S.F. Board of Supervisors Considering Comfort Women Monument


Rafu Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering a resolution to support the establishment of a “comfort women” memorial, as has been done in other U.S. cities, including Glendale in Los Angeles County.

Resolution 72 was introduced on July 21 by Supervisor Eric Mar and co-sponsored by Supervisors Jane Kim, Malia Cohen, Julie Christensen, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, David Campos and John Avalos. The other supervisors are London Breed (whose district includes Japantown), Scott Wiener and Katy Tang.

After hearing comments for and against the resolution, the board referred it to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, which is chaired by Mar. The committee will meet on Sept. 17 and public comments will be taken. The resolution then goes back to the full Board of Supervisors on Sept. 22.

Resolution 72 reads as follows: “Whereas, according to most international historians, the term ‘comfort women’ euphemistically refers to an estimated 200,000 women and young girls who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II …

Supervisor Eric Mar

Supervisor Eric Mar

“During the 15 years of invasion and occupation of Asian countries, unspeakable and well-documented war crimes, including mass rape, wholesale massacres, heinous torture, and other atrocities, were committed by the Japanese Imperial Army throughout the occupied countries and colonies …

“Of the few top Japanese military leaders who were investigated and convicted as war criminals in the postwar War Crime Tribunals in Tokyo, Nanjing, Manila, Yokohama, and Khabarovsk, many escaped prosecution …

“In 2001, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed Resolution No. 842-01, urging the government of Japan, on the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan Peace Treaty, to fully acknowledge and apologize for Japan’s wartime atrocities and provide just compensation for the surviving victims of its aggression …

“In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Rep. Mike Honda’s bipartisan House Resolution 121, which also called on the government of Japan to formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery …

“In 2013, the San Francisco Board passed Resolution No. 218-13, condemning Japan’s denial of its system of sexual enslavement during World War II and calling for justice for ‘comfort women’ …

“The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II (1941-1945) and the Pacific War (1931-1945) and the defeat of Japanese imperialism and militarism by the Allies …

“Several cities in the U.S., including Glendale and Rohnert Park, Calif.; Long Island, N.Y.; Palisades Park and Union City, N.J.; Fairfax, Va.; and Michigan City, Mich., have already erected memorials to help remember the ‘comfort women’ during Japanese occupation in the Pacific War …

“Today, human trafficking of women and girls is a form of modern-day slavery with 20 million victims worldwide, including an estimated 1.5 million victims in North America alone, forced to perform labor and sexual acts; and human trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry based on the principles of supply and demand …

“San Francisco is not immune to the problem, and has been considered a destination for human trafficking due· to its ports, airports, industry, and rising immigrant populations …

“Leaders of the Japanese American community have worked closely with the broader Asian Pacific Islander community in the past decades to strengthen relationships and build trust, understanding, and community for civil rights and social justice …

“San Francisco is a city of immigrants and their descendants, many of whom have ancestral lies to Asian and Pacific Islander nations and have direct or indirect experience with Japan’s past system of sexual enslavement …

“A growing coalition of immigrant communities, women’s organizations, and human rights groups have organized to establish a memorial for ‘comfort women’ and the millions of victims of the Japanese military in San Francisco to ensure that the plight and suffering of these girls and women will never be forgotten or erased from history.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that appropriate city and county agencies will work with the community organizations to design and establish the memorial;

“And, be it further resolved that the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco during the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II expresses its strong support of creating a memorial in memory of those girls and women who suffered immeasurable pain and humiliation as sex slaves and as a sacred place for remembrance, reflection, remorsefulness, and atonement for generations to come.”

Public Comments

Of the 20 people who spoke on the resolution at the July 21 meeting, 15 were supporters and 10 were opponents.

Rita Semel, a member of the San Francisco Human Services Commission and past chair of the San Francisco Interfaith Commission, said that she still wants to remember the Holocaust even though she bears no malice toward the Germany of today, and by the same token, “The Japan of today is not the Japan of 1941, but we still must remember those who suffered and died at that time.”

