Proposed memorial in S.F. for sex slaves causes divided opinions


A protestor at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel April 30. A dinner in honor of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was being held inside, while hundreds protested outside the hotel, demanding reparations from the Japanese government. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

A protestor at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel April 30. A dinner in honor of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was being held inside, while hundreds protested outside the hotel, demanding reparations from the Japanese government. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly
A protestor at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel April 30. A dinner in honor of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was being held inside, while hundreds protested outside the hotel, demanding reparations from the Japanese government. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

A proposal to create a memorial in San Francisco for the so-called “comfort women,” has created a controversy within the city’s Japanese American community following the resolution’s introduction to the city’s Board of Supervisors July 14.

The resolution, sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar of San Francisco’s District 1, urges San Francisco to establish a memorial for the “comfort women,” a euphemistic term referring to women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Many of these women came from the Korean Peninsula, China, what is today the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam and other Asian and Pacific Islander countries. According to the resolution, several other cities, including Glendale, Calif.; Long Island, New York; Palisades Park and Union City in New Jersey and Fairfax, Va. have erected their own memorials for the “comfort women.”

Mike Mochizuki, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told the Nichi Bei Weekly that while there is no official count and numbers vary among scholars, there were an estimated 200,000 “comfort women.”

“There’s really no definitive number based on some kind of official record because a lot of the records about this have probably been destroyed,” he said. A “large number of women” were nevertheless affected based on circumstantial evidence, Mochizuki said.

According to Victor Lim, legislative aide to Mar, the resolution was first proposed in 2012 by members of the Chinese American community to create a memorial to commemorate the “Rape of Nanking” — the Imperial Japanese Army’s horrific massacre of up to hundreds of thousands of Chinese in Nanking.

In 2014, the proposal shifted to focus on “comfort women” since it did not focus only on Chinese victims of war. He added that it was also important to note that the resolution does not blame the Japanese people for the war crimes, but the wartime Japanese army and its government. Lim also said many of the women who had endured sexual slavery during the war had come to the United States and the memorial is to remember and honor them.

An Unresolved Issue in Japan
While Mochizuki said that a memorial should serve to remember victims of wartime sexual enslavement and make sure such an atrocity never happens again, some sectors of Japanese society see the memorial in a different light. “It’s being seen in some sectors of Japan as an anti-Japanese memorial that unfairly singles out Japan for behavior that other countries have engaged in and continue to engage in,” he said.

According to Mochizuki, while the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admits to the Imperial Army’s involvement with “comfort women,” Mochizuki said it is not as powerful as a full cabinet decision. The scholar also said Abe’s Aug. 14 statement, while “it could have been worse,” stopped short of mentioning “comfort women,” noting the prime minister dedicated a section of his address to women who were “behind the battlefield whose honor and dignity were severely injured.” “The fact he didn’t do it is puzzling to me because he missed a real opportunity to do so.”

Furthermore, while the Japanese government set up the Asian Women’s Fund to compensate “comfort women” in 1994, Mochizuki said some Koreans felt it skirted official responsibility by being funded by private donors instead of public funds.

The Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco told the Nichi Bei Weekly that it is aware of Mar’s resolution, and that “establishing a comfort women statue or monument would be an unfortunate development that is inconsistent with our thoughts and efforts on this difficult issue. It would only serve to politicize and unduly internationalize this already complex issue and further exacerbate the situation. Such actions will never be able to contribute to the resolution of this issue in any constructive manner. The City of San Francisco is home to people with diverse backgrounds, and we are concerned that this proposal would ultimately generate tension and animosity among them, thereby upsetting the harmony of our community.”

The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco said the memorial, which is endorsed by individuals, does not concern the government of China and declined to comment. The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in San Francisco also declined to comment.

Various San Francisco activists and community members came out in support of the resolution at the July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. Many stressed the words of George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Michael Wong, member of the San Francisco chapter of Veterans for Peace, said while the right wing is in control of the Japanese government, the majority of people of Japan support peace. “This is not about Japan-bashing, and it is not about bashing Japanese. This is about working with our counterparts in Japan who are working for peace for all.”

Rita Semel, commissioner on the San Francisco Human Services Commission and a former chair of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, spoke in support of the resolution. Citing her own Jewish heritage, she said she bears no malice toward Germany today for the Holocaust, but stressed that it should still be remembered. “So with Japan. The Japan of today is not the Japan of 1941, but we still must remember those that have suffered and died at that time,” she said. “And today, we are still working through and suffering through human trafficking.”

