Who were Comfort Women?
During World War II, approximately two hundred thousand women were forced into sexual slavery by Japan's armed forces. Euphemistically called "Comfort Women," these women were enslaved in "comfort stations" set up throughout East Asia by the Japanese military from 1932 until the end of the war.
There young women, most of them Korean, were lured by the promise of jobs or were kidnapped by the Japanese. Upon their arrival at these comfort stations, they were subjected to repeated rape and beating for resisting sex. They were simply discarded when they got too sick to be of any use. During the last month of WWII, most Comfort Women were murdered or left to die by retreating Japanese troops.
Surviving Comfort Women have suffered permanent injury from disease, psychological trauma or social ostracism. None has received any kind of official redress from the Japanese government, which continues to evade its legal and moral responsibilities for crimes against these women.
Did the Japanese government apologize for its crime of military sexual slavery during WWII?
The Japanese government has not offered an official apology. A few past Japanese Prime Ministers expressed regret, but the apology they offered was expression of their personal feelings, not the official apology from Japanese government. When the Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryotaro issued the "letter of apology (owabi in Japanese)" to be sent along with the money from the Asian Women's Fund in 1996, it was not the serious acknowledgment of wrong doing and proffering of an apology (shazai in Japanese). The expression "owabi" in Japanese in most cases means a sense of apology slightly weightier than an "Excuse me." Even though it is an expression with a wide scope for interpretation, the Prime Minister's owabi in this case can only be interpreted as something trivial since the Japanese government refused to acknowledge any crime.
Did the Japanese government compensate its victims of military sexual slavery?
The Japanese government denies any legal responsibility over the crime it committed against the comfort women and refuses to compensate the survivors directly. What the Japanese government set up instead was the Asian Women's Fund, charity fund by donations from private citizens. With the Asian Women's fund, The Japanese government has been able to maintain its position of not paying out even a yen in reparations. The Fund raised 480 million yen ($4 million) with the intent of disbursing to each former comfort women 2 million yen. Most surviving comfort women took this attempt at compensating them with charity money as an insult and refused to accept the money. The first director of the Fund resigned from her post, publicly charging that the operation has become a device for the Japanese government to evade its legal and moral obligations to the surviving comfort women and their families. The prominent Japanese women's leader who first led the fund, Ms. Mitsuko Miki, has said that her conscience led her to conclude that whatever the fund's original intention may have been, the plan now carries with it further subjugation and humiliation for the surviving comfort women.