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Glendale's 'comfort women' memorial still stirs controversy

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Glendale Mayor Dave Weaver said a memorial to "comfort women" -- sex slaves taken by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II -- is continuing to cause controversy and damaging its relationship with its sister city, Higashiosaka.

Weaver, the lone dissenter in a vote to approve the memorial at a public park, wrote a letter to the mayor of the Japanese sister city expressing regret for the vote, the Glendale News-Press reported.

Some council members said the letter was improper. Weaver was responding to a missive from the mayor of Higashiosaka, Yoshikazu Noda, admonishing Glendale for installing the 1,110-pound bronze statue of a young woman in traditional Korean dress sitting next to an empty chair.

"His opinion doesn't coincide with the rest of the council. In fact, it directly conflicts with it," said Councilman Zareh Sinanyan.

Councilwoman Laura Friedman said while everyone is entitled to their opinion, when the council votes, it makes a decision as a group.

"We don't always have to agree, but we all have to respect the final decision, and that includes the mayor," she said.

In the letter, Weaver states that he regrets the statue was installed and the "deep divide" it created between Glendale and Higashiosaka. After Glendale installed it in Central Park on July 30, officials from the Japanese city considered ending the 50-year cultural exchange relationship with Glendale for several reasons, one of which was the statue.

"I hope that this critical wound can heal itself in time," Weaver said in the letter.

The statue has been a point of controversy for months. Glendale installed it following a request by the Korean-American Sister City Assn., despite a barrage of emails from Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans protesting the roughly $30,000 replica of a memorial that sits outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

While advocates for former comfort women say Japan hasn't sufficiently apologized to the estimated 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other women coerced into prostitution, opponents disagree. They say an apology issued by a former Japanese prime minister in the 1990s should have been enough.

Other Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans believe the women acted willingly, although many former comfort women have publicly shared disturbing stories of their servitude, and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims on its website that some women based in war areas were "deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery."

The Glendale statue is the first one honoring comfort women on the West Coast.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

Levine writes for Times Community News.

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