Tag Archives: comfort women

S. Korean 'comfort women' speak in defense of memorial

‘Comfort Women’ Survivors Defend Glendale Memorial During L.A. Visit


It’s a scene both painful and inspiring at the same time—two halmeonis, including one with a head of sparse, white hair and holding a cane, speaking out for justice for 60-year-old crimes.

“Comfort women” survivors Lee Ok-seon, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 85, flew from Seoul to Los Angeles this week to lend their support to the city of Glendale, as it faces a lawsuit to remove a controversial statue meant to honor the victims of sexual slavery.

The women met and spoke with the press on Tuesday, in front of the U.S. District courthouse in downtown L.A. According to the Global Post, they are represented by the Korean American Forum of California (KAFC), an advocacy group seeking justice for the “comfort women.” The organization said it has submitted declarations of support for the city of Glendale from Lee and Kang to the court, and also requested permission for the women to address the court in the case.

“Thank you for erecting the peace monument, and thank you for trying to protect the peace monument,” Kang said in remarks translated from Korean, according to KPCC.

Lee, who said she was abducted around the age of 15 off a street in Ulsan, Korea, in 1942 and was held for three years, spoke in more passionate terms. “Is it really what you want, to wait until all of us die?” said Lee in Korean. “I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”

Kang and Lee are currently on a two-week trip across Southern California and the East Coast. They will attend events, visit various comfort women memorials and meet with politicians to discuss the “comfort women” issue.

la-glendale-comfortwomen-statue-sparks-lawsuit-001The “comfort woman” statue erected in the city park of Glendale, CA, surrounded by bouquets of flowers.
(Photo by Tim Berger with Glendale News via the L.A. Times)

The statue that sparked the lawsuit was based on Kim Bok-dong, a former “comfort woman,” who also spoke at the unveiling of the statue in July 2013. Kim echoed the survivors’ decades-long demand for Japan’s prime minister to offer a formal apology on his country’s behalf to the tens of thousands of women who were forcibly taken during World War II to “service” soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army.

“An apology, that is my request,” said Kim at the time. “As a prime minister [of Japan] you must apologize for past mistakes, even if they were forged by a former emperor.”

The Glendale statue was met with controversy and opposition from individuals who felt that the message on the plaque next to the statue was too accusatory toward Japan and could negatively affect relations between U.S. and Japan. A Glendale resident, a Los Angeles resident and a nonprofit group called the Global Alliance for Historical Truth, which opposes the recognition of the “comfort women,” filed the lawsuit back in February that sought to remove the statue in the public park, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Glendale plaintiff, Michiko Shiota Gingery, stated in the court filing that she could no longer enjoy Central Park, on Glendale city property, where the statue is located because she experiences “feelings of exclusion, discomfort and anger.”

The lawsuit also accuses the city of violating its city code, stating the statute was installed without a city council vote on the language of the message written on the plaque, said the L.A. Times article.

However, the statue’s defenders say that the memorial is not just about a dispute between two countries–it’s about shedding light on the crimes that violated basic human rights and getting justice. Catherine Sweetser, KAFC’s attorney, said, “In this lawsuit, Gingery vs. City of Glendale, the plaintiffs seek to silence the voices of these women and of the people like the Korean American Forum of California that are advocating for them and for remembrance of their history and the tragedies that happened during World War II.”

The Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden at the Fairfax County Government Center in Virginia.
(Photo by Gretchen Powell)

KoreAm recently shared a story in our July issue on the Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden, another memorial dedicated to raising awareness about “comfort women,” which was unveiled in late May in Fairfax, Va. Kang Il-chul also attended the unveiling ceremony for the garden, noting at the time she was grateful for the memorial, but also felt “a little grief” over the longstanding fight to get Japan to properly address this injustice. There are only about 54 surviving Korean “comfort women,” according to KAFC.

