National Geographic News

Word in the News

comfort women

By Lucille Craft · National Geographic News · Published May 16, 2013

Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto is under fire at home and abroad for declaring that government sex-worker brigades were "necessary" during World War II. He referred to the sex workers as "comfort women."

Origins

The formal term for wartime sex workers in Japanese is juugun ianfu, or frontline comfort women. In everyday parlance, the noun ian alone refers to recreation, such as company-sponsored R&R or facilities provided by companies as an incentive or to show appreciation to employees.

During the war, ianfu were installed in "comfort stations" across Asia, operated either directly by or under the aegis of the Japanese military.

Historic/literary references

While prostitution around military encampments has existed throughout history, imperial Japan's institutionalization of military brothels was notable for its enormous scale and cold, efficient brutality. Digging into defense archives, Chuo University scholar Yoshiaki Yoshimi unearthed irrefutable evidence of how the imperial and military authorities procured women much like rations or rifles, often recruited with advertisements for factory workers or other conventional jobs. While experienced prostitutes from Japan were initially sought, overwhelming demand soon led to "sourcing" locally in occupied areas including Korea, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Testimony from the victims and former Japanese soldiers paints a grim picture of females tricked or coerced even as minors into a life of indescribable misery.

At the so-called comfort stations, recalled veteran Yasuji Kaneko, "there would be a long line of soldiers waiting their turn … Each man would finish in two or three minutes, and then it was 'Next!'"

The comfort women system was based on the belief that it would discourage soldiers from raping civilians (a faulty assumption, as it turned out), control venereal disease, and prevent the leak of military secrets (since the brothels were isolated and tightly controlled by the military).

Exact numbers are impossible to come by, but it's been estimated that as many as 200,000 women across the Japanese empire were conscripted into sex slavery. Yoshimi's revelations eventually forced Tokyo to issue an official apology to the comfort women in 1993.

Current Usage

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Japanese nationalists continue to portray the comfort women as willing prostitutes. The comfort women issue has become another political tool for revisionists like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who seek to do away with the pacifist clause of Japan's constitution and insist that Japan is done apologizing for its wartime behavior.

Mayor Hashimoto stepped beyond the usual nationalist rhetoric, however, when he blurted out at a news conference and posted on Twitter his belief that soldiers have "sexual energy" that must be relieved, and even urged a U.S. commander in Okinawa to have his men patronize local red light districts, a suggestion that was quickly rebuffed.



Published May 16, 2013

11 comments
Kaiman Chibi
Kaiman Chibi

Nationalist ? Who is nationalist ? If those people who believe so called comfort women were created by Korean for political reasons are considered as nationalists, everybody in the US, China, Koreans are nationalists!

Mazda Haruto
Mazda Haruto

Description of the comfort women will give the Japanese a painful misunderstanding. However, it is what it means it is losing the war. The Japanese have taken that fact.Irremediable infamy forever. Japanese is  abandoned the war in the above reasons. Modern Japanese spirit is the same as Yoko Ono and John Lennon.

Mazda Haruto
Mazda Haruto

Currently, information about our past. Information in English. It is in the state very dangerous. Many Japanese can not use English. English despite the second native language. Japanese voice is small. Wikipedia English will be tampered with. That is the fact.However, Toru Hashimoto, is wrong. It is a child as a politician. He should resign.

Mazda Haruto
Mazda Haruto

Army is not strong in the free sex. the old Japanese military hope also want to win. By prepare to die, the Japanese went to the battlefield. Soldier surely die. In modern war, what we're thinking. War is deathIt is the death of their own. The concept of victory is not there.Bushido is death. Japanese during the war was also thought so. It is a descendant of the samurai. Ukiyo-e Japanese is famous. Japanese are lewd. It is the same today. However, is there a rape in Ukiyo-e? Soldiers kill people. However, it is not a thug. It and still is the same. People who die fighting is unfortunate. However, it was also brave. People all over the world like to respect the soldiers, Japanese were also concerned effort. I believe so.

John Tan
John Tan

japan has always been a brute thou out history a few decades of peace doesn't mean they are good and moral people, denying history and continued aggression lives on in japan. He's a mayor I'm sure his views reflex a lot of their citizens views otherwise he wouldn't have been elected in the first place, same with abe

John Tan
John Tan

japan has always been a brute thou out history a few decades of peace doesn't mean they are good and moral people, denying history and continued aggression lives on in japan. He's a mayor I'm sure his views reflex a lot of their citizens views otherwise he wouldn't have been elected in the first place, same with abe

Mazda Haruto
Mazda Haruto

@Kaiman Chibi

Koreans are nationalists it is the truth.
However, there is a fact that they can not have a different principle.

Koreans can only be a nationalist. Country does not permit people.
They are unhappy. Human rights Another problem exists in Korea.

Share

Featured Article

Latest From Nat Geo

See more photo galleries »

The Future of Food Series

See more food news, photos, and videos »