National / Crime & Legal

Man arrested for alleged arson threat against Aichi museum over 'comfort women' exhibit

Kyodo, JIJI, Staff Report

A 59-year-old man has been arrested for allegedly making an arson threat against a museum in Aichi Prefecture demanding the removal of a controversial statue symbolizing wartime “comfort women,” police said.

Shuji Hotta, a truck driver from Inazawa, Aichi Prefecture, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of obstruction of business by force, the police said late Wednesday. He has admitted to faxing the threat earlier in the month to organizers of the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival.

The exhibit — titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'” — featured a statue symbolizing women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. The exhibit was closed following a flurry of protests and threats.

The fax was sent Aug. 2 from a convenience store in Aichi to the Aichi Arts Center, the key venue of the festival. The Aichi government reported the fax to the police Tuesday.

Hotta emerged as a suspect after security camera footage at the convenience store showed him using a fax machine in the early morning that day.

The faxed handwritten message threatened to set fire to the museum using gasoline, according to the police, evoking the recent deadly arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio.

The festival opened on Aug. 1 and is scheduled to run until Oct. 14.

The comfort women issue has been a major sticking point in Japan-South Korea relations, which have deteriorated to their worst level in recent years due to wartime history and trade issues.