SEOUL – The diaries of a Korean man who worked in wartime brothels for Japanese soldiers in Burma and Singapore during World War II have been found in South Korea.
Researchers believe the diaries, the first ever found that were written by someone who worked at a “comfort station,” are authentic and provide actual details of the brothels and the lives of “comfort women.”
They also show that the Imperial Japanese Army was involved in the management of the facilities, which the Japanese government acknowledged in a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
The Korean man worked as a clerk in the brothels. Born in 1905, he died in 1979 before the comfort women became a thorny issue between Japan and South Korea.
A South Korean museum obtained the diaries covering 1922 to 1957, with several years missing, from a secondhand bookstore.
Ahn Byung-jik, a professor emeritus at Seoul National University, examined the portion for 1943 and 1944 jointly with two Japanese researchers, Kyoto University professor Kazuo Hori and Kobe University professor Kan Kimura. Their joint research will be published in South Korea in the near future.
One passage describes how two prostitutes who had quit because of their marriages had been ordered to return by army logistics. He also said he submitted daily reports to the logistics command.
The man noted that the manager of one of the comfort stations was a Korean from Chungju in the central part of the peninsula.
He wrote that he had withdrawn ¥600 from a prostitute’s account and remitted it at a post office on her behalf, indicating that comfort women were paid.
In a glimpse of their daily lives, the man wrote that “comfort women went to see a movie screened by the railroad unit.”
The diaries are “highly credible,” Kimura said, noting there was little possibility of alterations because the man died before the comfort women issue became a source of contention.
His accounts conflict with assertions by some Japanese that comfort women were involved in a purely private business, and by some South Koreans that the women were completely enslaved.
A portion is missing for 1942, when many girls and women were believed to have been recruited. But what he wrote in later years describes events that are believed to have happened in 1942.
“On this day last year, I boarded a ship at Busan port and took the first step of my southbound journey,” the man wrote in the entry for July 10, 1943.
On April 6, 1944, he wrote, “When a comfort team left Busan two years ago, Mr. Tsumura, who came as head of the fourth comfort corps, was working in a fresh food association.”
The diaries “confirmed that the fourth comfort corps had existed,” Ahn said. “It has also become certain that the Japanese government had organized comfort teams and took women to the frontline.”
But Ahn is skeptical about the view that the Japanese military and police took women by force from the Korean Peninsula. “I do not think such a thing was possible,” Ahn said, noting that Korea at the time was “a well-ordered society, although it was a colony.”
The 1993 Kono statement said that the Imperial Japanese Army “was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.”
In the statement, the Japanese government also extended its “sincere apologies and remorse to all those . . . who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”
In 1995, Japan set up a fund to support former comfort women, called the Asian Women’s Fund, with financial support from the government.
Japan’s official position is that the comfort women issue has been resolved because South Korea gave up all individual claims under a 1965 pact on the normalization of relations between the two nations. Seoul does not consider the comfort women issue to be covered by the pact.