally recuperate. However, Japanese troops weren't rotated. Once a Japanese soldier was moved to the front, he would to fight until he was killed. Since supply trains didn't have access to the front, soldiers had to pillage to survive. Their values eroded and they began to see women as just another good to plunder. For this reason, Japan's misguided national policies can explain the soldierÕs barbaric behavior that necessitated the military brothels.

Where's The Proof?

The issue of coercion of the comfort women is only one aspect of this problem. I think that I have sufficiently established that, despite claims to the contrary, comfort women did exist, and the involvement of the Japanese military is indisputable. It is also been shown that many of the comfort women were below the legal age of consent, and that many women were coerced into being comfort women in occupied territories. Even though some narrow minded individuals discount the testimony of the comfort women themselves for lack of evidence, this incident is generally recognized as historical fact.

Some people insist that because there is no indisputable evidence that the comfort women on the Korean Peninsula were ever coerced into being comfort women, we can't regard it as historical fact. Like in a court of law, "We are innocent until proven guilty." However, most historical incidents can't be substantiated by incontrovertible evidence. In proving the coercion of comfort women supporting evidence has been amply compiled and it is as close to being incontrovertible as any historical incident.

This supporting evidence exists despite the fact that the Japanese military freely buried the incident after the war, and that the former comfort women were in no position publicly tell of their exploitation under the Japanese military. These women were shamed and only wanted to forget their traumatic experience. For these reasons direct evidence was elusive, and former comfort women only came forward with their story fifty years after the war. If it weren't for the former comfort women speaking out, the elimination of public records relating to military brothels would have been largely successful. Particularly since the Korean Government General incinerated all public records after World War II, destroying those records that chronicled the comfort women incident. In light of the enormity of this whitewashed episode, we have a responsibility not to forget this incident, not to let it be erased from the pages of history, but to confront and examine the truth.