Wako Journal; History Scholar in Japan Exposes a Brutal Chapter
When Japan’s television networks recently began broadcasting the accounts of Korean women and girls who were kidnapped and forced to serve in battlefront brothels for the Imperial Army, even Japanese who prefer never to think about World War II said they felt shamed by the years of agony the women endured.
But the Japanese Government had the same ready answer it has had for decades: A few words of sympathy for the tens of thousands of victims whose lives were shattered, and a curt dismissal of their demands for Government compensation. The brothels, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said, were run by private entrepreneurs, not the Government. No one in the Foreign Ministry, though, was ready for Yoshiaki Yoshimi.
Mr. Yoshimi, a history professor with a a knack for coming up with historical documents that Japan would prefer to keep buried, listened to the Government’s assertions on television in his cramped apartment here last month and knew immediately that the Government was rewriting history.
“I was outraged,” he said the other day. “And I knew that clear evidence existed that would force the Government to acknowledge its responsibility.” Debunking the Myth
Over the last three weeks, Mr. Yoshimi singlehandedly debunked the myth that the Japanese Government had not organized and run the brothels. He created a sensation in Tokyo and Seoul and forced Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa to issue a formal apology to the Korean people.
This week, reversing decades of flat refusals, Mr. Miyazawa conceded that the Government would have to find some way of redressing the women’s grievances, though he stopped short of promising financial reparations to what Japan euphemistically calls the “comfort women.”
In Japan, social pressures not to challenge the status quo are overwhelming. War atrocities are a particular taboo. “I have lived here all my life, and I know that Japan only talks about half of its history,” Mr. Yoshimi said. “The half where Japan is victimized.”
It is widely believed that Japan started building “comfort stations” in the mid-1930’s, and 100,000 to 200,000 women were eventually lured or dragged to Japanese battlefronts across Asia. Most were children and teen-agers from Korea, a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945, but many others came from China and a few from Japan itself.
Confined to filthy shanties, the women were forced to have sex with soldiers, who were often rotated through the “comfort stations” day and night at 15 minute intervals. Venereal disease was rampant. Thousands of the women died, including many who were apparently killed by soldiers.
Virginity is a virtual requisite for marriage in Korean society, and many of the survivors were shunned by their families when they returned.
Until recently South Korea’s school textbooks, like Japan’s, have scarcely mentioned the women’s plight. With news organizations focused on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, however, a few of the surviving Korean “comfort women” decided the moment was ripe to press their case.
Three came to Tokyo in December to file a damages suit against the Japanese Government, prompting the Government’s chief spokesman, Koichi Kato, to reiterate that Japan considered all of its war reparations to South Korea paid, and to deny that the army had organized or run the brothels.
Apart from the “comfort women” themselves, no one seemed ready to dispute that reading of history. But as he watched on television, Mr. Yoshimi recalled that a few years ago, combing through the Self-Defense Agency’s library to research Japan’s use of poison gas during the war, he had tripped across a military order to set up a brothel.
Born outside Hiroshima in 1946, Mr. Yoshimi has spent his professional life trying to get a glimpse of a war he is too young to remember. “I grew up hearing my older brothers and sisters tell about the day they saw a mushroom cloud erupt from the center of the city,” he said. “I could feel the war misery. I’ve always wanted to grasp what happened.”
Certain that more documents existed that would disprove the Government’s contention, Mr. Yoshimi returned to the library over the New Year’s holiday. In two days of searching, he came up with a small trove, including one document titled “Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels.” It ordered the quick construction of “facilities for sexual comfort,” to stop the troops occupying China from raping women in the regions they controlled. It bears the “hanko,” or personal stamps, of leaders of the high command of the Japanese Army. Documents Given to Reporter
Mr. Yoshimi handed the documents to a reporter at the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest dailies, just before Mr. Miyazawa traveled to South Korea for a meeting with President Roh Tae Woo. Almost overnight, the Government’s arguments collapsed.
