A Letter on the issue of the Japanese comfort women

JRC News: Newsletter of the Japan Research Centre, SOAS, No.32. April 1997

Hayashi Hirofumi

I was an academic visitor of SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. I would like to express my gratitude to the staff of SOAS.

During my stay as an academic visitor of SOAS from August 1995 to August 1996 I conducted research on Japanese war crimes in South-east Asia and war crimes trials by the British army. The issue of Japanese military comfort women constitutes one of the most serious war crimes and is an important part of my research

I had the opportunity of giving a talk on Japanese Military Comfort Women in South-east Asia. Since 1992 when a Japanese historian discovered many official documents, some scholarly works have been conducted on this issue. Howeverone of the problems of recent studies on comfort women is the overestimating of the role of Korea women. So I discussed the case in South-east Asia in the hope of redressing this imbalance.

The recruitment methods employed in South-east Asia were quite different from those in Korea and most of the comfort women in South-east Asia were local women. As regards Chinait is likely that there were more Chinese than Koreans. Not only Korean women but other Asian women were victims

The comfort women system was introduced into South-east Asia against the efforts of Japanese foreign bureaucrats who had tried to clear away overseas Japanese prostitutes. It was also contrary to the development of womens human rights. Howeverthe military comfort women system is not uniquely Japanese. As regards sexual violenceall militaries have something in common. In the case of Japan, the characteristics of the Japanese military amplified sexual aggression to it extreme

After the JRC seminarI gave the same talk at Sheffield UniversityAt both seminars the discussion was lively and interesting. The differences in the methods of recruitment between Korea and South-east Asia and the fact that Korean comfort women were not the majority seemed to have made some impression to those present. Some important problems, such as whether comfort women were prostitutes or notremain unsolved

Some scholars in Japan insist that the Japanese military comfort women system was the same as the regulated prostitute system. They divided into two groupsOne claims that both systems should be blamed because they are sexual violence and an infringement of womenhuman rights. The otherwho lack a sense of human rights claim that the Japanese military comfort women system should not be blamed because the prostitution system was 1awful then

think the Japanese military comfort women system was the mixture of regulated prostitution and gang-rape. Some cases were similar to regulated prostitutes but other cases were the victims of gang-rape. It depended on placetime and so onHowevereven though some comfort women were similar to regulated prostitutesthe Japanese military comfort women system lacked in the protection of women which the regulated prostitutes enjoyed. Of course I agree that the prostitution itself is an infringement of womenhuman rights

When I came back to Japan I was very surprised that the argument which tried to justify the Japanese military comfort women system had been prevailing and that many big publishers supported such an argument. They claim that comfort women volunteered to become comfort women in order to earn money, that they were often well-treatedand Japan need not apologise. They also claim that Japan was not the aggressor and that the Nankin atrocities was a frame-up and so on. They ignore the results of scholarly works and agitate peoples nationalistic sentiments. We should not underestimate them as they have great influence on the young generations and school teachers

Every nation tried to justify its war. In WorId War, it is needless to say that Japan and Germany were aggressors. I do not intend to defend Japans aggressionnor Japans war crimessuch as comfort womenHoweverthe United Nations committed a lot of war crimes, such as air raids against civilians by US and UK forces, there were also numerous rapes against Japanese women in Okinawa by US soldiers

Self-righteous nationalism makes people turn their eyes away from their faultsI have often felt it both in Japan and in the UK. Recentlypeople in Japan have discussed Japans war responsibility and war crimes and people who admit that the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War Were Japans aggressive warshave increasedHowever, the counterattack by the nationalists whose nationalistic pride has been hurt by it, began with the support of some major journalism and conservative politicians.   

World War is not the past but a current issue which would not seem to be soIved in near future.