In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty on Monday, Osaka's leaders expressed solidarity with America over North Korea but concern that San Francisco, Osaka's sister city, erected a monument to Japan's wartime "comfort women," who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels before and during World War II.
Hagerty met with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who also heads the Nippon Ishin no Kai opposition party which is close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party on major policy issues. Also in attendance was Osaka mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura. Osaka city and San Francisco have a sister city relationship.
Much of the meeting focused on North Korea, Osaka officials said. Hagerty spoke of the North Korean threat and urged stronger bilateral cooperation while Matsui told the ambassador Japan was grateful that President Donald Trump touched upon the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea in his speech to the United Nations last week.
But Matsui and Yoshimura also expressed concern over the unveiling in San Francisco last Friday of a monument dedicated to comfort women. Matsui and Yoshimura strongly opposed the monument, as did former Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, who canceled a trip to San Francisco in 2013 after being internationally condemned for suggesting the comfort women system had been necessary at the time.
"We're concerned mistaken history based on news reports will mean the (U.S-Japan) relationship won't progress very well for the next generation. I want this to be conveyed to the president," Matsui told Hagerty.
"We have to rethink the basis of our sister city relationship (with San Francisco)," added Yoshimura.
According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson, Hagerty told Matsui and Yoshimura that although there may be sensitive historical issues that need resolved, he and President Trump are focused on the future; that trilateral cooperation — from US, Japan, and South Korea — is needed to confront the DPRK regime; and that Japan and the U.S. needed to build on their 'kizuna' (shared bonds) to stand against this threat.
Other smaller local governments in the U.S. have erected comfort women statues or memorials, but San Francisco is the first major American city to have done so. The memorial comes after a resolution by the city's board of supervisors passed in 2015, despite protests by the Japanese government and some Japanese citizens living in the U.S. and Japan.
"The Japanese government's denial tactic has proven a failure in the United States and other parts of the world. People in the US view the comfort women issue as a universal human rights issue that everyone needs to know and care about," said Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California, who played a major role in convincing San Francisco to establish the memorial, in an e-mail statement to The Japan Times.
Despite a 2015 agreement between South Korea and Japan in which Tokyo offered apologies and remorse, the issue continues to plague relations between the two countries.