Japan's abhorrent practice of enslaving women to provide sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: After its surrender -- with tacit approval by US occupation authorities -- Japan set up a similar "comfort women" system for American GIs.
A review of historical documents and records -- some never before translated into English -- shows that US authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution. The US also had full knowledge by then of Japan's atrocious treatment of women in countries across Asia that it conquered during the war.
Tens of thousands of women were employed to provide cheap sex to US troops until the spring of 1946, when General Douglas MacArthur shut it down.
The documents show that the brothels were rushed into operation as US forces poured into Japan beginning in August 1945.
"Sadly, we police had to set up sexual comfort stations for the occupation troops," recounts the official history of the Ibaraki Prefectural Police Department, whose jurisdiction is just northeast of Tokyo. "The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls."
The orders from the Ministry of the Interior came on Aug. 18, 1945, one day before a Japanese delegation flew to Manila to negotiate the terms of their country's surrender and occupation.
The police immediately set to work. The only suitable facility was a dormitory for single police officers, which they quickly converted into a brothel. Bedding from the navy was brought in, along with 20 comfort women.
The brothel was open for business on Sept. 20.
Police officials and Tokyo businessmen established a network of brothels under the auspices of the Recreation and Amusement Association, which operated with government funds. On Aug. 28, 1945, an advance wave of occupation troops arrived in Atsugi, just south of Tokyo. By nightfall, the troops found the RAA's first brothel.
Though arranged and supervised by the police and civilian government, the system mirrored the comfort stations established by the Japanese military abroad.
American historian John Dower, in his book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, says the charge for a short session with a prostitute was ?15, or about US$1, roughly the cost of half a pack of cigarettes.
On March 25, 1946, General Douglas MacArthur placed all brothels off limits.
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