Two college students from Korea on Friday are set to embark on a bike ride across the United States to raise awareness about "comfort women," the mostly Korean women who were forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.
Joo-young Ha, a 25-year-old sports medicine student at Kyung Hee University, and Yong-joo Jo, a 21-year-old sports industry student at Yonsei University, will cycle 3,728 miles from Los Angeles to New York as part of a campaign called the Triple A Project (TAP).
The three As of the campaign stand for admit, apologize, and accompany. TAP calls on the Japanese government to admit to its past wrongdoings toward comfort women and to apologize to the women. It also urges people to accompany comfort women and TAP as they continue to seek justice.
“I think this is a very good project to inform [people] about this terrible problem,” Ha told NBC News. “I feel a sense of obligation [to do this].”
During WWII, an estimated 200,000 women from countries including Korea, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, were forced to serve Japanese soldiers in military-run brothels, according to research from the Comfort Women Justice Coalition.
Ha and Jo will depart Friday from Los Angeles and plan on traveling 60 to 80 miles a day until they conclude the trip in New York on Sept. 3. They’ll be making stops in several major cities — including Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburg, Washington D.C., and New York City — where they plan on holding demonstrations in front of the Japanese Consulate.
On Wednesday, they held their first demonstration in front of the Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles.
TAP was established in 2015 after its founders, Yongseok Sim and Deokyeol Baek, met some comfort women a few years ago.
“One of them grabbed our hands strongly. We felt [something we] cannot explain, but it [had an impact] on us,” Sim told NBC News in an email.
“Because there are not many [comfort women] victims alive now, I have a responsibility [to do this]."
Sim and Baek completed the first TAP cross country bike ride in 2015 and found that many Americans they met along the way were unaware of comfort women. Sim said the majority of responses they've received about the campaign have been positive.
This year marks the third annual TAP cross country bike ride for comfort women. In the last two years, the campaign has put out a call for people interested in participating in the bike ride. Between last year and this year, 31 people applied to participate and a total of five were chosen: three last year, and Ha and Jo this year.
“Because there are not many [comfort women] victims alive now, I have a responsibility [to do this],” Jo told NBC News. “It’s also my first time in America so I’m excited to do this.”
Sim said TAP will continue doing cross country bike rides until the Japanese government issues a sincere apology. Jo added that the campaign is also exploring the possibility of cycling in other countries.
“We don't want to fight against [the] Japanese government.... We just think that [as more] people know about 'comfort women,' this severe tragedy will not happen again and it must [not] happen again,” he said.
Should the size of TAP grow big enough — it currently has eight members — it may transition into a non-profit organization. Also in the works includes the creation of a documentary about the campaign.
While there are less physically demanding ways to inform people about comfort women, Sim noted that the grueling task of cycling thousands of miles is a more meaningful method that is more likely to make an impact.
“Working a pedal is like a revolution that changes the boundaries of people and places. And the force of working a pedal comes from red blood gushing out of the heart, not dead fuel," Sim said. "Also, there is a saying, 'Easy come, easy go.' So, we thought [this] was the best way to demonstrate our passion [for helping comfort women].”