A Continuum of Violence: Karayuki-san, Comfort Women, and Sex Tourism in Japan


  • Jessy Zhu


Japan, Sex Tourism, Comfort Women, World War II


From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, thousands of Japanese women were trafficked to foreign countries and employed at brothels. Called "karayuki-san," they were the foundation of Japan’s pre-World War II economic expansion into Singapore and Southeast Asia, fueling growth both in their new countries and at home. This network of karayuki-san brothels across the Asia Pacific made it easy for the Japanese government and military to then, during World War II, set up the notorious system of comfort women and comfort stations. In Japan’s post-war economic boom, sex again became a central part of growth and development, with corporate sex tourism causing investment in the sex industry of hot springs resorts to skyrocket, which has in turn contributed to increased rates of sex trafficking in Japan. This paper argues that these three periods of history form a continuum of Japanese society using sexual violence against women as a means to an end. From the pre-war karayuki-san brothels to the comfort stations of World War II to the hot springs resorts today, Japan has continuously used women as collateral damage: sexual exploitation of, and violence against, women has been seen as a “necessary evil” for national development, justified in the name of furthering Japan’s growth and power.