FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA – A monument was unveiled in Virginia on Friday to commemorate the thousands of women who were forced to provide sex for Imperial Japanese soldiers in military brothels during the war.
Japan euphemistically refers to the women as the “ianfu,” or “comfort women.”
Similar memorials have been established in California and New York. The stone monument erected on the premises of Fairfax County’s government office is the first one to grace a suburb near the U.S. capital. It was set up in the Comfort Women Memorial Peace Garden to help raise public awareness of the women, many of whom were Korean.
A group of Korean-Americans spearheaded the project in Fairfax, just west of Washington. Fairfax County Board chairwoman Sharon Bulova said at the unveiling ceremony that its purpose is not only to commemorate the comfort women, but also to draw attention to human trafficking, an issue that remains a worldwide problem even today.
Putting the comfort women issue in a “human trafficking” context, Bulova said, “This memorial helps us to be sensitive to the subtle signs where someone may be living under conditions where they are powerless and afraid to change.”
“To Japan’s credit” its chief Cabinet secretary in 1993 made a formal governmental apology to the comfort women and their families, she told the couple of hundred people at the ceremony.
The plaque on the memorial reads, “May these ‘comfort women’ find eternal peace and justice for the crimes committed against them.” The victims were from “Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Netherlands and East Timor,” it said.
Kang Il-chul, an 85-year-old victim of the sexual servitude system, said Japan should “make a prompt apology” for the issue. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
The Japanese Embassy in Washington was unhappy with the monument.
In a commentary, it said: “It is very regrettable that a comfort women monument has been created.”
“We wish ethnic groups from different countries live together in peace and harmony in a local community of the United States,” and that the issue not be treated as a political or diplomatic issue, the embassy said.
The Japanese government has said the issue has been formally settled with the South Korean government, but disputes between Tokyo and Seoul over the women, particularly the lack of official compensation, continue to strain bilateral ties.
The county, with a population of some 1 million, is home to some 40,000 Korean-Americans and many U.S. federal government workers.
In February, the Virginia state legislature passed a bill requiring public textbooks to list “East Sea” to places where the Sea of Japan is mentioned. East Sea is how South Korea referred to the body of water separating the two countries before the nation came under annexation in 1910.
U.S. President Barack Obama has branded the Japanese military-led system of sexual servitude as a “terrible” violation of human rights, while the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution in 2007 urging Japan to make a formal apology.
In 1993, thenChief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono said in a statement that the Japanese government extends “its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government stirred controversy last year by saying it would “review” the process of how the Kono statement was made, but sometime later, Abe backed off and denied his government intends to change the wording of the Kono statement itself.