Two members of the “Japanese Women for Justice and Peace” organization showed up at the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival on Sunday, March 25, to pass out pamphlets and denounce the city’s decision to erect a controversial “comfort women” monument in the city.
Yumiko Yamamoto, the executive director of the group, flew from Japan to attend the festival. She has been tied to Zaitokukai, named by Japanese police as an anti-Korean extremist group, according to the British newspaper The Guardian. Yamamoto said she has not been affiliated with the Zaitokukai organization since 2011.
With her was Shizuko Culpepper of Duluth, also a member of the Japanese Women for Justice and Peace. Japanese Women for Justice and Peace is a nonprofit organization of Japanese women from around the world.
The statue, depicting a girl seated next to an empty chair, is intended to honor the so-called comfort women, who were sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II. It is identical to several similar statues installed around the world as part of a cultural and political dispute between South Korea and Japan over “comfort women” history and responsibility.
The women reiterated an argument backed by the Japanese government that comfort women were not sex slaves trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II but rather well-paid prostitutes who worked to support their families. They said the monument is “Japan-bashing.” They did not stay long at the festival because of the cold temperatures on March 25 and only handed out a few pamphlets titled “What is ‘Comfort Women’ Basic Facts.”
Yamamoto said they intend to continue putting pressure on the city to remove the statue but did not describe any serious strategy to do so.
Yamamoto has said in the past she is responsible for email campaigns that bombard elected officials who erect memorials in their communities.
Yamamoto said she asked to speak to members of the City Council during her visit but did not hear any response.
There is no indication from city officials the city plans to remove the statue.
Yamamoto also said she planned to meet with a staff member of the Japanese consul general’s staff during her stay. Consul Tomoko Ohyama said the office does not disclose its activities and declined to comment if there was a meeting with Yamamoto.
Councilmember John Park, who initiated bringing the memorial to Brookhaven after the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta backed out of an agreement to place it on its property, declined to comment. Helen Kim Ho, spokesperson for the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, which commissioned the monument, also declined comment.
Correction and clarification: Yumiko Yamamoto says she has not been affiliated with the Zaitokukai organization since 2011. Shizuko Culpepper of Duluth has no affiliation with Zaitokukai and is only a member of the Japanese Women for Justice and Peace.
The Reporter apologizes for the error.