Nature-People-Society: Science and the Humanities, No. 33. July 2002.

The Society of Liberal Arts, Kanto Gakuin University

Structure of Japanese Imperial Government involved in Military Comfort Women System

   HAYASHI, Hirofumi

This paper was originally presented at "the International Conference on Japanese Crimes Against Humanity: Sexual Slavery and Forced Labor," November 28, 2001,University of California, Riverside. This is the revised edition for publication.  uploaded on 27 April 2006.

The Japanese Government, Organization of the Japanese Military, Chain of      Command
Spread of Comfort Stations and Characteristics of Sexual Violence in Different Regions
Concrete Examples of State Involvement
Documents Proving Use of Comfort Stations by Businessmen




 I deal in this paper with the structure of the Japanese Imperial Government's involvement in the system of Japanese military comfort women and present new documents that demonstrate the use of comfort stations by Japanese businessmen.[1]

 Ⅰ The Japanese Government, Organisation of the Japanese Military, Chain of Command

In pre-war Japan , the emperor was head of state and had authority over the government. The competence of the cabinet was considerably limited by the fact that this prerogative of supreme command rested with the emperor. The military had considerable political power, and the emperor himself played an important role in the actual process of politics and decision-making. There are several studies that prove, clearly and in detail, the role of the emperor. These include the works of Professor Yamada Akira and Hervard P. Bix.[2] I will only give a brief summary here.

At the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937, the Government-Military Liaison Conference was set up and became the organ for decision-making on important matters of state politics. Matters of particular importance were decided at meetings of the Imperial Conference attended by the emperor himself. As for the composition of these conferences, only certain cabinet ministers attended. The Imperial Conference, comprising the emperor, members of the military, and leading cabinet ministers, was an organ that had no basis in the constitution, but came to act as the main decision-making body of the state.

As for the army and the question of who had command over the expeditionary troops, both the Chief of the Army General Staff and the Minister of War were to some degree authorized to act on behalf of the emperor. The former attended to military matters like operations by the armed forces, while the latter was in charge of state-related military affairs such as the budget. However, orders for important military operations and appointments of high-ranking personnel were still issued by the emperor.

I will give here a short explanation of how the army was organised. In peacetime, the uppermost unit in the hierarchy was the division. However, during times of war, armies could be established above the division level, and if necessary regional armies would be created above these. When the Pacific War broke out, for example, three area armies were brought under the command of Imperial General Headquarters: the China Expeditionary Army, the Southern Army and the Kwantung Army. The Southern Army, in charge of the occupation of Southeast Asia , was divided into four individual armies: the 14th Army, the 15th Army, the 16th Army and the 25th Army. Each of these armies was made up of several divisions. Similarly, the China Expeditionary Army comprised the North China Area Army, the 11th Army, the 13th Army and the 23rd Army with the North China Area Army in turn subdivided into the 1st Army, the 12th Army and others. This hierarchical organization thus presents us with a structure that placed the Emperor at the top, followed by the Imperial General Headquarters, area armies, armies, divisions, (brigades), regiments, battalions, and finally companies.

It goes without saying that the military was one of the most important factors in the war effort. However, total war is not only a matter of military activity. Rather, we find a nationwide mobilization that involved the whole of the economy, labor, education facilities, local government bodies and other institutions. Looking at local government bodies, for example, prefectural governors were appointed from among the ranks of Home Ministry officials while key positions in the prefectural administrations were also appointed from among Home Ministry bureaucrats. The Police Bureau of the Home Ministry had complete control over the administration of police forces in the prefectures. It is important, therefore, to keep in mind that the conduct of war was not a purely military effort, but involved complete mobilization of all administrative organs at the national and local levels.


