“My war records are of military comfort women…”, writes Dr. Aso, “…cabaret dance girls, the military secret service, missionaries, and . . . the incident”. The “incident”, as it is often referred to in books about Japanese comfort women, alludes to the fact that Dr. Aso (1910–1989) was the first Japanese medical officer officially ordered to perform health examinations on military comfort women. This policy was instituted in 1937 for a new contingent of comfort women freshly sent to Shanghai to serve the Japanese military. It was the initial measure undertaken by the Japanese High Command to reduce venereal disease among the troops. Dr. Aso performed this duty throughout the term of his assignment in China.
From Shanghai to Shanghai (Shanhai yori Shanhai e) is the most unusual, grass-roots diary of Dr. Aso, a 27 year-old gynecologist who takes us with him to work and on his travels throughout China during his various tours of duty in the Sino-Japanese war. The journey begins in late 1937, when he first arrived in Shanghai, and continues for four years, until 1941, when he returned to Japan from Shanghai after tours of duty in Shanghai, in Nanjing, and in a number of other parts of central China.
Dr. Aso Tetsuo was quite literally born into a world of gynecology and prostitution. His father was a gynecologist with a private medical and teaching practice in the “entertainment quarters” — red light district — of Fukuoka. Besides being a school for midwives, Aso’s childhood home was a medical clinic for the prostitutes employed in the neighboring teahouses and brothels. As a child, Aso knew the women who were his father’s patients as his “big sisters”. It was only natural, Aso later reflected, that when he grew up he would become a gynecologist and specialize in the health of working women. After the end of the war in 1945, Aso was frequently accused by the press of having forced women into prostitution during the war. This prompted him finally to tell his side of the story by compiling this remarkable book from his wartime diary.