A picture of the comfort women statue in St. Mary’s Square in San Francisco. Photo: Paul Chinn / San Francisco Chronicle.

Osaka Severs Ties with San Francisco over “Comfort Woman” Statue

Hirofumi Yoshimura, the mayor of Osaka, Japan, is severing ties with its sister city, San Francisco, over a statue commemorating the many thousands of Korean, Chinese, and Filipino “comfort women” who were detained and sexually assaulted by Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, writes Jacey Fortin of the New York Times. Yoshimura announced that Osaka would end its relationship with San Francisco when its mayor, Edwin M. Lee, signed a resolution to make the statue a city monument. “Erecting comfort women statues in the United States and other countries is in conflict with our country’s stance and extremely regrettable,” said Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, at a press conference on November 24. Earlier this year, a comfort woman statue placed outside the Japanese embassy in Busan, South Korea, caused Japan, in an act of protest, to suspend economic negotiations in helping stabilize South Korea’s currency.

There are fears that the statue will incite violence against Japanese Americans in the United States, as more than one hundred thousand people of Japanese heritage were imprisoned in US internment camps during the 1940s, around the same time the Imperial Japanese Army was enslaving women. South Korea has also been accused of keeping women as prostitutes for American soldiers during the 1960s and 1970s, and in January a South Korean court declared that the government broke the law by detaining these women.

Julie Tang, a retired California Superior Court judge and chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition, does not see the San Francisco statue as any kind of insult to the Japanese. “The issue is women’s freedom from sexual violence, especially from rape and assault during wartime,” said Tang.