The Tokyo District Court recently issued a provisional injunction ordering Nikon Corp., the world-renowned camera maker, to honor its agreement to allow a South Korean photographer to use its Nikon Salon in Tokyo’s Shinjuku for a photo exhibition of former South Korean sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women” — those who provided sex to members of the Imperial Japanese armed forces during World War II. The court’s decision serves as a powerful reminder for both private citizens and companies of the importance of upholding the freedom of expression as the basis of democracy even in the face of pressure from individuals or groups who oppose their views.
In December, Mr. Ahn Se Hong, a resident of Nagoya, applied to use the Nikon Salon for an exhibition of 40 black and white photographs titled “Chongqing — former Korean comfort women of the Japanese armed forces left behind in China.”
After a five-member committee viewed his application, including the photographs, and accepted his plan, Nikon told him in January that he could hold his exhibition in the Nikon Salon from June 26 to July 9. The plan for the photo exhibition was widely reported by the mass media in May.
But on May 22, Nikon suddenly informed Mr. Ahn that it was canceling the exhibition for “various reasons.”
Behind Nikon’s decision were complaints that it had received about the planned exhibition, mainly from rightist groups who believe that there were no “comfort women” or that the issue was exaggerated by Koreans and other Asians.
Mr. Ahn filed an application with the Tokyo District Court, asking it to issue a provisional injunction to order Nikon to rescind its decision. In court, Nikon testified that it made the decision because Mr. Ahn’s planned exhibition was part of a political activity.
On June 22, however, the court sided with Mr. Ahn and ordered Nikon to hold the exhibition as planned, stating that “photo culture” has progressed as a form of artistic expression with distinct values, although some photographic themes do possess a certain degree of political content.
The Tokyo District Court’s decision is a reminder to both individuals and organizations engaged in activities related to artistic expression that they need to have the courage to endure and overcome pressure from those who oppose their views and try to silence them.