Comfort women

Comfort women
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 慰安婦
Simplified Chinese 慰安妇
Japanese name
Kanji 慰安婦
Hiragana いあんふ
Alternate Japanese name
Kanji 従軍慰安婦
Korean name
Hangul 위안부
Hanja 慰安婦

Comfort women were women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories before and during World War II.[1][2][3]

The name "comfort women" is a translation of the Japanese ianfu (慰安婦),[4] a euphemism for "prostitute(s)".[5] Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 20,000 (by Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata[6]) to as high as 360,000 to 410,000 (by a Chinese scholar[7]); the exact numbers are still being researched and debated.[8] Most of the women were from occupied countries, including Korea, China, and the Philippines,[9] although women were used for military "comfort stations" from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan (then a Japanese dependency), Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), East Timor (then Portuguese Timor),[10][11] and other Japanese-occupied territories. Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, Burma, New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and French Indochina.[12] A smaller number of women of European origin were also involved from the Netherlands and Australia.

According to testimonies, young women were abducted from their homes in countries under Imperial Japanese rule. In many cases, women were also lured with promises of work in factories or restaurants; once recruited, they were incarcerated in comfort stations both in their nation and abroad.[13]

Establishment of the comfort women system

Chinese and Malayan girls forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as 'comfort girls' for the troops[14]
Studio portrait of Jan Ruff O'Herne, taken shortly before she, her mother and sisters, and thousands of other Dutch women and children were interned by the Japanese Imperial Army in Ambarawa. Over the following months, O'Herne and six other Dutch women were repeatedly raped, day and night, by Japanese military personnel.[15]

Japanese military prostitution

Military correspondence of the Japanese Imperial Army shows that the aim of facilitating comfort stations was the prevention of rape crimes committed by Japanese army personnel and thus preventing the rise of hostility among people in occupied areas.[16]

Given the well-organized and open nature of prostitution in Japan, it was seen as logical that there should be organized prostitution to serve the Japanese Armed Forces.[17] The Japanese Army established the comfort stations to prevent venereal diseases and rape by Japanese soldiers, to provide comfort to soldiers and head off espionage. According to Japanese historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, however, the comfort stations did not solve, but aggravated the first two problems. Yoshimi has asserted, "The Japanese Imperial Army feared most that the simmering discontentment of the soldiers could explode into a riot and revolt. That is why it provided women".[18]


The first comfort station was established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Earlier comfort women were Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for such service. However, as Japan continued military expansion, the military found itself short of Japanese volunteers, and turned to the local population to coerce women into serving in these stations, or abducted them.[19] Many women responded to calls for work as factory workers or nurses, and did not know that they were being pressed into sexual slavery.[20]

In the early stages of the war, Japanese authorities recruited prostitutes through conventional means. In urban areas, conventional advertising through middlemen was used alongside kidnapping. Middlemen advertised in newspapers circulating in Japan and the Japanese colonies of Korea, Taiwan, Manchukuo, and China. These sources soon dried up, especially from Japan.[21] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs resisted further issuance of travel visas for Japanese prostitutes, feeling it tarnished the image of the Japanese Empire.[22] The military turned to acquiring comfort women outside mainland Japan, especially from Korea and occupied China. Many women were tricked or defrauded into joining the military brothels.[23] The Japanese forced Hui Muslim girls in China to serve as sex slaves by setting up the "Huimin Girls' school" and enrolling Hui girls into the school for this purpose.[24]

The situation became worse as the war progressed. Under the strain of the war effort, the military became unable to provide enough supplies to Japanese units; in response, the units made up the difference by demanding or looting supplies from the locals. The military often directly demanded that local leaders procure women for the brothels along the front lines, especially in the countryside where middlemen were rare. When the locals were considered hostile, especially Chinese, Japanese soldiers carried out the "Three Alls Policy" which included indiscriminately kidnapping and raping local civilians.[25][26][27]

In 1944, the United States Office of War Information reported on interviews with 20 Korean comfort women in Burma which found that the girls were induced by the offer of plenty of money, an opportunity to pay off family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in Singapore. Many girls enlisted for overseas duty on the basis of these false representations, and were rewarded with an advance of a few hundred yen. Only some of these girls who had paid their debt were allowed to return to Korea.[28]

