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What Happened to Comfort Women Recruitments: Facts, Not Conjectures

Crimes happened, yes, and these were committed by unethical brokers and unscrupulous Japanese inspectors on the ground. But it is simply not true that the Japanese military or government tacitly approved of these.

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The comfort women stature in front of Embassy of Japan in Seoul.

Second of 2 parts

Part 1: Read the Endnotes! Comfort Women Paper was Based on Wealth of Historical Facts

In the first part of this essay, I provided documentary evidence showing that Professor David Ambaras of the North Carolina State University is mistaken in his assertions about certain important aspects of Japanese history.

We might now expect Professor Ambaras to change tactics, such as by arguing that, even if a directive had been issued, the Japanese military might have designated certain people as brokers, and those brokers would then certainly have been subjected to much less stringent background checks by the police. 

Such an assertion would be wrong, however. And there are yet more documents to prove it.

1937 Document from Shanghai

Based on a public document titled “On Travel by Comfort Women of the Imperial Military,” dated December 21, 1937, and issued by the police station of the Japanese Consulate General of Shanghai, a South Korean researcher named Joo Ikjong has shown that when designated brokers were recruiting comfort women on the Korean Peninsula, the police station of the Japanese Consulate General of Shanghai required that even those brokers submit five kinds of documentation

The document reads, in part:

When a facility [i.e., a comfort station] is being established in haste in accordance with the above guidelines, and when [a broker] is already traveling through the main islands or the Korean Peninsula for the purpose of recruiting waitresses (comfort women), because it is expected that such persons will continue their travels for the same purpose henceforth [snip] it is requested that, when such persons arrive in port, the documents they have with them be inspected so as to prevent cumbersome procedures being repeated.

(Asian Women’s Fund, ed., Government Survey ‘Military Comfort Women’ Complete Collected Documents (1), p. 38, also available online at this link.) 

What this document means is that when comfort stations were being hastily erected, brokers were sent to the Japanese home islands and to the Korean Peninsula to recruit comfort women for those comfort stations. Those brokers were provided in advance with designated documents. The Shanghai police requested that, when the brokers and the comfort women arrived in port, those documents be checked in order to streamline the arrivals and departures inspection process.

A protest calling for an end to the comfort women fraud in Berlin, June 2022.

Details in the Documents

The designated documents with which the brokers were provided were provisional applications for permits to engage in “waitressing” (a photo of the applicant was affixed to these applications), a statement of consent, and an investigation report about the person working as a comfort woman. 

These documents had to be accompanied by a certificate attesting to the authenticity of a registered seal, as well as an official copy of the applicant’s family registry.

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The investigation report comprised the following sections to be filled in: personal history of education level; reason for desiring to be a comfort woman; criminal record; parents or common-law husband; amount of other debts; items for consideration; remarks. This same documentary standard obtained for all designated documents and was outlined in the directive under consideration.

The comfort stations were under construction on accelerated schedules. So, it would have been easiest for the authorities simply to waive the documentary requirements for traveling to China from the Japanese home islands or the Korean Peninsula.

But this was not what in fact occurred.

The Shanghai Consulate General police station required all those responsible for carrying out arrival and departure inspections to perform the same inspections on comfort women and brokers as those carried out by police stations in the Japanese home islands. 

Of course, the Shanghai Consulate General police themselves would have carried out plenary inspections once travelers had arrived in Shanghai.

Perhaps here Professor Ambaras will again shift tactics to say that the Shanghai Consulate General police also performed those inspections in a perfunctory manner. But this, too, would not make sense.

If the Shanghai Consulate General police also had no intention of carrying out legitimate inspections, then they would not have demanded that all of the time-consuming paperwork be submitted in the first place.

No Perfunctory Inspections

The inescapable conclusion is that the rigorous inspections required by the Home Ministry document were carried out on comfort women when they arrived in China, even when those comfort women had been recruited by brokers whom the Consulate General and the Japanese military had engaged for expressly that purpose.

There are other official documents which call on the Japanese authorities to crack down on recruitment of comfort women by brokers employing fraud and near-abduction. For example, there is “On the recruitment of Women to Work at Military Comfort Stations” (Ministry of the Army Directive for Close Cooperation in China, No. 745, dated March 4, 1938). The document reads in part:

Draft Notification from the Vice-Minister [of the Army] to Chiefs of Staff in the North China Area Army and the Central China Expeditionary Army 

There have been many problems when recruiting women inside of Japan to serve at comfort stations established in areas of China affected by the Second Sino-Japanese War. In particular, there have been people who use the name of the military [when recruiting], thereby damaging the military’s prestige and leading to misunderstandings among the Japanese people. There have also been those who cause societal problems by carrying out recruitment in defiance of regulations, such as by operating through military reporters and those bringing condolences to the bereaved, and those in charge of recruiting who have been arrested and interrogated by the police for gathering women through abduction and other such means. 

Going forward, local military [detachments] must regulate the situation by meticulously and appropriately discerning who is suitable for recruitment work. The military is ordered to work in close cooperation with local Kempeitai and police in affected areas, thereby preserving the prestige of the military and taking all due caution to avoid causing any societal problems.


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Same Rules Applied to Korean Peninsula and Taiwan

There may be those who interpret this document to mean that because the reference is to the Japanese home islands, the ones being asked to crack down on fraud and near-abduction in recruiting are the Kempeitai and police in the home islands only. Therefore, such an interpretation might go, the police in Taiwan and on the Korean Peninsula would be unrelated to the document’s import.

However, that interpretation would also be untenable.

The plain reading of the document shows that the military is calling on Kempeitai and police in all affected areas, both in the home islands and in the colonies, to work together closely to tackle concerning developments such as the recurrence of fraud and near-abduction in the home islands.

This is the straight reading because the directive is addressed to chiefs of staff in the North China Area Army and the Central China Expeditionary Army. It is very likely that, at the comfort stations in those areas (numbering perhaps in the dozens), there would have been comfort women from the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan.

Furthermore, the directive aims to prevent damage to the prestige of the military, to avoid causing misunderstandings among average citizens, and to avoid bringing about any societal problems. 

None of these aims would have been achievable had the directive been intended solely for the Japanese home islands. In the past, there were, in addition to local people, also many Japanese people living in Taiwan and on the Korean Peninsula. Without cracking down on unethical brokers among these Japanese populations in the colonies, it would have been impossible to accomplish what the directive set out to do.

A comfort woman stature at the center of Tainan City, Taiwan.

Zero Tolerance for Illegal Actions

I greatly appreciate Professor Ambaras’ having read my work, but I regret that he did not pay sufficient attention to the sentence which reads, “There are many other similar notifications and directives.” I wrote this based not just on the Home Ministry directive, but on other related documents as well. If only Professor Ambaras had understood this sentence, I am sure that the present misunderstanding could have been avoided.

To avoid any further misunderstandings, I will close with some final pieces of evidence supporting my arguments.

In Japan at the time, long before the creation of the Home Ministry directive under discussion here, the criminal code (Article 226) listed human trafficking as a crime. Human trafficking was outlawed for the Japanese home islands, the Korean Peninsula, and Taiwan.

Furthermore, anyone who knowingly took in a woman who had been deceived or kidnapped would have been in violation of Article 227 of the criminal code, which prohibited the crime of receiving abducted persons. This law also applied in Taiwan and on the Korean Peninsula just as it did in the Japanese home islands.

There are very many examples of arrests that were made in accordance with these two laws, proving that the laws were duly enforced.

It was based on these laws that the Home Ministry brought the diligence which the police were already exercising on a daily basis (also in accordance with such existing laws) to an even higher level. 

The Home Ministry required that police stamp out trafficking by performing stringent inspections of the paperwork which people traveling to China and other overseas destinations were carrying. This paperwork included identification papers, contracts, and other documents.

One wonders whether Professor Ambaras knows of the existence of such laws in Japan.

Double the Legal Protection

There was a double protection system in place in Japan: the legal framework, which of course prohibited trafficking, kidnapping, and other related crimes; and the directives which authorities issued, calling for even greater vigilance against crime. It is simply unthinkable that the Japanese government would have turned a blind eye to the deception and abduction of Korean women by Korean brokers.

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This is not to say, however, that there were no crimes committed in Korea. It is a fact that there was human trafficking in Korea. Also, while international law set the age of prostitution at 21 years and older, there were brokers who did not abide by this age limit when recruiting comfort women. There were also some authorities in the Japanese government who overlooked abuses by brokers such as these.

Of the 20 women working at the comfort station in Myitkyina, Burma (Myanmar), for instance, three (all Koreans) were under the age of 21. One was 19, and two were 20. (The average age of the comfort women at the Myitkyina comfort station was 25.)

This occurred because of the differences between international law and the laws in the Japanese home islands, in Taiwan, and on the Korean Peninsula. In Japan, one could work as a prostitute from 18 years of age. In Korea, it was 17, and in Taiwan it was 16.

This gap is precisely why the Home Ministry directive demanded that comfort stations adhere to international law and employ only women aged 21 or older.

Waseda University Professor Tetsuo Arima

Enforcement of the Laws

There were violations of these demands despite the Home Ministry’s efforts, but these violations were due to the crimes of unethical brokers, as well as of a number of reprehensible Japanese officials who bent the rules and did not inspect documents and carry out background checks as required.

It is possible, perhaps, to place some of the blame for this with the people responsible for managing the system on the ground. However, it is simply not true that the Japanese military or the Japanese government tacitly approved of these crimes, or that, worse, the military or government encouraged these crimes. This interpretation is entirely unreasonable. 

Neither the Japanese military nor the Japanese government issued directives ordering that age limits for prostitution be lowered. Such directives were never given, and therefore no authorities ever acted on them. The crimes committed were committed in direct defiance of the rigid system of laws and commands.

Let us say, pro arguendo, that some members of the police force in North Carolina, where Professor Ambaras teaches, colluded with brokers and engaged in human trafficking. Those who would be accused of these crimes, when discovered, would be the brokers and the police who had worked with them in the criminal activity. It is difficult to imagine that anyone would accuse the State of North Carolina or the United States as a whole of crimes committed by individuals.

It would be even more absurd to argue that, “in the broad sense of the term,” the state of North Carolina and the United States of America were “involved” in such crimes.

No charges related to the comfort women were brought against Japan at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for precisely the same reason. A government which is working in every way possible to fight crime and crack down on criminals cannot possibly be held responsible for crimes committed by individuals.

It would be helpful if Professor Ambaras might understand that neither I nor Professor Ramseyer are basing our arguments on just one document.

Conscientious Researchers Argue Based on Fact

The conclusions which I and Professor Ramseyer have reached are the result of reading and considering very many documents. We have arrived at our arguments based on having examined many, many more documents than simply the Home Ministry directive upon which Professor Ambaras has seized.

By the same token, the Japanese government today asserts that there is no evidence for forced abduction of the comfort women because no one has found any documents indicating that there was anything like what Professor Ambaras insists took place. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In this essay, I have shown, using documentary evidence, why Professor Ambaras’ assertions have no basis in fact.

I hope Professor Ambaras will tell the students that he teaches at his university that his claims on this score have been found to be without merit. This is no more and no less than what any conscientious researcher and educator would do.

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(This article was first published in Japanese on April 24, 2021, by Daily Shincho. It is republished here in English with permission of the author and publisher.)

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