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THE FIRST #METOO ACTIVISTS: Contemporary Campaigning in Support of the Former Japanese Military "Comfort Women".

Activists today continue to rally around the history of the Japanese military's sexual enslavement of women and girls in the China and Pacific wars of the 1930s and 1940s. Their activism is undertaken mostly to extract state-level apology and reparation from the Japanese government for these crimes of enforced prostitution or "military sexual slavery." It is undertaken on behalf of, together with, and in the name of survivors and their descendants. Recently, though, with declining numbers of elderly former "comfort women" able to join campaigning, there have emerged other rationales for continuing with the movement for justice. South Korean activists now mobilize against "sexual violence in war" wherever it occurs in the world, as reflected in an installation of the War and Women's Human Rights Museum in Hongdae that commemorates, in spite of its name, specifically the history of Japanese military sexual slavery and activism by survivors. Walking through the museum, visitors eventually end up on a floor exhibiting crimes of sexual violence in conflicts like that in the Congo. This framing of the contemporary movement aligns with international efforts to spotlight crimes of rape in war, which recently culminated in the awarding of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to a doctor and a survivor who have "helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence."

We might well worry about wartime sexual violence in countries like the Congo, but, in this article, I question this framework for "comfort women" campaigning. It dilutes and diverts political action that might otherwise produce good results in contemporary Northeast Asia for women and children, I argue; in suppressing the region's sex industries, for example. Further, the framework inadvertently replicates overly broad castings of the "comfort women" issue that are favored by defenders of the country's wartime record, like that of Japan's current Prime Minister Abe Shinzou. In a speech addressing the issue in 2007, he waxed lyrical that "[t]he 20th century was a century when human rights were violated in many parts of the world. So we have to make the 21st century a wonderful century in which no human rights are violated." Refraining the criminality of the Japanese military's prostitution system as a problem of "sexual violence in war" weakens, furthermore, the movement's effectiveness, because campaigners are not usually residing in countries plagued by war, let alone crimes of wartime rape, I suggest. In other words, as Samuel Moyn criticizes of contemporary "human rights" campaigners who rally around crimes of states abroad while overlooking serious problems of inequality in their own societies (2012), framing the problem as one of "rape in war" sloughs the history of Japanese military sexual slavery from the reality of contemporary Northeast Asia and estranges it from large-scale industries of female sexual exploitation operating in countries like Japan, which, I believe, are relevant and important targets of campaigning if we accurately understand the historical cause of what the "comfort women" endured (Moyn 2012).

The historical cause of what the "comfort women" endured is, in Rikkyo University historian Onozawa Akane's view, Japan's pre-war civilian sex industry (Onozawa 2010). In a 2010 monograph, she shows this industry operating cheek by jowl with the military's sexual slavery scheme. In line with this understanding of its origins, I argue that campaigning to suppress prostitution in contemporary times respects, and accurately reflects, the historical experience of survivors of military prostitution in its targeting of the historical cause of their enslavement, which is carried over today in the form of large-scale pornography and prostitution industries in Japan in particular (see Miyamoto 2016), as a threat to present-day women and girls, as they were in the girlhoods of survivors. Onozawa is not the only researcher to see the military prostitution system as historically attributable to Japan's pre-war civilian sex industry in this way, nor is my call for social movement mobilization in alignment with this understanding original. Later in the article, I describe the work of a number of other Japan-based historians and political theorists who arrive at the same conclusion.

The framing commended here already finds real-world expression in campaigns being undertaken by activists in Japan, which is a recent development not yet described in the literature. Their new approach to campaigning in solidarity with the former "comfort women" on the basis of opposition to Japan's contemporary sex industry is described here using Japanese-language publicity and advocacy materials produced by a range of activist groups in Tokyo and Osaka, one of which the author is a member (People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence, PAPS; see These groups have begun to direct their efforts in support of recognition and restitution for military sexual slavery survivors toward, as the Tokyo-based Violence Against Women in War Research Action Center (VAWW-RAC) declared in May 2017, "understanding schemes that continue to organise women for sexual violence in the present...[as] a means of addressing the problem of the Japanese military's 'comfort women' scheme of the past" (pamphlet on file with author) (VAWW-RAC 2017). In this approach, the sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls in contemporary society is seen as manifesting the (prostitution-tolerant) social conditions that gave rise to the wartime military system in the first place. Further, it is seen as underwriting continuing Japanese government recalcitrance toward claims by military sexual slavery survivors (see Muta 2016). It is an advocacy strategy vastly different from that waged by campaigners in South Korea, both now and in the past. I describe this latter, mainstream approach before returning to the alternative approach of Japanese campaigners today. My argument is that while there is good reason to persist with campaigning over the history of wartime Japanese military sexual slavery beyond the lifetimes of its victims, to continue to have meaningful effect this justice movement must follow the lead of Japanese activists and become an abolitionist struggle against prostitution.

