Lisa Yoneyama in Toronto; Readings on the ‘Comfort Women’ System

Yesterday I had a chance to meet briefly in Toronto with Lisa Yoneyama, who is one of the most prevalent scholars working today on issues of transnational war memory politics and World War II in Asia. We both had good things to say about new work by Barak Kusher (University of Cambridge, head of the War Crimes and Empire project) and Nicola Henry (a scholar at LaTrobe University who has been extremely productive  in placing the “comfort women” system within a larger investigative frame of wartime sexual violence). Yoneyama herself is concluding a new project on World War II memory which her page at University of Toronto describes as follows:

Yoneyama is currently working on a third single-authored book project, tentatively titled, Cold War Ruins: Feminism, Colonialism, and the Americanization of Justice, in which she critically explores Cold War management of knowledge and the questions of justice, transnational feminism, anti-colonialism, and the location of Asian America.

My students in Leeds will be reading a couple of Yoneyama’s previous article, but the new project sounds particularly promising. Consequently, I spent some time yesterday getting re-aquainted with some of the present literature on the “comfort women” system generally, a list of recommended readings for which are included below.

Books and Reports

Sarah Soh. The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Nicola Henry, War and Rape: Law, Memory and Justice (Routledge: 2011).

Margaret Stetz and Bonnie B.C. Oh, Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2001).

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequent, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy; Report on the mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the issue of military sexual slavery in wartime, United Nations Economic and Social Council, E/CN.4/1996/53/Add.1, 4 January 1996.

Sarah C. Kovner, Occupying power : sex workers and servicemen in postwar Japan (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012). [Not about the ‘comfort women’ system per se, but a fabulously-thought through and presented book about the postwar.]

Journal Articles

Carmen M. Abigay, ‘Sexual Slavery and the Comfort Women of World War II,’ Berkeley Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, no. 2 (2003), 375-389.

Nicola Henry, ‘Memory of an Injustice: The “Comfort Women” and the Legacy of the Tokyo Trial,’ Asian Studies Review vol. 37 no. 3 (2013), 362-380.

Nicola Henry, ‘The Fixation on Wartime Rape: Feminist Critique and International Criminal Law,’ Social and Legal Studies, vol. 23 no. 1 (2013), 93-111.

Sue R. Lee, ‘Comforting the Comfort Women,’ University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law (2003).

Shellie K. Park, ‘Broken Silence: Redressing the Mass Rape and Sexual Enslavement of Asian Women by the Japanese Government in an Appropriate Forum,’ Asian-Pacific Law and Policy Journal, vol. 3. no 2 (Winter 2002), 23-55.

Joshua D. Pilzer, ‘Music and Dance in the Japanese Military “Comfort Women” System: A Case Study in the Performing Arts, War, and Sexual Violence,’ Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, Vol. 18 (2014), 1-23.

Sarah Soh, ‘In/fertility among Korea’s “comfort women” survivors: A comparative perspective,’ Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 29 (2006), 67-80.

Lisa Yoneyama, ‘Politicizing Justice: Post-Cold War Redress and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,’ Critical Asian Studies 42:4 (2010), 653-671.

Online resources

Erik Ropers, ‘Life on the Front Lines: Testimonies by Two Japanese “Comfort Women”,Writing the War in Asia – A Documentary History (University of Konstanz), accessed 7 March 2015.

Satoko Oka Norimatsu, ‘Reexamining the “Comfort Women” Issue: An Interview With Yoshimi Yoshiaki,’ Asia-Pacific Journal (via Truthout), 11 January 2015.


  1. Professor Sarah Soh’s book “The Comfort Women” is based on primary sources and a good book to read.

    Professor Park Yuha’s book “Comfort Women of the Empire” is another excellent book based on primary sources. It is not available in English, but here is the summary in English.

    UN Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy’s report is totally baseless because it relies solely on false testimonies.

    When I was a history student, I interviewed dozens of Koreans who were born and raised in the Korean Peninsula in the 1920’s and 1930’s including my grandparents about comfort women.

