Tue, 30 Aug 1994

The rape of `Jugun Ianfu': A debt of honor for Japan

By Marianne Katoppo

JAKARTA (JP): The international debt crisis is being discussed extensively these days. Sixty of the so-called poorer countries are burdened by hundreds of billion debt, and urge for a 70 percent reduction.

There is an old Indonesian proverb which says, `Hutang masih dapat diganti, hutang budi dibawa mati' - meaning, "A debt of gold can be paid, a debt of honor will be carried to the grave."

One of the "debts" which has never been paid or even acknowledged after the end of World War II is the debt which Japan owes to the approximately 200,000 Asian women (including some European women held in Japanese concentration camps) who were forced to become jugun ianfu, commonly translated as "volunteer army comfort women".

According to the Kokugo Daijiten, the Japanese language dictionary comparable to Webster, the term ian really means "comfort" in the sense of "solace, rest, peace". The ianfu (fu means "woman") were precisely intended to provide all this to the Japanese soldier exposed to the vicissitudes of war. As stated in one of the most extensive and most popular memoirs of the time, "For the frontline army private who was permanently surrounded by the sound of gunfire and smoke reeking of death, not knowing when death would seize himself, a visit to the comfort centers was the only opportunity to flee from harsh reality. He could feel human again..."(I.M.Kim, Tenno no Guntai to Chosenjin Ianfu, The Imperial Army and Korean Comfort Women, as quoted by George Hicks).

The largest number of women forcibly recruited to make the harassed Japanese invader "feel human" again was from Korea, then a colony of Japan. As Yayori Matsui, the renowned woman journalist, stated to the International Interdisciplinary Conference of Women in New York 1990, "When the Japanese Imperial Army invaded China and Southeast Asia between 1930 and 1945, Japanese soldiers not only raped the women in their path of conquest, but carried away many thousands of young Korean women as Chongshindae or battlefield prostitutes. Korea was a colony of Japan at the time and the plight of these abused women was inexpressible. They were forced to sexually serve 30 to 40 soldiers each day. As Japan was forced to withdraw its troops nearing the end of the war, these women were abandoned in the jungles and on other battlefields and some were even killed."

Allied reports also confirm that many comfort women, such as in Myanmar and Micronesia, were forced to join in the collective suicide of beleaguered Japanese forces.

Japan was in fact a signatory to the three International Conventions of 1904, 1910 and 1921, which prohibited the traffic in women and minors with a view to prostitution. However, these conventions had a special clause which was immediately seized upon by Japan when making arrangements for the provision of comfort women to their invading army. The clause stated that an exception could be made for the colonies of the signatory countries, if this was stated in advance.

Japan did state its intention in advance, and therefore felt free to carry away as many Korean or Taiwanese women as it pleased. If no outright force was used, the ploy was to promise these women scholarships or jobs. A United States Office of War Information Report of 1 Oct. 1944 records the testimonies of twenty Korean comfort women liberated by the U.S. Army in Myanmar. The women stated that they had been promised employment as nurses in army hospitals.

In fact, these tactics were used all over the occupied territories, including Indonesia. One of the causes of the PETA uprising in February 1944 was the fact that many young Javanese girls were taken away with the promise of scholarships only to end up in Surabaya army brothels.

The fate of one such young woman is very movingly described in a novel, Kadarwati, wanita dengan lima nama (Kadarwati, the woman with five names) by Pandir Kelana, the pseudonym of retired Maj. Gen. R.M. Slamet Danusudirdjo. Perhaps one needs to be an army general to have the courage and the clout to expose these atrocities. It is a fact that for nearly half a century the Japanese government has denied any responsibility for the plight of the jugun ianfu. It was only after a Japanese professor, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, unearthed some official documents in the archives in 1992 and made them public, that the involvement of the Japanese Imperial Army with the forcible prostitution became proven beyond any doubt.

One of the most important was the "Official document of 1938 from the Japanese Ministry of War about the recruitment of women for the comfort centers". What makes this document even more remarkable is that it was signed by Gen. Inamura Hitoshi, who would lead the invasion of Indonesia in 1942 and help to set up the military government in Java.

As Yoshimi points out, "The reluctance of the present Japanese government to admit the truth about the involvement of their predecessors is also the reason that attempts to do historical research about the forcible prostitution in Southeast Asia in the thirties and during World War II are being frustrated repeatedly."

This can be confirmed by this writer. Much of the source material for this article was kindly supplied by other embassies; the Japanese Embassy, though contacted many times, always was too busy to reply to queries.

