‘Comfort Woman’ Memorial Statues, A Thorn In Japan’s Side, Now Sit On Korean Buses : Parallels : NPR

A “comfort woman” statue is placed on a bus seat to mark the 5th International Memorial Day for Comfort Women in Seoul in August.

Ahn Young-joon/AP


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Ahn Young-joon/AP

A “comfort woman” statue is placed on a bus seat to mark the 5th International Memorial Day for Comfort Women in Seoul in August.

Ahn Young-joon/AP

One goal of President Trump’s trip to Asia has been to rally America’s allies to help put pressure on North Korea. But the mission is complicated by the fact that America’s two staunchest allies in East Asia — Japan and South Korea — don’t get along well when it comes to issues involving their history.

Much of the friction dates back to Japan’s occupation of Korea in the first part of the 20th century. Tensions related to that occupation still simmer — even 70 years after South Korea was liberated.

Things flared up again this year over a statue of a young girl known as the “Peace Statue.”

The small bronze figure depicts a girl sitting in a chair, staring straight ahead with a look of determination. She has cropped hair and wears a hanbok — a traditional Korean dress. She’s barefoot. Her fist is clenched. Next to her is an empty chair.

The girl memorializes women like Ahn Jeom-sun. She’s now 89 and says she has visited the statue often. It symbolizes the youth she lost at age 13, when the Japanese Imperial Army abducted her from her village.

“What I remember is that I was forcibly taken out of Korea and taken to China,” Ahn says.

The United Nations estimates 200,000 girls and women — mostly Koreans — were seized from villages to join Japan’s military sexual slavery program before and during the Second World War.

“What can I say? They did all the stuff that they wanted to do according to their desires, or according to what they wanted. This was all forced. What could we possibly do?” Ahn says.

She and the others came to be known as “comfort women.” They served at temporary brothels near the front lines — often tents or wooden shacks…

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