Infuriated protesters shouted. Guards searched warily through bags. The whole thing might not have happened if not for a court injunction. But in Tokyo, the show went on, as Japanese visitors braved angry demonstrators and tight security to see photographs of Korean “comfort women.”
The uproar over the black-and-white images taken by South Korean photographer Ahn Sehong in recent years underscores the sensitivity, decades later, concerning the plight of Korean women forced to serve the Japanese military as sex slaves during World War II. The women have repeatedly demanded that Japan punish the surviving members of the army responsible for the crime and pay government reparations for their suffering.
Japan apologized two years ago for the wartime abuses, but some Japanese conservatives still deny there was an organized campaign of sexual slavery. Protesters deluged the Nikon company after it agreed to host the photographs in a Tokyo salon, prompting the company to cancel the show earlier this year.
But a court ordered Nikon last week to honor its original commitment and to let the exhibit run as planned. As it opened Tuesday, protesters denounced the show as a defamation of the Japanese, holding up signs such as, “The forcible carting-off of ‘comfort women’ is the biggest fabrication in history,” according to Asahi Shimbun.
The photographer told Japanese and Korean media he had faced threats and harassment from ultraconservative groups. He lamented that Nikon had kept the media out of his show. Nikon is reportedly still trying to appeal the ruling in order to shut down the show before it is scheduled to close in July.
“Nikon blocked us from even having a conversation with journalists, claiming it is forbidden to cover news inside the building.... Everything was so irrational and pushed me to the verge of anger,” one visitor, Ahn Hyun, wrote on Facebook, according to a translation by journalist Lee Yoo Eun.
Yet Ahn is still glad his work has seen the light. "I felt I needed to inform [the public] about these elderly women, former comfort women," he told the Agence France-Presse on Thursday.
— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Photographer Ahn Sehong stands before his photographs of Korean "comfort women." Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images