Withdrawn endorsements for films and art exhibitions are re-igniting a debate in Japan over self-censorship, exposing a struggle to balance freedom of expression with a cultural penchant for avoiding conflict.

The latest controversy arose when Japan last week canceled its endorsement of an art exhibition in Austria commemorating 150 years of diplomatic relations. The collection includes work that critics say paint an unflattering picture of Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"We made the judgment that the contents of the exhibition did not promote the mutual understanding and friendly relations between Japan and Austria," said Seiichiro Taguchi, director of the Foreign Ministry's Central and South Eastern Europe Division.