The "violence against women during armed conflict" paradigm

South Korean campaigning in support of the former "comfort women" has, at least since the 1990s, mostly eschewed consideration of military sexual slavery as a form of prostitution. This stance emerged partly in response to rhetoric by groups and individuals hostile to survivors. From the mid-1990s, these were mostly based in Japan, and included even parliamentarians, but some were based in South Korea (see Kinoshita 2017). They defamed the "comfort women" as prostitutes who earned money as military camp-followers during the war, and not as victims of sexual violence. Their hostile characterizations led advocates early on to develop a counter-narrative emphasizing the non-prostituted status of survivors (see Norma 2017). As a result, an "e-museum" run by South Korea's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family today broadcasts the popularly progressive view that "comfort women were not the same as licensed prostitutes, but were victims of a state-run system of sexual violence," as shown in the purported fact that "the women had no free choice of where to live or freedom of movement," "[n]or did they have the liberty of quitting," which are key points of "differentiation from licensed prostitutes (Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, Republic of Korea )." This framing of survivors as anything but victims of prostitution is widely echoed by advocates, including by some in English-speaking countries. Out of consideration of survivors' alleged unwillingness to be tarred with the brush of prostitution, the judgment of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery mock trial held in Tokyo in 2000 to assess Japanese military and government responsibility for wartime crimes of military sexual slavery, for example, declared that
[t]he identification of sexual slavery as an international crime in our
Charter and as a matter of international law today is, in our opinion,
a long overdue renaming of the crime of (en)forced prostitution. As
such, it responds to a very important concern expressed by the
survivors of the 'comfort system,' which is that the term 'forced
prostitution' obscures the terrible gravity of the crime, suggests a
level of voluntariness, and stigmatises its victims as immoral or 'used
goods'...the effect to obscure the offence of sexual slavery by calling
it prostitution did not end with the end of the war. Japan's
sympathizers who deny its responsibility for the systematic atrocities
perpetrated against the 'comfort women' and girls continue to
characterise them as 'prostimtes' and 'camp followers' to assert both
the voluntariness and immorality of the 'comfort women,' and thus
Japan's own innocence.

(2002, p. 150)

Out of concern that survivors might be hurt by being perceived as "prostitutes," in other words, the Tribunal judges in their final report coined the phrase "military sexual slavery" in order to "rename" less offensively the international legal understanding of the war crime of "enforced prostitution" that was established by the United Nations Commission in 1943 (see Friedmann and Jorgensen 2014, Plesch et al. 2014).

In the fifteen years since publication of this judgment, moreover, "sexual slavery" has come to exert weakening conceptual influence over the campaigning of South Korean advocates: Mohita Roman observed in 2011 that they now align themselves with a "global movement for the elimination of violence against women during armed conflict paradigm (Roman 2011)." Indeed, the website of the Tokyo-based advocacy group Kibou no Tane Kikin reports that South Korean survivors have set up charity funds for the Congo and Vietnam to support women who've had "the same experiences as them." (In the case of Vietnamese victims, this is likely to refer to women prostituted by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War.) Advocates in English-speaking countries follow their lead: Central Washington University's Bang-Soon Yoon at a 2015 counter-event held to protest his university's hosting of sexual slavery deniers from Japan lectured on "solidarity work done by the comfort women activists and their close allies in support of victims of military rape in other contexts around the globe, from the Eastern Congo to (most recently) Vietnam" (Auslander and Chong 2015). There is no doubting the good intentions behind these initiatives, but they produce a situation where the sex industry origins of the Japanese military's wartime brothel scheme are obscured through rejection of the United Nations 1943 "enforced prostitution" designation. Further, the scheme's own organization of women for prostitution is muddied in generalized characterizations of it as having arranged, broadly and indeterminably, "military rape" and sexual violence against women in war.

Japanese activists, too, it must be acknowledged, sometimes overlook the prostitution of the "comfort women" scheme in their contemporary campaigns. A photograph and primary materials exhibition held in Nago, Okinawa, in mid-October 2018 paired historical exhibits about comfort stations operating throughout the island chain during the war with information about the post-war sex crimes of U.S. military personnel stationed in Okinawa. While the exhibition impressively featured testimony from 300 victims of such U.S. military sexual violence, its failure to pair evidence of wartime military sexual slavery in Okinawa with examples of U.S. troops prostituting local women after the war is regrettable. There exists plentiful historical account of this prostitution (e.g., Hohn and Moon 2010, Sturdevant and Stoltzfus 1993). Instead, the exhibition adopted a "sexual violence in wartime" perspective, and Tsuji Akira, the curator of the community arts center that sponsored it, told reporters that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a doctor who had treated victims of sexual violence in conflict meant that "international attention...[was] beginning to focus on the issue of sexual violence in war," and so this had presented "an opportunity to re-visit what happened in Okinawa during the war" (Ianjo no jittai shoukai Okinawa senji seibouryoku tokubetsuten Okinawa Airakuen asu kara 2018). Revisiting the sexual enslavement of women in Okinawa during the war is of course a worthwhile endeavor, but the exhibition's design divorced this history from serious problems of U.S. military prostitution in post-war Okinawan society through associating the wartime "comfort women" scheme not with commercial sexual exploitation but with military sexual violence. Lost, therefore, was a chance to frame wartime and peacetime practices of military prostitution as comparable and equally condemnable forms of female sexual slavery.