Later archives

On April 17, 2007 Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Hirofumi Hayashi announced the discovery of seven official documents in the archives of the Tokyo Trials, suggesting that Imperial military forces such as the Tokkeitai (Naval military police) forced women whose fathers attacked the Kenpeitai (Army military police) to work in front-line brothels in China, Indochina, and Indonesia. These documents were initially made public at the war crimes trial. In one of these, a lieutenant is quoted as confessing to having organized a brothel and having used it himself. Another source refers to Tokkeitai members having arrested women on the streets and putting them in brothels after enforced medical examinations.[29]

On May 12, 2007, journalist Taichiro Kajimura announced the discovery of 30 Dutch government documents submitted to the Tokyo tribunal as evidence of a forced mass prostitution incident in 1944 in Magelang.[30]

The South Korean government designated Bae Jeong-ja as a pro-Japanese collaborator (chinilpa) in September 2007 for recruiting comfort women.[31][32]

In 2014, China produced almost 90 documents from the archives of the Kwantung Army on the issue. According to China, the documents provide ironclad proof that the Japanese military forced Asian women to work in front-line brothels before and during the Second World War.[33]

In June 2014, more official documents were made public from the government of Japan's archives, documenting sexual violence and women forced into sexual slavery committed by Imperial Japanese soldiers in French Indochina and Indonesia.[34]

A 2015 study examined archival data which was previously difficult to access, partly due to the China-Japan Joint Communiqué of 1972 in which the Chinese government agreed not to seek any restitution for wartime crimes and incidents. New documents discovered in China shed light on the facilities inside comfort stations operated within a Japanese army compound, and the conditions of the Korean comfort women. Documents were discovered verifying the Japanese Army as the funding agency for purchasing at least some comfort women.

Documents were found in Shanghai that showed in detail how the Japanese Army went about opening comfort stations for Japanese troops in occupied Shanghai. Documents examined included the Tianjin Municipal Archives from the archival files of the Japanese government and the Japanese police during the periods of the occupation in World War II. Municipal archives from Shanghai and Nanjing were also examined. One conclusion reached was that the relevant archives in Korea are distorted. A conclusion of the study was that it is conceivable that the Japanese Imperial government and the colonial government in Korea tried to avoid revealing traces of the illegal mobilization of comfort women, as far as possible, and they burned most of the records immediately before the surrender. But the study confirmed that some documents and records have survived.[35]

Number of comfort women

Lack of official documentation has made estimates of the total number of comfort women difficult, as vast amounts of material pertaining to matters related to war crimes and the war responsibility of the nation's highest leaders were destroyed on the orders of the Japanese government at the end of the war.[36] Historians have arrived at various estimates by looking at surviving documentation which indicate the ratio of the number of soldiers in a particular area to the number of women, as well as looking at replacement rates of the women.[37] Historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, who conducted the first academic study on the topic which brought the issue out into the open, estimated the number to be between 50,000 and 200,000.[38]

Based on these estimates, most international media sources quote about 200,000 young women were kidnapped by Japanese soldiers to serve in Japanese military brothels. The BBC quotes "200,000 to 300,000" and the International Commission of Jurists quotes "estimates of historians of 100,000 to 200,000 women."[39] The Asahi Shinbun apologized in 2014 for stating the number of 200,000 Korean comfort women which, on reconsideration, was regarded as inaccurate and the result of a conflation with an unrelated factory program.[40]

Country of origin

Historical Marker, Plaza Lawton, Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila

According to State University of New York at Buffalo professor Yoshiko Nozaki and other sources, the majority of the women were from Korea and China.[41][42] Chuo University professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi states there were about 2,000 centers where as many as 200,000 Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Taiwanese, Burmese, Indonesian, Dutch and Australian women were interned.[43] Ikuhiko Hata, a professor of Nihon University, estimated the number of women working in the licensed pleasure quarter was fewer than 20,000 and that they were 40% Japanese, 20% Koreans, 10% Chinese, with others making up the remaining 30%. According to Hata, the total number of government-regulated prostitutes in Japan was only 170,000 during World War II.[44] Others came from the Philippines, Taiwan, Dutch East Indies, and other Japanese-occupied countries and regions.[45] Some Dutch women, captured in Dutch colonies in Asia, were also forced into sexual slavery.[46]

In further analysis of the Imperial Army medical records for venereal disease treatment from 1940, Yoshimi concluded that if the percentages of women treated reflected the general makeup of the total comfort women population, Korean women comprised 51.8 percent, Chinese 36 percent and Japanese 12.2 percent.[18]