In South Korea, where anger over the issue was already on the rise, protesters threw rocks at the Japanese Embassy and burned Emperor Akihito in effigy. Mr. Roh’s Government has demanded compensation for the women, though Japan still argues that issues of reparation were settled in 1965, in a treaty normalizing relations with Seoul. Korea has retaliated by ordering its school books to be revised with more detailed and graphic accounts of the fate of the women.
Back in Tokyo, a telephone line set up last week by groups supporting the comfort women drew 230 calls, the vast majority from men in their 60’s and 70’s who confirmed that the military established and ran the brothels, and confessed to using them.
The Japanese press reported that a 71-year-old Japanese woman, a sixth-grade teacher in Korea during the war, called to tell how she was ordered by the principal to choose “physically well-developed” girls for war service. She chose eight girls, thinking, she said, that they would be put to work in an aircraft-parts factory. Back in Korea a few years ago, she visited some other former students and learned the truth.
“I could not meet the women,” she said. “They were still too hurt, physically and mentally. I am so very sorry.”
Japan Admits It Set Up Army Brothels
Bowing to pressure from neighboring countries to acknowledge a brutal chapter of its wartime history, Japan reversed itself today and admitted that its military had recruited and organized tens of thousands of women in a vast network of Government-run brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
As recently as six months ago, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and other senior officials denied that the wartime Government had organized and run the brothels, in which thousands of women died, insisting that they were set up by entrepreneurs. Thus, the officials said, Japan was not in a position to pay compensation.
The admission today illustrates the continuing emotional power of the legacy of World War II in East Asia, where Tokyo’s actions remain suspect and many people feel that Japan has not sufficiently atoned for its actions.
In recent months, Japan and South Korea have engaged in an increasingly angry diplomatic dispute in which Seoul supported the demands for compensation by women who survived the brothels. Protests spread to China and other countries.
Along with the admission of Government complicity, Japan released a host of documents disclosing details about how the elaborate system was run. Some documents provided the Japanese high command’s justification for the brothels, arguing that they would discourage troops from raping local women, acts that would have intensified civilian resistance to the Japanese Army as it swept through Asia.
Japanese officials said they were searching for a way to provide financial aid for the Korean women, but they declined to use the term compensation. Details were vague, and it was unclear what the Government would do about women in the Philippines, Indonesia, China and other nations who were also forced into brothels.
Japanese officials had offered apologies to the victims of the brothels, but the refusal to accept Government responsibility had been widely condemned in Asia as an example of Tokyo’s reluctance to face war atrocities. Taboos and Denial
Taboos against discussing such subjects are still strong in Japan, where schoolchildren learn little of the reasons or details of the invasion of Asia and Japan’s ultimate defeat. By releasing the report today, Japan tried to show that its handling of such issues is changing.
Koichi Kato, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, announced the step at a news conference. “I would like to express the sincere apology and remorse of the Government of Japan to all those, irrespective of nationality or place of origin, who underwent indescribable pain and suffering as comfort women,” he said, using the common term for the women. “My heart really aches when I listen to those who speak of this matter.”
Mr. Kato was one of several officials who, six months ago, repeated the contention that the Government had had nothing to do with the brothels. Prime Minister Miyazawa told Parliament in December that compensation payments might raise taxes and that the issue of compensation had been settled after the war, when Japan provided assistance to South Korea, China and other victims of aggression.
Although many Japanese today remember the brothels, their existence did not become a major public issue until last year, when a group of elderly South Korean women said they had decided to set aside their embarrassment and end their decades of silence.
Japan denied that the Government had been involved, but in January a history professor, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, asserted that there had been a cover-up and made public documents he said he had stumbled upon in the library of the Japan Self-Defense Agency.
Professor Yoshimi’s discovery forced Mr. Miyazawa, during a visit to South Korea earlier this year, to promise President Roh Tae Woo that Japan would conduct a full-scale study. Mr. Kato said today that the study, based on 127 documents in Government archives, “confirmed that there was Government involvement” in the most minute details of running the brothels.
The documents showed that military officials had not merely arranged for troops to visit women, a common practice in wartime, but had kept meticulous records about venereal disease, revenue generated and prices.
One detail that created a stir at the news conference today was that fees had been based on nationality: one yen for a Chinese woman, one and a half for a Korean woman and two yen for a Japanese woman.
