First mention of comfort women in the English press?

The discussion over the proposed presumably well meant but ultimately pointless US congressional resolution condemning Japan’s wartime system of “comfort women” made me wonder, when was this first reported in the US? Since I have easy online access to the New York Times archive I thought I would check there. It seems highly unlikely that the NYT would have passed over mentioning the issue if some other paper had reported it first, so this is most likely as least an approximate date.


January 14, 1992

Japan Admits Army Forced Koreans to Work in Brothels

Three days before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa takes his first official trip to South Korea, the Government admitted today that the Japanese Army forced tens of thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II, and hinted that women who are still alive might receive some kind of compensation.

Until today, Japan’s official position has long been that the “comfort girls” were recruited by private entrepreneurs, not the military.

But many historians have attacked that position as a convenient rewriting of history, and over the weekend Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, reported that army documents found in the library of Japan’s Self-Defense Agency indicated that the military had played a large role in operating what were euphemistically called “comfort stations.”

Mr. Miyazawa is widely expected to address the issue on his visit to Seoul and to offer a fairly specific apology. The vast majority of the women were forcibly taken to Japanese-occupied China and Southeast Asia from Korea, which was a Japanese colony from 1910 until Japan’s defeat in 1945.. ‘Abominable Episodes’

Over the weekend Japan’s Foreign Minister, Michio Watanabe, said “I cannot help acknowledging” that the Japanese military was involved in forcing the women to have sex with the troops. “I am troubled that the abominable episodes have been unraveled, and they give me heartache,” he said.

Today Japan’s chief Government spokesman, Koichi Kato, offered a more specific apology, saying, “We would like to express our heartfelt apology and soul-searching to those women who had a bitter hardship beyond description.”

But he said that because Japan settled issues of wartime compensation for Korea in 1965, when the countries resumed full diplomatic ties, there would be no official compensation for the victims. For weeks the Government has been talking about finding private sources of money that would settle claims by surviving “comfort women,” without setting the precedent of reopening reparations claims.

In December, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, three Korean women filed suit in Tokyo, demanding compensation for forced prostitution in China. Occasional Protests in Seoul

Though the Government said that officially all compensation issues have been settled, officials acknowledged that they could not openly contest the suit without roiling relations with South Korea. Periodically there have been small demonstrations in Seoul denouncing the Japanese for their failure to face the issue.

The question of Japan’s refusal to acknowledge official involvement in the forced prostitution has been a continual irritant in Japanese relations with South Korea and, to a lesser degree, with China. Many of the women were killed or brutally beaten. While historians disagree about how many women were forced to have sex with the troops, estimates run from 60,000 to more than 200,000.

The documents reported in Asahi Shimbun were found by Yoshiaki Yoshida, a history professor, who reviewed them at the Defense Agency. They have been in Japan since 1958, when they were returned by United States troops, and it is not clear why they have stayed out of view for so long.

The “comfort women” debate has been but one of the continuing tensions between Tokyo and Seoul in recent years. South Korean leaders have long complained that they have yet to receive an adequate apology from Japan for wartime atrocities. Last week, at a dinner for President Bush, President Roh Tae Woo of South Korea reportedly expressed concern that Japan has yet to apologize fully for the war.


January 18, 1992


Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan made a formal public apology here today for Japan’s actions in forcing tens of thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II.

In a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly, Mr. Miyazawa said: “Recently, the issue of ‘comfort women’ in the service of the Imperial Japanese Army has come into light. I cannot help feeling acutely distressed over this, and I express my sincerest apology.”

Mr. Miyazawa’s visit to Seoul has been preceded and accompanied by vociferous campaigning in the South Korean press for an apology from the Prime Minister, and for compensation from Japan for the surviving women.

This call has been echoed by protesters in South Korean cities.. Estimates Up to 200,000

Korean historians estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers before 1945, when Japanese colonial rule ended in Korea. It is not known how many survive.

Japanese and South Korean officials said Mr. Miyazawa had also offered an apology in his second round of talks today with President Roh Tae Woo.

Mr. Miyazawa said at a joint news conference afterward that Japan would sincerely investigate the issue.

But there was no mention in their talks of compensation for the surviving women, the officials said.

The question of compensation for 35 years of colonial rule in Korea was settled when the countries established diplomatic relations in 1965. Compensation Suit Filed

But last month three Korean women who say they were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers filed a compensation suit in a Japanese court, which may set a precedent for other cases.