At the commemoration of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama did say that war victims in Indonesia must be compensated. The government was just deliberating in what form this compensation should be made. This is commendable, but history shows that a previous prime minister, Miyazawa, during his visit to South Korea in 1991 already made a public apology for the distress suffered by many Korean women; and then in August 1993, the next prime minister, Hosokawa, also admitted that Japan had conducted a very aggressive war and was considering a substantial all encompassing apology. Maybe such statements of Prime Ministers would be more credible when followed by concrete action instead of so much consideration and deliberation.

Apart from the approximately 10,000 Indonesian women forced to become jugun ianfu, the Japanese Sixteenth Army also took young Dutch women from four concentration camps in Central Java. There is fully documented evidence of 35 women, most of them young girls, being forcibly taken to Japanese army brothels in Semarang when there happened to be a shortage of available prostitutes early in 1944. There was a high incidence of venereal disease among the professional prostitutes, and the Japanese Army wished to minimize the risk of their good men being infected.

In 1947, the responsible officers were duly tried during the Batavia Process, "for war crimes of the B and C categories", i.e. abuse of martial law and crimes against humanity. Of the 13 held culpable, one had already returned to Japan and committed suicide there. One was sentenced to death and the rest sentenced to imprisonment ranging from two to 20 years. However, in 1956 the last of these war criminals was already released from Sugamo prison.

It is remarkable, as Yoshimi doesn't fail to point out, that the International Military Tribunal of the Far East in Tokyo, and also the Batavia Process, were mainly concerned with crimes against American or European citizens. Asian victims of war, and certainly the Asian jugun ianfu, were ignored.

In discussions about war reparations, comfort women were also neglected. In the 1965 treaty between Japan and South Korea there is no mention at all about the jugun ianfu. On the whole, theirs was a miserable lot. If they had managed to survive at all, and had the good fortune to marry and lead a more or less normal life, many were so ravaged that they were never able to have children.

Also, they were burdened by shame.

Like in the case of many rape victims, they interiorized their terrible experiences and were unable to talk about it.

Also, the situation in Asia being what it is, it was just impossible for jugun ianfu in Korea, Taiwan, China and countries of Southeast Asia to come forward and expose "their shameful past" to bring their tormentors to justice.

Even Dutch women coping with less severe cultural constraints found it impossible to speak out. As Jeanne Ruff O'Herne, a Dutch woman now settled in Australia, says, "It took me 50 years to break the silence. What the Japanese did to me is not something about which one can talk easily. For 50 years I have wanted to scream it out, but I just was not able to."

She had been one of the young girls forcibly taken from the Ambarawa camp in Central Java in 1944. One of her most bitter memories is of a Japanese military physician who appeared in the brothel one day. Jeanne naively assumed that, being a physician, he would have some compassion. She told him of their plight and reminded him that this was in flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention. His response was to chase her all over the house and rape her.

The Dutch Stichting voor Japanse Ereschulden (Foundation for Japanese Debts of Honor) last month filed for compensation at US$20,000 per person for former Japanese concentration camp inmates -- including the jugun ianfu. The Dutch government having signed the San Francisco Treaty with Japan cannot make any more official claims; however, it can and it does give moral support to the victims and is also willing to inform the Japanese government about this.

The Dutch action -- for an estimated 65 women -- got the world's attention. Other countries are noticeably reluctant to speak up for their women.

In Indonesia, 1994 is the Year for Women Youth and Development. In the case of the young women who were so brutally abused as jugun ianfu, there is still much that could be done. The Legal Aid Society and other groups or individuals have already made some efforts. There is still material in the archives and also in the recollections of certain people which have never been adequately tapped.

On Aug. 19, the United Nations Human Rights Commission found that the forcible prostitution of approximately 200,000 Asian women by the Japanese Imperial Army had indeed been "a flagrant transgression of human rights." Japan has now promised to pay this debt of honor.

For many of the jugun ianfu it is too late, many have died. Besides, in the early 1960's Indonesia made a claim of US$17 billion in war reparations. Japan paid $800 million: $200 million remission of debts, $200 million in the form of scholarships for Indonesian students, and the rest in capital goods. Now that the yen is somewhat stronger than in the 1960's, perhaps we may look forward to the outstanding $ 16.2 billion?

The writer is an observer of social issues based in Jakarta.

Window: The forcible prostitution of approximately 200,000 Asian women by the Japanese Imperial Army had indeed been "a flagrant transgression of human rights."