Mr. Kato said none of the documents confirmed the testimony of several Japanese veterans that many young girls were kidnapped from their families in Korea and shipped to China.
He said the Government had ruled out hearings where some women could testify. Such hearings, he contended, might violate the privacy of other victims. Weary of Apologizing
Tokyo says formal compensation would be inappropriate because the issue of damages was settled long ago. But Mr. Miyazawa has made it clear that he believes some help should be extended to the survivors.
Asked today why it took 47 years for the Government to confront the truth, Mr. Kato said: “We did our best. Such problems, unthinkable in a time of peace, occurred in the midst of a war in which behavior often defied common sense. But I have to admit that it took a certain amount of time for us to recognize this problem correctly.”
Apologizing for the war is a source of controversy in Japan, with rightists arguing that it has become humiliating for leaders, including the Emperor, to be asked again and again to apologize when they travel abroad. Many other Japanese say their country has already shown remorse and the time has come to put the war behind them.
In Asia, this question has been revived by Tokyo’s plans to dispatch troops abroad for the first time since World War II — as members of United Nations peacekeeping forces. Their tasks are to be limited to humanitarian and logistical functions, but the mere prospect has provoked debate and warnings from South Korea and China.
In Seoul, Japan’s action today did little to quiet criticism. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said, “Our tentative examination of the announcement by the Japanese authorities indicates that their investigations have not brought the whole truth to light.”
In its report, Japan placed no exact figures on the number of women forced to work, though estimates by historians range from 100,000 to 200,000. No one knows how many survived, in part because most of the Korean women have refused to talk about it, out of fear of becoming objects of derision and shame.
Japan to Pay Women Forced Into Brothels
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: June 15, 1995, New York Times
In an effort to atone for Japanese behavior during World War II, the Government today announced the establishment of a fund to help tens of thousands of women whom the Japanese Army forced to be sex slaves during the war.
The fund is an attempt to settle a longstanding irritant in relations with other Asian countries by showing remorse for forcing “comfort women” — as they were called — to have sex with troops in front-line brothels. Most of the women were Korean, but some were Dutch, Indonesian, Filipino and Chinese.
But the proposal falls short of what victims have been asking for. In addition, as a show of remorse it was undermined when legislators in the upper house of Parliament decided today to kill a resolution expressing remorse for Japan’s conduct during World War II.
The lower house approved a very weak resolution of regret on Friday night. That resolution included no apology, and said only that Japan engaged in some “aggressive-like acts” in the context of other countries doing the same things.
Resolutions are statements of each individual chamber in Parliament, so the lower house declaration still stands. But as a show of national remorse, it was undercut today by the informal decision of upper house legislators not even to consider such a resolution in the current session.
The “comfort women” for whom the fund was set up today are people like Kim Yong Sil, a Korean woman who has testified that at the age of 13 she was picked up off the street, gang-raped by Japanese officers and forced to work in a brothel. When she resisted, she was tortured and punched, losing two teeth.
Miss Kim was forced to have sex with 20 to 30 men a day. Like many of the “comfort women,” she never married afterward.
In announcing the fund for the women, the Japanese Government said it was taking the action “based on our remorse for the past on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.”
Kozo Igarashi, the chief Cabinet secretary, said: “When these projects are carried out, the Government will express the nation’s feelings of sincere remorse and apologize to the former wartime comfort women. In addition, the Government will collate historical documents on past wartime comfort women, to serve as a lesson of history.”
The fund will be considered private, because the Government has been hesitant to pay official compensation to foreign victims of its army’s misconduct during the war. But the fund will be subsidized with public money, and officials are also expected to lean on corporations for donations.
The fund, called the “Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women,” will support medical and social welfare projects for former “comfort women.” It is expected to pay them a modest sum, cover their general medical expenses and underwrite other projects to raise the status of women in Asia.
Estimates of the number of “comfort women” range from 80,000 to 200,000. George Hicks, writer of “The Comfort Women” (Yen Books, 1995), estimates that there may have been 139,000, of whom about 58,000 may still be alive.
