July 26, 2021

In Japan, freedom of expression undermined by the nationalist movement

The pressures and threats from the Japanese nationalist movement got the better of the “Non-freedom of expression” exhibition, which criticizes the Japanese militarist past or the unspoken of recent tragedies, such as the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Scheduled in Tokyo from June 25 to July 4, it was canceled the day before it opened. “It’s just a postponement. We are convinced that the event will take place ”, wants to believe the organizer, Yuka Okamoto, who is considering legal action.

The project was originally scheduled to take place at Session House, a private space in Tokyo. The owner gave up at the beginning of June, exhausted by the pressures and threats: far-right activists protested loudly in front of the building; hateful and even threatening calls and messages have multiplied, while the police remained discreet, limiting themselves to asking protesters to turn down the volume. After the event was canceled in this space, a new location had been found and kept secret until the last moment. But, for fear of an incident, the owner also ended up withdrawing.

Taboos of Japanese history

The exhibition presents sensitive content, starting with The Soundscape of Fukushima, de Koji Nagahata, Perspective of maintenance – a critique of the imperial system -, by the videographer Nobuyuki Ooura, or The Girl of Peace, by South Korean sculptors Kim Un-seong and Kim Seo-kyong. This statue represents a woman known as “of comfort”, a euphemism to describe the women forced to prostitute themselves for the Japanese imperial army. Initially installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, it has been reproduced and erected in several countries, including Germany and the United States, and is intended to be a symbol against violence against women during wars.

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These works touch on “Taboos of yesterday and today in the history of Japan and testify to the rise of revisionism in the Archipelago”, explains Mme Okamoto. Some of these taboos are linked to the Second World War, such as the Nanking (China) massacre in 1937, or concern “comfort” women. Others are more recent: the nuclear disaster of Fukushima, in 2011, the imperial system or the debate on article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, mentioning the renunciation of war, that the nationalists, starting with the former first Minister Shinzo Abe (2012-2020), would like to delete.

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