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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#463(Special)】Glendale Mayor Briefed on Truth about Comfort Women

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2017.08.30 (Wed)

August 29, 2017

     On August 25, I got a meeting with Vartan Gharpetian, mayor of Glendale in California. In the city close to Los Angeles, a statue of a comfort woman for the wartime Imperial Japanese Army was erected at a city-owned park in front of the Glendale Public Library on July 30, 2013. It is the same statue as the one placed illegally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Making a difference from the Seoul statue, the Glendale statue is accompanied by a monument with a groundless inscription on comfort women using such words as “sex slave,” “snatched from home,” “girl” (as distinguished from woman) and “more than 200,000.”
     Local informants told me that Korean activist organizations successfully erected the statue by likening comfort women to victims of the Armenian Genocide that allegedly occurred in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Armenian-Americans account for some 30% of Glendale residents.

Statue impedes Japan-U.S. friendship
     My meeting with the Glendale mayor was prolonged to 80 minutes from the originally planned 60 minutes as we had a good conversation. I prepared an English speech that an interpreter read in 25 minutes. As a Japanese scholar who has researched the comfort women issue for more than 25 years, I in the speech explained how the comfort women monument inscription runs counter to facts, quoting many theories of Japanese and Korean scholars. I also emphasized that comfort women were registered prostitutes under the supervision of the military, differing completely from victims of the Armenian Genocide or the Jewish Holocaust. Lastly, I made the following remarks:
      “The presence of the comfort woman statue of a young girl in your city’s public space is perceived by most Japanese as a manifestation of your city’s anti-Japanese posture. Its presence poses a major barrier against friendship between your city and Japan and it is also an impediment to friendship between the United States and Japan.
     “We do not seek your support for our position in the complicated historical controversy between Japan and South Korea. However, we do hope you will understand the Japanese argument and choose to avoid taking sides. We also trust you will take a common-sense stance to promote goodwill and friendship between the United States and Japan as well as the United States and South Korea. I do hope you will consider this matter from the standpoint of U.S.-Japan friendship.”

Urge city council to remove statue
     The mayor told me that he heard such story for the first time, that he had no intent to become a judge to decide whether Japan or South Korea is right, and that the city did not discriminate any nation. Although I had anticipated that the mayor might cite South Korean positions to rebut my story, the mayor did not do so.
     In response, I said: “I am pleased to hear that you have no intent to become a judge. As far as the statue exists in a city-owned park, however, your city may be taken as believing that the South Korean position is right. I want you to move the statue outside the city-owned land.” The mayor said that he had no authority to do so and that the city council would have to vote for the removal.
     The mayor is one of the five council members. If we explain facts to the remaining four council members in a proper fashion, the comfort woman statue may be able to be relocated. Recognizing such possibility, the Japanese consulate-general in Los Angeles and local residents concerned are making various approaches. While wishing that a good result will come out, I left the United States for home.
Tsutomu Nishioka is a member of the Planning Committee at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University.