The Japanese consul general in Atlanta is urging the Brookhaven City Council to back off its decision to accept a “comfort women” memorial that honors women from many nations who were sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II.

Takashi “Thomas” Shinozuka said in an interview at the consulate of Japan in Phipps Tower said there is “no evidence” that the military sexually enslaved women, most from Korea, during WWII. He said rather that the women were paid prostitutes.

Takashi “Thomas” Shinozuka, the consul general of Japan in Atlanta, discusses his stance on the “comfort women” memorial at the consulate in Buckhead. (Dyana Bagby)

“This is not a simple art object,” he said. “This is a symbol of hatred and resentment against Japanese.”

City officials and Task Force members deny the memorial bashes Japan and rather it honors the memory of the “comfort women” — the Japanese military euphemism for the women. A city spokesperson said there is no talk of rejecting the memorial, which is set to be unveiled June 30 in Blackburn Park II.

Since the city accepted the memorial in May, there has been intense debate in emails and online comments. Neighbors of the park where it will be located also oppose it, citing the physical change to the green space as well as making it a target for controversy.

In a 2015 agreement between the Japanese and South Korean governments, Japan apologized to “all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women,” in a translation provided by the Atlanta consulate.

But the agreement did not explicitly admit the women were forced into prostitution, and Shinozuka denied that they were.

The Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force stated in its donation of the memorial to the city last month that up to 200,000 women were sexually enslaved by the Japanese military. Shinozuka said that is not true.

“There was not 200,000 women, they were not sex slaves, and they were not taken by force,” he said.

In Asian culture, he said, sometimes women become prostitutes to help their families financially. He noted the 2015 agreement between the Japanese government and Korean government that also led to the Japanese government in 2016 paying more than $8 million to a foundation set up by the Korean government to help former “comfort women.”

The local “comfort women” memorial is identical to this one shown the Facebook page of the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force. (Special)

“The demand for apologies continue to come … and it was decided to resolve the issue once and for all,” he said of the payment. But activists in Korea have not been satisfied, he said.

Shinozuka said he was “puzzled” by the city’s willingness to accept the controversial memorial, especially because the city and Japan enjoy a friendly relationship that includes Japan donating several cherry trees to be planted in Blackburn Park as part of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

He said by accepting the memorial, Brookhaven has injected itself into an international debate between Korea and Japan.

He said more than 300 Japanese Americans live in Brookhaven and did not get an opportunity to speak out about the memorial.

“This is a very controversial situation … and so is the memorial,” he said.

Update: Due to an interview transcription error, an earlier version of this story misquoted the consul general as saying the memorial is a “symbol of hatred and resentment” against the country of Japan, rather than “against Japanese.”