Only a tiny number have come forward so far. Because of the premium placed on female virginity in Asia, many were scorned after the end of the war even by their own families and have done their best to hide their past.
The first “comfort women” were used by the Japanese Army in 1932, in Shanghai. The Japanese commanders had received 223 complaints of rape by Japanese troops, and the authorities said they had decided that a military-run brothel would reduce rapes and improve relations with civilians.
Rapes dropped markedly after the “comfort women” were taken to Shanghai, and the army ended up establishing brothels almost everywhere it sent troops. Some veterans say this shows that the practice, while regrettable, was actually fulfilling a “humanitarian” purpose.
The problem with this explanation is that the brothels were filled with women and girls, some in their early teens, who were seized from their homes or abducted off the street. They were then beaten and raped by up to 30 soldiers a day.
Although the fund instituted today falls short of the demands of the former “comfort women,” some foreign Governments seemed to appreciate the effort. President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines was quoted as saying that that an institution, even if private, could help the women.
Mr. Igarashi declined to specify a target size for the fund, but said he hoped it would begin to make payments this year. It is unclear how much the payments will amount to.
Slowly, Survivors Sue Japan for War
By SHERYL WUDUNN
Published: August 13, 1995, New York Times
It took Song Byung Wook five decades to muster the necessary mix of anger, determination and hope, but this summer he finally decided to sue the Japanese Government for the kidnapping and forced labor that tore him from his family in Korea and left him an alien in a hostile land.
Mr. Song is not alone. A growing number of Koreans, Chinese and even Americans are taking the Japanese Government to court for mistreatment during World War II. In the past few weeks alone, dozens of people from six countries representing thousands of victims — former sex slaves, forced laborers and even American and British prisoners of war — have come to Tokyo to file suits in Japanese courts.
While some suits have been filed primarily to embarrass the Japanese Government, hundreds of thousands of others could follow if there is any sign of that the suits may succeed.
It is unclear whether the Japanese judges will agree to adjudicate these cases, but the hearings are already capturing public attention and embarrassing the Japanese authorities by spotlighting Japan’s abuse of Asians and other foreigners during the war.
Like many of the one million or more Koreans who were made slave laborers in Japan, Mr. Song was abducted from Korea and taken to Japan to provide a labor force during the war years, when most young Japanese men were on the war front.
Mr. Song, a 69-year-old South Korean who now lives in the eastern Japanese city of Yokohama, was forced to smelt iron all day. He survived conditions that claimed the lives of many fellow workers, and after the war he married a Korean woman and remained in Japan, drifting among various jobs and small businesses over the years.
“I don’t want to renounce the family I love now, so I would not say my life was totally ruined by the war,” Mr. Song said. “But my life has been in shambles.”
For decades after the war, he thought there was no hope of redress. Then a few years ago, he met with families of other Korean forced laborers, and together they began talking about the idea of a lawsuit in the Japanese courts.
“I’m not doing it for my unpaid wages, for I gave that up long ago,” said Mr. Song, who plans to file his suit in September, together with 10 other Korean families, against Nippon Steel and the Government. “It’s not just a matter of winning the suit. It’s important to tell the Japanese people about all this.”
Former slave laborers are turning to civil suits in part because South Korea and China both renounced rights to any further compensation when they established relations with Japan in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, encouraged by political liberalization and growing recognition of the idea of law, a growing number of victims of World War II are turning to the only avenue that still seems available, the Japanese courts.
Americans like Gilbert M. Hair, a former American internee, are also joining the tide to sue. Mr. Hair visited Tokyo recently to help file a lawsuit on behalf of 30,000 former internees and prisoners of war from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
“They treated us worse than animals,” he said in a statement. “For this I feel the Japanese Government should be held responsible.”
Another suit gathering attention is being brought by survivors of an uprising by Chinese forced laborers at the Hanaoka copper mine in northern Japan. Nearly 1,000 of the workers had been seized in China and forced to work in the mine, where they were at times beaten with leather whips and branded with hot irons.
“We knew we would all soon die, but we figured that if we died in an uprising at least we would die with honor,” said Zhang Zhaoguo, a 75-year-old Chinese laborer who returned to Japan to file a lawsuit.
