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Historian relates story of Japan's 'comfort women' during early postwar occupation

19 Comments

Masayasu Hosaka, a prolific chronicler of Japan's wartime and postwar history, writes a column for Nikkan Gendai five days a week. In five somewhat disjointed columns from Dec 22 that were published as a run-up to the year's final issue, Hosaka covered the sordid saga of a short-lived organization set up at the beginning of the Allied Occupation.

But first some background: Five days after the surrender announcement, on August 20, 1945, the Japanese government had released a document titled Shinchugun wo mikaeru kokorogamae ("Preparing to Receive the Occupation Forces").

From the document, concerns over sex crimes by foreign troops were palpable. In a list of items on the agenda, No. 3 read, "The greatest possible efforts will be made to avoid personal contacts with members of the occupation forces," while item No. 5 stated, "Women and girls will refrain from wearing slutty clothing, and in particular displays of suggestive bustlines in public will be absolutely prohibited."

The Japanese government also made preparations to proceed with plans to open comfort stations for the occupation troops. Creation of these military brothels had the ulterior motive of safeguarding the chastity of women and girls from "good" families.

For his source material, Hosaka taps into a book written by newspaper correspondent Mark Gayn (1909-1981) titled "Japan Diary." In his entry of May 21, 1946, Gayn related the "curious tale" of the world's biggest "white-slave traffic combine."

Gayn's source was a man named Masano Kanechika, who told him that on August 15, 1945 -- the same day the emperor announced Japan's intention to surrender -- the Metropolitan Police Board summoned the presidents of the seven major entertainment guilds in Tokyo, including restaurant, cabaret, geisha and brothel associations.

"Gentlemen," said the chief of the board of Tokyo's entertainment guilds, "the American Army is coming to Japan. We fear that the Americans will molest our women -- our wives and daughters and sisters. We need a shock absorber. Moreover it is desired that the Americans enjoy their stay here, and become our friends. The government, therefore, hereby orders you to form a central association which would cater to the amusement of the Americans."

Thus before the first occupation troops marched into Tokyo, the Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA for short) had been incorporated. It was capitalized at 30 million yen (then U.S.$2 million), underwritten by the Kangyo (Hypothec) Bank. The RAA began placing advertisements in newspapers to recruit females. Upon receiving of some 1,500 applications, the organizers quickly proceeded with the opening of facilities in Omori, Ota Ward by Aug 27.

As non-fraternization orders were in place, the RAA enjoyed a virtual monopoly on entertaining the troops, and expanded rapidly, with some 2,000 dancers (most of whom moonlighted as prostitutes) said to be employed.

A munitions factory in East Tokyo was renamed "International Palace," with five of the its workers' dormitories converted to brothels. The soldiers nicknamed the facility "Willow Run," after the sprawling Ford Motor plant in Michigan that manufactured B-24 Liberator bombers. Some of the female workers at the munitions factory simply remained on the premises after production was halted and became prostitutes. The women were paid ¥50 per trick, of which half went to the house. Some serviced as many as 15 soldiers per day.

Gayn calculated that at the average rate of 3,750 soldiers a day, the operator's daily revenues would have reached ¥93,750 -- probably more profitable than its years as a supplier of munitions.

But the organized fun and frolic was not to last. By February 1946, General Headquarters (GHQ) put its foot down and placed the RAA brothels off limits. Sexually transmitted diseases had become rampant among occupation troops, and concerns were that military units risked becoming so depleted of manpower they could not function.

A second reason was pressure on the War Department from women's organizations in the U.S.

After the RAA brothels were deprived of their customer base, many of their workers took to street corners, where they continued to ply their trade. GHQ actually exacerbated this situation by outlawing the civilian brothels that had been in operation before the war.

Hoping to revert to the situation that prevailed in the war's immediate aftermath, a group of prostitutes wrote to Gen. MacArthur and implored him to reconsider. "Your Excellency," the letter read, "now that the International Palace is closed, the GIs are lonely and homesick. Up to now we have felt it our duty to make the GI's stay here pleasant. Please, Your Excellency, reopen the Palace, and let us cheer up the homesick Americans."

Their appeal fell on deaf ears.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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Interesting. Any organisation that brings together producers with government approval and bank loans (and more than likely yakuza involvement, eg in recruitment) is unlikely to totally disappear. I wonder what it has since morphed into.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

I wonder what it has since morphed into.

Japan Inc.?

3 ( +12 / -9 )

Made me chuckle, NCIS. Thanks.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

We fear that the Americans will molest our women -- our wives and daughters and sisters.

Ironic, considering that the government of the time condoned the mass rape of Korean and Chinese women.

