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Osaka mayor moves to sever sister city ties with S.F. over comfort women memorial

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Mayor Mark Farrell dedicated a directional sign pointing to all of San Francisco’s 19 partnering Sister Cities at Hallidie Plaza in June 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The mayor of Osaka, Japan has informed Mayor London Breed that he was unilaterally withdrawing his city from a 61-year-old “sister-city” relationship with San Francisco to protest the installation of a memorial honoring “comfort women” who were sex-trafficked by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura this week sent a letter announcing his desire to withdraw from the largely ceremonial relationship.

“It is unfortunate that Mayor Yoshimura no longer wishes to maintain ties between the governments of San Francisco and Osaka,” said Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Mayor London Breed. “However, 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.”

“Breaking the relationship over a memorial is outrageous and absurd,” said Lillian Sing, co-chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition. “It shows how afraid the Osaka mayor and Japanese prime minister are of truth and are trying to deny history.”

SEE RELATED: Comfort women memorial makes sure women’s history is not forgotten

The Japanese consulate in San Francisco declined to comment.

The approval of the memorial at St. Mary’s Square in Chinatown drew heated testimony and intense opposition from the Japanese government, which has continued to lobby for its removal. The statue, which depicts three young girls standing in a circle, has been vandalized several times.

Sing said that roughly two dozen people from the Osaka Citizens Alliance recently visited San Francisco to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the memorial’s installation on Sept. 22.

“Osaka citizens came to support us, and came to give us a message for the mayor and Board of Supervisors that they oppose their mayor’s positions,” she said. “Citizens of Osaka stand in support and solidarity with us.”

Yoshimura reportedly first announced plans to withdraw from the sister-city relationship in November, but had not followed through due in part to the death of Mayor Ed Lee in December.

Artist Steven Whyte’s piece was selected as the winner for San Francisco’s proposed “comfort women” memorial in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood. (Courtesy San Francisco Arts Commission)

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