COMFORT WOMEN—Casting a Smile at the Checkered History
(Translation of Japanese Lyrics by Janmar)
The title of the song this time is “COMFORT WOMEN— Casting a Smile at the Checkered History.”
This is not a cover song but an original song composed by Traveler, written by Janmar, and sung by Angel with the support of Guitar. Old photographs used in the video footage are provided by courtesy of Nadeshiko Action, the Japanese Women for Justice and Peace.
“Comfort women” were prostitutes. Prostitution is known as one of the oldest professions in the world.
According to Kotobank (one of the web-site dictionaries), prostitutes were generally called Yujo (literally translated as playing women) in pre-modern Japan. In the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Tokugawa shogunate government set in place a system of permits to operate establishments for prostitution. Thereby Yujo were controlled and registered at each establishment. Those prostitutes who did business on their own were not Yujo in that sense. In any case, engaged in business were those women who were sold by their parents or those who had financial hardships.
In 1872, the Meiji government issued the Prostitutes Liberation Act, which made Yujo independent, publicly licensed prostitutes or Shogi. In 1900, the government enacted the Shogi Control Regulations. It meant a Shogi was required: to submit a letter of consent from her parent with a certificate of seal impression and a copy of her family register, to receive a medical certificate, and to present herself at the police station, to register her on the official list of Shogi, to live at a place designated, and to do business at an authorized establishment. (Note: The Government-General of Korea issued in 1916 two regulations to control prostitution businesses and Shogi. Korean shogi—as were Japanese counterparts—were required to follow the similar procedures to engage in prostitution.)
As for Shogi prostituting in overseas locations, the earliest record indicates Shogi were in Qingdao (Tsingtao), China from 1915. Since the days of the Shanghai Incident (January 28 Incident) of 1932, Shogi practiced business in comfort stations in Shanghai. They began to be called “comfort women” since then. After the Battle of Shanghai broke out in 1937 and the Pacific War began in 1941, private operators set up comfort stations in inland and south China and in Southeast Asia. The comfort women as well as the comfort station operators were required to register themselves at the police department of a Japanese consulate. Having signed contracts with the operators, the women worked on a percentage basis. What they made was 40% to 60% of the monthly earnings, depending on how much money their parents borrowed.
Certain people and groups claim that the authorities had kidnapped young women by force and made them sexual slaves at comfort stations in warfront. They have obviously confused the comfort women with those women who had been deceived and sold to brothels, where they were raped and forced to work without pay.
Without further ado, allow me to say that we made this song to echo the sentiments of the comfort women (publicly licensed prostitutes or Shogi) by describing their checkered life in the past. It is not meant, therefore, to raise an objection to the equality of the sexes, respect to human rights, or the code of ethics of today.
When I first met you little after noon,
We happened to be outside a town.
After offering prayers at the shrine awhile,
You were heading home with a fond smile.
When I asked which way to go,
You asked me to come for a cup of tea, though.
Being settled at your house cozily,
I talked with you about life variously.
A portion of your past, graven in memories,
Was not dear or delightful for you.
I found, listening to you closely,
Sorrow overwhelming smiles I had for you.
Your family was too poor to feed all and
Little did you dream white rice on the table.
To assure staple food for the family demand
You decided to take on a job available.
You were then only 17 years old
to be sold for a debt of the family.
With misty eyes you watched a paper twofold
Being sealed in red ink by father clearly.
You left soon after for a place unknown,
Crossing the blue ocean to warfront.
Given a business I.D., you shared a milestone
With other comfort women migrant.
With thick makeup and in a kimono flashy,
You engaged with troops agreeably.
Working hard and saving money hourly,
You sent money by post for the family.
You went to town on a weekly day-off
To relieve the burden of work and debt.
You had a red one-piece to show off
And a pair of red shoes with a rosette.
Holding your hand with a sympathetic nod,
I became speechless after your talk.
Sepia photos of you taken abroad
Made my eyes well up with tears in stock.
Holding tight my hand, you blandly said to me
The past would be useless for your future.
At the entranceway, you gave a smile to me
As we said good-bye to each other.