Rape during the occupation of Japan
Rapes during the occupation of Japan were war rapes or rapes committed under the Allied military occupation in Japan. Allied troops committed a number of rapes during the Battle of Okinawa during the last months of the Pacific War and the subsequent occupation of Japan. The Allies occupied Japan until 1952 following the end of World War II and Okinawa Prefecture remained under US governance for two decades after.
By 1945 U.S. troops were entering and occupying territory with a Japanese civilian population. On February 19, 1945, U.S. troops landed on Iwo Jima, and on April 1, 1945, on Okinawa. In August 1945, Japan surrendered and Allied occupation troops landed on the main islands, starting the formal occupation of Japan. The Allied occupation ended in most of Japan on April 28, 1952, but did not end in Okinawa until May 15, 1972, when the terms of the Treaty of San Francisco went into effect.
During the Pacific War the Japanese Government frequently issued propaganda claiming that if the country was defeated Japanese women would be raped and murdered by Allied soldiers. The government used this claim to justify orders to soldiers and civilians in areas which were invaded by Allied forces to fight to the death or commit suicide.
Battle of Okinawa
According to Calvin Sims of the New York Times: "Much has been written and debated about atrocities that Okinawans suffered at the hands of both the Americans and Japanese in one of the deadliest battles of the war. More than 200,000 soldiers and civilians, including one-third of the population of Okinawa, were killed".
Alleged U.S. Army rapes
There is no documentary evidence that mass rape was committed by Allied troops during the Pacific War. There are, however, numerous credible testimony accounts which allege that a large number of rapes were committed by U.S. forces during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
Okinawan historian Oshiro Masayasu (former director of the Okinawa Prefectural Historical Archives) writes:
Soon after the U.S. marines landed, all the women of a village on Motobu Peninsula fell into the hands of American soldiers. At the time, there were only women, children and old people in the village, as all the young men had been mobilized for the war. Soon after landing, the marines "mopped up" the entire village, but found no signs of Japanese forces. Taking advantage of the situation, they started "hunting for women" in broad daylight and those who were hiding in the village or nearby air raid shelters were dragged out one after another.
According to Toshiyuki Tanaka, 76 cases of rape or rape-murder were reported during the first five years of the American occupation of Okinawa. However, he asserts this is probably not the true figure, as most cases were unreported.
Peter Schrijvers finds it remarkable that looking Asian was enough to be in danger of rape by American soldiers, as for example happened to some of the Korean comfort women that the Japanese had by force brought to the island. Schrijvers writes that "many women" were brutally violated with "not even the least mercy".
Marching south, men of the 4th Marines passed a group of some 10 American soldiers bunched together in a tight circle next to the road. They were 'quite animated', noted a corporal who assumed they were playing a game of craps. 'Then as we passed them', said the shocked marine, 'I could see they were taking turns raping an oriental woman. I was furious, but our outfit kept marching by as though nothing unusual was going on'.
According to interviews carried out by The New York Times and published by them in 2000, multiple elderly people from an Okinawan village confessed that after the United States had won the Battle of Okinawa three armed marines kept coming to the village every week to force the villagers to gather all the local women, who were then carried off into the hills and raped. The article goes deeper into the matter and claims that the villagers' tale – true or not – is part of a "dark, long-kept secret" the unraveling of which "refocused attention on what historians say is one of the most widely ignored crimes of the war": "the widespread rape of Okinawan women by American servicemen". Although Japanese reports of rape were largely ignored at the time, academic estimates have been that as many as 10,000 Okinawan women may have been raped. It has been claimed that the rape was so prevalent that most Okinawans over age 65 around the year 2000 either knew or had heard of a woman who was raped in the aftermath of the war. Military officials denied the mass rapings, and all surviving veterans refused the New York Times' request for an interview.