Scholarly support for the South Korean approach

The generalized "sexual violence in armed conflict paradigm" finds support in the English-language literature, which is overwhelmingly concerned with "rape in war" and "rape as a weapon of war" rather than military prostitution or wartime sexual slavery. Outside the scholarship addressing the history of the "comfort women" scheme specifically, there exist few English-language works addressing military prostitution as sexual slavery. I was able to locate only four edited volumes evincing the approach, and even their chapters do not focus exclusively on military prostitution; they additionally canvass topics like wartime rape and problems of violence facing female military personnel (Barstow 2000, Drinck and Gross 2007, Hedgepeth and Saidel 2010, Stiglmayer et al. 1994). There are a number of volumes in English describing schemes of prostitution operating in settings of military occupation and around military bases (the best of which is Moon 1997), but these do not usually paint the schemes as enacting female sexual slavery. Moreover, they emphasize the wrongness of forced military prostitution, rather than of military prostitution outright. Additionally, of course, there are numerous books describing prostitution in war and occupation that advance no understanding of it as a human rights abuse, let alone a practice enacting female sexual slavery (e.g., Anderson Hughes 2011, Dunbar 2014, Gaines 2014).

Outside the literature on the Japanese "comfort women" scheme, the volume in English that most forthrightly takes a stance against the prostitution of women in war as organizing female sexual slavery is an English-language edited collection translated from German titled Forced prostitution in times of war and peace (Drinck and Gross 2007). But, as is evident from its title, the book's editors distinguish "forced" and "free" forms of prostitution and frame "forced prostitution" as a "means of warfare" in the same way that wartime rape is popularly theorized as a "weapon of war." These editors suggest in their introduction that
the entire area of sexual exploitation is used as a means of warfare,
as it is capable of destroying people's identities so effectively--the
identities of the women themselves and those of their whole families--
and even constitutes a traumatic event for an entire nation.

(p. 13)

If prostitution constitutes a weapon of war that can be traumatic for entire nations, the editors do not explain what function it then serves in peacetime societies, where it is usually more prevalent. But they do devote the book's first two chapters to discussing peacetime sex trafficking in Europe, even if this trafficking is distinguished from "willful" prostitution, as one of the chapter's authors is at pains to point out: "When I speak of forced prostitution, I am explicitly not speaking about prostitution!" (Boker 2007, p. 54). The English-language literature on military sexual slavery as a whole echoes her exclamatory determination to not speak about prostitution, and in this respect, it complements the campaigning approach of South Korean advocates.

Reluctance to see military prostitution as female sexual slavery, as I think marks the English-language literature, has recently come to influence the Japanese-language scholarship, which before now was differently dominated by a focus on female sexual slavery in respect of the historical "comfort women" scheme. This new influence likely arises out the popularity of U.S. historian Mary Louise Roberts's monograph published in 2014, which was soon after translated into Japanese (Roberts 2014). (It is possible her book was translated so quickly into Japanese, and became so well known in Japan, because of its perceived usefulness to local right-wing groups in showing other militaries as having patronized brothels during the war, on the premise that a problem shared is a problem halved.) Roberts's book focuses on the sexual conduct of occupying American military personnel in France after the second war in Europe. She discusses their sexual violence alongside descriptions of non-violent, consensual relationships and marriages arising between them and local women. Her undifferentiated, generalized approach is praised in a 2018 Japanese-language volume edited by well-known feminist Ueno Chizuko, along with Araragi Shinzou and Hirai Kazuko, which replicates its methodology (Ueno et al. 2018). Their own introductory chapter suggests that rape, prostitution, love and marriage in war, and occupation should be understood in one theoretical basket to avoid casting women's role as that of victim. The three editors explain that
the challenge of women's history is to 'restore women's agency to
history' for those women who have been rendered powerless and objects
of sacrifice in mainstream historical work. This is both an attempt to
throw off a tendency within women's historical work to maintain a
victim perspective in writing the history of women, as well as, on the
other hand, to, even in a revisionist way, reveal the reality of women
as perpetrators and accomplices.

