Judge rules against Nikon in controversial 'comfort women' case
Image © Ahn Sehong.
Nikon has been forced to reopen a controversial exhibition on Korean comfort women in Japan after a judge found in favour of the photographer
Author: Olivier Laurent
27 Jun 2012Tags:Nikon
Last month, Nikon found itself at the centre of a controversy when it closed down a planned exhibition by photographer Ahn Se-hong. Titled Layer by Layer, the exhibition, held at the company's Shinjuku salon in Japan, portrays Korean 'comfort women' who were forced into prostitution during World War II in Japan.
Following complaints, Nikon took the decision to pull down the exhibition, arguing that Ahn's images were too political.
Now, a Japanese judge has found in favour of the photographer and has forced Nikon to honour its contract and reopen the exhibition. While Nikon can still appeal the court ruling, Ahn has been allowed to show his images.
However, Nikon is being accused of preventing journalists from visiting the exhibition. "At first, Nikon told us it will provide the venue, but won't do anything else to help," says Ahn. "However, Nikon is preventing the foreign press from entering the venue and blocking people from taking personal pictures. Not only that, three lawyers from Nikon are following me around everywhere, trying to eavesdrop and record my every move. I'm enduring this for the sake of the visitors, but this is just like the Japanese occupation period. Nikon is trying to find something to pick at so it can shut down our exhibition."
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, a Nikon spokesman said the company would not "do things that would go against the court decision" but would suspend the exhibit if it received a favourable ruling any time before the show's scheduled end on 09 July.
A petition has been launched to support the photography. For more details, visit the I Am Censored website.
Kim Sun-ok was taken to China as a “comfort woman” by the Japanese military in 1942 at the age of 21.
A month after Tokyo-based camera company Nikon cancelled a photo exhibit on wartime Korean “comfort women,” a judge ordered the exhibit to open Tuesday as originally planned.
“We’re not going to do things that would go against the court decision,” Nikon spokesman Takuya Moriguchi told the Journal. But he added that the company would suspend the exhibit at the company’s Shinjuku salon if it received a favorable ruling any time before the show’s scheduled end July 9.
The case has stirred strong emotions in both Japan and South Korea. Nikon had originally accepted earlier this year the exhibit by photographer Ahn Se-hong, titled “Layer by Layer: Korean women left behind in China who were comfort women of the Japanese military.”
But the company suddenly cancelled last month after receiving a storm of protests. Mr. Ahn sued to force Nikon to hold the exhibit, and Judge Yasushi Itami ruled in his favor Friday.
In cancelling the exhibit, Nikon didn’t give Mr. Ahn a reason for reversing course. Mr. Ahn’s spokeswoman released a document that she said had been filed by Nikon with the court giving this explanation: “It has become clear that this photo exhibit is part of his political activities and it is tinged with politics. As it clearly does not fit the original mission of photo exhibits at Nikon salon, Nikon decided to cancel the offer.” Mr. Moriguchi said that because the case was still under review, he would not confirm the authenticity of the document. Japan Real Time has more.
8:40 pm June 25, 2012
Lee Brown wrote:
Why persist in using the disgraceful term “comfort women”? It is a euphemism designed to hide the fact that these women were used as slaves – sex slaves. In the rest of the world that is what they are called, so when you are writing in English for the whole world to read that is what you should call them.
5:27 am June 26, 2012
Wow. Some judges are really cool. We could use more like this one in the USA.
11:05 am June 26, 2012
Canon only for me then.
1:11 pm June 26, 2012
I wondered about the ‘Buy Nikon or not’ angle myself. On the one hand, Nikon actually agreed to hold this exhibition, whereas many companies in Japan would not have even considered it. In my mind, that’s a plus for them. It’s a well-known painful topic, and they deserve some credit for that.
One the debit side, they pulled the exhibition when they were threatened, which (depending on your point of view) is possibly a reasonable response on their terms, or not. Not everyone wants to be a poster child for freedom of speech against the right wing, especially here.
However, they then exerted some effort to appeal the District Court ruling, which in my personal opinion damages Nikon’s credibility somewhat.
Although their court-filed documents claim the issue is politicization (who is primarily guilty of introducing that element is an interesting question), the media in Japan are openly and squarely blaming right-wing intimidation for the problems. Thus there is also some visible progress in the media here.
I visited the exhibition today. At lunchtime there was a pretty ragtag group (10 or so) shouting outside the main entrance to the building with a loudspeaker. Also present were a similar contingent of security and a few police. The laws on ‘restraint of business’, as it’s termed, can be pretty strict in Japan, and as the building is a large office tower, I think the response to a larger demonstration would probably be robust from the police. I hope so, anyway. I didn’t have any trouble entering or leaving.
