View Full Version : Wartime brothels in the Pacific

07-16-2008, 11:30 PM
Suggestions, recommendations for research sources and reading appreciated.

07-16-2008, 11:55 PM
Where in the Pacific? And are you thinking of brothels whose clientele was Allied military personnel, or brothels whose clientele was Japanese military personnel?

07-17-2008, 12:00 AM

You could contact the person who has collected this research -- she might be able to tell you which university archives might be useful.

07-17-2008, 08:55 AM
What time period? Modern day, past (the US is currently at war, so I just want to clarify)? There are hundreds of brothels scattered from Korea, to Japan, to Thailand, down to the Philliopines and so on. Past and present.

07-17-2008, 09:00 AM
Iris Chang's work is good for the Rape of Nanking. Book has the same name for the title.

Capt. Ernest Gordon's memiors which the movie 'To End all wars' was based on might be of use as well.

07-17-2008, 10:02 PM
Where in the Pacific? And are you thinking of brothels whose clientele was Allied military personnel, or brothels whose clientele was Japanese military personnel?

What time period? Modern day, past (the US is currently at war, so I just want to clarify)? There are hundreds of brothels scattered from Korea, to Japan, to Thailand, down to the Philliopines and so on. Past and present.

South East Asia, during WWII. Brothels to serve Japanese military, specifically "comfort women" forced into it. But am interested in existing brothels during the period as well.

07-17-2008, 10:43 PM
Chunghee Sarah Soh, a professor of anthropology at SF State, used to have a great webpage about this, but it seems to be down now (perhaps because she's working on a book on the topic?) She's written many articles on the "comfort women" issue, with a special emphasis on Korean survivors.

07-18-2008, 06:53 PM
I did my MA graduate work on the comfort women issue and am currently writing a novel around it as well.

It's a little older than some of the books coming out today, but George Hicks' book "The Comfort Women" is still an excellent intro and resource.

Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" provides a good insight into comfort stations in China but it really focuses more on the actual event that happened in Nanking rather than the comfort women in general.

Nora Okja Keller's novel, "Comfort Woman" is a well-written and intimate glimpse into the comfort woman's world.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of Web pages in existence that covers everything from the political fallout of the issue to the specific details on how the system was organized by the Japanese. If you Google the term, you can spend weeks sifting through the data. But the two books above are very good intros if you're just looking for general background data.


07-18-2008, 06:53 PM
I have some specific questions.

Forex: Do you think it's possible for a "comfort woman" to fall for a Japanese officer, or vice versa? I know in one case I read that one officer was "specially nice" to this woman, but she was raped nonetheless. But apparently this officer was more tender and he gave her gifts. Still, she was still imprisoned in the brothel and was raped, etc. There was nothing this officer could do because it would be defying the Emperor. I find it fascinating, and wonder if "romance" could develop in that situation, and if so, in what form?

07-18-2008, 06:55 PM
Lorcan, thank you. I'll look into those books.

07-18-2008, 07:01 PM
I think it's possible, but considering the circumstances I suspect it would be a very complicated romance. There are indeed lots of stories of officers and ordinary soldiers who demonstrated compassion towards the women, but just about all suffered brutal torture and physical violence on a day-to-day basis. Typical comfort women endured rapes of up to 30-75 a day (including sodomy and objects shoved into their sexual organs), often in huts no larger than an outhouse, and had little or no access to medical facilities. Whenever the unit would move, they would be forced to move with them, often walking extremely long distances, particularly towards the end of the war. Couple that with the stress and trauma of war itself, and I would find it difficult to imagine love as we know it blossoming, even if it involved an especially kind officer. And remember too that the comfort women were well aware that if and when the war ever ended, they would find it extremely difficult -- if not impossible -- to marry or have children or even be accepted by their own families because of the stigma attached to their status.

Still, it's your novel. Perhaps you can create a woman who was trafficked into the comfort station system but then was rescued by a kind officer and "made" to be his mistress. You do, of course, fall into a situation where a woman is essentially both the slave and lover of her captor, which can be tricky to pull off. The romance would have a very strong whiff of the so-called Stockholm Syndrome -- never a good foundation for a long-term relationship.


07-18-2008, 07:04 PM
You could look into the Stockholm syndrome. There's a good article about that and comfort women starting on page 16 of this document:


That might be one approach as to why a woman might fall for someone in a situation like that.

07-18-2008, 07:10 PM
Not to butt in again, but the Vancouver Japanese Canadian museum has quite a lot of primary, archival source material about World War II. You could phone them and they might be able to direct you to some relevant information (including photos, oral histories, etc). You can find the contact information on this page:


dolores haze
07-18-2008, 07:25 PM
I find it fascinating, and wonder if "romance" could develop in that situation, and if so, in what form?

It's a little bit off your topic, but the film 'Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence' does touch on the issue of love between a Japanese officer and a POW. Also, there was a long running BBC series (I'm trying to remember the name) about a female POW camp run by the Japanese during WWII.

These might give you further insight into the possibilities of romantic relationships between captor/captive during this time.

