• Kyodo, Staff Report


Organizers of a shuttered art exhibition that included a “comfort woman” statue agreed Monday with the hosts of the Nagoya arts festival of which it was part to reopen the collection to visitors, in a high-profile case that highlights freedom of expression.

Having reached the settlement, the two sides said they planned to reopen the exhibition, called “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'” at the Aichi Triennale 2019 sometime between Oct. 6 and 8.

The term “comfort woman” is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

The agreement came in the course of a hearing at the Nagoya District Court, held as part of mediation after a demand was filed Sept. 13 seeking a court injunction to reopen the collection.

The executive committee for the exhibition agreed on four conditions that Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura presented as necessary for reopening. They included cooperating with security measures and implementing an advanced reservation system using numbered tickets, according to Omura, who serves as chairman of the steering committee of the Triennale festival.

The works in the collection prior to the shutdown will continue to be shown, and an educational program will be implemented where appropriate, Omura said.

The exhibition will also provide visitors with an interim report on the background to its suspension, according to the governor.

The exhibition showcased works that had previously not been shown due to censorship, including a work related to Japan’s imperial system.

It was closed three days after its Aug. 1 opening over security concerns said to be due to multiple threats to the festival, which is set to run through Oct. 14.

But the organizing committee and some artists who had their work included in the exhibit have argued the move was an act of censorship, rather than one of safety.

Upon hearing news of the exhibit’s reopening, Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura criticized the agreement.

“It’s outrageous to showcase political works in an art festival hosted by the city (and other public entities), an act that would amount to a hijacking of public opinions,” he told reporters.

Kawamura previously incited controversy when he demanded the exhibition be shut down, arguing the statue should not be displayed at a publicly funded event as its presence could give the impression that Japan accepted South Korea’s claim that the women were forcibly taken by the Japanese military.

Last week the Cultural Affairs Agency withdrew a grant for the art festival worth approximately ¥78 million ($722,000) citing procedural inadequacies, saying the Aichi government had failed to provide necessary information when applying for the subsidy.

The comfort women issue has been a major sticking point in Japan-South Korea relations, which have recently deteriorated to their poorest state in years due to disputes over compensation for wartime forced labor and tighter export controls.

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