Koichi Mera, president of the Global Alliance for Historical Truth and a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the City of Glendale over the comfort women statue there, said that while issues such as jails and housing are “proper topics for debate” before the Board of Supervisors, the comfort women monument is “an issue which is between Korea and Japan … So city government should not intervene in this issue.”

He added, “U.S. is a country having immigrants from various places. They should be living together in harmony. This comfort women issue will divide people, and that is not really good. In addition, one point I’d like to make is that the usual comfort women’s story is a fabricated story. In fact, those women were not sex slaves. They were paid well. They had very good life and had lots of income.”

Mariko Okada-Collins, who teaches Japanese at Central Washington University, said, “This statue represents a return to the dark days when … neo-fascist organizations such as Sons of the Golden West organization were active in many anti-Japanese activities … The school board, supported by the mayor and the city council, joined with the racist American South and segregated San Francisco schools for Japanese students.”

Calling the resolution part of a “modern-day racist campaign,” she said, “To assume that Japanese are sex-crazed rapists, it appear to be like current supervisors is set to continue the tradition in the 21st century … (The resolution) promotes exaggerated claim against the Japanese while overlooking equal violations by Americans, Koreans and Russians … (and) does absolutely nothing to raise awareness to save one woman from human trafficking.”

Terumi Imamura, who also spoke on the issue at Glendale and Fullerton city council meetings, told the supervisors, “My biggest concern is that Japanese and Japanese Americans who live here in America, are we being targeted because our nationality, and again? Many of us remember those painful camp days during wartime … We are scared, we are concerned, we are worried.”

She stated that “there is no solid evidence” that 200,000 women and girls were abducted, and said a 1944 report by the U.S. Office of War Information did not back up such claims.

Jean Bee Chan of the Rape of Nanking Coalition noted that a number of prominent Japanese Americans have been involved with her organization, including Dr. Clifford Uyeda, Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Ronald Takaki. “We miss them very much. They have passed on. But their legacy of justice and fairness will live forever.”

Recalling the Japanese invasion of China, she said, “We had to run away in the middle of the night. I had a little brother. My little brother got sick and he didn’t have enough food, he didn’t have enough medicine. He died … When I was 8, one day we had to run away from the Japanese again … I saw Japanese pointing the bayonets at me behind the thick bushes. Luckily they didn’t find me, so I survived. But the comfort women and sex slaves didn’t survive. Many of them died … and 35 million Chinese and Asians did not survive like I did.”

Marilyn Mondejar of the Filipina Women’s Network said that she first learned about the comfort women from her mother: “She would tell us stories about she would hide or her sisters would hide when Japanese soldiers would go house to house looking for women and girls. A thousand Filipina comfort women have been documented …

“I met Eve Ensler, the author and the playwright of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ who wrote a special monologue about the comfort women when she met the Filipina comfort women when she was in the Philippines. So every year our organization puts on the show to raise awareness about the stories of these women. We raised money for them … Every Wednesday they are at the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines waiting for their apology …

“All 200,000 of them, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Australians, Malaysians, Indonesians, Taiwanese, Burmese, and women of the Netherlands — their stories cannot die. We have to keep reminding our next generation about what they have done.”

Jennifer Chung of the San Francisco Bay Area Coalition to Commemorate the Pacific War said, “I’ve heard a story from an 87-year-old Vietnamese woman. She told me … she saw her neighbor’s daughter’s breasts get cut off by Japanese soldiers when the Japanese invaded her village. Unbelievable, isn’t it? But that is the truth, not fabricated …

“This young woman’s painful experience was (part of) the first large-scale human trafficking in the world in the last century. They were forced. They had no choice. They suffered from torture, rape and humiliation every day. They cry, they scream, but no one can help them. Some of them died from it. Some of them committed suicide … Some of them survived, but they have to carry this for the rest of their life …

“Erecting this memorial will be significant to the proud San Francisco community we call home. This memorial will serve as a lesson to our future generation to learn that we all have our equal right to live. No one has the right to commit atrocity against others and then tell the victim community, ‘Let’s just forget it and go on.’”

