Some Japanese in North America puzzled by ‘comfort women’ statue plan


MEMORIAL UNVEILED —  Kim Bok Dong (L), 87, sits next to a bronze statue of a girl in traditional Korean clothing — a memorial for women forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese military — at Glendale Central Park near Los Angeles on July 30. Kim said she spent eight years providing sexual services to Japanese troops after she was forcibly drafted when just 14 years old.  Kyodo News photo

MEMORIAL UNVEILED — Kim Bok Dong (L), 87, sits next to a bronze statue of a girl in traditional Korean clothing — a memorial for women forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese military — at Glendale Central Park near Los Angeles on July 30. Kim said she spent eight years providing sexual services to Japanese troops after she was forcibly drafted when just 14 years old.
Kyodo News photo

San Francisco lawmakers voted in September to urge the establishment of a “comfort women” memorial, breaking ground by becoming the first major U.S. city to install a statue memorializing women, mostly from Asia, who were forced to provide sex for soldiers of the wartime Japanese military.

While the decision by the city’s Board of Supervisors was unanimous, it has baffled some Japanese residents and Japanese Americans. They are asking why the West Coast city needs to host a monument addressing an issue that is a point of controversy mainly between Japan and other Asian countries.

In the meantime, the city is moving ahead with preparations for the construction of the monument, joining a handful of other, smaller municipalities with “comfort women” monuments in the United States such as Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb that installed a statue in 2013.

“I think Glendale’s is actually a good type of design but I know that San Francisco has lots of artists and communities that would give input as we move the process forward,” Eric Mar, the board member who introduced the motion to set up the memorial, told Kyodo News in his office at the city hall.

Glendale set up a bronze statue of a young Asian woman with a bird on her shoulder sitting on a bench to symbolize the suffering of women, mainly Koreans and Chinese, who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II. Some Japanese deny they were forcibly recruited.

This memorial invited a backlash from some quarters of the local Japanese American community, prompting a lawsuit calling for its removal. The legal battle is still pending.

Mar said he is hoping the San Francisco monument’s design will symbolize many issues, such as encouraging education on trafficking in women, in order to draw a broad range of support from residents.

Seiko Fujimoto, who has been living in the city’s Japantown after moving to the United States more than 40 years ago, is one of those opposed to the establishment of the statue.
“I don’t understand why they have to destroy the relationship of coexistence among Japanese, Chinese and Korean ethnic groups,” Fujimoto said.

The number of Japanese Americans living in the city has been dwindling. Many shops in Japantown are run by Korean Americans, a long-time resident said. The neighborhood is also no longer vibrant like the city’s Chinatown, located within walking distance.

North of the border on the West Coast, in the Canadian city of Burnaby, adjacent to Vancouver, a plan for erecting a “comfort women” memorial emerged earlier this year.

A group of Koreans visited Burnaby, a sister city of Hwaseong, South Korea, and made the proposal for a statue alongside the Korean War Memorial in the city’s Central Park.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan did not decline the Korean proposal, which came with a donation of C$50,000, according to Gordon Kadota, an influential Japanese Canadian in the community.

The mayor, however, was not apparently aware of the political sensitivity of the “comfort women” issue on the other side of the Pacific, telling the local Japanese community paper the Vancouver Shimpo that he had not anticipated that it could generate serious repercussions.

Kadota, himself opposed to the monument, said the Korean proposal has been effectively withdrawn from the mayor’s agenda.

“Vancouver has nothing to do with comfort women,” said Kadota, who was born in Vancouver, and has lived in that part of Canada all of his life except for a decade centering on World War II. “Erecting the monument goes against Vancouver’s belief in accommodating immigrants and advocating ethnic diversity.”

Monuments for “comfort women” have been erected at least five locations in the United States, all in relatively small communities.

A statute in San Francisco, with its historical ties with Japan, would have different implications, at least from the Japanese perspective.

