Comfort Women ( ian-fu ? ) ” ( Simplified Chinese : 慰安妇 , Traditional Chinese : 慰安婦 ) is the euphemism used in Japan for the often-minor victims of the system of organized mass sexual slavery. the Asia by and for the army and navy Japanese imperial, particularly during the Second World War. The use of this term is strongly contested by organizations that demand of the Japanese government formal apologies and reparations, and prefer the unsweetened term of sexual slavery.

The Wednesday protest is a public protest taking place in South Korea every Wednesday at noon in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul since 1992, which aims to obtain justice from the Japanese government for its system of large-scale sexual slavery. 1 .


Following the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 and the international outcry that followed the imperial headquarters undertook to implement a way to reduce tensions caused by rape, extremely numerous, committed by soldiers of the army imperial in conquered territories 2 .

The goal was also to maintain the morale of the troops and protect them from venereal diseases (by imposing the use of condoms in brothels). To achieve this goal, it was necessary to continuously ensure the availability of a sufficient number of prostitutes 3 .

Under the orders of Hajime Sugiyama , Minister of the Army, and Prince Kotohito Kan’in , chief of staff and grand-uncle of Hirohito , the Army proceeded to the implantation in the occupied zone of so-called closed houses.”Recreation centers” or “comfort houses”, similar to those set up in 1932 during the Shanghai campaign by General Yasuji Okamura 4 . According to the work of the historian Su Zhiliang, at least 149 houses were established in London 5 .

Organization and operation

The brothels , quite similar to the French BMC , were directed either by the army or the navy, or by local governments or by individuals.

The leaders received a share on the price of the passes. Quite often the women received nothing, although remuneration was provided for by the regulations of the Japanese army. These regulations also prohibited weapons and alcohol.

Japanese leaders had set operating rules, such as opening hours (from 9 pm to midnight, every day), rest days (2 days per month during menstruation ), disinfections rooms, medical visits or the treatment of women with venereal diseases .

Recruitment of comfort women

“Recruited” women were generally single and often underage. False recruitment of workers or waitresses were organized in order to recruit new women 6 . Deception is not enough, kidnappings were organized. Japanese women were also deceived, through the creation of the Corps of Women Volunteers, officially designed to provide factory manpower. The military police ( Kenpeitai ) were recruiting, usually forcing village chiefs from the occupied territories to regroup all the young women 7 and pursuing the young female volunteers who were escaping.

The works of Yoshiaki Yoshimi , a professor at Chuo University , show the strong involvement of Japanese administrations, not only those of the army and the Kōa-in , but also those of the Ministries of the Interior, Labor and Finance. . After analyzing the documents of the Japanese army, they established that, from 1938 to 1945, it had constituted about 2,000 comfort houses, including a 1,000-woman recreation center for an army of 100,000 men, in April. 1939 , in Guandong. Among other things, Yoshimi found a directive of 4 March 1938 sent by the Adjutant of the Chiefs of Staff of the North China Army and the Expeditionary Force of China entitled “Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Comfort Homes” Declaring that “the armies on the ground will control the recruitment of women” 8 .

According to Yoshiaki Yoshimi, the women came from Japan 9 , the Philippines , Indochina , Burma , the Netherlands Indies , Singapore , Korea and China .

According to historian Ikuhito Hata , a professor at Nihon University and one of the leading figures of the revisionist organization Tsukurukai , the Korean collaborationist administration was reportedly the main cause of the deceitful recruiting of girls.

Living conditions

Concerning the living conditions, there are several different testimonies. According to former comfort women, although Japanese leaders have set rules, their priority was obviously not the health and living conditions of women, but those of Japanese soldiers.

They describe conditions of life comparable to slavery : they belonged to their brothels. They were often beaten, tortured or even mutilated by soldiers. Some of them were even executed because the soldier was not satisfied. Others who tried to escape were beaten, sometimes to death [ref. necessary] .

One of the victims of Korean descent [Who?] Told international investigators that they have repeatedly feared for her life. “I was almost murdered several times during my stay as a” comfort woman “. There were soldiers who were drunk and brandishing their swords at me while they were asking me for sexual perversions … The threats they were making were explicit: they would kill me if I did not cooperate. ” 10 .

