‘Comfort Woman’ Memorial Statues, A good Thorn In Japan’s Side, Now TAKE A SEAT ON Korean Buses
Enlarge this impression toggle caption Ahn Young-joon/AP Ahn Young-joon/AP
One aim of President Trump’s visit to Asia has been to rally America’s allies to help put pressure on North Korea. But the objective is complicated by the fact that America’s two staunchest allies in East Asia – Japan and South Korea – don’t get along well when it comes to issues including their history.
Much of the friction dates back to Japan’s occupation of Korea in the first portion of the 20th century. Tensions related to that occupation nonetheless simmer – even 70 years after South Korea was liberated.
Factors flared up again this season over a good statue of a girl known as the “Peace Statue.”
The small bronze figure depicts a woman sitting in a chair, staring straight in advance with a look of determination. She’s cropped wild hair and wears a hanbok – a traditional Korean attire. She’s barefoot. Her fist is certainly clenched. Next to her is an empty chair.
The girl memorializes women like Ahn Jeom-sun. She’s now 89 and says she has visited the statue generally. It symbolizes the youth she lost at get older 13, when the Japanese Imperial Army abducted her from her village.
“What I remember is certainly that I was forcibly removed from Korea and taken to China,” Ahn says.
The US estimates 200,000 girls and women – mostly Koreans – were seized from villages to become listed on Japan’s military sexual slavery program before and during the Second World War.
“What can I say? They did everything that they wished to do according with their desires, or according from what they wanted. This was all forced. What could we possibly do?” Ahn says.
She and the others came to be known as “comfort females.” They served at temporary brothels near the front lines – generally tents or wooden shacks encircled by barbed wire – and were forced to have sex with as many as 70 men each day.
Enlarge this impression toggle caption Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
“If we didn’t obey from what they wanted us to accomplish, they would hit us and they would do anything that they wanted to carry out to us. What could we possibly do more to that, besides just hold out until Korea was liberated?” Ahn says.
The practice ended in 1945, with the end of the war. Ahn is certainly one of a few dozen relaxation women still alive.
Koreans feel the discomfort of what happened to these females thus deeply that Korean populations in the diaspora possess put up replicas of the statue in places as far-flung as NJ, California, Australia and Germany.
In South Korea, they’re in about 50 different parks and public places. But Japan desires these statues to drop. Some in the country’s ruling party have questioned whether the war-era imperial federal government was really involved in the sex slave method – or they contend the ladies volunteered.
The Japanese government declined NPR’s obtain an interview, citing scheduling conflicts.
A couple of years ago, Japan and South Korea struck a landmark deal regarding the comfort females. It required Japan to pay victims and “concern a statement of regret.” In return, South Korea would remove the first of these bronze ladies, which went up in 2011 before the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
But Korean residents and activists under no circumstances accepted the offer. They keep putting extra statues up. One angered the Japanese government so many that in January, it recalled its ambassador from Seoul for a couple months.
The most recent memorial is showing up on the seats of South Korean city buses. The figure displays the same short-haired, seated girl, with her hands clenched in her lap. Instead of bronze, the statue is certainly painted – black wild hair, light epidermis, wearing a dress.
It makes for some surprises.
“I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t shocked, but I was like, what is this? I found it on TV a couple of times but I’m experiencing it for the very first time in true to life,” says bus rider Yoon Sung-Lim.
For the activists installing these statues, the theory is to keep carefully the issue alive now that the victims are getting older and dying.
“By having these statues, we’ll have high school students and younger generations end up being curious what this is is behind these statues, ask their older generations and ask their parents or their good friends what this signifies, and actually get a proper description and know what happened,” says Kim Hyang-mi, who led your time and effort to achieve the statues on metropolis of Suwon’s buses.
In Seoul, the seated statue rolls around on bus Zero. 151 – which stops correct before the Japanese embassy. The girl is visible each and every time the bus doors open.
Enlarge this impression toggle caption Woohae Cho/Getty Images Woohae Cho/Getty Images
“This is a victim in our midst. And you’re type of confronted when you step aboard the bus, you don’t know which bus it’s going to be, but here she actually is and it may be any of us,” says Alexis Dudden, a professor of Japanese history at the University of Connecticut. “I think as very long as this particular administration in Japan seeks to discredit and shred the dignity of the survivors of the crime against humanity, certainly, put it right on their front doorstep.”
Dudden highlights that as the U.S. and different countries debate whether to remove monuments to individuals in or perpetrators of war, Japan does something different.
“It remains just Japan that is wanting to take away a statue of a victim. Politically speaking, there’s simply no winning in that,” Dudden says.
Ahn Jeom-sum, the former sex slave, says she under no circumstances got married or had children after what occurred to her during the war. She didn’t start speaking out about her story until the 1990s. She says she doesn’t want compensation from Japan.
“At this time, we don’t really value the money, we don’t really value politics. We simply want an effective apology from them directly to us. We wish them to think about us, the actual persons which were involved,” she says.
And she desires the statues to remain.
NPR producer Becky Sullivan and journalist Jihye Lee contributed to this story.