On Tuesday, Kang seemed encouraged by the ongoing efforts of supporters in this country. “Many different countries have come together to work on this issue in solidarity for many years,” she said. “But recently, the people in the United States have been making strong voices to speak out about this issue, and we are utterly grateful for the American people for doing this.”

Featured photo via Kyodo News


Comfort Women For U.S. Military Sue South Korean Government


South Korean “comfort women” are often known as those who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II. The long-standing controversy centering on South Korean government’s demand for Japan’s sincere apology is still ongoing and widely publicized.

Recently, however, another group of South Korean “comfort women” sued their own government for coercing them to serve as sex slaves in state-controlled brothels for the U.S. military after the Korean War, which ended in 1953.

Korean daily Kyunghyang Shinmun reports that the alleged victims filed the lawsuit on June 25, and are seeking close to $10,000 in compensation, along with an apology, for forced prostitution. This is the first legal action by “comfort women” against the South Korean government.

The U.S. sent over 300,000 troops to South Korea for the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. The so-called “comfort stations” allegedly operated on the frontline throughout and after the war.  While working in brothels, the women allegedly went through medical check-ups for sexually transmitted diseases.

It is reported that over 60 percent of all South Korean prostitutes worked near U.S. military camps in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Comfort women" memorial unveiled in Washington suburb

Peace Garden Seeks to Raise Awareness

story by RUTH KIM

Advocates in northern Virginia unveil a “comfort women” memorial that carries a message not just relevant to history, but very much engaged with the present.


In the backyard of the Fairfax County Government Center in Virginia, a brick pathway trails into a quaint, circular garden, where an unassuming boulder stands at its center. Flanked by butterfly-shaped benches of a brilliant turquoise hue, the two by-two-foot boulder displays a brass plaque, and the garden, surrounded by green grass and an open expanse, offers a moment of peace and serenity for any passerby.

However, the inscription on the plaque engages in a much more agitated conversation. In part, it reads: “In honor of the women and girls whose basic rights and dignities were taken from them as victims of human trafficking during WWII…. May these ‘comfort women’ find eternal peace and justice for the crimes committed against them. May the memories of these women and girls serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting the rights of women and an affirmation of basic human rights.”

Situated near the 9/11 Memorial Grove, the Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden pays tribute to the girls and women, referred to euphemistically as “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War. An estimated 80,000 to 200,000 women who were enslaved—a figure that is still being debated today—were predominantly from Korea, but included others from China, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Netherlands, East Timor and other territories, where Japanese so-called comfort stations were set up to “service” soldiers at that time.

Installed by the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues (WCCW), the memorial peace garden was unveiled in Fairfax, Va., on May 30 in a ceremony that featured Korean song and dance, a release of butterflies, as well as speeches by U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, Fairfax County officials and “comfort woman” survivor Kang Il-chul.

“I am grateful and excited to see you all, but somehow feel a little grief,” said Kang, 85, through a translator, expressing mixed feelings at the ceremony, which drew both smiles and tears from her.

Kang’s comments seemed to capture the overall tone of the discourse on the issue: a feeling of hope for the future, mixed with the bitter pain of the still unresolved past.

It is unresolved because the government of Japan has yet to issue a formal apology to the “comfort women” and to provide reparations to survivors, even though allegations of these war crimes first came to light in the early
1990s. The closest it came to one was a statement of “sincere apologies and remorse” delivered by the country’s chief cabinet secretary in 1993, and a private fund established to assist survivors.

But, adding fuel to the flame is the fact that over the years there have also been a number of controversial statements given by various leaders about how the “comfort women” were prostitutes, not slaves. Current Prime Minster Shinzo Abe said this past February that he wanted to revisit the evidence that led to the 1993 expression of regret. He has since back-stepped on his own statement, as tensions between South Korea and Japan have intensified.

