U.S. Office of War Information Report No. 49: A report reflecting the author’s subjective bias

Posts Byeongju HwangResearcher of the National Institute for Korean History

  • Created at2019.10.31
  • Updated at2024.05.29

Japanese far-right forces have been attacking Japanese Military “Comfort Women” victims based on the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) Report No. 49. What exactly does this report entail, and how should we interpret its contents?

The peculiarities of the U.S. OWI Report No. 49

The U.S. OWI, established by President Roosevelt on June 13, 1942, was tasked with promoting American propaganda and publicity domestically and internationally during World War II. Among its key external affairs duties was conducting psychological warfare operations, which included various types of intelligence gathering, propaganda dissemination, and sabotage. OWI Report No. 49, which compiles the interrogation of 20 Korean “Comfort Women” captured in the Myitkyina region of northern Burma (now Myanmar), stands as one of the most crucial documents of the Allied Forces, alongside the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) Research Report No. 120. This is the only instance where as many as 20 “Comfort Women” were captured en masse as prisoners of war, leaving behind an interrogation report.

This document gained prominence due to its highly subjective evaluation of the lives and existence of “Comfort Women.” Throughout the text, there are numerous instances where subjective assessments of the “Comfort Women” are evident, such as describing them as “not pretty from the perspective of Japanese and white people” or labeling them as “childish and selfish.” Moreover, it suggests that the lives of the “Comfort Women” were relatively affluent and near-luxurious compared to those of residents in other parts of Burma. 

Many individuals, including Japan’s far-right forces, have utilized this document as ammunition to criticize the “Comfort Women” issue. However, this document should be understood with considerable caution. Merely skimming through its contents fails to adequately explain its significance. A thorough analysis is necessary, not only of the document’s content but also of its production process and the characteristics of its writer, the interrogator of the 20 Korean “Comfort Women.” This document requires scrutiny, particularly due to its considerable impact on the politics of memory surrounding the “Comfort Women” issue. It is not acceptable to refute the existence of this document in opposition to those who seek to deny or distort the reality of “Comfort Women.” The key is to clarify a more accurate and comprehensive factual basis of comfort stations and “Comfort Women” through this document.  

The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_Cover


Reasons to fully understand and analyze the singularities of Report No. 49

The “Comfort Women” who were captured near Myitkyina on August 10, 1944, were temporarily accommodated at the Myitkyina airfield before being transferred to the Ledo base in India on August 15. Full-scale interrogation of them took place for about 20 days from August 20 to September 10. However, the report was completed on October 1, indicating the possibility of additional investigation or interrogation for approximately 20 days after the initial interrogation. In other words, the entire interrogation lasted about 40 days. This was an unusually prolonged period of interrogation and investigation. 

To fully grasp Report No. 49, it’s crucial to delve into an analysis of the interrogator. This is because the document isn’t a verbatim record of the statements and testimonies of the 20 Korean “Comfort Women”; rather, it’s a compilation created by the document’s author who synthesized the interrogation notes from these women. While direct quotations may be used when needed, the report as a whole is typically crafted based on the analysis and judgment of the interrogator or document writer. 

Alex Yorichi, the author of this document, was a second-generation Japanese immigrant in the United States, known as Nisei. Nisei found themselves in a paradoxical situation where their families were detained in the internment camp due to the war between their home country and their current country of residence, while they were required to directly participate in the war against their homeland. This complex situation likely influenced Yorichi’s identity as both an American soldier and a Japanese man, shaping his perspective on the Korean “Comfort Women.” The lack of favorability toward the “Comfort Women” in his perspective is evident in the report.

Another crucial aspect to consider when understanding the contents of Report No. 49 is that it likely did not directly reflect the voices of the Korean “Comfort Women.” This was primarily due to a language barrier: Yorichi could speak Japanese and English, but not Korean, and it is highly probable that the “Comfort Women” were not proficient in Japanese. According to the report, the Korean “Comfort Women,” aged between 19 and 31, were uneducated and ignorant. Furthermore, their Korean names were recorded in English based on phonetics. Considering these factors, it is improbable that the “Comfort Women” were fluent in Japanese.

Interrogations were likely conducted through comfort station operators known as mamasan and papasan. The Kitamura (北村) couple, who owned the Korean “Comfort Women,” likely served as interpreters and representatives during these sessions. If the comfort station owners were representing the “Comfort Women,” the conversation would have been biased in favor of the owners. Therefore, it is essential to grasp the uniqueness of the interrogator and the interrogation process and analyze the contents of the report meticulously. 


