The Japanese city of Osaka has ended its sister city agreement with the US city of San Francisco due to a dispute over a statue that memorialises women made sex slaves by Japanese forces in the 20th century.
The statue in San Francisco features depictions of women from China, Korea and the Philippines, symbolising “comfort women”, a term that refers to the women and teenaged girls abducted and forced to work in brothels under Imperial Japanese rule.
The statue bears an inscription that 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 1931-1945. Most of these women died during their wartime captivity.”
In a letter to his San Francisco counterpart, London Breed, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura said there is “disagreement among historians regarding the historical facts such as the number of ‘comfort women’, the degree to which the former Japanese Army was involved, and the extent of the wartime harm”.
Yoshimura concluded his letter by saying: “In the future, should the City and County of San Francisco retract the Comfort Women Memorial and plaque from public property … the City of Osaka will be genuinely inclined to fully revive the sister city affiliation whenever necessary.”
The statue was erected by a private group but San Francisco officials agreed to recognise it as public property this week.
Breed’s office said in a statement it was “unfortunate” that Yoshimura ended their relationship.
The move was also termed “outrageous and absurd” by Lillian Sing, co-chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition, a US group based in San Francisco, who spoke to The Guardian.
“It shows how afraid the Osaka mayor and Japanese prime minister are of truth and are trying to deny history,” said Sing.
The Japanese government has taken steps to address the historical issue of sex slavery. Japan and South Korea reached an agreement in 2015 that included an apology from Japan, though Tokyo never accepted legal responsibility for the plight of comfort women.
Japan also founded the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, a one billion-yen (roughly $8.7m) fund to care for survivors.