Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If we try real hard, then it neeeeeeeever happened.

It's ironic that this news would come on Memorial Day. And it's telling that it would come so soon after the news that Japanese officials were pushing a city in New Jersey to remove a monument to the hundreds of thousands of "Comfort Women" sex slaves (which I addressed here last week and The Marmot's Hole wrote a dedicated post on today).

안세홍_박대임-류산_흑백인화_127×200cm_2003 [source]

The news is that Nikon has decided to cancel an exhibition of the work of one Ahn Sehong, a photographer whose work includes some very touching photos of surviving* Comfort Women, including some Korean women left behind in China:
In the latest flare-up over Japan’s ongoing handling of Korean “comfort women” during World War II, Tokyo-based camera company Nikon Corp. has stirred controversy by cancelling a planned exhibit on the subject by a South Korean photographer.

The exhibit was to have been shown at the company’s Shinjuku salon from June 26 to July 9, and included photos of women who said they had been held as sexual slaves by the Japanese military in China in the 1930s and 1940s.

A spokeswoman for the photographer, Ahn Se-hong, said an official from Nikon called him last week and told him the exhibit would be cancelled, but did not give him any reason. The spokeswoman, Sadik Lee, told JRT that a Nikon official said they would like to meet Mr. Ahn in person to apologize, but he refused until he was given an explanation.

A Nikon spokesman, who declined to be named, confirmed the cancellation, and told JRT that “considering various circumstances in a comprehensive way, we have come to decide to cancel it. This is all we can say.”

The spokesman wouldn’t elaborate, but did confirm Japanese press reports of protests that Nikon received against the planned exhibit. The Asahi Shimbun reported that several complaints surfaced on the Internet, branding the exhibit a “betrayal” of Japan, and calling for protests of the exhibit.
The Wall Street Journal blog piece also ties this in with the Japanese diplomats' efforts to get the heavily kyopo (Korean American) community of Palisades Park** to remove the memorial. (Note, below, that the memorial does not mention Koreans once, even though Korean women made up the bulk of the women forced or duped into the Ianfu (Wianbu in Korean).

Though I think Japan and South Korea make far better friends than enemies, issues like this linger. But the critics of Korea (and the knee-jerk Japanophiles) who like to characterize this kind of issue as one where Korea likes feeling bad about this and constantly nitpicks at a generally contrite and (since World War II) well behaved Japan, utterly miss the point.

While they like to depict Japan as the one rational player here, this kind of action — going beyond deliberately downplaying unpleasant history and instead attempting to sanitize the historical record of some of the most egregious wrongdoing of Japan's imperial past — this concerted movement to instill collective amnesia at home and abroad goes beyond the pale.

Make not mistake: this is a pattern. We saw the same thing late last year after a simple but profound statue dedicated to the Comfort Women (pictured below) was erected across the street from the Japanese embassy to mark the 1000th weekly protest by surviving* Comfort Women at the same spot. That, too, brought official complaints from Japanese diplomats.

I shan't go any further into official Japan's shameless whitewashing of imperial Japan's shameful history. The reprehensibility of it all speaks for itself. Nikon, on the other hand, deserves to be called out for its cowardice in the face of such protests. I mean, if they thought Mr Ahn's work was worthy of an exhibit and they knew the contest of his photographs, how on Earth could they justify yanking his exhibition?

I'm truly torn. This is the kind of thing that can influence me to boycott certain products in protest. But I already have bought the Nikon D60. Back when I was undecided between the Nikon and its Canon equivalent, this would have easily sent me over to Canon (who, as far as I know, has not turned invertebrate in such a way, but who themselves may never have sought such a controversial exhibition at all).

I wish that there were some way that I and others in the anglophone K-blogopshere could individually or collectively exhibit Mr Ahn's work as a show of solidarity.

* I've started adding the word surviving to "Comfort Women" not just to reflect their advanced age but also because I've been reading lately how many women died during the actual war from disease, bombs, or bullets while "serving" in the Wianbu. It's much more than I'd realized. 

** At the risk of sounding glib in such a serious post, I find it amusing that so many Koreans have flocked to the New Jersey communities of Palisades Park and Fort Lee. But I'm easily amused.



  1. Great post, Kushibo.
    I'm also wondering why Nikon would choose to have Mr. Ahn's controversial exhibit in one of their salons in the first place. They were taking a step in the right direction (IMHO) but I can understand why they would have been pressured to yank it as well. I would really like to get the full story on that, but it appears it will be tight-lipped for a while. At least they didn't come out and state the reason they yanked it was because of the monument. They were probably extremely pressured by their local nationals. Cowardly, yes, but then again what multinational corporation isn't? Backbones of any corporation are as tender as the economy they stand on. I'm sure any of the other Japanese manufacturers probably would have done the same, IF they had decided to even have such an exhibit in the first place. It's almost like Nikon's initiative to do so and then pulling it, cancels each other out +/- (??). That's one way of potentially looking at it. It took big balls for Nikon to plan to have such an exhibit up in Shinjuku, yet it also showed their lack of backbone by sticking to it in the face of such controversy.

  2. I'm proud of Korea for ignoring Japan's formal protest that Korea was permitting "an attack" on their embassy's "dignity."

    I think that for the sake of fairness, we should write to Japan's ambassador to the United States to let him know that his country has been violating that same rule. America isn't proud of vaporizing thousands of Japanese civilians in a flash of nuclear fire and leaving several magnitudes more condemned to slow deaths, and Japan's insistence on erecting monuments to the "victims" of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is an affront to America and an attack on our embassy's dignity, and they should likewise be removed.


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