The WCCW, a nongovernmental organization, first formed in 1992 to advocate for Japan to issue a formal
apology and provide formal reparations to the women, according to Grace Han Wolf, the group’s co-chair. But she
added that, over time, the group’s focus has shifted somewhat to emphasize “more on outreach, education and awareness building,” and that’s how the memorial idea emerged. “It’s really about making sure these women were not forgotten, making sure the crime was not forgotten, and making sure Fairfax County stands vigilant against human trafficking,” said Wolf.

Wolf, the first Korean American woman elected to office in the Commonwealth of Virginia and serving her third term on the Herndon Town Council, joined the coalition in 2012 to help facilitate the memorial’s planning. “[The WCCW] had put together this idea of a memorial after some of the other memorials had been erected in other parts of the U.S., and they weren’t really sure how to go from the idea to reality,” Wolf said. That’s where she stepped in as a liaison between the group and the local government.


The memorial serves as a reminder that this is not just a historic issue, but a contemporary one. “It’s one of those things where you think, ‘Oh, that happened so long ago,’ but, no, it’s happening right now. And that’s really where this group is really more focused on, to really educate people about what happened, and about what continues to happen,” Wolf said. “Human trafficking is still a big issue, and Fairfax just announced a big initiative in January of this year to combat teen sex trafficking, which unfortunately is still a [problem] here in Fairfax County.”

The peace garden is not the first memorial dedicated to “comfort women” to be constructed in the U.S. In 2013, a statue was erected in Glendale, Calif., portraying a girl in a hanbok sitting on a chair with an empty chair next to her; it is based on local resident and “comfort woman” survivor, Bokdong Kim. That memorial unleashed a storm of controversy. Since its installation, three delegations of Japanese politicians have complained, and Glendale’s sister city in Japan even canceled a student exchange program as a result. A group called the Global Alliance for Historical Truth filed a lawsuit in federal court to have the statue removed. Even counter petitions on the White House’s “We the People” website—one to take down and the other to keep the statue—each garnered over 100,000 signatures. Some opponents of the memorial have said that the statue promotes hate toward the people and nation of Japan, while others have said that this kind of international conflict should not be played out on American soil.

Although the Japanese Embassy and a nationalistic Japanese group have protested the Virginia memorial, Wolf said it has not sparked as much controversy as the Glendale memorial. “I think the [statue] in Glendale was probably more of a lightning rod for controversy,” she said. “The garden [here] is really positioned as awareness building not just for the history of comfort women, but more importantly the issue of human trafficking.”

She said the organization also reached out to many local community groups in the county in a conscious effort to be inclusive.

“We don’t really perceive ours as anti-Japanese nor particularly pro-Korean. We were really careful to position it that way because we didn’t want it to become just about that,” Wolf said. “The ‘comfort women’ is one of many sad stories about human trafficking, which disproportionately affects Asian American women and children. So we really took a pan-Asian approach…. We reached out to all [ethnic] groups equally. We didn’t make a special effort or not a special effort—we included everybody.”

One supporter of the Virginia memorial has been Congressman Honda, a Japanese American who spent part of World War II in an internment camp. He has also championed a congressional bill this year that called for Japan to issue an “unequivocal” apology to the “comfort women,” many of whom have already passed away. In a statement, Honda said, “For the women still alive, and for the countless who have passed, official recognition and acknowledgment is the only way to bring proper closure to this terrible chapter of World War II history.”

This article was published in the July 2014 issue of KoreAmSubscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the July issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

kang il-chul 2

Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden Unveiled in Northern Virginia

by Gretchen Ho Powell

Korean Americans in northern Virginia unveiled a new memorial last Friday evening that honors hundreds of thousands of women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. Kang Il-chul, 85, a former “comfort woman,” the euphemistic name given to these women, took part in the ceremony, also attended by U.S. Congressmember Mike Honda and local Fairfax County officials.

“I am grateful and excited to see you all, but somehow feel a little grief,” said Kang in remarks translated from Korean, expressing the bittersweet nature of the memorial, which brings up painful memories of the past, but she also hopes helps prevent these acts in the present and future.

