Glendale's Japan sister city deal may collapse

"Comfort women" statue may be reason Japanese town might severe ties.

August 23, 2013|By Brittany Levine,
  • Bok-dong Kim, a comfort woman survivor, is directly behind the monument during the unveiling ceremony for the Comfort Women Memorial Monument in Glendale on Tuesday, July 30, 2013.
Bok-dong Kim, a comfort woman survivor, is directly behind… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

A Japanese city is considering dissolution of its sister-city relationship with Glendale, a move its officials say is unrelated to the installation of a controversial “comfort women” memorial, despite statements in the local media and a terse letter sent by its mayor decrying the decision.

The memorial, erected last month in Central Park and donated by the Korean Sister City Assn., honors women coerced into prostitution by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Though generally accepted by historians, the issue remains controversial in the city of Higashiosaka, which is about 300 miles southeast of Tokyo, as well as the rest of Japan.

“[The statue] doesn’t matter,” said Rika Yomeda, chief of the cultural and international affairs division, through a translator by phone. She added that ending the 53-year-old relationship is just one of many options on the table.

But as Glendale prepared to install the monument, Higashiosaka’s mayor wrote an angry letter to city officials here.


“I find it an extremely deplorable situation and the people of Higashiosaka are hurt at a decision by your city to install a ‘comfort women’ statue,” Mayor Yoshikazu Noda wrote in a July 25 letter, just five days before Glendale unveiled the monument — the first such memorial on public land on the West Coast — before roughly 500 people in Central Park.

A few days after the ceremony, a leading Japanese news agency, Kyodo News International, reported that a senior Higashiosaka official “indicated the dispute may lead to the termination of the sister city relationship.”

The “comfort women” issue has been controversial for years as some Japanese deny that women were taken as sex slaves. Statue opponents, who contend the women willingly worked as army prostitutes, launched a letter-writing campaign that clogged Glendale inboxes with thousands of emails opposing the monument.

And nearly 100 statue opponents packed Glendale City Hall in early July when the Council approved installing the 1,100-pound statue.

While some women did work as prostitutes for soldiers, historians estimate that 200,000 women — some as young as 14 — from Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries were indeed taken as sex slaves.

Some were kidnapped while others were promised nursing jobs but found a different fate on the front lines.

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