San Francisco unanimously adopts measure to build ‘comfort women’ memorial


Staff Writer

San Francisco formally adopted a resolution Tuesday calling for the city to build a memorial to commemorate the “comfort women” who were forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

The memorial has been hailed by supporters as an important step in educating local residents about past — and current — human-rights abuses against women, including domestic violence and human trafficking. However, it’s likely to further complicate relations with Osaka, San Francisco’s sister city, where Mayor Toru Hashimoto has been staunchly opposed to the memorial.

In a unanimous vote, the 11-member Board of Supervisors passed the resolution to build the memorial on public land to remember what it says were an estimated 200,000 women and young girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific islands.

“Let’s send a clear message of justice, of compassion, and of unity in saying ‘never again,’ ” said Supervisor Eric Mar, the legislation’s key sponsor. “The resolution is the first step toward education about the issue.”

The city has not yet approved a budget for the memorial, although Mar said over $140,000 had already been raised through private donations. Over the coming months, he added, community leaders will discuss potential locations and designs.

The resolution was approved despite concerns among some in the local Japanese-American community that it could lead to a backlash. In Japan, opponents wrote to the various supervisors, urging them to vote the measure down.

In early September, Hashimoto, who was officially condemned by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors over 2013 remarks that the comfort women system had been necessary at the time, sent a letter to the board expressing his opposition to the measure.

In it, he voiced support for the dignity and human rights of all women, but said a comfort women monument focusing only on what Japan did during the war period was unfair.

Hashimoto also disputed the figure of 200,000 women and girls alleged to have been forced into sexual slavery, adding that he was concerned this figure would end up being engraved on the San Francisco memorial. A comfort women memorial in Glendale, California, also bears this number.

Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California and a key backer of the resolution, said that Hashimoto’s letter twisted the facts.

“Sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces from 1932 until 1945 was the largest known crime against humanity of its kind,” she said. “Hashimoto’s argument that the issue should be considered as equal with all other sexual crimes during wartime doesn’t hold much water because it truly is the largest case of systematic enslavement of women for sexual purposes, thus a crime against humanity organized by a government.”

Earlier this year, a group of prominent historians and Asian scholars based mainly in the U.S. and Europe sent a letter of support to Japanese historians, some of whom have faced a backlash from right-wing academics, politicians and media that have long insisted the Japanese government and military was not directly involved in recruiting the women and did not force them to serve in comfort women stations.

The hundreds of scholars who have since signed the letter noted that while a lack of documentation has prompted disagreement over the precise number of comfort women, Japan’s system was distinguished from that of other countries by its large scale and systematic management under the military.

Although the letter did not mention figures, estimates of the number of comfort women vary between 20,000 and 200,000.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Hooray for San Francisco. Justice needs to be advanced.

  • Jeremy Dalton

    More pandering to Korean pressure groups in the US. Not unexpected really where ethnic korean votes are important to local politicians.

  • Richard Solomon

    Living in the Bay Area, I am pleased that SF passed this resolution. I look forward to the day when I can go with my wife and other family members to show my respect for these women who suffered so much.

    I hope it encourages other American cities to do likewise. Sometimes leadership on an admittedly sensitive issue has to come from outsiders. Perhaps some day cities in Japan will do likewise because the central government in Tokyo is still in denial about this.

  • Charlie Sommers

    Hashimoto needs to own up to the past. Rather than being diminished, Japan’s stature in the world will be improved in the eyes of most people if they admit past mistakes and possibly put up a memorial or two on their own soil.

  • wrle

    This is where Japan starkly contrasts with germany which takes the initiative to establish memorials for war victims they have inflicted pain on. The Japanee government cares so much about their national image branding yet their actions are ridiculously perverse.

  • DaveTheLogician

    Gimme a break, eh? We’re talking WWII, SEVENTY YEARS AGO. The people involved are probably all dead by now. Don’t tell me – I Lived through WWII, lost a brother to it. Let it go. already.

  • notironic

    Living in San Francisco, I can honestly say that this is self-serving politics from the Korean-American community. The Board of Supervisors has a long history of pompous meddling in international affairs: they are not interested in cross-cultural dialog – supposedly a San Francisco value – but rather shaming the Japanese. Hashimoto is wrong to bicker about numbers, but there is no moral high ground here.

  • notironic

    All the people shaming Hashimoto, please read his open letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (it’s online). He is perfectly open about Japan’s wrongdoings in the war – more than most American politicians – and admits the necessity to learn from the past. He never received a response from SF politicians, who clearly have no interest in communicating with him. They prefer shaming.

    As for San Francisco saying, “never again”, I would like to point the supervisor’s attention to the preponderance of Asian women working in the San Francisco sex industry, at times under slave-like conditions. If they want to advance women’s rights, they can start right next door. Justice needs to be advanced indeed.

  • COYP

    Hopefully the memorial will mention that the Japanese government has apologized and acknowledged their actions but the women are still waiting for an apology from the South Korean government for forcing these women into prostitution during the Korean war.

  • Al_Martinez

    How did San Francisco become Osaka’s sister city?

  • Clickonthewhatnow

    Do they paint a “it could have been prevented” picture, or a “it couldn’t have been helped, but let’s never do it again” picture?

  • Steve Jackman

    The Japan Times should really change the caption under the photo accompanying this article. It states, “Chinese-American and Korean-American residents hail a decision Tuesday at San Francisco City”, but one glance at the photo makes it clear that many residents of San Francisco pictured above are obviously caucasian looking and not Chinese-American or Korean-American looking.