Archives give a glimpse of life at comfort stations

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Archives give a glimpse of life at comfort stations

China’s Jilin Provincial Archives disclosed yesterday a set of Japanese documents that backed Japan’s responsibility in the forceful mobilization of women to serve as sex slaves in military brothels during World War II.

Those documents also included a letter written by a Japanese national living in Heilongjiang Province, China, which described how a group of 20 Korean women were “forced to a comfort station through [Japan’s] National Mobilization Law [1938-45].”

The correspondence, dated 1941, was sent to an acquaintance back home.

According to the researchers at the archives, it is rare to find materials that specifically documents this historical event, as much of the evidence gathered about the “comfort women,” as they are euphemistically known, has come indirectly from victims’ testimonies.

The Jilin Provincial Archives, located in northeast China, recently completed researching and organizing approximately 10,000 documents left by the Japanese Imperial Army during its occupation of Manchuria.

The archives office, with the help of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed to the Korean media 25 sets of documents related to comfort women.

Of those, six referenced Korean comfort women and included never-before-seen letters, military police reports and an array of rare documentation, including telephone records.

Other materials included telephone records from the Central Bank of Manchou, established by Japan’s puppet state of Manchuria, which show what the Jilin researchers call the first possibly concrete evidence of the “purchase” of comfort women by the Japanese military.

The bank’s telephone records detailed four expenditures between December 1944 and March 1945 for comfort women that amounted at the time to 532,000 yen in total.

Another report by the Japanese military police dispatched in Nanjing said that of the 109 women living at a comfort station in Wuhu, in southeastern Anhui Province, 36 were Korean.

The military police report in February 1938 also claimed that there was a need to “recruit more comfort women because there is a shortage on location.” The researchers clarified that “recruit” here meant “forceful mobilization.”

“Korea is a close neighbor of China and shares many of the same experiences of suffering,” Yin Huai, who heads the Jilin archives office, told reporters. “We hope to share our findings with various Korean branches and further advance our research.”

Further evidence of the Japanese Imperial Army’s forceful recruitment of Asian women as sex slaves and its establishment of military brothels, or “comfort stations,” during wartime comes despite denials from members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

As current Japanese right-wingers “state that there is no proof of the forced mobilization by the [Japanese] military or authorities,” Yin added, “it will be of interest what sort of influence these new documents will have as the Shinzo Abe government [considers a re-examination] the Kono Statement.”

Last week, Abe said that he plans to uphold the Kono Statement of 1993, issued by Yohei Kono, the chief cabinet secretary at the time, which acknowledged and apologized for its recruitment of comfort women. Seoul, however, continues to remain wary, as Abe has so far shown a consistent track record of whitewashing the issue.

The Japanese prime minister raised controversy during his first term in May 2007 for stating that “there is no evidence to prove [that the women were coerced],” an opinion recently echoed by Yoshihide Suga, his current chief cabinet secretary.

Historians and UN reports state that Japan forced up to 200,000 women, mostly Chinese and Korean, to become sex slaves during wartime.

Another confidential document from the U.S. National Archives revealed this month a system used to rank comfort women, with Korean women ranking lower compared to the Japanese. In an interview conducted on April 25, 1945, by a U.S. military official, a Chinese nurse revealed that Japanese military doctors visited a comfort station in Manchuria every Friday, where the recruited women were forced to undergo routine medical checkups.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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