Buses in Seoul have begun carrying new passengers — statues of “comfort women,” a euphemism for the estimated 200,000 South Korean girls and young women who were subjected to sexual slavery in Japanese brothels before and during the Second World War. The statues, which have been endorsed by the city’s mayor as an “opportunity to pay tribute to the victims,” have proved immensely popular in South Korea, but less so in Japan where the government has argued that the statues constitute a violation of a 2015 agreement in which Japan formally apologized for what happened to the women. In the agreement, Japan had agreed to apologize and set up a $9 million fund to care for the surviving comfort women, and in return South Korea agreed to not criticize Japan over the issue in international forums.
The sincerity of the Japanese apology, however, was tested only two months after the supposedly “[final] and [irreversible]” agreement, as deputy foreign minister Shinsuke Sugiyama declared to the United Nations that there was no evidence that the Japanese government had “forced comfort women into sexual servitude.” South Korea, meanwhile, has taken to erecting statues of comfort women across the country — including a bronze life-sized statue just outside of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
The new project by the Dong-A Transit company has installed statues of comfort women on five of the city’s buses, with the goal of making August 14 an official holiday in remembrance of comfort women and eventually opening a museum to spread awareness about their plight. The statues will circulate the city until the end of September, and then be put on permanent display in public spaces across the country.
“It’s so heartbreaking to see this girl statue, partly because she looks about my age,” said 19-year-old bus passenger Jennifer Lee to Agence France-Presse. “It horrifies me just to imagine what these women went through.”
Read the full story at The Guardian.