When the Imperial Japanese Army forces murdered thousands of people in Nanjing, China, in late 1937, about 20,000 to 80,000 women were also sexually assaulted in what was known as the Rape of Nanjing. The mass rapes not only left the city in ruins but also horrified the rest of the world. This alarmed and raised Emperor Hirohito’s concern, who was worried about how Japan’s image would be portrayed to the rest of the world. To prevent atrocities like that and at the same time prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, he ordered to confine sexual activities within military-controlled facilities called “comfort stations.” This idea, of course, was not without a negative effect.

Far From Comfort

Comfort women. (not described, 記載なし, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

So, “recruiting” women for the said brothels started. By that, we mean either leading them to think that they would travel to work as part of nursing units or jobs, being purchased from their parents as servants or straight-up kidnapping them. These women were from different countries all over southeast Asia— Korea, China, Philippines,  Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaya, and other Japanese-occupied territories. There were also a few from European origins like Netherlands and Australia. A significant number of these women were minors who, once in the brothel, were forced to have sex with their Japanese captors multiple times, sometimes with multiple men at the same time. These repeated abuses would increase before battles, torturing the women not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically damaging them.

One of the survivors from the Philippines shared her story. Narcisa Claveria, who, in 1943, was taken from her family by the Japanese occupiers. As published on NPR’s website,

Soldiers dragged her and two older sisters off to a garrison. The oldest she never saw again. Narcisa was among eight girls and women who by day cooked, cleaned and did laundry. By night, she says, the troops raped them. “I was in a different room every night,” Narcisa says. She says if they protested, “they flayed us with horse’s whip.” The building, she says, heaved “with crying.”