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Japanese Officials Lobby Palisades Park, New Jersey to Remove Memorial for WWII ‘Comfort Women’

(Photo: Steve Chong/Voices of NY)

Japanese consular and political officials have lobbied and visited authorities in the New Jersey town of Palisades Park in an unsuccessful effort to have a memorial to sex slaves– many of them Korean– raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II, removed.

The New York Times reports that officials at the Japanese consulate in New York began e-mailing Palisades Park city leaders last month to request a meeting.

“I called the secretary and said, ‘What is this about?’ And she said, ‘It’s about Japanese- U.S. relations,'” Palisades Park mayor James Rotundo told the Times.

A delegation led by consul general Shigeyuki Hiroki then visited the town of 19,422 on the other side of the Hudson River from Manhattan, a town where more than half the population is of Korean descent.

The Japanese, said Rotundo, wanted a brass plaque on a block of stone, dedicated in 2010 to the sex slaves, removed. It reads:

“In memory of the more than 200,000 women and girls who were abducted by the armed forces of the government of Imperial Japan, 1930s- 1945. Known as ‘comfort women,’ they endured human rights violations that no peoples should leave unrecognized. Let us never forget the horrors of crimes against humanity.”

Mayor Rotundo says the consul general told him that the Japanese government would plant cherry trees, donate books to the public library “and do some things to show that we’re united in this world and not divided” if the town removed the memorial.

“I couldn’t believe my ears,” deputy mayor Jason Kim, a Korean-American, told the Times. “My blood shot up like crazy.”

Town officials rejected the Japanese request. Then, on May 6, four members of the Japanese Parliament arrived in Palisades Park. They were much less diplomatic, said Rotundo, and tried to argue that the comfort women were not forced into sexual slavery but rather “paid to come and take care of the troops.”

Mayor Rotundo again rejected the Japanese request to remove the memorial.

Korean-American leaders say the Japanese effort to erase the horrific memory of their country’s wartime atrocities is backfiring.

“They’re helping us, actually,” Chejin Park of the Korean American Voters’ Council told the Times. “We can increase awareness of this issue.”

Park said that Korean community organizers in five states have expressed interest in building similar memorials. The Palisades Park monument is currently the only one of its kind in the United States.

In Asia, tensions between Japan and South Korea have heightened after a bronze statue honoring comfort women was erected across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul last December.

Japan says that formal apologies and an offer of a $1 billion victims’ compensation fund should be enough to bury the comfort women issue. But the victims’ families rejected the money because it came from private, not government, sources.

Unlike the Germans, who have a profound national sense of shame about their WWII Nazi atrocities that lingers even to this day– unfairly so, many would argue, the Japanese prefer to sweep their wartime barbarism under the rug, or even deny it, much as Americans deny their wartime atrocities in WWII and subsequent conflicts. Where German school textbooks, for example, examine the Holocaust  and Nazism in excruciating detail, Japanese texts gloss over or omit episodes every bit as horrific as the worst crimes of Nazi Germany. Japanese leaders have even denied their country’s war crimes and said that there was no evidence that comfort women were forced into sexual slavery.

“We have heard how quick Western politicians are to condemn Holocaust deniers, which is good, because that has to be done,” Joseph Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council told the Toronto Star, slamming the double standard in the West when it comes to recognizing German and Japanese war crimes.

“But on the other hand, Western politicians are so silent when they encounter these denials from Japanese right-wing politicians who say the rape of Nanking was justified and these comfort women, these sexual slaves, were willing victims,” he added.

Japanese forces committed some of the most barbaric crimes in modern history, including the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Nanking, China in 1937

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8 Comments

  1. Moguro fukuzouOctober 9, 2012 at 6:34 pmReply

    Koreans always pretend to be looked as victims of stronger powers.

