California memorial to honor World War II 'comfort women'

Published July 12, 2013

| Associated Press

The Glendale City Council has approved creation of a memorial for women who were used as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Despite objections from Japanese-Americans, the council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to permit installation of the monument at Glendale Central Park honoring the so-called "comfort women" from Korea, China and other occupied nations.

A survivor of the ordeal was expected to attend the planned July 30 unveiling in the Los Angeles suburb, which has about 10,000 Korean-American residents.

The planned memorial - a statue of a girl seated next to an empty chair - is a replica of a monument installed across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the Pasadena Star-News reported Tuesday.

The nonprofit Korean American Forum of California will fund and build it.

"I don't see this as designed to be a monument to shame Japan," Councilwoman Laura Friedman said. "What happened to those girls was a tragedy, and that's what this monument is about."

Historians believe that as many as 200,000 girls and women were forced into Japanese military brothels.

However, many Japanese and Japanese-Americans dispute the claims. Dozens of Japanese-Americans spoke against the monument at the council meeting.

The memorial would "bring out hate crimes and conflict," said Yoshi Miyake, 60, a massage therapist from Los Angeles. "Comfort ladies were nothing more than prostitutes."

Glendale officials also received hundreds of angry emails, mostly from Japan, that called the women willing prostitutes, the Los Angeles Times ( reported Wednesday.

Council members disputed that view.

"A 14-year-old girl doesn't voluntarily leave her village in Korea to go serve the Japanese army, give me a break," Councilman Frank Quintero said.

Other critics have claimed the girls were sold by their parents, went willingly to help their families, or were coerced by Korean pimps rather than by Japanese, the Times said.

Proposed memorials in New Jersey, New York and Singapore faced similar organized opposition.

The Japanese government issued a formal apology in 1993 for the treatment of the women, saying they "suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds."

The government's official position is the women's story "should not be politicized or be turned into a diplomatic issue," Takehiko Wajima, a spokesman for the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, told the Times.

The mayor of Osaka - Japan's second-largest city - sparked an uproar and U.S. condemnation in May when he said the use of the women was necessary for military discipline and providing rest for troops.

Toru Hashimoto later sought to clarify his comments, saying he meant military authorities during that time must have deemed the practice necessary. Hashimoto also said he may have lacked "international sensitivity."