The Chinese mounted an uprising in June 1945, two months before the end of the war, and they killed five Japanese. Thousands of troops were brought in and they hung Mr. Zhang and others by their thumbs from the ceiling. While Mr. Zhang survived, 418 of the Chinese workers died from beatings and torture.
Now Mr. Zhang and 10 other survivors have filed suit against the Japanese Government and Kajima Corporation, which ran the mine and remains today one of the biggest construction companies in Japan.
Many of the lawsuits are jointly filed against the Government and a corporation. Lawyers say that the suits against the Government are unlikely to succeed, but that cases against corporations may stand a better chance. Many Japanese corporations, like Kajima, that do business in Asia may feel obliged to settle to avoid tarnishing their reputations in places like China and South Korea. In general, however, the companies have declined to comment on the cases.
A breakthrough of sorts came recently when the Government endorsed a new private fund to compensate the so-called comfort women, young women and girls who were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers. This has given encouragement to other victims.
Some former slave laborers, however, are still agonizing over whether to sue, partly because they are reluctant to relive a gruesome past.
Chon Woon Mo, who was kidnapped from his home in Korea 53 years ago, was forced to work in a copper mine and was beaten until he lost all sensation. But he remained in Japan after the war and is still debating about whether to bring a suit.
One reason he is reluctant to file suit is that he remembers good Japanese as well as bad. A Japanese supervisor at the mine where he worked took a liking to him and secretly helped him escape from the labor camp.
Mr. Chon is also restrained by his allegiance to North Korea, which does not have formal ties with Japan. And most North Koreans in Japan are hoping their Government will fight for them and get a financial settlement as part of the normalization of relations with Japan.
As many as 10 percent of the Korean laborers in Japan did not survive their service, according to various Japanese scholars. At some labor camps for foreigners, the death rate was nearly half.
The Government has been extremely reluctant to open its files on the issue and many records were burned, so the true number of deaths may never be known.
“They controlled by violence,” said Tadashi Kosho, professor of economic history at Komazawa University. “The Japanese Government must make a proper apology and refund unpaid wages. Without this, Japan cannot co-exist peacefully with other Asian countries. This is not just an issue of responsibility. It is also necessary for the Japanese people.”
INSIDE QUEENS; The Memories of a Comfort Woman
By JANE H. LII
Published: September 10, 1995, New York Times
WEARING a skirt that covered her ankles and a Korean-style linen shirt, the old woman sat on a bamboo floor mat in her studio apartment in central Queens and told her story slowly. At first she was calm as she methodically peeled apples, apple pears and Korean white-fleshed peaches for the visitors. Her figure was erect, her eyes cast down, her ageless face stoic. But as she continued, her shoulders slumped toward her knees, and she curled up like a ball.
“I’m just waiting to die,” the woman, D. Kim, said.
It was a bright fall day in 1944, she remembered, and the persimmon leaves were turning a shade of purple-red. She had become accustomed to living as part of a conquered people in the Japanese-occupied village of Ulsan in southern Korea. She was forced to take a Japanese name, speak Japanese in school and bow to Japanese soldiers whenever they passed and twice a day to the portrait of Emperor Hirohito that hung in her classroom.
But on this day, a Korean town clerk working for the Japanese Government and a Japanese policeman came to her home. She was now 16 years old, they said, and must go to the county office to join Jungshindae, the Women’s Volunteer Labor Corps, to fight for the Emperor. She would be working in a military factory along with other patriotic women, and she would even be paid for her work, they said.
Her mother refused. But a few days later, the police came again. “My mother cried,” she said. “I cried. She didn’t want me to go.” But this time they dragged her to the county office, where some 30 girls had been assembled. They were trucked to a military train nearby. For the next week, they endured a grueling trip across the Yalu River in a windowless boxcar lighted by candles. Japanese soldiers with bayonets stood on guard.
“I was scared during the trip,” said Miss Kim, who insisted that her first name not be used and spoke through the translation of her lawyer, John H. Kim, who is not related. “We had no idea where we were going. I thought we were going to work at the military factory.”
