Some jokingly say that prostitution is the oldest profession, but one can hardly laugh about the
plight of thousands of women who have resorted to this disturbing practice. Although many women sell
their bodies by choice, history shows that for centuries, governments and conquering armies have used their
power to force women into prostitution to fit its needs. Well into the twentieth century, the practice
continued in countries around the world including China, The Philippines, but chiefly in Japan. During and
before the start of World War Two, the Japanese government tightly controlled an efficient but brutal
system of prostitution around the country. Those in control dubbed the reluctant prostitutes comfort
women, a title that ate away slowly at the souls of those who possessed it. Japan called upon these women
not only to prostitute them-selves, but perform difficult and dangerous missions to the front lines when a
regiments supply of men wavered.The presence!
of these women and the establishment of comfort stations in Japans vast empire not only effected the
lives of the women involved, but the outcome of the war itself.
Within the modern city of Tokyo, old buildings painted with red and gold lettering that brag of
beautiful women and good food remind one of its name during the 18th century, The Floating World.
Known for its abundance of brothels, travelers refereed to it as the nightless city- an international hub for
legalized prostitution. In 1872, the Japanese government followed the example set by the ancient Romans,
devising a lucrative system in which different states controlled the number of brothels within the city and
the number of girls. The women were licensed and received mandatory medical exams before allowed to
work. The brothels put different the prostitutes into different classes according to education, ethnic
background and beauty. The more educated prostitutes were called Geishas and often played musical
instruments to entertain customers. At first, local governments of neighboring towns gave families the
option of volunteering their daughters in return for the ass!
urance of a loan or by offering to erase debts. In many cases, the girls went willingly in hopes to provide
for their families and make a better life for themselves. Soon, however, the number of willing girls
dropped and the government or local police began to raid villages, threatening to burn houses and fields of
the girls did not comply. With the start of the war, the brothel business still boomed and at first the military
didnt consider the option of establishing their own brothels, until 233 rapes occurred on one night in
Shanghai in 1932. The blame of the rapes rested upon the shoulders of the Japanese military. In response
to a city- wide outcry, military officials soon found a solution that hardly seemed better than the problem.
Within a month the military constructed the first military controlled comfort station in Shanghai.
Japan justified the building of more comfort stations around its empire by claiming that such
stations reduced venereal diseases and rape. This claim did little to console the many women who found
themselves being forced to service twenty to forty men daily under the watchful eye of armed guards at
such stations.In addition to the claims, the Japanese believed that sex before battle prevented injury, and
depravation of it made one accident prone and forgetful. Such superstitions spurred even more officials in
favor of the practice; and ordered more stations to be built according to the number of troops in the area. In
some cases, the number of stations surpassed that of local grocery stores. By the end of the war, over 1000
stations existed. A former officer of the Japanese military recalls how shipments of women to stations
arrived before weaponry and food supplies, causing a number of men to go without amunition for their
guns for quite some time. The growing n!
umber of stations required a huge amount of women to fill them, a problem that soon found an answer in
small villages in Japan and Korea.
To lure women willfully into service, the military started such organizations as The Womens Voluntary
Service Corps and the Womens Patriotic Service Corps. The posters claimed that women would earn good
wages and help the empire by sewing, and doing various other behind the lines tasks. Village by village,
trucks rounded up those willing to go and brought them to a central headquarters. In a large room, the
more pretty girls were hand picked by an officer and led into yet another truck and driven to a comfort
station deep in the jungle, or some other desolate place on the front lines. The increasing need for women
drove the military to turn to POW camps, forcing European women to serve as comfort women including a
group of Dutch women who first brought public attention to the incidents after the war.
As the war staggered on, rumors from the front lines about the comfort stations found their way to towns
and villages, and soon families hid their daughters when Japanese soldiers combed their village for fresh
meat. Backed by the National General Mobilisation Law, the soldiers used brute force to push girls into
their trucks, often killing family members who protested. A former comfort woman recalls the violent way
her father was killed, leaving her almost catatonic, the soldier turned and with one swift movement, sliced
my fathers neck with his swordI screamed when I saw his body and then his head fall to the ground. I
lost all strength then, and allowed myself to be pushed into the truck(49-Hicks). In most cases, the girls
learned of their fate on the truck or shortly after their arrival, that and the shock of losing their families
resulted in many going insane shortly after arriving. Those who remained sane wished silently that they
too, did not have a sence of!