Marily Mondejar, president of the Filipina Women’s Network, said she first learned of the “comfort women” from her mother who told her about hiding from Japanese soldiers who tried to abduct young women from their homes. “A thousand Filipina ‘comfort women’ have been documented,” she said. Mondejar added that the women, now in their 80s and 90s, stand outside the Japanese embassy in the Philippines to await an apology every Wednesday. “It is important that San Francisco build a memorial in memory of the girls and women who suffered as sex slaves. We need a place of remembrance. We need a place of reflection. So that the atrocity does not happen again.”

Julie Tang, co-founder of the Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition, told the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail of her endorsement for the memorial, citing the collaboration of Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans during the 1970s and 1980s. “We joined hands to demand for an apology and reparation for the Japanese Americans unfairly held in concentration camps during WWII. We fought racism and discrimination due to our common Asian backgrounds,” she said. The Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition was notably co-founded by Clifford Uyeda, a well-known Japanese American activist and humanitarian based in San Francisco’s Japantown, and with him came other Japanese American activists such as Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Sox Kitashima who lent their names as honorary chairs or members of the organization that pursued an apology from the Japanese government for the Rape of Nanking.

“I am a retired judge … I believe in the truth, fairness and justice. This is what the ‘comfort women’ who are still alive are seeking. And for those who had died, we should honor their suffering and not allow the same thing to happen again,” Tang said. “A dignified memorial in honor of them is the appropriate thing to do.”

Support and Opposition within Japanese American Community

Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.), who authored House Resolution 121 in 2007 calling for the government of Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility” for “comfort women,” wrote a letter supporting Mar’s resolution stating: “Human trafficking is not merely a historical issue; it is a modern day human rights issue.

This memorial would denounce not only the historical act, but also serves as a message against modern sexual slavery and trafficking.”

According to Honda’s letter, of the 200,000 women forced into sexual enslavement during World War II, “55 remain in Korea, 26 in the Philippines, 5 in Taiwan and a handful of others across the Asian Pacific Region.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a statement, “I support the establishment of a memorial to honor the memory of ‘comfort women’ … I understand this is a difficult issue for many in the Japanese community. However, I believe the most painful parts of our shared human history are the most important to acknowledge. Humanity must remember vividly the horror of war, oppression and exploitation in order to prevent future atrocities.”

Karen Korematsu, executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, supported the resolution, penning a letter to the Board of Supervisors. She stated that her late father, Fred Korematsu, along with Uyeda, Kitashima and Hirabayashi, joined Chinese American leaders “to bring about peace through justice by urging the Japanese government to do the right thing.” Korematsu said the memorial, like Jewish Holocaust memorials, “should preserve historical truth and raise consciousness about the suffering of the ‘comfort women.’”

Japantown community members Sandy Mori and Caryl Ito, however, have raised concerns against the memorial, citing the language in Mar’s resolution could cause backlash to Japanese Americans and jeopardize relations with Japan. They relayed their concerns during the Aug. 19 Japantown Task Force board meeting. The Japantown Task Force said it would explore the issue further and did not take a position on the matter.

While Mori and Ito do not deny that 200,000 women were sexually enslaved, Mori said the issue of sex trafficking is not Japan’s alone and that San Francisco itself has a human trafficking issue. Mori also said that while San Francisco remains committed to the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, Osaka may withdraw. “The Osaka side can say

‘San Francisco has a policy that is anti-Japan’ and withdraw,” she said.

Allen Okamoto, co-chair of the Sister City Association, said he is unaware of any immediate threat to the relationship, but he said the city of Osaka has shown concern about the proposed memorial, with Toru Hashimoto, Osaka’s mayor, expressing an intent to write a letter to San Francisco. Hashimoto himself was condemned by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2013 over his remarks that “comfort women” were “necessary,” an incident that has cooled relations between the cities’ elected officials, Okamoto said.

“Our final approach to this resolution has yet to be decided until we ourselves meet with Eric Mar and other key supervisors,” Ito told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “I believe our first choice is to stop this resolution altogether and start a more reasonable community discussion.” Ito said she would like to see the discussion include not only the “comfort women,” but the “on-going atrocities” such as those committed by the United States in the Middle East and within the military, rapes on college campuses, as well as human trafficking in San Francisco. Ito also argued a “comfort women” memorial cannot adequately communicate Japan’s wartime atrocities without “causing unforeseen backlash, hate and potential discrimination against ALL Japanese.”

