• Kyodo, Staff Report

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A review panel formed by the Aichi Prefectural Government has slammed a high-profile art festival held every three years in the prefecture, saying that the event, which sparked controversy for featuring a statue symbolizing “comfort women,” had many faults in its displays and preparations.

The term comfort women 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 Aichi Triennale 2019, held from Aug. 1 to Oct. 14 in Nagoya and nearby cities, attracted heightened public attention when one of its exhibitions — titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'” — was closed abruptly three days after opening due to complaints and threats over the comfort women statue.

The exhibition, which also featured a piece showing the burning of a work that included an image of Emperor Showa, was suspended from Aug. 3 through Oct. 7, in a decision the panel supported.

In its final report, the review panel said the halting of the controversial exhibition was “unavoidable” in the face of imminent danger, and “did not comprise an unwarranted restriction on freedom of expression.”

The report stated that the exhibition had deviated from its concept of showcasing works eliminated from displays in the past in what critics call censorship, as it included newly created works that had not been removed by public museums.

It also said there was a lack of coordination between Daisuke Tsuda, the artistic director of the festival, curators and others involved, and that there was no system for preventing errors or misjudgments by the director despite giving him significant power.

The six-member review panel headed by Toshio Yamanashi, chief of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, called for a complete overhaul of the festival’s management body through steps such as establishing an advisory panel of arts and culture experts.

But the panel proposed continuing to hold the event, saying it could help promote the region and resolve local challenges.

“We will sincerely accept the proposals, and work toward the next triennale by gaining local residents’ understanding,” said Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who headed the festival’s steering committee. The governor seeks to hold the event in 2022 by appointing an individual from the private sector to head the committee.

Problems surrounding the latest festival have yet to be settled. The Cultural Affairs Agency has withdrawn a ¥78 million grant ($712,800) for the art event, saying the Aichi government failed to provide necessary information that the exhibition could stir protests when it applying for the state subsidy.

Nagoya has also refused to pay part of the event’s expenses. Mayor Takashi Kawamura argued that the comfort women statue should not be displayed at a publicly funded event as its presence could give an inaccurate impression that Japan accepts South Korea’s claim the women were forcibly taken by the Japanese military.

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

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