WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.
A few days ago the New York Times featured an article about a monument in Palisades Park, New Jersey, an area populated largely by Korean Americans, dedicated to comfort women. The amount is disputed, but “comfort women” (慰安婦 or ianfu) refers to the at least tens of thousands of women and girls, many Korean, who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers before and during World War II (Some counts put their numbers as high as 410,000).
The Palisades Park monument, built in 2010, is the only known tribute in the United States to the comfort women (Last year one was erected in Seoul, South Korea, in front of the Japanese Embassy). This picture shows three Korean Congressman who placed bouquets of white chrysanthemums at the stone monument last week.
According to the article, a delegation of four officials from Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party recently visited Palisades Park Mayor James Rotundo in order to urge him to get rid of the memorial. During this meeting they disputed the number of comfort women and claimed that they willingly served the soldiers. This was following a visit from Shigeyuki Hiroki, Consul-General of Japan in New York, who proposed donating cherry blossom trees and making other contributions to the town if the memorial was removed. However, this was later denied by the Consulate, despite the fact that Rotundo and two others confirmed that this offer had been made at the meeting.
In 1993, the Japanese government accepted its military’s role in setting up brothels, and apologized with a declaration from then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono. But many, including the surviving comfort women, didn’t accept the statement because it hadn’t been issued by the Diet. Similarly, in 1995 a $1 billion fund for victims was set up, but surviving comfort women rejected it because it would be financed by private money and they are seeking reparations from the Japanese government.
During a recent International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) trip to Dallas, our group had the chance to meet the head of the Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University, one of only five schools in the country with such a major. According to Professor Rick Halperin, Program Director, Japan is on the list of worldwide human rights violators. Thinking domestically, I thought he might be talking about violations against minority groups like the Burakumin or Ainu. However, upon confirmation it turned out he was talking about comfort women and the Japanese government’s persistent attempts to whitewash this part of its history. As one advocate in the NYT article commented, let’s hope that this debate over the monument leads to increased awareness of this pertinent issue.