The Comfort women stories from World War 2 have echoed throughout the world. The hardship and suffering that they faced during their days in the Comfort Women brothels has made a mark in world history.
Comfort Women served in military brothels before and during World War II. Comfort Women is a translation of the Japanese “ianfu,” which is a common euphemism for a prostitute. Though estimates on the number of women who took part in the brothels vary, they begin at 20,000 women. Stories of Comfort Women were revealed in different military and humanitarian reports after the war concluded.
There is a general lack of documentation, which keeps an exact number of Comfort Women from being determined. The Asahi Shibum, a Japanese newspaper, once published that the number of Comfort Women was over 100 000, which was redacted when it was discovered to be erroneous. The number likely refers to the number of women who started to work in the civil labor corp. as nurses and cleaners during the war.
Comfort Stations were found in many of the places occupied by Japan. Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaya, Taiwan, The Dutch East Indies, and Timor all had Comfort Stations. According to many testimonies, women from agricultural villages and with no educational opportunities were recruited by local brokers. The brokers, also called middlemen, then trafficked the women to locally owned brothels, so that they could provide “comfort” to soldiers during the war. When the war started, the brokers used conventional methods like newspaper advertisements to recruit women.
Kimiko Kaneda was a South Korean Comfort Woman. She was half Japanese and half Korean, but she ended up living with her uncle in Korea. Kaneda’s father was a priest who was arrested for defaming Japanese shrines. At age 16, Kaneda worked as a housemaid in Seoul. She became addicted to opium after being sent to work as a Comfort Woman in Zaoqiang, which got her sent back to Seoul in 1945. The following is a part of her story transcribed from a video:
Forced to become a comfort woman
“How did I feel? I felt as if we were taken here to be killed. I could not but weep. No one talked. All were weeping. That night we slept there and in the morning we were put in those rooms. Soldiers came to my room, but I resisted with all my might. The first soldier wasn’t drunk and when he tried to rip my clothes off, I shouted “No!” and he left. The second soldier was drunk. He waved a knife at me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t do what he said. But I didn’t care if I died, and in the end he stabbed me. Here (She pointed her chest).”
“He was taken away by the military police and I was taken to the infirmary. My clothes were soaked with blood. I was treated in the infirmary for twenty days. I was sent back to my room. A soldier who had just returned from the fighting came in. Thanks to the treatment my wound was much improved, but I had a plaster on my chest.”
“Despite that the soldier attacked me, and when I wouldn’t do what he said, he seized my wrists and threw me out of the room. My wrists were broken, and they are still very weak. Here was broken…. There’s no bone here. I was kicked by a soldier here. It took the skin right off… you could see the bone.”
At the time, prostitution was legal in Japan. Since it was legal, the system of Comfort Women was invented to prevent battlefield conflicts. This would reduce hostility from native populations in occupied areas. After the war ended, Japan issued formal apologies that aimed to compensate Comfort Women monetarily (2015 Comfort Women Agreement).