SEOUL – Statues symbolizing “comfort women” were installed on five buses in Seoul on Monday, giving passengers a constant reminder of the thorny issue between the Asian neighbors.
The buses with the statues — symbolizing the mostly Asian women who were forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II — will run through the South Korean capital until the end of September.
Lim Jin-wook, the president of a Seoul-based transportation company that initiated the project, said the Seoul city government had nothing to do with it.
Seeking to demonstrate his commitment to tackle the issue, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon rode on one of the buses Monday morning, saying it was an “opportunity to pay tribute to the victims.”
The buses will pass near the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul and feature audio excerpts of a South Korean film shown last year depicting the ordeal of the women.
A statue symbolizing comfort women has been set up in front of the embassy, as well as in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan. Japan wants the statues removed.
Passengers on the routes will also pass by spots popular among Japanese tourists, such as the Namdaemun Market and the Lotte department store. Lim acknowledged that the statues could make Japanese travelers uncomfortable, but he said he does not want the issue to be forgotten.
In 2015, Japan and South Korea reached a landmark deal to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the decades-old issue, with Japan disbursing ¥1 billion ($9.1 million) last year to a South Korean fund to provide support to former comfort women and their families.
But the administration of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said that “the majority of the country’s public do not approve of the comfort women agreement sentimentally.”
Lim shares this view, saying, “A new agreement acceptable to the public is needed.”