Palisades Park—Korean population, 52%—has erected a monument for the “comfort women.”
Mayor James Rotundo of Palisades Park said the lobbying began obliquely late last month. Officials at the Japanese consulate in New York sent e-mails requesting a meeting with borough administrators.
“I called the secretary and said, ‘What is this about?’ ” the mayor recalled in an interview, “and she said, ‘It’s about Japanese-U.S. relations,’ and I said: ‘Oh. Well, O.K.’ ”
The first meeting, on May 1, began pleasantly enough, he said. The delegation was led by the consul general, Shigeyuki Hiroki, who talked about his career, including his work in Afghanistan — “niceties,” Mr. Rotundo said.
Then the conversation took a sudden turn, Mr. Rotundo said. The consul general pulled out two documents and read them aloud.
One was a copy of a 1993 statement from Yohei Kono, then the chief cabinet secretary, in which the Japanese government acknowledged the involvement of military authorities in the coercion and suffering of comfort women.
The other was a 2001 letter to surviving comfort women from Junichiro Koizumi, then the prime minister, apologizing for their treatment.
Mr. Hiroki then said the Japanese authorities “wanted our memorial removed,” Mr. Rotundo recalled
In return for removing the statue, the Japanese offered to plant cherry trees (sure that would have gone over well in a town that’s over 50% Korean), donate books to the library (“So Far from the Bamboo Grove” for all the little boys and girls!), and “do some things to show that we’re united in this world and not divided,” which one can only hope was not an offer to rebuild the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. No mention of any offers to build a Shinto shrine overlooking the GWB, but perhaps it just got left out of the meeting minutes.
Anyway, when the borough rejected the Japanese offer, the Japanese reponded by sending a delegation to Palisades Park
to present Twenty One Demands to reconfirm their position on the monument:
The second delegation arrived on May 6 and was led by four members of the Japanese Parliament. Their approach was less diplomatic, Mr. Rotundo said. The politicians, members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, tried, in asking that the monument be removed, to convince the Palisades Park authorities that comfort women had never been forcibly conscripted as sex slaves.
“They said the comfort women were a lie, that they were set up by an outside agency, that they were women who were paid to come and take care of the troops,” the mayor related. “I said, ‘We’re not going to take it down, but thanks for coming.’ ”
And they wonder why people doubt the sincerity of Japanese apologies.
Anyway, there’s reportedly a signature campaign underway in Japan to get the monument removed. Good luck with that.
Nikon, too, has cancelled a photo exhibit by a Korean photographer on the comfort women. Sheesh.
As far as diaspora monuments meant as a big “F You” to foreign nations with which said diaspora has issues, the Palisades Park monument isn’t nearly as cool as Hermann the German. And yes, there’s a lot being left out of the “comfort women” narrative, so much so that one can wonder whether the monument is a call for justice or an exercise in ethnic axe-grinding.
Still, for a country renowned for its politeness, Japan can engage in some pretty appauling diplomacy sometimes. Who at the Japanese embassy thought it was a good idea to get involved in this thing?