The most elementary data among the ‘comfort women’-related records of the Allied Forces

Posts Hwang Byoung-jooResearcher of the National Institute for Korean History

  • Created at2019.09.25
  • Updated at2020.12.14
The full text of the Collection of Records on the ‘Comfort Women’, the War Crimes of the Japanese Military is available on the Korean history database of the National Institute of Korean History.Collection of Records on the ‘Comfort Women’, the War Crimes of the Japanese Military(link directory)




The most elementary data among the ‘comfort women’-related records of the Allied Forces




The Allies Forces left the Japanese prisoner of war interrogation Reports at various units. The leading examples include the South East Asia Translation and Interrogation Center (SEATIC) under the South East Asia Command (SEAC), which was led by the British forces, the United States Office of War Information (OWI), and the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) under the South West Pacific Area, where General MacArthur served as commander.

Among the documents created by the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), the Japanese prisoner of war interrogation reports of the prisoners of war would be the most elementary data, along with wartime translations of seized Japanese documents, concerning ‘comfort women’. The Allied Forces left the detailed interrogation records of Japanese prisoners of war to acquire military intelligence. They were primarily military-related, but in many cases, the entire lives of the soldiers were also interrogated, including the information on their lives in barracks. The comfort stations and 'comfort women' were not of great military importance, but the issues often arose in relation to the lives of the soldiers in the barracks.

In particular, the records bear the marks of the Allied Forces dealing with the issue of 'comfort women' in terms of psychological warfare. Similar to the aforementioned research report No. 120, the Japanese prisoner of war interrogation reports also appears to have approached the issue of the 'comfort women' in order to leverage it for psychological warfare while gaining a wide view and the understanding of the barrack life of the Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese prisoner of war interrogation reports created by the ATIS was partly included in the 『Collection and Publication of Materials Relating to the ‘Comfort Women’ Issue』 (5 volumes) published by the ‘Asian Women's Fund’ in 1997 in Japan and in 『The U.S Records on the Japanese Military ‘Comfort Women』 (3 volumes in total; Suninbook; 2018) written by Chung Chin-sung on two occasions. However, 『A Collection of Materials for Japanese Military Sex Slavery and War Crimes』 (1-3) published by the National Institute of Korean History in 2017 contains the largest sections of the interrogation reports. This collection is particularly unique compared to other collections because it has completely translated the entire interrogation report, not just parts where the comfort stations and 'comfort women' are mentioned.

Evidence demonstrating that the comfort stations were set up where the Japanese troops were stationed

In total, 783 Japanese prisoner of war interrogation reports were created by the ATIS, and 45 of them are included in the collection. In other words, 45 out of the 783 reports contain contents related to comfort stations and 'comfort women’. In terms of proportion, they correspond to 5.7 percent. According to the personal information of the Japanese soldiers in 45 reports, physical and mental labor accounts for half of each job, and their educational attainment is evenly distributed from the primary to higher education. This was not that dissimilar from the social composition in Japan.

The interrogation reports were created for three years and five months from December 31, 1942 to May 21, 1945. The areas that reference having the comfort stations and 'comfort women’ are all diverse. Rabaul on New Britain Island near New Guinea was mentioned 19 times, Philippines 7 times, including Manila, Davao and Tacloban, Dutch Indonesia 5 times, including Belawan, Ambon, Malang and Amahai, China 4 times, including Shanghai and Guangzhou, and French Indochina, Singapore, and Malaysia 1 time each. On 12 occasions, the regions were either not mentioned or remained unclear.


Nevertheless, the interrogation reports focused on the Japanese forces captured in the areas controlled by the South West Pacific Area, and the facts confirm that the comfort stations were in all of Southeast Asia, excluding Burma and Thailand. This offers an interpretation that many of the soldiers experienced comfort stations in various regions due to the movements of the Japanese troops, but above all, it serves as evidence that the comfort stations were installed almost without exception wherever Japanese troops were stationed. In particular, the overwhelming references of Rabaul demonstrate that most of the prisoners were troops sent to the southern front and that Rabaul was the stronghold of the south.

Rabaul was in fact the hub of the Japanese military in the region corresponding to the southern forefront. Rabaul, located on New Britain Island right next to New Guinea, was a strategic foothold for the Japanese forces to rally 100,000 troops to invade New Guinea and Australia. Nevertheless, Rabaul remained unoccupied by the Allied Forces until the defeat of Japan. This would be the second reason that the comfort stations in Rabaul were often witnessed by soldiers.