The memorial plan has already drawn a strong protest from Osaka, a sister city of San Francisco whose Mayor Toru Hashimoto is a well-known populist politician on the national scene.

Hashimoto said in a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, “I have no intention of legitimatizing or defending the issue of ‘comfort women,’ nor do I intend to do so in the future” but “every country must squarely face their own past problem and engage in addressing this issue.”

Hashimoto maintains that Japan is not the only country to have had military brothels for soldiers during wartime. In the letter, he requested that the mayor consider the plan carefully, noting that the U.S. city is home to many Japanese.

Asked about the potentially divisive nature of the plan in an ethnically diverse society, supervisor Mar said San Francisco needs the monument because it is a town of immigrants with different backgrounds and has cherished human rights.

Mar said many Japanese Americans are also supportive of the memorial. Kadota also admitted that some people in the Japanese community are reluctant to back his initiative to scrap the plan.

In explaining the background to the San Francisco resolution, however, Mar, of Chinese descent, added that one of the factors that motivated him was the Imperial Japanese Army’s occupation of China.

The city supervisor said the plan has already drawn $140,000 in funds


  1. Thomas Sorensen says

    I lived in Japan for 10 years and during that time I saw only one street fight (between 2 Japanese) Americans in the Roppongi area were at it constantly so you learned to stay away from that area of Tokyo. They were US military personnel. It is true that the Japanese are not a violent people and their behavior during WWII was strange at best. Poor treatment of American and allied POWs we now know were because the prison camps were run and staffed by Korean nationals in the service of the Japanese military. Lieutenant General Hong Sa-ik, an ethnic Korean was in charge of the Prison camps in the Philippines which should force us to have another look at the infamous Bataan Death March. Korea provided the Japanese military with seven generals and a great amount of officers. All of them were volunteers the Japanese did not draft Koreans until 1943. Many became generals in the army of The Republic of South Korea after the war. The most noted was the military dictator Park Chung-hee, who became president of South Korea
    General. from 1964 to 1970. He was the father of the present President of Korea Geun-hye Park. The whole story of the confort women is also in need of a review and must include the part played by the Koreans themselves in the recruitment of these women. Americans only became aware of the brutal nature of the Korean military when the ROK sent special forces to Vietnam. All of what I have written here is, while well documented not well known. I believe the reason is an attempt to revise the true history of the era.

    • Dude, you need to state the facts. When the Japanese invaded Korea from 1592-1598, they cut off the ears of Koreans for proof that they were killed. I think that’s being violent. My close friend in high school, his grandfather was taken away by the Japanese and he had to bury his own grave. Seem pretty violent to me. If you go to the Seodaemun Prison in Seoul, you can see all the pictures of the Koreans that the Japanese executed. There were a lot of children that were executed as well. Who fears a 10 year old kid….

      I would like to see the list of ethnic Koreans who were Japanese Generals in World War 2. I’ll bet you the length of the list is the same as the list of african americans who were generals for the confederate army.

      Park Chung Hee did serve in the Japanese Army but he was no general…..

      Yes there were Koreans who did the recruitment but if you lived in an occupied country that had brutal rulers and you had to feed your family and survive, I bet you might do the same thing. I’m not saying its correct but it definitely wasn’t there idea to do this.

      Finally, the ROK didn’t just send special forces to Vietnam. In fact my father did several tours in Vietnam for the ROK Army and he was just a combat engineer.

      Foreign armies sexually exploiting women is a part of war. UN Peace Keepers are the latest ones to do it. I don’t think this is right but it happens but to single out the ROK army and compare it to what the Japanese did during World War 2 is ludicrous. I guess you are going to say the Nazis weren’t that bad either and the Holocaust never happened. Heck, did Hiroshima and Nagasaki really happen? Get your facts straight dude!

  2. Koreans are pathological liars. They tell lies 24/7/365.
    False Accusations of Comfort Women

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