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Governments have made plenty of outrageous requests of their citizens, but few are as remarkable as what the Japanese Government secretly requested of tens of thousands of Japanese women 50 years ago. Six days after Japan's surrender in World War II, the Cabinet met in the Prime Minister's residence to discuss "urgent measures" that had nothing to do with the atomic bombings or the millions of homeless people or similar national crises.
Instead, the Cabinet struggled with how to sate the libido of American "sex-starved soldiers. Fearing that the Americans occupying Japan would behave as Japanese troops sometimes had overseas, raping any woman in sight, the Government quietly set up a front organization to establish brothels, and asked patriotic Japanese women to sacrifice themselves as "comfort women" for the Americans.
After two frantic weeks, using Government help to obtain futons, scarce in war-devastated Tokyo, Mr. Suzuki had turned the restaurant into a brothel with 30 women supplied by the Government. The charge to the soldier only Americans were admitted was the equivalent of eight cents, and that included a bottle of beer.
Half the take went to the woman and half to the house. Suzuki said. The 50th anniversary of the beginning of the American occupation has stimulated renewed interest in that chapter of Japanese history, and a television program has raised awareness and eyebrows with its fictionalized version of the life of Japan's own wartime prostitutes.
Internal documents of the front organization, the Recreation and Amusement Association, show that 55, women served in it. The figure includes some office workers, but the great majority worked as prostitutes. The American military authorities nominally banned prostitution, but made few efforts to enforce the ban. The Americans became agitated only when venereal disease rates soared, leading them to declare the Recreation Association brothels off-limits in March As a result, the association decided to close down.