Right-Wing Revisionism
Japanese right-wing nationalists have also attacked the proposal. According to Emi Koyama, a Seattle-based Japanese American activist and co-founder of Japan-U.S. Feminist Network for Decolonization, several people affiliated with Japanese right-wing historical revisionism spoke during the July 21 San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting. Koichi Mera, a resident of Los Angeles, said the “comfort women” are an “international issue” between Korea and Japan and that city governments should not interfere. He also said the memorial is divisive. “(U.S. immigrants) should be living together in harmony. This ‘comfort women’ issue will divide people,” Mera said. He then went on to add that the story of “comfort women” are a fabrication and that “those women were not sex slaves, they were paid well.”

Mariko Okada-Collins, a Japanese language lecturer at Central Washington University, said San Francisco has a history of racism against Japanese people, including segregation in the schools and anti-Japanese policies in the early 20th century. She said the memorial “promotes ethnic and racial hatred, promotes exaggerated claims against the Japanese while overlooking equal violations by Americans, Koreans, Russians … and does absolutely nothing to raise awareness to save one woman from human trafficking.”

Terumi Imamura, who Koyama said is from Japan, asked if Japanese and Japanese Americans were being targeted again. “Many of us remember those painful camp days during wartime. Is that going to be happening again? We are scared. We are concerned. We are worried,” she said. “Besides that, these claims that they have on ‘comfort women’ … there is no solid evidence to it.”

“The motivation for the historical denial arises from the fact that the historical reality of ‘comfort women’ is inconvenient for the right-wing perspective that Japan’s war in Asiaand the Pacific were a ‘just war’ for the liberation of Asia from Western imperial powers,” Koyama told the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail. “It must be denied to preserve the notion that Japan was a liberator, not a colonizer or occupier.”

Mochizuki said claims stating that some women were “paid” or that not all were forcefully abducted by the Imperial Japanese Army may be true; however, he said opponents are “cherry picking” their arguments and pursuing narrow interpretations of facts and that the arguments only serve to be counter-productive and demeaning to the survivors.

Mochizuki said the generally accepted definition of enslavement internationally qualifies the “comfort women’s” experience as “sexual slavery.” “In the end it is slavery if there is no free will of engaging in that kind of behavior; that’s the issue,” he said. He also added, while the Imperial Army itself may not have carried out all the abductions, the “comfort women” system was undeniably a system organized by the Imperial Army.

Koyama also said the Japanese right wing in America have started to use the trauma of wartime incarceration instead of stressing their revisionist arguments to garner support from Japanese Americans. “Some of them … pretend to be part of the Japanese American community — even though they are Shin-Issei (post-war immigrants) — and talk about the wartime anti-Japanese (American) campaigns and Japanese (American) internment as if they or their families experienced (it),” Koyama wrote. “But they are merely exploiting our collective historical trauma and manipulating us. If they are truly concerned about the future of Japanese Americans, they need to stop presenting as Japanese Americans while glorifying or defending the Japanese Empire.”

Miho Kim Lee, member of the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund, said she noticed that Japanese nationalists have presented themselves as Japanese Americans while protesting a Glendale, Calif. “comfort women” memorial built in 2013. “The word ‘Japanese’ and ‘Japanese American’ were being used interchangeably.”

Supervisors to Discuss Resolution
The resolution was sent to Mar’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee during the July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. The resolution will be discussed Thursday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. in Room 250 of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Lim said Mar’s office recognizes that the proposal needs more time as the loose coalition of community members trying to shape the memorial has expanded since the resolution was introduced to the Supervisors. “There is no official proposal of how it would look like,” Lim said. Lim said this coalition includes Americans of Korean, Chinese and Japanese descent, and clarified that the memorial should come from a community perspective and not that of foreign governments or nationalists.

3 responses to “Proposed memorial in S.F. for sex slaves causes divided opinions”

  1. ednakano Avatar

    If the memorial will build, It must includes “Comfort women” for US military.
    Just after WWII US military used comfort women service in Japan “RAA”.
    During and after Korean war, Us military used “Comfort women” in Korea.
    And During Vietnam war, US and Korea military used “Turkish bath” managed by Korean military.
    Also Korean military left tens of thousand half Korean half Vietnamese kids in Vietnam.

