Why chilling statues of women have appeared in buses in South Korea



If you happen to hop on a bus in South Korea, you might just come across one of these female statues.

The statues are meant to pay tribute to "comfort women" — women in occupied countries who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels, during World War II.

They were installed in five buses across Seoul, to commemorate international "comfort women" day, which fell on Monday.

See photos of the statues:

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Comfort women statues in South Korea
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Comfort women statues in South Korea
A statue (2nd L) of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, is pictured on a bus running through downtown Seoul on August 14, 2017. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A statue (R) of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, is mounted in a bus running through downtown Seoul on August 14, 2017. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A statue of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, is pictured on a bus running through downtown Seoul on August 14, 2017. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A boy (L) looks at a statue (R) of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, placed on a bus running through downtown Seoul on August 14, 2017. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 13, 2017 shows a South Korean worker installing a statue of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, in a bus at a bus parking lot in Seoul. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 13, 2017 shows workers transferring a statue of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, from a minibus to a city bus where it will be installed, at a bus parking lot in Seoul. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 13, 2017 shows workers lifting a statue of a teenage girl symbolizing former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, onto a bus to be installed in the vehicle, at a bus parking lot in Seoul. Buses installed with a statue symbolising South Korea's wartime sex slaves began running through the capital Seoul on August 14, a day before the anniversary of independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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South Korea is still home to 37 comfort women, most of whom are in their 80s.

But why is this a big deal?

According to South Korean activists, there were an estimated 200,000 women forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.

A large proportion of the wartime atrocities are believed to have happened in Korea, with others in countries like China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

But Japan had for years denied the existence of comfort women, saying that the women were sex workers, and were not forced to provide their services.

It was not until 2015 that Tokyo issued a formal apology and agreed to pay $8.3 million (1 billion yen) to victims in South Korea.

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South Korea Japan Sex Slaves, comfort women
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South Korea Japan Sex Slaves, comfort women
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 28: South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (R) attends the joint press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (L) at foreign ministry on December 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met to discuss the issue of Korean 'comfort women' in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 28: A statue of a girl symbolizing the issue of 'comfort women' in front of the Japanese Embassy on December 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met to discuss the issue of Korean 'comfort women' in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 28: A statue of a girl symbolizing the issue of 'comfort women' in front of the Japanese Embassy on December 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met to discuss the issue of Korean 'comfort women' in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Protestors sit next to a statue (C) of a South Korean teenage girl in traditional costume called the 'peace monument' for former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, during a weekly anti-Japanese demonstration near the Japanese embassy in Seoul on November 11, 2015. South Korean and Japanese officials held their first talks on November 11 since their leaders agreed to seek a speedy resolution in a long-running dispute over Korean women forced into wartime sexual slavery. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R on blue chairs) South Korean former 'comfort women' Kim Bok-Dong, Gil Won-Ok and Lee Yong-Soo, who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, attend a protest with other supporters to demand Tokyo's apology for forcing women into military brothels during World War II outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on August 12, 2015. Close to 1,000 protestors had gathered outside the embassy ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean former 'comfort women' Kim Bok-Dong (L) and Gil Won-Ok (R), who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, sit under a yellow umbrella during a press conference outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on June 23, 2015. South Korea's ageing victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery said they would file a 20 million USD lawsuit next month at a US court to seek financial compensation from Tokyo. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A South Korean protestor hits an effigy of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a saw during an anti-Japan rally outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 1, 2015. Abe described 'comfort women,' mainly Koreans who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, as victims of 'human trafficking,' in a recent interview with a US newspaper. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean protestors hold placards showing portraits of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an anti-Japan rally outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 1, 2015. Abe described 'comfort women,' mainly Koreans who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, as victims of 'human trafficking,' in a recent interview with a US newspaper. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Elderly South Korean women Kim Bok-Dong (L) and Gil Won-Ok (C), who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, demand a sincere apology from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a protest outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 29, 2015. South Korea wants Abe to offer sincere repentance on Japan's wartime atrocities when he addresses a joint session of the US Congress. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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However, some Koreans still find the apology insufficient, saying the agreement was reached without consultation with the victims — and many are still angry.

Who is behind the statues?

The plastic statues were initiated by the president of a Seoul-based transportation company, Lim Jin Wook, who says the government was not involved in the installation.

But Seoul has clearly shown its support for the project, which will run until the end of September.

The city's mayor, Park Won Soon, rode on one of the buses, saying it was an "opportunity to pay tribute to the victims."

One of the stops includes the Japanese embassy in Seoul, and the bus will play a traditional Korean folk song, "Arirang," as it passes.

It will also pass by popular Japanese tourist destinations in Seoul.

According to Lim, he does not want to make Japanese people "feel uncomfortable", but does not want the issue to be forgotten.

But this is not the first time statues of comfort women have been installed in Korea.

A 1.5m tall statue, showing a comfort woman, was earlier last year installed by activists outside the Japanese embassy in the South Korean city of Busan.

Japan called for its removal — and when South Korea refused, Japan recalled some of its diplomats.

The statue was initially removed but was later reinstalled after public protest.

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