According to the testimony of fifteen victims of a prostitution network established in 1942 in East Timor by the Imperial Japanese Navy , prostitutes, some of whom were prepubescent [ref. necessary] , were forced to work without pay, clothing and food even having to be provided by their parents. These words are confirmed by various witnesses including a former village chief is being done by military order to find young women for this type of network 11 .

In 2014, during her European tour to sensitize public opinion to this historical drama still denied by Japan, the Korean Kim Bok-Dong testifies 12 : “It was schools or administrative buildings requisitioned by the military. It was impossible to get out. (…) It was at the end of the week that the soldiers parade. Saturday from 8h to 17h and Sunday from noon to 17h. It did not stop. At the end of the day, I could not even sit down. (…) At first I was very angry. I did not know what a man was. I refused to let myself be taken. I received a lot of blows. And then, I became more passive. ”

The abduction of women and girls

The abduction of women and girls by the imperial army has been the subject of debate, particularly following the testimony of Yoshida Seiji (see section Recognition ).

Documents found in the Tokyo Court archives , made public during the trials and found in 2007 by professors Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Hirofumi Hayashi , show that members of the Tokeitai , the naval military police, kidnapped women in China , the Indochinese peninsula and Indonesia to force them to pass a medical examination and then have shipped in comfort stations 13 .

The , journalist Taichiro Kaijimura announced the discovery, in the archives of the Dutch government , of thirty official documents submitted to the Tokyo Tribunal as evidence of an incident of mass prostitution in Magelang , Indonesia , in 1944 . According to the journalist, these documents clearly demonstrate that women were kidnapped by the Japanese army and forced into prostitution in comfort stations 14 .

In a testimonial about his experience at the front, the veteran of the Japanese army, Yasuji Kaneko, said that women “cried but we did not care if they lived or died. We were the soldiers of the emperor. Whether at military brothels or in the villages, we violated without any reluctance. ” 15 .

Moreover, the the General Staff of the Expeditionary Force of China issued a directive, called Gun ian-jo jungyo-fu tô boshu ni kansuru ken (The case concerning the recruitment of comfort women) . This document, discovered by Yoshimi in the Japan Defense Agency Library, asked imperial army soldiers in northern China and central China to pay attention to Chinese pimps who practiced kidnappings and said that “the armies on the ground would ensure the control of the recruitment of women ” 16 .

Number of victims

Regarding the number of victims, several estimates have been made, some based on average slaves per Japanese soldier, statistics sometimes recorded by the Japanese administration:

  • Yoshiaki Yoshimi estimated their number to be at most 200,000 in total, including Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Burmese, Indonesian, Dutch and Australian women;
  • The Korean Central News Agency offers the figure of 200,000 for Korean women only.
  • Some Chinese researchers suggest a total of 410,000 victims 17 . Su Zhiliang evokes 360,000 to 410,000 casualties, including 200,000 Chinese and 142,000 Korean 18 .
  • The revisionists are putting forward unrealistic figures. According to Ikuhiko Hata , the total number of women comforting was only 20,000, and the Japanese women were the main contingent of “prostitutes” (40%), for 20% of Koreans and 10% of Chinese, the rest being composed of Taiwanese , Indonesian , Vietnamese and Philippines ). This 1999 estimate is itself a radical revision of its own 1993 estimates (90,000).
  • Joanna Bourke puts the figure of 160 000 women of different nationalities, but 80% are Korean 19 .

Research in Korea has been the most advanced at the moment, with other affected countries having started much later. We must therefore expect new estimates in the years to come, especially for China, where the system of “comfort women” continued until 1947 20 , and where languages ​​have begun to untie only late. Survivors have long lived in shame, but the example of Korean “halmoni”, now internationally recognized, has helped some to break the silence. On the occasion of the ” Symposium on the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery Issue ” organized in Seoul on August 13, 2013 by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan ,reported on the extensive investigations under way in China. The researchers have already collected hundreds of survivors’ testimonies, but also hundreds of testimonies from officials and soldiers of the Japanese imperial army. They also analyze many documents that escaped the wave of destruction of evidence at the end of the war.