In 1997, Bruce Cumings, a Korean historian, wrote that Japan had forced quotas to supply the comfort women program, and that Korean men helped recruit the victims. Cumings stated that between 100,000 and 200,000 Korean girls and women were recruited.[47]

A Dutch government study described how the Japanese military itself seized the women by force in the Dutch East Indies.[48] It concluded that among the 200 to 300 European women found in the Japanese military brothels, “some sixty five were most certainly forced into prostitution.” [49] Others, faced with starvation in the refugee camps, agreed to offers of food and payment for work, the nature of which was not completely revealed to them.[50][51][52][53][54]

To date, only one Japanese woman has published her testimony. This was done in 1971, when a former comfort woman forced to work for Showa soldiers in Taiwan, published her memoirs under the pseudonym of Suzuko Shirota.[55]

Treatment of comfort women

Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted diseases.[56] Beatings and physical torture were said to be common.[57]

Ten Dutch women were taken by force from prison camps in Java by officers of the Japanese Imperial Army to become forced sex slaves in February 1944. They were systematically beaten and raped day and night.[57][58] As a victim of the incident, in 1990, Jan Ruff-O'Herne testified to a U.S. House of Representatives committee:

Many stories have been told about the horrors, brutalities, suffering and starvation of Dutch women in Japanese prison camps. But one story was never told, the most shameful story of the worst human rights abuse committed by the Japanese during World War II: The story of the “Comfort Women”, the jugun ianfu, and how these women were forcibly seized against their will, to provide sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army. In the “comfort station” I was systematically beaten and raped day and night. Even the Japanese doctor raped me each time he visited the brothel to examine us for venereal disease.[57][58]

In their first morning at the brothel, photographs of Ruff-O'Herne and the others were taken and placed on the veranda which was used as a reception area for the Japanese personnel who would choose from these photographs. Over the following four months the girls were raped and beaten day and night, with those who became pregnant forced to have abortions. After four harrowing months, the girls were moved to a camp at Bogor, in West Java, where they were reunited with their families. This camp was exclusively for women who had been put into military brothels, and the Japanese warned the inmates that if anyone told what had happened to them, they and their family members would be killed. Several months later the O'Hernes were transferred to a camp at Batavia, which was liberated on August 15, 1945.[59][60][61]

The Japanese officers involved received some punishment by Japanese authorities at the end of the war.[62] After the end of the war, 11 Japanese officers were found guilty with one soldier being sentenced to death by the Batavia War Criminal Court.[62] The court decision found that the charge violated was the Army's order to hire only voluntary women.[62] Victims from East Timor testified they were forced into slavery even when they were not old enough to have started menstruating. The court testimonies state that these prepubescent girls were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers[63] while those who refused to comply were executed.[64][65]

Hank Nelson, emeritus professor at the Australian National University's Asia Pacific Research Division, has written about the brothels run by the Japanese military in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea during WWII. He quotes from the diary of Gordon Thomas, a POW in Rabaul. Thomas writes that the women working at the brothels “most likely served 25 to 35 men a day” and that they were “victims of the yellow slave trade.”[66]

Nelson also quotes from Kentaro Igusa, a Japanese naval surgeon who was stationed in Rabaul. Igusa wrote in his memoirs that the women continued to work through infection and severe discomfort, though they “cried and begged for help.”[66]

History of the issue

In 1944, Allied forces captured twenty Korean comfort women and two Japanese comfort station owners in Burma and issued Report no. 49. According to the report, Korean girls were deceived into being used as comfort women by the Japanese; in 1942, there were about 800 girls trafficked from Korea to Burma in this manner of obtaining comfort women.[67][67][68][69]

In 1973, a man named Kakou Senda wrote a book about the comfort women system that focused on Japanese participants. His book has been widely criticized as distorting the facts by both Japanese and South Korean historians.[70] This was the first postwar mention of the comfort women system and became an important source for 1990s activism on the issue.[71]

The first book written by a Korean on the subject of comfort women appeared in 1981. However, it was a plagiarism of a 1976 Japanese book by the zainichi author Kim Il-Myeon.[72][73]

