On Tuesday, the mayor of Osaka, Japan, sent a ten-page letter to Mayor London Breed officially ending that city’s decades-long sister city relationship with San Francisco.
Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura has threatened such a move several times before, including most recently in August.
The Osaka mayor was incensed by the 2017 installation of a monument in St Mary’s Square commemorating “comfort women”—the victims of sexual violence and enslavement under Japanese occupation during World War II.
The letter sent to Breed’s office largely cites previous messages sent to the city, reading in part:
The issue of sex on the battlefield is not a problem particular to the former Japanese army. This problem was present during World War II with the American, British, French, German, and Soviet armies, as well as during the Korean War and Vietnam War with the South Korean Army. [...]
Attempts to single out and criticize only Japan will make us blind to other past atrocities and also to contemporary problems of the same kind. This issue should not be treated as an issue specific solely to the Japanese military.
Yoshimura’s letter repeatedly acknowledges war crimes committed by the Japanese military, but still insists that the monument and its “one-sided” plaque unjustly vilifies the country.
The plaque on Carmel artist Steven Whyte’s monument titled “Women’s Column of Strength” reads:
This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls euphemistically called ‘Comfort Women,’ who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in thirteen Asian-Pacific countries from 1931 to 1945.
The letter marks the end of a cultural and diplomatic friendship between Osaka and SF that began nearly 61 years ago on October 7, 1957.
Following today’s announcement, San Francisco Mayor London Breed issued the following statement:
“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.
Japan and Japanese-Americans have a unique and rich history in San Francisco that has left a lasting and beneficial impact on our City. We are one of three cities in the nation with a Japantown neighborhood, which is an important part of what makes San Francisco a great, diverse city.
The San Francisco Comfort Woman Memorial is a symbol of the struggle faced by all women who have been, and are currently, forced to endure the horrors of enslavement and sex trafficking. These victims deserve our respect and this memorial reminds us all of events and lessons we must never forget.”