This sure isn't your typical boring public art…in a bold symbolic gesture this week, a life-size bronze statue named the "Peace Monument" was erected by comfort women protesters in front of the Japanese embassy in central Seoul. Unsurprisingly, it has quickly become a sensation both for ordinary citizens as well as top-level politicians from Korea and Japan.
Japan's spokesman called the statue "extremely regrettable," but South Korean officials have stated they have no intention of forcing citizens to remove the object: "The victims are over 80 years old and passing away, and the government is not in a position to tell them to remove the statue. Rather than insisting on the removal of the statue, the Japanese government should seriously ask itself why these victims have held their weekly rallies for 20 years, never missing a week, and whether it really cannot find a way to restore the honor these woman so earnestly want.”
Yes, it's true these women and their supporters have protested in front of Japan's embassy in Seoul every week since January 8, 1992. Though there have been responses by the Japanese government over the years, no formal reparations have been discussed or offered. And with the many tumultuous changes in Japan's leadership every couple of years, some prime ministers and government officials have unfortunately denied the existence of comfort women, despite an abundance of solid evidence over the decades.
I wonder if Taiwan's recent protest against Japan is a timely coincidence with this brazen statue: though Korea was the main country where Japan obtained most of its 200,000 sex slaves during WWII, Taiwan and the Philippines were also part of the tragedy.
Regardless, President Lee Myung-bak's trip to Tokyo is still on schedule for this weekend. Business will go on as usual, as Korea and Japan have so many economic, political, and social ties now. But no matter what, this issue will always be a testy subject between the two neighbors until something is resolved in a completely public and honest manner.
Most of these women have passed, but there are still 63 alive in Korea today. I hope some of them get to have closure on this issue before it's too late.