In 1989, the testimony of Seiji Yoshida was translated into Korean. His book was debunked as fraudulent by some Japanese and Korean journalists, and in May 1996 Yoshida admitted that his memoir was fictional, stating in an interview by Shūkan Shinchō that "There is no profit in writing the truth in books. Hiding the facts and mixing them with your own assertions is something that newspapers do all the time too".[74][75][76] In August 2014, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun also retracted articles that the paper had published based on or including information from Yoshida, in large part because of pressure from conservative activists and organizations.[77][78][79] Following the retraction, attacks from conservatives increased. Takashi Uemura, a journalist who wrote one of the retracted articles, was subject to similar attacks from conservatives, and his employer, Hokusei Gakuen University, was pressured to terminate his position.[80]

In 1993, following multiple testimonies, the Kono Statement was issued by Japanese Government confirming that coercion was involved in seizing the comfort women.[81][82] In 2007, the Japanese government made a cabinet decision, "No evidence was found that the Japanese army or the military officials seized the women by force."[83][84] In 2014, Yoshihide Suga formed a team to reexamine the background of the report.[85] The review brought to light coordination between Japan and South Korea in the process of composing the statement and concluded that, at the request of Seoul, Tokyo stipulated coercion was involved in recruiting the women.[86] After the review, Suga and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that Japan continues to uphold the Kono Statement.

In 2014, China released documents it said were "ironclad proof" that the comfort women were forced to work as prostitutes against their will, including documents from the Japanese Kwantung Army military police corps archives and documents from the national bank of Japan's puppet regime in Manchuria.[87]

Apologies and compensation

Rangoon, Burma. August 8, 1945. A young ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer.

In 1951, at the start of negotiations, the South Korean government initially demanded $364 million in compensation for Koreans forced into labor and military service during the Japanese occupation: $200 per survivor, $1,650 per death and $2,000 per injured person.[88] In the final agreement reached in the 1965 treaty, Japan provided an $800 million aid and low-interest loan package over 10 years.[89] However, this money was for the Korean government, not individuals. In 1994, the Japanese government set up the public-private Asian Women's Fund (AWF) to distribute additional compensation to South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Indonesia.[90] Sixty one Korean, 13 Taiwanese, 211 Filipino, and 79 Dutch former comfort women were provided with a signed apology from the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, stating "As Prime Minister of Japan, I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."[91][92] Many former Korean comfort women rejected the compensations on principle – although the Asian Women's Fund was set up by the Japanese government, its moneys came not from the government but from private donations, hence the compensation was not "official". Eventually, 61 former Korean comfort women accepted 5 million yen (approx. $42,000[93]) per person from the AWF along with the signed apology, while 142 others received funds from the government of Korea.[95][96][97] The fund was dissolved on March 31, 2007.[92][98]

Three Korean women filed suit in Japan in December 1991, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, demanding compensation for forced prostitution. In 1992, documents which had been stored since 1958 when they were returned by United States troops and which indicated that the military had played a large role in operating what were euphemistically called "comfort stations" were found in the library of Japan's Self-Defense Agency. The Japanese Government admitted that the Japanese Army had forced tens of thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II.[99] On January 14, 1992, Japanese Chief Government Spokesman Koichi Kato issued an official apology saying, "We cannot deny that the former Japanese army played a role" in abducting and detaining the "comfort girls," and "We would like to express our apologies and contrition".[99][100][101] Three days later on January 17, 1992 at a dinner given by South Korean President Roh Tae Woo, the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa told his host: "We Japanese should first and foremost recall the truth of that tragic period when Japanese actions inflicted suffering and sorrow upon your people. We should never forget our feelings of remorse over this. As Prime Minister of Japan, I would like to declare anew my remorse at these deeds and tender my apology to the people of the Republic of Korea." He apologized again the following day in a speech before South Korea's National Assembly.[102][103] On April 28, 1998, the Japanese court ruled that the Government must compensate the women and awarded them US$2,300 (equivalent to $3,345 in 2015) each.[104]

In 2007, the surviving sex slaves wanted an apology from the Japanese government. Shinzō Abe, the prime minister at the time, stated on March 1, 2007, that there was no evidence that the Japanese government had kept sex slaves, even though the Japanese government had already admitted the use of coercion in 1993. On March 27 the Japanese parliament issued an official apology.[105] On February 20, 2014, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the Japanese government may reconsider the study and the apology.[106] However, Prime Minister Abe clarified on March 14, 2014 that he had no intention of renouncing or altering it.[107]