ETA: The series was called Tenko. (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/504487/index.html)

07-18-2008, 08:33 PM
Check out Comfort Women, by Suzanne O'Brien and Yoshiaki Yoshimi. I got it from my local library a few months ago. It has a lot of anecdotal, case-by-case studies.

The line between willing prostitution (which didn't carry the same social stigmas as the West) and forced prostitution was definitely blurred. A pretty alarming read, especially the parts where comfort women were considered military assets and moved about at will, the brutality they endured, etc.

There were also different social strata to the ranks of prostitutes that correlated to the ranks of the men.

Sad stuff.

07-19-2008, 11:37 AM
in NZ and Australia women who were forced to be comfort women. Many are from the then Dutch East Indies.

My friends were in their boarding school and were sorted by age, anyone over 12, or near 12 and blonde and pretty, being dragged down to the army camp and imprisoned there. It was a convent school and the young nuns and all the other local young women were forced to be comfort women too. We are not talking prostitutes here but school girls and plantation families.

I mention this because I think you have to be very aware that a romance would seem, for most of these women, to be impossible. They were raped at least 19 times a day. Any pregnancy resulted in a forced abortion in appalling conditions, so many of these women were never able to have children. They were regarded by their own people as 'spoiled goods' and had a terrible time after the war. They hate the Japanese so much that of the five people I know well only one will write to me here at my University in Japan.

The strength of feeling, the hatred, especially because the Japanese still deny what happened, is that strong.

The comfort women I know describe conditions where it would have been impossible for them to form a relationship. They were strapped down on beds most of the time. The men abused them in foul ways and even if one man had tried to be nice he'd have had a difficult time trying to release one woman for his own use. They have no recollections of any man being other than viciously abusive.

Sandi LeFaucheur
07-19-2008, 10:56 PM
Also, there was a long running BBC series (I'm trying to remember the name) about a female POW camp run by the Japanese during WWII.

It was Tenko.

07-21-2008, 04:27 AM
I'd second the Hicks book. As I recall, he used a lot of Yoshimi's work that hadn't been translated from Japanese at the time.

30-75 rapes a day ... I don't think that would be typical for the higher-end comfort women--the ones intended for the high-ranking officers. I remember from the Hicks' book that these women would be supplied with make-up and nice clothes, almost to the end. They had to look healthy and pretty for the brave Japanese warriors. The brothel would be something like a hotel in those cases. Of course, as with prostitutes just about everywhere, they're told to pretend they're happy, look grateful. These, obviously, weren't the ones brought to the front lines for lower ranks right before battle. Well, not until they got too old and worn out.

I thought of the Stockholm-like situation too: if you had a chance to be a high-ranking officer's mistress--in some long-term occupation situation--any woman would take that option over being in a brothel, even if the man was very repugnant. The man would have to get the woman before she had been "working" for long, or before she had actually been pressed into service. Don't forget how Japanese men have such a fetish about child-like bodies. (I've lived in Japan.)That would be a selling point even if a woman or girl was no longer a virgin.

Also recall, there were Japanese prostitutes all over the place, especially in China and Burma. They would cost the most. I think the pecking order went Japanese-Chinese-Korean-Filipina. Well, the lowest would be Burmese-Filipina-Indonesian/whatever is the local. But of course dark skin always would be a strike against you. I don't know where the white women would fit in there--near the top, but age would also be a factor. And I think that mostly happened in Indonesia.

There's a well-known memoir by a British-American woman that was involved in the independence war against the Dutch in Indonesia. Must have come out in the 1960's. She was in Bali from the 1930's onward, so the book also covers the Japanese occupation. Wish I could remember the title but it has (what else?) "paradise" in the title. Like "Revolution in Paradise"? Maybe because she had no sympathy for the Dutch, the Japanese let her move around freely. Yet there was a passage when a Japanese officer, the commander of a particular occupied town, was making signs that he wanted her to become his mistress.

She was able to wheedle her way out of it ... but surely there were many women that didn't have her resources. A younger woman, maybe in China, with no way to support herself, perhaps with parents and elders dead or separated from them, siblings depending on her ... that must have happened often.

What I don't believe is that this would really be love, or romance, on her part. A la the Stockholm Syndrome, depending on her maturity, she might tell herself all sorts of stories, be grateful for little favors, convince herself that he was the exception ... at least for the duration ... but how can she ever separate a Japanese *soldier* from what his army is doing to her country and countrymen?

Maybe you've recognized a similar problem in novels by old colonial white men about middle-aged colonial white men, often married, who fall in love with a kicky dusky prostitute in the sexually liberated Orient or Afrique. Or maybe it's just the "ancient" custom to hunt down a temporary local wife, who has no feelings about the matter and suffers no repercussions. Think Graham Greene. The woman--er, girl--always is a cipher, a total idiot who doesn't have a clue how the occupiers have humiliated her country, killed her kinsman, eviscerated the culture, etc. etc. (True, Asian or African men in those novels are generally too stupid to realize it as well, but ...). From a woman's perspective, these are not convincing novels.

Sorry, I got off on a tangent. You truly have set up a challenge for yourself! I want to read this novel.