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Continuing Denial of the Victimization of Women: Japan's military sex slaves in World War II

Prof. emeritus Dr. Yuki Tanaka
(Hiroshima University, Japan)

"Continuing Denial of the Victimization of Women: Japan's military sex slaves in World War II"

June 13, 2016

In the first half of my paper I briefly examine the history of the widespread and systematic sexual enslavement of women (the so called “comfort women system”) that was operated by the Japanese Imperial Forces in many parts of the Asia-Pacific during the 15-year Asia-Pacific War between 1931 and 1945. I then examine the distinctive characteristics of this system, comparing it with military violence against women committed by military forces of other nations, such as Germany and the U.S. during World War II and the post-war occupation period. In addition, I analyze the differences and similarities between Japanese military sex slaves and the military prostitution system operated by many other military forces during World War II.
In the second part of my paper, I discuss in brief the history of the movement that denies the existence of the Japanese military sex slave system, and examine Japan’s present social formation, which allows people like the current prime minister Abe Shinzo and other nationalistic politicians to openly exercise hegemonic masculinity. For this purpose, I examine Japan’s current socio-economic systems that clearly discriminate against women. I focus on various social problems that confront Japanese women such as the employment system, the pension system, domestic violence and sexualized popular culture, which widely disseminate ideas of misogyny in Japanese society, influencing everyone, including women.

After teaching and conducting research for almost 20 years at several different universities in Australia, in 2002 Prof. Tanaka took up a research professorship at the Hiroshima Peace Institute of Hiroshima City University. In October 2008, he was invited as a visiting professor to Birkbeck College of London University, and for two months between November and December of the same year he was the Sir Ninian Stephen Visiting Scholar at the Asia Pacific Military Law Center of the Law School, Melbourne University. He retired from Hiroshima Peace Institute at the end of March 2015 and now works as a freelance historian and political critic. Coordinator of the electronic journal “The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus”.

Book publications in English include: Japan’s Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the US Occupation (Routledge, 2002) and Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II (Westview Press, 1996), which provided extensive background material for a BBC TV documentary series entitled ‘Horror in the East’ produced in 2000. Many books and articles in Japanese, including Sora no sensōshi (A History of Aerial Warfare) (Kodansha, 2008). Co-editor (together with Marilyn Young) of Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History (New Press, 2009), and (with Tim McCormack and Gerry Simpson), Beyond Victor’s Justice? The Tokyo War Crimes Trial Revisited (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2011).
This lecture is a collaboration between Institute for Japanese Studies (Prof. Dr. Katja Schmidtpott) and GEAS