    1. tsylvest Avatar

      Dear ednakano (9/11/2015), you have a very good point. I know the fact the US military used the Japanese comfort women. There is even a book that describes that American men wanted to have the Japanese women with large breasts therefore some comfort women even had breast implant to make American men happy. If the Korean woman statue is needed to heal the women’s pains of Korea, we should have each woman statue from all different countries. So why don’t we have 20-30 other countries’ comfort women statues that include the countries from the WWI.

  2. Hyung-Sung Kim Avatar
    Hyung-Sung Kim

    My great-grandfather was born a slave in 1893 (over 90% of Koreans were slaves at the time) and was delighted when Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and liberated the slaves because he would have never been able to attend schools if not for the Japanese. My grandparents were born in 1920’s and experienced the Japanese rule firsthand. They had nothing but great things to say about the Japanese. They told me how nice their Japanese teachers and classmates were to them at schools. Even 50 years after the end of the war, they only sang Japanese songs at Karaoke because they reminisced those days so much.

    As a history student, I interviewed over one hundred Koreans who were born and raised in the Korean Peninsula in 1920’s and 1930’s, and the overwhelming majority of them shared the same views with my grandparents.

    I asked them about comfort women as well, and what they witnessed was Korean fathers and brothers selling their daughters and sisters, Korean brokers deceiving Korean women. They never witnessed Japanese military coercing any Korean women.

    This fact is well documented in San Francisco State University Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh’s book “The Comfort Women.”

    Sejong University Professor Park Yuha agrees with Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh.

    The follwoing is a diary written by a Korean comfort station worker discovered in 2013 by Professor Ahn Byong Jik of Seoul National University. It details how Korean brokers recruited Korean women in the Peninsula (sometimes on false pretenses) and how they owned & operated comfort stations employing those women. According to the diary Korean owners beat and sometimes raped Korean women when they didn’t obey orders.

    The follwoing are the articles published in Korean newspapers in the 1930’s & 1940’s. The articles say that the Japanese police arrested Korean traffickers who were engaging in illegal recruiting.

    The following is a help wanted ad in a Korean newspaper Maeil Shinbo on October 27, 1944. A Korean broker (Mr. Ho) was recruiting comfort women. There are other ads like this one.…/1/maeil+sinbo%5B1%5D.jpg

    The following is the order the Japanese military sent to the police in Korea. The order says, “crack down on the Korean prostitution brokers who are engaging in illegal recruiting.”

    By the way, I don’t exonerate the Japanese military because its invasion into China and Southeast Asia did create the demand for comfort women. But the Korean narrative of “The Japanese military showed up at the doors and abducted young Korean women” just didn’t happen. The Korean businessmen (prostitution brokers) capitalized on the demand, recruited Korean women and operated comfort stations.

    Asahi Shimbun published a series of fabricated articles on comfort women in the 1980’s. Based on these articles, the anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup (with close ties to North Korea and China) was formed in South Korea in 1990. Then out of nowhere a woman named Kim Hak-sun came forward in 1991 and claimed she was abducted by Japanese military. There is clear evidence (recorded tapes) that suggests she was coached by Chong Dae Hyup to give false testimony. If Korean women were indeed abducted by the Japanese military, it is rather odd that not a single woman claimed anything for over 45 years after the end of World War II. Former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo said in 1993 interview with Bungeishunju, “Asahi Shimbun created the comfort women issue out of nothing, provoked Korean nationalism and infuriated Korean people.”

    Lower ranked Japanese soldiers did coerce dozens of Dutch and Filipino women in the battlefields of Indonesia and the Philippines. Those soldiers were court-martialed, and some of them executed. But Korean women were not coerced by the Japanese military because the Korean Peninsula was not the battlefield and therefore the Japanese military was NOT in Korea. (Korean brokers recruited Korean women in Korea and operated comfort stations employing them) Japan apologized and compensated, and Netherlands, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan had all accepted Japan’s apology and reconciled with Japan. So there are no comfort women issues between those nations and Japan. The comfort women issue remains only with South Korea because Chong Dae Hyup refuses to reconcile with Japan and continues to spread the false claim of “200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the Japanese military” throughout the world. Chong Dae Hyup’s strategy has been to use the case of a small number of Dutch and Filipino women who were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers and make it look like the same thing happened to many Korean women.

