COMFORT WOMEN by Yoshimi Yoshiaki


Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military During World War II
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A controversial Japanese bestseller that uncovers the imperial military’s institutionalization of rape.

Yoshiaki, writes translator O’Brien in her useful introduction, is one of but a few Japanese historians who have challenged the conventional view that their compatriots were unwilling and unwitting victims of a handful of military expansionists who led Japan into WWII. Instead, Yoshiaki suggests, most Japanese went to war willingly and many conducted themselves with appalling brutality, committing crimes that were seldom prosecuted following the Allied victory. Her case in point is the forced servitude of women in military brothels established in Japanese-occupied nations throughout Asia. Much of Yoshiaki’s text is a grim recitation of facts and statistics, with quotations from official documents; it becomes more vivid with the testimonial of women themselves, one of whom recalls the assembly-line quality of the brothel, where soldiers “proceeded in conveyer-belt fashion in an atmosphere of a particular sort of tension.” Yoshiaki notes that the Japanese military established “comfort houses” as a means of placating soldiers who were “perpetually critical, were not respectful toward officers, and were in general resistant to the army’s internal discipline”—a far cry from the widely prevalent view of the wartime Japanese military as an unquestioningly obedient monolith. Serving not only as a “wartime benefit” for soldiers, the institution of sexual slavery was also meant to curb freelance rape. So, Yoshiaki writes, at the urging of citizens who feared rape at the hands of their conquerors, the Japanese government even established brothels for the American occupation forces until the US army issued an order forbidding them in March 1946.

Useful for students of human-rights questions and Asian history alike.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-231-120320-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2000


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