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Plans for SF ‘comfort women’ memorial move closer to reality

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Yong Soo Lee, 87, of Korea, is consoled during a Board of Supervisors meeting about the “comfort women” memorial. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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After a more than three hour committee hearing Thursday, a resolution advanced closer to approval that would call upon San Francisco to become the first major U.S. city to install a memorial for “comfort women” who were coerced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army.

The issue has received much attention this week as Yong Soo Lee, a Korean “comfort woman” survivor, flew into San Francisco to call upon the board to install a memorial and met with Mayor Ed Lee. The resolution also acknowledges the atrocity of more than 200,000 women being forced into sexual slavery during the war.

The board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee unanimously approved the resolution, which was introduced by Supervisor Eric Mar. The Board of Supervisors will vote on it Tuesday.

The proposal has sparked controversy, however, with Toru Hashimoto, mayor of the city of Osaka in Japan, sending a nine-­page letter to the board opposing it. Additionally some Japantown leaders are also opposed. Opponents have taken issue with historical facts, suggested it projects hate toward the Japanese community and focuses too much on the “comfort women” issue.

Supervisor Scott Wiener worked on several amendments to appease opponents, which include additional language acknowledging other country’s perpetrated atrocities, according to a draft. But Mar, who already has seven other supporters on the board ­­— it takes six votes to approve ­­— said he was opposed to any changes next week that “take attention away from the historic wrong.”

Some who opposed the resolution during the hearing denied or downplayed the atrocity. Others like Steve Nakajo, a Japantown resident and S.F. Fire Commissioner, said Mar’s resolution was “mean spirited” and would result in a backlash of anti­-Japanese sentiment.

Mar said that the resolution “is trying to bring about peace and justice” and suggested critics are being swayed by right­-wing Japanese nationalists.

At one point Nakajo said to Mar, “You don’t live in Japantown.”

Yong Soo Lee stayed through the lengthy meeting sitting in the front row of the board chambers. She plans to return home to Korea and will not attend the full board meeting next week.

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