Professor of East Asian Studies and expert on Okinawa Steve Rabson said: "I have read many accounts of such rapes in Okinawan newspapers and books, but few people know about them or are willing to talk about them". Books, diaries, articles and other documents refer to rapes by American soldiers of various races and backgrounds. Masaie Ishihara, a sociology professor, supports this: "There is a lot of historical amnesia out there, many people don't want to acknowledge what really happened".
An explanation given for why the US military has no record of any rapes is that few – if any – Okinawan women reported abuse, mostly out of fear and embarrassment. Those who did report them are believed by historians to have been ignored by the U.S. military police. A large scale effort to determine the extent of such crimes has also never been called for. Over five decades after the war has ended the women who were believed to have been raped still refused to give a public statement, with friends, local historians and university professors who had spoken with the women instead saying they preferred not to discuss it publicly. According to a Nago, Okinawan police spokesman: "Victimized women feel too ashamed to make it public".
In his book Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, George Feifer noted that by 1946 there had been fewer than 10 reported cases of rape in Okinawa. He explains that it was: "partly because of shame and disgrace, partly because Americans were victors and occupiers". Feifer claimed: "In all there were probably thousands of incidents, but the victims' silence kept rape another dirty secret of the campaign". Many people wondered why it never came to light after the inevitable American-Okinawan babies the many women must have had. In interviews, historians and Okinawan elders said that some Okinawan women who were raped did give birth to biracial children, but that many of them were immediately killed or left behind out of shame, disgust or fearful trauma. More often, however, rape victims underwent crude abortions with the help of village midwives.
According to George Feifer the majority of the likely thousands of rapes were committed in the north, where the campaign was easier and the American troops were not as exhausted as in the south. According to Feifer it was mostly troops landed for occupation duty who committed rapes.
Silence about rape
Almost all rape victims were silent about what had happened to them, which helped to keep the rapes a "dirty secret" of the Okinawa campaign. The main reasons for the women's silence and the low number of reported rapes was, according to George Feifer, the American role as victor and occupiers, and feelings of shame and disgrace. According to Feifer, while there were probably thousands of rapes, fewer than 10 rapes were formally reported by 1946 and almost all of those were connected to "severe bodily harm".
Several factors contributed to few telltale American rape-induced pregnancies coming to term; many women had become temporarily infertile due to the stress and malnutrition, and some who did become pregnant managed to abort before their husbands returned.
Alleged Japanese Army rapes
According to Thomas Huber from the Combat Studies Institute, Japanese soldiers also mistreated Okinawan civilians during the battle there. Huber writes that rape was "freely committed" by Japanese soldiers who knew that they had little chance of surviving due to the Army's prohibitions against surrender. These abuses contributed to a post-war divide between Okinawans and mainland Japanese.
Official American policy and Japanese civilian expectations
Having historically been a separate nation until 1879, Okinawan language and culture differ in many ways from that of mainland Japan, where they often were discriminated against and treated in the same manner as Chinese and Koreans.
In 1944 heavy American air-bombings of Naha had left 1,000 dead and 50,000 homeless and sheltering in caves, and US naval bombardments contributed additionally to the death toll. During the Battle of Okinawa between 40,000 and 150,000 residents died. The survivors were put in internment camps by Americans.
During the fighting some Japanese troops mistreated Okinawan civilians, for example taking over the caves they sheltered in and forcing them out into the open, as well as killing some directly who they suspected of being American spies. During the last months of desperate fighting they were also unable to supply the Okinawan population with food and medicine.
Japanese propaganda about American atrocities had led many Okinawan civilians to believe that when the Americans came they would first rape all the women and then kill them. At least 700 civilians committed suicide. American soldiers did sometimes deliberately kill Okinawan civilians, though American official policy was to not kill them. The Americans also provided food and medicine, something the Japanese had been unable to do. In view of the propaganda claiming that American policy would be rape, torture and murder, the Okinawans were often surprised at "the comparatively humane treatment". Over time, Okinawans would become increasingly despondent with the Americans, but at the time of surrender the American soldiers were less vicious than had been expected.