Michael Wong of Veterans for Peace-San Francisco stated, “The comfort women history is well established by Korean, Chinese, Japanese sources as well as European, Filipino and other independent sources … Confronting the truth and openly discussing the past is the best way to avoid repeating that past and together building a better future for all people. This statue honors the suffering of innocents and is one step towards closure and moving on to a better mutual future for all people.

“One of the reasons that I am here is because the Japanese peace movement reached out to Veterans for Peace and asked us to support them in speaking out against the militarization of Japan, the denial of World War II war crimes … Polls in Japan actually show the peace movement has majority support even though the right wing in Japan has the big money. So this is not about Japan-bashing … This is about working with our counterparts in Japan.”

Hisako Blair, who was a high school student in Japan during the war, recalled seeing Korean prostitutes accosting Japanese soldiers at the train station in Kyoto. Although she was unable to finish her statement due to the two-minute limit, she seemed to be suggesting that the comfort women were not sex slaves.

Another immigrant from Japan, Haruko Yoshida, who came to San Francisco in 1972, warned that a comfort women statue “might create hate issue between Korea and Japan. It’s really a political issue … You supervisors need to study … where it’s coming from and evaluate it. It’s for the future, for the kids and everybody else in the city. I think it has nothing to do with San Francisco … This happened a long time ago.”

A Japanese-born social worker made a similar argument, saying that such a statue would open the door to monuments to historical events in other countries rather than focusing on San Francisco’s and America’s history.

Ignatius Ding, executive vice president of Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, delivered a letter from Rep. Honda in support of the resolution. “Mr. Honda was interned during World War II because of his ethnicity, and later he becomes a leading force advocating the apology and reparation to Japanese Americans,” Ding said. “He has been fighting for human rights throughout his career from supervisor to assemblyman in California, then congressman.”

Community activist Lotus Yee Fong commented, “There isn’t a difference between local and national … I think we need to do some historical reconciliation, discussion about how to deal with these issues because of our children in preschool, K-12, community college and higher ed … We don’t want war.”

Testimony in support of the resolution was also given by representatives of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Eclipse Rising, an activist group of Zainichi Koreans in the U.S.

Los Angeles-based Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, which supported the Glendale monument, said in statement to be sent to the Board of Supervisors, “The Japanese government still has not given reparations or an apology directly to the remaining 50+ women who are still alive. Instead, Japanese media has been under scrutiny for their coverage and individual reporters have been threatened. The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times have published articles about the attack on the Asahi Shimbun.

“According to a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, ‘Nationalist revisionists have attacked the Asahi newspaper and one of its former reporters who was among the first to bring the sexual slavery to light. Seizing on fabrications from a single source in a series of stories more than 20 years ago, the critics are arguing that Asahi alone was responsible for leading the world to believe a falsehood about Japan’s wartime behavior — an analysis that ignores the volumes of testimonies from the women themselves.’

“The newspaper sent a team of reporters to talk with groups here, including NCRR, in an attempt to show that it is reviewing its reports on the comfort women. NCRR continues to view this issue as a human rights and women’s rights issue that can be resolved by direct and individual reparations and an apology to each halmoni (the preferred term) from the Japanese government.”




  1. Suffering should be memorialized and cruelty documented. Glad they voted for this. As a Japanese-American, I’m embarrassed and angry at Japan’s unwillingness to keep this memory. As for Japanese-Americans who oppose this sort of tribute/reminder– that’s inexcusably pathetic.

  2. The domestic politics of Japan are lame… But nothing compared to the totalitarian evil of China that the world, including San Francisco, is content to make money off. I am disgusted by the willingness of local San Francisco politicians to ke-tou to the will of faux-populist interest groups with no other agenda then to gain notoriety and make money and clout off of the WWII issues concerning Japan while distracting people from the reality of the current and villainous reality of governance in China. The day SF officials consider holding the communist government of China, and Mao in particular, responsible for the death of millions of innocent Chinese I will “contemplate” erecting a memorial to Japanese, German, Italian, or other travesties on San Francisco soil.