International recognition

The first public testimony on the fate of sexual slaves of the Shōwa regime was published in 1971 by a Japanese woman writing under the pseudonym Suzuko Shirota. Greeted with general indifference, the book recounted the experience of this woman, lost her mother at 14, and sold by her father to 18 years in a comfortable householder doing business in Taiwan with the Imperial Japanese Army 9 .

In 1982 , a Japanese named Yoshida Seiji tells in a lecture about his experience in the abduction of women during the Second World War. Then in 1983, Yoshida Seiji published his book Watashi no sensō hanzai (My war crime). It is this work that has popularized the problem of comfort women with the help of the daily Asahi Shinbun . Yet, in 1996 , Yoshida Seiji confessed that the recounted kidnapping was pure fiction. [ref. necessary] And in August 2014, Asahi Shinbun acknowledged that Yoshida Seiji’s testimonies on the abduction of girls on which the newspaper articles on this subject were based must be judged as a fabrication 21 :” The Asahi Shimbun has run out, at least 16 articles about Yoshida. The first appeared in the Sept. 2, 1982, morning edition in the city news page published by the Osaka head office. This article is about what he said in Osaka, in which he said, “I’m hunted up ‘200 young Korean women on Jeju Island. ”

It was in 1991 that the scandal really emerged at the international level, with the application of legal proceedings against the Japanese by a former comfort woman, Kim Hak Sun . Since then, many other women have lodged complaints, as well as some countries like South Korea , where survivors have been demonstrating every Wednesday since 1992 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul .

The publication in 1992 of the works of the historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi on documents seized by the allies in 1946 and stored in the library of the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo finally establishes a tangible link between the Shōwa- era army and the comfort houses .

The content of this work was reported by some Japanese media on . In response, the Japanese government recognized the same day, through Koichi Kato , the involvement of the Japanese imperial army in the establishment of comfort homes. On the 17th , it was Premier Kiichi Miyazawa’s turn to apologize during a trip to South Korea . The government then proceeded to certain hearings and the Secretary General of Cabinet Yōhei Kōnoissued thea statement acknowledging, among other things, that the Imperial Army was “directly or indirectly involved” in the establishment and management of comfort homes and that women were recruited “in many cases against their will” 22 , 23 .

The , Prime Minister Shinzō Abe , speaking on the draft resolution of support to victims presented to the US Congress, denied the involvement of the Imperial Army in the physical abduction of women by saying: “The fact is that there is no evidence that there was any use of coercion ” 24 .

MP Nariaki Nakayama argued that “these brothels can be compared to cafeterias run by private companies that recruit their own employees, offer food and set their prices. But asserting that women have been forced by the Japanese military on duty is beside the boat. This file must be reconsidered, for the sake of Japan’s honor. ” 25 , 26 . Some Japanese intellectuals or journalists like Yoshiko Sakurai also relativize the involvement of the Japanese imperial army.

The historians Hirofumi Hayashi and Yoshiaki Yoshimi stated that they had found in the Tokyo Court Records seven documents relating to testimonies of members of the Shōwa Navy confessing to having arrested Indonesian civilians on false pretenses or referring to members of the Tokeitai having kidnapped Chinese girls and Indonesians.

The the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives passed a resolution calling, among other things, for Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept its historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal way for the forced by his military to force women into sexual slavery during the war. ” 27 . This resolution was passed by the House of Representatives on 30 July 2007 , to the chagrin of Shinzō Abe , finding “regrettable” the decision 28 .

In the wake of the United States, other assemblies passed resolutions asking the Japanese government to act:

  • at national level, such as the Netherlands on 8 November 2007, Canada on 28 November 2007, the European Parliament on 13 December 2007, the Republic of Korea on 8 October 2008, or Taiwan 5 November 2008 29 ;
  • at a more local level, such as New Jersey 30 ;
  • even in Japan, dozens of local authorities call the national government to take steps 31 , 32 .

