South Korean protesters care for 'comfort woman' statue
She sits there alone, day and night, no matter what the weather. Her gaze is fixed at the building just across the street –- the Japanese Embassy.
She’s a bronze statue in the shape of a young girl, placed here last month as a reminder of the 200,000 Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II.
The life-size statue was placed in downtown Seoul to mark the 1,000th weekly protest that a handful of surviving former sex slaves, known here as “comfort women,” had waged at the embassy. Commissioned to a husband-and-wife sculptor team and placed by a nongovernmental organization in Seoul, the statue has prompted the Japanese government to call for its removal.
For activists, the statue is more than a symbol. It is a cause to be kept alive. In the frigid days of winter, they have assembled each week to dress the statue as they would a child sentry.
The statue is dressed in a woolen cap, scarf and mittens, with a blanket wrapped around her lap.
“People have said that the girl looked so cold, so the day after the 1,000th protest I went to put on a hat or a scarf on the statue,” said a blogger who goes by the name of Mongu. “Then I saw a scarf, wrapped around the girl’s bare feet. I was very touched by that, and decided to carry on with ... the outfit.”
Now, every week, new clothes adorn the statue. Some passersby even leave pocket money by the figure.
Mongu said it’s important to show South Korean support for the former comfort women.
“From the Japanese Embassy’s point of view, they can see that Koreans are not neglecting the statue but tending to it with care, treating her like a family.”
The sculptor said he is satisfied with the buzz his creation has made. “I’ve gotten comments from people that they are moved to tears when they see the dressed girl,” Kim Wun-sung said.
But the statue has also been a backdrop for violence. This week, a man who said his grandmother had been a comfort woman stood near the statue as he lobbed several incendiary devices at the Japanese Embassy.
None exploded. The man faces criminal charges.
-- Jung-yoon ChoiPhoto: The statue in Seoul that commemorates Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army during World War II is dressed in a woolen cap, scarf and mittens, with a blanket wrapped around her lap. Credit: Matt Douma / For The Times