The city of Osaka officially ended its sister city relationship with San Francisco in the United States after the latter permitted a monument memorializing “comfort women” to remain on a city-owned property.
The monument was commissioned by the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition, a civil society group dedicated to raising awareness about women who had been conscripted from across Asia and enslaved by the Japanese forces during the World War II. It features four statues representing Korean, Chinese and Filipina women, as well as a deceased woman bearing witness from beyond the grave to their experience.
The statue provoked strong reactions in Japan when it was first unveiled in September 2017, and municipal, prefectural and central governments raised official protests against San Francisco a month later when, as part of an unrelated transaction, the American city bought the property. The mayor of Osaka Yoshimura Hirofumi then threatened to sever sister city ties if the monument was not removed from the property, or if the captions were not amended.
He finally carried out that threat on October 2, 2018, circulating in the process a 10-page, 3,800-word letter in English addressed to San Francisco mayor London Breed, listing — often in bolded, underlined text — a litany of reasons for the breakup.
He complains, for example, that inscriptions on the monument presented “uncertain and one-sided claims as historical facts”, and says that there are disagreements among historians about the total number of “comfort women” conscripted and the degree to which the former Japanese Army was involved.
While Yoshimura acknowledged the regrettable treatment of women in war, he argued Japan was being unfairly “singled out”:
[…] This issue should not be treated as an issue specific solely to the Japanese military. As long as widespread sexual problems on the battlefields by countries other than Japan are not openly recognized, past offenses, which the whole world must face, will go uncorrected, and those violations in other parts of the world will not be resolved.
While he did not respond directly to the letter, San Francisco mayor London Breed issued a statement about Osaka’s decision to sever ties, saying:
One Mayor cannot unilaterally end a relationship that exists between the people of our two cities, especially one that has existed for over sixty years. In our eyes, the Sister City relationship between San Francisco and Osaka continues today through the connection of our people, and San Francisco looks forward to strengthening the bonds that tie our two great cities together.