Hidden Toronto: the Comfort Woman Statue

Toronto’s bronze memorial to the comfort women forced into sexual slavery during the Second World War was the third to be unveiled outside Korea


What Pyeonghwaui Sonyeosang, also known as the Comfort Woman Statue, to commemorate the suffering of women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese army 

Where In front of the Korean Canadian Cultural Association Centre, 1133 Leslie

Why you should check it out

The 19th-century Prussian general and philosopher Carl von Clausewitz characterized war as the “continuation of state policy by other means.” What did he mean by “other means?” He might have meant the exchange of atrocity, often by people who were otherwise decent and humane.

During the Second World War between 20,000 and 410,000 women were either enticed by promises of employment, abducted or forced into becoming lanfu – “comfort women” – for the Japanese armed forces. 

They worked in at least 125 “comfort stations” in every one of the Japanese occupied territories in Asia and the South Pacific. Most were from Korea, China and the Philippines. 

The UN Global Tribunal on Violations of Women’s Human Rights estimated that by the end of World War II, fewer than 10 per cent of the comfort women had survived. The Japanese Kyodo News Agency revealed later that the Imperial Japanese Army in Qingdao, China requested one comfort woman for every 70 soldiers.

Toronto’s bronze memorial to the comfort women, which was unveiled in 2016, is a replica of the one created by husband-and-wife team Kim Eun-Sung and Kim Seo-Kyung and placed in protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in 2011. 

Toronto was the third city outside Korea – and the first Canadian city – to erect the monument. Vancouver was originally slated to be the first to unveil the statue, but those plans were cancelled in the face of widespread Japanese community opposition.

The bird on the statue’s shoulder represents freedom and peace, which is why the sculpture is sometimes referred to as the Statue Of Peace.

The woman depicted in the statue is young, no more than a teenager. Her hands are clenched; because she is cold or because she is afraid? Does the empty chair beside her represent the women who died or is it for the ones who survived? 

The NFB released The Apology, a documentary by Tiffany Hsiung, now online at TVO, that was filmed in Korea, China and the Philippines. The stories of the former comfort women interviewed, now in their 80s and 90s, are harrowing: beatings, rape, being forced to kill the children they bore and living in silence for years afterwards. But despite their age, they mounted a campaign for a full apology from the government of Japan.  

After more than 22 years of demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul and the presentation of a petition with 1.5 million signatures at the UN Commission of Human Rights in Geneva, the survivors succeeded at last. In 2015, the 1993 Kono Statement – which admitted that women were coerced into working in brothels during World War II – was enlarged to a full apology accompanied by a 1 billion yen (about $9 million) payment of compensation. 

There is no end to massacres in world history. In 1950 between 163 and 300 South Korean refugees were killed by a U.S. air attack, artillery and gunfire at the railroad bridge of No Gun Ri. 

This “event” was hardly known outside Korea until 1999 when U.S. President Bill Clinton conceded that “things happened which were wrong.” 

For this massacre, too, there is a memorial, as there are memorials in Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki where between 90,000 and 126,000 – mostly civilians (22,000 of them Korean) – were killed by American atomic bombs.

Check out a video about the Comfort Woman Statue memorial below:

Read all of NOW’s Hidden Toronto stories here

Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature exploring the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks. Read it online each Sunday or in print every Thursday.

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