Japan Cancels Exhibition of South Korean Statue Depicting “Comfort Woman”

The exhibition “After freedom of expression? ” , which is part of a major art festival in Aichi, central Japan, was closed only three days after its opening.

An exhibition in Japan featuring a controversial South Korean work of art on the subject of sexual slaves of the Japanese imperial army has been cancelled. The organizers have received threats, against the backdrop of a crisis between Seoul and Tokyo. On August 2, the two Washington allies imposed reciprocal trade restrictions against each other, in a context of tensions over historical disputes inherited from the period when Korea was a Japanese colony.

Women forced into sexual slavery

The exhibition, which is part of a major art festival in Aichi, in central Japan, was closed on August 3, just three days after its opening.Entitled After Freedom of Expression? , this exhibition featured works that could be censored elsewhere. It was programmed to last two and a half months. It featured a statue of a girl in a traditional Korean habit sitting on a chair. The work became a symbol of the suffering of women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during the Second World War.

Direct threats

The Governor of Aichi Hideaki Omura, who is responsible for the festival, said that the organizers had received a large number of threats by phone, email or fax. One of the faxes said in particular: “I will go to the museum with a gas can”. A threat that can be a reference to the arson that caused 35 deaths last month in Kyoto in a building of a cartoon production company. ” We made this decision because we cannot safely organize the exhibition,’ said the governor.

Symbol of abuse and violence

The question of “women of comfort” has been poisoning relations between Seoul and Tokyo for decades, as many South Koreans saw it as a symbol of the abuses and violence committed by Japan during its colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. According to historians, some 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also from other Asian countries, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the Second World War under the name of “women of comfort”.

In recent years, activists have erected dozens of statues in public places around the world, many of them in South Korea, in honour of the victims. These works provoke the fury of the Japanese authorities, who were also outraged by the fact that South Korean courts require Japanese companies to compensate the SouthKoreans who had been forced to work in their factories during the Japanese occupation. Tokyo challenged the legality of these proceedings, considering that these disputes were settled by the 1965 Treaty which had allowed the resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations and which included reparations. But South Korean justice has repeatedly held that this controversial treaty did not address issues of forced labour in Japanese factories.