Recreation and Amusement Association
|Fate||Disbanded by SCAPIN 642 on January 26, 1946|
|Founded||August 23, 1945|
|Employees||55,000 total, 2,000 prostitutes|
The Recreation and Amusement Association (特殊慰安施設協会 Tokushu Ian Shisetsu Kyōkai (Special Comfort Facility Association)?) (RAA) was the largest of the organizations established by the Japanese to provide organized prostitution and other leisure facilities for occupying Allied troops immediately following World War II. The system that incorporated the RAA was short-lived, lasting just over four months before it was eliminated in January 1946.
Following the Japanese surrender on August 15, the Japanese found themselves confronted with the prospect of a large number of Allied troops on Japanese soil. Rumors quickly spread among the public of the tragedies soon to befall them. Well aware of the conduct of their own forces during the war, and assuming that Allied troops would behave in the same way, government officials began planning measures to "channel" the sexual urges of the occupying forces into "designated (lower-class) female bodies, thereby protecting the pure women of Japan's middle- and upper-classes".
At a cabinet meeting on August 21, Deputy Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe expressed concern about potential mass rapes to Prime Minister Higashikuni and suggested the establishment of a "comfort women system" within Japan. After some discussion, this suggestion was approved by the cabinet. However, this approval was merely a formality; the Home Ministry had already sent a directive to prefectural governors and police chiefs on August 18 ordering them to make preparations for "comfort facilities" in areas that Occupation troops would be stationed. These facilities (which included dance halls, restaurants, and bars in addition to brothels) were to be staffed by women already involved in the "water trade".
Although arrangements in most of the country were left to local officials and police departments, in the case of the Tokyo area, which was to host the largest number of foreign troops by far, a different approach was taken. Nobuya Saka, Superintendent-General of the Metropolitan Police Headquarters, met with Hamajirō Miyazawa and Genjirō Nomoto, the heads of the Tokyo Restaurant Association (東京料理飲食業組合 Tōkyō Ryōri Inshokugyō Kumiai?), and asked them to help make arrangements for the soon to arrive troops. Miyazawa and Nomoto used their connections to gather together a group of representatives of the nightclub, bar, and brothel industries. These representatives then met with the police on the 21st where they were formally asked to establish "comfort facilities", but to conceal the government's role as much as possible. On August 23, these men formed the "Special Comfort Facilities Association" (renamed the Recreation and Amusement Association shortly later).
The RAA utilized the patriotic language of the war years in its operations, stressing the "selfless" nature of its employees. At the inauguration of the RAA (which was attended by bureaucrats and police officials), an "oath" was read:
And so we unite and go forward to where our beliefs lead us, and through the sacrifice of several thousands of "Okichis of our era" build a breakwater to hold back the raging waves and defend and nurture the purity of our race, becoming as well an invisible underground pillar at the root of the postwar social order... we are but offering ourselves for the defense of the national polity.
The organization was funded through unsecured loans from the Japan Industrial Development Bank (日本勧業銀行 Nippon Kangyō Ginkō?) arranged by Hayato Ikeda, director of the Ministry of Finance's Tax Bureau. 33 million yen were loaned to the RAA, which then distributed shares to its members. The RAA established its first brothel on August 28: the Komachien in Ōmori. By December 1945, the RAA owned 34 facilities, 16 of which were "comfort stations". The total number of women employed by the RAA amounted to 55,000 at its peak.
Although, as noted above, the women staffing comfort facilities were intended to be those already involved in the sex trade, in practice there were nowhere near enough prostitutes available, especially in the Tokyo area. The government had cracked down on prostitution late in the war and many women had fled or been evacuated to the countryside following heavy Allied bombing. Tokyo's most famous red light district, Yoshiwara, had been reduced from a prewar population of 2,000 prostitutes to only a few dozen by the end of the war. Therefore, it was inevitable that efforts were made to recruit from the general population, a tactic that was authorized by the police.
The RAA recruited widely, using carefully worded advertisements posted in front of their offices and in newspapers. These boasted of generous work conditions (free accommodation, meals, and clothes) while avoiding details concerning the nature of the work. Given the widespread poverty and food shortages at the time, and the large number of orphaned and widowed young women, the job offers appeared quite attractive. Most women left upon learning of the deception, but some stayed.
In addition to prostitutes, the RAA also recruited a large number of "dancers" who were paid to dance with soldiers. Over time the distinction between "dancer" and "comfort woman" became blurred and many dancers became prostitutes.
Heavy use was also made of independent brokers to recruit women. These brokers, many of whom were affiliated with the yakuza, used less ethical recruitment techniques. The Women's Volunteer Corps (女子挺身隊 Jōshi Teishin-tai?), a government organization for mobilizing young girls and women aged 14–25 for work in factories, was a popular target as many of these women were left unemployed and stranded by the end of the war. Yuki Tanaka reports that groups of these women would be deceived and delivered, unknowing, to brothels.
