NAGOYA – A section of a major art festival in central Japan featuring a statue symbolizing wartime “comfort women” shut down Saturday following a flurry of protests, the organizer said.
One of exhibits on display was the “Statue of a Girl of Peace,” which has been receiving harsh criticism since Aichi Triennale 2019 started on Thursday.
The term comfort women, or ianfu in Japanese, is a euphemism for the women, including Koreans, who provided sex — including those who did so against their will — for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
The decision comes at a time when diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea have fallen to arguably the lowest level since they were normalized in 1965, amid disputes over wartime history and trade policy.
Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who heads the organizing committee, told a news conference that there are growing worries about safely managing the Aichi Triennale 2019 as it had received a number of threatening emails, phone calls and faxes.
One of the faxes it received read, “I will bring a gasoline container to the museum,” which drew associations with the recent deadly arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio, according to Omura.
The statue of the girl was part of an exhibit in the art festival’s section titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'”
Most of the artwork on display in that section could not be displayed in Japan in the past “due to censorship or self-censorship,” the exhibitor said.
The organizer of one of the biggest contemporary art festivals in Japan decided to completely close the section.
Journalist Daisuke Tsuda, who is the artistic director of the triennial festival, said, “It is regrettable that we have made an example that undermines freedom of expression.”
Japan-South Korea relations have long been frayed over historical issues stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.Now the thorny historical issues have spilled over into the economic realm.
Bilateral ties have further worsened after Japan decided Friday to revoke, starting later this month, South Korea’s preferential status as a trade partner for the purchase of goods that can be diverted for military use, citing security reasons.