Rafu Staff Report
GLENDALE — Following passionate public testimony showing a huge gap between local Korean and Japanese residents, the Glendale City Council on July 9 approved plans for a monument dedicated to Korean “comfort women” to be located in Central Park.
The vote was 4 to 1, with Councilmembers Laura Friedman, Ara Najarian, Zareh Sinanyan and Frank Quintero in favor and Mayor Dave Weaver against. The mayor stressed that he supported the monument but that since there is no master plan for Central Park, proper procedure is not being followed.
The proposed monument, a life-sized statue of a young woman sitting in a chair, is similar to one that was placed across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. It represents an estimated 200,000 women from Korea and other Asian countries who were forced into sexual servitude for the Japanese military before and during World War II. Demonstrations by former comfort women and their supporters, demanding reparations from the Japanese government, are held outside the embassy on a regular basis.
Dan Bell, community relations coordinator for the City Manager’s Office, said that council had previously approved setting aside a plot of land in the park, adjacent to the Adult Recreation Center, for monuments or memorials from Glendale’s sister cities, and the Korean “peace monument” would be one of them. Glendale has two sister cities in Korea, Goseong and Gimpo.
Showing a diagram with the design and dimensions of the monument, Bell said that the accompanying plaque “will be in English and it will say that it’s commemorating in honor of the comfort women.”
Weaver noted that he and the other council members had received over 350 emails against the monument.
Quintero, who visited Korea and met with former comfort women in April, said, “I want the record to show that 99.9 percent of those emails in opposition were from Japan, not from the United States or specifically not from Japanese Americans who live and have been born here in the United States.”
So many people attended the meeting that some had to sit in the lobby and watch the proceedings on a monitor. Weaver urged the audience not to applaud or boo during the testimonies, and speakers were limited to two minutes each.
Alex Woo, president of the Korea-Glendale Sister City Association, thanked the City Council and the Arts and Culture Commission “on behalf of the many Korean American residents of Glendale and hundreds of thousands of Korean residents in Southern California who commend you for taking the bold steps to give this issue the due justice it deserves … I strongly believe this decision will elevate the City of Glendale as the city that promotes and champions human rights.”
Phyllis Kim of the Korean American Forum of California explained that the statue represents “a universal issue, not specific to any one ethnicity but for all women. Especially we are concerned about sexual violence that is still happening in this world, especially during time of war.”
She added that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2007 “urging the government of Japan to take official responsibility and officially apologize to the victims, and to teach the young generation by including the facts about the comfort women system in the textbooks.”
Many of the speakers were Japanese immigrants who urged the council to reconsider.
Tomoyuki Sumori said, “I hope you have exhausted your … independent and unbiased investigation. This is so controversial that … you should not make judgment now. At least you should defer it.”
Mitsuo Takahashi, who said he has visited 75 countries in his lifetime, including China, Cuba and the former Soviet Union, told the council, “I’ve never seen anything like that kind of so-called peace monument other than in communist countries, where there’s lots of well-planned propaganda. I don’t think the City of Glendale (should be) one of them.”
Yoshihiko Goto was angered by a published photo of Quintero visiting the comfort women monument in Seoul. “Comfort women matter is a matter of diplomacy between Korea and Japan … My conclusion is you might infringe upon the president’s power … You must investigate this matter more carefully,” Goto said.
Yoshi Miyake argued, “This will not bring peace, happiness, prosperity or honor to the City of Glendale. This is against sister-city spirit. Because this is fabricated stories made by Koreans. This will bring out hate crime and conflict in the future. I’m very disappointed that City of Glendale only hears Korean side of the stories until today … It’s getting ugly.”
He claimed, “Comfort ladies are nothing more than prostitute or professional camp followers. These girls were allowed to refuse customers … and they were making at least 50 times more than average Japanese soldier get. You call this sex slave?”
Andy Naoki, who was born and raised in Higashiosaka, Glendale’s Japanese sister city, and coordinates school exchange programs, said he was saddened to learn that Glendale, “my favorite city,” had declared July 30 as “Korean Comfort Women Day.” He commented, “We are concerned that Korean news is spreading wrong images of your city, all over the world, as the city of praising prostitution.”
Nobuhiro Baba asked the council, “Do you want … Korean people, Japanese people in the United States … to fight each other?”
Kimiko Fujimaki opposed the monument, saying, “I want to really tell to everybody, no more fight. No more war. Hate is wrong … We cannot change past. So let’s live for now in this moment.”
