Public decency cases and politically controversial artworks have recently raised debate in Japan about an apparent drift towards censorship. Taboos, in particular, those surrounding Emperor Showa, Japan’s war responsibilities and colonial rule, nuclear power plants and sexual expressions and most typical — and probably the most problematic — self-censorship by Japanese media outlets and art event organisers excessively worried about reactions from outside parties.

This lecture pays particular attention to the work of the Artists’ Guild and their 2016 Tokyo MOT exhibition and publication, Loose Lips Save Ships / Our Feardom of Expression and Internalisation of Censorship. Questions raised by the touring exhibition of work in the Fukushima exclusion zone, Don’t Follow the Wind to the artwork and exhibition Cool Japan by Takamine Tadasu and questions raised about post-colonial relations in East Asia by artists such as Yoshiko Shimada, and the engagement of various artists to art, activism and censorship.

Is Japan a nation of free speech? How much freedom of expression do people enjoy in the country, and what agents and agencies try to restrict it?