The Comfort Corps
Perhaps the worst situation of all the Koreans conscripted into the service of the emperor was that of the young women of the “comfort corps,” the euphemistic term for those forced to serve as prostitutes for the soldiers of the Japanese empire.
Among them were Japanese women as well as those of conquered lands, including Chinese, Filipinas, Burmese, Pacific Islanders, and even a few Dutch women captured when Japan took over Indonesia, but the largest contingent of women in the comfort corps were Korean, as high as 80 percent by some estimates.
It is impossible to tell how many women were forced into serving the empire in this degrading way, but estimates range from 80,000 to 200,000.
The Japanese imperial army first developed its system of “comfort stations” at the request of Okamura Yasuji, vice chief of staff of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force. Soldiers who occupied Shanghai in 1932 had raped Chinese women. In response Yasuji had asked the gov-ernment to set up brothels for his men, asserting that this would help prevent such rapes in the future.
The program was greatly expanded after the battle for Nanjing in 1937, where the Japanese soldiers suf-fered the heaviest casualties of any battle to that point. When they finally took the city, many soldiers raped Chinese women. To bolster military discipline and reduce the spread of disease, Japanese military authorities thought it best to provide sexual services for the soldiers.
Many of the women conscripted into the comfort corps were already prostitutes, some picked up in impromptu recruiting drives, but many other women were ordinary civilians, tricked into prostitution, forced into it by greedy or desperate relatives, or simply kidnapped by soldiers who drove trucks into villages and picked up any young woman they happened to find in the streets.
George Hicks’s book The Comfort Women, making use of exten-sive interviews with the survivors, includes the story of Yi Sang Ok, who was born in Inchon to a large family of independent farmers.
Yi Sang Ok worked for a man named Kim Un Sik who ostensibly ran an employment agency for young girls. On the instructions of one of Kim’s employees, Yi Sang Ok boarded a ferry at Pusan with 20 other girls, all under the impression that they were bound for a scrubbing brush factory.
Instead they were taken to a “comfort station” on Palau Island. There was a long barracks building and 20 rooms without blankets or mattresses. “Soldiers began coming from about 4 or 5 P.M. When she tried to refuse service, she was beaten so savagely her hearing was per-manently impaired” (Hicks 1994, 51). She was paid a fixed rate of 30 yen a month.
Another young woman, Yi Bok Sil, was kidnapped at her home by Japanese officials. After a three-day journey she found herself with 15 other Korean women in a Chinese house in Tientsin (Tianjin) in rooms about five square meters in area with a dirt floor covered with rush matting.
She was violently deflowered while hearing screams from other rooms where the other women were undergoing the same ordeal. “After the first night,” writes Hicks, paraphrasing Bok Sil’s own account of her experiences, “the whole group discussed suicide, and two of them hanged themselves in their rooms. The others, including Bok Sil, resigned themselves to their fate” (Hicks 1994, 50).