The exhibition showed the harsh lives these women endure, and there is a discreet but noticeable security presence. I thought it was an interesting exhibition overall, but I’m not a photography expert, just an ordinary art fan. 30 or so photographs, quite moving, simply mounted on canvas, if I remember correctly.
When I left 20 minutes later, the protesters were packing up. I got a photo of them, some with tattoos, one with a typical jacket with the Japanese flag on, but basically just a bunch of misfits.
Freedom of speech wins a small victory. The women in the photos are still around, increasingly old, but not forgotten. I hope so, anyway.
4:30 pm June 26, 2012
I lined up for the exhibition at 10:38 am today and got in at 10:51 am, due to “security check”, which I thought was just done for formality. Once I got in, several visitors loudly shouted their “comments” repeatedly.
But the monochrome photos none of which has written explanation told me their stories quietly and eloquently. I felt sadness and desperation of those women, as if I were there with them.
5:09 pm June 26, 2012
This is just a routine procedure to protect against political extremists so that company is not understood as taking sides. Somehow you will see that the legal process usually very slow in Japan is suddenly speeded up to come to an initial conclusion. But you will see that the final decision will come years after, when everyone forgets about it, which the company does not really care what the outcome will be as the exhibition is already held anyways. I think people take these extremists as like heroes of some kind but they are just some egoists out to prove themselves. Don’t be tricked by both sides. They could have done a lot better for these people if they took proper steps, as you see in the court decision.
11:54 pm June 26, 2012
This judge is repugnant. What gives him the right to stop Nikon from pulling out of a politically tinged exhibition?
2:05 am June 27, 2012
There is obviously value to both sides of the argument, but what puzzles me is why the creative nature and value of this exhibit isnt more advanced to the public? Hey Nikon, why not bring this exhibit to the USA to see how it really is accepted? Or is freeedom of expression really dead?
2:37 am June 27, 2012
Justice has finally been served.
7:01 am June 27, 2012
Lee, freedom of expression is for both sides. If you advertise one side, you need to do the same as well for the other. So it is better to let the public sector to advertise, which is perfectly acceptable in the US or in Japan. What is not acceptable is to force the private sector to be the judge. No private sector can be the judge nor is that acceptable, especially when it is forced to do so.
The ruling is not about freedom of expression. It is about the contract between Nikon and the photographer for the usage rights of Nikon’s Exhibition hall. Nikon actually needed a “help” from the legal system so that they can be off the hook from being seen as making a decision, and may have purposefully sought to be argued in court. Somehow people are tricked into believing that justice has been solved and freedom of expression is protected but the ruling it self had nothing to do with it but more a procedure for the company to come out cleanly. I think it is a smart move. Nikon will most likely never speak out in public about it since Nikon is not at “fault” with holding the exhibition anymore.
7:09 am June 27, 2012
And take this exhibition to US? No way. Private sector can be sued upside down. Who would want to take chances?
'Comfort women' exhibition goes ahead amid protests
June 26, 2012
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
A “comfort women” photo exhibition opened amid protests and high security at the Shinjuku Nikon Salon in Tokyo on June 26, after Nikon Corp. reluctantly gave in to a court injunction ordering it not to cancel the show.
A crowd of protesters gathered outside the gallery as the doors opened at 10:30 a.m. One protester shouted through a microphone: "We don't tolerate a photo show that defames the Japanese."
A placard in the crowd read: "The forcible carting-off of ‘comfort women’ is the biggest fabrication in history."
Security guards were posted outside the venue, and exhibition goers were required to pass their bags through a metal detector before entering.
Some people did brave the intimidating atmosphere to view the 37 photographs by Ahn Se-hong, a 41-year-old South Korean photographer, about Korean women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
"The expressions on the face of every one of the old women (in the photographs) made me realize how much they must have gone through in their lives,” said a 42-year-old woman from Shizuoka Prefecture.
Nikon banned reporters from the exhibition hall.
"We decline to be covered by reporters. The matter has created such a major controversy that we cannot deal with it," said a Nikon representative.
Nikon had also tried to cancel the exhibition, saying it was “political,” but decided to go ahead after the Tokyo District Court granted an injunction to the photographer on June 22, forcing it to honor an earlier agreement to host the photographs.
Nikon has filed an appeal against the Tokyo District Court injunction and says it still may close the show before its scheduled closure on July 9.
"We may ask for the suspension of the exhibition, even if it still has days to go, if the court approves our objection," a Nikon official said.
Internet postings have branded the exhibition as an act of treason. Ahn said he received silent phone calls and letters protesting the exhibition, and sources said Nikon was similarly pressured.
Ahn applied to Nikon to use the venue in December. His request was approved in January but Nikon told him in May that it was canceling the show on account of its "political" content. Ahn sought an injunction from the Tokyo District Court to allow him to use the venue, which the court issued on June 22.
"I feel sad about the confusion on the venue, but I am honored to have so many people look at my pieces of work," Ahn said.
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN