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Syndic Literary Journal

Vacant Seat

  Written by TAKI YURIKO

Translated by John and Deborah Saxon

It’s called the “Girl of Peace Statue.”
She’s about 120 cm high, and she is seated.
Next to her is another seat
With no one there.

She looks as if to say,
“Come sit with me. Look from where I’m sitting
At history and the world.”

During World War II,
Front line comfort woman brothels
Were established by
The Japanese Imperial Army
To keep their soldiers free from STDs
They might otherwise get
From raping area women
Near the battle zone.
The girls taken there, young and chaste,
Were deceived, frightened into going,
Transported by ship or truck
To parts unknown,
Closeted in individual tiny rooms,
Then forced to sleep with
A new Japanese soldier
Every 15 to 30 minutes.
All day, every day.
Because this operation was classified,
The girls were strictly controlled
To prevent their escape.

Each unit’s movement took their girls
Further and further away.
Many girls lost their lives.
This statue memorializes those girls.

Japan lost. The war ended.
Some mass solider suicides took the girls’ lives also.
Those still alive were left behind.
Some who could not return home
Married local men to survive.
Some became Allied POWs
Along with the Japanese soldiers
Before eventual repatriation home.
Others returned home by themselves,
But none dared tell a soul
Of their days in hell.
They lived in silence.
These victims hid their truth quietly
As though criminals.

More than 50 years passed.
With their tortured secrets too heavy
To carry to the grave
These now elderly women
Softly raised their voices.
Finally the world knew their reality.
Other witnesses began coming forward as well.

The statue’s first incarnation,
Which symbolized the Korean women
Who have been waiting for
Expressions of remorse,
Words of apology
And lawful reparations
From the Japanese government,
Was installed in front of the Japanese embassy
In Seoul, South Korea.

The married couple who created the statue
Explained several of its details:
Savagely cut hair –
“Not braids and pigtails, but instead
The disheveled, tangled mess of hair from the
‘Forced kidnapping of these girls.’
by the Japanese Imperial Army ”
An old woman’s shadow,
Stretching down the back of the young girl –
“She never broke her silence until very late in life.”
The white butterfly on her chest –
“The hope for restoration of honor,
For rebirth into a new world.”
The bird resting on the girl’s shoulder –
“The living victims’ bond with the dead,
Who silently took their agony
To the grave.”
But this poet also sees,
That this quietly nestled bird also comforts
The loneliness of this girl
Who has no one to sit next to her.
Bare feet with chafed heels –
“Their grim and harsh life”
Tightly clenched fists –
“At first it was only one hand resting on the other.
When others tried to prevent the monument’s installation,
They became tightly clenched fists, determined not to succumb
To the Japanese government.”
Dangling Heels –
“Heels dangling above the earth
Are the girls who returned to their home country,
But could not go home:
‘These girls were abandoned,
By the Korean government’s irresponsibility
And by Korean societal prejudice.’ ”
Both the Korean government and society
Have helped delay the resolution of their disgrace.
In this way, the artist couple summed up
The emotionally charged statue of this little girl,
Adding only that “We have the statue’s mold.
More can be made, any time, on demand.”

In rapid succession,
The “Girl of Peace Statue” was installed
Not only in Korea, but also China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan,
The United States, Australia, Canada,
The Philippines, and Germany.

By 2017 there were more than
50 installations. Plans for Malaysia and Indonesia
Had also begun.

Locals wanting these statues
Order these statues.
All expenses are donated
By locals
And by human rights organizations.

The creators of the “Girl of Peace Statue”, Kim Eun-sung and Kim Seo-yung, have made other famous works:

  1. “A Little Girl’s Dream” – a statue of the death of girls in Korea, run over by an American armored vehicle.
  2. “Vietnam’s Pieta” – a statue erected in Vietnam, calls to account the artist’s home country
    for the genocide of 9,000 Vietnamese civilians, including girls and babies, committed by Korean soldiers during the Vietnam war (350,000 Korean soldiers participated In the Vietnam war at the USA’s request). The “Vietnam’s Pieta” statue depicts a mother and a baby in her arms, slaughtered on Mother Earth.



Kim Bok-dong died
On January 28th, 2019, at the age of 93.
She was sometimes asked
Who she would want to be in her next life.
She answered simply, “I would want to be a mom.”
Smiling, she added, “When I die,
Cremate me and scatter my ashes.
I would need no grave, no one to protect me.
Burn me up on that mountain, and I would
Flutter everywhere, like a butterfly.”

Kim Bok-dong’s wish
For the comfort women victims
Is for the Japanese government
To fully admit the deception and forced kidnapping
By the Japanese Imperial Army.
Without it, none of these women’s honor
Will ever be really restored, even in death.
More than any blanket apology,
She wanted individual apologies
To each and every victim
From the Japanese government in place of
The Japanese Imperial Army.

Kim Bok-dong was born and raised in
South Gyeongsang Province Yangsan in Korea.
After fourth grade, she began helping with the housework.
In 1941 she was 15.
Japanese wearing yellow uniforms
Without rank insignia (probably army personnel)
Arrived at her house
With the ward mayor and the neighborhood group leader.
“You only have to work
Three years at the factory
Making army uniforms,” they told her.
“But if you don’t, we will banish your family
And confiscate everything they own.”
Thinking that she would surely not die in the factory,
Kim Bok-dong agreed.
Instead, the unthinkable happened.
She was taken via Taiwan
To China’s Guangdong province unit,
Then further to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sumatra,
Indonesia, Java, Bangkok, Singapore
And even the Dutch East Indies.
Each time, she was taken by truck
Without knowing her next destination.
She was a Japanese Imperial Army sex slave
Until the end of the war.

After her release, she at long last
Made it back to the Korean Peninsula,
Back home alive,
At the age of 23.
From then until age 66,
She had no husband, no children.
She had a job in Pusan, and she always lived alone.

When Kim Bok-dong was 66,
Emboldened by the courageous testimony
Of other WW II comfort women,
She also began telling her story.

As more Japanese Imperial Army
“Comfort women” victims testified,
Kim Bok-dong was led to begin a peace movement.
For all the victims of sexual slavery
Who had died in painful silence,
Who still lived in silent misery,
She became a symbol;
She gave them a voice.
Driven by her deep desire
That no one would ever again be, as she was,
A victim of wartime sexual violence,
The 66-year-old Kim Bok-dong,
Visited the UN,
The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna,
The United States, Japan, France
And other countries around the world.
In each place, she appealed
For “World Without War,”
Pressing the issue of
The Japanese Imperial Army’s
Program of sexual slavery during World War II.

Further, she also focused attention on
Sexual violence in war-torn places throughout the world today
Such as Congo and Uganda.

Kim Bok-dong’s strong appeals
For immediate solutions to these problems
Moved the international community to action.

In 2015, at the age of 89, Kim Bok-dong was selected
As one of the “100 Heroes Fighting For Freedom,”
Chosen jointly by the international journalist organization
“Reporters Without Borders”
And France’s AFP News.
She joined such luminaries as
South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
And America’s black human rights crusader,
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Even more striking is Kim Bok-dong’s legacy:


From the funds she alone worked to collect,
$30,000 USD was donated to victims of
The Great East Japan Earthquake
And to students of the Korean school in Japan.
Approximately $55,000 USD was donated
To the Butterfly Fund (set up on March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day)
To help female victims of wartime sexual violence.

She publicly stated
That if some future Japanese government
Would formally acknowledge and apologize
Regarding the Japanese Imperial Army’s
Imprisonment of women for sexual slavery,
She would donate all her consolation funds
To activities for supporting
The victims of wartime sexual violence
In Congo’s civil war.

Apology as a Korean
She, a victim of wartime sexual violence,
Offered heartfelt words of apology
To the Vietnamese women
Who suffered violence from
Korean Army soldiers during the Vietnam War.

The funeral for Kim Bok-dong was held
In front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Justice Minister Pak San-gi,
The Chairman of the Diet, and many Diet members
From both the ruling and opposition parties
Came to pay their respects.
Ex-UN Secretary General Ban Kee-moon also came to pay his respects.
The next day, January 29th,
President Moon Jae-In came to pay his respects.
He prostrated himself, acknowledged her brave testimony
And the worldwide movement she spawned.
Several days later,
The BBC (UK) broadcast a retrospective of Kim Bok-dong’s life.


More and more museums worldwide
Are exhibiting the “Girl of Peace Statue”.
But for each exhibition,
The Japanese embassy or consulate there
Issues objections to the exhibit’s published explanatory notes,※1
Always requesting the monument’s removal.
Ironically, such objections stir up more interest,
Making even more monuments spring up
In every corner of the world,
Like mushrooms after a rain.
Kim Bock-dong has passed away.
However, the “Girl of Peace Statue” continues her mission,
Highlighting the sexual slavery system
Employed by the WW II armies
Of both Japan and Germany ※2
With this statue, the imprisoned women
of these armies’ public comfort brothels, ※3
Call out their silent grief
In support of today’s women
Who continue to be raped
By battlefield soldiers.
These victims lived instead
Like criminals in silence. 
This seated girl shoulders the burden of their history,
A “Remembrance of their Shared World at War.”
She sits, fists clenched in anger
That no one has rescued
The female sexual slaves
From Syrian and Isis soldiers.

※1 Examples:

Example #1: Here is a description of the Peace Monument
Posted by the City of Glendale, California, in the USA:

                                                        Peace Monument

In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia, to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945.

And in celebration of proclamation of “Comfort Women Day” by the City of Glendale on July 30, 2012, and of passing of House Resolution 121 by the United States Congress on July 30, 2007, urging the Japanese Government to accept historical responsibility for these crimes.

It is our sincere hope that these unconscionable violations of human rights shall never recur.

July 30, 2013


The former Dutch East Indies is now Indonesia. In World War II, the Japanese Army occupied it in 1942 and kept the Dutch there as prisoners in POW camps: 90,000 civilians and 40,000 soldiers. Some members of the Japanese Army forcibly removed the Dutch women and women of mixed heritage Into comfort brothels and pressed them into sexual service for both officers and soldiers.


This “Girl of Peace Monument” memorializes the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of little girls and young women, so-called “comfort women”, who were forcibly brought from all regions of Asia and the Pacific to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese army during World War II.Violence against women occurs in all eras and all localities. Therefore, we must never forget. We must always sound the alarm. This monument memorializes the systematic and inhuman treatment of these war crime victims. In their name, and on behalf of all victims of sexual violence, she calls for peace.


Example #2: Exhibition in Hamburg, Germany

Source: South German Newspaper (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and Japan’s “Weekly Friday” publication (Shuukan Kinyoubi)

In response to these explanatory messages, the Japanese government issued its objection as follows:
1) There was no coercion
2) Estimates of 200,000, hundreds of thousands, etc., are grossly exaggerated.
3) This was a Japan-Korea issue. Japan has not only already addressed this issue in 1993 with then Chief Cabinet Secretary Kouno’s published comments containing an apology, but also in 1995 with Japan’s establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund which the Japanese people funded and to which the Japanese government contributed (a supposed “donation”). These funds are for consolation for the female victims. Some victims have already received compensation from this fund, As a result, this matter is considered closed.

※2 –The Nazi German army also set up facilities like those of the Japanese Imperial Army to prevent their soldiers from raping women near the battlefield, thereby catching STDs. More than 30,000 young girls were forcibly moved to their roughly 500 special military brothels. Most came from Poland and the then Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Sources: Wikipedia’s German entry on Zwangsprostitution, and the documentary “Frauen als Beute-Wehrmachut und Prostitution”, broadcast in Germany in January, 2019.

※3  After World War II, the RAA (Recreation and Amusement Association) was established by the Japanese government to set up military brothels during the Allied occupation. So that Japanese women would not be raped by the Allied soldiers, as many as 55,000 prostitutes were recruited for these brothels by the Japanese government without describing the nature of the work. After it became clear that such brothels were not needed, they were summarily closed.



Please sit in the vacant seat next to the “Girl of Peace Statue.”
Close your eyes and imagine
The traditional Korean chi’ma chogori that she is wearing
As western dress, or a Vietnamese ao dai,
Or a Chinese qipao, or even the school uniform
That Japanese girls wear today, the sailor outfit.
Then, substitute your own country’s little girl clothing and ask yourself
What has happened, and what is happening now.


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
History of Syndic
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