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.

    • Steve Jackman

      I second that!

  • Jeremy Dalton

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

    • brwstacsj

      Your comment is crude and unwarranted. What would the Japanese think if Americans clamored for them to dismantle their shrines of remembrance for the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because Americans are too sensitive to possible criticisms and fear an anti-American backlash? Japan did horrific things during the war (UNIT 731 (ranks right up there with what the Nazis did), the rape of Nanking, and the sexual enslavement of these poor women. In my home town, San Jose, CA, we have plaques around our Japan town, detailing how the American government rounded up US citizens of Japanese ancestry and deported them to internment camps. Manzanar Deportation camp in California is set up to honor the memories of those deported and to educate Americans about what our government did. Heck, we even made reparation payments to the victims. If I as a white American without a drop of Japanese or Asian ancestry can live with these reminders, I am sure that the Japanese can, too. As soon as that memorial is built in SF, I will go to it and lay down flowers in respect to these women. Shame, shame on Mayor Hashimoto!

      • Jeremy Dalton

        Problem with all this is that the involvement of Korean nationals in the trafficing of the women is ignored.

        Furthermore, they talk about the violation of all women in all wars, but omit the 30,000 + rapes of Vietmanese women comitted by Korean forces in the VIetnam war and the fact that the Korena goverment set up thier own comfort stations at US Bases to serve US Soliders in the korean war and after.

        By concentrating on the Japanese crimes and white washing thier own violations of womens rights they are clearly persuing and anti Japanese agenda and not the one they profess.

        We have heard it all before and it still stinks of Korean anti Japnanese propaganda.

        Korea needs to get over its obsessive pertetual victimhood and join the 21st century.

      • JimmyJM

        Jeremy, you miss the point of all this. Sure, women have been raped and murdered by soldiers from every army since war began. But only the Japanese government sanctioned, encouraged and participated in the establishment of “comfort stations”. Most governments and military hierarchies have forbidden the establishment of houses of prostitution and their soldiers utilizing the local women for sex. Of course there were violations and there are cases of the offending military member being tried and punished for raping a local woman. But in Japan’s case, this activity was encouraged! The government and military were complicit in procuring local women. These women were not prostitutes (despite the claims by today’s right wing groups in Japan). Japan must own up to this.

    • Steve Jackman

      Please get your facts straight. San Francisco has historically had many more Japanese Americans than Korean Americans. The city even built a Japan Town for its Japanese residents, but not a Korea Town for its Korean residents.

      San Francisco has always had a much stronger and more affluent Japanese American community than a Korean American community. So, your claim that this is somehow pandering to the Korean American community has no basis in reality.

  • 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.

    • Steve Jackman

      For starters, other big cities in California should follow San Francisco’s example by building their own memorials to the comfort women. Sacramento and Los Angeles (separate from Glendale) would be good candidates.

  • 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.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Hashimoto needs to retire from politics and keep it that way, as he said he would. Not likely to happen.

      While you’re speaking of having memorials put up for comfort women in Japan, can we get memorials of people being vaporized in Hiroshima up in the U.S.?

  • 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.

    • WorkerX

      Koreans? It was the Japanese peace movement that first informed me of this issue and urged me to support this memorial. The coalition that campaigned for this memorial had Chinese, Whites, Filipinos, Koreans, Jews, and Japanese Americans. This is about human rights and women’s rights, not nationalities.

    • Steve Jackman

      That’s a bunch of crap and you should know better if you really do live in San Francisco. The city has historically had many more Japanese Americans than Korean Americans. San Francisco even built a Japan Town in the middle of the city for its Japanese residents, but not a Korea Town for its Korean residents.

      San Francisco has always had a much stronger and more affluent Japanese American community than a Korean American community. So, your claim that this is somehow driven by politics and the Korean American community does not hold water.

  • 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.

    • Steve Jackman

      Why should anyone waste their time reading the lies and denials of Hashimoto and the other Japanese?

  • 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

      Yes, they should state that “it could have been prevented” if the leaders of imperial Japan at the time had not been delusional. As horrific as the atomic bombings were, the responsibility for these sits squarely on the shoulders of the Japanese leadership.

      I suggest your read up on the history of events which led up to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese leaders stubbornly refused to surrender even after the war in Europe had ended and there was no prospect of Japan winning. They gave the U.S. no other alternative but the use of atomic bombs to end the war and prevent thousands of others from dying.

      In fact, Japanese leaders were so stubborn that they did not surrender even after the first atomic bomb was dropped. It took a second bomb on a different city for them to finally come to their senses. Unfortunately, some things still have not changed in Japan even after all these years.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Come on, Steve, I can’t be the troll you say I am if you respond to my posts. Go back under your bridge.

      • Steve Jackman

        “Come on, Steve, I can’t be the troll you say I am if you respond to my posts. Go back under your bridge.” Clickonthewhatnow, it is simply disgusting of you to write such an offensive and absurd reply to the points I made in my comment.

  • 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.