SF To Install First Major U.S. Memorial To WWII 'Comfort Women'

The first-ever major U.S. city memorial to "comfort women"—women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Army in World War II—is set to be installed in the extension to St. Mary's Square in Chinatown.

Yesterday, the memorial received its final approval from the San Francisco Arts Commission, and will now move to the installation phase. 

According to the Examiner, the memorial, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2015, is being spearheaded by retired San Francisco Superior Court judges Julie Tang and Lillian Sing, who co-chair the Comfort Women Justice Coalition. The coalition will fund the creation and installation of the statue, which was created by sculptor Steven Whyte.

Julie Tang (left) and Lillian Sing (right) with Stanford students at an exhibit of memorial proposals. | Photo: Comfort Women Justice Coalition/Facebook

The Arts Commission approved the statue despite receiving more than 200 emails in opposition to the statue's installation, which a spokesperson told the Examiner were "mostly from Japan."

Survivors and their families have argued that the memorial is necessary because Japan has never fully repented for its behavior during the war. However, some Japanese and Japanese-American people have disputed the claim that “hundreds of thousands” of women were enslaved (as the statue's proposed text reads), or argued that its message is divisive.

Others in the Japanese-American community, including former Congressman Mike Honda and Karen Korematsu of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, have expressed support for the memorial.

The Arts Commission said it reached out to a number of communities, including the Japanese-American community, in creating the text for the memorial. It will read as follows:

“This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls euphemistically called 'Comfort Women,' who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in thirteen Asian-Pacific countries from 1931 to 1945.

Most of these women died during their wartime captivity. This dark history was largely hidden for decades until the 1990s, when the survivors courageously broke their silence. They helped move the world to declare that sexual violence as a strategy of war is a crime against humanity for which governments must be held accountable.

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of these women and to eradicating sexual violence and sex trafficking throughout the world.

—Gift to the city from the Comfort Women Justice Coalition"

The memorial, which depicts a trio of women with linked hands as a fourth woman looks on, is set to be installed in September. 

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