Japan admits using women sex slaves TC Startling report details brothels from 1932 to 1945

August 05, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Japan's government gave up six decades of pretending yesterday, admitting that the Imperial Army systematically forced tens of thousands of women into sex slavery for its soldiers between 1932 and 1945.

After more than three years of outraged complaint from Korean, Philippine and Dutch former inmates of the slave brothels, scores of whom have filed lawsuits here and elsewhere, the admission stripped away Tokyo's year-old, last-ditch fallback position. Japan admitted that there had been army "comfort centers" in World War II but insisted that there was no evidence the women had been coerced.

The admission itself yesterday was stunning for a nation historically reluctant to discuss the atrocities in its past. But the reach of the system of sex slavery yesterday's government report described was equally stunning. It reached from the watery rice paddies of Burma to the sands of New Guinea and from the blizzards of northeastern China to the equatorial jungles of Indonesia. History has no record of a comparably extensive and systematic network of military sex slavery.

Based on a yearlong investigation, the government acknowledged yesterday that most of the tens of thousands of brothel inmates had been "recruited against their own will" and that virtually all were kept "in misery" and "in a coercive atmosphere" that often limited their movements even while off duty.

"In the war areas, these women were forced to move with the military under constant military control and . . . were deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery," a government report said.

The report also revealed a coldhearted political rationale for the practice. The women were used to satisfy the desires of conquering Japanese soldiers and thus limit rape and keep down the incidence of venereal disease.

Yesterday's admission was the last major act of the ousted government of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, which will be dissolved soon after the new Diet, Japan's parliament, opens a special post-election session today.

A year ago, Mr. Miyazawa promised South Korea's then-president Roh Tae Woo a thorough investigation. Most of the slaves are believed to have been from Korea, which was then a colony of Japan.

The admission was announced by Yohei Kono, the new head of the ousted Liberal Democratic Party, who until tomorrow is the chief cabinet spokesman.

"We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above ,, instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history," he said.

Mr. Kono spoke at a hurriedly organized news conference. It was called one day after Tsutomu Hata, who will become deputy prime minister in a new government possibly as early as today, publicly called for "sincere apologies" for World War II to Japan's neighbors and "an unflinching look" at Japan's own history.

"Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women," Mr. Kono said. As chief Cabinet secretary under Mr. Miyazawa, Mr. Kono coordinated the investigation for the past year.

"The government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women," he said.

No word on compensation

However, Mr. Kono did not resolve the question of compensation. He only said that Japan would continue to "consider seriously" how best to show remorse. The official statement also stopped short of acknowledging the acts as a war crime, as demanded by the former sex slaves.

Nonetheless, in South Korea, Foreign Minister Han Sung Joo expressed "appreciation" of Japan's admission but said Seoul still wants more information about the precise role Japan's army-dominated government played and more efforts to determine the number of women involved.

Historians give estimates anywhere from 70,000 to 200,000. The government report that accompanied Mr. Kono's statement yesterday said only that there is no basis for a clear estimate, though, "it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women."

Most were Korean women

In addition to Korean women and girls, who by all accounts predominated, the "comfort" corps included an unestimated number from Japan and women from China, Taiwan (then a Japanese colony), the Philippines, Indonesia and the Netherlands, the report said. (Indonesia, then known as the Dutch East Indies, was a colony at the time of the Japanese invasion).

The slavery system's extraordinary extent and degree of organization were suggested by some of the details produced by the investigation:

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