How did Japan set up the “comfort stations” in Hainan Island (海南島) and mobilize “comfort women”?

Posts Choi Jong-gilProfessor of HK Research at Wonkwang University

  • Created at2020.08.31
  • Updated at2021.11.23

How did Japan set up the “comfort stations” in Hainan Island (海南島) and mobilize “comfort women”?

Currently, one of the key outstanding debates regarding the issue of the Japanese military “comfort women” is whether the Japanese government was directly involved in the installation and operation of the “comfort stations” and the mobilization of “comfort women”, and if any force was perpetrated in the process. Through the announcement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Koichi (加藤紘一) on January 12, 1992 and the Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei (河野洋平) on August 4, 1993, Japan acknowledged the direct involvement of the Japanese army and the government as well as the perpetration of force. However, right-wingers in Japan deny any direct involvement of the Japanese government, citing that the documents proving that the Japanese Army or Japanese government had directly ordered the establishment of the “comfort stations” have never been found. They also claim that neither the Japanese army nor the Japanese government were involved in mobilizing “comfort women”, and that private businesses simply recruited “comfort women” by illegal means. Having accepted these claims, the Abe administration is contradicting what the previous Japanese government had admitted.

Nevertheless, data on the Japanese military “comfort women” produced by a colonization company in Taiwan (hereinafter the “Taiwanese Colonization Company”) clearly illustrates the fact that the Japanese Army engaged in the installation of the “comfort stations” and the recruitment of the “comfort women” by utilizing the Government-General of Taiwan and private businesses after it occupied Hainan Island (海南島). These data, created from March 17, 1939 to August 5, 1943, contain a vast volume spanning 328 pages and 60 different types of information. The relevant documents are now being maintained by the Taiwan Historica.

Amongst these documents, this article focuses on the materials listed below.

●  The Business Director of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Construction of the Tents (Barracks) in Hainan Island」, March 29, 1939. File no., J_tw_002.
● 「The Case of Hainan Island’s Navy “Comfort Stations”」, April 4, 1939. File no., J_tw_005.
●  The President of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Supplies for the Materials Related to the Military and the Investigation Team of Hainan Island」, April 21, 1939. File no., J_tw_010.
●  Onishi Fumikazu, The Business Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of Transporting Personnel and Supplies」, May 9, 1939. File no., J_tw_015.
●  The Southern Land Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of Hainan Island’s “comfort station” Operation Fund Loan Payment」, May 6, 1939. File no., J_tw_014.
●  Onishi Fumikazu, The Business Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Construction Project in Hainan Island」, May 11, 1939. File no., J_tw_016.
●  The Southern Land Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Progress Status on the Construction Project」, August 16, 1939. File no., J_tw_032.
●  The Head of the Haikou Office of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Progress Status on the Construction Project」, September 14, 1939. File no., J_tw_034.


The documents produced by the Taiwanese Colonization Company on the Japanese military “comfort women” are significant for the research of the “comfort women” in two aspects. First, the documents present an important case of how Japan set up and managed the “comfort stations” on islands while the Japanese front expanded beyond China to the south-east Asia, the Pacific, etc. after 1939 and consequently faced difficulties when it directly applied the construction and operation method for the mainland “comfort stations” to the islands. Second, these documents provide crucial information for the understanding of how the Japanese Army, Japanese government agencies, state-run companies, and private businesses formed connections with each other to establish and operate the “comfort stations”. In general, when the military units move to other regions, the profitability of operating the “comfort stations” substantially reduce on islands where there are few civilians who can replace the demands of the soldiers. The fact that private businesses ran “comfort stations” in such places demonstrates that it was not an economic activity voluntarily undertaken by the private comfort station businesses, but a consignment by the army. The documents on “comfort women” created by the Taiwanese Colonization Company suggest concrete evidence that supports the notion that state agencies and civilian businessmen had established firm ties for the establishment and operation of the Japanese Army’s “comfort stations” in the south.

 

1. Recruitment of “comfort women” by Fu-ta Company (福大公司)

When the Japanese Army invaded Guangdong (廣東) in October 1938, China, fearing the deterioration of Guangdong’s situation, moved its troops from Hainan Island to Guangdong in order to counter the Japanese invasion. Then in February 1939, the Japanese Army strengthened its naval blockade against China and established a military operating base in Hainan Island, where the defense weakened, in order to occupy it as a means of pushing on with the southward expansion policy. As the Japanese Army took over Hainan Island and started stationing there, the issue of establishing “comfort stations” in Hainan Island arose.

하이난도의 위치


A good illustration of this state of affairs is presented in the document dated March 29, 1939 which was sent by a business director of the Taiwanese Colonization Company to commissioner Nagase at the Government-General of Taiwan.[1] The document mentions a request made by “the military intelligence director through the local naval attaché office” “to our company to build two barracks buildings (176.9 m² of floor space for each) that can each accommodate 20 personnel related to fine restaurants and comfort units.” In other words, an analysis of the relationship between the sender and receiver of this document reveals that the Japanese Army, which occupied Hainan Island, decided to set up “comfort stations” in Hainan Island and requested the details to the Taiwanese Colonization Company through the Government-General of Taiwan.

