The Sacrifice of Women to Uniformed Men:
Imperial Japan’s Comfort-Women Rape as a Wartime Cult
University of North Carolina, Greensboro
This paper compares men’s sacrifice for the nation on the battlefield with women’s role in sexually comforting soldiers.
During World War II, the Imperial Japanese army established special facilities, called Jugun Ianjo (military comfort stations) whose purpose was to provide sexual gratification for Japanese soldiers. The military leadership sought to release the mental stress of combat and strict military discipline. For this project, young women from Japanese colonies were deceived, recruited, and inhumanely treated as Ianfu (comfort women), or sexual slaves, by Japanese soldiers who were willing to die for the emperor. The military’s rationale for the comfort stations was to keep soldiers from violating civilian women. In reality, however, the stations created an organized group-rape system.
Takagi shows how Japan’s Imperial military used comfort women to control soldiers who sacrificed themselves to the Japanese nation. By examining the cult-like nationalism that required the dehumanization of women, she argues that war-time nationalism is the most powerful master-narrative that gives individuals the right to destroy the bodies of both their nation’s members and enemies. She suggests that comfort women were slaves as much as Japanese soldiers were. Through an examination of Korean comfort women’s testimonials along with military documents, the author reconstructs the sacred models of sacrifice that existed during wartime for the soldier as well as for the comfort women. Takagi suggests that the military’s willingness to sacrifice women indicates the position of women in society: they were second-class citizens who were supposed to serve men. If the nation sacrificed its first-class citizens in battle, it could sacrifice less important people, such as prostitutes and non-Japanese women.
The aim of the paper is to show that the idea of sacrificing people’s bodies for the nation or emperor was the principal of the modern emperor cult: it encompassed both asking young men to die, as well as using women’s bodies to comfort soldiers who might die.