Public fear and Recreation and Amusement Association
In the period after the Emperor of Japan announced that Japan would surrender, many Japanese civilians feared that Allied occupation troops were likely to rape Japanese women when they arrived. These fears were, to a large part, driven by concerns that the Allied troops would exhibit similar behavior to that of Japanese occupation forces in China and the Pacific. The Japanese Government and the governments of several prefectures issued warnings recommending that women take measures to avoid contact with occupation troops, such as staying in their homes and staying with Japanese men. Police in Kanagawa Prefecture, where the Americans were expected to first land, recommended that young women and girls evacuate the area. Several prefectural authorities also suggested that women kill themselves if they were threatened with rape or raped and called for "moral and spiritual education" to enforce this view.
In response, the Japanese government established the 'Recreation and Amusement Association' (RAA), military brothels to cater to the Allied troops upon their arrival, though most professional prostitutes were unwilling to have sex with Americans due to the impact of wartime propaganda. Some of the women who volunteered to work in these brothels claimed that they did so as they felt they had a duty to protect other women from Allied troops. These officially sponsored brothels were ordered closed in January 1946 when the Occupation authorities banned all "public" prostitution while declaring that it was undemocratic and violated the human rights of the women involved. The closure of the brothels took effect a few months later, and it was in private acknowledged that the main reason for closing down the brothels was the huge increase in venereal diseases among the soldiers.
Reported rapes by U.S. forces
According to John W. Dower, precisely as the Japanese government had hoped when it created the prostitution facilities, while the R.A.A. was in place "the incidence of rape remained relatively low given the huge size of the occupation force". However, there was a resulting large rise in venereal diseases, where for example in one army unit 70% tested positive for syphilis and 50% for gonorrhea, which led the US army to close down the prostitution.
The incidence of rape increased after the closure of the brothels, possibly eight-fold; Dower states that "According to one calculation the number of rapes and assaults on Japanese women amounted to around 40 daily while the R.A.A was in operation, and then rose to an average of 330 a day after it was terminated in early 1946". Buruma states that while it is likely that more than 40 rapes took place each day, "most Japanese would have recognized that the Americans were far more disciplined than they had feared, especially in comparison to the behaviour of their own troops abroad".
According to Terèse Svoboda "the number of reported rapes soared" after the closure of the brothels, and she takes this as evidence that the Japanese had been successful in suppressing incidents of rape by providing prostitutes to the soldiers. Svoboda gives one example where R.A.A. facilities were active but some not yet ready to open and "hundreds of American soldiers broke into two of their facilities and raped all the women". According to Svoboda there are two large events of mass rape recorded by Yuki Tanaka at the time that the R.A.A. brothels were closed down in 1946.
According to Tanaka, close to midnight on April 4, an estimated 50 GIs arriving in 3 trucks assaulted the Nakamura Hospital in Omori district. Attacking at the blow of a whistle, over the period of one hour they raped more than 40 patients and an estimated 37 female staff. One of the raped women had a two-day-old baby that was killed by being thrown on the floor, and also some male patients who tried to protect the women were killed.
According to Tanaka, on April 11, between 30 and 60 U.S. soldiers cut phone lines to a housing block in Nagoya city, and simultaneously raped "many girls and women between the ages of 10 and 55 years".
Michael S. Molasky, Japanese literature, language and jazz researcher, states in his study of Japanese post-war novels and other pulp literature, that while rape and other violent crime was widespread in naval ports like Yokosuka and Yokohama during the first few weeks of occupation, according to Japanese police reports, the number of incidents declined shortly after and were not common on mainland Japan throughout the rest of occupation.
