NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) A museum run by Okinawa Prefecture has barred a series of collages featuring photos of the late Emperor Hirohito from its ongoing exhibition for “educational” reasons.
The work barred from the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum is a 14-piece collage series crafted by 60-year-old artist Nobuyuki Oura when he was in his 30s.
Each features a cutout photograph of the Emperor, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, along with such images as mushroom clouds, naked women and an anatomical chart of human bodies.
The collages have recently been displayed at exhibitions in Tokyo and New York and were to be shown at the Okinawa museum’s “Into the Atomic Sunshine” display when it opened on April 11.
Shinya Watanabe, organizer of the exhibit, said he excluded Oura’s work after the museum told him the exhibition would otherwise not open.
“The museum is an educational facility run under the prefectural board of education, and such a facility is thus supposed to display works in a fair and neutral manner,” said Hirotaka Makino, who heads the facility.
“We have judged that the artwork in question would not be suitable from an educational point of view,” he said. “There are no problems because the organizers have agreed with us.”
The decision has drawn a barrage of criticism from art critics in Okinawa.
“Okinawa was drawn into the ground battle during World War II under Japan’s Imperial system,” said one of the critics. “The prefectural government does not understand how dreadful it would be for authorities to promote only art that sees a bright side while avoiding facing up to the reality of the unfortunate part of history.”
Another said, “The museum should have left the judgment on the art up to its audience instead of resorting to censorship or self-restraint.”
The Museum of Modern Art in Toyama Prefecture acquired some of the collages and exhibited them in 1986. But the museum soon closed the show and sold it to other parties after it sparked strong protests from rightwingers.
In 1994, Oura filed a lawsuit demanding Toyama Prefecture repurchase the collages, but the court ruled against him in 2000.
The latest incident “represents self-protection and excessive reaction from a local government, which makes the topic on the Imperial system taboo,” said Oura.
“This kind of incident could happen anywhere in Japan,” he said.
“The problem was that this has happened in Okinawa, a place where postwar issues have remained like dregs.
“I was disappointed because I was robbed of opportunities to see how the audience would react to my work, including criticism from local people,” he said.
Okinawan sentiment toward Emperor Hirohito reportedly worsened when the “emperor’s message” — a 1947 memorandum by Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s political adviser William Sebald — was made public in 1979. The message expressed the Emperor’s hope for Okinawa to be long occupied by the United States.
Okinawa was controlled by the U.S. from 1945 to 1972.
After the war, the late Emperor made visits to all prefectures except Okinawa. He was scheduled to do so in 1987, but the plan was aborted because he needed surgery.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.