(p. xiii)

To avoid promoting any such "victim" perspective, the editors tacitly place prostitution on a continuum featuring wartime rape at one end, representing absent female "agency," and activities of heterosexual coupling at the other, representing the exercise of full agency, or at least that exercised in constrained circumstances. Along this continuum, military prostitution escapes designation as sexual slavery because it places somewhere between rape and marriage. In other words, female voluntarism, willingness, choice, and "agency" attach to it to a greater or lesser extent, and so its characterization as sexual slavery is put beyond consideration. Roberts in her 2014 book similarly conveys no view of military prostitution as sexual slavery; on the contrary, she describes occupying U.S. military personnel prostituting local French women in neutral, if not whimsical, terms. Her recent influence on Japanese-language scholarship has, I think, caused this scholarship to depart from its former focus on the military prostitution of "comfort women" as an historical form of female sexual slavery. In contrast to this shift, though, as mentioned, there is movement underway in the opposite direction among Japan-based activist groups. These groups are changing their campaigning over the history of the "comfort women" to newly incorporate critiques of contemporary female sexual abuse and exploitation. This new development in Japan is described in the remainder of this article.

Contemporary campaigning in Japan over the history of military sexual slavery It will seem perverse to be raising objection to activist and academic efforts against gendered atrocities like wartime rape and sexual violence against women in conflict. There is, after all, plentiful past and present evidence of military men perpetrating mass rapes and other non-prostitution sexual atrocities in conflict zones, including Japanese military men having inflicted widespread sexual violence on women in places like China during the war of the 1930s and 1940s. Distinguishing military prostitution and "sexual violence against women in war" is, moreover, an obviously fraught task: The recent abduction and long-term detention of Iraqi Yazidi and Nigerian Chibok women and girls in conflict zones for the purpose of mass gang rape, for example, might be difficult to describe as having taken the form of military prostitution. The two examples are, at the same time, inaccurately described as "wartime rape," given their obvious features of sexual slavery. Rectifying this definitional contradiction in helpfully lateral terms, Catharine MacKinnon offers the clarifying analysis that military sexual slavery "is at once both mass rape and serial rape in a way that is indistinguishable from prostitution," and that "prostitution is that part of everyday non-war life that is closest to what we see done to women in...war" (MacKinnon 1994, p. 191). She encourages us, in other words, to view civilian prostitution through a lens of military sexual slavery while concurrently identifying the prostitution elements of wartime sexual slavery schemes.

This abolitionist approach to understanding prostitution as a systematized form of male sexual violence against women and girls irrespective of its perpetration in times of war or peace rarely surfaces, though, in an academic and activist environment that prefers the generalized and de-sexualized "violence against women in armed conflict paradigm." The de-sexualization of even feminist analyses of military violence was noted by a team of researchers in 2018 that raised concerns about academics, aid workers, and policymakers ignoring the specifically sexual nature of the violence that is perpetrated against women in conflict zones:
Wartime rape, as it is being framed in both the policy and academic
world, is decidedly not about sex, sexual desire, pleasure, or
sexuality. Very simply put, 'the sexual' (sexuality, desire, eroticism,
etc.) has been seemingly theorized away as irrelevant, and even
dangerously misleading in efforts to explain and redress conflict-
related sexual violence. This erasure of the sexual accompanies the
firm move to refute socio-biological explanations for wartime rape that
located the 'cause' of sexual violence in male heterosexuality (their

(Baaz and Stern 2018, p. 295)

The all-too-familiar nature of the sexual violence perpetrated by men in war prompts inconvenient conclusions to be drawn about male heterosexuality in peacetime, the researchers suggest, and which academics, aid workers, and policymakers may be politically disinclined to pursue. This disinclination is likely motivated by many things, but reluctance to confront male heterosexuality in its familiar, local, peaceable guise possibly directs attention instead to forms of violence against women that are easily and specifically identifiable as products of war. The strategy is possibly less provocative; Tomoko Yamaguchi explains that, "[b]ased on my field research with Japanese neo-nationalists, the sexual nature of the 'comfort woman' issue seems to be a key factor in their resistance against official recognition that these crimes took place (Yamaguchi 2017)." We could speculate this is because recognizing the sexuality of wartime prostitution leads to questions about men's sexual conduct in peacetime, and so apologizing for historical forms of prostitution amounts to acknowledgment of the need for men to change their sexual behavior in present-day society.

Grassroots activists in Japan have nonetheless, as mentioned, adopted just such a view in their recent campaigning over the history of the "comfort women." They have come to newly focus on contemporary forms of male sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls in efforts to pursue historical recognition and reparation for wartime victims. Their newly unique approach, broadly taking two forms, is described next.

