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Glendale approves Korean 'comfort woman' statue despite protest

The controversial piece is slated to be unveiled later this month.

July 09, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • A member of the public walks up to give his opinion about Glendale's 'comfort woman' statue during Glendale City Council's meeting at Glendale City Hall on Tuesday, July 9; 2013.
A member of the public walks up to give his opinion about… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Despite significant opposition both overseas and locally, the City Council Tuesday approved a 1,110-pound monument honoring Korean women taken as sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II.

Members of the council received hundreds of emails — many appearing to come from Japan — and listened to dozens of speakers at the Tuesday meeting who claimed the so-called "comfort women" were not indentured servants, but ordinary prostitutes.

Glendale has become the latest American city to set the scene for a decades-old controversy between some Japanese who deny their army abducted up to 200,000 women from Korea, China and other countries as sex slaves and Koreans who want to raise awareness of the human rights violations.

"Rather than using this as a wedge to drive us apart… look at this monument not as a blame or shame to any nation, but to remind us that war has consequences," said Councilwoman Laura Friedman.

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With the council's approval, Glendale is set to be the first city on the West Coast to install a memorial on public land. Last year, a Japanese delegation came to New Jersey to request a monument in Palisades Park be removed, sparking a desire among Korean-American groups to erect even more memorials.

Glendale's planned monument is a replica of a statue that sits in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea. Surviving comfort women often protest at the monument, which features a young woman in a traditional Korean dress with a bird on her shoulder sitting next to an empty chair.

A group of activists who believe the women willingly worked as prostitutes — although that assertion has been denounced by Japanese political officials and historians — has been coordinating a letter-writing campaign against the memorial.

It began as a trickle, but transformed into a tsunami this week. Mayor Dave Weaver said he received 350 emails opposing the monument, all appearing to come from Japanese individuals.

Then on Tuesday, about 100 people packed the council chambers. The majority of the 27 speakers were Japanese-Americans, many from Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Pasadena, opposing the monument. They denied that the Japanese military coerced women into sexual servitude and said a U.S. city should not meddle in Japanese and Korean affairs.

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