Ⅱ Spread of Comfort Stations and Characteristics of Sexual Violence in Different Regions

 The first comfort stations were set up in Shanghai , when Japan began its push into China following the Manchuria Incident of 1931. From 1937 on, after Japan entered into fully fledged war with China and pursued expansion of the occupied territories without let-up, the Japanese army began setting up comfort stations in other parts of China . In 1940, when Japanese troops advanced into Indochina, the first comfort stations in Southeast Asia were established. The landing of troops on the Malay peninsula in December 1941 marks the outbreak of the Asia-Pacific War. By the following year, in May 1942, the military advance was complete and Japanese occupied territory reached its maximum extension. With Burma and the Andaman-Nikobar isles, Indian possessions In the West, Indonesian isles facing south toward Australia , and the Solomon and Marshall islands group in the East, large parts of the Pacific were brought under Japanese rule.

If one were to plot the geographical distribution of the comfort stations set up by the Japanese military on a map of the occupied territories, it would be immediately clear that they spanned more or less the whole occupied area. Towards the end of the war, as Japan started to prepare for a decisive battle in the homeland against the offensives of the Allied forces, more and more Japanese troops were stationed on the Japanese isles themselves. Comfort stations were then set up in Okinawa and other parts of Japan as well.[3]

Patterns of two main types can be made out in the acts of sexual violence committed by the Japanese military in different regions. Taking China as an example, the first pattern is characterized by the systematic establishment of comfort stations in urban areas. Women from Korea , Taiwan , Japan and other locations were sent as comfort women to these stations, which were set up by quartermaster corps. These Type-1 comfort stations were most common in areas where Japanese military rule was, to some extent at least, well established and the rape of local women was kept in check by the military police in order to win the support of the local population.

Type-2 stations were mostly found in rural areas where strong anti-Japanese resistance was a threat and the local population as a whole was considered anti-Japanese by the army. In these areas, not only were massacres, ill-treatment and looting allowed to happen, but also the rape of local women by soldiers went unchecked. The appalling acts of sexual violence perpetrated by the Japanese army in Shanxi Province can be regarded as representative of this pattern. In such rural areas, Japanese troops forcibly abducted women, confined them and raped them over and over again. A frequent occurrence was that Japanese troops would force village leaders to provide them with women. The overwhelming majority of victims in this type of case were local Chinese women.

Behavior was, in fact, often a mix of these two types. Soldiers of the Imperial Army, while making use of comfort stations in relatively stable urban areas, committed atrocities ranging from massacres to rape when sent out on punitive operations to areas where there was strong resistance to Japanese rule. In other words, sexual violence against women at comfort stations took place alongside the rape of local women.[4]

The situation in the various regions of Southeast Asia was essentially the same as in China , but different regions had local characteristics.[5] In the Philippines , behavior was mostly of the second type, since local guerillas put up strong anti-Japanese resistance and the islands had become a focus of the war due to a counteroffensive by US forces. An overview of stories told by the victims of sexual violence in the Philippines shows that reports of abduction and rape during confinement outweigh cases of women forced to work in systematized comfort stations.[6]

On the Malay Peninsula , on the other hand, the situation remained comparatively stable and no counter attacks by Allied forces took place before the end of the war. Here, the comfort stations run by the military administration were maintained until the very end, and even though several cases of Type-2 behavior have been reported, it seems that sexual violence of Type 1 was the most frequently committed.[7]

Both the Home Ministry and other ministries dispatched officials to the military administration, and there can be no doubt that government officials had an important role to play in the military occupation. In fact, it is clear that the Japanese occupation of Asian territories was not enforced only by the military, and it would be no exaggeration to say that government officials were actively involved in the administration of comfort stations. The sexual violence perpetrated by the Imperial forces occurred throughout the occupied territories. The victims of this violence were women from the Japanese colonies ( Korea and Taiwan ), Japanese women and women from China , Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. The extent and systematic character of this sexual violence make it impossible to explain these acts as transgressions committed by a handful of criminal types in the military ranks. In fact, the huge number of cases and their occurrence throughout the occupied territories are proof enough of the fact that both the Japanese military and organs of the Japanese government, in other words the Japanese state as a whole, were actively involved.