Historical sexual slavery as an issue of sexual violence against women in contemporary Japan

Efforts by Japan-based activists to stress the relevance of contemporary forms of abuse and exploitation to the history of the wartime "comfort women" scheme have emerged only recently. The co-president of the Japan Women's and Human Rights Network, Kaori Sato, in 2018, for example, declared sexual violence, "including the past abuses against comfort women," a present-day issue for Japanese society, and emphasized the fact that "[o]ne out of every 15 Japanese females has suffered sexual violence, and 80% of the victims are children, adolescents, and young women" (in Cho 2018). But this tethering of "comfort women" campaigning to problems of contemporary sexual violence occurs, ironically, while the #MeToo movement in Japan is widely described as a failure (for this opinion, see, e.g., The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, 2018). This movement, which began in the United States in 2017 against men's workplace sexual harassment and assault of women, did not take off in Japan as it did in South Korea where large-scale rallies were held and court cases launched throughout 2018. Nonetheless, and perhaps ironically, the #MeToo framework continues to be deployed by Japanese activists in service of campaigns on behalf of the former "comfort women." Yang Jinja, who has for decades worked across a number of "comfort women" justice groups in the country, including as current director of Kibou no Tane Kikin (see, said at a 2018 workshop that,
[w]hen I first met Korea's 'comfort women' survivors, they were
fighting an isolate, lonely battle. But the collective action of people
who surrounded them turned these survivors into activists. These people
supported the survivors in their #MeToo battle in a similar spirit to
the #WithYou movement. It is this #WithYou movement that is lacking in
Japan today.

(workshop report on file with author)

In her comments, Yang characterizes the former "comfort women" as the world's "first #MeToo campaigners" for their public disclosures as survivors of male sexual violence, and their activist roles in rallying other women to the cause from the early 1990s. At the same workshop, though, longtime feminist campaigner and historian Kawada Fumiko spoke about her work from 1992 with a Japanese survivor (named Tami) and noted the inability of this survivor, in contrast, to come out publicly because no #WithYou movement existed to support her. Different from the survivors of Korean background that Yang describes as having the sympathy and support of activists in Japan and South Korea, and particularly that of Japan-resident Korean (zainichi) female activists, survivors of Japanese background like Tami did not attract solidarity and support because of their assumed historical association with prostitution (see Nishino et al. 2018).

Even with such problems afflicting the history of campaigning on behalf of sexual slavery survivors, and even while support for present-day sexual assault survivors is lacking in Japan, activists today nonetheless rally in support of the former "comfort women" under the #MeToo banner. An August 2018 workshop in Tokyo titled "The #MeToo movement that began with Kim Hak-sun," held to coincide with the August 14 comfort women international memorial day, featured speakers not only from groups active in the movement for the "comfort women" (and the event was jointly organized by two such groups), but also Tsunoda Yukiko who is a feminist lawyer involved for decades in advocacy and legal action on behalf of rape, pornography, and sexual harassment victims in the country. Tsunoda was formerly involved with the Anti-Prostitution and Pornography Research Group (APP), but more recently has begun consulting to Kibou no Tane Kikin, which, as above, is an NGO advocating justice for "comfort women." This example shows the combining of "comfort women" advocacy and campaigning over contemporary issues of sexual assault is undertaken not merely on rhetorical grounds: Japanese activists increasingly approach male sexual violence in the past and the present, and in wartime and peacetime, as a problem of the same nature.

This collaboration between groups representing different survivor cohorts (e.g., "comfort women," rape victims, or pornography industry survivors) now produces a range of jointly organized events, workshops, and publications. A November 2017 rally in Shibuya to mark the United Nations International Day to End Violence Against Women was organized by the National Movement for Resolving the Issue of the Japanese Military Comfort Women, which is a coalition encompassing around fifty civic groups including the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM). WAM is another hub for activism and research in support of the former "comfort women" in Tokyo (see Szczepanska 2014). At the rally, participants announced that the "comfort women" issue was "a matter of women's rights, not diplomacy," and spoke out against a climate in Japan where women felt unable to disclose sexual victimization. They cited the example of women who were being forced to appear in pornographic videos in the country who blamed themselves for their own victimization on the basis they were at fault for having been deceived. This unfriendly climate for sexual violence victims in Japan was decried by rally participants as linked, furthermore, to Japanese government efforts to silence the comfort women (in Cho 2017). The Shibuya rally featured a diverse range of people and groups acting in coalition in support of the former "comfort women" and was a clear, early indication of a shift underway among activists Japan toward campaigning in support of wartime survivors on the basis of comprehension of links between different forms of male violence, including, crucially, prostitution and pornography in contemporary Japan.

