Mayor Yoshimura of Osaka Japan sent a letter to the Mayor of San Francisco this week. Their sister city designation has been officially severed. This move, a long time coming, has been under suspicion for approximately two years. The Japanese mayor’s stance comes from an issue regarding a statue erected in Chinatown which represents Korean comfort women. The issue has been a thorny issue of diplomatic relations between Japan and the countries they occupied since the Second World War. An excerpt from the correspondence reads:
“I am convinced that it is my duty … to disclose the bitter process leading up to the much regrettable conclusion to terminate our sister city relationship”
During World War II, the Japanese empire occupied several Asian countries. These included Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia. Here, Japanese military (in collaboration with local brokers called middlemen) maintained a brothel-like system where women from each respective country was recruited to serve. Culturally, brothels like these in Japan were a normal and acceptable of reducing wartime stress. The logic behind these systems across the empire was to prevent wartime assaults on the battlefield.
After the war ended, Japan retreated from the countries they occupied. With the retreat, the comfort system subsequently ended. Although many women kept their occupations during this period a secret, their pasts manifested in their lives. The Asian societies in which they lived, priding themselves on the purity and chastity of women for marriage, subjugated these women to lifetimes of stigmatization and suffering as a result.
In the 1990’s, movements for the rights of former Korean comfort women began cropping up in Asia and in the greater Korean diaspora. Many of these movements found a strong foothold in places like San Francisco which house a considerable density of populations coming from Korean descent.
KOREANS IN AMERICA
According to the 2010 US Census, there were approximately 1.7 million people of Korean descent residing in the United States, making it the country with the second largest Korean population living outside Korea after China. The ten states with the largest estimated Korean American populations were California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Washington, Illinois, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Hawaii registered as the state with the highest Korean-American concentration at a staggering 1.8%.
Today, the imperial legacy of Japan trickles down to municipalities, spanning not only deep seated issues of international relations. Many have criticized the Japanese mayor, stating that one man does not have the power to end a 60 year relationship between two cities. In the letter, Mayor Yoshimura stated that Osaka would reconsider its sister city status once the statue and placard are removed from private property. Until then, the city of San Francisco remains a memorial for Korean Comfort Women, with or without Osaka.