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A brief history of Japan's comfort women controversy

Published on May 29, 2014 5:10 PM

Japan said on Wednesday that it is reviewing its landmark 1993 apology over wartime sex slavery. We revisit the emotive issue, which has caused much ill-will between Japan and its neighbours in the postwar decades.
Some 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to serve Japanese soldiers during the war in brothels. At least 10 per cent of the women were Japanese.

The term "comfort women" entered mainstream consciousness when a group of former sex slaves from South Korea broke their silence about what had happened to them during World War II.

They brought their case to a Tokyo court to demand compensation and an official apology.

The lawsuit forced the Japanese government to acknowledge the existence of comfort women, but the official stance was that officials did not know how the women were recruited and that there were no official documents to prove official involvement.

Japanese historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, fed up with the Japanese government's denials of complicity in the forced recruitment of comfort women and the setting up of brothels, went to the Defence Agency’s library to look for proof. After two days combing through official documents from the 1930s, he discovered a trove of papers documenting the military’s direct role in managing the brothels, including documents that carried the personal seals of high-ranking Imperial Army officers.

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