Creating a Collective Memory of the Comfort Women in the USA

  • Linda HasunumaEmail author
  • Mary M. McCarthy


We offer a new perspective on the recent controversies surrounding the memorialization of comfort women in several American cities by shifting the focus from bilateral historical grievances and tensions between the national governments of Japan and South Korea, to the grassroots and transnational politics involved in the siting of these monuments. We find that the construction of a transnational Korean identity among the Korean diaspora in the USA, and their creation of a collective public memory of the comfort women are evidence of their growing political consciousness and engagement in American civic life, and it is notable that most of the leadership and membership of the main organizations involved are women. These women are part of the global feminist and human rights movements which advocate for the inclusion and recognition of the experiences of women during wartime and colonization. Therefore, the memorials are not only symbols of historic reconciliation and remembrance, but of the skillful and strategic organizing, activism, and leadership of Asian Americans. This article also shows how the movement is evolving through the development of educational and curricular initiatives in honor of the comfort women in the USA.


Comfort women Memorialization Transnationalism Asian Americans Women’s activism 



  1. Ahn, Y. (2008). Japan’s ‘comfort women’ and historical memory: The neo-nationalist counter-attack. In The power of memory in modern Japan (pp. 32–53). DOI.
  2. Appadurai, A. & Breckenridge, C. A. (1988). “Why Public Culture?” Public Culture 1 (1, Fall): 5–9Google Scholar
  3. Ashplant, T. G., Dawson, G., & Roper, M. (2005). The politics of war memory and commemoration. In Routledge studies in memory and narrative.Google Scholar
  4. Berger, T. U. (2012). War, guilt, and world politics after world war II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Building the ‘Comfort Women’ Statue in San Francisco. (2018). Comfort Women Justice Coalition Booklet Published March, 2018, and distributed at the Comfort Women memorial tour and teach-in at the Association for Asian American Studies meeting March 29, 2018.Google Scholar
  6. David, L. (2014). Mediating international and domestic demands: mnemonic battles surrounding the monument to the fallen of the wars of the 1990s in Belgrade. Nationalities Papers, 42(4), 655–673. Scholar
  7. Enloe, C. (2000). Maneuvers: The international politics of militarizing women’s lives. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Field, N. & Yamaguchi, T. (2015). ‘Comfort woman’ revisionism comes to the US: symposium on the revisionist film screening event at central Washington University.” Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 13(22), Number 1, June 03, 2015.Google Scholar
  9. Gluck, C. (2007). Operations of memory: comfort women and the world. In S. M. Jager & R. Mitter (Eds.), Ruptured histories: war, memory, and the post cold war in Asia. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Goldstein, J. (2001). War and gender: how gender shapes the war system and vice versa. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Halpin, D.P. (2013). Palisades Park and the first amendment. U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS Policy Brief. May 29, 2013.Google Scholar
  12. Hirano, K. (2015). A reflection on Uemura Takashi’s talk at UCLA. In Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Ithaca, NY: April, 2015. Retrieved from
  13. Kaufman, J. P., & Williams, K. P. (2007). Women, the state, and war: a comparative perspective on citizenship and nationalism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  14. Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders: advocacy networks in international politics. Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Kim, R. M. (2012). Violence and trauma as constitutive elements in Korean American racial identity formation: The 1992 L.A. riots/Insurrection/Saigu. Ethnic & Racial Studies, 35(11), 1999–2018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Koyama, E. (2015). The U.S. as ‘major battleground’ for ‘comfort woman’ revisionism: The screening of Scottsboro girls at central Washington University. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 13(22), No. 2, June 03, 2015.Google Scholar
  17. Leggewie, C. (2008). A tour of the battleground: the seven circles of pan-European memory. Soc Sci Res, 75, 217–234 No. 1, Spring 2008.Google Scholar
  18. Mackie, V. (2004). Shifting the axis: feminism and the transnational imaginary. State/nation/transnation: Perspectives on transnationalism in the Asia Pacific S.M.A.K Fakhri, et al., Taylor & Francis (Eds).Google Scholar
  19. McCarthy, M. (2018). The power and limits of the transnational ‘comfort women’ movement. In M. M. McCarthy (Ed.), Handbook of Japanese foreign policy. Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. McCarthy, M. & Hasunuma, L. (2018). Coalition building and mobilization: Case studies of the comfort women memorials in the United States. Politics, Groups, and Identities (forthcoming). Google Scholar
  21. Park, K. (1995). The re-invention of affirmative action: Korean immigrants’ changing conceptions of African Americans and Latin Americans. Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development, 24(1/2), 59–92. (SPRINGSUMMER, 1995), Published by: The Institute, Inc. Stable URL:
  22. Roberman, S. (2007). Commemorative activities of the great war and the empowerment of elderly immigrant soviet Jewish veterans in Israel. Anthropol Q, 80(4), 1035–1064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Saito, H. (2016). The history problem: The politics of war commemoration in East Asia. University of Hawaii Press. In Kindle edition (kindle locations).Google Scholar
  24. Soh, S. C. (2008). The comfort women: sexual violence and postcolonial memory in Korea and Japan. The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Tarrow, S. (2005). The new transnational activism. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Teacher’s resource guide: ‘Comfort women’ history and issues. (2018). Published by the Education for Social Justice Foundation.Google Scholar
  27. Ward, T., & Lay, W. (2016). The comfort women controversy: not over yet. East Asia, 33, 255–269. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Yoshiaki, Y. (1995). Comfort women: Sexual slavery in the Japanese military during World War II. Translated by Suzanne O’Brien. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar


  1. Hasunuma e-mail follow-up interview with Phyllis Kim on February 8, 2018.Google Scholar
  2. Hasununa e-mail follow-up interview with Julie Jungsil Lee February 8–11, 2018.Google Scholar
  3. Hasunuma interview with Phyllis Kim on August 31, 2017 in Burbank, California.Google Scholar
  4. Hasunuma skype interview with Julie Jungil Lee on September 28, 2017.Google Scholar
  5. McCarthy phone interview with Dan Leshem on May 7, 2015.Google Scholar
  6. McCarthy phone interview with Jimin Kim on May 26, 2015.Google Scholar
  7. McCarthy phone interview with Phyllis Kim on August 8, 2017.Google Scholar
  8. McCarthy phone interview with Lillian Sing and Julie Tang on August 18, 2017.Google Scholar
  9. McCarthy skype interview with Judy Cho on August 22, 2017.Google Scholar
  10. Both authors attended the “Tenth Anniversary of the Passage of the House Resolution 121” gathering on July 27, 2017 (video of the event: and the “International Conference on the Redress Movement for the Victims of the Japanese Military Sex Slaves” at Queens College, New York, October 13–14, 2017.
  11. Hasunuma visited the 6th Annual Commemoration of Comfort Woman Day exhibition at the Glendale Public Library on August 31, 2017; the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul on June 25, 2017; a walking tour and teach-in on the comfort women memorial in San Francisco hosted by the Association for Asian Am Stud and a Zainichi Korean activist group, Eclipse Rising, on March 29, 2018; and the comfort women memorial in Fort Lee, New Jersey on July 10, 2018.Google Scholar
  12. The Apology. Retrieved from
  13. “Comfort Woman: A New Musical”. Retrieved from
  14. A press conference held in San Francisco City Hall on September 16, 2015 hosted by San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar to welcome Grandma Yong Soo Lee, a WW 2 “Comfort Women” Survivor. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public and International AffairsUniversity of BridgeportBridgeportUSA
  2. 2.Drake UniversityIowaUSA

Personalised recommendations