‘Comfort Women’ Statues? Build Them for All, Not Just Some, Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence

 

 

Earl H. Kinmonth

 

At 10 A.M. on the morning of May 14, a Buddhist memorial service presided over by three priests took place in an unusual venue—the parking lot of the Musashien Hospital in Futsukaichi, a resort town south of the port city of Hakata in Kyushu. 

 

The memorial service was for the spirits of the hundreds of aborted fetuses said to have been buried in an area beneath what is now the hospital parking lot. These mizuko or water children, as aborted fetuses are called in colloquial Japanese, came from Japanese women who had been raped, often multiple times, primarily but not exclusively by Red Army soldiers, who terrorized the Japanese population in Manchuria and what became North Korea after the Soviet Union under Stalin broke its treaty with Japan on August 9, 1945. The Red Army invaded Japanese-controlled Manchuria and made a territorial grab under the guise of helping the Allies defeat Japan.

 

 

Treating the Victims

 

The facility was called Futsukaichi Rest Home (Futsukaichi Hoyojo). It was one of at least three such institutions that performed abortions and offered treatment for sexually transmitted diseases to Japanese women and girls who had been raped before they could safely flee to Japan. The other facilities were in Sasebo and Senzaki port cities that, like Fukuoka, had reception centers for the hikiagesha—the uprooted—as returnees from Japanese-controlled areas were called.

 

The pregnant and diseased women and girls treated by these centers are an unknown fraction of all those raped by Red Army soldiers. Rape was often followed by murder. Some victims committed suicide out of shame or died from other causes before managing to return to Japan. There were also numerous accounts of group suicide (shudan jiketsu) and individual suicide when it appeared rape was imminent. 

 

 

The facilities that performed the operations and offered treatment for STDs were inherently not well-documented. Conditions in Japan were chaotic at best during the years just after surrender. At least one-fifth of Hakata had been leveled by U.S. fire-bomb raids. Photographs of the Hakata port area taken shortly after surrender look remarkably like photographs of Hiroshima after it was devastated with a single nuclear weapon.

 

Since neither anaesthetics nor antibiotics were available, and many of the abortions were late-term, women and girls had to endure extreme pain and faced the distinct possibility of death.

 

An even more important factor in the sparse documentation is the fact that abortion was illegal in Japan at the time. Consequently, advertisements and flyers describing services provided by the Futsukaichi facility were couched in deliberately vague language. Despite Futsukaichi or other facilities being engaged in an illegal activity on a large scale, there was no official interference with their operation from either the Japanese or the American authorities.

 

Quite to the contrary, there is evidence that both offered tacit cooperation and followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

 

The driving force behind the Futsukaichi facility was Seiichi Izumi (1915-1970), a major figure in Japanese anthropology known primarily for his field work in Peru. Having been a Japanese resident of Korea, he had direct knowledge of the depredations being done by the Soviet Red Army and used his connection to the Keijo Imperial University in the capital of Japanese-controlled Korea to assemble a group of medical professionals capable of performing abortions.

 

 

Plight of Orphans

 

The Red Army sweep into Manchuria and what is now North Korea also resulted in a large but indeterminate number of orphans. Some were left behind and grew up as Chinese. Generally called zanryu koji, or abandoned war orphans, many sought to return to Japan in the 1980s, sometimes to a warm welcome, but not always. Other orphans were mixed in with the adults and families that landed in Hakata.

 

One of the notable photographs from this period shows a young girl of perhaps nine or 10 years carrying the ashes of her mother. The girl’s hair is cut in a boyish style, as is the hair of other young girls appearing in photographs of war orphans. This was not fashion but camouflage. Dressing girls and young women as boys and giving them boyish haircuts had been part of an often-vain effort to keep them from attracting the attention of Red Army and other rapists.

 

A facility for orphans called Seifukuryo was located on the grounds of a temple in Hakata and managed by a singularly able woman named Nobuko Ishiga. A documentary television program produced in 1978 by RKB Mainichi featured a reunion of residents of this facility who provided moving testimonials to the care and dedication of Ishiga and the other women who staffed the facility.

 

Middle School Students’ Impressive Video

 

In a symposium following the memorial itself, there were two video screenings. One was the above-mentioned documentary, which cannot easily be rebroadcast because of copyright and personal data protection issues.

 

The other was a recording of a drama written and produced by middle school students in the Futsukaichi school district. Aside from the strong impression created by middle-school girls talking about mass rape and abortion, I kept thinking how different their production was from the all too common foreign stereotype of Japanese education as nothing but the rote memorization of facts and the passive acceptance of a whitewashed historical narrative.

 

 

Omissions in the Public Narrative

 

While the mass rape perpetrated by the Red Army against Japanese, German, and women of other nationalities is not entirely unknown, it has received scant attention compared to the so-called “comfort women.” Lori Watt, in her When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reinterpretation in Postwar Japan (Harvard University Press, 2009), has a section in which she touches on the Futsukaichi facility and the issue of mass rape by the Red Army, although its actions are very much in the background.

 

Mariko Asano Tamanoi, in Memory Maps: The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2009), gives the subject a few pages, but mostly in terms of the narrative style, not as a mass atrocity directed at women.

 

Even Japanese feminists have done little with this subject. The Japanese government has never made the rapes an issue. Various explanations are possible. For some decades following Japan’s surrender, the historical narrative was largely dominated by leftist writers who cut the Soviet Union quite a bit of slack. Lori Watt has observed that some would say that the comfort women system gives the Japanese little basis for claiming the high moral ground on sexual violence against women.

