Rafu Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s scheduled visit to San Francisco this week has been canceled due to the ongoing controversy over his recent remarks about women used as sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War II.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto

Hashimoto reported receiving a message from a San Francisco city official stating that if the mayor visited on June 11 as planned, there would be no official welcome and he would probably be dogged by protesters.

Under normal circumstances, such a visit would have been a celebration of sister-city ties between San Francisco and Osaka, and community leaders would have turned out to meet the mayor.

All that changed on May 13 when Hashimoto discussed the estimated 200,000 “comfort women,” mostly from China, Korea and the Philippines, who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels. He touched off a firestorm of protest by stating: “When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort-women system. Anyone can understand that.”

Hashimoto later said that he was misquoted by the press and that he does not condone what was done to the women. At the same time, he denied that the Japanese government was directly involved and suggested that many countries violated women’s human rights during the war, yet Japan is being unfairly singled out.

“Mayor Hashimoto’s remarks that sex slaves were ‘necessary’ are contemptible and repulsive,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose). “His view is an affront to humanity, and to the women who were coerced into horrific sexual violence. We cannot ignore the past, which is why I am calling on the government of Japan to issue a formal apology.”

Emily Murase, executive director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, said, “This statement is very damaging  — to justify the exploitation and suffering experienced by the women, some just girls, who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II is a flagrant denial of basic human rights. Sex slavery is never ‘necessary’ …

“San Francisco’s sister-city relationship with Osaka, the third-largest city in Japan, is the nation’s oldest, dating back to 1957 under then-Mayor George Christopher. A long line of San Francisco mayors have invested in this important relationship. The recent statement by Mayor Hashimoto is counter to our values and it is our duty as a sister city to condemn his remarks.”

The San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, of which Murase is a board member, said in a statement that Hashimoto’s comment “in no way reflects the position of the association, nor the spirit of the sister city relationship.”

The group added, “The San Francisco-Osaka sister-city relationship was forged from the ashes of World War II as an historic effort to improve relations between the United States and Japan. Statements that justify controversial wartime abuses and devastating violence against women are damaging to international relations, and contrary to the mission of the association. We urge proactive efforts by Mayor Hashimoto to address the negative impacts of his damaging statement.”

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim on Tuesday introduced a resolution “condemning recent statements by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto claiming that the system of sex slavery utilized by Japan in occupied Asian countries from the 1930s through World War II was a military necessity and that there is no proof that the sexual servitude was involuntary and coerced by Japanese authorities.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by Supervisors David Chiu (president of the Board of Supervisors), Malia Cohen, Eric Mar, Norman Yee, John Avalos and David Campos, for a total of seven of the board’s 11 members.

Franco Arcebal, an 89-year-old World War II veteran who lives in Los Angeles, told The Philippine Daily Inquirer, “I am personally privy to the abduction of many beautiful young girls from our high school by military officers in my hometown in the Philippines. I could not stomach this forcible servitude of those innocent girls… [and] now the justification of an unrepentant leader in the person of Mayor Hashimoto.”

Arcebal and other Filipino veterans wrote to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, urging him not to welcome Hashimoto.

Lee told KGO-TV, “We registered that it might be a challenge if he did decide to come, a challenge to us because of the comments that he’s made.”

The Japan Times reported that a week before Hashimoto announced the cancellation of his visit, he received a message from an unnamed San Francisco city official that read, in part, “The people of San Francisco do not, at present, welcome Hashimoto’s trip to the U.S.”

The newspaper quoted the official as saying that Lee would not host any reception for Hashimoto, and given the complaints sent to Lee by women’s groups and Asian American leaders, Hashimoto would be surrounded by protesters wherever he went, thus forcing the city to provide a heavy police presence. The trip would ultimately be bad for Osaka’s image, the official said.

A spokesperson for Lee told SF Weekly that the message did not come from the mayor, but there was no word on who wrote it.

Hashimoto, who also dropped plans to visit New York, told reporters on May 28, “There will be nothing to gain if I visit the United States in the current climate.”

Hashimoto had planned to travel with Osaka Prefecture Gov. Ichiro Matsui; both are leaders of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party). Matsui went ahead with his visit and met with Gov. Jerry Brown in Sacramento on Tuesday.

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