The mayor of San Francisco on Thursday denounced Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura for “unilaterally” ending the two cities’ decades-old sister city relationship over a statue symbolizing Asian “comfort women,” a euphemism used to refer to women and girls forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
“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,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
“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,” Breed said, indicating her intention to leave the statue in place.
But officials in Osaka said the decision would stand.
“We have received mixed reactions from our citizens but a majority of them support the decision,” an Osaka official said Friday. “We delivered our request through proper procedures, though we have not received any official reply,” he added.
“We have no plans to reconsider.”
Breed’s office received Tuesday a 10-page letter from Yoshimura giving notification of the termination of the relationship days before what would have been its 61st anniversary.
Yoshimura had threatened to sever Osaka’s ties with San Francisco after a local private organization set up the statue in the U.S. city’s Chinatown district in September last year.
The memorial depicts three girls — Chinese, Korean and Filipino — holding hands.
The Osaka mayor had said its inscription bore uncertain and “one-sided” claims about the extent of the Japanese military’s involvement in the brothels and the degree of the damage inflicted.
Breed’s predecessor Edwin Lee, who died of a heart attack last December, had accepted the group’s donation of the statue weeks before his death.
In September the group celebrated the statue’s first anniversary, with citizens of Osaka among those in attendance.
Since the San Francisco Board of Supervisors drafted a resolution to build a monument to the comfort women in August 2015, Yoshimura and his predecessor Toru Hashimoto have sent several letters to the city denouncing the memorial.
San Francisco is the first major U.S. city to install a memorial dedicated to the comfort women. Similar statues have been erected across the country, including in Glendale, California; Brookhaven, Georgia; and Fairfax County, Virginia, among other locations.
In Manila in April, a bronze sculpture symbolizing the comfort women was removed after the Japanese government voiced its displeasure.