Right-Wing Party’s Comfort Women Exhibit Sparks Outrage

Right-Wing Party’s Comfort Women Exhibit Sparks Outrage

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"Comfort woman" statue
Picture: Yeongsik Im / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
A grotesque "art exhibit" by a staunchly anti-Korean right-wing Japanese party has led to a harsh backlash in the country.

Japan’s military’s sexual slavery trade during WWII has been a target of revisionism by right-wingers for decades. Many want the historical record to show that those euphemistically called “comfort women” willingly entered the dozens of brothels established to serve Japanese soldiers overseas. Yet overwhelming evidence, including testimony by former comfort women at an international tribunal in 2000, proves thousands of women were tricked, forced, or abducted into sexual servitude.

Numerous Japanese right-wingers, however, continue to push for their own version of events. One right-wing party in particular, the Japan First Party (日本第一; Nippon Daiittō), recently took those revisionist views a step further in a recent “art” exhibit hosted in Tokyo in late May. [1]

More Vulgar Insult than Artistic Expression

The so-called “art” exhibit featured blow-up sex dolls dressed in the modified hanbok and hairstyles resembling the famous Statue of a Girl of Peace sculpture. Unlike the original sculpture, their makeup was almost grossly garish and clown-like, their legs lewdly spread on their chairs. Japan First founder Sakurai Makoto attended dressed as a comfort woman with a yellow bird attached to his shoulder. [2]

The bird on the original sculpture symbolizes peace and freedom, but according to one Japan First party member, their birds, made out of fake banknotes, represented the women’s consent and fair compensation for their services. [1] Attendees could also interact with the dolls by literally blowing one up with an air pump, which Sakurai gleefully demonstrated. (I really wish I were kidding.)

The so-called "art" exhibit featured blow-up sex dolls dressed in the modified hanbok and hairstyles resembling the famous Statue of a Girl of Peace sculpture. Share on X

The sculpture made its debut at the 2019 Aichi Triennale as part of an exhibition addressing Japan’s history of censorship. Due to complaints and even threats over State of Peace‘s inclusion, the curators had to shut the exhibition down three days after opening. [3] The censorship made international news, and several artists withdrew from the exhibition in protest.

Since then, Statue of Peace has been a target of mockery and scorn by right-wingers. When Statue of Peace was displayed in April 2022, over 200 volunteers acted as security to prevent sabotage or protests. [4]

A History of Anti-Korean Sentiments

Picture: Yeongsik Im / Shutterstock

Online reactions to the videos and photos of the exhibit were overwhelmingly angry, especially on Twitter. Users quote-retweeted a Japan First member’s tweet about the event (no longer available due to violating Twitter rules) expressing their outrage at the callous display of inhumanity.

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On May 27, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) published a statement criticizing Japan First for “denying the truth of the comfort women issue and desecrating the victims.” [5]. Japan First denied any wrongdoing and had the gall to request an official apology from MOFA. [6]

Japan First has been hurling staunch anti-foreigner and pro-militaristic rhetoric since its inception in 2016. At its first public convention in 2017, Sakurai made a variety of inflammatory statements including, “We cannot have a society that lets foreigners receive welfare while Japanese people starve to death.” [7] Sakurai also founded the far-right, ultra-nationalist Zaitokukai (在日特権を許さない市民の会; Zainichi Tokken o Yurusanai Shimin no Kai) which calls for the expulsion of foreigners, specifically Zainichi Koreans from welfare and other social services.

A Continuous Push for Revision

Right-wing attempts to rewrite the comfort women narrative in their favor are nothing new. In 2020, a history textbook revision group petitioned MEXT to remove descriptions of military comfort women from middle school history textbooks. [8]

A group of female researchers focusing on comfort women history sued controversial politician Sugita Mio for defamation after Sugita made tweets insinuating their research was a “fabrication” and “damaging to Japan’s national interests.” [9] Such derogative remarks from Sugita come as no surprise considering her history of ridiculing sexual assault survivors and LGBTQ+ people. The court found no evidence that Sugita’s remarks damaged the researchers’ social reputations and dismissed the lawsuit in May.

Sadly, these revisionist attempts show no signs of abating anytime soon. Survivors and advocates hoped the 2000 tribunal would lead to an apology and reparations from Japan. However, relations between Japan and South Korea remain murky.

With a potential meeting between the countries’ respective leaders in the works [10], the first since November 2019, one can expect more right-wingers to come out of the woodwork. It’s hard to imagine a resolution that both satisfies the victims and cows revisionists into letting the truth stand unmarred. One can only hope it happens.

Sources

[1] 少女像風船に売春を連想させる行為…日本極右団体の慰安婦侮辱行事が物議. Chuo Nippou.

[2] 慰安婦ねぇさん、慰安婦を語る. Youtube.

[3] Facing Public Threats Over a Sculpture, Japan’s Aichi Triennale Censors Its Own Exhibition About Censorship. Artnet News.

[4] Japan’s Controversial Comfort Women Sculpture Is Going On View Again Despite Protests And Intimidation. ARTnews.

[5] 日本政治団体が慰安婦被害者を冒涜 韓国外交部「非常に遺憾」. Rengou News via Yahoo! Japan.

[6] 韓国大使館に会談申し入れ書を送付しました. Nippon Daiitou.

[7] 桜井誠氏が日本第一党を結党 「政権を取ったら韓国と断交する」 仇敵、神奈川新聞の石橋学記者に向かって「北朝鮮の批判をしてもヘイトかい?」. Sankei News.

[8] 「『従軍慰安婦』は検定基準違反」つくる会 文科相に削除要望 山川出版教科書. Sankei News.

[9] 杉田水脈氏への賠償請求棄却 「ネットで中傷」教授ら訴え 京都地裁. Mainichi Shinbun via Yahoo! Japan.

[10] Japan, South Korea foreign ministers may meet in Tokyo next month. Kyodo News.

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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