San Francisco comfort women statue could end sister-city ties with Osaka

opinion November 19, 2017 01:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

A private organisation formed by citizens of Chinese ancestry set up a statue depicting comfort women on private property in San Francisco in the United States.



This land was handed over to the city, and the city’s council unanimously decided to also accept the statue as a donation from the group.

“This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls … who were sexually enslaved,” reads part of the inscription on the monument. “Most of these women died during their wartime captivity.”

This can be described only as a distortion of historical facts. It gives the erroneous impression that the former Japanese military forcibly took these women against their will. It is extremely regrettable that the city council endorsed the statue as a public monument.

Hirofumi Yoshimura, the mayor of Osaka, which has a sister-city relationship with San Francisco, has declared his concern over this development, saying, “Going ahead and accepting the comfort women statue could damage our relationship of trust.” Yoshimura also stated his intention to dissolve the sister-city affiliation. This response is understandable.

The Osaka municipal government has sent several letters calling for San Francisco to treat this issue with careful consideration. Accepting the monument “would not be squarely facing the past, but rather a criticism of Japan”, a letter from the mayor said. It “will not only lead to a disruption in the communities of your city, but it could also negatively affect the sister city exchanges as well”.

In October, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee indicated his intention to brush off Osaka’s concerns, saying, “It is my duty to be responsive to the community, even when it means we might face criticism.”

Lee probably could not ignore the wishes of residents of Chinese descent, who make up a significant part of the city’s population.

Since starting their sister-city affiliation in 1957, Osaka and San Francisco have deepened their friendship through steps including mutual visits by mayors and student exchange programmes. This year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the relationship, commemorative events were held in the US city. In October, a delegation from San Francisco visited Osaka and attended a reception.

Exchanges built up over many years could be ruined by anti-Japanese activities filled with malice conducted by some private groups. This is an unfortunate situation.

In the United States, comfort women statues also have been set up in parks in the cities of Glendale and Brookhaven. Both these statues were the result of active lobbying by private groups of citizens of South Korean descent.

The impact of setting up a comfort women statue in San Francisco, a major city, seems to be considerable.

This issue, involving perceptions of history, is not one that can be resolved by leaving it up to the city of Osaka. At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “The government will deal properly with the issue after collecting information through the embassy and consulates general in the United States.”

The government must reflect seriously on how this situation was allowed to happen, and ensure accurate historical facts are conveyed to the world.