    According to what they witnessed, most Korean women were sold by their parents to Korean comfort station owners. There were also some women who were deceived by Korean traffickers. They never witnessed any Korean women coerced by the Japanese military.

    Korean men, who had debts from alcohol, gambling and so on, sold their daughters to Korean comfort station owners who shouldered their debts. Each woman’s contract length was determined depending on the amount of debt the owner took over. Korean women were not allowed to leave until their debts were paid off. Any coercion, violence or confinement was exercised by Korean comfort station owners. So the Korean women were the sex slaves of Korean comfort station owners. They were not the sex slaves of the Japanese military. The common perception in the West that the Japanese military operated comfort stations is incorrect.

    The following are Korean newspaper reports from 1930’s. One of my grandmother’s friends was a victim in the first report. She was deceived by Korean traffickers but was rescued by Japanese policemen.

    A diary written by a Korean comfort station manager was discovered in 2013 by Professor Ahn Byong Jik of Seoul National University. It details how Korean comfort station owners recruited Korean women in the Peninsula (sometimes under false pretenses) and how they operated comfort stations.

    According to the diary, the ownership of comfort station was traded among Korean owners. The diary also contains records of Korean owners wire transferring huge profit they made from operating comfort stations. The diary makes it clear that the Japanese military did not operate comfort stations, Korean owners did.

    The following is the list of comfort stations mentioned in the diary.

    Although the owners had Japanese last names, they were all Koreans. The following is the list of comfort stations in Shanghai where Korean women worked.

    The owners were all Koreans as well.

    The problem with some of the books and articles on your recommended list is they don’t contain primary sources.

    The article written by Satoko Norimatsu & Yoshiaki Yoshimi (both members of Japan Communist Party & Chongryon) is politically motivated and shouldn’t be on the recommended list.

    I’ve spoken with Margaret Stetz and Bonnie B.C. Oh. I showed them dozens of primary sources I have, and they couldn’t argue back. I asked them what primary sources they base their book on, and they couldn’t provide any.

    I don’t exonerate the Japanese military because its invasion into China and Southeast Asia did create the demand for comfort women. But the Korean narrative ー the Japanese military showed up at the doors and abducted young Korean women ー just didn’t happen. The Korean businessmen (comfort station owners) capitalized on the demand, recruited Korean women, operated comfort stations and made lots of money. Japan has apologized for its part. South Korea should admit its complicity and stop demanding Japan for more apologies.

    The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun published a series of fabricated articles on comfort women in the 1980’s. Based on these articles, the anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup (with close ties to North Korea) was formed by the South Korean communists in 1990. Then out of nowhere a woman named Kim Hak-sun came forward in 1991 and claimed she was abducted by the Japanese military. There is clear evidence (recorded tapes) that suggests she was coached by Chong Dae Hyup to give false testimony. If Korean women were indeed abducted by the Japanese military, it is rather odd that not a single woman claimed anything for over 45 years after the end of World War II. Former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo said in a 1993 interview, “Asahi Shimbun created the comfort women issue out of nothing, provoked Korean nationalism and infuriated Korean people.”

    It is ironic that 99% of Westerners fell for Chong Dae Hyup’s (North Korean) propaganda while South Korean scholars such as Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University, Professor Lee Yong-hoon of Seoul University, Professor Ahn Byong-jik of Seoul University, Professor Jun Bong-gwan of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Professor Lee Dae-gun of Sungkyunkwan University, Professor Choi Ki-ho of Kaya University, Professor Oh Seon-hwa of Takushoku University and Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh of San Francisco State University agree that the Japanese military did not coerce Korean women. Only a small number of fanatics with loud voice (South Korean communists with close ties to North Korea) falsely claim 200,000 Korean women were coerced by the Japanese military. Westerners must realize that North Korean operatives are using the comfort women issue to drive a wedge into U.S.-Japan-South Korea security partnership.

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