  2. Tsuyoshi SatoOctober 30, 2012 at 1:37 amReply

    We japanese citizens recommend you to look following
    Youtube movie. It will show the exact story of so-called
    comfort women.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bOw0uhgfrY

  3. moguro fukuzoJuly 2, 2014 at 7:51 pmReply

    Korean fathers and mothers sold their daughters to brothel operators. So there was coercion. However, it was not the coercion imposed by the Japanese military and/or government but by the brokers and pimps who played the intermediary role with brothel operators.

    By building this kind of memorial and telling lies with metal plates, you American are injuring Japan’s reputation and hurting us.

    False Accusations of Comfort Women
    http://www.howitzer.jp/korea/page03.html

    • MandyDecember 5, 2015 at 11:23 amReply

      Are you saying that the women who where sold by their parents to brothals gave their consent to be raped time and time again by the soldiers? A young girl who is sold by her family to brothals is NOT giving her consent, she is not saying she wants to have sex 25+ times a day in a strange country.
      There is also primary documents (stuff written at the time) from POWs who have seen and heard the comfort women being raped, beaten, and begging for help. Add in the fact that both Duch and Australian women where kidnapped as POWs and taken to the comfort stations where they witnessed and fell victim to these crimes and your whole argument falls to peices.
      It is unfair to blame all Japanese people for what happened in WWII but it is equally unfair to slander the comfort women because they are speaking up against the systematic abuse they suffered. It is also flat out racist to say that the women are making up these events simply because they are Korean or Chinese.

  4. inusaSeptember 7, 2014 at 12:42 pmReply

    The truth is…
    Japan has always felt inferior to Korea, they have been stealing from and forging their ‘identity’ from Korean culture since before the early half of the 6th century… Yet they have the nerve to hold onto their foolish ‘pride.’ Why not just man up as a country and admit to your crimes? Because if you think the Coreans ( yes that’s the original spelling before the Japanese decided that they had to come first in the alphabetical order, so mature, so civilized) will ever Ever forget what your scum ancestors did, you can think AGAIN!

    btw… Dokdo is Korean territory!

  5. humanrighttiananmen64September 14, 2014 at 9:48 pmReply

    James Rotundo is not a real fighter for human rights, but a politician who flatters a political Korean lobby for votes in the next election. He always turns his face away from the inconvenient truth, Korean comfort women enslaved for the US military and the Korean Government itself during and after the Korean War, and he has never tackled it seriously. Why isn’t the Korean American community arguing against it ? Why is he tolerating American and Korean defenders of rape while criticizing the imperial Japan of 70 years ago? He is not a real peace maker. He just stirs up ill feeling and unnecessary tension between ethnic residents in the name of human rights, only for his political points. Please read the following article by Washington Post on Aug.19, 2014. It criticizes politicians like him for pandering extremely to Korean political lobby for votes.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/pandering-to-northern-vas-koreans-is-going-to-extremes/2014/08/19/f9032eea-271e-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html

  6. MandyDecember 5, 2015 at 11:40 amReply

    I understand why a nation would be so ashamed of their past actions that they would want it buried as far away from pubic light as is possible. Many nations have commited horrible acts at one time or another, for example the first white people to settle in the US killed a very large amount of the native people in an assortment of nasty ways, the first white people to settle Australia did the same thing, South Africa has the horrors of the Apartide (sorry for my poor spelling) laws, and of course Germany is scared by the Nazi Party.
    However the single worst thing that any nation could do after an awful event like this is attempt to deny it and forget about it. To forget these horrible events is to ensure they will reoccur. The fact that Germany is so willing to study the Nazi period is a very strong indication that it will never relive those events in the future. I fear that by trying to deny what happened with comfort women Japan will go on to repeat their mistakes. History must be told in its blunt, brutal, and cruel truth in order for us to learn from it.

    • Brett WilkinsDecember 5, 2015 at 1:15 pmReplyAuthor

      The stark difference between the way WWII atrocities are remembered and taught (or not) in Japan and Germany is indeed instructive and, I feel in the case of Japan, quite worrying. I’m pretty sure neither Germany nor Japan will never start another war, but Germany has definitely been much better at honestly addressing its crimes than has Japan. Or the United States, for that matter!

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