This collaboration allows, furthermore, for participant groups to reflect on their commonalities, both positive and negative. The August 2018 workshop, for example, recognized Japanese women specifically as inadequately attracting public support, both as #MeToo survivors in the present and as "comfort women" in the past. The flyer for the workshop lamented Japan's women's movement as having failed the two cohorts. It featured a close-up head shot of the late Korean wartime survivor Kim Hak-sun alongside text that read:
Unfortunately we cannot describe the so-called #MeToo movement as
having taken off in Japan. Similarly, the movement that preceded the
#MeToo wave involving women in a number of countries stepping forward
as victims of the Japanese military's wartime 'comfort women' scheme
failed to prompt women of Japanese nationality to step forward. These
parallel events makes us wonder, "Why are victims of sexual violence in
Japan pressed this much into silence?' Why does the Japanese state
never take steps to resolve its history of military sexual slavery?
What should we do to cultivate a society that is intolerant of sexual

(Senjisei bouryoku mondai renraku kyougikai and Nihongun 'ianfu' mondai
kaiketsu zenkoku koudou, 2018)

This sentiment is widely shared. Prior to the August workshop, in February 2018, Iikura Erii from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, at a joint ROK-Japan academic workshop on military prostitution held in Seoul, commented that insincere approaches taken by the Japanese government to the comfort women occur in conjunction with the re-victimization of #MeToo survivors in the country. Different from South Korean society, she continued, Japan's history of wartime sexual slavery, and the country's failure to reckon with it, had caused the #MeToo movement to falter. Iikura saw the different degrees of popularization of the #MeToo movement in Japan and South Korea as reflecting a gap between the two countries in terms of public consciousness about issues of gender and sexuality (Iikura 2018, p. 48). Iikura is likely correct in this observation; even surface-level indicators of women's status in the two countries, like the operation of a ministerial gender equality portfolio in South Korea that has never existed in Japan, seem to bear it out. There is no doubt Japanese feminists face a dispiriting situation in the country, in terms of both women's status and the campaigning environment needed to improve it. We might nonetheless see their efforts to pursue justice for victims of military sexual slavery, on a double bill with #MeToo activism, as a promising development, and one more politically viable than the approach currently pursued in South Korea where Roman's "violence against women during armed conflict paradigm" continues to hold sway. This paradigm, I suggest, leaves "comfort women" campaigning in that country bereft of contemporary relevance, particularly for young women as the movement's future leaders.

Even further than putting the "comfort women" on a double bill with #MeToo activism, moreover, Japanese feminist groups have recently begun combining their activities over military sexual slavery with critique of the country's sex industry. Loyal to Onozawa Akane's above-mentioned analysis, activists sound warning bells about prostitution and pornography in contemporary Japan as responsible for creating conditions similar to those that gave rise to the military "comfort women" system before the war. This approach to campaigning has emerged only in the last couple of years and will be shortly described, but its theoretical groundwork was laid long ago. Twenty years ago, Kokugakuin University's Morita Seiya published a journal article defining the military sexual slavery scheme as a problem of peacetime prostitution (Morita November 1999). Among other arguments in this vein, he wrote in 1999 that,
[a]s long as the comfort women system is divorced from peacetime as a
peculiar problem of war, or is understood exclusively as a product of
the wayward activities of the Japanese military before the war, a true
understanding of the system cannot be reached, and solutions found. The
system is fundamentally linked to violence against, and the abuse of,
women in Japan both before and after the war

(p. 118)

Two years later, in a book chapter published in 2001, sociologist Suzuki 2001 made even more explicit reference to Japan's "contemporary rape/prostitution-tolerant culture" in discussing the wartime scheme and noted the scheme's links to civilian prostitution both before and after the war:
The idea that girls sold into the [pre-war civilian sex] industry by
their parents were exercising choice is incomprehensible... it was a
system of sexual slavery. If we are to identify the differences between
the civilian legalised prostitution system and the comfort station
system, we have to first acknowledge the slavery of the civilian system
... attempts to insist on differences between the two systems are
likely to come from proponents who are capitalising on tenets of
Japan's contemporary rape/prostitution-tolerant culture. It would be
better to re-examine the comfort station system from the critical
perspective of the rape/prostitution culture circulating in Japan in
the pre-war period, as well as Japan's prewar sex industry

(p. 108)

A decade elapsed, though, before this understanding filtered down into the writings of activists and academics involved in campaigns to support the former "comfort women" in Japan, even if historians like Yamashita Yeong-ae did include early on in their work a sympathetic focus on prostituted women as victims of the military scheme (see, e.g., Yamashita & Yun, 1992). Among later academic activists, Nishino Rumiko was a strong advocate of the same view, and in 2010 recommended "[c]learly recognising and acknowledging the victimisation of [prostituted] Japanese 'comfort women'" as a means of "overcoming the gender prejudice that afflicts the 'comfort women' issue (Nishino 2010)." She suggested, in other words, that activists champion Japanese survivors specifically in their advocacy efforts on behalf of the former "comfort women" in order to break away from old, sexist ideas of prostitution as extinguishing claims to victimhood. Overcoming this prejudice and discriminatory way of thinking, which had afflicted the advocacy movement since its inception, and which had disenabled survivors of Japanese nationality stepping forward, would represent, Nishino believed, progress for both the movement and its survivors (p. 113).