    It is ironic that 99% of Westerners fell for Chong Dae Hyup’s (North Korean) propaganda while the majority of South Korean scholars (Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University, Professor Lee Yong-hoon of Seoul University, Professor Ahn Byong-jik of Seoul University, Professor Jun Bong-gwan of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Professor Han Sung-jo of Korea University, Professor Lee Dae-gun of Sungkyunkwan University, Professor Choi Ki-ho of Kaya University, Professor Oh Seon-hwa of Takushoku University, Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh of San Francisco State University, etc.) and a good number of South Korean public agree that the Japanese military did not coerce Korean women. Only a small number of fanatics with loud voice (South Korean leftists with close ties to North Korea and radical left wing Japanese scholars such as Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Yuki Tanaka and Hirofumi Hayashi also with close ties to North Korea and China) falsely claim 200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the Japanese military. Westerners must realize that North Korean and Chinese operatives are using the comfort women issue to drive a wedge into U.S.-Japan-South Korea security partnership.


    After the end of WWII, the anti-Japanese brainwashing began in South Korea. Our first president (the military dictator) Syngman Rhee massacred hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of us.

    In order to cover up his atrocities and maintain legitimacy, he needed a common enemy, and Japan was an easy target. So he started the anti-Japanese brainwashing in schools and in the media. And every successive president after him had to outdo his predecessor on anti-Japanism in order to maintain legitimacy.

    The following book illustrates very well how our first president, Syngman Rhee, used the anti-Japanese brainwashing to cover up his massacres.

    In this book the author, Sung-Hwa Cheong, concludes that Syngman Rhee deliberately stimulated anti-Japanese sentiment as part of a calculated policy that originated in his own political insecurity.


    The South Koreans who were born in the 1980’s & 1990’s grew up with Japanese anime & Japanese literature (Haruki Murakami & so on) because in the late 1990’s South Korea started allowing Japanese culture to come in. (Japanese culture was banned in South Korea until then, believe it or not)

    These generations typically say, “We like Japanese culture & people. If the Japanese accept our history as the right history, we can get along with them.” This means that when these generations realize that their history is not the right history but the brainwashed history, they will get along with the Japanese unconditionally.

    Will they realize that their history is not the right history? I believe they will thanks to the internet & social media.

    For example on internet, the South Koreans now have access to the history textbook comparison study done by Stanford University.

    This study found that the Japanese history textbooks to be based on facts, the Korean history textbooks to be heavy on nationalism.

    So when the generations who were born in the 1980’s & 1990’s become the movers and shakers of South Korea, (i.e. key politicians, newspaper editors, etc.) the relationship between South Korea and Japan will improve dramatically.

    Right now, the South Korean society is dominated by the generations who were born in the 1950’s, 1960’s & 1970’s. These generations were raised with anti-Japanese brainwashing at schools, and they had no exposure to Japanese culture growing up. So they are hardcore anti-Japanese.

    The generations who were born before 1945 (like my grandparents) are generally very sympathetic to the Japanese because they experienced the annexation period. The reason why the Korea-Japan relation has deteriorated so badly in the last 20 years is because most of them have died, and the generations born after the war came into power.

    Our presidents up to Kim Dae-jung all spoke Japanese fluently because they experienced the annexation. Park Chung-hee was anti-Japanese publicly, but in private he shared drinks with Japanese politicians speaking in Japanese. When the Japanese emperor Hirohito died in 1989, Kim Dae-jung went to the funeral and took a deep bow toward Hirohito’s coffin. This would be unthinkable with our last three presidents.

    So it will take some time, but when we have a president who was born in the 1980’s or later, we will not be so anti-Japanese.


    The average life span of the Koreans doubled from 23 years in 1910 to 45 years in 1945, and the population doubled from just over 12 million in 1910 to over 25 million in 1945 due to the institution of modern healthcare under the Japanese. If living a longer, healthier life means better quality of life, then the Koreans’ quality of life definitely improved under the Japanese.

    The following is a good summary of a book written by Professor Alleyne Ireland of University of Chicago. He was the leading expert on colonial administration in Asia. He gained deep knowledge of Japan’s annexation of Korea from his visit there in 1922.

    Alleyne Ireland’s book makes it clear that the common perception in the West — the Japanese invaded Korea, exploited Korean people and committed atrocities — is a myth. Westerners visit Seodaemun Prison (anti-Japanese propaganda exhibit created by the South Korean government after the war) and believe the Japanese rule was brutal.

    The state of 19th century Korea (Joseon Dynasty) was very similar to that of present day North Korea. The majority of the population were starving and were enslaved by a small number of corrupt bureaucrats. If Japan is to annex North Korea right now, kick out Kim Jong-un and liberate the majority of the North Koreans, wouldn’t they welcome Japan’s annexation with open arms? That was exactly what happened in 1910.

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