Miss Kim said she realized what was happening to her soon after she arrived in an army base in Qiqihar in Manchuria, in northern China, when a Japanese officer tried to rip off her clothes.
“I fought them during the first days,” she said. “But they beat me so badly.”
The new arrivals — virgins — were reserved for officers and became “comfort women,” Miss Kim said. It was only after the officers were done with the women that the soldiers would get to them.
After arrival, each woman was given two blankets, one towel and a military uniform and settled in a barbed-wired wooden mess hall, which was divided into small cubicles with single-size mattresses on the floor. There, from 10 A.M to 10 P.M., she was forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers who lined up outside the hall. She served up to 50 soldiers a day, seven days a week.
“Often I had to spend the night with an officer,” Miss Kim said. “Each soldier paid eight yen in military coupons. The Japanese keeper told us that the money would be given to us when we returned home.”
Often, the women were trucked to military bases when the soldiers were stationed too far away to travel to “comfort stations.”
Miss Kim said she tried to escape several times, but was caught and severely beaten by her captors. One night, she jumped off a truck. In addition to beating her, the angry soldiers tried to cut off her fingers with a knife, she said. She showed the scars.
In the “comfort stations,” the women were frequently inspected by Japanese military doctors and were given shots for venereal diseases.
“Sometimes I received the shots,” Miss Kim said, her voice cracking as she sobbed uncontrollably. “I was bleeding. My body is completely ruined from the medication and the beatings I received.”
One day in August 1945, Miss Kim awoke to find her Japanese captors gone. The war was over. The Japanese had surrendered. And the women had been abandoned, without the money they had been promised.
“I had mixed emotions,” she said. “I was glad that the war was over. But I was so angry and ashamed about my situation.”
With no place to stay, Miss Kim decided to return to Korea. Without a penny to her name, she began the long, two-month journey on foot.
In Korea, she first settled near the American military base in Munsan, then in Pusan, living in shame, not wanting to disgrace her family.
Some years later, she met her mother through an aunt. Her mother had invited her home, but she refused.
“What could I have done?” she asked. “I didn’t want anybody to know.”
It was decades before Miss Kim finally told her mother and heryounger sister about her ordeal.
IN 1979, at the invitation of the sister, who was living in New York, Miss Kim immigrated to America to forget her miseries and to live a life in anonymity.
Her ordeal had lasted one year. Her life was ruined forever. Miss Kim lives alone on Social Security disability checks and the generosity of her sister. She has few friends and receives virtually no visitors.
She carefully watches the efforts of Koreans who are suing Japan to get government reparations for the comfort women. It was only in August 1993 that Japan formally recognized its involvement in the forced prostitution. Mr. Kim, her lawyer, is part of a group that is fighting for the reparations, the New York-based Korean-American Coalition on Jungshindae. Last week, Korean officials raised the issue at the United Nations’s women’s conference in Beijing.
“Many nights I lay awake, awaiting my death,” Miss Kim said, trembling from anger. “I could not erase those horrible images from my mind. I want to ask the Japanese government how they can refuse to compensate my life for the suffering they’ve caused me. How can they ignore me like this after trampling down on an ignorant, weak teen-ager to suffer for the rest of my life?”
Inside a Wartime Brothel: The Avenger’s Story
Published: November 12, 1996, New York Times
Years later, asleep in the arms of her husband, Maria Rosa Henson would sometimes cry out the name of the Japanese Army officer who had imprisoned her in a brothel in the Philippines for nine months in World War II.
”Who is this Tanaka?” her husband would ask, waking her, but Mrs. Henson said she never told him, afraid that if he knew of the abuse she had suffered he would reject her.
There was another, perhaps even sadder, reason for her reticence: She was grateful to Captain Tanaka.
”He was good to me,” Mrs. Henson said in an interview, recalling the occasional cups of tea and kind looks he offered her during the months he forced her, at the age of 15, to provide sex to 10 or 20 or 30 Japanese soldiers a day.
”I was always asking him, ‘Let me go, Tanaka,’ but he answered: ‘I cannot do that. It is against my Emperor,’ ” Mrs. Henson said, without bitterness. ”I realized that the vow of Tanaka to his Emperor was very great, greater than my plea.”
Still grateful for small favors, Mrs. Henson, now 68, recently became the first woman in the region to accept a Japanese reparation payment for her suffering in the brothels. The payments have been rejected as inadequate by all but half a dozen of the 500 surviving victims, widely known as ”comfort women,” who have come forward in the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan.
After receiving her payment of about $19,000 and a letter of apology from Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan in August, Mrs. Henson said, she wrote to the Prime Minister to thank him.
Most of the other women, now in their 60’s and 70’s, have joined in rejecting the payments because they come from a private fund organized by the Japanese Government rather than from the Government itself.
Until recently, the Government had denied any involvement in the wartime brothels, which historians say victimized as many as 200,000 women and teen-age girls throughout Asia. Its offer of payments now from what it calls the Asian Women’s Fund is in part an effort to avoid opening the door to hundreds of lawsuits from survivors of various wartime atrocities.
”The victims oppose the private fund principally because it cannot be a substitute for official legal compensation,” said Nelia Sancho, a spokeswoman for a Philippine support group for the women.
Demonstrating in front of the Japanese Embassy in August, one of the victims, Gertrudes Balisalisa, said she was rejecting both the payment and Prime Minister Hashimoto’s expression of ”most sincere apologies and remorse.”
”I would be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t need the money, but I need my dignity and honor more,” Mrs. Balisalisa said. ”I want the money to come from the Japanese Government.”
Mrs. Henson said she accepted the money, quite simply, because she needs it. She needs medical care and she wants to provide for her three children and their families after working for most of her life in a tobacco factory.
And in any case, she said, ”I cannot restore any more my dignity for what happened 50 years ago.”
”No amount of money — even a mountain of money — can repay the horror of the war.”
Mrs. Henson may feel gratitude for small kindnesses, but she has kept her anger alive. Rather than trying to forget her trauma, she said, she has clung to her sanity over the years by remembering everything.
And she has found a powerful way to avenge her humiliation: she is telling her story.
After revealing her long-held secret in 1992, as the first of the women to speak out in public, Mrs. Henson sat down to write about her experiences. The result is a short, blunt book published here and in Japan this year, titled ”Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny” (Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism).
”I am telling my story so that they will feel humiliated,” Mrs. Henson said. ”It is true: I am an avenger of the dead.”
Every day from 2 P.M. until 10 P.M., she recalls in the book, she and five other women in the brothel were forced to have sex with scores of soldiers who lined up noisily outside their small, curtained rooms.
The women were given four days of rest each month during menstruation, except for Mrs. Henson, who had not yet begun to have her period.
”We began the day with breakfast, after which we swept and cleaned our rooms,” she wrote. ”Then we went to the bathroom downstairs to wash the only dress we had and to bathe. The bathroom did not even have a door, so the soldiers watched us. We were all naked, and they laughed at us.”
And she wrote: ”When the soldiers raped me, I felt like a pig. Sometimes they tied up my right leg with a waistband or belt and hung it to a nail on the wall as they violated me. I was angry all the time.”
Even the Japanese Army doctor who checked the women for venereal disease raped her, she wrote. Even when she was shaking with the fever and chills of malaria she was raped.
Sometimes Captain Tanaka, who had also raped her, seemed to feel compassion for her, stroking her hair and kissing her cheek.
”He would hold my face and look straight into my eyes,” she wrote. ”Sometimes I pitied him.”
In January 1944 the camp where she was being held came under attack by Philippine guerrillas and Mrs. Henson and the other women were rescued.
For months afterward, she wrote, she was so severely traumatized that her mother thought she had gone mad.
Overcome with shame and guilt, she wrote, ”I kept muttering to myself: ‘Why did I not escape? Because they might kill me.’ ”
During this period, she overheard a Philippine doctor saying she might never be able to function or to recover her memory.
”I told myself, no, I cannot lose my sanity; I will fight,” Mrs. Henson said in the interview. ”I tried to work my mind all the time, night and day. I did not let my brain stop thinking. Always thinking and thinking. I learned to remember everything, to remember always, so that I will not go mad.”