Privately funded by benefactors domestically as well as in Korea, the intimate memorial is located on the grounds of the Fairfax County Government Center, about 20 miles west of Washington, D.C. The area is home to a large number of Korean Americans, and a group called the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues formed to create the Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden, which consists of two metal butterfly benches, a circle of flowerbeds and two plaques mounted on either side of a large stone in the center. Butterflies have long been a symbol of hope for “comfort women.”

“In honor of the women and girls whose basic rights and dignities were taken from them as victims of human trafficking during WWII,” one of the plaques reads. “May the memories of these women and girls serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting the rights of women and an affirmation of basic human rights.”


Grace Han Wolf, co-chair of the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues, emphasized that this memorial should not just be seen as a response to the injustices of the past. “Human trafficking is a very real, very present issue,” Wolf said. “And this memorial garden serves not only as a reminder of the past, but is here to create awareness for these crimes in Fairfax County today.”

The program also included remarks from Congressmember Honda and Fairfax County Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova, a traditional Korean dance and the release of live butterflies.

Jeong Soon-park performs 2

Similar memorials honoring the “comfort women” have gone up in Palisades Park, New Jersey, and Glendale, Calif. As was the case with those monuments, the one in Fairfax County has drawn some public protests. Some object to using government grounds in the U.S. for international, political conflicts, while others dispute that the “comfort women” were actually sexual slaves, versus prostitutes. 

Top and bottom photos via AFP. Middle photo of memorial by Gretchen Ho Powell.

TOP PHOTO: Former comfort woman Kang Il-chul (center) thanks Park Jeong-Sook for her performance during the dedication of the Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden on May 30, at the grounds of the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax, Va.


‘Comfort Women’ Memorial in Virginia to be Unveiled Friday


A memorial paying tribute to the “comfort women” will be unveiled in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony in Fairfax, Virginia, on Friday, organizers announced.

Installed at the Fairfax County Government Center, the Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden will recognize and pay homage to the women who were victims of sexual slavery and forced to work in military brothels servicing Japanese soldiers during World War II. Out of the estimated 200,000 women who were trafficked, a majority came from Korea, as well as other women from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.


The Peace Garden features a monument that is 1.5 meters wide and 1.1 meters tall. Inscribed is a background on the history of “comfort women” in wartime Japan, as well as the words of U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, calling for the nation to formally apologize and provide direct compensation to the victims.

On either side of the monument are two butterfly-shaped benches. The butterfly was chosen by a group of “comfort women” victims as a symbol of hope. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will feature Korean food, refreshments, and a Korean cultural dance performance, and will be led by survivor, Il-Chun Kang from Korea. “This garden is located on the back lawn of the Fairfax County Government Center, adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial, and will be dedicated to all victims of human trafficking, in hopes that these crimes will cease to exist in the future,” read a statement by the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues Inc. (WCCW), responsible for the monument. It is an association comprised predominantly of Korean Americans.

Fairfax County is home to a rather large Korean American community, and the memorial has reportedly garnered a great deal of support from its local residents.


However, a “comfort women” monument installed in the Southern California suburb of Glendale (statue pictured above) was greeted with considerable controversy, and it won’t be surprising if the Virginia memorial faces some backlash. Since the Glendale statue was unveiled last summer, three delegations of Japanese politicians have complained and its sister city in Japan even canceled a student exchange program. A group called the Global Alliance for Historical Truth also filed a lawsuit in federal court to have the statue removed. “A city like Glendale within the state of California does not have any authority to interfere in foreign affairs,” said the group’s president, Japanese American Koichi Mera.

The city of Palisades Park, N.J., where another “comfort women” memorial is located, has also confronted protests, mostly from nationalistic Japanese groups.