About a week after this document’s production, another document[2] was created on April 4, 1939 which revealed that Kihara, an investigation manager of the Government-General of Taiwan, asked the director Takayama of the Taiwanese Colonization Company to “provide 10 female entertainers, 30 female entertainers/prostitutes, and 50 prostitutes”. At the request of the Government-General of Taiwan, the Taiwanese Colonization Company “first sent 10 female entertainers/prostitutes” “through establishments called Kaketsu (花月) and Takenoya (竹之家)” which were already operating female entertainers and prostitution businesses, and borrowed up to “30,000 yen” in funds needed to cover the cost. At the same time, the Taiwanese Colonization Company made efforts to conceal its direct involvement by “separately commissioning the task to the Fu-ta Company (福大公司), as it was undesirable in many ways to handle” directly the work associated with the Japanese Military “comfort women” issue under their own name.

As such, the Taiwanese Colonization Company initially dispatched 10 female entertainers and prostitutes to promptly respond to the army’s request through the Government-General of Taiwan for the supply of “comfort women”, and signed a formal contract with the Fu-ta Company on April 6, 1939 for the operation of the “comfort stations” on Hainan Island. According to a document[3]written by the president of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, the Fu-ta Company later recruited “comfort women” from various parts of Taiwan and brought 4 female entertainers, 7 Hostesses, and 8 other relevant personnel to Hainan Island on April 18, 1939, via the Taiwanese Colonization Company’s ship called Kin Rin Maru (金令丸) which left the Port of Keelung (基隆). Considering that the formal contract between the Taiwanese Colonization Company and the Fu-ta Company was signed on April 6, 1939, it only took 12 days to recruit people, complete the sailing procedures, and transfer the women and relevant personnel via ship. This is a tight timeline even if the Fu-ta Company responded rapidly after signing the contract. The reason why it was possible to execute the task so ‘quickly’ is believed to be that the recruitment and sailing of the “comfort women” were at the request of the army and were commissioned through the Government-General, the administrative agency of a country, and this facilitated close cooperation between the related agencies. In particular, the list of passengers who departed through the Port of Keelung included a woman named Usami (宇佐美), who was born on November 5, 1922 and was 17 years old at the time in 1939.[4] However, it was illegal even under Japanese domestic law at the time to make minors sail to another country in order to make them engage in the sex industry (prostitution). Nevertheless, the reason why it was possible to recruit minors and record them on the boarding list for the sailing was presumably because of coordination between the related agencies such as the police, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc.

타이완척식 관계 하이난도 도항자 인명표의 일부


Next, let us turn to the document[5]produced on May 9, 1939, which was sent by the business manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company to the president of the Interim Southern Land Investigation Bureau of the Government General. The document states that “the naval attaché office will complete the arrangement requested through the Government-General of Taiwan, as per attached in the appendix” and that “a group of 10 special agents heading toward Sanya (三亞) will sail to Hainan Island (the departure will take place on May 23 via the ship Kin Rin Maru).” The back of the document contains a list of special agents who are headed towards Sanya, and the list features the records of the names, places of the family registers, current addresses, and birth dates of 14 people including the 8 hostesses and 6 related personnel. Among the hostesses was a Korean woman born in Andong-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do on September 17, 1916 who was 23 years old at the time.[6] As such, the Fu-ta Company was actively in charge of letting “comfort women” sail to Hainan Island via collaboration with various administrative agencies.

 

2. Construction of the “comfort stations” by the Hainan Building Company (海南建物公司)

Just as the Taiwanese Colonization Company delegated the operation of the “comfort stations” and the recruitment of “comfort women” to the Fu-ta Company, it established a separate company also to commission the construction of the “comfort stations”. For this, a strategy meeting was held on April 25 and 26, 1939 at the Taiwanese Colonization Company’s president mansion to promote the necessary construction projects in Hainan Island. The meeting was attended by the president, director Kusaka (日下), and manager Onishi (大西) from the Taiwanese Colonization Company, along with commissioner Nagase from the Government-General. Through the meeting, it was decided that “the construction project on Hainan Island shall be operated by an independent company under the name of Hainan Building Company. However, this is not an establishment of a separate company in a legal sense, and although it actually involves only a part of our company's business, the name Hainan Building Company shall be used by making the company independent for the convenience of business management.” The document[7] which records the details of this meeting lists the tasks assigned to the Hainan Building Company, among which it states that “for the navy comfort station barracks and the naval investigative service barracks which have already been subcontracted to Tamura Gumi (田村組)” “the payment shall be collected from the navy after the completion of construction”. These contents of the meeting were then reported to the head of the Taiwanese Colonization Company’s Tokyo branch, councilor Mori in Guangdong, China, and commissioner Nagase from the Government-General in Haikou (海口).

