The Tokyo District Court ordered Nikon Corp. on Friday to pay ¥1.1 million in damages over canceling the use of showrooms for photo exhibitions on Korean women forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels.
Photographer Ahn Se Hong, a 44-year-old South Korean residing in Japan, had sought about ¥13 million in compensation from the camera maker, which approved use of its exhibition galleries in Tokyo and Osaka for the “comfort women” exhibition, but then told Ahn in May 2012 it was revoking that permission.
Nikon said it will “carefully consider” whether to appeal the ruling.
Presiding Judge Sonoe Taniguchi said in handing down the ruling, “There was no appropriate reason to cancel the use (of the showrooms).”
Ahn told a news conference after the ruling, “I expect places for expression will be protected from now on.”
During the trial, Nikon argued that it had received protests over the exhibition and had been afraid that people related to the events might be harmed, or the company could suffer losses.
But Taniguchi said there were “no such risks in reality” and added, “It was unjust that the company did not talk with the plaintiff and unilaterally refused to hold the events.”
In filing the lawsuit, Ahn said in a written complaint that Nikon “illegally interfered in expressions” and that his “social value as a photographer was significantly undermined and personal right was violated.”
Ahn was able to hold the photo exhibition at the Nikon Salon in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward from June to July 2012 as planned because the court ordered Nikon under a provisional decision to allow use of the space.
But the photographer had to change the venue for the exhibition scheduled at the Nikon Salon in Osaka the following month.
In the photo exhibition titled “former Korean comfort women left in China,” Ahn displayed about 40 items. The photographer applied for use of the salons in December 2011.
A lawyer representing Ahn said the ruling urges private companies to “value opportunities of expression” and “blew the whistle on the current situation,” in which private companies tend to refrain from involvement in events that trigger objection.
The comfort women issue remains controversial in Japan, although a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the Japanese military’s involvement in setting up “comfort stations” and cases of coercion in recruiting women to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
The current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has opposed labeling the comfort women as “sex slaves” and has said it has not found objective evidence that women were “forcefully taken away” by the military.