Japan upset about memorial honoring WWII sex slaves

In 2013, the Los Angeles-adjacent city of Glendale, California, stirred its share of controversy installing a monument to “comfort women”—sex slaves conscripted from Korea, China, Indonesia and other Asian countries to serve in Japan in World War II.

The memorial in Glendale is a replica of one installed in Seoul, erected at the request of the community’s large Korean population. Consisting of a bronze life-size comfort woman, its inscription reads, simply, “I Was a Sex Slave of the Japanese Military.”

The Japanese community in Glendale was none too pleased when the memorial was erected last July and in January Tokyo-area government assemblywoman Yoshiko Matsuura traveled to California to deliver a petition signed by 300 Japanese legislators to have Glendale’s memorial removed.

At a press conference in Tokyo Tuesday, opponents accused the memorials of spreading “false propaganda” about Japan and overstating the sex slave trade. “Japanese schoolchildren are suffering from bullying by Koreans,” said Yoshiko Matsuura. “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.”

What’s more, senior Japanese government officials seem to want to take back a 1993 statement that officially acknowledged and apologized for the sex slave trade. A spokesman for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would review the statement. Matsuura said the apology was based on unverified information.

In December, Prime Minister Abe deeply offended China when he visited a controversial shrine in Tokyo that pays homage to Japan’s role in World War II. He then made things awkward with the Obama Administration by suggesting the U.S. had made up war-crimes charges against Japan to distract from its own war crimes of bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Obama called the charge “preposterous.”

The effort to wipe the “comfort women” from the history books seems like part of a broader new effort by the Japanese government to rewrite history with some of the warts removed.

Still, the artist might have chosen an inscription a little less prosaic than “”I Was a Sex Slave of the Japanese Military.”

Image: LA Times