WWII Japanese sex trafficking, like Nazi Germany’s is a neglected story. It is an example of de facto and de jure coercion in Asian labor contracts, esp. sexual coercion and its revisionist history no different than RWNJs in the US when teaching intersectional history.
In the last decade or so, a sector of Japanese society that has always claimed that comfort women’s stories are flawed — if not false — has even gained momentum. Representing mostly the far right, this sector found support among prominent politicians as early as the 1990s. These politicians included the late Shinzo Abe, who spearheaded a pushback against Japan’s brutal wartime image and, among other things, sought to downplay state responsibility for what was done to the comfort women.
Abe was a stalwart in the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan for most of the postwar era. Abe would become Japan’s premier twice. By his second administration (2012-2020), state-issued textbooks no longer contained any references to comfort women — which actually included girls, some as young as 10 years old. The textbooks also highlighted Japan‘s World War II slogan, “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” which was purportedly based on freeing backward Asia from Western rule.
But as Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Professor Kim Puja pointed out, the comfort women issue is particularly sensitive for the conservative Japanese establishment that is seeking to glorify the past. The reality of the comfort women is a direct violation of this narrative, she told Asia Democracy Chronicles.
Kim added, “The fact that vulnerable women were systematically raped by the Japanese military is a big blow to the nationalist viewpoint. This is why nationalists refer to them as prostitutes.”
Tens of thousands of girls and young women (some estimates reach up to 200,000) across Asia were forced into the Japanese military’s comfort system between 1931 and 1945. For decades, they kept silent, largely because most of them could not bear reliving the trauma. But after Kim Hak-sun and Rosa Henson came out in public and told their stories as comfort women, other survivors began stepping out of the shadows and narrating their own harrowing experiences.
In 2014, the Asahi Shimbun delivered a mea culpa. It admitted to a more than two-decade-long championing of the long-since discredited Seiji Yoshida. Yoshida had falsely claimed he had forced Korean women into the comfort women program. The forced recruitment assertion collapsed.
The default argument for those committed to a comfort woman narrative scathing of Japan then changed. It transformed into an argument that the women had been coerced. And accordingly, little changed.
The coercion of women into prostitution can come in the form of direct pressure from criminal elements or trusted elders. But is generally economic. It is particularly prevalent during wartime, especially so among the women of a defeated nation.
In Blood and Ruins (Penguin Books, 2017), Richard Overy writes about sexual predation after the German surrender during World War II. There was "not a wide distance" between the rape carried out by Russian soldiers and the inducements of cigarettes and food by American GIs, he claimed. It was a process "as close to rape as you can get." The postwar reality of "hardship and hunger" stretched the concept of "consensual sex to its limit", Overy asserts.
In 1943, one in sixteen British casualties in the Asian theater of the Second World War was a result of combat. Sexually transmitted diseases accounted for the remainder. The British were located around the India/Burma border, an area that had been devastated by the Bengal famine. That was a disaster characterized by negligence and incompetence at best and by design at worst. It should not surprise anyone that there were "willing prostitutes" aplenty in the locations where the British troops were based.