Jugun Ianfu - They are not Prostitutes, Japanese's Mistress, Concubine, Geisha or Nyai


In this section, I would like to discuss the differences between the Jugun Ianfu, Mistress, concubine, geisha and “Nyai”. It is important to clarify who the Jugun Ianfu is, in order to understand that the formers Jugun Ianfu are one of Asia Pacific War’s victims as sexual slavery, which has rights to gain their justice.

In Indonesian community, the understanding about Jugun Ianfu is still being debate because of different points of view in looking at these problems, and a lack of understanding about the history of Japanese occupation in Indonesia (1942-1945). There is an opinion that Jugun Ianfu is a prostitute during Japanese occupation in Indonesia (1942-1945), some of the Indonesian people said that Jugun Ianfu is the Japanese military’s mistress or concubine.


Taken by: Indri Hapsari Mustika Dewi

  Emah Kastimah, one of the Indonesia Jugun Ianfu survivor


ugun Ianfu in Indonesia is different from concubine, mistress, or nyai. According to the Great Dictionary of Indonesian Language (KBBI: Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia), concubine refers to a woman who has marital connection with her master, in spite of not being married. During Javanese empire, a King may have concubine or mistress from villager. Although a King has had the first wife or empress, he can still find other women to preserve the empire. It is uncommon for the King to have a single wife. This believed due to Javanese society conception that a man will be perceive as masculine if he can successfully reaches throne and has many women (Sunaryo & Mansurudin 1997).

During Dutch colonization in Indonesia, concubine institution between Dutchman and local people tended to be neglect. One reason is that there was, at that time, small numbers of Dutch women come to Asia; thus, dispensation or even sexual relationship between Dutchmen and non-Dutch concubines was highly recommended (Hartono & Juliantoro 1997). The non-Dutch concubines had legal, important rights and their employer perceived as their husband, but with status or position similar to servant.

Concubine is refers to by many people as illegal wife, mistress, or in more extreme the wife that is functioned to meet the need of sexual desire. It indicates this woman only serves as the second women or phenomenally well known recently as another ideal women after the first wife (Sunaryo & Mansurudin 1997).

The term “nyai” commonly used in West Java, Indonesia, especially for adult woman. However, the term “nyai” would have different connotation during Dutch-Indies Colonization. At that time, nyai meant concubine, mistress, or illegal wife of Dutch officials or soldiers. In KBBI -Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia or the Great Dictionary of Indonesian Language published by Department of Education and Culture in 1989,Nyai is synonymous with concubine and mistress. Nyai, concubine, or mistress, in KBBI, is defining as illegal wife.

In fact, there is similarity among the terms nyai, concubine, and mistress. The similarity is that they are generating from the structure of patriarchy. The term of concubine and mistress derived from authority of traditional patriarchy, while the term of nyai brought into being from the authority of colonial patriarchy. Concubine and mistress are feudalism product, while, nyai, on the other hand, is “typical product” of colonialism. In addition, the background of the existence of nyai was due to sexual interest social prestige of colonial masters in Indies land. According to Willard A. Hanna (1988), since June 23, 1596 as the token of initial invasion of Corniles de Houtman along with his 100 expedition members to Banten, in September 8, 1627, two Dutch women first came to Batavia Castle. Within 31 years, it was impossible for them to be only with gun and cannon. Such “emptiness" eventually made a number of Asiatic-tropic (slam or indigenous) women become nyai. Terence H. Hull (1997) states that until 1980, almost a half of European men lived with local “concubine”. This obviously points out that within almost more than two centuries, native women had lived to be nyai and had to play multiple roles as sexual object and social prestige.

Unfortunately, nyai as `meritorious`, in fact, it was considered low and despicable. During colonialism, in economic point of view, nyai held high status, but morally `disgusting`. Economically, they were above the average of non-noble native women. Nyai used to wear golden and silver-yarned embroidered fabric, rooshair bun, diamond pin, and ear stud made of polished diamond. In whatever way, in moral point of view as Bas Veth claimed, “nyai is human similar to monkey” (Sastrowardoyo 1990: 18). It is important to note thatNyai represents sexual romanticism symbol that had brought to colonialism successfulness (Onghokham 1983).

Jugun Ianfu is not geisha. Geisha refers to traditional, female Japanese entertainers whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music and dance. Geisha are common in 18 to 19 centuries and still exist until now in Japan. Geisha carries connotation of prostitutes especially during the American occupation in Japan, were some young women desperate for money and calling themselves “geisha” or in English pronunciation `gee-sha` or the phrase "geisha girl," and sold themselves to American troops. There are many misconceptions over what a geisha truly is because the tumultuous past of artisans, prostitutes, and pleasure quarters in Japan. Prostitution was legal in Japan until 1958, which is another reason that people may be misinformed about geishas not offering sex to customers (Busch 1947). The two became especially confused after many of the professional prostitutes who catered to the occupying soldiers after World War II styled themselves as "geisha"; at a time when few true geisha were able to work, the counterfeit geisha usurped the meaning of the word in the eyes of many foreigners (Dalby 1998).

Based on the description above, it is obviously clear that Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia is significantly different from mistress, concubine, geisha or nyai. Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia forced to work at ianjo, military barrack, or official residence of Japanese officers; rather than in house or palace such as concubine mistress, or nyai.Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia should serve Japanese soldier and civilian in relatively huge number, approximately 10 to 15 persons each day and every person requested the service more than once (Juningsih 1999). Meanwhile, concubine, nyai, or mistress is only serves one husband or one man. The Indonesian Jugun Ianfualso has never been treated as wife. Notwithstanding the fact that there were some Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia serving as sexual servant in Japanese military officer's house, and only serving a single military officer and not every day, or anytime when needed; they did not receive special treatment like the treatment given to mistress, concubine, geisha or nyai. They did not obtain beautiful wears and jewelries like mistress, concubine, or nyai; in contrary, when they were not serving officer they had to do housework. Jugun Ianfu is also not geisha. Most of Jugun Ianfu were young girl and women but they were been taken by forced to fulfill Japanese military sexual desire. Jugun Ianfu are not entertainers and never been trained as entertainer such as dance, sing or arts; even there is no doubt that during war, most Jugun Ianfu also forced to dance and sing while their were served Japanese soldiers and civil officers.


The term Jugun Ianfu refers to those women who were forced into sexual slavery to fulfill the Japanese military and civil officers’ sexual need at ianjo or comfort stations (Yoshimi 2000; AWHRC 1998; WCCW 1998; WCCW 2000; Ikeda in Tsujimura 2007; Hindra & Kimura 2007; Schmidt 2000), or other places during Asia Pacific War in 1931-1945.


 The sexual slavery system was created by the Japanese military in the areas of their occupation and part of the Japanese logistic and war strategy during Asia Pacific War 1931-1945 (Dewi 2011).


By Indri Hapsari Mustika Dewi

Master of Art in Public Administration
International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan
Rotary World Peace Fellow 2009-2011
Qualification: Coordinator of the Indonesia Community Care, University Lecturer, Analyst & Independent Researcher on the Jugun Ianfu Issue specifically in Indonesia


Copyright Reserved © 2011 by Indri Hapsari Mustika Dewi


Further Literature:

Dewi, Indri Hapsari Mustika, "Truth-telling as a Foundation for Reconciliation for the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia", International Christian University Master Thesis, 2011.


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