This article examines attempts by Japanese government representatives to remove or prevent the installation of memorial statues dedicated to ‘comfort women’ – women across the Asia-Pacific whom the Japanese military forced into conditions now recognised as sexual slavery before and during World War Two. This article examines four cases around the world in which Japanese regional and national government officials have demanded the removal of comfort women statues: 1) Glendale, California; 2) San Francisco, California; 3) Manila, the Philippines; and 4) Berlin, Germany. Japanese actors were unsuccessful in the U.S., successful in the Philippines, and partially successful in Germany. Through a discussion of these cases, this article argues that the global expansion of comfort women memorialisation constitutes an important case for understanding contemporary statue politics. Firstly, East Asian diasporas have become important actors in orchestrating the commemoration of Japanese colonialism and the Asia-Pacific War outside East Asia. Secondly, these memorials constitute attempts by diasporas to recover and reclaim a traumatic past through material culture. Thirdly, despite the geographically transnational scope of memory activism surrounding comfort women, both proponents and critics of comfort women statues have anchored their arguments in nationalist symbols and narratives. As a result, this article argues that neither nationalism nor the power of the nation-state have declined in today’s transnational world.
- material culture