On December 28, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye reached a formal agreement to settle the dispute. Japan agreed to pay ¥1 billion (9.7 billion; $8.3 million) to a fund supporting surviving victims while South Korea agreed to refrain from criticizing Japan regarding the issue and to work to remove a statue memorializing the victims from in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.[108] The announcement came after Japan's foreign minister Fumio Kishida met his counterpart Yun Byung-se in Seoul, and later Prime Minister Shinzo Abe phoned President Park Geun-hye to repeat an apology already offered by Kishida. The Korean government will administer the fund for the forty-six remaining elderly comfort women and will consider the matter "finally and irreversibly resolved."[109] However, the Korean comfort women and the majority of the Korean population regarded the resolution as being unsatisfying. The Korean comfort women stated that they were not protesting for money and that their goals of formal and public apology from Abe and the Japanese government, the correction of Japanese history textbooks, etc. have not been met. The comfort women and some citizens accused the Korean foreign ministry of working with the Japanese government.[110]


Within Japan there is great controversy related to the use of comfort women by the Japanese military, particularly in the areas of denial or minimization by Japanese politicians, activists, and journalists.

Japanese historian and Nihon University professor, Ikuhiko Hata estimates the number of comfort women to be more likely between 10,000 and 20,000.[6] Hata claims that "none of [the comfort women] were forcibly recruited".[111]

Some Japanese politicians have argued that the former comfort women's testimony is inconsistent and unreliable, making it invalid.[112] Mayor of Osaka and co-leader of the nationalist and far-right Japan Restoration Party,[113][114] Tōru Hashimoto initially maintained that "there is no evidence that people called comfort women were taken away by violence or threat by the [Japanese] military".[115] He later modified his position, asserting that they became comfort women "against their will",[116] still justifying their role during World War II as "necessary", so that soldiers could "have a rest".[116]

A comic book, Neo Gomanism Manifesto Special – On Taiwan by Japanese author Yoshinori Kobayashi, depicts kimono-clad women lining up to sign up for duty before a Japanese soldier. Kobayashi's book contains an interview with Taiwanese industrialist Shi Wen-long who stated that no women were forced to serve, and that they worked in more hygienic conditions compared to regular prostitutes because the use of condoms was mandatory.[117]

There was a controversy involving NHK in early 2001. What was supposed to be coverage of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery was heavily edited to reflect revisionist views.[118]

The new president of NHK has compared the Japanese program to the practices of western militaries; western historians point out the differences between the Japanese government program which forced women to participate and the free enterprise institutions frequented by western troops where the women were forced only by economic necessity or by non-state actors.[119]

Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and most members of his Cabinet are affiliated to the openly revisionist organization Nippon Kaigi, that denies the existence of Japanese war crimes, including sexual slavery for the military.[120] Although his own father, Yasuhiro Nakasone, organized a "comfort station" in 1942 when he was a lieutenant paymaster in Japan's Imperial Navy, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone chairs a commission established to consider "concrete measures to restore Japan's honor with regard to the comfort women issue."[121]

International support

The cause has long been supported beyond the victim nations, and associations like Amnesty International are campaigning in countries where governments have yet to support the cause, like in Australia,[122] or New Zealand.[123] Support in the United States continues to grow, particularly after the United States House of Representatives House Resolution 121 was passed on July 30, 2007, asking the Japanese government to redress the situation and to teach the actual historical facts. In July 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a strong advocate of the cause, denounced the use of the euphemism 'comfort women' for what should be referred to as 'enforced sex slaves'.[124] The White House continues to express the need for Japan to do more to address the issue.[125] In addition to calling attention to the issue, the American memorial statues erected in New Jersey in 2010 and California in 2013 show support for what has become an international cause.[126]

On December 13, 2007, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on "Justice for the 'Comfort Women' (sex slaves in Asia before and during World War II)" calling on the Japanese government to apologise and accept legal responsibility for the coercion of young women into sexual slavery before and during WWII.[127]

In 2014, Pope Francis met with seven former comfort women in South Korea.[128][129] Also in 2014, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for Japan to, as the Committee's deputy head Anastasia Crickley put it, "conclude investigations into the violations of the rights of ‘comfort women’ by the military and to bring to justice those responsible and to pursue a comprehensive and lasting resolution to these issues.” [130] U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay had also spoken out in support of comfort women several times.[130]

In the aftermath of the war, the women recalled bouts of physical and mental abuse that they had experienced while working in military brothels. In the Rorschach test, the women showed distorted perceptions, difficulty in managing emotional reactions and internalized anger.[131] A 2011 clinical study found that comfort women are more prone to showing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even 60 years after the end of the war.[132]


The last surviving victims have become public figures in Korea, where they are referred to as "halmoni", the affectionate term for "grandmother". China remains more at the testimony collection stage, particularly through the China "Comfort Women" Issue Research Center at Shanghai Normal University,[133] sometimes in collaboration with Korean researchers.[134] For other nations, the research and the interaction with victims is less advanced.



