The Japanese government was directly involved in developing and operating military brothels where hundreds of thousands of Asian girls and women were forced to work as sex slaves during Word War II, according to a recently declassified U.S. report.
Issued by General Headquarters, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers on Nov. 15, 1945, the 36-page report offers the most detailed account yet of how the military brothels -- euphemistically called “comfort stations” or “houses of relaxation” -- were run during Japan’s aggression throughout Asia.
Japan has denied any official approval of the brothels, arguing they were created by civilians. But the report, based on statements of Japanese prisoners of war and documents confiscated by the U.S. military, said operators received licenses from the Japanese military and worked under its direct supervision.
The documents were obtained from the National Archives by an international team of researchers affiliated with UC Riverside and Seoul National University under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The report is expected to give ammunition to human rights activists who have been fighting for reparations for the surviving victims of what some scholars refer to as the “Pacific Holocaust.”
“Americans know much about the Nazi atrocities against the Jews, but they know very little about the atrocities committed against Asians by the Japanese military,” said Edward T. Chang, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside and coordinator of the international research team.
“The documents we now have contradict what the Japanese government has been saying,” Chang said. “In the face of the irrefutable evidence, the Japanese government needs to admit its responsibility and come clean.”
A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., who asked not to be named, said his government could not comment on the report because it had not seen it. He did, however, repeat Japan’s position that the brothels were set up without government sanction, and that all claims against Japan were settled in the 1951 peace treaty with the United States and other allied powers.
Former sex slaves want the Japanese government to pay reparations and admit its responsibility in an official letter of apology similar to the U.S. admission that its evacuation and imprisonment of Americans of Japanese ancestry from 1942 to 1945 was a “national shame” and its compensation of surviving victims.
Japan has expressed regret in various forms but not in such an official apology. A privately established fund has paid compensation to some of the women, but most of the former sex slaves have refused to accept the money because it is not from the government.
An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 women from Japan and from China, Korea, the Philippines and other countries that Japan occupied during the 1930s and 1940s were forced to work in the brothels.
According to the report, sex slaves were provided with room and board, but they had to split medical expenses for treating their sexually transmitted diseases with the brothel operators, and had to pay for their clothes and grooming out of a small stipend they were to have received.
But, in fact, the women, who were abducted or tricked into the brothels by agents for the Japanese government, never received any payment, former “comfort women” told researchers. Sex slaves were to get one day off a month, but that, too, was ignored, the women said.
Prices for sexual services varied, depending on the rank of the customer and the ethnicity of the sex slave. Officers paid more than enlisted men. Japanese sex slaves cost the most, followed by Koreans.
Two years ago, scholars affiliated with the Center for Research and Documentation of Japan’s War Responsibilities in Yokohama reported at an international conference in Los Angeles that the “comfort-women” system was carried out by every section of the military and by administrative machinery throughout the Japanese state.
But the newly revealed U.S. documents go into much more detail about how the system worked.
For example, according to the report, brothel operators were required to keep a daily log, which included information on the number of soldiers served, their rank and payments received, along with the name of the brothel, stamped with the seals of the owners and the women.
The operators also had to submit a comprehensive monthly accounting of business operations to the military officer in charge.
Some of the comfort stations bore names like “Dawn’s Club,” “Chrysanthemum House” or “Drunkards’ Flower Garden.” Others were simply listed as “House of Relaxation,” preceded by a number, such as No. 2 or No. 3.
Brothels were established under strict regulations and were sanctioned by military authorities in any areas with large numbers of troops, the report said. “Inmates of these brothels are regularly inspected for venereal diseases,” it also said.
Researchers say the actual number of sex slaves may have been closer to 400,000 than to the 200,000 previously estimated by a United Nations human rights agency, because the U.N. estimate did not take into account China, which came into the research picture much later than some of its Asian neighbors. No one knows how many victims are still living, because many remained too ashamed to be identified. But on the Korean peninsula alone, about 330 victims have come forward since the 1990s, according to Chang. Those still living are in their 70s and 80s.
Historian Su Zhi Liang, of Shanghai Teachers University, said in an interview that the Japanese military set up 90 “comfort stations” in Shanghai alone, with 500 women serving soldiers at each station.
The UC Riverside and Seoul National University team also found that Japanese corporations provided sex slaves to employees as a “labor management tool to boost the morale and productivity” of conscripted Korean laborers.
Like military sex slaves, corporate slaves were mostly Korean girls and women forcibly taken to Japan beginning in the late 1930s, when Korean laborers were transferred to Japan.
Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945.
“The same rationale that the Japanese government applied to the use of military sex slaves was applied to the forceful mobilization of industrial sex slaves,” wrote Chang and Chin-Sung Chung, professor of sociology at Seoul National University.