8 ( +15 / -7 )

It was projection of their own attitudes.

4 ( +12 / -8 )

girl_in_tokyo - Ironic, considering that the government of the time condoned the mass rape of Korean and Chinese women.

That's precisely why they assumed the Americans would do it.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Yes, the Japanese created "comfort women" stations for occupying GIs.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Fun note. Nikkan Gendai is a kind of erohon.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Governments operate like organised crime syndicates, so no surprise that they are happy to pimp their citizens.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

There doesn't seem to be any mention of Nakasone who started the euphemistic "comfort stations" and who served as PM of Japan and who was working as an LDP politician until recently:

https://apnews.com/article/5ac3e6a3d69f669ac04917f3877e5735

TOKYO (AP) _ In a World War II memoir, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone describes how he personally set up a brothel for his troops while he was a navy sub-lieutenant.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Korea in the 50s and several other nations in modern times did similar to this. There is a real, and sadly historically understandable, precedent for sexual abuse during wartime and the immediate aftermath. The fear that there will be a free for all of rampant abuse seems like something from the dark ages but it’s a constant even today. Trying to make a scheme and even throwing the lowest rung of society at it as a buffer is sad.

Even now Korea and Japan too, have a known but not talked about publicly “agreement “ with ladies of the night so to speak. Many setup near bases or offer services to their members since most “official” brothels won’t.

Interesting topic

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Do people understand that the U.S. took over the Japanese "comfort system" of brothels in South Korea during the war (just watch an episode of MAS*H to know this.) Or that the US military made an official system of "comfort stations" in occupied Japan, with girls being told they needed to work there as part of their patriotic spirit? (https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna18355292).

I am all for having a discussion about this, but the single-minded bashing of Japan by Korea is ridiculous to watch.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

War always results in rape. It's a disgusting thing and why nobody should welcome war in the first place. The 1950 Kokura Incident (widespread rape and murder by US troops) was covered up by the media of the time because the US occupiers mandated what could and couldn't be reported.

We know what disgusting things the Japanese troops did. But there is no invading force anywhere in the world that can point fingers. They are all dirty.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@Peter Payne

"Do people understand....that the US military made an official system of "comfort stations" in occupied Japan,...

No, they don't understand because it didn't happen. Do you read the articles whose links you post? It says the brothels were set up by Japanese police and businessmen, and that they quickly went out of business when the US authorities banned their personnel from going to them.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

We know what disgusting things the Japanese troops did.

Japanese don’t.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

girl_in_tokyoJan. 12  12:48 pm JST

We fear that the Americans will molest our women -- our wives and daughters and sisters.

Ironic, considering that the government of the time condoned the mass rape of Korean and Chinese women.

You have obviousy bought into the false narrative. The very and sole purpose of all Military Brothel Systems, be it Japan, Germany, France which all had such systems, was to (1) prevent mass rape and (2) prevent STD among the troops.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

History shows us that human societies have been constantly changing.

A few hundred years ago, slavery was widespread across the globe. Prostitution was also much more prevalent, I think, than it is today. Lifespans have dramatically increased, from less than 40 in 1800, to close to 80 today.

We seem to have a real problem with dictatorships today, but a few hundred years ago, dictatorships were the norm. "I am the State!" said the French King, something that would have rang true in most countries three hundred years ago. Liberal democracies were almost non-existent until the late 1700s.

My point is that something that may have been acceptable 75 years ago is not necessarily acceptable today, at least not in the same form.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"But the organized fun and frolic was not to last. By February 1946, General Headquarters (GHQ) put its foot down and placed the RAA brothels off limits. Sexually transmitted diseases had become rampant among occupation troops, and concerns were that military units risked becoming so depleted of manpower they could not function."

So, while Japan, which had learned from forcing women across Asia into sexual slavery, made its own women into sex slaves (it had also during the war, too, but which is not often discussed) for the occupation forces (they didn't force them, their own government did!), but it was the occupation forces that stopped it? Quite the different story you hear from many here. And also, the US forces didn't bayonet the women to death if they got pregnant, nor rape them hundreds of times a day.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

OssanAmerica: "The very and sole purpose of all Military Brothel Systems, be it Japan, Germany, France which all had such systems, was to (1) prevent mass rapeand (2) prevent STD among the troops."

Maybe in this case, but most certainly not with the women and little girls the IJA forced into sexual slavery across Asia: they were there to be raped, and were often brutally murdered after (especially if they got pregnant). You have often called them "well paid prostitutes" whom you claim were willing, but they were not. Try and justify it all you want; sexually slavery of any kind, under any type of justification by men, is unacceptable. The more you deny it, the more it goes on with the justifications you attempt to give in your comments.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

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