Wednesday demonstrations

Every Wednesday, living comfort women, women’s organizations, socio-civic groups, religious groups, and a number of individuals participate in the Wednesday demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, sponsored by “The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWDMSS)”. It was first held on January 8, 1992, when Japan’s Prime Minister, Miyazawa, visited the Republic of Korea. In December 2011, a statue of a young woman was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy to honor the comfort women, on the 1,000th of the weekly Wednesday demonstrations.[135] The Japanese government has repeatedly asked the South Korean government to have the statue taken down, but it has not been.[135] On 28 December 2015, the Korean and Japanese governments agreed that the statue will be removed.

House of Sharing

The House of Sharing is the home for living comfort women. The House of Sharing was founded in June 1992 through funds raised by Buddhist organizations and various socio-civic groups and it moved to Gyunggi-do, South Korea in 1998. The House of Sharing includes “The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military” to spread the truth about the Japanese military’s brutal abuse of comfort women and to educate descendants and the public.[136]

Archives by comfort women

Some of the survivors, Kang Duk-kyung, Kim Soon-duk and Lee Yong-Nyeo, preserved their personal history through their drawings as a visual archive Also, the director of the Center for Asian American Media, Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, made a comfort women video archive, a documentary film for K-12 through college level students. Feminist visual and video archives have promoted a place for solidarity between the victims and the public. It has served as a living site for the teaching and learning of women’s dignity and human rights by bringing people together despite age, gender, borders, nationality, and ideologies.[137]


In the Philippines, comfort women formed different groups, similar to the Korean survivors they are called "Lolas" (grandmothers). One group named "Lila Pilipina" (League of Filipino Women), which started in 1992 and is member of GABRIELA, a feminist organization,[138] together with the "Malaya Lolas" (Free grandmothers) ask for a formal apology from the Japanese government, compensation, and the inclusion of the issue in the Japanese history textbooks. These groups also ask the Philippine government to back their claims against the Japanese government.[139][140] These groups have taken legal actions against Japan,[141] then against their own government to back their claims and, as of August 2014, planned to take the case the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Children (CEDAW).[142]

These groups have made demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Manila in many occasions,[139][143] have given testimonies to Japanese tourists in Manila.[138]

Similar to the Korean grandmothers, Filipino "Lolas" have their own Grandmother house with a collection of their testimonies. Also two of them have published two autobiographic books: "Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny" by Rosa Henson and "The Hidden Battle of Leyte: The Picture Diary of a Girl Taken by the Japanese Military" by Remedios Felias. This second book was written in the 1990s, after Lila Filipina was formed.


Since the 1990s, Taiwanese survivors have been bringing to light the comfort woman issue in Taiwanese society, and gaining support from women's rights activists and civil groups. Their testimony and memories have been documented by newspapers, books, and documentary films.

Survivors' claims against the Japan government have been backed by the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation (TWRF) a non-profit organization helping women against violence, and sexual violence. This organization gives legal and psychological support to Taiwanese comfort women, and also helps in the recording of testimony and doing scholarly research. In 2007, this organization was responsible for promoting awareness in society, by creating meetings in universities and high schools where survivors gave their testimonies to students and the general public.[144] TWRF has produced exhibitions that give survivors the opportunity to be heard in Taipei, and also in the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, based in Tokyo.[145][146]

Thanks to this increasing awareness in society, and with the help of TWRF, Taiwanese comfort women have gained the support their government, which on many occasions has asked the Japanese government for apologies and compensation.[147][148]

In November 2014, "Song of the Reed", a documentary film directed by Wu Hsiu-ching and produced by TWRF, won the International Gold Panda documentary award.[149]

United States

In 2010, the first American monument dedicated to the comfort women was established in Palisades Park, New Jersey.[150]

