“My pussy (マンコ) is not obscene.”
The Japanese artist, Megumi Igarashi, who was arrested July 12th (a Saturday) for distributing “obscene” design files that can be used to make 3-D-printed models of her vagina was released from custody last Friday the 18th, in Japan.
Ms. Igarashi had sent the data to over 30 people around the country who had donated to a crowd-funding project she started last year to build what she called the “pussy boat”–a kayak in the shape of her genitals. She will also be giving a press conference today, July 24th, at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan, in which various foreign media outlets are expected to be in attendance. After her detainment, the lawyers for Ms. Igarashi protested to the court that the prosecution’s request to hold her for ten days was unwarranted, and in an unusual decision, a panel of judges agreed. Typically, once someone is arrested in Japan, release from custody is rare. The working assumption is presumed guilty until proven guilty
Takashi Yamaguchi, one of the lawyer’s for Igarashi said, “We were delighted by the court’s decision which would also seem to be a rebuke to the police for arresting her in the first place. There was no need to put her in detention. ” At the press conference, the demure Igarashi, also known as and prefers to go by Rokudenashiko (ろくでなし子・good-for-nothing child), said that she had received no warning from the police that her activities and artwork were considered obscene and was taken aback when the police stormed her residence unannounced Saturday morning (July 12th) and arrested her on “obscene electromagnetic record distribution charges.” Ms. Igarashi has not denied distributing data that would allow people to make a 3D printing of her vagina; however, she does deny that the images are obscene.
“My pussy (マンコ) is not obscene.”
For many in Japan, it is puzzling that Ms. Igarashi was arrested at all, when you consider that events such as the Kanamara Festival (かなまら祭り), which celebrates fertility and penis worship, is held every year. The festival centers around penises, which are carried as sacred objects and appear as candy, hats, and trinkets. Phallic-shaped objects or anything that has to do with sex are sold all around the shrine. As part of this year’s festivities, men and women carried a gigantic pink penis shrine with testicles attached while visitors, including children, watched on. For a detailed description, please see this year’s earlier photo essay.
Ms. Igarashi in response to JSRC’s question as to why penises are not considered obscene under Japan’s obscenity laws but her vagina images were, bemusedly responded, “It baffles me, too. I think it’s a kind of sexual discrimination. For instance, on television, (you can say the word for penis but) you can’t say manko (Japanese slang for vagina)—they’ll bleep it out. In my artwork, which celebrates female genitalia, I try to challenge this concept of women’s sexual organs themselves being obscene. They’re just another part of the body.” Well, apparently as far as the police are concerned that’s not the case. And obviously, the penis must not be obscene because otherwise the Kanamara Festival would result in more arrests than a raid on a club where people dance illegally past midnight. What is even more surprising about here arrest is that in sex shops across Japan you can buy replicas of famous porn star vaginas that are far more graphic than a 3D printer and made of surgical silicone. The purpose of these artificial vaginas are obviously not just to display on the mantle.
As has been pointed out before, Japan is a country which only banned possession of child pornography last month—with a one year grace period for possessors of the material (estimated to be 1 in 10 Japanese men by a government study) to get rid of their contraband. The portrayal of child pornography in manga was left out of the law due to protest from the publishing industry—so it seems surprising that distributing images of an adult woman’s vagina to those who request it would lead to an arrest. It’s even more ironic when you consider that most sexual services are in Japan are legal, so if a man wants to see a real vagina or play with one, he just has to pay for it. Yet, as long as he does this behind closed doors—it’s not obscene or illegal. On the other hand, under Japanese law, genitals have to be blurred out in pornography, though restrictions have loosened in recent years.
When asked why the word for vagina can’t be mentioned on television, Ms. Igarashi was stumped for an answer. So were her lawyers. Maybe that’s because like so many things in Japan, men get to decide what’s obscene and what’s not. The lawyers for Igarashi, and Ms. Igarashi herself stated they intend to fight the charges of obscenity and plead innocent. They believe that she was arrested and detained by the police primarily in the hope that she would “confess” to the charges, thus making the case a slam-dunk; she did not cooperate. They will argue that the data does not constitute obscenity as defined in the Supreme Court verdict in 1957 that found DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover to be salacious and in violation of the law. In that case, The Supreme Court concluded, “the description of the sex acts contained therein at twelve passages, as pointed out by the prosecutor, is all too bold, detailed, and realistic”.
Rokudenashiko is a slightly eccentric artist—this is certainly true. She has written an entire comic book about her obsession with her genitalia with wild surrealistic drawings. In the book, she even explains why she had cosmetic surgery on her womanhood to make it more attractive. A literary agency is currently considering putting out an English translation of it in the near future.
Ms. Igarashi, at the press conference, was generally in good spirits, laughing and chatting with the press but when asked how far she was willing to fight, she said with resolve, “I’ll take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. I refuse to accept that part of me is obscene just because certain people looking at it choose to see it that way.”
Angela Kubo contributed to this article.