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

By Yuki Tanaka | Go to book overview
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Procurement of comfort women and their lives as sexual slaves

The colonization of Korea and the growth of the prostitution industry

One cannot sufficiently explain the establishment and operation of the comfort women system, in particular the sexual exploitation of Korean women in that system, by viewing it from the perspective of military history alone. It becomes comprehensible only when we examine how the trafficking of young women came to be widely practiced in Korea well before the military brothel system was established. This trafficking was a by-product of Japan's various policies of colonizing the Korean peninsula.

Shortly after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan began entertaining an ambition to extend its economic and political interests to Korea. Having succeeded in concluding the treaty of amity with Korea in February 1876, Japan started interfering in Korea's domestic affairs. China's Qing dynasty, which had long acted as Korea's suzerain state, was angered by Japan's intrusion. The antagonism between the Meiji government and the Qing over Korea eventually erupted into the Sino-Japanese War in August 1894. After eliminating Chinese influence over Korea by defeating China in this war, Japan then faced a threat from Russia, which had increased its activities in Korea and Manchuria. These moves threatened Japan's military and economic interests in northeast Asia, leading to the Russo-Japanese War between September 1904 and February 1905. 1

On the eve of this war, Japan had taken steps towards colonizing Korea. In August 1904, the Japanese government imposed the “First Japan-Korea Convention” upon Korea. This convention allowed Japan to exert considerable influence in two fundamental state functions - administration of finance and foreign affairs. The convention forced Korea to accept Japanese “consultation” in these two areas. In early 1905, with Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War, the British and Americans accepted Japan's control of Korea. Japan was then able openly to colonize Korea. In November 1905, Japan's special envoy, Itō Hirobumi, forced the Korean Foreign Minister to affix the seal to the Protectorate Treaty (the so-called “Second Japan-Korea Convention”), surrounding the palace of the Korean King, Kojong, with Japanese troops. By this treaty Korea was completely deprived of its diplomatic power and autonomy in internal affairs.

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