Upon arriving at the stations, an officer usually told them their task and told them the rules of the station.
Following this, the officer broke them in for their following months of service by raping them. This
trauma alone resulted in many suicides and severe mental illness. Usually, a married couple ran the house
and kept 75% of their pay, leaving them with the equivalent of about $00.05 at the end of each week. They
were instructed to wash quickly after each customer or disinfect with a cotton ball, though during the
busiest hours few girls had time. When writing home, the girls were not allowed to specify their job, but
merely say they were helping the empire in its cause, or allowed to inform family members of their
location. Each girl had a designated room supplied with a thin mattress and separated from the lobby by a
thin curtain. A picture in the front lobby informed the customers of their ethnic background and price,
European girls and Japanese girls had!
higher prices, considered to be of higher quality then Koreans. Each week a doctor visited to make sure
the girls had not contracted any diseases and many girls felt a doctor, at least, could understand their plight,
many girls were let down. One former comfort woman recalls how the doctor raped her after the first
examination, and she soon began to dread his visits. Like cattle, the women were bought, sold and kept
alive merely to serve a need that their government assured them was necessary. Along with just struggling
to survive at the crude stations, several women faced completing dangerous and secretive military missions
to the front lines.
Compared to a soldiers salary, a comfort womans pay paled in comparison; yet often their country had
them on the front lines with the very men who they serviced in the night. When the amount of men
dwindled towards the end of the war, officers ordered women to accompany them to the front lines to do
such tasks as loading and throwing grenades to delivering important messages to distant bases. One
woman recalls how she and another woman traveled by foot to the front lines and stayed at a pillbox, a
small camp designed to monitor guerrilla warfare. Officers gave them each a pistol and told them to save
the last bullet to kill themselves in event of capture. Out of small windows, the girls stood beside two other
men and fired their pistols into the jungle. With the two extra soldiers firing into the night, the small unit
kept off an advancing enemy. Often, officers would take women back to their private homes and keep
them as mistresses. In one famous case, a mistr!
ess convinced the officer to adopt her fellow comfort women and pay for their passage to their home
countries. Unfortunatly, a Chinese submarine torpedoed the ocean liner and not one woman survived.
With the comfort women at the top of military priority, the shipment and the building of comfort stations
soaked up many of the armies funds. One can only wonder what may have been if such funds had been
available at the end of the war. The impact of these women and many others on the course of the war
cannot be measured, and Japan will forever be indebted to their brave efforts.
The women who survived the comfort stations and the front lines left at the end of the war with physical
and mental scars that would never leave them. Unfortunatly, in most cases, military officers shot the
comfort women at the end of the war to ensure security. Many women, due to the disinfectant used
between customers, either sterilized them or caused them to have future problems during pregnancy such as
low birth weight or miscarriages. Those who became pregnant during their time at the stations either gave
birth and gave the baby to a couple in the town or took special herbs to guarantee a miscarriage.The
mental scars are less apparent, but just as hard to deal with. Many confess that they have nightmares about
their experiences, unable to feel comfortable telling their husbands and do not enjoy intercourse. Many
have trouble finding work, not having the education when they were young and live off their families or
meager well fare. For many years, Japan denied t!
he claims of these women and only recently has been forced to compensate for the damages. Although
money can buy food and pay rent for an apartment, the government cannot heal the wounds in these
womens hearts and minds.
Japans forced prostitution during World War Two, remains an ugly mark in its history. The
military used these women for their bodies, and in turn often destroyed their minds as well. Those who
went to the front lines rarely came back and died like Kamikaze pilots, hurling a last grenade to fight for a
country that had betrayed them. The courage of these women and their stories can and should alert people
around the world about the evils and brutality of prostitution. Tragically, forced prostitution can still be
found in the Philippines and China, even Japan among others. Poor families sell their children to pay their
bills like a commodity, selling the childrens innocence and dignity for a loaf of bread. The issue of
prostitution will never die, but hopefully its practice will.