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Japanese councilman opposes Glendale's comfort women memorial

November 18, 2013|By Brittany Levine
  • City Councilman Joji Tarumoto, left, of Higashiosaka, Japan, visited Glendale.
City Councilman Joji Tarumoto, left, of Higashiosaka, Japan, visited… (Raul Roa / Glendale News…)

A councilman from Glendale's sister city in Japan tried to persuade city officials last week to remove a statue honoring women forced into prostitution during World War II by the Japanese Army.

His plea Friday came during the first face-to-face meeting between officials from both cities since Glendale installed the statue in July. Some officials from the city of Higashiosaka are considering dissolving the 50-year sister-city relationship.

Proponents say the statue honors an estimated 200,000 women from Korea, China, Vietnam and other countries who were taken as sex slaves by the Japanese military. But Councilman Joji Tarumoto and others say the women willingly had sex with soldiers and the monument is propagating a false version of history.

Opponents are angered by the statue even as many former comfort women have publicly shared disturbing stories of their servitude. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs says on its website that some women based in war-area brothels were “deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery.” 

Tarumoto said during an interview with the Glendale News-Press that his top priority was to persuade  officials to remove the 1,110-pound statue of a girl in traditional Korean dress sitting next to an empty chair, and repair a fractured relationship.

About a third of the 42-member Higashiosaka council would like to cut ties with Glendale, and a basketball game planned for August in Glendale between Higashiosaka and Glendale children was canceled because of the controversy over the statue, Tarumoto said. 

Higashiosaka exchange students plan to visit Glendale in March, but their trip may be canceled, he added.

Although Tarumoto, who represents a conservative political party, originally wanted to dissolve the sister-city relationship, he's changed his mind. 

“It's easy to dissolve, but instead of dissolving, it's better to think about the city of Glendale and Higashiosaka's future,” he said through his translator, Terumi Imamura. 

The majority of the Glendale City Council has said the statue would not be removed. Some Japanese American groups have publicly stated they support the statue and attended its July 30 unveiling ceremony. 

Councilman Frank Quintero, who met Tarumoto with City Manager Scott Ochoa, Councilwoman Laura Friedman and Community Relations Coordinator Dan Bell, said he made it clear to Tarumoto that he wanted to rebuild the relationship, but the statue was staying. 

“We're not taking the monument down,” Quintero said after the meeting. 

After Mayor Dave Weaver wrote in an October letter to his counterpart in Higashiosaka that he regretted Glendale's installation of the statue, Korean Americans protested outside of City Hall.

Weaver was the sole council member who opposed the roughly $30,000 statue, which was paid for by Glendale's Korean-American Sister City Assn. and other Korean groups. 

Tarumoto said he did not plan to see the statue during his visit and said repairing relations would be difficult if the comfort-women statue remains, but he planned to encourage other Higashiosaka officials to continue open dialogue with Glendale.

What happens next is for the Higashiosaka council to decide, he said.

Levine is a reporter for Times Community News.

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brittany.levine@latimes.com

Google+ /Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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