Published On: Thu, Mar 4th, 2021

Japan’s Comfort Women Backpack Issue: Examining the Facts

One of the most bizarre stories of the 1960s is that of elderly Korean women who claim that Japanese soldiers force them at gunpoint to work as sex slaves. 

The Japanese government responds that in 1965, the claims by these women were waived by the Korean government in a treaty they signed. However, the Japanese government sympathized with them and offered money as compensation for the crimes committed. Even after doing so, the Koreans continued to complain, and the Japanese offered even more financial compensation.

By doing this, the Japanese thought that they had solved the issue once and for all, especially after the Koreans promised to bury the issue for good. But this wasn’t the case. The process was started all over again by the Korean government after a new political party took power and declared that the apology from the Japs was not sincere.

Korean comfort women 1945 photo/ US archives

There is nothing wrong with expressing sympathy to elderly women or compensating them for their ordeals in life. However, the claims about enslaved Japanese comfort women backpack are false. The Japanese army never forced these women into sex slaves working in their brothels. The truth about this story is that it is factually incorrect.

To protect its military from contracting venereal diseases in the 1930s, the Japanese came up with the idea of setting up brothels. Being brothels, these spots were full of prostitutes, as you would expect, who in most cases always follow soldiers wherever they go to. The same thing happened to the Japanese army.

But rather than being free of venereal diseases, many of these women had these ailments. The army then came up with the idea to build brothels to keep its soldiers free from disease that could have otherwise rendered them ineffective in war. 

These brothels would require their prostitutes to undergo medical tests weekly, the soldiers to use condoms, and both prostitutes and clients to disinfect themselves after sex. The brothels that agreed to these conditions were designated as comfort stations by the army and prohibited from visiting any other spot.

To be allowed to work within Japan, these brothels required the Korean prostitutes they hire to sign contracts that had variations in them. Because those working as prostitutes face numerous challenges in terms of payment, those in these brothels had a deal with the owners that they would be given a high upfront payment as long as they agreed to a maximum service term that could be reduced if they worked hard. 

Korean women working in Tokyo brothels would receive an upfront payment ranging between 1,000 to 1,200 yen. On top of the payment, the brothels would give the prostitute a fraction of the money she generated and pay for boarding and room charges.

If the prostitute could generate enough money to repay the amount she was paid when she joined them, the brothels would allow her to quit earlier than the agreed maximum of six years. Most prostitutes in Tokyo were able to quit in about three years after paying back their advances. Therefore, the story that brothels manipulated accounts to keep them from quitting early is nothing but a lie.

Back home, licensed Korean prostitutes worked for a term of three years, unlike the six in Japan. These two contracts have similar provisions, and in both countries, most prostitutes were able to retire from this business line by their mid-20s.

Even before the Japanese military launched the comfort stations, there were unlicensed Korean prostitutes in Japan, Korea, and many other places across Asia.

Author: Jeremy Biberdorf

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