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Nagoya mayor demands removal of 'comfort women' statue on display at Aichi arts festival

A statue of a girl representing comfort women is seen at the Aichi Arts Center in Higashi Ward, Nagoya, on July 31, 2019. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

NAGOYA -- Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura has demanded that a "comfort women" statue be removed from display at a site of the Aichi Triennale 2019, an international arts festival that opened in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, on Aug. 1.

Kawamura made the demand in a letter of protest he sent on Aug. 2 to Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who heads the festival organizing committee. The Agency for Cultural Affairs, which supports the festival, has suggested it will carefully consider whether to grant subsidies for the event saying, "It's necessary to closely examine the exhibits."

The statue of the girl, which symbolizes wartime comfort women -- Korean women who worked in Japanese military brothels during World War II -- and was created by a South Korean artist, is on display at an exhibition entitled, "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" underway at the Aichi Arts Center, the festival's main venue.

Mayor Kawamura, who visited it on Aug. 2, said, "Views that the matter (of comfort women) isn't factually correct are strong."

Regarding the display of the girl's statue, Kawamura said, "It's unrelated to a lack of freedom of expression. It doesn't have to be displayed at a venue funded with a massive amount of taxpayers' money."

The prefectural government's arts and cultural affairs division said it received protests from about 700 people by phone and email on Aug. 1 alone.

Journalist Daisuke Tsuda, who serves as artistic director of the festival, said the organizing committee is considering changing the content of exhibits.

"We had a phone call that could be taken as a threat to launch a terrorist attack, and I'm worried about staff safety. We're considering how to respond to the situation, including the possibility of changing the content of the displays," he said.

(Japanese original by Yasuo Yamada and Ayuko Nomura, Nagoya News Center)

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