Japan halts exhibit of S. Korea's 'comfort women' statue

A Japanese exhibition featuring a controversial South Korean artwork depicting a wartime sex slave has been cancelled after threats of violence as bilateral ties between the countries fray. 

The cancellation comes as relations between Tokyo and Seoul have been soured by bitter disputes over territory and history stemming from Tokyo's colonial rule over the peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.

The exhibition, which was part of a major art festival in Aichi, central Japan, was shut down on Saturday after just three days.  

Titled "After Freedom of Expression?", the event was dedicated to showing works that were censored elsewhere and was originally scheduled to run for 75 days. 

The statue - a girl in traditional South Korean clothes sitting on a chair - symbolizes the "comfort women", who were forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura, who heads the event's organizers, said they received a number of threatening emails, phone calls and faxes against the exhibition. 

Omura said one of the faxes read: "I will visit the museum carrying a gasoline container," evoking last month's arson attack on Kyoto Animation, in which 35 people were killed. 

"We made the decision as we fear that we can't safely organize the exhibition," the governor said. 

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and other parts of Asia including China, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels.

The 'comfort woman' statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. /VCG Photo

The 'comfort woman' statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. /VCG Photo

In recent years, activists have set up dozens of statues in public venues around the world, many of them in South Korea, in honor of the victims. 

The statues have drawn the ire of Tokyo, which has pressed for the removal of one outside its embassy in Seoul. 

On Friday, Japan and South Korea rescinded each other's favored export partner status and Seoul said it would review a military information agreement, as a long-running row between the U.S. allies hit a new low. 

(Cover image: An attendee holds a placard reading 'No Abe!' next to the statue of a girl representing a 'comfort woman' in World War Two during a demonstration against Japan's removal of South Korea from a list of trusted trading partners via VCG)

Source(s): AFP