The ATIS systematized the Interrogation Report Proforma between July and November 1943. The overall format of the interrogation report was to first delineate the basic information such as the prisoner's name, number, rank, unit affiliation, place and time of capture, height and weight, age, address, and occupation, and then describe the main text. The main text was generally composed of 1. Preface, 2. Personal History, 3. Capture, 4. Unit or Organization, 5. Identification, 6, Personality, 7. Commissioned Vessel, 8. Enemy Equipment, 9. Enemy Method, 10. Communications, 11. Defense, 12. Enemy Supply, 13. Morale and Propaganda, 14. Enemy Intention, 15. Loss or Casualties, 16. Chemical Warfare, 17. Terrain (Region), 18. Duty, 19. Allied Forces, 20. Special Intelligence, and 21. General.

In the preface of the main text, a brief evaluation was made on the attitude and intelligence of the prisoners, and the personal history organized the process between enlistment and capture by data, while the majority of what remained was for identifying military information. The contents on the comfort stations and 'comfort women' directly related to this collection focused on items such as special intelligence, morale, and propaganda. Under the 'morale and propaganda' item, the contents related to the comfort stations and 'comfort women' appear in the sub-item called the Conditions in Fighting Services. Judging by the above information, it appears that the comfort stations and ‘comfort women' were initially perceived to be peculiar information to the Allied Forces but were then gradually understood to have greater implications as the subject of propaganda.

The next matter to look at is the distribution channels of the reports. The distribution channels of the reports were initially 9, but by September 1944, it had increased to 39. At this stage, the distribution channels were extended beyond the South Pacific region to reach China, Burma, and India as well as the United States Department of War. In 1945, the number of distribution channels was expanded to cover 273 departments at 88 locations. They were distributed to almost all units, including the staff section of the South West Pacific Area and even the regimental combat units, and the distribution network was further expanded to cover the allied intelligence units of the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada, as well as the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS). It is reasonable to assume that such a great extension of the distribution channels demonstrates a wide perception of the issue of the comfort stations and 'comfort women’ within the Allied Forces.

Evidence demonstrating that the Japanese military controlled the comfort stations

Excluding the military aspect, the contents of the Japanese prisoner of war interrogation reports are divided into three parts. First, there are sections related to the comfort stations and 'comfort women'. Second, we find atrocities that may be linked to war crimes. And third, the living and working conditions of the Japanese military. The contents of the reports related to the first section are divided into three types. There are a total of 24 reports testifying the existence of the Korean 'comfort women' in the first part. For the second part, the reports do not mention Koreans, but Japanese, Chinese, or local 'comfort women'. A total of 11 reports correspond to this part. Lastly, 10 reports state the existence of the comfort stations, without any mention of the ‘comfort women’. Although their availability is limited to 45 reports, they are believed to be the records showing the widespread existence of Korean 'comfort women'.

The statements in the reports are quite brief. In general, they simply mention whether a comfort station has been installed in a specific region, the number of ‘comfort women’ and their nationalities, and fees. The statements of the prisoners regarding the ownership and operation of the comfort stations were not consistent, but most took a similar stand that they were under military control. In other words, whether private or directly managed by the military, what matters is that the Japanese soldiers at the time were very clearly aware that the comfort stations were under direct military control.

It has previously been confirmed that the comfort stations had already been installed in Rabaul since 1942. A Japanese prisoner of war interrogation report conducted by a soldier conveys the fact that, in January 1943, there were two comfort stations in Rabaul, with 100 ‘comfort women’, combining both the Koreans and the Japanese. The Prisoner Interrogation Report No. 45, created in February 1943, indicates that some of the comfort stations in the Philippines were installed within the premises of the military units.

The comfort stations were sometimes perceived as filthy even by some Japanese soldiers. The Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 54, dated April 14, 1943, clearly marks this issue. Inagaki, Riichi, a naval finance officer educated at the University of Tokyo in Japan, was aware that the army and navy had set up the comfort stations, and he asserted that such fact was an ugly one, abhorrent to him. It is clear that the Japanese military comfort stations were difficult to tolerate, even to an officer educated at the University of Tokyo, one of the best elites in Japan.

There are also Japanese prisoner of war interrogation reports with a rather unique characteristic. One of them is the Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 676 drawn up by the crew members of a German submarine. Since Germany and Japan were in an alliance, a German submarine had been dispatched to the Japanese naval base in Batavia as a symbolic gesture. The submarine was sunk off the coast of Singapore in an attack by the United States, and the crew that were taken prisoner left an interrogation report.