Ⅲ Concrete Examples of State Involvement

 I will here present two concrete examples that demonstrate the state's direct involvement in these crimes. The first is a 1938 Home Ministry document regarding the dispatch to Tokyo of a staff officer of the 21st Army, stationed at the time in southern China , on a mission to recruit comfort women.[8] This officer, accompanied by a section chief of the Ministry of War, made a request to the Police Bureau of the Home Ministry that women be recruited. The Police Bureau, in the name of the Chief of the Bureau, ordered prefectural governors to select appropriate managers for the recruitment process and to offer appropriate assistance. The Office of the Army General Staff itself was also deeply involved in this operation. Each prefecture accordingly selected managers to gather up women to be sent to China ; each of these women would, incidentally, have been issued with the necessary identification papers before leaving. These tasks were the responsibility of the police. Thus orders came down from the governor to the chief of the police bureau, and then to chiefs of police stations who mobilized a number of police officers.

In other words, the recruitment and transfer of the women was systematically organized not only by the expeditionary forces and the Office of the Army General Staff in Tokyo , but also using the administrative machinery of state. All levels of administrative structure, central as well as local, were involved in these operations.

The Governor-General of Taiwan was also requested to provide similar services, and no doubt the same kind of prefectural and police network was set up in the same systematic way.

My second example consists of Taiwan Colonization Company (TCC) documents relating to comfort stations on Hainan Island , China .[9] These particular comfort stations were under the Navy's control, and planning for them took place at a joint meeting of the Army, Navy and Foreign Ministries. They jointly sent a request via the Government-General of Taiwan to TCC, asking that comfort stations be established and comfort women recruited. In April 1939, the head of the Research Section of the Taiwan Government-General asked the director of TCC to dispatch 90 comfort women to Hainan . According to the documents, TCC thought it inappropriate to carry out the task itself; instead, its subsidiary Fukudai Company was ordered to do the job. Accordingly, a contract was concluded between the two companies by which TCC provided funds to Fukudai for lending to the proprietors of comfort stations. This contract was signed by the president of TCC, KATO Kyohei, who was previously a high-ranking executive of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu and was appointed president of TCC at the behest of the then Prime Minister, HIROTA Koki. TCC was a semi-governmental company established with assistance from the Government-General of Taiwan , the War and Navy Ministries, and the Foreign Ministry. It is clear from these documents that the establishment of comfort stations involved not only the military, but also the Foreign Ministry, the Government-General of Taiwan , and semi-governmental bodies such as the Taiwan Colonization Company.


  Documents Proving Use of Comfort Stations by Businessmen

Although Japanese military comfort stations were used  predominantly by military personnel, they were by no means the only people to frequent these facilities. Individuals connected with Japanese businesses that moved into areas occupied by the military also made use of them. Here I will here present documentation that attests to this fact.

The following discussion centers on a collection of documents kept by the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum , London , UK . It seems reasonable to presume that these documents were captured from Japanese troops by the British in the Burma Theatre.[10] The cover of the collection reads: "Rules and Regulations, Unit 3629, 1943". This was the 51st Field Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, stationed at the time in the city of Mandalay in central Burma . It is a bundle of documents concerning various rules and regulations laid down by the Mandalay Garrison Headquarters and others. Four of the documents relate to comfort stations. It is worth noting that Mandalay , an important hub for troop movements in the area, served as a collection and transportation base for the military. Many of those stationed there were non-combat troops in communication and supply units.

The most interesting document of the four is "Regulations for Garrison Comfort Stations" published by Mandalay Headquarters on 26 May, 1943. These regulations are remarkable for the exceptional facilities they afford to the personnel of trading companies. The following are some of the provisions of particular interest here:


Article 2:            While comfort stations are in principle for the use of Japanese military personnel and civilian army employees, Japanese residents of Mandalay are, for the time being, permitted to visit these stations after 2430 as long as it causes no hindrance to use by military personnel and civilian employees, and provided that certain rules are strictly observed. Entry is strictly forbidden before 24:30.

a. There must be no interference with the recreation of military personnel and civilian army employees.
b. The rules must be obeyed and public morals upheld.
c. Prior booking before the time of arrival is strictly forbidden.
d. Fees are according to officers' rates.
e. Anyone violating one of the above rules will be barred for good.