She said that the Korean government ran “prostitution stations” for U.S. troops during the Korean War, suggesting that Korea was not in a position to criticize Japan.
Keiko Tsuji warned that the statue “will bring hate crime to the world, and I think it is not good for children or the country.”
Misao Murao did not deny that the women suffered, but said, “Placement of comfort women monument … institutionalizes biased view. I think it is not an appropriate gift for the City of Glendale. The sponsorship of the comfort women memorial represents a political agenda.” She recommended “a memorial that symbolizes the friendship between sister cities.”
Koichi Mera, who used to teach at USC’s Marshall School of Business, said that he has worked to improve cooperation between Korea and Japan, but is against the memorial. “The story told by Koreans about the comfort women is not based on the fact. It’s a kind of a manufactured story. They were recruited by the private corporations rather than Japanese government or Japanese military. In fact, there is a document produced by U.S. government … their conclusion is that they are nothing but prostitutes.”
Terumi Imamura also said that the comfort women were not sex slaves, and that many became prostitutes to save their families from poverty. “For that, I really respect them.”
George Ogasawara, who has lived in the U.S. for 35 years, spoke with an American flag draped over his shoulder. “The City of Glendale, a local municipality, should be neutral and not get involved in diplomatic and historical matter such as this. This is an issue between the two nations concerned,” he said.
Peter Mizushima, 75, who has lived in the U.S. for 51 years and whose daughter-in-law is Korean, said the monument does not fall under the goals of the sister-city programs, which include cultural and economic exchange. “This isn’t good for the City of Glendale, for the citizens of Glendale, or citizens of the United States.”
Hayahiko Takase, an architect who designed the Shoseian teahouse for the city, said simply, “We don’t need any more monuments.”
“Not a Diplomatic Matter”
Andrew Kim of Korean American Forum of California rebutted some of the arguments. “This is not a diplomatic matter, and the power to uphold human rights is not solely invested in the presidency. We would like to clearly establish that we have no intention or agenda to strain the relations between the Koreans and the Japanese. We are a human rights organization and our mission is to promote public awareness of this issue.
“We are not funded by the Korean government or serve any national interest. It is our conviction, rather, that if the Japanese and the Koreans can get on the same page in terms of their recognition of history and moral standards, we can then maintain a lasting positive relationship in the future and be able to pass it down to the next generation.”
Tee Ng, a Japanese American and a 30-year resident of Glendale, held up a photo of anti-Japanese demonstrations outside the embassy in Seoul. “Being the mother of a fifth-grader and also as a single mother, I would not like to see our city and our parks infiltrated with such violence … What part of this picture shows peace? … I am not anti-Korean, but peace can be demonstrated in a different way.”
Roy Hong of Glendale thanked the council and quoted Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of a person is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Young Seok Suh, a doctor and a member of the Crescenta Valley Town Council, said he was disappointed that opponents were referring to 14-year-old girls forced into sexual slavery as prostitutes. “I respect Japanese, I love them … As long as they apologize I’d like to embrace them and be a friend. But if they deny, then we have to wait until they learn how to express sympathy and accept the fact-findings.”
Shinki Dahn, 79, who has lived in Los Angeles since 1956, cited a Japan-Korea pact signed in 1965. “All settlement was done and the Korean government should (have) paid off all these claims of former prostitutes.” He also said the issue wasn’t brought up until 50 years after the fact.
Kumiko Inouye said that not only were the Japanese government and military not involved in “recruitment” of comfort women, but “it was Japanese police trying to prevent abduction of girls and young women” by Korean groups.
Keiko Hoshino of Pasadena said the statue is “based on manipulation” and “will only enhance the hatred towards Japan and Korea, and we must overcome the hatred.”
Dale Chang said that Korean women at the time had to be virgins in order to get married, so it was “nonsense” to suggest that they voluntarily became prostitutes. He added that many comfort women were recruited under false pretenses — promises of jobs in hospitals, factories or restaurants, for example.
Other speakers included opponents Keisuke Imamura, Tom Takemae and Reg Lewis, and Ed O’Connell, who was in favor of the monument.
“I don’t think anybody needs to be a history expert or cultural expert to understand why it’s a good idea,” O’Connell said.
Quintero, who was mayor when the council first took up the issue, said he was “disappointed” by the testimony against the monument. Listing other atrocities such as the Bataan Death March and the Rape of Nanking, he said, “That was never taught in Japanese schools … You never heard about it because the Japanese government chose not to teach its people the reality and the truth of what the imperial army did in the Second World War.”