On the other side of the debate, Phyllis Kim, a spokeswoman for the Korean American Forum of California, stands firm in her organization’s resolve to spread awareness about the “comfort women” issue and sex trafficking in general. “The root cause of this wasteful dispute is the fact that the government of Japan has never taken the full responsibility for its crimes against humanity,” she told PRI’s The World in February, in defense of the Glendale monument. “Every German kid knows about the Holocaust. But the Japanese government just tries to downplay what happened.”

Photos via Naver News, WCCW’s Facebook, and the Los Angeles Times

Comfort Women

South Korea And Japan to Hold Talks On Comfort Women

South Korea and Japan will reportedly hold talks between their high-ranking officials to discuss the Japanese army’s alleged exploitation of Korean women as sex slaves during World War II.

During the talks, the main point of discussion will center on the estimated 200,000 East Asian women, commonly known as comfort women, who were forced to work at front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during the war. The two countries will discuss the lawsuits seeking compensation for the 55 South Korean victims who remain alive.

The talks will likely take place Thursday or Friday in Tokyo.

Lee Sang-deok, director general for Northeast Asian affairs, will represent South Korea while Japan will be represented by Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affiars Bureau of the Foreign Ministry.

Whether or not the talks could help to create a resolution to the issue that has strained Korea-Japan relations for decades remains uncertain, but it’s significant that the two countries are holding the open discussion.

In recent years, South Korean President Park Geun-hye remained firm in her stance that she won’t meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unless Japan addresses the comfort women issue “effectively and in a way that is agreeable to the living victims.”

On the other hand, Japan has dismissed Korea’s demand for a sincere apology and proper compensation, saying that its government has already compensated Korea for its wartime atrocities through a 1965 treaty that normalized the two countries’ bilateral ties.

Ties between South Korea and Japan still remain at the lowest point in recent decades as the two countries are also in dispute over islets in the East Sea, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.


Japanese Prime Minister: We Won’t Emulate Germany In Reconciling War Crimes

Photo courtesy of Kyodo

Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe said his country cannot follow Germany’s footsteps in mending its relationships with neighboring countries, although he acknowledged Japan’s wartime atrocities.

Abe recently said that the post-war situations between Japan and Germany, the main Axis power during World War II, were completely different. His statement serves as a direct dismissal of the demands from South Korea and China, two countries with longstanding beliefs that Japan owes sincere apologies and proper compensations to reconcile its strained relations with the rest of East Asian countries.


Both South Korea and China have continuously proposed to Japan that it should use Germany, which now plays a central role in the European Union, as a model to mend the relationship that has been fraught with animosity due to its reluctance to acknowledge the wartime atrocities by the imperial Japanese army.

“In Europe, there was a pan-European quest for the great goal of European integration,” Abe told German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The situation in Asia has been completely different after the end of World War II.”

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said during his visit to the country that Japan’s wartime atrocities, including the deployment of East Asian women as sex slaves known as comfort women, were “a terrible, egregious violation of human rights.”

Abe initially responded to Obama’s comment by admitting without offering a direct apology that it’s “heartbreaking” to even imagine the level of pain and suffering those comfort women had to endure, but his recent interview with the German media will likely irk Japan’s neighboring countries even further.



Wednesday’s Link Attack: Obama May Return Ancient Korean Seals; Sandra Oh Prepares for ‘Grey’s’ Departure; Legal Experts Outraged by Comfort Women Suit

“Disgusting!,” Cry Legal Experts: Is This The Lowest A Top U.S. Law Firm Has Ever Stooped?

Would any self-respecting U.S. law firm represent a client who suggested the Jews deserved the Holocaust? Probably not. As a matter of honor, most law firms would run a mile, and even the least honorable would conclude that the damage to their reputation wasn’t worth it.

Where imperial Japan’s atrocities are concerned, however, at least one top U.S. law firm hasn’t been so choosy. In what is surely one of the most controversial civil suits ever filed in the United States, the Los Angeles office of Chicago-based Mayer Brown is trying to prove that the so-called comfort women – the sex slaves used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II – were no more than common prostitutes.


