- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

TOKYO — Japan’s practice of forcing women to provide sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: After the surrender Japan set up a system of licensed brothels for American GIs.

Documents — some translated into English for the first time — show that American authorities briefly permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that some women were coerced, usually by economic necessity, into prostitution.

Thousands of women were employed to provide sexual services to U.S. troops until the spring of 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut down the brothels. A Dec. 6, 1945, memorandum from Lt. Col. Hugh McDonald, a senior officer with the Public Health and Welfare Division of the occupation’s General Headquarters, shows U.S. occupation forces were aware the Japanese prostitutes often felt coerced.

“The girl is impressed into contracting by the desperate financial straits of her parents and their urging, occasionally supplemented by her willingness to make such a sacrifice to help her family,” he wrote. “It is the belief of our informants, however, that in urban districts the practice of enslaving girls, while much less prevalent than in the past, still exists.”

After complaints from American military chaplains and concerns that disclosure of the brothels would embarrass the occupation forces, Gen. MacArthur placed all brothels and other places of prostitution off limits. The system established by the Japanese soon collapsed.

A State Department spokesman said yesterday he could not confirm the report, and the Pentagon did not return a telephone message seeking comment. “There is no information about that that I’m aware anywhere in this building,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

“Sadly, we police had to set up sexual comfort stations for the occupation troops,” recounts the official history of the Ibaraki Prefectural Police Department, whose jurisdiction is just northeast of Tokyo. “The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls.”

The Ministry of the Interior submitted the orders on Aug. 18, 1945, one day before a Japanese delegation flew to the Philippines to negotiate the terms of their country’s surrender and occupation.

The Ibaraki police immediately set to work. The only suitable facility was a dormitory for single police officers, which they quickly converted into a brothel. Bedding from the navy and 20 comfort women were brought into the dormitory. The brothel opened for business Sept. 20.

“As expected, after it opened it was elbow to elbow,” the history says. “The comfort women … had some resistance to selling themselves to men who just yesterday were the enemy, and because of differences in language and race, there were a great deal of apprehensions at first. But they were paid highly, and they gradually came to accept their work peacefully.”

Police officials and Tokyo businessmen established a network of brothels under the auspices of the Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA), which operated with government funds. On Aug. 28, 1945, an advance wave of occupation troops arrived in Atsugi, just south of Tokyo. By nightfall, the troops found the RAA’s first brothel.

“I rushed there with two or three RAA executives, and was surprised to see 500 or 600 soldiers standing in line on the street,” Seiichi Kaburagi, the chief of public relations for the RAA, wrote in a 1972 memoir. He said American military police were barely able to keep the troops under control.

Mr. Kaburagi wrote that occupation GIs paid in advance and were given tickets and condoms. The first RAA brothel, called Komachien — the Babe Garden — had 38 women, but that was increased quickly to 100 because of high demand. Each woman served from 15 to 60 clients a day.

Mr. Kaburagi said the sudden demand forced brothel operators to advertise for women who were not licensed prostitutes. “The worst victims … were the women who, with no previous experience, answered the ads calling for ‘Women of the New Japan,’ ” he wrote.

By the end of 1945, about 350,000 U.S. troops were occupying Japan. At its peak, Mr. Kaburagi wrote, the RAA employed 70,000 prostitutes to serve them. Although there are suspicions, there is no clear evidence that foreign prostitutes were brought to Japan.

Toshiyuki Tanaka, a history professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, cautioned that Mr. Kaburagi’s number is hard to verify but said the RAA was only part of the picture: The number of private brothels outside the official system was likely even higher.


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