Despite these deceptive recruitment practices, most women working in the comfort stations did ultimately consent to work as prostitutes. There were also women who were unable to leave their brothels, however; either because they had been sold by their impoverished families or because they owed money to the brothel. Some comfort stations used "company store" tactics and loan advances (前借 maegari?) to keep women in debt and unable to leave, something a contemporary GHQ official compared to "enslavement". Contracts forcing women to work at brothels in repayment of debts were eventually abolished by a SCAP order (SCAPIN 642) in January 1946, although some Japanese officials were skeptical of how well such a prohibition could be enforced.
RAA brothels worked on the same system as wartime Japanese military comfort stations. GIs received a ticket (costing ¥100) (approx. 8 cents at the contemporary unofficial rate) upon entry which was then given to the women who serviced them. The women, who usually had between 15 and 60 clients per day, would take the tickets to the station's accounting office each morning where they would receive ¥50 for each ticket. This 50% rate was considerably better than that for prewar licensed prostitutes, who commonly only received 25% of their price. On the first day, one woman had 47 American customers and got almost 2 dollars for herself.
Women working in RAA facilities faced the usual sexual violence common to prostitution and the sex trade. Women working as dancers were especially vulnerable targets for rape. Additionally, military police and GIs sometimes demanded free service or refunds. The relative power inequality between Japanese police and Allied soldiers made it difficult for the women to complain.
On October 14, the Japanese police lifted their restrictions on brothels and night clubs, a de facto endorsement of the non-RAA sex industry catering to Occupation troops. The RAA facilities had also been illegal, of course, but had enjoyed police protection for obvious reasons. By the end of November, there were 25 non-RAA comfort stations employing 1,500 women in Tokyo (compared to "well over 2,000" for the RAA.) A December 29 GHQ estimate placed the number of prostitutes in Tokyo at 6,000 (not counting street prostitutes, who far outnumbered the number of women working in brothels.)
GHQ and disease control
From the beginning of the Occupation, some Allied military officials cooperated with the Japanese government's system. According to the governors of Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, American commanders contacted them in September 1945 and requested the establishment of brothels for their troops, offering US military police help if necessary. American medical officers established prophylactic stations in red-light districts and inside the larger brothels that distributed tens of thousands of condoms a week.
Despite these precautions, the problem of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs; primarily gonorrhea and syphilis) became a serious public health issue. By early 1946, nearly a quarter of all US occupation forces were estimated to be infected, and nearly half of some units. The Australian 34th Infantry Brigade had a rate of 55% infection.
In response, GHQ imposed strict STD check procedures for prostitutes, placed certain brothels with high rates of infection off-limits to troops, and helped re-establish clinics and laboratories (many of which had been destroyed during the war) to diagnose infections. Most importantly, the 8th Army authorized the free dispersal of penicillin to infected prostitutes despite a serious shortage of the drug in the US and orders from Washington that it only be given to Japanese "as a life saving measure."
End of the system
Not all those in the Occupation accepted the widespread patronizing of Japanese-sanctioned brothels by US troops. Some unit commanders considered prostitution an "endemic problem that plagued their troops" and tried (with limited success) to prevent their men from fraternizing with the Japanese. By early 1946 military chaplains were condemning SCAP's cooperation, citing violations of War Department policies and the "moral degradation" of US troops it caused.
The complaints embarrassed Gen. MacArthur, head of the Occupation, and SCAP issued an order (SCAPIN 642) on January 21 ending licensed brothels for being "in contravention of the ideals of democracy". The following day a GHQ public health official wrote MacArthur with his concerns that news of the STD problem and GHQ cooperation with prostitution would cause problems as they spread back home. SCAPIN 642 ended the RAA's operations, but did not affect "voluntary prostitution" by individuals. As such, non-RAA brothel owners were easily able to circumvent the order by, for example, "renting" space in their former brothels to "voluntary" prostitutes. Ultimately, GHQ responded by making all brothels and other facilities offering prostitution off-limits to Allied personnel on March 25, 1946.
The immediate effects of the end of authorized brothel prostitution was the sudden unemployment of thousands of women, many of whom went on to become "panpan" street prostitutes. The dispersal of prostitution made it harder for GHQ to control STDs and also caused an increase in sexual violence by GIs, from an average of 40 women a day before the SCAP order to an estimated 330 per day immediately after.
Comfort Woman Terminology
Because the RAA and related systems were inspired by Japanese wartime experiences, their structures and terminologies were based on the familiar wartime comfort women system. Brothels were referred to with the euphemisms "comfort stations" and "comfort facilities", and prostitutes were referred to as "comfort women". Because of this, many English-language and Japanese scholars of the RAA continue to use those terms in their research.
To what degree the two systems are actually comparable is a matter of debate among historians, however. Some, such as Michael Molasky and Yuki Tanaka, stress the "striking" similarities between the two and refer to the RAA as "systematic exploitation". Others, such as C. Sarah Soh and Sarah Kovner, reject the comparison, noting that unlike their wartime counterparts, Japanese women could not be forced into brothels by the government, and those who were involved in the RAA system were paid and provided for.
- Prostitutes in South Korea for the U.S. military
- Comfort women
- Prostitution in Japan
- Rape during the occupation of Japan
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