Photo/IllutrationHundreds of people line up at the Aichi Arts Center on Oct. 8 to enter the drawing for the first showing of the resumed "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit. (Shuhei Takei)

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NAGOYA--Sixty people picked by lottery on Oct. 8 were allowed to view an art exhibit that sparked protests and terrorist threats, as well as cries of censorship after it was suspended two months ago.

The protests continued after organizers agreed to reopen the “’After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” exhibit at the Aichi Triennale 2019 international art festival.

The exhibit was shut down just three days after the triennale opened on Aug. 1 following the uproar over certain war-related displays, particularly a statue of a young girl symbolizing “comfort women” forced to provide sex to Japanese military personnel before and during World War II.

The controversy has apparently fueled interest in the exhibit.

Organizers of the festival decided on a lottery system to select the 30 visitors each who were allowed to view the reopened exhibit for one hourlong showing and a 40-minute showing on Oct. 8.

By 1 p.m., more than 450 people were lined up to enter the drawing for the first showing that started at 2:10 p.m. In the end, 709 people had applied for one of the 30 spots.

A 37-year-old man from Mizunami, Gifu Prefecture, said he was shocked to find his number listed on the computer screen that displayed the winners of the lottery.

“I heard more than 700 people had entered so I never expected to be chosen,” he said.

A 50-year-old man from Saitama city who was not so lucky was undecided whether he would enter the drawing for the second showing, which was scheduled for 4:20 p.m.

Some people abandoned their plans to even enter the lottery after seeing the huge crowds for the drawing at the Aichi Arts Center.

One of those who viewed the first showing said the exhibit was similar to other modern art exhibits she has seen.

“Rather than discuss the contents of the work, I feel it is wrong to restrict expression or to limit who can view the exhibit by using a lottery,” the 25-year-old female company employee from Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, said. “While I understand why the exhibit was suspended, I did not feel it was something that merited such action.”

Various security measures were taken for the reopened exhibit, including the use of a metal detector at the entrance. The lottery winners were also required to sign statements promising not to photograph any parts of the exhibit or post messages about the displays on social media.

Prospective visitors were also given a copy of an interim report by a committee looking into why the exhibit was suspended.

Fifteen other artists, citing the right to freedom of expression, withdrew their own exhibits from the triennale as an act of protest over the suspension of “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” They put their exhibits back on display on Oct. 8.

During the exhibit’s 66-day hiatus, the Agency for Cultural Affairs decided to withhold 78 million yen ($724,000) in already-approved subsidies for the art festival, citing “inappropriate procedural measures” by organizers. The decision drew criticism that the central government was endorsing censorship of art displays it did not like.

Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura, who also heads the Aichi Triennale 2019 organizing committee, said at a news conference on Oct. 7 that he wanted to resume the exhibit to avoid setting a bad precedent of bending to pressure from those who take offense over the contents of artworks.

He added that serious action would be taken in response to any threatening acts.

Another display at the exhibit that drew telephone protests was a video presentation that showed the burning of portraits, including one of Emperor Showa, the posthumous name of Emperor Hirohito, who reigned from 1926 until 1989.

A 65-year-old operator of a cram school from Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, stood in front of the Aichi Arts Center on Oct. 8 with a sign that said, “Insulting Emperor Showa cannot be considered art.”

He said he canceled his work that day to protest the resumption of the exhibition, adding that public funds should not be spent on displays in which a photo of the emperor is burned.

Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura staged a sit-in protest at the center to oppose the reopening.

Organizers had still not decided on how visitors would be allowed to view the exhibit from Oct. 9 until Oct. 14, when the Aichi Triennale 2019 ends.