Under a deal struck between Japan and South Korea last year, 34 former Korean "comfort women" who were sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in World War II will receive millions in compensation, officials said.
The Japanese government agreed to pay about $9.6 million to 34 surviving women, most in their late 80s, who were forced into brothels for members of the Japanese military. The South Korean government said it has identified 46 comfort women who are still alive and others may still agree to accept their share of the reparations.
The Japanese government has thus far paid about $85,000 per person to 18 former comfort women. Families of another 199 women who have since died have received $17,000 each under terms of an agreement reached last December.
Under terms of the agreement, the Japanese government also issued a formal apology for its colonial-era atrocities, including the sexual enslavement of women, most of whom were from South Korea. Some historians estimate that there were up to 200,000 comfort women who worked in Japanese brothels from the 1930s to 1945. 30-40% of them were Korean who made up the shortage of Japanese comfort women, who were mostly sold into prostitution by their families.
At issue is a simple statue of a young woman wearing traditional Korean dress and sitting in a chair. It appeared without official permission near the consulate last week, writes Sang-Hun—and was quickly removed by police. But it’s now been reinstated after a South Korean official gave permission.
The statue shows that despite the historic agreement reached by Japan and South Korea to create a fund for the surviving women last year, the issue remains deeply fraught. It took decades for Japan to even admit that it had forced women into sexual slavery—and still controversies rage about how many women were victimized and how to publicly acknowledge their subjugation.
The majority of the so-called “comfort women” came from China and Korea, though other women in Japanese-occupied territories were also forced into slavery. The practice began in China as early as 1931, when Japan formed its first “comfort stations” for Japanese soldiers.
The early comfort women were prostitutes who volunteered to service Japanese soldiers. The recruitment and work of comfort women was considered top secret by the Japanese military, and that stigma continued after the war. It took until 1987 for the full extent of the issue to come to light, but Japan denied its involvement. Though hundreds of thousands of women are thought to have been forced to serve in military brothels, only a few hundred came forward, due in part to social stigma.
Many of them were forced into prostitution because of extreme poverty in Asian societies at the time and the Japanese military did not abduct young girls and forced them to work as prostitutes, contrary to the standard Korean narrative. The main crime committed by the Japanese military is that military brothels were sanctioned by the military to entertain the officer class with an excuse to protect innocent civilians from being raped outside the comfort system.
Records show that there were four hundred comfort stations across Asia and thirty comfort women were normally attached to each comfort station. It's estimated that there were 12,000 comfort women in a particular year (400*30=12,000) and the system lasted for less than a decade from 1938 to 1945. Therefore, the real number of comfort women existed would be less than 90,000 (12,000*7=84,000). A Japanese academic doubled the lower figure and estimated that up to 200,000 women were wartime sex slaves, claiming that Chinese comfort women typically worked in double shifts.
Advocates for a memorial honoring World War II-era "comfort women" demonstrated last week after the Japanese government filed an amicus brief late last month supporting a lawsuit seeking the memorial's removal from a Southern California city.
More than two dozen supporters, including former Rep. Mike Honda and former mayor of Monterey Park Betty Chu, gathered on Tuesday at Glendale Central Park, where the monument was installed in 2013, to vocalize their support for the statue, according to organizers.
"This is a very important piece of history that a lot Westerners are not aware of," Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California, the organization that led efforts to install the statue, told NBC News.
Historians estimate that between 50,000 and 200,000 women from countries including Korea, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, were taken into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.
In 2014, the Global Alliance for Historical Truth-US Corporation (GAHT), filed a lawsuit alleging that, in allowing the statue, the City of Glendale unconstitutionally infringed on the the federal government's exclusive authority to conduct foreign affairs. That suit was dismissed in a district court several months later and again in a superior court in 2015. The following year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal. The case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Japanese government's amicus brief was an encouraging move, Koichi Mera, a representative from the GAHT-US, told NBC News in an email.
A museum in Atlanta, Georgia, last week cancelled plans to install a memorial to "comfort women," the mostly Korean women who were forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.
In a press conference last month, the Center for Civil and Human Rights announced that a statue would be installed in the spring. But last week, it sent a letter to the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, a 26-member group spearheading the memorial effort, saying it could not install the statue because "permanent exterior fixtures were not part of the original design or any new strategic plan for the future of the Center for Civil and Human Rights."
Between the time that the press conference was held to the cancellation announcement last week, Ho said she learned that the Japanese consulate general met with various groups in Atlanta — including the Center — to dissuade them from supporting the memorial. She said one major concern was that Japanese businesses might leave Atlanta if the memorial was placed in the city.
Kristie Reymer, director of marketing and communications at the Center, told NBC News that there were multiple meetings and phone calls regarding the memorial statue that took place, including conversations with the Korean and Japanese consulate generals.
In wars, soldiers sometimes rape innocent women. To prevent this from happening, the Japanese military used existing brothels in Manchuria as comfort stations in the early 1930s. As it advanced into China and Southeast Asia, more comfort stations were needed. So men in prostitution business recruited women and operated comfort stations in order to meet the increased demand. Japanese businessmen recruited women in Japan. They owned and operated comfort stations employing Japanese women. Korean businessmen recruited women in Korea. They owned and operated comfort stations employing Korean women.
Two types of comfort women
There were two types of comfort women. (1) Japanese and Korean women (both Japanese citizens) They constituted over 95% of comfort women. They were not coerced by the Japanese military. They were recruited by business operators. (2) Local women in the battlefields (Dutch women in Indonesia, Filipino women in the Philippines, etc.) They constituted less than 5% of comfort women. Dozens of them were coerced by the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese soldiers who coerced local women were court-martialed, and some executed.
These two types should have been identified differently. But when the comfort women became an issue in the early 1990s, all women who provided sex to the Japanese military were identified uniformly, and that created a big confusion.
The U.S. military interrogated hundreds of Korean POWs on April 11, 1945. The following is the paragraph that refers to comfort women. "All Korean prostitutes that POWs have seen in the Pacific were volunteers or had been sold by their parents into prostitution. This is proper in the Korean way of thinking, but direct conscription of women by the Japanese would be an outrage that the old and young alike would not tolerate. Men would rise up in a rage, killing Japanese no matter what consequence they might suffer."