Japan Fund for War’s ‘Comfort Women’ Is in Crisis
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: May 13, 1996, New York Times
To some acclaim and self-acclaim, the Japanese Government started a fund last year to make payments to women forced into brothels run by the Imperial Army. The project was supposed to ease criticisms that Japan had shirked its responsibility for wartime atrocities.
But these days the program is in a crisis, and instead of easing antagonisms with Japan’s neighbors, it may worsen them, while raising new doubts about Japan’s readiness to face its past.
The fund has raised only a fraction of the money that is necessary, its most prominent backer has resigned in protest at the Government’s behavior, and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto refuses to say whether he will honor a pledge by his predecessor to apologize to the former “comfort women.” Moreover, some of the women have complained that the project is so insignificant as to be an insult.
Backers say that there is still a chance that more donations, which are being sought from the public and from corporations, will be raised in the coming months and that Mr. Hashimoto will agree to apologize to the women. But nearly everyone agrees that the project is at a turning point.
“If the current Government says we will not send you a letter of apology, we will not give our money, then the Japanese future will become very difficult,” Mutsuko Miki, the well-known widow of a former Prime Minister and the most prominent backer of the fund, said in a telephone interview. “In that case, I don’t think Japan will be able to stand on the world stage.”
Mrs. Miki, who has just resigned from the panel of backers of the fund, said she met with Prime Minister Hashimoto this month and decided that his ideas were so different from hers that it would be meaningless to continue.
Another longtime supporter of the fund, Yasuaki Onuma, a professor of international law at Tokyo University, said it would be a “catastrophe for Japan” if Mr. Hashimoto failed to send out letters of apology. Mr. Onuma said that the program could still be saved but that it was at a crossroads.
“It’s up to the Government,” he said. “If the Government clearly understands that the reputation of Japan depends on the success of this enterprise, it will be resolved. But if they do not understand, then we will have a terrible result.”
More than 50 years after the end of World War II, Japan’s wartime conduct remains a source of bitterness between Japan and other Asian countries, particularly China and North and South Korea. One of the most sensitive issues is Japan’s refusal to help the women, who were mostly teen-age girls kidnapped from farms and villages and forced to work in front-line brothels and have sex with 20 or more soldiers a day.
By some accounts, there may have been 100,000 or more such women, although many died young and only about 500 have come forward in recent years and identified themselves. Most of the women were Korean, but there were also Filipinas, Chinese and a few Dutch.
The Government has refused to assist the women, on the ground that in earlier years — long before their existence became public — Tokyo had already settled all war-related claims. But embarrassed by calls at home and abroad, the Government in July started a “private” Asian Women’s Fund, which was authorized to gather donations and make payments to the women.
The Prime Minister then, Tomiichi Murayama, said he would write a letter of apology to each of the women. The fund’s organizers said they expected to gather $10 million to $20 million.
But so far the fund has raised less than $3.5 million. While many individual Japanese have contributed, corporate donations have been far less than expected.
One problem is that some of the women — and the organizations campaigning for them — have denounced the fund, saying the Government should compensate the women directly instead of relying on private contributions. One group of women and their supporters called the fund “an insult to the war victims and a desecration,” and promised to denounce any Japanese corporations that contributed to it.
Backers of the fund say that direct Government assistance is politically impossible, and that it is better to give the women some help rather than none at all.
Government officials are reluctant to discuss the fund, apparently because of the difficulties it is in, but a Foreign Ministry official, Takahisa Tsugawa, suggested that it would look more promising later on when money begins to be paid out. He added that the fund’s ability to raise more than $3 million “shows that the efforts have begun to bear fruit.”
Mr. Hashimoto has contributed to the fund, as have his wife and children. He said at a news conference on Friday that he would offer his “utmost support” to the fund, which he described as “troubled” by its difficulty in raising money. But Mrs. Miki says Mr. Hashimoto indicated to her that he would not apologize as his predecessor had promised to do.
“The Government has changed, and now they are saying totally different things,” Mrs. Miki said. An official in Mr. Hashimoto’s office said only that there had been no decision on whether Mr. Hashimoto would apologize to the women.