Particularly in the face of the gradual disappearance of the last survivors and the drive of revisionism in Japan, there is a trend towards the proliferation of museums, monuments and memorials in memory of the victims. A monument representing a young victim was inaugurated on the occasion of the thousandth protest of South Korean survivors on Wednesday, December 12, 2011 33 . A first monument in the United States was inaugurated in 2012 in Palisades Park ( New Jersey ), followed by a second in 2013 in Glendale (California) .

On 4 October 2015, however, the negotiations provided about the comfort women open the way to hope for improvement on relations between South Korea and Japan 34 . At the conclusion of these negotiations, Japan and South Korea conclude a historic agreement dated December 28, 2015. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed to the victims his “apology and repentance, from the bottom of his heart” and Japan agrees to pay 1 billion yen ($ 7.5 million) in compensation to the comfort women 35 . The agreement was hailed by US authorities, who may have lobbied Korean President Park Geun-hye to soften her stance36 .

This agreement is however attacked in Japan by nationalists, who consider that this is a “treachery”, and criticized in South Korea by former victims, who criticize the lack of official responsibility on the part Japan, and that the money be paid as aid, not as formal compensation. It makes more cringe Taiwan, China, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have also had to suffer such acts on the part of the Japanese army 37 .

On December 28, 2016 , however, the installation of a statue in memory of the comfort women in front of the Japanese Consulate in Busan , has revived tensions between South Korea and Japan , the latter being particularly recalled its consul and ambassador 38 .

Negationism and revisionism

Japan believes that the Japan-South Korea treaty of June 22, 1965 rule all historical disputes related to the Japanese occupation and rejects proposals from South Korea for bilateral discussions about the comfort women 39 .

Since the historical facts have been confirmed many times, it is becoming more and more difficult for the revisionists to deny them publicly. Since it is now impossible for them to deny the existence of the organized system, they try to minimize it by presenting it as a series of marginal outbursts, of epiphenomena customary in time of war, or of trying to refocus the debate around prostitution, as far as possible from sexual slavery, and preferably by presenting the victims as consenting professional prostitutes [personal interpretation] .

The provocations of elected officials of the Japanese far right are now immediately condemned by the international community, as when the mayor of Osaka Tōru Hashimoto dared to declare that the “comfort women” had been a “necessity” 40 .

In May 2012, elected Japanese conservatives who tried to remove the monument in Palisades Park have mostly managed to weld the local population around the project, and to shine the international spotlight on the cause of victims 41 .

The Japanese public is beginning to grow tired of provocations that damage the image of the country, and refuses to be associated with a minority of extremists. A majority of Japanese do not accept that justifies the “comfort women” 42 . Activists defending the victims demonstrated for the first international day devoted to the cause, demanding that the government finally takes responsibility 43 .

Provocations are rarer abroad. A former South Korean officer and right-wing commentator, Ji Man-Won, provoked controversy in Korea by praising Japan for modernizing Korea, and said about sex-enslaved women: “the most old women who claim to have been of comfort women or sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II are impostors ” 44 .

Most members of the Cabinet of Shinzō Abe , starting with the Prime Minister himself, affiliated to lobby openly revisionist Nippon Kaigi , which denies the existence of Japanese war crimes , including sexual slavery for the military 45. Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone leads an established commission to consider “concrete steps to restore Japan’s honor over comfort women”, even as his own father, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone , the time a lieutenant in the Imperial Air Force, had been congratulated by the hierarchy for having organized in 1942 acomfort station in Indonesia 46 .


United Nations support

Two early reports

In 1996 , a Sri Lankan lawyer , Radhika Coomaraswamy, presented her report on military slavery during the war to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights .

In 1998 , an American special rapporteur, Gay McDougal, presented her report on comfort women (being the appendix and her main report is on rape in Yugoslavia) which recommends that Japan:

  • fully recognize its responsibility for establishing the comfort system and recognize that it violates international law;
  • offer a full and honest apology, assuming legal responsibility and providing guarantees that these crimes will never be repeated;
  • indemnify, through the Government, the victims and survivors and those who are entitled to compensation for the violations reported herein, with sufficient amounts to compensate for the harm done and prevent it from recurring;
  • put in place a rigorous investigative mechanism on the system of military sexual slavery, make this mechanism accessible to the population and ensure the historical preservation of documentation;
  • consider, in consultation with survivors, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will create a historical record of gender-related crimes committed during the war, the transition period and the occupation;
  • recognize and honor victims and survivors through the creation of memorials, a museum and library dedicated to their memory and the promise that such crimes will never happen again ;
  • create educational projects, both formal and informal, such as the inclusion of this chapter of history in textbooks at all levels and support for academics and writers to inform the public, especially young people and future generations, on the violations committed and the suffering suffered;
  • support training initiatives on the relationship between the military slavery system and gender inequality, and the necessary prerequisites for gender equality and respect for equality for the peoples of the region;
  • repatriate survivors who wish to be repatriated;
  • make public all documents and other material in his possession concerning comfort posts ;
  • identify and try those most responsible for the establishment and recruitment of comfort stations ;
  • find and return to families or loved ones who wish it the remains of the dead women during this period.

These two reports have not been adopted by the United Nations .

A formal request unanswered Japanese government

In November 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee formally asked Japan to assume its responsibilities: “Japan should accept its legal responsibility and offer an unqualified apology for the” comfort women “system, in a way that is acceptable to the majority of victims. In this regard, the country should restore the dignity of the victims, prosecute the perpetrators who are still alive, take immediate legislative and administrative measures to adequately compensate the survivors, educate the students and the public on the issue and punish any attempt to defame the victims or to deny the events in question. » 47

In 2014, the Japanese government had not yet complied with these recommendations.

The International Women’s Court for prosecution of war crimes

The International Women ‘s Court for the Suppression of War Crimes was set up mainly by feminist and NGO groups . It ran from 8 toin Tokyo . Its purpose was to discuss the status of women during conflict and to have rape recognized as a crime against humanity . On this occasion, many witnesses and victims were able to testify, and evidence was presented. The case of comfort women was an important part of the trial. The Tribunal’s findings recognize Emperor Shōwa ( Hirohito ) as one of the main people responsible for establishing these brothels, and ask Japanto acknowledge and apologize to the victims publicly. Some conservatives criticize the work of this court because the defendants were neither present (all dead), nor defended, that opponents of the Tribunal were unable to attend a hearing, and that the evidence and documents have not been cross-checked.

The Tribunal further recommends that the former allied nations:

  • make public all military and government records on the establishment and operation of the comfort system and the reasons for which these crimes have not been adjudicated by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East(MEDOT);
  • publicize all military and government records of Emperor Shōwa’s impunity to the WEIO;
  • acknowledge the fact that they themselves have neither investigated nor prosecuted crimes committed against former comfort women in post-war trials and for the past 55 years.

The Tribunal further recommends that the United Nations and all its member states:

  • take all necessary measures to ensure that Japan grants full and complete reparation to the victims, to the survivors and to those who are entitled to compensation as a result of the violations committed against them;
  • seek the opinion of the International Court of Justice as to the illegality of the former comfort posts and the responsibility of the Government of Japan in this matter.