Up until this point, the narrative's events are plausible. American soldiers stationed abroad did (and still do) commit abduction, rape, and even murder, although such incidents were not widespread in mainland Japan during the occupation. Japanese police records and journalistic studies indicate that most violent crimes committed by GIs occurred in naval ports such as Yokosuka during the first few weeks after the Americans arrived in 1945, and that the number declined sharply thereafter. The above passage from Chastity also points to issues which are central to a serious consideration of prostitution in postwar Japan: for example, the collaboration between police and medical authorities in enforcing a regime or discipline against women working outside the domestic sphere, the economic exploitation of female labor through regulated prostitution, and the patriarchal valorization of chastity to an extent that rape victims are left few alternatives but prostitution or suicide".
There were 1,336 reported rapes during the first 10 days of the occupation of Kanagawa Prefecture. Tanaka relates that in Yokohama, the capital of the prefecture, there were 119 known rapes in September 1945.
Historians Eiji Takemae and Robert Ricketts state that "When US paratroopers landed in Sapporo, an orgy of looting, sexual violence and drunken brawling ensued. Gang rapes and other sex atrocities were not infrequent" and some of the rape victims committed suicide.
General Robert L. Eichelberger, the commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, recorded that in the one instance when the Japanese formed a self-help vigilante guard to protect women from off-duty GIs, the Eighth Army ordered armoured vehicles in battle array into the streets and arrested the leaders, and the leaders received long prison terms.
Reported rapes by British Commonwealth Occupation Force
According to Takemae and Ricketts, members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) were also involved in rapes:
A former prostitute recalled that as soon as Australian troops arrived in Kure in early 1946, they 'dragged young women into their jeeps, took them to the mountain, and then raped them. I heard them screaming for help nearly every night'. Such behavior was commonplace, but news of criminal activity by Occupation forces was quickly suppressed".
Australian, British, and New Zealand troops in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) also committed rapes. The commander of the BCOF's official reports state that members of the BCOF were convicted of committing 57 rapes in the period May 1946 to December 1947 and a further 23 between January 1948 and September 1951. No official statistics on the incidence of serious crimes during the BCOF's first three months in Japan (February to April 1946) are available. Australian historian Robin Gerster contends that while the official statistics underestimate the level of serious crime among BCOF members, Japanese police often did not pass reports they received on to the BCOF and that the serious crimes which were reported were properly investigated by BCOF military police. The penalties given to members of the BCOF convicted of serious crimes were "not severe", however, and those imposed on Australians were often mitigated or quashed by Australian courts.
Testimony of an Australian officer
I stood beside a bed in hospital. On it lay a girl, unconscious, her long, black hair in wild tumult on the pillow. A doctor and two nurses were working to revive her. An hour before she had been raped by twenty soldiers. We found her where they had left her, on a piece of waste land. The hospital was in Hiroshima. The girl was Japanese. The soldiers were Australians. The moaning and wailing had ceased and she was quiet now. The tortured tension on her face had slipped away, and the soft brown skin was smooth and unwrinkled, stained with tears like the face of a child that has cried herself to sleep.
As to Australian justice Clifton writes regarding another rape that was witnessed by a party of card-players:
At the court martial that followed, the accused was found guilty and sentenced to ten years penal servitude. In accordance with army law the courts decision was forwarded to Australia for confirmation. Some time later the documents were returned marked 'Conviction quashed because of insufficient evidence'".
Allied censorship of Japanese media
According to John Dower, American Occupation authorities imposed wide-ranging censorship on the Japanese media, which was imposed in September 1945 and continued until the (1952) end of the occupation, including bans on covering many sensitive social issues and serious crimes such as rape committed by members of the Occupation forces. The censorship hardened and grew over the months from its initial goal of suppressing militaristic and ultra-nationalistic ideas into also suppressing anything that was "'leftist' or even remotely critical of American policies".
According to Eiji Takemae and Robert Ricketts, Allied Occupation forces suppressed news of criminal activities such as rape; on September 10, 1945, SCAP "issued press and pre-censorship codes outlawing the publication of all reports and statistics 'inimical to the objectives of the Occupation'".
- War sexual violence
- 1945 in Japan
- Allied war crimes during World War II
- United States war crimes
- Japanese war crimes
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