In 2013, a "comfort women" memorial statue was established in Glendale, California.[126] The statue has been subject to multiple legal attempts to remove it.[151] A federal judge dismissed a 2014 lawsuit for the statue's removal.[152][153][154]

On August 16, 2014, a new memorial statue honoring the comfort women was unveiled in Southfield, Michigan, United States.[155]

In 2015, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to erect a memorial for the ‘comfort women’ of World War II.[156][157][158] The memorial itself would stand as a reminder that the event did in fact happen, despite repeated denials by the Japanese government, and it would be a reminder never to let another atrocity like it happen again. However some Japanese members of the community showed concerns over the memorial, believing that it would promote hatred and anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the community.[159] One of these critics was Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, a large city in Japan. Hashimoto claims in his letter written to the Board of Supervisors that the memorial should be “broadened to memorialize all the women who have been sexually assaulted and abused by soldiers of countries in the world”.[160] Japanese residents of the area have also shown concerns over the memorial as many believe that it projects hatred towards the Japanese and focuses solely on an event in committed by the Japanese during wartime instead of promoting awareness and future prevention.[159]

Several other similar memorials have sprang up in places like Fort Lee, New Jersey.

The victims of the Bahay na Pula and the justice that has evaded them is an example of the story of the Philippine comfort women.[161]

