OSAKA – A senior official in San Francisco sent a personal message to Osaka in late May urging that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), cancel his trip to the city due to local anger over his remarks that Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system was necessary at the time.
In a translation of the message sent to Osaka on May 22 but only released by the city Monday, the unnamed official said that, while it could not prevent a personal trip by Hashimoto, San Francisco would not treat it as an official visit and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee would not be hosting any reception for Hashimoto.
“The people of San Francisco do not, at present, welcome Hashimoto’s trip to the U.S.,” the message said.
Warning there would be demonstrations against Hashimoto, the official was quoted by Osaka as saying reactions in San Francisco over Hashimoto’s comments had been strong and his visit would damage Osaka’s image.
“Mayor Lee has been overwhelmed with protests from the Japanese-American community, as well as other ethnic and women’s groups. Hashimoto would be surrounded by protestors at every place he visits,” the official reportedly said.
This would force a reluctant San Francisco to spend a lot of tax money on beefed-up security measures for Hashimoto during the course of his trip, the official added.
Hashimoto had also been scheduled to travel to New York to meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But the San Francisco official told Osaka that was not going to happen.
“Mayor Lee and Mayor Bloomberg are close, and Bloomberg can’t think about meeting Hashimoto now,” the San Francisco official said, urging that Hashimoto scrub his U.S. trip.
Osaka received the message at a time when Hashimoto was still insisting he would go ahead with the trip, which was to have taken place this week.
Following Hashimoto’s comments on May 13 that Japan’s wartime comfort women system had been necessary and that U.S. service members in Okinawa should make more use of sex establishments, the San Francisco mayor’s office told The Japan Times that Lee had been disappointed and offended by Hashimoto’s remarks, and that a meeting between the two had not been confirmed.
On May 28, Hashimoto formally canceled his trip, saying he did not want to cause any difficulties.
However, Osaka Gov. and Nippon Ishin Secretary-General Ichiro Matsui departed Monday for visits to San Francisco and New York. Osaka Prefecture and California have a formal relationship, and during the course of his visit Matsui plans to call on California Gov. Jerry Brown, prefectural officials said.
Matsui has backed Hashimoto on the controversial remarks, also saying the comfort women system was necessary at the time. Comfort women is the Japanese euphemism for the girls and women rounded up to serve as sex slaves in brothels serving the Imperial Japanese forces.