More than 70 years after the Japanese occupation of Indonesia began, victims of the Imperial Japanese Army are telling their stories of being forced to serve as “comfort women” and being sexually assaulted by Japanese troops.
Asahi Shimbun reporters visited Indonesia and met many women who were cast aside by their families and have never told of the circumstances of the harm inflicted on them or had their stories investigated.
A support group for former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers during World War II, is located on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, which sits just below the equator. Asahi Shimbun reporters asked the group to introduce them to people who had not previously been interviewed. An Asahi Shimbun investigative team spent about two weeks in Sulawesi, where it met 20 or so people who claimed to be former comfort women or witnesses.
The first was Bacce, who lives in Sinjai Regency, an administrative division on the southwest part of the island. At a stilt house built decades ago, Bacce, in her mid-80s, wore a sarong, cloth around her waist, and was hunched back. She is not married and lives with the family of her relatives.
“Did Japanese soldiers do anything frightening to you at that time?” she was asked.
She murmured as she started to speak.
“I was in my mid-teens then. One hot evening when I was cooking at home, two men came and pulled me outside against my will.”
The words the men spoke were not Indonesian, and they held guns. Seeing this, Bacce says she figured they were Japanese soldiers. Tears welled up in her eyes 10 minutes or so into the interview.
Bacce was pushed onto the bed of a truck before her father’s eyes as he screamed, “Don’t take my daughter away!” Bacce says there were other girls around the same age riding with her.
The place they arrived at “had Japanese army tents set up.” Bacce was taken inside one, where she said she was raped by several men.
The Asahi Shimbun talked to an Indonesian man named Hamzah, who had gone in and out of that location.
“The Japanese army set up three tents and kept seven women inside,” he said. “I saw her (Bacce) there. Japanese troops who controlled the area had taken her.”
Hamzah said at that time the community was fearful of Japanese soldiers turning young women into comfort women.
Bacce was released after about three months, but her family chased her off, saying they “do not need a defiled human.” After walking barefoot for two full days, Bacce says she survived while helping to work the fields in a village where an acquaintance lived.
“I’m angry at the Indonesian government,” she says. “They haven’t done anything for me.” When the interview was over, her flushed face was a mess of tears.
A BIG BUILDING, MANY SMALL ROOMS
The Asahi Shimbun’s investigative team sought out the site where the women say they were assaulted.
Ipatimang, who lives in Pinrang Regency, also in the island’s southwest, gave a detailed account. During the occupation, a man holding a pistol grabbed her by the arm inside the yarn-making factory where she was working. His face did not look Indonesian; she thought he was a Japanese soldier.
Ipatimang says they rode in a truck for about 15 minutes, and she was taken to the Malimpung area.
“I was put inside a big wooden building. There were many small rooms along each side of the hallway.” Inside, Ipatimang says Japanese soldiers came in one after another to rape her.
“I wailed loudly. I was scared, and I couldn’t stop crying.” She said that soon after her release three months later, the war ended.
Asahi Shimbun reporters went to Malimpung, about 10 km from Ipatimang’s home. A man who has lived nearby for a long time led the reporters to a broad pasture and said, “A long time ago, there were a lot of Japanese troops here. It was a big base.”
There were no traces of buildings remaining, but his testimony supported the story that the Japanese army had been there.
Ipatimang remembers clearly the Japanese company that ran the factory where she had worked. It is still a big enterprise today.
Relying on her testimony, the reporters headed for a corner of a residential district in Pinrang Regency, where the factory had apparently stood. Today it is all private homes, with no signs of a factory once being located there. There, the reporters met Ikalau, a women who lives near there.
Even though no mention of the factory was made to Ikalau, she mentioned the name of the same Japanese company in Ipatimang’s account. “There was a factory here when the Japanese army was around,” she said. Ikalau added, “My mother told me, ‘Don’t go near the factory. They’ll make you a Japanese man’s wife.’ Everyone was afraid.”
RECORDS OF ‘OVER 300 PEOPLE NATIONWIDE’
In accordance with a bilateral peace treaty with Indonesia that took effect in 1958, Japan made reparations of approximately $220 million and, as part of an effort to heal the wounds of war, provided economic assistance and other support worth approximately $180 million.
The Asian Women’s Fund, a project to atone for the comfort women issue established in 1995 and led by the Japanese government, also provided support with 370 million yen of atonement money.
The Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs set the funds aside for repairs and construction of 69 nursing homes.
According to the Asian Women’s Fund’s records, there were 21 comfort stations in Sulawesi and just under 40, perhaps more, throughout Indonesia, where there were more than 300 comfort women.
While an investigative report found there were comfort women in Indonesia who were from China, Korea and Taiwan, the fund pointed out that many were recruited in local communities.
It also said that “certain units acted on their own to recruit women and had private comfort stations for their exclusive use” that were separate from the army-run comfort stations.
On-the-ground research conducted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) in 1993 received testimony from eight women who said they were “turned into comfort women.”
The JFBA report concluded, “Comfort stations were set up throughout the country and young women were forced to have sex.”
The Asahi Shimbun has obtained thousands of diplomatic papers from the 1990s pertaining to the comfort women issue through the information disclosure law.
Combining these with accounts given by senior government officials and other sources involved at the time, the paper ran a detailed story in its Oct. 13 morning edition on a behind-the-scenes Japanese diplomatic effort to prevent the comfort women issue from becoming an even bigger controversy.
The article told of how Tokyo feared at the time that the comfort women, which had become a major issue in South Korea, could have a ripple effect in other countries, and that the government responded by trying to avoid conducting interviews in Southeast Asia.
(This article was written by Tamiyuki Kihara and Hiroyoshi Itabashi.)