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Japanese news: comfort women statues on Seoul buses

This Summer, replicas of statues of comfort women (women coerced into military prostitution by the Imperial Japanese Army) can be seen on Seoul buses (only one bus line is concerned). Of course, this new example of what Japanese news call “反日抗議イベント”, gave rise to reactions in Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide (who seems to be affiliated with a negationist organisation) commented:

北朝鮮問題を抱えて、日米韓で連携して対応しなければならない時に極めて残念

(Source: Asahi)

  • 抱える・かかえる to have on one’s hands
  • 連携・れんけい cooperation
  • 極めて・きわめて exceedingly, extremely

At a time when Japan, the U.S. and Korea should cooperate to deal with the problem of North Korea, (this action) is extremely regrettable.

To work on my reading of news articles, I propose to study this article from Sankei News. I chose this article because I was curious to see what this newspaper would say on the question. I expected it to be plainly critical and wanted to see how it would express its condemnation of Korea’s action. Being able to read the news in another language has the advantage that one can get a glimpse of each position concerning a controversial issue.

The article is very long, 6 pages! The general argument is that South Korea should not launch such actions at a time when North Korea should be the priority. Let’s examine the title:

北のミサイルより「慰安婦バス」 徴用工像と慰安婦像イベントに没頭する韓国に危機感ゼロ

  • 慰安婦・いあんふ comfort woman
  • 徴用工・ちょうようこう means “drafted worker” but “forced labourer” would be more appropriate.
  • 没頭する・ぼっとうする be immersed in, be absorbed in

No sense of impending crisis: Korea is more absorbed in “comfort women buses”, statues of forced labourer and statues of comfort women than in North Korea’s missile.

I will only study the second and third part of the article.

Part II: どこかで見たような人形が…

In the second paragraph, the article evokes the statue of comfort woman 慰安婦象・いあんふぞう who took place in Seoul buses. The article underlines the fact that the statue is made of plastic (statues of comfort women being generally in bronze).

Then the article does something that I find quite strange. It cites a Korean member of the Japanese media staff who once studied in Osaka, saying that the comfort woman statue reminds her of another similar one seen in Osaka. The article then says that she refers to “くいだおれ太郎”, the mascot of Dotonburi in Osaka. I read the interesting story of くいだおれ太郎 on Japan Info. What I find strange is that the article should compare the comfort woman and this cheerful and mischievous clown (I know it’s a little far-fetched but Kuidaore Tairo’s outfit reminds me of the Imperial Japanese army flag, a reason why I consider this comparison to be of bad taste).

When the journalist took the bus, two Korean broadcast systems were conducting interviews of passengers. As a girl was interviewed, the folk song 民謡・みんよう “Arirang” was being played. It is not in the article, but the song, which is some kind of unofficial national anthem, is played when the bus passes the Japan embassy.

The journalist then says that an old man interviewed-back 逆インタビュー・ぎゃく the Korean reporter to ask him if he knew since when Arirang was sung.  The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable のんびりした.

That the comfort woman doll should be on the bus or not does not seem to bring ordinary citizens 一般市民・いっぱんしみん to reflect seriously 深刻に・しんこくに upon the comfort woman issue 慰安婦問題・いあんふもんだい.

The article uses the grammar ~ていようが which I didn’t know. It means “whether… or not”. I was relieved to find out that it is an N1 grammar…

I wonder why the journalist says that… is it just because a grandpa is more interested in the history of the song Arirang than in the presence of the statue?

Part III: パフォーマンスの対象

The article begins this third part saying that a “divergent view” 異論・いろん would not be allowed 許されない・ゆるされない here. What the article calls a “divergent view” is:

「一般人が乗る路線バスにまで、わざわざ像を乗せる必要が果たしてあるのだろうか」

  • 路線・ろせん line (a bus line)
  • わざわざ especially, take the trouble to do, go to the trouble of doing.
  • 乗せる・のせる put someone (in a car, on a train).
  • 果たして・はたして is it really….?

Was it really necessary to go as far as to take the extra trouble to put those statues on the bus? 

The article then examines the involvement of the city of Seoul in this action. The “comfort women buses” 慰安婦バス・いあんふばす are initiated by a private 民間・みんかん company and, as the article cites, has no relation to an undertaking originated from the city: ソウル市の事業と無関係.

However, the article goes on, the city of Seoul informed 広報・こうほう the media of the action before it began 事前・じぜん. Seoul’s mayor even rode in the first bus carrying a comfort woman statue and, with a humble and quiet 神妙な・しんみょうな look 面持ち・おももち, accompanying the discourse with a hand gesture 手を添える・そえる (on a picture, the mayor can be seen putting his hand on the statue’s), said:

犠牲になった人(元慰安婦)を悼む機会になる

  • 犠牲・ぎせい a sacrifice
  • 悼む・いたむ to mourn for, to grieve at

This is the opportunity to mourn for those who have been sacrificed.

He also said that a new agreement 合意・ごうい that would satisfy the people 国民が納得できる・なっとくできる was needed. An agreement between Japan and Korea on the comfort woman issue was signed in 2015 by Korea former president Park Geun-hye and Japan prime minister Abe. Now, Korea criticises this agreement as being too easy a way to settle the problem.

The article says that this  “performance” suits well 映る・うつる the mayor of Seoul who participates in the customary 恒例の・こうれいの assembly 集会・しゅうかい of protestation 抗議・こうぎ against Japan that takes place before the Japanese embassy every Wednesday and created 造成・ぞうせい Memorial 追悼・ついとう facilities 施設・しせつ to commemorate the comfort women.

(I see that “performance” also means “a display of exaggerated behaviour” in English. I think that this is what is meant here by パフォーマンス. In my humble opinion, looking at the picture of the mayor putting his hand on the statue’s one is enough to see why the journalist speaks of “performance”)

People who see the comfort woman statue on the bus, either consider it comical コミカル, or see it sincerely 真摯に・しんしに as an object of mourning 追悼対象・ついとうたいしょう, like the mayor of Seoul.

The article concludes this part on a more practical criticism: even if elderly persons 高齢者・こうれいしゃ, persons with a handicap 障害者・しょうがいしゃ or pregnant women 妊婦・にんぷ want to sit down, the statue won’t offer its seat, and it will be like this for the whole month of September. (To be fair, only 5 buses out of 31 for this bus line carry a statue…)

The other parts of this long article are more focused on the growing menace of North Korea and the way South Korea seems to be unconscious of it, more occupied by pursuing anti-Japanese actions.

Well, it’s always important to look at both sides of a controversial issue!

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