Notes and references

  1. ↑  [ archive ] Retrieved November 3, 2015
  2. ↑ Yuki Tanaka , Hidden Horrors Japanese War Crimes in World War II , 1996, p.  94-95 .
  3. ↑ Tanaka, ibid. p.  96 .
  4. ↑ Tanaka, ibid. p.  94 .
  5. ↑ ” 149 comfort women houses discovered in Shanghai ”  [ archive ] , Xinhua ,.
  6. ↑ Tanaka, ibid. p.  98 .
  7. ↑ Tanaka, ibid. p.  97 .
  8. ↑ Yoshimi, Comfort women , Columbia University Press, 2002, p.  86 .
  9. ↑ a and b Memoir of comfort woman tells “hell for women”  [ archive ].
  10. ↑ Tanaka, ibid., P.  99 .
  11. ↑ East Timor train sex slaves start speaking out  [ archive ] .
  12. ↑ ” The broken destiny of a woman of comfort ”  [ archive ] , on TV5MONDE (accessed March 15, 2016 )
  13. ↑ ( in ) Evidence documenting sex slaves coercion revealed [ archive ] .
  14. ↑ ( in ) Female Files forced into sexual servitude in Indonesia wartime [ archive ] .
  15. ↑ ( in ) Japan’s Abe: No Proof of WWII Sex Slaves [ archive ] , articlefrom The Washington Post .
  16. ↑ Yoshimi, ibid.
  17. ↑ “Sino-Japanese relations: facing the past, looking to the future?” (2005 – Caroline Rose, Routledge, ( ISBN  978-0-415-29722-6 ) ).
  18. ↑  [ archive ] “Number of Comfort Stations and Comfort Women” – Asian Women’s Fund.
  19. ↑ Joanna Bourke, Women in the World War in 1937-1947, The World War under the direction of Alya Aglan and Robert Frank , T.II Gallimard 2015 p.  2012
  20. ↑ ” ‘Comfort women’ endured slavery after the war: study  [ archive ] ” – South China Morning Post – August 12, 2013.
  21. ↑ ( in ) ” Testimony about ‘forcible Taking away of women on Jeju Island’: Judged to be making Because supporting evidence not found ”  [ archive ] , on ,
  22. ↑ Yoshiaki Yoshimi , infra, p.  36 .
  23. ↑ ( in ) Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the result of the study on the issue of “comfort women” [ archive ] , Japanese Foreign Ministry.
  24. ↑ Japan’s Abe, no proof of the WWII sex-slaves , supra note 12, Asahi Daily Newspaper, March 5, 2007 , evening edition.
  25. ↑ ( in ) Abe rejects Japan’s files on war sex [ archive ]
  26. ↑ ( in ) Growing chorus slams war [ archive ]
  27. ↑ ( in ) US panel OKs sex slave resolution [ archive ]
  28. ↑ ( in ) US House passes sex slave resolution, The Japan Times Online [ archive ] .
  29. ↑  [ archive ] .
  30. ↑ ( in ) ACR159 commemorates Suffering endured by comfort women During forced internment in Japanese military camps [ archive ]
  31. ↑ ( in ) Resolutions in Japan [ archive ] , Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace [PDF]
  32. ↑ ( en ) Document – Growing Support Inside Japan for Justice for the Survivors of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery System [ archive ] , Amnesty International, March 29, 2013
  33. ↑ ” In Seoul, the” comfort women “of the Japanese army are demanding justice [ archive ] ” (Rue89 – December 15, 2011).
  34. ↑ ” The issue of comfort women at the center of a possible Park-Abe summit “, Yonhap , ( read online  [ archive ] )
  35. ↑ Japan and South Korea reached an agreement on the “comfort women”  [ archive ]
  36. ↑ Mathilde Golla, ” Agreement between Seoul and Tokyo on sex slaves of World War II  [ archive ] ,” Le Figaro, December 29, 2015
  37. ↑ “Comfort women”: an agreement that satisfies no one, Asia – Pacific  [ archive] , Les Echos, December 30, 2015
  38. ↑ ” ” Women of comfort “: the Japanese prime minister asks Seoul to remove a statue “, Le , ( ISSN  1950-6244 , read online  [archive ] )
  39. ↑ ” Korea: Posco will compensate forced laborers of the Japanese occupation [ archive ] “, AFP on 20 minutes, June 3, 2012
  40. ↑ “UN secretary-general criticizes Hashimoto’s ‘comfort women’ remark” – June 3, 2013  [ archive ] .
  41. ↑ ( in ) Kirk Semple In New Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity [ archive ] , The New York Times , May 18, 2012
  42. ↑ A majority of Japanese do not agree that the “women of comfort”, article of May 20, 2013  [ archive ]
  43. ↑  [ archive ] Japanese activists pushing their government for formal admission of guilt on comfort women – August 15, 2013.
  44. ↑  [ archive ] .
  45. ↑ ( in ) Tea Party Politics in Japan [ archive ] , New York Times, September 13, 2014
  46. ↑ ( in ) Comfort women and Japan’s war is truth [ archive ] , The New York Times, November 15, 2014
  47. ↑ ” The UN calls on Japan to restore the dignity of the” comfort women “of the Second World War  [ archive ] ” – Amnesty International – November 3, 2008.