The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has demanded the removal of an artwork that criticizes the visits to Yasukuni Shrine by members of the Japanese government.

The exhibition is now running, set to conclude on February 21st. It not one of the main exhibition events organized by the museum but part of its public galleries that often feature group shows. The exhibition features around 60 works of art presented by the Contemporary Japanese Sculpture Artist Federation.

One of these is “Portrait of the Times: Endangered Species, idiot Japonica Tomb” by Katsuhisa Nakagaki. The sculpture (pictured below) is a 1.5 meter dome shape draped in a Japanese flag, with pieces of paper on it with political messages written by hand urging the Constitution to be protected, the “folly” of the visits to Yasukuni to be recognized, and the ending of the current government’s “rightist tendencies.”

katsuhisa nakagaki tokyo metropolitan art museum censors artwork anti government yasukuni shrine visit[Image via Asahi]

The visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine — a shrine in central Tokyo that houses the souls of the war dead, including convicted war criminals — has been a fiercely contested issue in Japan over the previous ten years. Shinzo Abe’s government has re-opened the wounds by officially visiting the shrine, drawing furious responses from Japan’s neighbors in Asia who suffered at the hands of the nation’s past colonialism.

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The museum, though, has decided that it cannot allow its facilities to be used for “political activities”. It requested Nakagaki to remove the artwork on February 16th, one day after the exhibition began, and threatened him that if he did not agree, the whole exhibition would be cancelled and possibly prevented from future use of the museum’s facilities.

As a compromise on his part, Nakagaki has removed the handwritten political message. “I expressed my ideas as an artist. I sense the danger of speech control,” he was quoted as saying in media reports. This may not be enough to satisfy the museum, though… or the prime minister.

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