Alex Yorichi (second from the left)

Alex Yorichi (third from the left in the front row)

A report rife with subjective bias against “Comfort Women”

Report No. 49 is organized into sections such as preface, recruitment, personality, living and working conditions, fee system, schedule, remuneration, reaction to the Japanese soldiers, soldier reactions, response to the military situation, retreat and capture, propaganda, and requests. Additionally, an appendix includes a list of 20 Korean names of “Comfort Women” and the names of the comfort station owners. The document spans a total of 7 pages, comprising 6 pages of text and 1 page of the appendix.  

The preface of the report unequivocally labels “Comfort Women” as “prostitutes” deployed to serve Japanese soldiers. In the recruitment section, it explains that in early May 1942, Japanese recruiters began recruiting Korean women for the “comfort service” for the Japanese military in Southeast Asia. The methods employed by these recruiters were more akin to deceit, such as offering them to  take care of wounded soldiers in hospitals or promising significant earnings to pay off their family debts. The total group comprised approximately 800 individuals, who arrived in Rangoon (now Yangon) around August 20th. Upon arrival, they were divided into groups of 8 to 22 individuals and sent to various locations in Burma. Among these groups, four groups ended up in Myitkyina: Kyoei, Kinsui, Bakushinro, and Momoya.
Excluding certain biases and subjective evaluations, this document provides relatively comprehensive information regarding the operation of the comfort stations and the lives of the “Comfort Women.” Detailed information is provided on the operating hours and fee system of comfort stations, as well as the income of “Comfort Women.” Of course, the “Comfort Women” had to split their income with the operators, typically receiving around 50–60 percent of the total income. Additionally, the reactions of Japanese soldiers using the comfort stations are also depicted. It is recorded that some Japanese soldiers expressed feelings of shame at waiting in line to use the comfort stations. 

However, this report blatantly reveals the author’s bias. The Yorichi report emphasized that “Korean ‘Comfort Women’ were uneducated, childish, and selfish,” and even asserted that they were “self-centered and knowledgeable about women’s tricks.” Furthermore, the report claimed that the Korean “Comfort Women” in Myitkyina were living luxuriously compared to those in other places for two years. It also documented that “Comfort Women” had enough money to purchase goods and received numerous gifts from visiting soldiers, while also participating in athletic competitions, various outings, entertainment, and social events. 

It’s uncertain whether these statements came from “Comfort Women” themselves or from the comfort station operators. Nevertheless, it underscores Yorichi’s belief that the lives of “Comfort Women” were not at a level where they suffered from poverty and lack of supplies. However, this perspective is one-sided. The early stages of the Japanese occupation of Burma were relatively prosperous. The Japanese occupying forces in Myitkyina had easy access to all local resources and facilities. Their dominance was so absolute that they even utilized a mission school operated by American missionaries and a pastor’s residence as comfort stations. Under these circumstances, it can be said that certain material goods could be provided to “Comfort Women.” However, this situation lasted for only about a year, and with the onset of a large-scale Allied offensive in mid-1944, the lives and destinies of “Comfort Women” took a drastic turn.  

As the Japanese army retreated, the “Comfort Women” were ordered to follow them with a three-hour delay. Amidst this, they were still required to carry out their duties as “Comfort Women,” sometimes being caught in combat, resulting in casualties. Especially after becoming prisoners of war, the “Comfort Women” requested that the Allied Forces not inform the Japanese military of their capture, fearing it would endanger other “Comfort Women” in different military units. The Japanese military vehemently refused to surrender or be taken prisoner.   

The fact that the “Comfort Women” were not materially deprived for a certain period, or that they participated in various gatherings of the Japanese military, is a peripheral issue. Even slaves, considered property by their owners, were provided with necessities to ensure a stable labor force. Therefore, it was in the owners’ best interest to maintain the slaves in top condition for greater profit and desire. Similarly, the comfort stations and “Comfort Women” established to satisfy the sexual desires of the Japanese soldiers needed to be maintained in as good a condition as possible to maximize the satisfaction of the Japanese military. Just because there is data showing that “Comfort Women” were not starving at all times, it does not negate the inhumanity of the comfort station system and the suffering of “Comfort Women.”


The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_p. 1

The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_p. 2

The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_p. 3

The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_p. 4

The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_p. 5

The U.S. Office of War Information_Report No. 49_p. 6



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Writer Byeongju Hwang

Byeongju Hwang is a research officer at the National Institute of Korean History, focusing on the modern transformation of Korea. He is currently responsible for the project on the war crimes of Japanese Military “Comfort Women” at the National Institute of Korean History.