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"Comfort women" memorial unveiled in Washington suburb

Peace Garden Seeks to Raise Awareness

story by RUTH KIM
photos by KYODO via AP IMAGES and GRETCHEN POWELL

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.

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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.

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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).

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Pizza + Korean Tacos = Korean Taco Pizza, Now On the Menu at Pizza Hut Korea

by JAMES S. KIM

Korean and Mexican food seems like a match made in the kitchens of heaven. Chef Roy Choi got the equation right with his Kogi tacos—now, how else can the trend be interpreted?

Pizza Hut Korea takes on the challenge with its spicy Pork Taco Pizza, and while the concept isn’t new, it changes things up with the addition of Korean-seasoned shredded pork. Top it off with cheese, salsa, tomatoes, lettuce and jalapeños, and voilà.

The pizzas are about 10-13 inches, and the proper way to eat it is to obviously fold the slices in half, like a taco.

Finding good Mexican food in South Korea is like finding a nonexistent needle in a haystack, but maybe, just maybe, this could slowly start reversing that trend.

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Images via Food Beast

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This Crazy, Penis-Themed Restaurant Exists In South Korea (NSFW)

by JAMES S. KIM

This article contains images and content that some may find objectionable. 

We think we know what became of the Spider-Man statue with an erection that was taken down in Busan, South Korea. It may have found a new home at a two-story restaurant and cafe in the city of Pocheon, about an hour and a half outside of Seoul.

The Deulmusae restaurant is a shrine to the male genitalia and it isn’t particularly, ahem, hard to find. The road leading to it is marked with penises, which illuminate at night. The building itself is marked by a giant erect penis that spits out smoke as a chimney.

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Pocheon13Because nothing says welcome better than an erect member.

Deulmusae opened in 1996, but it wasn’t until a Buddhist monk visited the restaurant and felt it had too much female/cold energy (yin) that the restaurant changed its theme.

The owner decided to balance out that energy with plenty of penises. Local artisans have since crafted the ceramic ware, sculptures and all the other phallic imagery. Talk about some serious compensating.

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But aside from all the phallic imagery, one can’t forget about the food. The Deulmusae Course Lunch Set includes corn soup, fried fish filet, pork cutlet and Korean-style hamburger steak. Salad and rice is also available on the side. The haemulpajeon, or seafood pancake, is served on a ceramic plate that includes a labia.

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Deulmusae also has an extensive beverage list, from coffee to tea to cocktails. Cold drinks are served in cups based on gender: Women receive penis cups while males are given vaginae. To top it off, the straws are “strategically” placed.

Pocheon is also apparently famous for its makgeolli (rice wine).

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The restaurant also includes a gift shop, which sells tea cups, pitchers, key chains and even soap.

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There’s also a world map made from ceramic penises. Yup.

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For those looking to visit, check out My Seoul Searching for directions.

Images via Kotaku and My Seoul Searching.

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World Cup: What’s Left For Korea After Devastating Loss To Algeria

by STEVE HAN

So much for exceeding expectations. After tying with Russia five days ago, South Korea took a knockout blow from Algeria in its second 2014 FIFA World Cup match, losing 4-2.

Algeria, which changed five players in their starting lineup after their 2-1 loss to Belgium in the first game, blitzed Korea and scored three goals in the first half alone. The shell-shocked Koreans came back strong in the second half with two goals, but the damage had already been done by the time they tried to turn things around.

Three thoughts on Korea’s loss:

Technically, Korea is still alive in the competition even with just one point from two matches, but they need a miracle to advance from Group H.
The loss to Algeria by a two-goal margin drops Korea down to the very last place in the group. Belgium already clinched its berth to the next round with six points, followed by Algeria and Russia with three points and one point, respectively. Korea must beat group leader Belgium on Thursday by at least two goals and needs Russia to beat Algeria by a scoreline of 1-0. Perhaps the good news is that Marc Wilmots, the Belgian head coach, said he’s likely to start his second string players to rest his regular starters for the match against Korea in order to prepare for the second round.

All of Korea’s attack was a one-man show by Son Heung-min.
The Korean players seemed flatfooted and lethargic on both ends of the pitch. However, there was one player who created all sorts of problems for the Algerian defense when Korea somehow managed to deliver the ball to him—the 21-year-old Son Heung-min, who plays professionally at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. Son, who scored in the second half to spark the comeback that eventually fell short, had nine successful dribble penetrations in the match, the highest among any other players at this year’s  World Cup. What’s more astounding is that eight of those nine dribble penetrations were in the opponent’s half, which is also a tournament-high among players of all teams.

This Korean team is in severe need of a veteran presence.
The average age of the Korean team in Brazil is just 26.1. Belgium, Korea’s next opponent, is younger on average at 25.6, but it has a 36-year-old veteran Daniel van Buyten whose decision to retire from international soccer at the end of the World Cup certainly serves as a motivation for the rest of the team. Algeria is led by a 31-year-old captain Majid Bougherra and Russia also consists of several veteran players. Korea’s only player above 30 is Kwak Tae-hwi at 32, and has very little international experience. Perhaps the 33-year-old Cha Du-ri, a two-time World Cup veteran who missed the cut for this year’s tournament in Brazil, summed it up best in his post-match broadcast commentary for Korean TV network SBS:

Our players gave the game away in span of about 10 minutes, because they lacked experience. It’s disappointing because I feel like I owe them an apology. It’s important for veterans like me to play well and earn a place on the team, so that these young players have someone leading them. I couldn’t do that, so our young guys had to carry the responsibility that they didn’t deserve. So I want to say sorry.

