What’s really obscene in Japan? It shouldn’t be the vagina.

What is “obscene” in Japan?
Legally and morally it has different meanings in the Japanese language, just as it does in the west. In the legal sense, the Japanese word for it, waists (猥褻), refers to something that maliciously stimulates sexual desire in an inappropriate and immoral manner.
There are a lot of things that would qualify for that: widely sold manga depicting incest, gang rape, and sexual abuse of children. Magazines and newspapers with illustrated stories or photo shoots on the same themes. Some people might be offended by the fact that sexual services are fully legal in Japan and advertised. You don’t have to look hard to find ads with the current rate for fellatio or anal sex—which is legal as opposed to actual intercourse, which is only legal in some cases—and that seems obscene. Child pornography is still legal under the grace period.

This is the vagina boat made by conceptual artist Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashiko—the good for nothing girl.

Is the vagina boat so obscene that that creator should go to jail for two years? Is a plaster cast of a vagina art or obscenity?
Is the vagina boat so obscene that that creator should go to jail for two years? Is a plaster cast of a vagina art or obscenity?

 

She made it to illustrate the absurdity of Japan’s obscenity laws & promote healthy body awareness.

Rokudenashiko is a slightly eccentric artist. She has written an entire comic book about her obsession with her genitalia, replete 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.

Take a look at the boat again.

Is it more obscene than these replicas of porn star vaginas known as 女ホール (women  holes)  sold on Amazon Japan, and made of silicone? They are openly displayed on the internet and in adult good stores.

This replica of a porn star's vagina sold openly on Amazon Japan and in sex stores: not obscene.
This replica of a porn star’s vagina sold openly on Amazon Japan and in sex stores: not obscene.
The adult movie star vagina and lower body replication 'toy' not obscene. But a plaster cast of a vagina--obscene if you're an artist.
The adult movie star vagina and lower body replication ‘toy’ not obscene. But a plaster cast of a vagina–obscene if you’re an artist.

 

Of course, the penis worshiping festival is not obscene. Because penises are okay, right?

This annual penis festival in Kawasaki City. Not obscene. Huge penis replicas are family fun in Japan.
This annual penis festival in Kawasaki City. Not obscene. Huge penis replicas are family fun in Japan.

If you want a better illustration of the double standards of obscenity in Japan, read and watch the film, What’s Japan’s Problems With Vaginas?  a short documentary made for The Daily Beast. 

What is obscene?

As far as the Tokyo Police are concerned: a plaster cast of a woman’s vagina.
On Wednesday, police arrested conceptual artist Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashi-ko (reprobate child) and sex toy shop manager Minori Watanabe—who is also a well-known essayist and writer for “displaying obscene goods” from around October 2013. It was the second arrest for Igarashi who taken into police custody in July for distributing data that would allow people to make a 3D printing of her vagina.
The first arrest of Rokudenashiko aroused international outcry over what was seen as discriminatory and hypocritical enforcement of the law.
Why did the police arrest her again?
Nikkan Gendai, in their December 4th paper, suggests the real target this time was Igarashi’s supporter, Ms, Kihatara, author of best-selling Poison Lady, and a vocal and acerbic critic of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They imply that it may have been a warning to others questioning the validity of the coming ‘snap’ elections. The timing is interesting.
It’s not as whacky as it sounds.
The article headline: Suppression of Free Speech? The arrested author was the vanguard of Abe criticism.

I can see why Abe and his cronies would dislike her. Here are a few of her barbs.
“The man is a child.”
“I want to say to Abe, ‘Eat a strawberry in one bite (without a fork). Conduct politics like an adult.’”
“Since the Abe regime started we had the State Secrets Law passed, the collective self-defense (decision). It all appears to be linked together. We live in a world where things like hate speech flourish, and (Japanese) going to other countries to kill people seems close to being a reality. I feel like rational criticism of the state isn’t allowed. It’s scary.”

If you think the Japanese powers that be would never stoop to using minor crimes to arrest opposition and suppress dissent, you don’t know Japan very well. The former head of the public security department at the Osaka High Court Prosecutor’s Office, Tamaki Mitsui was arrested on April 22nd 2002 on corruption charges—the same day he was going to appear on TV and expose prosecutor use of investigative funds to wine and dine themselves.
It’s not a secret that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hates criticism and the Asahi, Japan’s liberal paper. When the Asahi Shimbun corrected past reporting this year, he publicly accused them of “shaming Japan”. That’s a dangerous thing to say in light of the 1987 fatal shooting of an Asahi reporter, Tomohiro Kojiri, by a nationalist group. Currently, a former Asahi reporter is now facing death threats and will likely be fired from his current job as a result of that fiery backlash.
There has been no apology for Abe for starting that fire.

Could it be possible for someone in the Abe administration to put pressure on the Tokyo Police to silence Kitahara? Theoretically, yes. Abe himself gets to appoint the head of the Public Safety Commission that oversees the National Police Agency.
Technically speaking, even if someone in the Abe administration did say, “hey could you do something about that noisy bitch?” to the right person in the National Police Agency, it wouldn’t be illegal. If there is a crime, however minor, and a case can be made, an arrest can be made.

I don’t believe Abe would ever make that suggestion himself. But his loyal posse? Maybe.

Did someone actually do it? After December 10th, when the State Secrets Act went into place—we’ll never know. Anything like that, will be of course, a state secret. It would upset things.
And under the new law, even asking about a state secret, whether you know it’s not a secret or not, is a felony, punishable with up to five years in jail. It’s “instigating leaks.”

So what is obscene?

What’s obscene is that the Abe regime pushed into law the most oppressive state secrets bill in Japan’s history and stifled all last minute debate on its enactment by making sure that the press are occupied with election coverage.
It’s offensive that Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga can say at a press conference on November 19th, “We shouldn’t question the details of the secrecy laws one by one. The ruling party decides what the vote of confidence is all about. This election is about Abenomics”

That’s freedom of the press in the LDP mind. We tell you what the election is about, don’t raise other issues.

Right before her arrest Kitahara tweeted the following: “Sayonara Abe Government” and then a link recommending 100 LDP politicians who should be defeated in the next election.

Bad move?

Perhaps Kitahara’s real mistake was questioning the reasons for the elections in the first place.
Those of us not in jail can still ask—until the 10th. After that asking the question itself may be a crime. Or we may simply get the answer we can expect on every controversial subject for years to come:
“We won’t answer; it’s a secret.”

In a free and democratic society, that’s real obscenity.*

 

*a modified version of this article appeared in the Japan Times last year