General Timeline of the Japanese Military “Comfort Women” System

Although Japan continues to deny or distort its imperialistic war history, there are still people who remember it and demand the self-reflection of Japan. After Japan’s defeat in WWII became clear, Japanese soldiers tried to kill the “comfort women” to cover up its crimes, but some survived the mass murder. Through those surviving victims, the comfort women issue was made public, and the international community is putting more and more pressure on Japan to make an official apology for its war crimes. Now, let me tell you how this comfort women system became institutionalized and how the victims have lived until today. 


In 1932, the first comfort station was established in Shanghai, China. It was the beginning of the tragedy.


After the Nanjing (Nanking) Massacre in 1937, the comfort women system was institutionalized.

1931~ 1945

An estimated 200 thousand women from different countries of Asia were forced into military sexual slavery between 1931 and 1945. In 1945, Japan surrendered and Korea recovered its sovereignty.

A Time of Silence

Tragically, these victims remained silent about their experiences for over 40 years until the early 1990s. They were too ashamed because they had been taught by traditional Korean culture to protect their virginity under any circumstances. Those who lost their virginity were often stigmatized as impure and unworthy of marriage. While the survivors were too afraid to come forward, this horrific crime was almost lost to history.  

August 14, 1991

Finally in 1991, the comfort women issue came to light after a former Korean comfort woman, Kim Hak-Sun, gave a public testimony of her experiences. As the Japanese government was making a series of false claims and lies about the comfort women, she decided to become the first to testify in public. Her testimony was the following. “There were five Korean women. I was the youngest and the oldest was 22. We were called by Japanese names, and my name was Aiko. Around 300 soldiers could take a break from duty once every three days. Each woman had to serve an average of three to four soldiers on regular days, and seven to eight soldiers after battles.” 
  Her testimony shocked the Korean people, and the public finally started acknowledging the comfort women issue. After her testimony, many other victims started to testify. Such testimonies put enough pressure on the Japanese government to investigate the military comfort women system.

December 6, 1991

In 1991, Kim Hak-Sun and two other victims filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government. This lawsuit brought international attention to the comfort women issue.


Her testimony was delivered to Asia and Australia through the media. A Dutch survivor, Jan Ruff O’Herne was inspired by Kim’s courage, and decided to come forward to testify. Jan’s testimony shocked the European people, who had perceived the comfort women as an issue only for Asian women.  

January 8, 1992

In January 1992, during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister to Korea, former “comfort women” held a protest demanding an official apology. The protest has continued since then. We call it the “Wednesday Protest.” For 20 years from 1992 to the present, this protest has been held every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy.

July 6, 1992

In July 1992, the Japanese government released the first report on the comfort women issue. It admitted the involvement of the Japanese military in organizing the comfort stations. However, it denied the use of coercion during recruitment, and refused to take legal responsibility. 

August 4, 1993

One year later in 1993, Japan released the second report on the comfort women issue. It admitted the involvement of coercion in the recruitment process, but it shifted responsibility to private recruiters.


In 1994, the Japanese government announced its plan to establish the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) for the sake of former comfort women. The purpose of the fund was to provide assistance to poor women in Asia by using donations from the Japanese people. It was a private fund, not state compensation. It was a cunning way to avoid legal responsibility. The victims strongly protested against the fund, but the Japanese government began raising money for the fund and put pressure on the victims to take the money.   

December 1997

In December 1997, Kim Hak-Sun, the first comfort woman to testify in public, passed away after donating all of her money, 18 thousand dollars, to charity. Her wish was that victims would not take money from the deceptive fund. 


There is no value that precedes human rights. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted Resolution 121, which demands the formal acknowledgement and apology of Japan for its involvement in the sexual slavery known as the “comfort women.” The Netherlands, Canada, the EU, and the Philippines also passed similar resolutions. As the passage of these resolutions indicates, the international community is now urging Japan to accept historical responsibility, make an official apology, and teach accurate history to the people. Although such resolutions are not legally binding, they put significant pressure on the Japanese government. 


In 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Japan to accept legal responsibility and apologize to the victims. International media, not only of Korea and China but across the world, have expressed criticism of Japan’s response to its war victims.


Up to this day, Japan tries to avoid legal responsibility and changes its statements depending on the situation. It is in large part due to the influence of Japanese right-wing groups. The Japanese right-wing tries to justify Japan’s imperial history, and argues that the recognition of war crimes is a dishonor to their ancestors.The Wednesday Protest is still ongoing. After Kim Hak-Sun’s first testimony, a total of 234 women have registered with the South Korean government as former comfort women (There were probably more victims who were just too ashamed to come forward). Among those registered, only 60women are still alive. They are still fighting for an apology and compensation from Japan. “The Japanese Prime Minister says there was no coercion used by authorities.”

“Apologize, apologize, apologize!”

“The Japanese government says that their legal responsibility has been settled, and ignores their victims.” 

“Shame, shame, shame on you.”

These are the chants that the victims yell at the Japanese embassy every Wednesday. This Wednesday protest is registered as the longest protest on the Guinness Book of World Records. It is a very sad record because it means this issue has not been settled for a long time. As time goes by, the victims pass away one after the other. We can’t afford to wait.


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