Tuesday, May 23, 2017
An Empty Chair
Until the statue was installed last year, Korean women took turns to sit on a chair for a day beside an empty chair.
It's a dignified scene. There's fresh flowers, and three engraved panels. One panel lists thousands of the women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese before and during World War II as so-called comfort women. There's a mail box where people can leave messages.
A man and woman in their twenties stop and stare at the sculpture. The man sits on the empty chair; his friend takes pictures while he hams it up. I groan quietly: "Please don't." He glances at me quickly, then continues mugging for the camera.
Japan occupied Korea from 1910 through 1945. In January 2017 the Japanese ambassador in Seoul was recalled over this statue. Feelings still run high.
Note: I visited the statue in April 2017. All the way back to my high school days I have had a problem with the selective ways history is taught. We learn about the ruling classes, while the working classes get buried in statistics or sentimental anecdotes. Statues of inept World War I generals were blots on my childhood landscape. I cling to the belief we are less likely to repeat the evils of history if we ensure the victims are not forgotten.