• Alexander Han

Comfort Women and the Contract of “Miuri” (Selling Women into Bondage)



It is really surprising that Korean and Japanese scholars studying comfort women have not so far referred to a contract style of “miuri,” or “selling women into bondage,” which was a practice whereby a woman’s parents sold her to a brothel owner for upfront, during Korea’s colonial period.


It has been said that Korean women’s path to becoming comfort women was any of “forcible recruitment,” “employment fraud,” and “human trafficking.” In the colonial period, however, the latter two were both illegal and combined to create one crime that was to recruit a woman by the employment fraud defined legally as “abduction” to sell her off to a brothel, a prostitution facility, or a comfort station regardless of her or her parents’ will.


What if poor parents sold their daughter according to the commonly-practiced “miuri” contract despite knowing she would become a prostitute or a comfort woman? This was legal. I cannot draw a hasty conclusion as no statistics exist, but such a contract must have been a basic method to recruit women in the sex industry at the time.


A majority of the parents sold their daughters to recruiters or owners of brothels by this contract, even though they were well aware of what their daughters would be doing. The parents received upfront advances instead and their daughters worked as prostitutes to pay them back from their salaries through the contract term. After the full amount of the advance was refunded, the daughter’s freedom was recovered but her honor was not. Legal contracts of “miuri” would have been more frequent than “abduction or human trafficking.” The former would yield less profit, but the latter would incur a higher cost of “risk of punishment” such as imprisonment.


The “miuri” contract should not be regarded as the same as a trade of slaves or Korean slaves in the pre-modern era. The contract of those slaves was to sell someone completely and eternally. Meanwhile, the “miuri” had been a trading custom unique to Japan since the Tokugawa era till just before World War II. However, such trading customs or corresponding words have not been found in Korea.


This new contract style, “miuri,” was introduced to Korea around 1900 and established during the colonial period. This was because Korea and Japan had similar social and legal backgrounds in that the rights of women were weak in the family, that the patriarchal system guaranteed the right of a family head, and that the licensed prostitution system became conventional.


In Korea, there were many cases where a family head of general commoners sold his daughter, son, family member, or even himself on a particular occasion as a slave, especially in the18th and 19th centuries when Korea faced an economic crisis. I recognized ones in 1910 at the latest. This kind of human trading custom is called “selling oneself.” Like other slaves, the social position of a “selling-oneself slave” was legally inherited. Moreover, in a document of “selling-oneself contract,” such phrases as “I will dedicate myself to the owner for life” or “I will sell myself forever” appeared as in a general slave contract. Thus, “selling oneself (or one’s family member) completely and permanently” was also common between the general slave and “selling oneself” contracts. On the contrary, the “miuri” was a trade limited to sex labor of only several years. This was a critical difference from the slave contracts.


The newspapers in Korea’s colonial period show us that illegal “human trafficking” and legal “miuri” were rampant enough to be serious social problems. This situation was the same as in Japan. For example, one of the reasons for the “February 26th Incident” in Japan in 1926 was that soldiers from rural areas had to sell their younger sisters to prostitution traders because of abject poverty. One of the Korean former comfort women said that she hated her father who had sold her more than the owner of the comfort station.


From the parents’ viewpoints, the money received from a brothel or a comfort station, the upfront, was a ransom of the daughter they sold. In the recruiter’s position, however, this was a debt to get back. Trade of younger girls was on the borderline between illegal “human trafficking” and legal “miuri.” Such trades occurred so frequently that investigations by the police or prosecutors and trials were often held accordingly. But most of the suspects prosecuted by the police turned out to be innocent.


According to “Anti-Japan Tribalism,” written by Lee Young-hoon, about 90% of the suspects arrested by the police on charges of “abduction” or “kidnapping” were referred to prosecutors. But only a small number of them were indicted by the prosecutors or forwarded to trials. From 1924 to 1941, the number of the suspects referred to the prosecutors on these two charges amounted to 40,553, of which only 2,506 people were indicted. From 1924 to 1943, 87.5% of those arrested by the police were not be indicted. However, 85% of those put on trial were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. This means that the recruiters and owners engaged in the prostitution business of brothels and comfort stations chose legal “miuri” rather than illegal “abduction or human trafficking.”


The parents selling their daughter through the “miuri” contract must have known well what her job entailed. If so, their agreement was an obvious “contract” even though there were no documents.


The most important matter that the Korean and overseas researchers interested in the Korean history, especially in the comfort women issue and Professor J. Mark Ramseyer, consider as a focal point to attack him is that he has not been able to present any contract documents.


However, these researchers don’t have any idea of the above-mentioned facts on the Korean prostitution business and its background of the time. They don’t even have any interest, either.


 

자유통일강대국코리아 (역사/외교)

https://www.mediawatch.kr/news/article.html?no=255680

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