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Osaka to End Sister-City Ties Over Comfort Women Statue

IN HAPPIER TIMES — From left: Kathleen Kimura, co-chair of the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, and Consul General Jun Yamada in February 2016. (Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco)

Rafu Wire and Staff Reports

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee signed a document Nov. 22 formalizing the city’s acceptance of a statue that symbolizes Korean and other Asian women forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese military, city officials said, prompting the mayor of Osaka to decide on dissolution of their sister-city affiliation.

The Japanese government had called on Lee not to accept the statue after the U.S. city’s Board of Supervisors passed the motion the week before.

Following Lee’s approval, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura said he plans to complete procedures to dissolve the 60-year-old sister-city affiliation with San Francisco in December.

“My understanding is that sister-city ties are based on a strong relationship of trust, so I believe our relationship of trust has ended,” Yoshimura said in a statement.

The statue — of Chinese, Korean and Filipino girls standing hand in hand on a pedestal and an elderly survivor on the ground — was set up by a local private organization as a memorial honoring the so-called “comfort women” in San Francisco’s Chinatown in September.

Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura

Other comfort women memorials in the U.S. include a statue in Glendale, Los Angeles County, and a memorial in Virginia. Opponents of the Glendale statue sought to have it removed by taking the city to court, claiming that the monument created anti-Japanese sentiment in Glendale and interfered with U.S. diplomatic relations.

In 2015, Japan and South Korea reached a landmark deal to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the comfort women issue, with Japan disbursing 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund to provide support to former comfort women and their families.

But the administration of new South Korean President Moon Jae In argues that “the majority of the country’s public do not approve of the comfort women agreement” on an emotional level.

The San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association was founded in 1957 under the leadership of Mayor George Christopher and is San Francisco’s oldest sister-city relationship. Its goal is to “build bridges of friendship and commerce between these two vital centers of culture and finances” and “support individual and civic exchanges that foster better understanding and appreciation between citizens on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.”

Allen Okamoto, who has co-chaired the association for many years, told **The Rafu Shimpo** that the association’s leadership “will be meeting to discuss our options and next steps.”

Regarding future activities, Okamoto said, “Although we will not have official ties to Osaka City Hall, we will try to continue our relationship with the citizens and organizations in Osaka. Over the years we have established so many wonderful relationships. We will continue but in a different name.”

He added, “The termination of the sister-city relationship is not only controlled by Mayor Yoshimura … but their City Council is forcing the issue. Also the Osaka prefectural government has reacted in similar fashion. Who knows if it can be resolved? But . . . we will continue regardless of the political situation.”

Lee has so far not responded publicly to Yoshimura’s announcement.

Former comfort woman Yong-soo Lee poses for photographers at the Sept. 22 unveiling of the comfort women monument in San Francisco Chinatown. (Photo by Frank Jang)

The Osaka mayor had warned that if San Francisco accepted the statue, it would impair their relationship of trust.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier said it was “extremely regrettable” that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors had accepted the statue.

Yoshimura’s predecessor as mayor, Toru Hashimoto, stirred up controversy during his tenure with remarks about comfort women.

In 2012, he claimed that there is no evidence that the Japanese military used force or threats to recruit the South Korean comfort women. In 2013, while seemingly conceding that the comfort women served soldiers against their will, Hashimoto further claimed that they were “necessary” so that Japanese soldiers could get some “rest” during the war.

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