  3. Reply to “Tatsu Haka” —
    To your statement The day SF officials consider holding the communist government of China, and Mao in particular, responsible for the death of millions of innocent Chinese…

    Correction is that historians who are extensively trained in deciphering facts and truth from fiction have actually placed responsibility of the ‘death of millions of innocent Chinese’ on the Chinese government (as with ‘comfort women’ system). Also you might be interested in knowing that SF indeed has a memorial dedicated to the befallen rebels who fought for democracy in China: The Goddess of Democracy at Portsmouth Square in Chinatown (see http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/21713). Also the Holocaust memorial remembers the victims and there has been no German opposition — save the Holocaust deniers who still seem to exist in the margins… imagine that.

  4. If the comfort women of all 200,000 of Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Australians, Malaysians, Indonesians, Taiwanese, Burmese, and women of the Netherlands indeed existed, why we hear the complaints mainly from only the Korean women. Because only Koreans make a huge noise about this issue, many of us in the world tend to think that their claims are to get money from the Japanese government. Can anyone tell why the women from other countries have not complained much? Please answer. Thank you.

  5. The San Francisco Supervisors are very narrow sighted, and influenced by money…
    They really don’t give a rats crap about “Violation of Human Rights”

    If so, a memorial
    statue, and a public building dedicated to the 45-80 million Chinese ( 80,000,000 ) who have died
    due to Mao Zedong and Communist Chinese Party would be erected.
    The greatest human atrocity and “Violation of Human Rights” in all of human history!

  6. Here is my opinion about the truth of ‘Comfort Women’.
    First, please compare two statistics below.

    During the WWⅡ in Asia, the prostitution was Legal.
    The number of ‘Comfort Women’ is estimated from 20,000 to 200,000.

    Now(21st century) in South Korea, the prostitution is ILLegal.
    The number of prostitutes is estimated, several hundreds of thousands.
    At least 260,000 women in 2003. (Source : The Korean Institute of Criminology)
    Other alleges,it amounts to 500,000~1,200,000. (Source : Korean Feminist Institution 2003.3.6.)

    The economic condition now is much better than during the WWⅡ.
    In this abundant society, even prohibited by law, still exist enough number of prostitutes in South Korea.
    As the statistics show above, it must have been easy to hire the prostitutes
    legally during WWⅡin the Korean Peninsula(including North Korea today).

    So considering rationally, I have to conclude that
    the large part of ‘Comfort Women’ were the voluntary prostitutes, from numerical and economical analysis.
    Of course I don’t deny the exceptions, because even in peacetime, there are crimes all over the world.

    People in the world should notice the situation of sex industry in South Korea.
    According to the Choson ILbo (a Korean newspaper), 10% of Korean prostitutes work overseas.
    So if you take the largest number above, it amounts to 120,000.
    This is not a historical issue, but it’s a problem we face now.

    UN had better recommend S. Korea to improve the life of Korean women.
    I hope Mr. Ban Ki-moon will do a good job.

    Finally I would like to say, I hope no prostitution will survive on this earth,
    because no woman wants to be a prostitute,if she can get along without it.
    Thank you for your attention.

  7. Hyung-Sung Kim on

    My great-grandfather was born a slave in 1893 (over 90% of Koreans were slaves at the time) and was delighted when Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and liberated the slaves because he would have never been able to attend schools if not for the Japanese. My grandparents were born in 1920’s and experienced the Japanese rule firsthand. They had nothing but great things to say about the Japanese. They told me how nice their Japanese teachers and classmates were to them at schools. Even 50 years after the end of the war, they only sang Japanese songs at Karaoke because they reminisced those days so much.

    As a history student, I interviewed over one hundred Koreans who were born and raised in the Korean Peninsula in 1920’s and 1930’s, and the overwhelming majority of them shared the same views with my grandparents.

