San Francisco rebuffs Osaka mayor's visit over "comfort women" remark

The city of San Francisco sent a letter to Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto in May seeking to stop a planned visit amid the furor caused by his controversial remarks on Japan's wartime system of military brothels, Osaka city officials said Monday.

Even after his remarks drew flak at home and abroad, Hashimoto was still keen on pushing ahead with his scheduled trip to San Francisco and New York. But the letter indicates that the U.S. officials' hostile stance pushed him to cancel his trip.

The letter was sent by a senior San Francisco city official who served as liaison over Hashimoto's trip. It was received by Osaka City on May 22 and translated immediately for the mayor but not made public.

The letter stated that it was the position of the San Francisco city office that it could not block the mayor from coming to the United States in a private capacity, but would not treat the matter as an official visit or as a courtesy call.

Expecting protestors everywhere he went, the letter said the city would have to shoulder heavy security costs and noted his trip could hurt Osaka City's image.

Warning that the people of San Francisco did not welcome the Osaka mayor's U.S. trip, the letter concluded by saying that it would be desirable to postpone the trip considering security and Osaka's economic development.

The letter said its contents reflect the personal view of the senior city official, but sources familiar with the matter believe the gesture was done out of consideration for the sister city ties between Osaka and San Francisco which date back more than 50 years.

Hashimoto, who co-heads the opposition Japan Restoration Party, has been under fire for saying on May 13 that women at the brothels, euphemistically referred to as "comfort women" in Japan, were "necessary" for soldiers during World War II.

He planned to visit San Francisco and New York from June 10 to 16 to meet with U.S. officials as part of efforts to deepen city-level exchanges.

Hashimoto subsequently said he decided to cancel the trip due to the burden on the people he planned to visit.