Obama may return ancient Korean seals on upcoming trip to Seoul
Yonhap News

The U.S. government may return a set of Korean national treasures, shipped out of the country by an American soldier during the Korean War, when President Barack Obama visits Seoul next week, diplomatic sources here said Monday.

“The two sides are in the final stage of consultations to complete relevant procedures,” a source said.

There is a possibility that the process will finish ahead of Obama’s departure for Asia next Tuesday, added the source.

Korean hair gripe goes to the top

North Korea’s displeasure at a poster in a hair salon that poked fun at their leader’s unusual hairstyle has reached the corridors of power in Whitehall.

The Foreign Office has confirmed it received a letter from the North Korean embassy earlier this week complaining about the picture of Kim Jong-un that was displayed in a London salon’s window emblazoned with the words “Bad Hair Day?”.

Mandarins received the letter earlier this week and are now considering a response, a spokesman said.

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 10 Spoilers: Sandra Oh Posts Photo From Last Scenes With Kevin McKidd

Goodbyes aren’t easy and that’s something Sandra Oh is making clear. As the actress prepares for her last season on Grey’s Anatomy, she’s been posting emotional posts on Twitter.

The 42-year-old uploaded a photo of herself along with co-star and on-screen lover Kevin McKidd with the caption, “shooting one of our last scenes,” and a sad face.

“My dearest partner in crime,” McKidd, who plays Owen Hunt, tweeted back. “It’s too much to take! What we gonna do?”


Korean-American Band Talk About Rise to Pop Charts
Chosun Ilbo

The debut album of Run River North, a band consisting of six second-generation Korean-Americans in Los Angeles, has made it to No. 3 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Alex Hwang spoke to the Chosun Ilbo by telephone on Tuesday morning in a mixture of Korean and English.

Run River North are currently on a U.S. tour, stopping in Washington. Another member, Jennifer Rim, who plays the violin, also was on the phone.

Wie ready for LPGA Lotte Championship at Ko Olina

The LPGA Lotte Championship tees off Wednesday morning at Ko Olina Golf Club. The tournament marks a triumphant homecoming for 24-year-old Michelle Wie.

The Punahou graduate is off to her best start as a professional, recording six top-16 finishes to open the season, including a runner-up major finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship two weeks ago.

“I’ve just been working hard the last couple of years,” Wie told KHON2. “Obviously I went through quite a bit of a struggle, and I’ve just been trying to improve a little bit here and there every day, trying not to do anything too drastic. I’ve just been patient. A lot of times it was hard being patient. I knew it was getting better and better, it just wasn’t showing. I feel like I’m improving a little bit here and there which is good.”


ISU receives South Korea complaint over figure skating judging
NBC Olympics

South Korea has officially filed its complaint over figure skating judging at the Sochi Olympics to the International Skating Union, nearly two months after Yuna Kim won silver behind Russian Adelina Sotnikova in a controversial decision.

The Korea Skating Union (KSU) filed a complaint over the makeup of the judging panel for the women’s free skate rather than the results of the competition, according to Yonhap News, reporting that the KSU believes the panel’s composition was in violation of the ISU’s ethical rules.

One of the judges from Sochi is married to a top Russian figure skating federation official and was seen hugging Sotnikova shortly after she won gold. Another was suspended one year as being part of the 1998 Olympic ice dance fixing scandal.

Sneak a Peek at Beverly Kim and John Clark’s Parachute Opening Menu
Chicago Eater

When Beverly Kim and John Clark open Parachute (probably next month), expect a different take on Korean cuisine. Kim and Clark are terming their first restaurant “Korean-American,” fusing the textures and flavor profiles of traditional Korean cooking with creative ingredients available to modern restaurants in Chicago.

“I don’t want to compete with mom-and-pop Korean restaurants,” Kim says. “I definitely grew up with those dishes, those dishes excite me, but with our experiences we can put a twist on it that makes it approachable for non-Koreans and Koreans alike.”

“It might take some time for people to grasp that.”