    I asked them about comfort women as well, and what they witnessed was Korean fathers and brothers selling their daughters and sisters, Korean brokers deceiving Korean women. They never witnessed Japanese military coercing any Korean women.

    This fact is well documented in San Francisco State University Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh’s book “The Comfort Women.”



    Sejong University Professor Park Yuha agrees with Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh.


    The follwoing is a diary written by a Korean comfort station worker discovered in 2013 by Professor Ahn Byong Jik of Seoul National University. It details how Korean brokers recruited Korean women in the Peninsula (sometimes on false pretenses) and how they owned & operated comfort stations employing those women. According to the diary Korean owners beat and sometimes raped Korean women when they didn’t obey orders.



    The follwoing are the articles published in Korean newspapers in the 1930’s & 1940’s. The articles say that the Japanese police arrested Korean traffickers who were engaging in illegal recruiting.


    The following is a help wanted ad in a Korean newspaper Maeil Shinbo on October 27, 1944. A Korean broker (Mr. Ho) was recruiting comfort women. There are other ads like this one.


    The following is the order the Japanese military sent to the police in Korea. The order says, “crack down on the Korean prostitution brokers who are engaging in illegal recruiting.”


    By the way, I don’t exonerate the Japanese military because its invasion into China and Southeast Asia did create the demand for comfort women. But the Korean narrative of “The Japanese military showed up at the doors and abducted young Korean women” just didn’t happen. The Korean businessmen (prostitution brokers) capitalized on the demand, recruited Korean women and operated comfort stations.

    Asahi Shimbun published a series of fabricated articles on comfort women in the 1980’s. Based on these articles, the anti-Japan lobby Chong Dae Hyup (with close ties to North Korea and China) was formed in South Korea in 1990. Then out of nowhere a woman named Kim Hak-sun came forward in 1991 and claimed she was abducted by Japanese military. There is clear evidence (recorded tapes) that suggests she was coached by Chong Dae Hyup to give false testimony. If Korean women were indeed abducted by the Japanese military, it is rather odd that not a single woman claimed anything for over 45 years after the end of World War II. Former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo said in 1993 interview with Bungeishunju, “Asahi Shimbun created the comfort women issue out of nothing, provoked Korean nationalism and infuriated Korean people.”

    Lower ranked Japanese soldiers did coerce dozens of Dutch and Filipino women in the battlefields of Indonesia and the Philippines. Those soldiers were court-martialed, and some of them executed. But Korean women were not coerced by the Japanese military because the Korean Peninsula was not the battlefield and therefore the Japanese military was NOT in Korea. (Korean brokers recruited Korean women in Korea and operated comfort stations employing them) Japan apologized and compensated, and Netherlands, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan had all accepted Japan’s apology and reconciled with Japan. So there are no comfort women issues between those nations and Japan. The comfort women issue remains only with South Korea because Chong Dae Hyup refuses to reconcile with Japan and continues to spread the false claim of “200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the Japanese military” throughout the world. Chong Dae Hyup’s strategy has been to use the case of a small number of Dutch and Filipino women who were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers and make it look like the same thing happened to many Korean women.

    It is ironic that 99% of Westerners fell for Chong Dae Hyup’s (North Korean) propaganda while the majority of South Korean scholars (Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University, Professor Lee Yong-hoon of Seoul University, Professor Ahn Byong-jik of Seoul University, Professor Jun Bong-gwan of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Professor Han Sung-jo of Korea University, Professor Lee Dae-gun of Sungkyunkwan University, Professor Choi Ki-ho of Kaya University, Professor Oh Seon-hwa of Takushoku University, Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh of San Francisco State University, etc.) and a good number of South Korean public agree that the Japanese military did not coerce Korean women. Only a small number of fanatics with loud voice (South Korean leftists with close ties to North Korea and radical left wing Japanese scholars such as Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Yuki Tanaka and Hirofumi Hayashi also with close ties to North Korea and China) falsely claim 200,000 Korean girls were coerced by the Japanese military. Westerners must realize that North Korean and Chinese operatives are using the comfort women issue to drive a wedge into U.S.-Japan-South Korea security partnership.