The nature and extent of a violation may lead to a ban extending to all personnel of the violator's company or even to all Japanese residents. Japanese residents of the hinterland who are unable to visit during the regulated period will be permitted to enter a comfort station on condition that the president of the Japanese society issues an appropriate certificate.


Appendix I to these regulations consists of a "timetable and fees for the use of comfort stations". The accompanying remarks include the sentence, "Trading company personnel must strictly observe Article 2". This clearly indicates that the article was primarily aimed at members of trading companies, rather than ordinary members of the Japanese community in the region. Many private companies were operating in Mandalay at the time, using it as a base for activities in the central northern regions of Burma . The proviso given in Article 2 shows that trading company personnel returning from the interior were treated to exceptional conditions; they were provided access to comfort stations at hours usually closed to civilians. This is evidence of the strong ties that must have existed between the Japanese military and trading companies, and particularly between the quartermaster corps of the Mandalay Garrison and trading companies operating locally.

Burma was placed under Japanese military administration after Japan took it from the British. Although Burma became "Independent" in August 1943, it remained under de fact occupation by the Japanese Army. Throughout the occupation period, Japanese companies continued to move into areas protected by the Japanese army and played an important role in the military administration. At the time Burma was taken, the Japanese military confiscated properties held by Britain and other Allied nations as well as those owned by their citizens. Some came under the direct management of the military, while others were run by several nominated private companies.  In this way, private Japanese firms played a crucial role in maintaining the Japanese regime in the region.[11]

 I would like to give some specific examples of the kind of private activities that went on in Mandalay , but unfortunately insufficient documentation has so far been located to identify which particular companies made use of military comfort stations in the area. Instead, I present the results of my research into the private companies that maintained resident representative offices in Mandalay , and which therefore had potential access to the facilities.

One example is the Burma Commodity Distribution Cooperative, which handled such products as sugar, salt, coal, matches, tobacco, textiles and miscellaneous goods. This organisation was initially set up by five companies: Mitsui-Bussan (Mitsui & Co. Ltd), Mitsubishi-Shoji (Mitsubishi Corp), Nihon-Menka (Nichimen Corp), Ataka-Sangyo, and Sanko. Later others joined the cooperative: Tomen (Tomen Corp), Kosho, Senda-Shokai, Kanegafuchi-Shoji (Kanebo), Maruei, and Daimaru. Another eleven firms carried out wholesale business under the organisation. One of its branch offices was in Mandalay .

The purchasing, collection, storage and delivery of rice in the region was taken care of by the Japan-Burma Rice Cooperative, similarly established by Mitsui-Bussan, Mitsubishi-Shoji and Nihon-Menka. Cotton cultivation, collection and manufacturing were carried out by the Japan Cotton Association comprising Nihon-Menka, Kosho, Fuji-Boseki (Fuji Spinning), and Chuo-Boseki. In this case, operations in the Mandalay area were taken care of by Chuo-Boseki. The timber industry was managed by the Japan-Burma Timber Cooperative involving Mitsui-Bussan, Mitsubishi-Shoji, Nihon-Menka, and Ataka-Shokai. This operation ran four sawmills in the Mandalay area.

Other companies operating in the Mandalay area included Takasago Beer, which ran a brewery that was later converted into a miso and soy-sauce factory when raw materials came into short supply, and Nichinan-Norin-Kogyo, which ran a match factory. Mitsubishi-Shoji took care of the purchase of tannic materials for tanneries in the area, and Kanematsu-Shoten handled leather goods for sale to Nihon-Genpi.

Baldwin Mines, located to the northeast of Mandalay , were an important source of lead, zinc, copper and other metals. They were officially under the direct control of the Japanese military, but in effect under the management of Mitsui-Kozan (Mitsui Mining). There were many other mines, factories and businesses of other types whose management was commissioned to Japanese firms, but details are not discussed here.