 

This is not a persuasive argument. It might even be styled a “what aboutism” argument. And, it is profoundly anti-feminist. The comfort women system was created by males for males. The Japanese women who were in Manchuria and Korea had no political power whatsoever in Imperial Japan. With some exceptions, they were there at the convenience of men and what Japanese men had done in no way invalidates the need for accountability. Children had no responsibility whatsoever for their situation.

 

Victims are Victims, Regardless of Nationality

 

To accept this argument would invalidate Dutch claims against the Japanese. Jan Ruff O’Herne, who has given such prominent testimony on her experiences after being forced into an unsanctioned and unofficial “comfort station” and made to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers, was part of the much-hated Dutch colonial occupation of what later became Indonesia. Her position is analogous to that of Japanese women in Manchuria and Korea. The Japanese women in Manchuria were no more responsible for their situation than O’Herne was for hers.

 

Masaharu Shimokawa—former Mainichi Shimbun reporter, university lecturer, organizer of the symposium I attended, and author of a detailed book on the Futsukaichi facility—has suggested that contemporary feminists shy away from the mass rape issue because they are afraid of being branded historical revisionists by altering the narrative that makes Japan and Japan alone evil with respect to the sexual abuse.

 

This is quite possibly a significant factor, but I also see another factor at work: anti-Japanese sentiment that lumbers contemporary Japanese—even those born well after the comfort women system was long gone—with guilt for what their predecessors had done.

 

Role of Anti-Japanese Sentiment

 

It is one thing for Koreans to bring up this issue because it serves domestic political purposes and a significant, although unknown fraction, of the comfort women was Korean.

 

It is another thing for Chinese and Chinese Americans to bring this issue up. This came up in 2007-2008 in the aftermath of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s poorly-worded statement about coercion and recruitment of the comfort women. It also came in the context where Mike Honda—who was heavily dependent on Chinese-American financial support to stay in office—was pushing his resolution calling on the Japanese to apologize and compensate the comfort women, something Japan had already done. The spokesmen for Chinese opposition to giving Japan a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council offered up the unresolved comfort woman issue as something disqualifying Japan.

 

But when one looks at the Anglophone press, those who have brought up the comfort women issue and kept it in the news have been primarily Americans with no personal ethnic or historical connection to the comfort women and no connection to any country from which they were recruited.

 

Although some assert that they are not anti-Japanese and claim that the real issue is violence against women, their single-minded focus on Japan is hard to explain in terms other than anti-Japanese sentiment that extends to contemporary Japanese with no connection to the wartime system. European nations get exonerated; the Japanese, even those Japanese who were born decades after the end of the comfort women system, are forever tainted.

 

Books dealing with Red Army rape in Eastern Europe and Germany have appeared, attracted a brief flurry of interest, and then the subject was dropped by the chattering classes in the U.S. and the U.K. Books on the rape by American GIs in France and Germany— such as What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France (by Roberts, University of Chicago Press, 2014) and Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War (by Gebhardt, Polity, 2017)—have suffered the same fate.

 

That both France and Germany had prostitute corps that served their military is known, but only at the footnote level. That American GIs made use of a post-war extension of the comfort women system has been documented by historians, such as John Dower and Yuki Tanaka, but almost never figures in English-language journalism about this issue.

 

Giving Due Attention to All Victims

 

The Korean literary scholar Park Yuha and the Korean-American anthropologist C. Sarah Soh have produced thoroughly documented works that describe the comfort women system in terms quite different from the usual description appearing in the English-language press. However, they have been almost totally ignored by the scores of journalists and pundits who have written on this issue.

 

Even more telling is that only a tiny fraction of the mostly foreign scholars, who signed an “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan” that condemned alleged but non-existent suppression of the debate on the comfort women in Japan, have come out to support Park Yuha—the victim of very real suppression efforts in Korea.

 

Korean-American cooperation during the Park Chung-hee regime to provide sexual comfort for American troops stationed in South Korea have received only passing attention in journalism, although both have been thoroughly documented in such works as Katherine Moon’s Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations (Columbia University Press, 1997).

 

A recent South Korean court ruling that the government had used coercion on women serving American GIs in the so-called camp towns that provide sexual services for American troops in Korea received scant attention.

 

Similarly, an apology by current South Korean President Moon Jae-in for war crimes and atrocities by Korean troops in Vietnam appears to have been ignored by the New York Times and the Washington Post, two major American newspapers that have long given prominent attention to the comfort women system and Japanese military atrocities of 70-80 years ago.

 

To start toward correcting this biased omission of most victims from the public consciousness, those putting up “comfort women” statues should make those inclusive of all wartime sexual abuse of women rather than focused solely on Japan as the perpetrator.

 

 

Masaharu Shimokawa, former Mainichi Shimbun reporter, author and university lecturer, also reviewed a draft and contributed to the photographs for this article.

 

Earl Kinmonth

Author:

Earl H. Kinmonth is professor emeritus at Taisho University. Before moving to Japan in 1997, he was reader in Japanese Studies at the University of Sheffield (1989-1997) and professor of history at the University of California-Davis (1977-1989). His research is in the history and sociology of Japanese education from the Meiji period to the present, with an emphasis on 1930s-1940s Japan. He is a Japanese citizen and writes commentary in English and Japanese, and does Japanese English translation. He is currently writing a book on foreign media coverage of Japan under the working title Japan in the Foreign Imagination.

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