This same commitment to prostituted and Japanese victims of the military scheme is upheld throughout the later work of historian Kinoshita Naoko, including in a 2018 book chapter where she critiques the framing that emerged early on, in the early 1990s, of military sexual slavery as a form of "forced trafficking." Kinoshita 2018 critiques this framing, firstly, as having resulted in a denial of justice for victims who were perceived as failing to meet the standard set by the concept because of personal histories of prostitution and, secondly, as having obscured the reality of the "comfort women" scheme as a system of sexual violence that grew out of Japan's licensed brothel sector. Kinoshita calls for wholesale re-evaluation of the testimony of survivors, and reconsideration of the harms that historical prostitution systems have done to women, not only in Japan but also in Korea and other countries where military sexual slavery victims were originally targeted and recruited (p. 82). Kinoshita's 2018 discussion goes further than other academic accounts of the issue in its theorizing of a direction for advocacy campaigning and politics, and, since advancing this analysis, her approach has begun to find real-world manifestation in the activism of feminist and other civic groups in Japan. Examples of it are described next.

Wartime sexual slavery as an issue of the sexual exploitation of women in contemporary Japanese society

The groups Women's Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM) and Violence Against Women in War Research Action Center (VAWW-RAC) lead research and activist efforts in Japan in support of the former "comfort women." The groups maintain leading-edge approaches to the issue in both their theorizing and campaigning, and since 2015, their members have focused on Japanese women specifically as victims of the wartime scheme irrespective of their prior prostituted status. Questioning the exclusion of these women from the broader movement in support of survivors, VAWW-RAC members have published a number of volumes arguing in favor of their recognition and advancement (see, most recently, Nishino et al. 2018), and in July 2018, VAWW-RAC members, including Yoshimi Yoshiaki, Kim Puja, Onozawa Akane, and journalist Okamoto Yuuki, traveled to South Korea to meet with like-minded colleagues. Significantly, the like-mindedness of these activist colleagues arose not from their similar advocacy on behalf of the former "comfort women," such as the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (who of course VAWW-RAC already had historically strong links with), but from their involvement in efforts against prostitution and the sex industry. In other words, activists who have worked over the past two decades to bring about South Korea's anti-prostitution laws of 2004, and subsequently to run government-subsidized shelter and welfare facilities to aid women's exit from the local sex industry, were the colleagues VAWW-RAC members traveled to meet. Among other people, the delegates visited the director of Salim Center, Byun Jeonghee, in Pusan, which has been a hub of feminist anti-prostitution organizing and thinking in South Korea (together with the group National Solidarity for Resolving the Problem of Prostitution) since its founding by feminist activists at the turn of the century.

Crucial to the cultivation of these connections with South Korea's feminist anti-prostitution movement has been the activism and journalism of Kitahara Minori who is involved in a range of groups in Tokyo, including Kibou no Tane Kikin and PAPS. As a journalist, Kitahara has traveled to South Korea numerous times to interview anti-prostitution activists and to document developments in South Korean legal and activist efforts against the local sex industry. Kitahara's work has facilitated VAWW-RAC's connection to these activists, who are a group apart from advocates attached to groups in coalition with the Korean Council. The July 2018 trip was significant and unique for its different focus on South Korea's anti-prostitution policy and infrastructure, rather than activism and organizations in direct and exclusive support of the former "comfort women." VAWW-RAC members were not originally involved in abolitionist efforts in Japan (Anti-Pornography and Prostitution Research Group members were earliest involved in these efforts), but increasingly the organization sponsors PAPS members like Miyamoto Setsuko to speak at their seminars, as happened in May 2017. At that VAWW-RAC seminar, Miyamoto spoke about her newly released book on Japan's contemporary sex industry.