The issue overshadowed other topics discussed by Mr. Roh and Mr. Miyazawa, particularly South Korea’s growing trade deficit with Japan.

The two leaders agreed to set up a committee to work out by June a plan of action for closing the trade gap and increasing the transfer of Japanese technology to South Korea.

South Korea was $8.8 billion in the red in trade with Japan last year, accounting for nine-tenths of South Korea’s overall trade deficit.


WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (Reuters) — High-ranking United States officials will meet North Korean leaders in New York on Wednesday to discuss the country’s nuclear program and other American concerns, the State Department said today. The United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Arnold L. Kanter, will meet a delegation headed by the Secretary of the governing Workers Party, Kim Young Sun, a State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said.

[The North Korea bit was on the same page. Not relevant to comfort women but still amusing to see it was in the news at the time.]

11 thoughts on “First mention of comfort women in the English press?”

  1. Call me right wing.I say Comfort women is the biggest hoax on entire Japan warcrime related debate.

    “This call has been echoed by protesters in South Korean cities.. Estimates Up to 200,000”

    “Korean historians estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers before 1945, when Japanese colonial rule ended in Korea. It is not known how many survive.”

    This is almost bizzare since entire population of colonial Korea was somewhere around 20 million.1% of entire population was mobilized as sex worker in Korea?

    Maybe some of you should read Japanese wikipedia then read English wikipedia and tell me the impression……(Not that I’m a big fun of wiki though.)

  2. This is a tangent but somewhat related to early mentions of comfort women in the western media.
    I was watching the documentary series “The World at War”, first shown in 1973, the other day, and in episode 14 (“It’s A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma 1942–1944”) Terou Okada, who fought in Burma, talks about comfort women.

    “…For the enlisted men, our entertainment, because of you are entertaining only between battles or on one days leave and you may die next day, we don’t have too much time for any lengthy entertainment. We go straight to the comfort girls, you pay your money and you come out feeling refreshed and like a new man, you see. Most of the comfort girls for the enlisted men were, many were Koreans and I must say I respect all of them very much. Because who else would come to the frontlines to give us last entertainment for us, for many of us, on this earth.”

  3. Per

    I own this series in DVD and I saw it for the first time in the early 90ies when the comfort women became a political problem. The talks of Teru Okada was very impressive.

    This series is the best Documentary about WW2 in my opinion. You can watch Albert speer, Doenitz and Traudl Junge (the secretary of Hitler) first hand talking about the war.

  4. I agree. It’s by far the best documentary on the subject of WW2. This is very much due to the interviewees, who I feel were, for the most part, very open and honest.

  5. So there were comfort women in Burma…
    My apoligy for the mistakes at cominganarchy,MF.

  6. Aceface

    I thought you have read the book by Hata. There is a quite lengthy part in which he discussed comfort women in Burma. He said that the fate of these women in Burma (and in Philipine) were very cruel.

    There is another essay by Asano Toyomi about korean comfort women in Burma (a young but very solid historian) which you can access on the internet.

  7. If you’re mentioning 慰安婦と戦場における性,then that I have not read it yet.I have his other books and read his commentary on Shokun! et al.

  8. Definitly a must read.

    He maintains his stands that there was no coercion in the “narrow sense”, but he is also open that there were many women who were abducted by private pins, and that the Japanese military overlooked it.

    In other words, he belongs to the older generations who think women who are working in prostitutes business are after all prostitutes whatever their recruiting process were.

    I think that he is now the big mentor to the LDP right about the comfort women issue is a big problem. I still am a fan of him as a historian (this book is somewhat interesting. He sustains the position of the LDP but as he is an honest historian relying to positive methods, me as a general reader got the impression that in fact the fate of womens who became “comfort women” were very cruel) but he can not understand properly that the gender problem is involved in this issue.

    Apperantly he belongs to the older generations of Japanese male who firmly believe 女郎は所詮女郎。

  9. >>So there were comfort women in Burma…

    Yes. And, the following document probably may be one of the earliest mention of ‘comfort women’ in the US government document.

    The gap between what we repeatedly hear from the media and this report is very interesting. Of course, this may be an exceptional case. But, it could also suggest that people are jumping to some kind of inaccurate conclusion. By the way, from what I understand by reading the Japanese sources, no one ever denies the existence of comfort stations/comfort women.

  10. It wasn’t considered as “bad” as say,Nanjing or Ishii unit or Burmese railway.It was seen here as extension of prostitution.

Comments are closed.