This list demonstrates that many Japanese companies, and particularly trading companies, were involved in the purchase and distribution of commodities and the management of various industries in the occupied territories. In Burma , Mitsui-Bussan, Mitsubishi-Shoji and Nihon-Menka seem to have had the closest relations with the army. Many of the employees of these companies posted to central northern Burma would have visited Mandalay . And, according to the regulations already discussed, they were in the position of having exceptionally open access to the military comfort stations. If Japanese companies indeed took advantage of their relationship with the military and made use of the comfort stations, then they too must be held accountable for their role in the comfort woman system.



 In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that the establishment and development of the military comfort women system by the Japanese involved not only every section of the military at all levels, but also the administrative machinery of state at every level. Further, it should not be overlooked that private Japanese companies were accomplices in the running of the system.



[1]  The first half of this paper was presented at the "Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan 's Military Sexual Slavery" held in Tokyo on 8 December 2000. The full paper is based on a speech delivered at the "International Conference on Japanese Crimes Against Humanity" on 29 November 2001 at the University of California , Riverside .

[2]  Yamada Akira, Daigensui Showa Tenno [Grand Marshal Emperor Showa], Tokyo, Shinnihon-Shuppansha, 1994 and Hervard P. Bix, HIROHITO and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Harper-Collins Publishers, 2000.

[3]  As for Japanese military comfort women and comfort stations, see Yoshimi Yoshiaki, Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during World War II, New York, Columbia University Press, 2000; also Yoshimi Yoshiaki and Hayashi Hirofumi (eds.), Nihongun Ianfu [Japanese Military Comfort Women],Tokyo, Otsuki Shoten, 1995 and Yoshimi Yoshiaki (ed), Jugun Ianfu Shiryo-shu [Documents on Military Comfort Women], Tokyo, Otsuki-Shoten, 1992.

[4]  See Kim Puja & Song Yo-ok, co-editors, Ianfu, Senji Seiboryoku no Jittai: Nippon, Taiwan, Chosen Hen [The Actual State of Comfort Women and Wartime Sexual Violence: Japan, Taiwan and Korea], Ryokufu Shuppan, 2000; Nishino Rumiko & Hayashi Hirofumi, co-editors, Ianfu, Senji Seiboryoku no Jittai: Chugoku, Tonan-Ajia, Taiheiyou Hen [The Actual State of Comfort Women and Wartime Sexual Violence: China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific], Ryokufu Shuppan, 2000.

[5]  Hayashi, Hirofumi, "Japanese Comfort Women in Southeast Asia", Japan Forum, Vol.10, No.2, 1998.

[6]  As for the Philippines, Calica, Dan P. & Sancho, Nelia (eds), War Crimes on Asian Women: Military Sexual Slavery by Japan during World War: The Case of Filipino Comfort Women, Manila, The Task Force on Filipina Victims of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, 1993; and Asian Center for Women's Human Rights, From the Depths of Silence: Voice of Women Survivors of War, Quezon City, Asian Center for Women's Human Rights (ASCENT), 2000.

[7]  As for comfort stations in Malaya, see Hayashi, Hirofumi, "Marei Hanto no Nihongun Ianjo" [Japanese Military Comfort Stations on the Malay Peninsula] in Sekai [World], March 1993, " Singapore no Nihongun Ianjo" [Japanese Military Comfort Stations in Singapore ], in Senso Sekinin Kenkyu [Report on Japan 's War Responsibility], No.4, June 1994.

[8]  This document is preserved in Keisatsu Daigakko [the Police Academy ] in Tokyo .

[9]  The files of Taiwan Takushoku Gaisha [Taiwan Colonization Company] are preserved in Taiwan .

[10]  Hayashi Hirofumi, " Burma Mandalay no Nihongun Ianjo Kitei" [Regulations on Japanese Military Comfort Stations in Mandalay , Burma ], in Senso Sekinin Kenkyu [Report on Japan 's War Responsibility], No.6, December 1994.

[11]  See e.g. "History of Military Administration in Burma", and "Records of regional industries under the Southern Army Administration", at the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies, Defense Agency, Tokyo.