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Aichi gov. to sue agency for withholding exhibit grants after 'comfort women' controversy

Gov. Hideaki Omura is seen announcing his intention to sue the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, to reporters at the Aichi Prefectural Government office in Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, on Sept. 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Naoto Takeda)

NAGOYA -- Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said Sept. 26 that he intends to sue the culture agency over its refusal to subsidize the Aichi Triennale 2019 arts festival in Nagoya, after it became mired in controversy over a statue symbolizing "comfort women."

An exhibit titled "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" at Aichi Triennale 2019 international arts festival was canceled just days into what was meant to be a 75-day run. The move came after Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura demanded that organizers pull a statue of a girl symbolizing so-called "comfort women" -- Korean and other women who worked in Japanese military brothels during World War II -- created by a South Korean husband-and-wife team. The festival also received numerous complaints and an arson threat over the exhibit.

"We will uphold the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan," Omura announced on Sept. 26 after learning that the arts festival would not be receiving central government subsidies.

An email was reportedly sent from the Agency for Cultural Affairs to the prefectural government the same day, informing the prefecture that all funding would be withheld, prompting the governor to announce he planned to sue the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the agency's parent ministry.

"These measures, carried out via abstract reasoning, are equivalent to an infringement on freedom of expression," Omura said.

The governor said that on Aug. 4, the day after the exhibition's suspension was announced, staff were dispatched to the Agency for Cultural Affairs to explain to officials the events leading up to the cancellation.

The prefectural government's independent investigative committee over the festival, headed by Toshio Yamanashi, director of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, recommended in a Sept. 25 interim report that the exhibition should "be resumed as soon as conditions permit." Gov. Omura declared his aim to reopen the exhibit, after the committee's findings were released.

Regarding the cultural agency's notification received on Sept. 26 that subsidies would not be paid, Omura said, "I can only regard this as a response to my proclamation."

Total operating costs for the arts festival this fiscal year will reach 1.088 billion yen, including 4.2 million yen for the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibition. Omura said, "There are around three weeks left until the festival's last day on Oct. 14. We will continue to run it safely and securely." Although he expressed the view that Aichi Triennale would not be affected by the loss of the subsidies, there appears to be no prospect of the closed exhibition being reopened.

Ken Terawaki, former head of the cultural division at the Agency for Cultural Affairs, said, "If culture and arts don't have freedom, then it will regress. The agency can't explain that 'the cause is the exhibition's content.'

"But looking at the way that politicians' public pronouncements and other things have gone on, the general public will get the impression that the statue of the girl was behind the withholding of subsidies. Activities relating to art and culture will shrink."

(Japanese original by Naoto Takeda, Nagoya News Center, and Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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