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Japan’s Lawmakers Launch Campaign Against ‘Comfort Women’ Memorials

Japanese conservatives are taking the offensive in the battle over World War II sex slaves – and it seems likely to do them more harm than good.

Some 300 legislators from around Japan have sent a petition to the city of Glendale, Calif., demanding the removal of a statue honoring women who were forced or coerced into working in brothels serving the Japanese military during World War II.

Supporters of the memorials say as many as 200,000 women from Korea and other Asian countries were forced to work as so-called “comfort women.” The Glendale memorial was built largely at the request of the area’s large Korean-American community. It is a duplicate of a statue installed outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul – one of many irritants to Japan-South Korea relations.

At a Tokyo press conference Tuesday, opponents said the memorial spread “false propaganda” and has resulted in bullying, harassment and discrimination against Japanese residents in the Glendale area. “Japanese schoolchildren are suffering from bullying by Koreans. Some of them told us they feel anxiety because they must hide being Japanese. Korean people are presenting this as a human rights issue, but this can only lead to a new conflict of racial discrimination,” said Yoshiko Matsuura, a Tokyo-area assemblywoman and representative of a conservative group called the Japan Coalition of Legislators Against Fabricated History.

The press conference appeared to be part of a concerted campaign to push back against comfort women charges. Japanese activists in California filed suit in federal court last week demanding the U.S. government order the city of Glendale to remove the statue, situated in a public park. Earlier this week, a spokesman for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Japanese government would review a landmark 1993 government statement that apologized and admitted responsibility for operating the so-called comfort women system during the war. Any change to that statement is certain to further damage relations with South Korea and China, already at a low point over territorial claims and historical disputes.

Taking the fight over comfort women to the United States is a “huge mistake,” says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based think tank.

“Clearly the American government is displeased by the notion that the Japanese are taking this argument to our shores and making it an American domestic political battle. It’s something they should settle themselves,” said Glosserman.

The issue already is causing controversy. Glendale’s sister city in Japan canceled a student exchange program in December in protest over the memorial. An online petition at the White House website in support of removing the Glendale statue has received 127,000 signatures; a petition in support of keeping it has attracted 106,000 signatures.

The memorial was installed in a public park in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles, in July 2013.  It features a bronze statue of a young Korean woman sitting next to an empty chair. A stone plaque is etched, jarringly, with the title “I Was A Sex Slave of the Japanese Military.” A similar memorial has been built in New Jersey.

According to the lawsuit filed last week, installing the statue “exceeds the power of Glendale, infringes upon the federal government’s power to exclusively conduct the foreign affairs of the United States and violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Matsuura, who traveled to Glendale to deliver a copy of the petition to local officials last month, says the 1993 apology is based on unreliable and unverified testimony. She accused Korea of exporting the issue to the United States.

“We were shocked by a statue of a comfort girl in America, a third country, not in Korea. We have a responsibility to protest,” Matsuura said through an interpreter. A member of her husband’s family served in the Japanese Imperial Army during the war and was taken prisoner in Siberia, Matsuura said.

The Obama administration has become increasingly frustrated with the rightward tilt of Japan’s leadership. The State Department said it was “disappointed” with Abe’s visit in December to the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan’s role in World War II.

Weeks later, it labeled as “preposterous” public statements by an Abe-appointee to the board of the national broadcaster, NHK, that the United States had fabricated war crimes charges against Japan’s wartime leaders to cancel out America’s own war crimes, which he said include the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire-bombings of Tokyo.

Glosserman says Japanese efforts to re-write wartime history are damaging the interests of both countries. “The United States wants Japan to be a more respected and more effective contributor to regional security, and to play a larger role in the region. And all that this historical revisionism does is undermine that,” he says.

By Time Magazine


Korean and Japanese Immigrants Clash Over ‘Comfort Women’ Statue, Glendale, CA

The bronze statue of a girl in traditional South Korean dress seated next to an empty chair is a memorial to the 70,000 to 200,000 Korean, Filipina, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian and Dutch “comfort women” — a euphemism for sex slaves — conscripted into Japanese military brothels during World War II. It’s the fourth memorial to the comfort women installed in the United States since 2010, and it aims to keep American focus on a history that many Japanese would rather forget.

“They were raped maybe 10 times a day. On weekends, as many as 40 to 50 times a day. The majority of them were teenagers,” says Phyllis Kim, who as part of Los Angeles’ Korean-American Forum helped bring the statue to Glendale. “There are victims who are still alive, and waiting for an apology.”

Japan admitted the military’s role in the brothels more than 20 years ago, and some victims were paid reparations from a private fund. But Japan has never offered an official apology or direct compensation to the victims, which many South Koreans, and Korean Americans, demand. Korean-Americans have been working for years to use US influence to put pressure on Japan to change its stance. Japan maintains it’s done enough.

“Because of the ties between these two countries and because of the status of the United States on the world scene, what we think as Americans plays a role, and can have an impact on how Japanese react,” Kim says.

That’s exactly what has some Japanese so angry.

“America is known as a fair country,” says Yoshiko Matsuura, a Tokyo city assemblywoman and the leader of the Japanese group that visited Glendale. “Why is it right to erect this kind of statue in America?”

Retired Japanese banker and Los Angeles resident Tomoyuki Sumori agrees.

“This is not the right place for them to wage this kind of anti-Japan propaganda,” he says. “Why do they do it in another country?’

Sumori is working to fight the memorials, in Glendale, and any other city that might consider putting one up. “I had to do something to preserve the integrity, honor and pride of our country,” he says.

The Korean American campaign to build municipal memorials to the comfort women has faced a Japanese counter-campaign to keep them out. Since the Glendale statue went up last summer, three delegations of politicians have come from Japan to complain. Glendale’s city council has received thousands of angry emails, and its sister city in Japan canceled a student exchange program.

Palisades Park, N.J., the home of another memorial, has faced similar complaints from Japanese.

Kim sees an upside to the dust-up here. It’s getting media attention in Japan, too — and reminding people about what happened to the comfort women.

“A lot of people, I think, got a second chance to think about it,” she says. “Every German kid knows about the Holocaust. But the Japanese government just tries to downplay what happened.”

Almost 70 years since the war ended, the issue of the comfort women is still a major source of friction between South Korea and Japan. In November, South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye said it would be “pointless” to hold bilateral talks with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe until it’s resolved. Abe himself has raised South Korean and international hackles in the past by denying the women were coerced, and most recently, by visiting a disputed war shrine.

Shihoko Goto, a Northeast Asia expert with the Woodrow Wilson Center, says, at the highest levels, the disputes over history are a power play. “This whole idea about revisiting history and re-interpreting history is really a battle for who is the top dog in the region,” she says. “Korea wants to make clear that it is no longer playing second fiddle to Japan.”

But for Japanese who are protesting the monument, it’s about deep questions of identity and cultural pride.

Matsuura’s delegation claims the “comfort women” were prostitutes, and say they have US military documents that prove it. Few Japanese politicians will go that far, but some still say the military wasn’t behind the brothels, or the women weren’t coerced.

“A lot of Japanese people would sympathize with that perspective, especially the older generation,” says Goto.

The few surviving comfort women, all in their 80s and 90s, cry foul.

“I was walking along the side of the road when I was captured and taken away,” says Ok-Seon Yi.

It was 1942, and Japanese  soldiers grabbed her and threw her in the back of a truck. Her family never knew what happened to her, she said, and gave her up for dead. She spent three years at a military brothel in China. She was 15.

She’s 87 now and lives in a home for survivors like her outside of Seoul. She’s tiny, with white hair, frail and quiet — until the subject turns to Japan.

She shakes her fist. “The Japanese government are thieves,” she says. “They’re trying to rewrite history.

“They have no right to take away my honor and dignity,” she adds.

She says she’s thankful for the memorials in the United States, and says America is the only country that can right the historic wrong.

But it’s not clear what impact memorials and public opinion in the US can have on policy in Japan. The US House of Representatives has already called on Japan to apologize, in a 2007 resolution and again earlier this month, in an attachment to a spending bill. So far, it hasn’t spurred any changes.

But that doesn’t appear to be deterring Japanese, Korean Americans, and their supporters on both sides of the issue. Most recently, they’ve taken the dispute to the White House.

A “We the People” whitehouse.gov petition calling for Glendale to take down its monument has more than 126,000 signatures so far. A counter-petition to protect the statue is at 104,000 and counting.

By New America Media

Top U.S. Lawmaker Visits ‘Comfort Women’ Statue


U.S. Representative Ed Royce, who chairs the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, on Friday visited a statue in Glendale, California honoring women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army.

Royce called for the atrocities Japan committed during World War II to be taught in schools.

The 1,100-pound bronze statue was the first of its kind outside of Korea and the result of two years of efforts by Korean Americans in California. Royce was the first federal lawmaker to visit the statue. His position as head of the Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to add pressure on the rightwing Japanese government, which is trying to squirm out of responsibility.

Royce also knelt before an altar honoring former sex slave Hwang Kum-ja, who died recently.

From Cho-sun Daily