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Osaka severs sister-city ties with San Francisco over 'comfort women' statue

Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura speaks about the city's decision to sever its sister-city relationship with San Francisco, at the Osaka Municipal Government headquarters in the city's Kita Ward, on Oct. 2, 2018. (Mainichi/Takashi Okamura)

OSAKA -- The western Japan city of Osaka has ended its sister-city relationship with San Francisco over the U.S. city accepting the donation of a statue representing "comfort women" from a local citizens group.

Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura sent a notice to the San Francisco municipal government on Oct. 2 on the decision, putting an end to official ties between the two cities that had lasted for over 60 years. The Osaka Municipal Government had asked San Francisco to withdraw its acceptance of the donated statue by the end of September, but never received a reply.

The cities never held direct talks on the statue, which represents women at "comfort stations" providing sexual services to the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

"We asked them not to recognize as public property the comfort women statue and its epigraph that don't reflect the facts, but our request wasn't accepted. Our mutual trust has been damaged," the mayor told reporters on Oct. 2.

Yoshimura said that the city "has received many opinions that its relationship (with San Francisco) should be severed," although he added that he was not going to say if such views formed the majority of comments on the issue sent to the municipal government.

The two cities signed a sister-city agreement in 1957, conducting exchanges of high-ranking municipal officials and assembly members, and organizing exchange programs between residents.

The comfort women monument is seen in a park in San Francisco on Nov. 14, 2017. (Mainichi/Hiromi Nagano)

Relations worsened in 2013, however, when Mayor Toru Hashimoto stated that comfort women "were necessary at the time." The San Francisco Board of Supervisors then adopted a resolution condemning Hashimoto over his remark. The city also rejected a visit by the Osaka mayor.

A San Francisco citizens group later unveiled a plan to install a statue representing comfort women. In 2015, San Francisco's governing assembly unanimously voted to accept the group's offer to donate the statue to the city.

In September 2017, Hashimoto's successor Yoshimura notified San Francisco that the Japanese city would review the sister-city relationship if the U.S. city made the statue a municipal monument. The mayor argued at the time that the statue's inscription stating that "hundreds of thousands of women and girls ... were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces" is inaccurate, one-sided and at odds with the Japanese government's view. He added that he would never justify the comfort women system.

(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Mano, Osaka City News Department)

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