Notable former comfort women

See also



  1. The Asian Women's Fund. "Who were the Comfort Women?-The Establishment of Comfort Stations". Digital Museum The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women's Fund. The Asian Women's Fund. Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  2. The Asian Women's Fund. "Hall I: Japanese Military and Comfort Women". Digital Museum The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women's Fund. The Asian Women's Fund. Archived from the original on March 15, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2014. The so-called 'wartime comfort women' were those who were taken to former Japanese military installations, such as comfort stations, for a certain period during wartime in the past and forced to provide sexual services to officers and soldiers.
  3. Argibay, Carmen (2003). "Sexual Slavery and the Comfort Women of World War II". Berkeley Journal of International Law.
  4. Soh, C. Sarah (2009). The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. University of Chicago Press. p. 69. ISBN 0-226-76777-9. It referred to adult female (fu/bu) who provided sexual services to "comfort and entertain" (ian/wian) the warrior...
  5. Fujioka, Nobukatsu (1996). 污辱の近現代史: いま、克服のとき [Attainder of modern history] (in Japanese). Tokuma Shoten. p. 39. 慰安婦は戦地で外征軍を相手とする娼婦を指す用語(婉曲用語)だった。 (Ianfu was a euphemism for the prostitutes who served for the Japanese expeditionary forces outside Japan)
  6. 1 2 Asian Women's Fund, pp. 10–11
  7. Huang, Hua-Lun (2012). The Missing Girls and Women of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: A Sociological Study of Infanticide, Forced Prostitution, Political Imprisonment, "Ghost Brides," Runaways and Thrownaways. McFarland. p. 206. ISBN 0-7864-8834-4. Although Ianfu came from all regions or countries annexed or occupied by Japan before 1945, most of them were Chinese or Korean. Researchers at the Research Center of the Chinese Comfort Women Issue of Shanghai Normal University estimate that the total number of comfort women at 360,000 to 410,000.
  8. Rose 2005, p. 88
  9. "Women and World War II – Comfort Women". Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  10. Coop, Stephanie (December 23, 2006). "Japan's Wartime Sex Slave Exhibition Exposes Darkness in East Timor". Japan Times. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  11. YOSHIDA, REIJI (April 18, 2007). "Evidence documenting sex-slave coercion revealed". The Japan Times. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  12. Reuters 2007-03-05.
  13. Yoshimi 2000, pp. 100–101, 105–106, 110–111;
    Fackler 2007-03-06;
    BBC 2007-03-02;
    BBC 2007-03-08.
  14. "THE ALLIED REOCCUPATION OF THE ANDAMAN ISLANDS, 1945". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 2016-01-07.
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  16. Asian Women's Fund, p. 51
  17. Hicks 1995.
  18. 1 2 2007-11-30.
  19. Mitchell 1997.
  20. "[…] Pak (her surname) was about 17, living in Hamun, Korea, when local Korean officials, acting on orders from the Japanese, began recruiting women for factory work. Someone from Pak's house had to go. In April of 1942, turned Pak and other young women over to the Japanese, who took them into China, not into factories […]", Horn 1997.
  21. Yoshimi 2000, pp. 100–101, 105–106, 110–111;
    Hicks 1997, pp. 66–67, 119, 131, 142–143;
    Ministerie van Buitenlandse zaken 1994, pp. 6–9, 11, 13–14
  22. Yoshimi 2000, pp. 82–83;
    Hicks 1997, pp. 223–228.
  23. Yoshimi 2000, pp. 101–105, 113, 116–117;
    Hicks 1997, pp. 8–9, 14;
    Clancey 1948, p. 1021.
  24. LEI, Wan (February 2010). "The Chinese Islamic "Goodwill Mission to the Middle East" During the Anti-Japanese War". Dîvân Disiplinlerarasi Çalişmalar Dergisi. 15 (29): 141. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  25. Fujiwara 1998
  26. Himeta 1996
  27. Bix 2000
  28. Yorichi 1944.
  29. Yoshida 2007-04-18
  30. Japan Times 2007-05-12
  31. Bae 2007-09-17
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  34. Kimura, Kayoko, "Stance on ‘comfort women’ undermines fight to end wartime sexual violence", Japan Times, March 5, 2014, p. 8
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  36. Burning of Confidential Documents by Japanese Government, case no.43, serial 2, International Prosecution Section vol. 8;
    "When it became apparent that Japan would be forced to surrender, an organized effort was made to burn or otherwise destroy all documents and other evidence of ill-treatment of prisoners of war and civilian internees. The Japanese Minister of War issued an order on 14 August 1945 to all Army headquarters that confidential documents should be destroyed by fire immediately. On the same day, the Commandant of the Kempetai sent out instructions to the various Kempetai Headquarters detailing the methods of burning large quantities of documents efficiently.", Clancey 1948, p. 1135;
    "[…] , the actual number of comfort women remains unclear because the Japanese army incinerated many crucial documents right after the defeat for fear of war crimes prosecution, […]", Yoshimi 2000, p. 91;
    Bix 2000, p. 528;
    "Between the announcement of a ceasefire on August 15, 1945, and the arrival of small advance parties of American troops in Japan on August 28, Japanese military and civil authorities systematically destroyed military, naval, and government archives, much of which was from the period 1942–1945. Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo dispatched enciphered messages to field commands throughout the Pacific and East Asia ordering units to burn incriminating evidence of war crimes, especially offenses against prisoners of war. The director of Japan's Military History Archives of the National Institute for Defense Studies estimated in 2003 that as much as 70 percent of the army's wartime records were burned or otherwise destroyed.", Drea 2006, p. 9.
  37. Nakamura 2007-03-20
  38. Asian Women'sFund, p. 10
  39. "An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 women across Asia, predominantly Korean and Chinese, are believed to have been forced to work as sex slaves in Japanese military brothels", BBC 2000-12-08;
    "Historians say thousands of women; as many as 200,000 by some accounts; mostly from Korea, China and Japan worked in the Japanese military brothels", Irish Examiner 2007-03-08;
    AP 2007-03-07;
    CNN 2001-03-29.
  40. The Asahi Shimbun Company. "Confusion with 'volunteer corps': Insufficient research at that time led to comfort women and volunteer corps seen as the same". 朝日新聞デジタル.
  41. Nozaki 2005;
    Dudden 2006.
  42. "An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 women across Asia, predominantly Korean and Chinese, are believed to have been forced to work as sex slaves in Japanese military brothels", & BBC 2000-12-08;
    "Estimates of the number of comfort women range between 50,000 and 200,000. It is believed that most were Korean", Soh 2001;
    "A majority of the 80,000 to 200,000 comfort women were from Korea, though others were recruited or recruited from China, the Philippines, Burma, and Indonesia. Some Japanese women who worked as prostitutes before the war also became comfort women.", Horn 1997;
    "Approximately 80 percent of the sex slaves were Korean; […]. By one approximation, 80 percent were between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.", Gamble & Watanabe 2004, p. 309;
    Soh 2001.
  43. Yoshimi 2000, pp. 91, 93
  44. Hata 1999
    "Hata essentially equates the 'comfort women' system with prostitution and finds similar practices during the war in other countries. He has been criticized by other Japanese scholars for downplaying the hardship of the 'comfort women'.", Drea 2006, p. 41.
  45. Soh 2001.
  46. 2007-03-19;
    Moynihan 2007-03-03
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  94. Historical currency exchange rates,
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