He stressed that he has visited Japan, including Okinawa, and has a close affinity to the Japanese people. “The idea that this is against ethnic groups — no, this isn’t against ethnic groups and it certainly isn’t against Japanese … It is an indictment of the Imperial Japanese Army and the fact that at no time did Japan recognize what it did.”
Noting that the Netherlands was a colonial power in Indonesia at the time, Quintero said, “There were approximately 200 Dutch women that were also taken to these camps to service the Imperial Japanese Army. They certainly weren’t prostitutes.”
While he did not discount the possibility that Korean police were involved in coercing Korean women, he said, “Because of the colonial status with Japan (the police) were directly under the control of the Japanese army and Japanese authorities.”
Quintero concluded by saying that 36 city councils in Japan have passed resolutions on the issue, “so I think we’re doing the right thing. I’m proud of the City of Glendale.”
Councilmember Sinanyan, whose grandfather survived the Armenian genocide, said, “Everything I do in life is shaped by the fact that 98 years ago my people were slaughtered, expelled, raped and subjected to all kinds of horrors … Denial of a mass crime leads to only bad things. An apology would go a long way, an admission, a sense of remorse would go a long way to establish a more normal, peaceful and loving relationship between nations.”
Regarding the emails in opposition to the monument, Sinanyan remarked, “Replace the word ‘Japanese’ with ‘Turkish’ and ‘Armenian’ with ‘Korean’ and I was living my own experience … It’s historical fact. Let’s not go there. It just doesn’t hold water.”
Councilmember Friedman commented, “The issue of who was at fault really misses the intention … It forgets about the victims, it forgets about these women. And whether or not they went willingly, whether they were considered prostitutes at the time or were forced, to me is a moot argument … Even if you believe that (they went willingly), why then would you deny a monument of 13-, 14-year-old girls being prostitutes or feeling that they had to because the situation was so desperate? … I still believe that what happened to those girls was a tragedy …
“It’s about innocents, it’s about the horrors of war. That’s why the monument does not say anything about Japan’s role, that’s why there’s no plaque or no explanation … condemning the Japanese army, condemning the Japanese people or the current Japanese government … Was Korea complicit in that? Perhaps they were. But that doesn’t diminish the tragedy of what happened to those girls … We can all say that those women were victimized.”
Councilmember Najarian said the monument is “in no way meant to humiliate or dishonor the good people of Japan. The Japanese government has gone much farther … than the government of Turkey in admitting and acknowledging some of their war crimes and genocide … This has been an issue of conversation in Japan and there have been some efforts at reconciliation … This is about the women and young girls who suffered …
“We have sister cities in Korea and we owe it to them to respect and honor their memory … It’s not about who the good guys and bad guys are, it’s about man’s inhumanity to man and it takes place around the world at all times … No country can stand up and say, ‘We are without sin.’”
He urged the Japanese members of the audience to propose an “appropriate” monument for Higashiosaka to be placed in Central Park.
Mayor Weaver said he has direct ties to these issues because his Filipina wife’s father survived the Bataan Death March and her mother hid in the hills and survived because she was befriended by a Japanese officer. He added that one of his brothers-in-law “is married to a Japanese lady.”
Regarding the monument, he said, “I tend to agree with my colleagues … I wish I had more knowledge of it … Every generation has its despots who go out and do these horrendous crimes.”
However, he continued, “Until we develop a master plan or park, until the general public of this city gets to vote through public hearings and say what they want in our little one-block park after we draw up renderings … then and only then will I vote for anything in that park. I don’t want to put a monument in and then have to move it.”
Weaver called on the council to “do this thing the right way.”
The Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles was not represented at the meeting, but Takehiko Wajima, director of the consulate’s Japan Information and Culture Center, has told The Los Angeles Daily News, “The government of Japan is deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering.”
Regarding the monument, Wajima said, “The position of the Japanese government regarding the comfort women issue is that it should not be politicized or be turned into a diplomatic issue.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), who introduced the House resolution, has expressed support for the monument. Last month, he visited a comfort women monument in Palisades Park, N.J., and said at a press conference, “It is fitting that Japan start to recognize their responsibility to become part of the human rights movement. They took away almost 200,000 young ladies’ lives — girls, wives, sisters, aunts and mothers … That responsibility, that acknowledgement must be done today, because today we have a global movement surrounding the idea that we should not have any violence toward women.”
Two such markers have been erected in New Jersey and one in New York, and markers are being planned in other states.