The Cultural Affairs Agency recently decided not to pay a promised ¥78 million state subsidy to the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival in Nagoya, which hosted a controversial exhibition titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'” What the government should have done is defend the art festival rather than cancel the subsidy, as its decision is likely to have negative repercussions for future art festivals in Japan.

In April the agency chose Aichi Triennale as a recipient of the subsidy. Then last week it suddenly announced it would not pay the grant as it was not informed in advance that the exhibition, which included a statue symbolizing “comfort women” and a burned image of what appears to be Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, could trigger an outcry that would jeopardize the smooth operation of the event. The section was shuttered three days after the art festival opened on Aug. 1. Festival organizers cited security concerns after they received multiple threats.

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