German officers did not seek to conceal their contempt and hostility towards the allied Japanese military. One of the major issues was the comfort station. The Germans were well aware of the existence of the comfort stations that they were not allowed to enter as only Japanese officers were given access, and they also knew that Dutch women had been mobilized. The fact that the comfort stations were only available to Japanese troops despite their alliance under the Axis Powers appears to provide considerable implications regarding the meaning of the comfort stations. This demonstrates not only the fact that the Japanese military directly controlled the comfort stations, but also perceived their access as an exclusive privilege of the Japanese military.

Violent barrack life and racism

Further revelations found within the interrogation reports of the ATIS is that they provide a great deal of information on the living and working conditions of the Japanese military and the internal situation of Japan during the war. If the heart of the 'comfort women' issue lies in the military of the Japanese Empire, then the research and analysis of the Japanese military must also be treated as an essential facet. The prisoners, in general, appeared to have internalized the militarism and imperialism of the Japanese Empire to a considerable extent. The subject of the Report No. 59 immediately rose from his seat and stood to attention whenever the Emperor was mentioned during the interrogation. The subject of the Report No. 63 shared his perception that Tojo Hideki was not responsible for the war, and in the Report No. 60, the subject argued that war with the United States was inevitable because the United States had chosen to help China.

The interrogation reports also provide a rich vein of information regarding barrack life in the Japanese military. It is already well known that the internal discipline of the Japanese military, built upon the ranks and seniority, was extremely harsh. This form of discipline is closely related to the prevalence of violence. A prisoner of war in No. 664 recalled his first year of enlistment as being one in which he was slapped in his face by senior soldiers to the point where he bled in his mouth.

Another interesting issue, along with the internal military issues, was the rift in the alliance between the Axis Powers. The aforementioned interrogation report of the crew members of a German submarine clearly demonstrates the dark side of the relationship between the Japanese and German forces. Despite the fact that the two countries were in alliance, at the same time, they appear to have been in conflict. The statements given by the German prisoners of war consistently remained very critical of Japan, the Japanese, and the Japanese military. The responses of the Japanese prisoners of war to the questions about their attitude towards Germany were not very positive, either. When asked about German aid, the Japanese prisoners of war consistently stated that little had been provided, and they expressed great displeasure towards any comparison made between Hitler and the Emperor.

Such open hostility in an alliance is particularly relevant to racism. According to the judgment of the interrogator, most German troops did not view Japan positively due to their racial prejudice. In other words, to the German prisoners of Batavia, the Japanese military seemed to be waging a Caucasoid vs. Mongoloid war, and the Japanese soldiers found it particularly strange to see any Germans entering the Japanese command. This corresponded precisely to the attitude of the Japanese prisoners of war. They refused to accept the racial superiority of the Germans and the inferiority of the Japanese.

However, Japan's racist composition of the war between the Caucasoid and Mongoloid, on the other hand, embedded discrimination and oppression within the Mongoloid. The prisoners in the Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 30 took the stand that it was natural for the Chinese to be treated discriminatingly because they were inferior to the Japanese. Japan played the double role as a victim and the perpetrator of the racism created by the West in modern times. It can also be read as a strategy to offset the sense of inferiority towards the modern West and Caucasians with a sense of superiority towards another “colored race” in Asia.

The issue of the “comfort women” in the Japanese military should be analyzed in various aspects, but the research carried out on racism also appears to carry a significant meaning. The rating system of the Japanese military comfort stations was in general, applied differently to each race. In other words, European women were given a particularly high price, followed by Japanese, Korean, and local women. This is an example that highlights the reality of the Japanese military contaminated with racism.

From the viewpoint of the Japanese military, the Korean 'comfort women' were the 'Mongoloid' mobilized for the interracial war as well as the colonial women who were underprivileged and positioned at the bottom of society within the Japanese Empire. The Japanese military sought a target with minimum social backlash and resistance. As the victims with the least possibility for revenge are usually chosen as scapegoats, then the ‘comfort women’ had to originate from the weakest link of colonial Korea.



Related contents

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Writer Hwang Byoung-joo

The author's interest lies in the modern transformation of Korea and he conducts relevant studies. He is currently involved in the project related to the war crimes of the Japanese military against ‘comfort women’ at the National Institute of Korean History.  

[email protected] 

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