Glendale was wrong to install a controversial monument honoring Korean sex slaves taken by the Japanese Army during World War II, Mayor Dave Weaver said during an interview published Monday on a Japanese television station's YouTube channel.
“We opened a beehive, a hornet's nest,” he told Channel Sakura. “We just shouldn't have done it.”
The statue — the first on the West Coast honoring so-called comfort women on public property — thrust Glendale into a controversy that has been stoked thousands of miles away.
While advocates for former comfort women say Japan hasn't sufficiently apologized to the estimated 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other women coerced into prostitution, opponents disagree. They say an apology issued by a former Japanese prime minister in the 1990s should have been the end; others believe the women acted willingly.
Korean American advocacy groups for the past few years have been using the blemish on Japan's history to raise awareness of Korea's plight and to shame Japan into creating government legislation admitting the wrongdoing.
Weaver was the only City Council member to oppose the 1,100-pound bronze statue of a young woman in Korean dress when it came before the council this summer for approval, but at the time he said his motivations were apolitical.
He told Japanese reporters from the far-right-wing channel, though, that in addition to opposing the statue because he believed the park where it's located needs a master plan, he disliked the statue because he didn't want Glendale involved in an international fight.
“I understand we're the most hated city in Japan now, which I deeply regret,” Weaver said, adding that he's received more than 1,000 emails about the memorial, the most correspondence he's gotten on an issue in the 17 years he's been on City Council.
The four other Glendale council members supported the monument, describing it as a reminder to prevent future sex crimes and oppression.
The mayor of Higashiosaka, Japan, sent an angry letter to Weaver in July about the monument, and Japanese officials with Glendale's 50-year-old sister city program with Higashiosaka have said they are discussing ending their cultural and exchange relationship for a number of reasons, one of which involves the memorial.
Weaver told Channel Sakura that he has yet to respond to the Higashiosaka mayor, who sent a follow-up letter last month because he's upset about not getting a response. Weaver said he may wait to respond until he discusses the issue in person with the Japanese Consul General in Los Angeles.
He also said that Glendale's demographics played a role in getting the statue installed.
“We have so few Japanese living in the city and we have over 12,000 Koreans, so guess who gets the biggest play?” he said with a laugh.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are about 10,400 people of Korean descent living in Glendale compared to 1,150 of Japanese ancestry.
The City Council of Buena Park, a much smaller city than Glendale in Orange County, was also lobbied to install a similar comfort-women monument, but they decided not to do so.