In November of 2017, the mayor of Osaka Japan, San Francisco’s original sister city, threatened to cut ties with SF over the installation of a sculpture protesting Japanese war crimes against women during World War II in Chinatown.
The city erected the Women's Column of Strength, a creation by Carmel artist Steven Whyte, in the rooftop extension of St Mary’s Square in November of last year.
The column pays tribute to so-called “comfort women” who were subjected to sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of countries like China, South Korea, and the Philippines.
In 2017, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura vowed “I will dissolve the sister-city relationship” between Osaka and San Francisco to protest the installation, complaining in comments to a Japanese newspaper that “our relationship of trust was completely destroyed.”
Japan’s government and many Japanese citizens still don’t want to discuss wartime human trafficking violations, and resent references to them.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turned down a bid by South Korea’s government to convince him to issue a public apology over the matter, calling it “completely unacceptable.”
Despite Mayor Yoshimura’s words in 2017, Osaka remains one of San Francisco’s 19 sister cities.
But in a letter to Mayor London Breed (reproduced here by the San Francisco Chronicle), he again urged the city to remove the Chinatown installation or imperil future relations:
To this day, there still remains disagreement among historians regarding the number of comfort women, the degree to which the former Japanese Army was involved, and the extent of the wartime harm, yet uncertain and one-sided claims are inscribed onto the comfort women Memorial plaque as historical facts.
[...] I not only previously expressed my apprehension about the effect of the memorial and plaque but also implored for the city government’s careful discretion and for the memorial and plaque to not be placed on public property.
The plaque that Yoshimura characterizes as “one-sided” 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.
A 1994 study by the Swiss-based human rights group the International Commission of Jurists estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 wartime victims, although more recently the Asian Pacific Journal cited a more vague estimate of “tens or hundreds of thousands.”
The Chronicle notes that the statue and its plaque have been vandalized several times this year.