Soon afterward, in July 2017, VAWW-RAC member and historian Onozawa Akane was written up in dialogue with Kitahara Minori in the magazine Shuukan Kinyoubi (Onozawa and Kitahara 2017). This piece was specifically about the exploitation of young women in pornography production in Japan. It came about because of Kitahara's membership of PAPS, connection with Shuukan Kinyoubi, and her ground-level knowledge of problems relating to the sexual exploitation of young women in Japan. It was significant that Onozawa, as one of Japan's leading historians of the "comfort women" system, chose to join Kitahara in commenting on the issue as an area relevant to her expertise. Indeed, in the piece, Onozawa makes the historically informed point that techniques of trickery used by pornographers in contemporary Japan to trap young women for the purpose of pornography filming are similar to the strategies that were used by pimps in Japan's past, in places like the country's pre-war licensed prostitution districts (which is Onozawa's area of historical expertise). In Shuukan Kinyoubi, Onozawa further critiqued tolerance toward prostitution evident over the course of Japanese history and argued this tolerance promoted the development of the wartime comfort women system (p. 29). Then, referring to current-day forced pornography filming specifically, Onozawa criticized the fact that Japanese society does not currently problematize pornography unless there is evidence of clear force involved in its production. She noted the same problem afflicts the history of the "comfort women." Particularly for Japanese survivors who were often in prostitution before entering the military system, there is a tendency to deny their victimhood, she argued, in spite of all prostitution in Japan during the war years being organized through trafficking, and as having been organized wholly on the basis of force (i.e., in the form of underage girls entering prostitution venues). Even the slightest hint of any self-direction in the histories of victims straight away renders them no longer victims, she added, and this problem is common to both the former comfort women and contemporary victims of Japan's sex industry. Onozawa suggested that this commonality is caused by "male belief in the right to buy women for prostitution," and therefore to see the sex industry as a mere venture of business. "I really think we need to think more broadly about the context in which young women today might enter the sex industry--what is behind their decisions, their contexts of poverty, and the society they live in which sees prostitution as natural and inevitable," Onozawa suggested in conclusion to her statements (p. 31).

It is significant that Onozawa, as one of Japan's most prolific historians of the wartime sexual slavery scheme, would highlight so clearly similarities between the situation of women she had researched in depth for their wartime prostitution experience, and young women in today's Japan who are recruited by a sex industry that is, on its surface, "free" and very different from the pimps, brokers, and traffickers of the sex industry of Japan's war days. But the fact that Onozawa was able to so readily observe such similarities reflects, I believe, the sophistication and broad-mindedness of the activist movement in Japan advocating on behalf of the former "comfort women."


Japanese feminists have attracted some criticism, including from this author (Norma 2017), for their historical failure since the 1990s to build a movement within Japan in support of Japanese and other prostituted survivors of the wartime military "comfort women" scheme (see also Kinoshita 2017). Instead of taking up the cause of local victims living in Japan, these activists from early on followed the lead of South Korean campaigners and focused on victims abroad, which meant the global movement in support of survivors was delayed by more than a decade as South Korean activists waited out the years of military dictatorship to restart justice campaigning after the revolution of 1987. It also meant that Japanese victims were deprioritized in campaigning in favor of Korean victims and other survivors living outside of Japan. Yoshitake Teruko, one of the founders in 1975 of the Tokyo-based Group of Activist Women, has written about how the presence of a military regime in Korea made it difficult for information about the "comfort women" to be transmitted to Japan while, simultaneously, feminist campaigning was preoccupied with opposing other issues of sexism within Japan, which retarded the growth of the "comfort women" justice movement there (in Koudou suru Onnatachi No Kai, 1999, p. 237). This was unfortunate for survivors of Japanese nationality who were almost never able to come forward, let alone be recognized as victims or awarded restitution.

Whatever our view of this history, though, the discussion of this article has differently and hopefully noted a radical and promising break from the past undertaken by Japanese feminists and their allied campaigners. The justice movement in Japan now moves in a very different direction toward squarely and actively facing the country's history of military sexual slavery from a critical perspective on sexual exploitation and abuse in present-day Japan. In Japan today, the country's women and children are seriously affected by sex industrialization, commercial sexualization, and industries promoting underage sexual exploitation. But, even while the #MeToo movement is seen as having failed in the country, feminist activists have begun campaigning in support of the former "comfort women" from a stance of critique of Japan's sex industry, and its exploitation of young women in contemporary Japan in the same way wartime survivors were tricked and manipulated. This renovates the movement in support of restitution and recognition for victims of wartime sexual slavery through making their plight one of contemporary relevance for current-day Japanese women and girls. Through this framing of the movement, Japanese activists are successfully renewing the struggle and ensuring its successful future in coming decades as new cohorts of young women take up the struggle against sexual slavery from a position of opposition to sexual slavery enacted before their eyes in peacetime society.

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Caroline Norma lectures in the Master of Translation and Interpreting degree at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. She researches histories of military and civilian prostitution systems in Asia and the Pacific from a feminist abolitionist perspective. She is involved in a range of abolitionist organizations in Australia and Japan, including the Tokyo-based People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence (PAPS).
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Author:Norma, Caroline
Publication:Cross Currents
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Date:Dec 1, 2019
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