Filipino Hilaria Bustamante, 81, said she was 16 in 1942 when Japanese soldiers stopped her on a road, seized her by the arms and legs and threw her into a truck “like a pig.”
It was the beginning of more than a year of captivity in a Japanese garrison where she said she was a sex slave.
“Even as I struggled, I could not do anything. They slapped me, they punched me. I was only 16 then, what could I do?” she said. “They think we are like toilet paper that is just thrown after being used.”
Bustamante is one of an estimated 200,000 women seized by Japan’s military from Korea, China, the Philippines and other places during the war and shipped across Asia to be “comfort women” providing sex for its troops.
During the Second World War, many women from either the Japanese colonies or occupied territories were either kidnapped or went to work abroad for the IJA under false pretenses. Those that were kidnapped like Bustamante were beaten, repeatedly raped to the point of sterility in some cases while those that signed-up eventually suffered the same fate after learning they would not be getting their promised wages and they would be doing much more than cooking or cleaning for the IJA. Most of these comfort women have died of old age and those who remain are trying to get their story heard and fairly compensated with the help of supporters.
However, things have become much more complicated after Shinzo Abe, who was initially seen as a more pragmatic leader out to restore regional ties after Koizumi’s countless diplomatic gaffes, said the following:
For many, old wounds were opened anew by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s comments yesterday denying that the women were forced into sexual slavery, and calling into doubt an apology by a top government spokesman in 1993.
“There was no evidence to prove there was coercion as initially suggested,” Abe told reporters.
“That largely changes what constitutes the definition of coercion, and we have to take it from there.”
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, speaking in Tokyo today, said Japan’s operation of military brothels during World War II was “deplorable”.
“But … as far as some kind of resolution of this issue, this is something that must be dealt with between Japan and the countries that were affected,” Negroponte said.
So Abe says there is no proof that such exploitation ever happened and that changes the definition of coercion, which suggests that he believes as the head of the Japanese government that sexual exploitation of women from the colonies and occupied territories never happened and that all women signed up to be sex servants by their own volition. These remarks have already caused shockwaves across the region with South Koreans urging Abe to acknowledge history and a mild criticism from the United States. However, despite passing a resolution recognising Japan’s exploitation of comfort women, the Americans are willing to let the Japanese government off lightly because they need them to serve as their regional policeman in the region while they are being bogged down in Iraq.
Although Abe does not have the honour or courage to acknowledge the existence of sexually exploited and mistreated women, some IJA war veterans have come forward with their accounts of the events:
Former Imperial Japanese Army soldier Yasuji Kaneko, 87, recalled the screams of the countless women he raped in China, some of them teenagers from Korea and others victims of pillage in eastern China.
“They cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died,” Kaneko said in an interview at his Tokyo home.
“We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”
It’s unfortunate that IJA veterans like him are still alive and living relatively uneventful lives while their victims are permanently damaged or become just figments of imagination in his current government. Nonetheless, Kaneko and other IJA war veterans who had the courage to tell their stories to teach others from their perspective should be commended for facing an unpleasant past that their government continues to deny through their actions.
Not only are Abe’s remarks disappointing since there was hope that he would restore the international reputation of his country and citizens by rebuilding shattered ties to his neighbours, but it is even more deplorable when others come in support of Abe just because of their affinity towards Japanese popular culture or hostility towards Japan’s regional neighbours.
Some bloggers try to downplay Abe’s speech with claims that he was seriously misquoted and that the western media are taking the situation far out of proportion while others try to justify his claims:
The above are two Korean newspaper advertisements for “comfort women” (military prostitutes) in 1944. The ad on the left was placed in the “Gyeongseong Ilbo” on July 16, 1944 and offered women between seventeen and twenty-three years old 300 yen per month to work as “comfort women.” It also offered an advance payment of 3,000 yen. The ad on the right was placed in the “Maeil Shinmun” on October 27, 1944 and also offered 300 yen per month for “healthy” women between eighteen and thirty.
The newspaper ads suggest that, at least in Korea, the recruitment of “comfort women” was open, legitimate, and socially acceptable. They are also evidence that the women were well paid. For example, a commenter going by the name of “Void” wrote that the salary of a lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army was only 110 yen per month, which means that the women would have been receiving almost triple the salary of a Japanese army lieutenant.
Yes, some women may have been kidnapped and turned into prostitutes by pimps and others, but I think the money was probably a big attraction for many desperately poor families and women in colonial Korea. Korean women have often sacrificed themselves for their families and male siblings, and I think this may have been considered one such sacrifice.
While it is possible that there might be a mistranslation and Abe has chances to explain his comments, trying to justify his claims with Imperial-era advertisements for comfort women still does not mean that there was no incidents of rape, abuse, and deception occurring. There were testimony from surviving comfort women who responded to such ads in the Japanese colonies only to learn that they had to service the men on their time even if it meant getting raped, not getting paid what they were promised in the ads, and incidents of violent abuse. These survivors were poor and uneducated and they were receiving much more than they bargained for by the IJA. Random and anonymous commenters of the blog entry in question that downplay the severity of the events with claims that the women were treated fairly does not mean that their accounts are true in light of testimony and evidence from IJA war veterans, comfort women and allies troops who liberated many of these wartime brothels.