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No compensation for the comfort women.

SHE sits alone now in her apartment off the unfashionable end of Roxas Boulevard in Metro Manila. Daily she is reminded of her degradation as a young woman. T'sai Han can see the buses containing Japanese tourists pass the end of her road. They are being ferried to and from Ninoy Aquino international airport and the cruise liners off South Harbour. Once she had been a part of a different Japanese transportation business, wherein thousands of Asian women were recruited by the Imperial Japanese Army as prostitutes aboard the 'comfort waggons'.

Brothel trains, given the euphemism of 'comfort waggons' were a long accepted part of social life in pre-Communist China, in particular. Once lusty Europeans could book a ticket to erotic pleasure on some of the specially chartered trains out of Shanghai. Mao put an end to all that when he rehabilitated the Shanghai whores with 'right thinking'; but, the pre-war concept had been taken up by the Japanese High Command along their infamous Burma Railway.

Not long after Lt.-General Shojiro Iida's Japanese 15th Army took Rangoon, pushed two Chinese armies back into China, and forced General Alexander's Burma Army to retreat into northeastern India, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo took a somewhat strange decision.

It was to be a consequence of these orders of June 1942 given to the HQ Japanese Southern Army--responsible for all South East Asia territory--that there was to be built a railway to Burma. This was to be a substitute for the sea route to Rangoon. The lines were also to be used as a feeder for the 'comfort waggons' for the Japanese troops.

On 25 October 1943 the Ban Pong-Thanbyuzayat railway, now given a direct link between Bangkok and Moulmein, was completed. The celebration of the opening of the railway for the garrison troops was a visit by a Japanese brothel train. Organisation of such a train was based on those which had been first used for 'military purposes' during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and the incursion of Japanese troops during the Manchurian Incident 1931-32.

Among the girls on board the first train was a Sino-Philippino girl T'sai Han. Born in Shanghai of a Philippino mother and a Chinese father, she had been sold to a harlot-master in the International City when she was eleven. She had been trained as a 'Heaven root flower girl' (erotic masseuse) and had made her way (illicitly) to Burma. At the time she was twenty-two.

She had been forcibly recruited by the Imperial Japanese Army for the brothel train by taii (Captain) Yoshio Katayama, who later worked for a Tokyo chemical manufacturing company. She was worked as a prostitute until the Japanese defeat.

T'sai Han was one of the group of prostitutes at the opening of the Burma Railway graphically described by Major Clifford Kinvig in his Death Railway (1973). On this occasion, he commented, allied prisoners who had worked on the railway were spruced up and photographed by Japanese propaganda cameramen. He records that the women gave cigarettes and money to the prisoners. These events were written up for the propaganda sheets that were circulated in the Japanese occupied territories of their puppet Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The documentation of the use of enforced prostitutes has been given an airing recently in Japan, having been stored from WWII in the archives of the Gaimusho (Foreign Ministry) of war leader General Hideki Tojo's cabinet. The publicity surrounding the documents has caused the Japanese government some embarrassment. They have forced the government of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa finally to admit--after some fifty years of dissembling--that thousands of Chinese, Philippine and Korean females were recruited as prostitutes during WWII. The forced recruitment, of course, has been a diplomatic running sore for decades between Japan and her Asiatic neighbours.

In spite of television's harrowing interviews with the women involved and with weeping former serving officers who forcibly recruited the women, the Japanese government denies that any of the women were press-ganged. This is a key factor in the government's refusal to pay compensation.

An official statement was made recently by the Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato: 'We have found documents to prove that the government was involved in the so-called comfort women. But so far we have found no document to show that those women were recruited by force'. Consequently the Japanese government has stated that they are doing no research amongst the comfort women who survive. They plead that it would be an invasion of privacy. Nevertheless officials have been given the brief to continue the search for what might be incriminating documents.

The governments of the Asian countries invaded and occupied by the Japanese during WWII have been dismayed at the Japanese statement. A spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry noted that it was the official belief that the Japanese were obscuring the truth. And, that it was to be hoped that a full public investigation in Tokyo would assess the facts of the case. The South Korean government has more than enough evidence of forced recruitment. In December 1991 several of the former Korean comfort women came forward to give testimony that they had been 'sex slaves' to the Imperial Nipponese Army.

Going further than this Frederick Chen, Taiwan's Foreign Minister, requested an official apology to the comfort women now living as Taiwanese citizens. This, he averred, should be added to Japanese involvement in compensating for the suffering.

A public apology has been made on behalf of the Japanese government by Cabinet Secretary Kato. Yet in place of monetary compensation he spoke of unspecified 'measures' which were to be contemplated by the cabinet.

For many decades academics studying WWII in the Far East have been aware of the official use of comfort women. It was known too that they were organised by the Imperial Nipponese Army chiefs. The official line given to researchers though was that the comfort women service was supplied by 'private contractors'.

It is believed by some international correspondents that the official admission of army recruited comfort women was a part of the diplomatic preparations for Prime Minister Miyazawa's official visit to the South Korean capital of Seoul in January last. Indeed Miyazawa stated that a Japanese academic had come across 'documentary proof' of the army's involvement in brothels. The 'evidence' was confirmed by Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, of Chuo University. The document was a military command dated 1938 and signed by the Chief of Staff of the Japanese North China Army ordering the setting up of 'comfort stations'.

Pressure groups are forming to plead the case of the former comfort women's right to compensation from the Japanese government. Already testimony is being collated from ex-Imperial Army troops. Those too, who were not covered by the post-war compensation payouts, are reassessing their rights.
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Title Annotation:Japan's denial of compensation
Author:Lamont-Brown, Robert
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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