2017-8-23 16:20


Buses in Seoul install 'comfort women' statues to honour former sex slaves

Statues installed on five buses with the support of the Seoul mayor – although use of public space to highlight this wartime atrocity has angered Japan

Buses serving several routes in central Seoul have acquired a new and highly controversial passenger: a barefoot “comfort woman“, wearing a traditional hanbok dress with her hands resting on her knees.

Appearing on the front seat of buses in the South Korean capital earlier this week, the statues were installed by the Dong-A Transit company as a potent reminder of an unresolved wartime atrocity whose roots lie in Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

The term “comfort women“ is a euphemism for as many as 200,000 girls and young women, mostly from the Korean peninsula, who were coerced into working in Japanese frontline brothels before and during the second world war.

“It is designed to remind South Koreans of suffering the women went through,“ said Rim Jin-wook, the head of Dong-A Transit, the bus company behind the statue passengers.

Seoul’s mayor has supported the scheme, which will run to the end of September, by riding on one of the buses and saying it was an “opportunity to pay tribute to the victims“.

However, the use of public spaces to highlight such a controversial issue has sparked criticism in Japan, which claims that the statues contravene the spirit of a 2015 agreement that was supposed to settle the comfort women controversy “finally and irreversibly“.

The agreement included an apology for the women’s ordeal, but Japan refused to accept legal responsibility, maintaining its official position that all compensation claims were settled by a bilateral peace treaty in 1965. In addition, Tokyo committed to setting up a $9mn fund to care for the dwindling number of surviving sex slaves.

In return, the countries agreed to refrain from criticising each other over wartime sexual slavery at international forums.

But the biggest obstacle to fully implementing the agreement is a Japanese demand that the South Korean government order the removal of comfort women statues across the country.


One particularly contentious sculpture has been outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul since 2011. Former sex slaves and campaigners caused a major diplomatic spat in 2011 when they installed a bronze life-sized statue, similar to the plastic iterations that have now appeared on buses, and placed it in direct view of diplomats and embassy workers.

It was designed by artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, who told CNN that they had created the memorial to mark the 1,000th demonstration by surviving comfort women outside the embassy, which have been taking place every Wednesday 8 January since 1992.

The most controversial “comfort woman“ statue outside South Korea is one that sits in Glendale, California, erected in 2013. In April this year, the US supreme court denied a review of a controversial case seeking its removal, ending a tense three-year debate by local residents Michiko Shiota Gingery and Koichi Mera, who were hoping to “defend the honour of Japan“ by having it taken down.
韩国外最具争议性的“慰安妇“人像位于加利福尼亚州的格兰岱尔市,于2013年立起。今年4月,美国最高法院否决一争议诉讼,保留了慰安妇人像,结束了由当地居民Michiko Shiota Gingery和Koichi Mera发起的持续了3年之久的激烈争论,她们希望拆除人像,“保卫日本的荣誉“。

In South Korea, with only an estimated 37 “comfort women“ survivors left, local communities are now stepping up their campaigns to give more visibility to the women in cities across the country, to complement their standing within the country’s political firmament.

In addition to installing statues on five of the city’s buses, there are plans to make every 14 August a national day of remembrance and to open a museum dedicated to the comfort women in 2020.

The bus statues will stay in place until the end of September before going on permanent display in public spaces around the country.

According to the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, nine new statues were due to be placed in locations in Seoul and other cities by the time South Korea celebrated the anniversary of its liberation from Japanese colonial rule this week, bringing the total number in South Korea to about 80.
据韩国受害慰安妇援助团体“挺身队问题对策协议会“(the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan)表示,本周韩国解放周年纪念日结束后,将有9座新的人像被安放在首尔和其他城市,届时韩国的慰安妇人像数量将会达到80座。

“It’s so heartbreaking to see this girl statue, partly because she looks about my age,“ Jennifer Lee, a 19-year-old passenger, told AFP. “It horrifies me just to imagine what these women went through.“