61-year governmental partnership brought to a close as Osaka mayor cites lack of necessary “deep trust.”

Back in 1957, Osaka, the largest city in Japan’s central Kansai region, entered into a sister city pact with San Francisco, the second-largest city on the American West Coast. Sadly, the official friendship didn’t include a clause about being best friends forever, and on October 2, Osaka mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura announced that he has withdrawn the symbolic sibling status.

The development is the latest chapter in a long-running disagreement between the Osaka mayor’s office and San Francisco administrators over a memorial in the California city’s Chinatown. In 2015, San Francisco announced that it would be installing a memorial to comfort women forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military during World War II and the country’s imperialist expansion through Asia during the first half of the 20th century. Osaka’s then-mayor, Toru Hashimoto, voiced his displeasure with the monument focusing only on Japanese transgressions, saying that “By using only Japan as an example, the issue will be trivialized and a worldwide resolution will not be reached.”

▼ The San Francisco memorial

Yoshimura continued to oppose plans for the memorial after taking office in 2015, but in 2017, the statue was installed in St. Mary’s Square, a public park in San Francisco. The monument includes a plaque which 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 to 1945.”

Two months after the memorial’s installation, Yoshimura once again criticized it, sending a letter to San Francisco’s then-mayor Ed Lee in which he wrote “There is disagreement among historians regarding 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 also said that unless changes were made to the memorial, he would be withdrawing Osaka from the sister city relationship before the end of 2017.

Lee’s sudden death from a heart attack in December of 2017 seems to have prompted Yoshimura to alter his timetable, but on October 2, the 43-year-old mayor of Osaka announced that he has sent a written statement to his counterparts in San Francisco ending the relationship, on the grounds that the memorial is “transmitting an incorrect message to the global community.”

In speaking with Japanese reporters, Yoshimura lamented that he felt his concerns had fallen on deaf ears, saying “I told them my thoughts on the matter, and did not even receive a response, which I believe is a slightly rude way of acting” as well as claiming that the Japanese consulate in San Francisco felt that the local government was not interested in compromising. Yoshimura also voiced his theory that voter demographics played a role, saying “San Francisco has many Korean and Chinese residents, and they have an impact on politics.”

Yoshimura’s decision didn’t have unanimous support in Osaka, however. While the mayor is a member of the Osaka Isshin no Kai, city council members belonging to the Liberal Democratic, Komeito, and Communist parties spoke out against withdrawing from the sister city relationship, calling Yoshimura’s response disproportionate. Nevertheless, Yoshimura carried out the dissolution, asserting “There must be deep trust between sister cities, just like between human siblings…In the future, it will be enough for [sister city-like cooperation] to happen on the civilian, non-government level.”

As Yoshimura himself acknowledges, even without the mayor’s assistance or a formal agreement between the city government, the citizens of Osaka and San Francisco are still free to engage in any sort of cooperation they choose. As a matter of fact, as of October 4 (Japan time), the website for the Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco still lists “San Francisco/Osaka” on its roster of sister cities (though the list hasn’t been updated since May).

Meanwhile, disappointed as San Francisco’s politicians may be at Yoshimura’s actions, the city still intends to continue having cordial relations with its now former sister city. While calling Yoshimura’s decision “unfortunate,” Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for San Francisco mayor London Breed, pledged “we will remain sister cities via the people-to-people ties maintained by our San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Committee and their counterparts in Osaka.”

Sources: Yahoo! Japan News/Sankei Shimbun via Hachima Kiko, San Francisco Examiner, Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco
Top image: Wikipedia/663highland
Insert image: Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco