No Compensation for the Comfort Women

By Lamont-Brown, Robert | Contemporary Review, February 1993 | Go to article overview

No Compensation for the Comfort Women


Lamont-Brown, Robert, Contemporary Review


SHE sits alone now in her apartment off the unfashionable end of Roxas Boulevard in Metro Manila. Daily she is reminded of her degradation as a young woman. T'sai Han can see the buses containing Japanese tourists pass the end of her road. They are being ferried to and from Ninoy Aquino international airport and the cruise liners off South Harbour. Once she had been a part of a different Japanese transportation business, wherein thousands of Asian women were recruited by the Imperial Japanese Army as prostitutes aboard the 'comfort waggons'.

Brothel trains, given the euphemism of 'comfort waggons' were a long accepted part of social life in pre-Communist China, in particular. Once lusty Europeans could book a ticket to erotic pleasure on some of the specially chartered trains out of Shanghai. Mao put an end to all that when he rehabilitated the Shanghai whores with 'right thinking'; but, the pre-war concept had been taken up by the Japanese High Command along their infamous Burma Railway.

Not long after Lt.-General Shojiro Iida's Japanese 15th Army took Rangoon, pushed two Chinese armies back into China, and forced General Alexander's Burma Army to retreat into northeastern India, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo took a somewhat strange decision.

It was to be a consequence of these orders of June 1942 given to the HQ Japanese Southern Army--responsible for all South East Asia territory--that there was to be built a railway to Burma. This was to be a substitute for the sea route to Rangoon. The lines were also to be used as a feeder for the 'comfort waggons' for the Japanese troops.

On 25 October 1943 the Ban Pong-Thanbyuzayat railway, now given a direct link between Bangkok and Moulmein, was completed. The celebration of the opening of the railway for the garrison troops was a visit by a Japanese brothel train. Organisation of such a train was based on those which had been first used for 'military purposes' during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and the incursion of Japanese troops during the Manchurian Incident 1931-32.

Among the girls on board the first train was a Sino-Philippino girl T'sai Han. Born in Shanghai of a Philippino mother and a Chinese father, she had been sold to a harlot-master in the International City when she was eleven. She had been trained as a 'Heaven root flower girl' (erotic masseuse) and had made her way (illicitly) to Burma. At the time she was twenty-two.

She had been forcibly recruited by the Imperial Japanese Army for the brothel train by taii (Captain) Yoshio Katayama, who later worked for a Tokyo chemical manufacturing company. She was worked as a prostitute until the Japanese defeat.

T'sai Han was one of the group of prostitutes at the opening of the Burma Railway graphically described by Major Clifford Kinvig in his Death Railway (1973). On this occasion, he commented, allied prisoners who had worked on the railway were spruced up and photographed by Japanese propaganda cameramen. He records that the women gave cigarettes and money to the prisoners. These events were written up for the propaganda sheets that were circulated in the Japanese occupied territories of their puppet Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The documentation of the use of enforced prostitutes has been given an airing recently in Japan, having been stored from WWII in the archives of the Gaimusho (Foreign Ministry) of war leader General Hideki Tojo's cabinet. The publicity surrounding the documents has caused the Japanese government some embarrassment. …

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