Judging from the statement that the payment will be collected from the navy after the construction of the comfort station, it is clear that the original order for the construction of the “comfort station” came from the navy. In other words, when the navy commissioned the construction of the “comfort stations” through the Government-General, the Government-General commissioned it to the Taiwanese Colonization Company, and the Taiwanese Colonization Company, which was commissioned to build the “comfort stations”, established the Hainan Building Company to let it take charge of this work.

The construction of the “comfort stations” through the Hainan Building Company progressed as scheduled, and the Taiwanese Colonization Company reported the development to the Government-General of Taiwan and the navy, which were the agencies that originally requested the project. A document[8] sent by the project manager Onishi (大西) of the Taiwanese Colonization Company to the Government-General of Taiwan’s Southern Land Investigation Bureau and the naval attaché office on May 11, 1939 featured detailed information on the completed buildings, as well as a construction plan to “complete the building of the five structures of the navy “comfort stations” as large as 962 m² in floor space (large and small building) on May 20”. These buildings are thought to be different from the ‘two barracks buildings (176.9 m² of floor space for each) that can each accommodate 20 personnel related to the fine restaurants and comfort units’ which was mentioned earlier in another document produced on March 29, 1939 regarding the construction of the “comfort stations”.

The Hainan Building Company, which was commissioned for the construction of “comfort stations” by the Taiwanese Colonization Company, had Tamura Gumi take charge of the practical aspects of the construction to complete the building of the “comfort stations”. Although it was decided at a meeting during the construction process that ‘the navy shall pay for the construction after its completion’, the payment for the construction was not made even after Tamura Gumi finished the construction. Consequently, the Southern land manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company sent a document[9]to the head of the Haikou office of the Government-General on August 16, 1939 in order to request a reply regarding the problems with unpaid construction fees. In response to this, the head of the Haikou office suggested an alternative solution that as the navy would not pay for it, the only way to reimburse the payment was for the Taiwanese Colonization Company to own the comfort station buildings, citing that “The construction of the navy “comfort stations” has been ordered but there are no engineers to lead the construction”, “The engineer Tamura Gumi implemented the design and other relevant tasks”, “Because there was no army budget at the time, the Taiwanese Colonization Company was commissioned to construct (meaning the service) the buildings that could be used as “comfort stations” for the navy”, and so on.[10]

  The above information can be integrated to result in a schema below.

하이난도 일본군 위안소 설치 운영 도식-영문

That is, the analysis of the data written by the Taiwanese Colonization Company indicates the following facts. When the Japanese army commissioned the Government-General of Taiwan to build, operate, and recruit “comfort women” for the “comfort stations”, the Government-General in turn commissioned this work to the Taiwanese Colonization Company. The Taiwanese Colonization Company ensured the Hainan Building Company was responsible for the construction of the “comfort stations”, and left the Fu-ta Company with the task of recruiting the “comfort women” and operating the “comfort stations”. In particular, the data confirms that the Taiwanese Colonization Company established and operated its subsidiary Fu-ta Company to avoid being directly implicated in the recruitment of “comfort women”..

 

 

Footnotes

  1. ^ The Business Director of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Construction of the Tents (Barracks) in Hainan Island」, March 29, 1939. File no., J_tw_002.
  2. ^ 「The Case of Hainan Island’s Navy “Comfort Stations”」, April 4, 1939. File no., J_tw_005.
  3. ^ The President of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Supplies for the Materials Related to the Military and the Investigation Team of Hainan Island」, April 21, 1939. File no., J_tw_010.
  4. ^ The President of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Supplies for the Materials Related to the Military and the Investigation Team of Hainan Island」, April 21, 1939. File no., J_tw_010.
  5. ^ Onishi Fumikazu, The Business Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of Transporting Personnel and Supplies」, May 9, 1939. File no., J_tw_015.
  6. ^ Onishi Fumikazu, The Business Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of Transporting Personnel and Supplies」, May 9, 1939. File no., J_tw_015.
  7. ^ The Southern Land Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of Hainan Island’s “Comfort Station” Operation Fund Loan Payment」, May 6, 1939. File no., J_tw_014.
  8. ^ Onishi Fumikazu, The Business Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Construction Project in Hainan Island」, May 11, 1939. File no., J_tw_016.
  9. ^ The Southern Land Manager of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Progress Status on the Construction Project」, August 16, 1939. File no., J_tw_032.
  10. ^ The Head of the Haikou Office of the Taiwanese Colonization Company, 「The Case of the Progress Status on the Construction Project」, September 14, 1939. File no., J_tw_034.
Writer Choi Jong-gil

Professor of HK Research at the Northeast Asian Humanities and Society Research Center, Korean Chinese Relations Institute, Wonkwang University. He majored in modern and contemporary Japanese history. He is the author of several papers on “comfort women” including 「Examining the Establishment and Operation of the Japanese Military “comfort women” System through the Reorganization of Administrative Documents」, 『The Korea-Japan Historical Review』 Vol. 51 (August 30, 2015), 「A Study of the Installation and Operation of Japanese Military Comfort Brothels through the Data of a Taiwanese Colonization Company」, 『Journal of Japanese Studies』 Vol. 27 (February 28, 2017).

gilchoi67@hanmail.net