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SKorean Soldier Opens Fire on Fellow Servicemen

by JULIE HA

The Associated Press is reporting that a South Korean soldier opened fire on his fellow troops Saturday night (Korea time), killing five and wounding another five near the heavily armed border with North Korea.

The army sergeant shot his comrades with a rifle at an outpost in Gangwon province, east of Seoul, a South Korean military official told AP on condition of anonymity. Korean media said the shooter was still at large, though the military official would not confirm this information.

North Korea was not involved in the incident, as far as officials know at this point, said the AP report, which also cited two other shootings that have occurred at the border. One incident in 2005 involved a soldier, Pfc. Kim Dong-min, who opened fire on an army unit, killing eight fellow servicemen and injuring several others. Kim was reportedly upset at his superiors because he said they verbally abused him.

Photo via Reuters: An ambulance transporting a wounded soldier arrives at a hospital in Gangneung.  

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Condom Company’s Actions Elicit Strong Response From K-pop Fans

By HAEIN JUNG

It seems fans of SNSD and EXO aren’t really into the whole “no glove, no love” policy we seem to unabashedly promote here in the U.S.

Case in point: When Durex, the condom company, cheekily congratulated the K-pop young loves, SNSD’s (Girls’ Generation’s) Taeyeon and EXO’s Baekhyun, on their recently revealed romantic relationship, it was wasn’t exactly greeted with the kind of response the company thought it would get.

The British condom company on Thursday posted on its Korean Twitter account @durexmania, “Korean media outlet Dispatch leaked news that SNSD Taeyeon and EXO Baekhyun are in a relationship. We congratulate your love! We, Durex, will cheer you on!!”

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Photo via hellokpop

As touching as the gesture was, it unleashed a wrath of fury from swarms of fans. Apparently, they don’t like the idea of their young idol stars associated with condoms.

There is no reasoning with an angry mob. The negative response was so strong that Durex quickly retracted its earlier statement and issued an apology, stating: “We previously wrote we are rooting for Taeyeon and Baekhyun’s love. They have to endure public scrutiny and wrath from their fans for it, and we understand that it must be difficult. We support all types of love. We realized how much this comment has hurt everyone. Sorry.”

It seems these two idols certainly have fan protection behind them.

Image via The Guardian

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World Cup: Post-Game Thoughts On Korea’s Draw With Russia

by STEVE HAN

Despite taking the lead with Lee Keun-ho’s go-ahead goal in the 68th minute, South Korea settled for a 1-1 draw with Russia in its first game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil on Tuesday. Korea is now tied for second place in Group H behind Belgium which defeated Algeria 2-1 earlier that day. Korea takes on Algeria this Sunday at 3 p.m. EST.

Here are three thoughts on the game.

Expect Korea to get better as the tournament progresses. Many Team Korea fans may be disappointed that their team couldn’t hold on to the lead with only about 15 minutes remaining, but head coach Hong Myung-bo has a track record of building a stronger team as these tournaments progress. In his first international tournament in 2009, the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, Hong led Korea to the quarterfinals after losing 2-0 to Cameroon in the first game of the group stages. At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, Korea only managed a draw against Mexico in its very first game, but went on to beat Switzerland, the U.K. and Japan to win a historical bronze medal. Korea’s renowned Japanese physical trainer, Seigo Ikeda, also worked with the previous two teams. He’s famous for designing a training program for players to gradually peak with more games.

Han Kook-young is a real find. Before the tournament began, Han—Korea’s defensive midfielder—was considered to be the weak link of the team. In his World Cup debut, the 24-year-old midfielder anchored Korea’s defense with a first class performance against the Russians. To put his pleasantly surprising performance into perspective, Han ran a total of seven miles in the game, outworking the Russians whose individuals averaged six miles. What makes Han’s fine performance in Brazil even more special is the heartbreak he suffered in 2012 when he broke his foot days before the Summer Olympic Games and missed the competition altogether. Han, who is currently playing professionally in Japan, is drawing interest from several European clubs. If he maintains his level of performances against Russia for the rest of the tournament, he could soon be on his way to Europe.

Team Korea’s stars—Ki Sung-yueng and Son Heung-min—delivered when it counted most. Head coach Hong Myung-bo emphasizes “balance” between attack and defense as the most important factor for his team to play the way he wants. Two players with critical roles of striking that balance is Ki and Son. Ki completed 84 percent of his passes throughout the game. His contribution to Korea’s ball circulation as well as his smooth touches in the defensive half helped his team free itself from Russia’s high press. Also, even though Son couldn’t score, he played an instrumental role in spearheading Korea’s attack by getting to the end of passes and making electric runs into dangerous areas. Even though it was Lee Keun-ho who scored Korea’s goal, Son’s overall performance was impressive enough for him to earn the Man of the Match honor after the game.

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South Koreans Line Up Crazy Early For McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys

by JAMES S. KIM

Koreans are going gaga for … Happy Meal toys?!

Kotaku’s compilation of photos shows hundreds of South Koreans lining up at McDonald’s before sunrise in hopes of snagging a toy from the special edition Super Mario 25th anniversary set. GlobalPost believes it’s a “kidult” thing. (Well, the figurines do look pretty fantastic.)

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Some stores ran out of the toys…

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…which prompted some to offer to buy burgers for $1 off of those purchasing Happy Meals for only the toys.

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The U.S. won’t be seeing these 25th anniversary toys, but it’s not a total loss. Mario Kart 8 toys are set to launch stateside after the current How To Train Your Dragon 2 campaign ends.

Images via Kotaku