Photo/IllutrationAichi Goveror Hideaki Omura, holding a protest letter from Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, said the mayor’s statement protesting an exhibit very likely was in violation of the Constitution. He was speaking at a news conference in Nagoya on Aug. 5. (Sayaka Emukai)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGOYA--Two days after canceling an exhibition on freedom of expression on grounds of public safety, the governor of Aichi Prefecture in central Japan mounted a scathing attack on this city's mayor over his objection to one of the exhibits.

Even though Governor Hiroaki Omura ordered the exhibition to be shut down following threats to torch the facility where it was being held, he said Aug. 5 that a request by Mayor Takashi Kawamura for the removal of a "comfort women" statue representing women forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese soldiers very likely was unconstitutional, referring to a ban on censorship enshrined in the Constitution.

Kawamura requested that Omura order the statue's removal after a flood of public protests over the content of the display at the exhibition, titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”

The show began Aug. 1 as part of the Aichi Triennale 2019: Taming Y/Our Passion. Omura is the chair of the organizing committee of the Aichi Triennale, which will run through Oct. 14.

The exhibition featured more than 20 pieces, including the statue representing comfort women and a video showing a portrait of Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), posthumously known as Emperor Showa, being burned.

The comfort women statue was crafted by South Korean sculptors.

The event, staged at the Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya, was aimed at encouraging visitors to contemplate the notion of freedom of expression through the display of pieces that had been shunned at museums and public venues in Japan.

But the mayor requested that Omura remove the sculpture, the “Statue of a Girl of Peace,” saying it “tramples on the feelings of Japanese” in a protest letter on Aug. 2. Kawamura saw the show the same day.

The Aichi Triennale is partly funded by the central government.

Omura announced the decision to cancel the exhibition at a news conference on the evening of Aug. 3, citing the importance of public safely following the public outcry.

He said the Aichi Triennale’s secretariat had been bombarded with more than 1,000 angry calls and e-mails over the statue and other exhibits by Aug. 2, including threats to commit acts of violence at the site.

It was later learned that Kazumi Sugimoto, a Lower House member of the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), also sent a letter of protest.

Sugimoto, who won a seat in the proportional representation segment of the Tokai region, said: “(The statue) is not appropriate in the least for an exhibition held at a public facility with public funds.”

At a news conference on Aug. 5, Omura said such protests amounted to censorship, which is banned by Article 21 of the Constitution.

“I believe that none other than the public sector, such as administrative officials and local governments, should protect the principle of freedom of expression,” he said. “Even if people don’t support some forms of expression, they should still accept that they are genuine forms of expression.”

The governor said the cost for the exhibition will be covered by donations from the public. He reiterated that the safety of the public was the overriding priority in deciding to cancel the show.

Omura added that the prefectural government received an e-mail threatening to stage an arson attack against the facility on the morning of Aug. 5 on top of a similar threat made earlier.

Prefectural officials are expected to raise the matter with police.

For his part, Kawamura renewed his criticism of the comfort women exhibit at a news conference the same day.

“It is not acceptable to hold the exhibition (featuring such a display) with taxpayer money,” he said. “It amounts to misleading the public.”

In response to Omura’s argument that the mayor’s behavior was akin to censorship, Kawamura said, “The prefectural government should say without hesitation that there is nothing wrong with the exhibits.”

The mayor said city officials in charge of the exhibition learned about the display of the comfort women statue on July 22. He learned about it on July 31. He said it has been customary to leave the decision to select exhibits to the artistic director of the Aichi Triennale, the first of which was held in 2010.

“City official have never interfered (in the selection process) in the past,” Kawamura said.

On the evening of Aug. 4, the day after the show was called off, about 200 people gathered in Nagoya’s Sakae shopping district to lash out at Kawamura.

They rallied in response to a call by Antifa758, a civic group.

Kosuke Hayashi, a key member of the group, assailed the mayor, accusing him of being the cause for the exhibition to be canceled.

“The people who should be denounced most are those who kept making threatening calls in protest of the exhibition,” he said. “Kawamura and other politicians acted to fuel their protests.”