By Joe Anuta
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) is moving forward with plans to rename a Flushing street after the comfort women from World War II, much to the chagrin of the Japanese community.
Koo began the process of renaming the street last Thursday, when he officially submitted a request to post a sign at the southwest corner of Northern Boulevard and Union Street that reads Comfort Women Memorial Way.
The sign refers to women from many countries in Asia, but mainly China and Korea, who were forced into prostitution to serve the Japanese military during the war.
“The purpose of the street renaming is to pay tribute, honor and remember women who were victimized during World War II,” Koo said in a statement.
The decision was hailed by the Korean community
“It’s a big deal,” said Ikhwan Rim, of the Union Street Merchants Association.
Not only does the modest memorial to the ordeals of the women serve as an honor to their memory, it acts as a physical marker of history, ensuring future generations do not forget, according to Rim.
And the proposed location of the sign is symbolic as well, Rim said, since some of the first Korean businesses in the downtown area were along Union Street, a place where many remain.
“We still have a lot of Korean business owners on the street, so it’s a great thing that we could have it here,” he said.
But members of the Japanese community were not as thrilled.
When Koo first began talking about the comfort women and a possible memorial earlier this spring, his colleagues in the Council began receiving letters, purportedly from Japanese citizens, accusing Koo of pandering to his Korean constituency. And Japanese officials flew all the way from the island nation to request that a monument already erected in New Jersey be taken down.
The Japanese consulate in New York did not respond to a request for comment.
But Koo said the monument is not meant to upset anyone. Rather it is designed to remember a dark chapter in history that should never be repeated, he said.
“Although we cannot go back in time to change history and stop the barbaric acts against innocent women perpetrated by Japanese soldiers, we can honor the bravery exhibited by these women,” Koo said. “We can also document their hardships, acknowledge their sacrifices and never forget their anguish.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.