• Passengers watch a so-called 'Comfort Woman' statue installed in a bus in Seoul, South Korea. (Getty Images)
"We wanted to urge people not to forget our painful history."
Alyssa Braithwaite

21 Aug 2017 - 11:53 AM  UPDATED 21 Aug 2017 - 11:53 AM

At first glance she looks like a normal South Korean girl in traditional dress riding the bus.

But look closer and it becomes clear the young woman, who is staring straight ahead with her hands in her lap and a small bird on her shoulder, is actually a statue. 

A bus company in Seoul have placed these statues on five buses to pay tribute to the "comfort women" who were forced into sex slavery by Japanese soldiers in World War II.

The buses feature audio excerpts of a South Korean film depicting the ordeal of the women, which plays when these buses pass by the Japanese embassy in central Seoul.

The statues were installed earlier this month in time for the anniversary of South Korea's liberation from Japanese occupation, on August 15, and will remain on the buses until late September.

South Korean activists estimate around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also from China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan, were lured or forced into brothels by Japanese forces, according to the BBC

The president of the Seoul-based transport company, Lim Jin-Wook, is behind the project, and said he was did not want the issue to be forgotten.

"It is designed to remind South Koreans of suffering the women went through," he told Channel News Asia

"We wanted to urge people not to forget our painful history." 

His idea seems to be working. 

"It's so heartbreaking to see this girl statue partly because she looks about my age," Jennifer Lee, a 19-year-old student, told AFP.

"It horrifies me just to imagine what these women went through."

The mayor of Seoul rode with one of the statues and called it an "opportunity to pay tribute to the victims". 

The statues are not the first of their kind. In 2011 a similar statue, created by artists Kim Seo-Kyung and Kim Eung-Sung, was placed outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

In 2015, South Korea and Japan reached an agreement over the "comfort women" issue, in which Japan pledged to give 1 billion yen ($11.5 million) to a fund for survivors.

But many in South Korea feel the Japanese government has not been accountable enough, and in January a replica of the statue was installed outside the Japanese embassy in Busan, South Korea. Japan recalled two diplomats in response to the incident.

Activists are pushing for August 14 to be designated a state memorial day for former comfort women.

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