    After the end of WWII, the anti-Japanese brainwashing began in South Korea. Our first president (the military dictator) Syngman Rhee massacred hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of us.


    In order to cover up his atrocities and maintain legitimacy, he needed a common enemy, and Japan was an easy target. So he started the anti-Japanese brainwashing in schools and in the media. And every successive president after him had to outdo his predecessor on anti-Japanism in order to maintain legitimacy.

    The following book illustrates very well how our first president, Syngman Rhee, used the anti-Japanese brainwashing to cover up his massacres.


    In this book the author, Sung-Hwa Cheong, concludes that Syngman Rhee deliberately stimulated anti-Japanese sentiment as part of a calculated policy that originated in his own political insecurity.


    The South Koreans who were born in the 1980’s & 1990’s grew up with Japanese anime & Japanese literature (Haruki Murakami & so on) because in the late 1990’s South Korea started allowing Japanese culture to come in. (Japanese culture was banned in South Korea until then, believe it or not)

    These generations typically say, “We like Japanese culture & people. If the Japanese accept our history as the right history, we can get along with them.” This means that when these generations realize that their history is not the right history but the brainwashed history, they will get along with the Japanese unconditionally.

    Will they realize that their history is not the right history? I believe they will thanks to the internet & social media.

    For example on internet, the South Koreans now have access to the history textbook comparison study done by Stanford University.



    This study found that the Japanese history textbooks to be based on facts, the Korean history textbooks to be heavy on nationalism.

    So when the generations who were born in the 1980’s & 1990’s become the movers and shakers of South Korea, (i.e. key politicians, newspaper editors, etc.) the relationship between South Korea and Japan will improve dramatically.

    Right now, the South Korean society is dominated by the generations who were born in the 1950’s, 1960’s & 1970’s. These generations were raised with anti-Japanese brainwashing at schools, and they had no exposure to Japanese culture growing up. So they are hardcore anti-Japanese.

    The generations who were born before 1945 (like my grandparents) are generally very sympathetic to the Japanese because they experienced the annexation period. The reason why the Korea-Japan relation has deteriorated so badly in the last 20 years is because most of them have died, and the generations born after the war came into power.

    Our presidents up to Kim Dae-jung all spoke Japanese fluently because they experienced the annexation. Park Chung-hee was anti-Japanese publicly, but in private he shared drinks with Japanese politicians speaking in Japanese. When the Japanese emperor Hirohito died in 1989, Kim Dae-jung went to the funeral and took a deep bow toward Hirohito’s coffin. This would be unthinkable with our last three presidents.

    So it will take some time, but when we have a president who was born in the 1980’s or later, we will not be so anti-Japanese.


    The average life span of the Koreans doubled from 23 years in 1910 to 45 years in 1945, and the population doubled from just over 12 million in 1910 to over 25 million in 1945 due to the institution of modern healthcare under the Japanese. If living a longer, healthier life means better quality of life, then the Koreans’ quality of life definitely improved under the Japanese.


    The following is a good summary of a book written by Professor Alleyne Ireland of University of Chicago. He was the leading expert on colonial administration in Asia. He gained deep knowledge of Japan’s annexation of Korea from his visit there in 1922.


    Alleyne Ireland’s book makes it clear that the common perception in the West — the Japanese invaded Korea, exploited Korean people and committed atrocities — is a myth. Westerners visit Seodaemun Prison (anti-Japanese propaganda exhibit created by the South Korean government after the war) and believe the Japanese rule was brutal.

    The state of 19th century Korea (Joseon Dynasty) was very similar to that of present day North Korea. The majority of the population were starving and were enslaved by a small number of corrupt bureaucrats. If Japan is to annex North Korea right now, kick out Kim Jong-un and liberate the majority of the North Koreans, wouldn’t they welcome Japan’s annexation with open arms? That was exactly what happened in 1910.

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