Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the U.S. Occupation

By Yuki Tanaka | Go to book overview

1

The origins of the comfort women system

The initial establishment of comfort stations

Exactly when the Japanese Imperial forces first set up ianjo (comfort stations) - military brothels - for the exclusive use of their soldiers and officers is still unknown. This is because a vast number of relevant official records were destroyed immediately after Japan announced its surrender in August 1945. However, a number of official Japanese documents related to this issue have been unearthed in the last several years. Information available in these newly discovered documents strongly suggests that the first Japanese military brothels for the exclusive use of troops and officers were those set up for the Japanese Navy in Shanghai, during the so-called “Shanghai Incident” in 1932.

On September 18, 1931, Japanese forces blew up the railway at Lake Liu (near Mukden in southern Manchuria), then claimed that Chinese forces had destroyed the railway. The Kwantung (Kantō) Army of the Japanese Imperial forces plotted this “sabotage” in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of northeast China. This marked the beginning of the so-called “Manchurian Incident.” As Chinese forces avoided a major confrontation with the Japanese in this region, Japanese forces managed to occupy this part of China within a relatively short period. In January the following year, Japanese forces entered into an armed conflict with Chinese forces in Shanghai. The Japanese later named this military clash “the first Shanghai Incident.” This “incident” was also plotted by the Kwantung Army, in order to divert the attention of Western nations from Japan's plan to establish the Manchuguo puppet state.

The Japanese Navy dispatched to Shanghai first set up military brothels in that city. According to a report prepared in late 1938 by the Japanese Consulate-General's office in Shanghai, “as soon as the Shanghai Incident occurred, some staff from our military forces stationed here established the navy ianjo (in reality, licensed houses) to serve as leisure facilities for its members, which continue to be operated since then.” 1

Before this time, the Chinese government had made efforts to abolish prostitution in Shanghai. In 1929, the operation of the Japanese brothels in this city was officially banned, as the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was placed in the difficult situation of co-operating with the Chinese authorities. However, Japanese

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