Too Little, Too Late? Porn Mags Set to Disappear From Convenience Stores–And So Will Male Courage?

by Kaori Shoji

In Japan, the convenience store “baito” or part time job, is a rite of passage. Teenagers work at their neighborhood ‘conbini’ after school as a way of padding their allowances and college students work graveyard shifts to pay for living expenses. I did it, my friends did it. Most every Japanese person I know has worked at a conbini at one point or another. And in 2016, Sayaka Murata won the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Award with her autobiographical novel “Conbini Ningen,” in which the protagonist woman is addicted to her conbini job, to the point that she can’t think about anything else.

“I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.”

In case you think conbini work is boring and easy, let me tell you right now that the job calls for brains, guts and ace reflexes. For women, it’s often a test of mental endurance as well. A woman I know, in her late 30s, has been working the 9 to 7 shift at her local Family Mart for the past 5 years. She says the job is fine, except for one thing: she hates handling the porn magazines that comprise a “not insignificant chunk” of the store’s revenue. “I hate touching those things,” said this woman who has been diagnosed as an HSP. “I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.” Twenty-seven year old Reina, who quit an office job to work at a Seven Eleven run by her mother, says she feels “slightly sick” every time she has to ring up a porn mag for a male customer. “I’ve been at the job 3 years and I still can’t get used to it,” says Reina. “I don’t lose my cool or anything but I get really uncomfortable. I don’t talk to my mother about it but I call tell she knows how I feel.”

But Reina and thousands of conbini workers like her are about to get a break. In deference to the Tokyo Olympics and the expected soar in foreign tourists including families and minors, major convenience stores Seven Eleven and Lawson have announced the decision to abolish all porn magazines from their outlets by August 31st. The third member of the conbini triumvirate Family Mart, has announced that the company has “no intentions of following suit.” Bad news for my HSP friend (who wants to remain anonymous). At her place of work, the porn stays.

Reina says that the announcement gave her much “relief,” though there are some months to go before she’s free from the unpleasantness of handling porn for work. “That stuff is always about rape,” she says. “The covers show women being tied up and the headlines are violent. Frankly, they’re scary.”

In Japan, the public display of porn – rape or otherwise –  has long been a sore point. In 2004, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara issued a law that required convenience store porn magazines to be partially bound in cellophane, to prevent casual riffing. “If anyone wants to look at those things, they’re going to have to show some courage, go up to the register and pay for them, right in front of everyone else.” This was a statement Ishihara apparently made to an aide, and later picked up by Japan’s sports tabloids, infamous for their own abundant porn content.

For some weeks afterwards, “show some courage” was a popular, mirth-filled punch line among Japanese men. Whether Ishihara really said those words isn’t the point – the move was classic ex-Governor. Always a gung-ho macho, one of Ishihara’s pet laments was the “pathetic-ness” of the slinky, under-confident Japanese male. He didn’t need to trot out the Olympics to turn the screws on their source of fun.

Unfortunately, his cellophane law simply gave rise to another problem: “harmless porn.” Instead of riffing through X-rated content, men turned to “gurabia,” magazines that featured bikini-ed young women on the covers in provocative poses and more of the same inside the pages. Since the women weren’t nude, the magazines couldn’t be described as hard porn. And the blurbs were all about how “beautiful” or “cute” the girls were so how could it be offensive, right? (Though their cup sizes were loudly touted along with their prettiness) Emboldened by this new wave of accessible and ‘kawaii’ porn, salarimen took to visiting the conbini on their lunch hours and picking up the magazines along with their bento and canned coffees. The early naughts were also about “tosatsu,” or shooting voyeuristic pictures of random young women on the streets, or catching them unawares through open windows. And these photos often found their way into – you guessed it, “harmless porn” magazines, stacked on conbini shelves.

“Harmless Porn”

Now, 15 years later, porn magazines (whether hard or harmless) comprise a dismally shrinking market. In the late 1990s, the conbini magazine market sold to the tune of 500 billion yen a year and the adult genre made up nearly 50% of that revenue. Retail analyst Hiroaki Watanabe says that those heydays are long over, and the market has been reduced by almost 70%. “These days, the main clientele of adult-only magazines are seniors, who don’t have smartphones or Internet access,” he says. Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”

Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.” 

 

At this point, Mini Stop is the only major convenience store that has completely cleared theirs shelves of adult mags. This is understandable, as Mini Stop is owned by retail conglomerate AEON known for a squeaky clean, family-oriented image. As for the conbini triumvirate, about one-third of their outlets don’t carry adult magazines, according to the companies’ PR.

The PR for Family Mart stated that ultimately, the company leaves the choice to stock porn up to the individual outlet owners. “Some of our outlets don’t carry magazines at all, regardless of content,” said the PR spokesman. “Anyway, we’re heading toward an era where customers can purchase and download magazine content right at the cash register. Paper magazines will be obsolete.”

Ex-Gov Ishihara probably didn’t see that coming. If a tap on a smartphone is all it takes to buy porn at the local conbini, what’s going to happen to male courage?

The Realities and “Legal Slavery” of Japan’s Porn Industry

Japan’s pornography industry has come under greater scrutiny after Tokyo Metro Police arrested executives of a well-known talent agency for allegedly coercing an actress to engage in sex on camera.  Human rights groups had been calling for action for months.

Police announced Monday that they had arrested the president of Marks Japan Group and two others on suspicion that they forced a woman into appearing in adult films by threatening to punish her financially. They also threatened to force her parents to pay for “contract violations” if necessary, police said…..For the full article, please see this article written by Jake Adelstein, Mari Yamamoto, and Louis Krauss for the Los Angeles Times. 

JSRC is pleased to publish the full commentary from Shihoko Fujiwara, founder of Japan’s Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims, in regards to the darker side of Japan’s multibillion dollar pornography industry.

Executives of this firm were arrested for illegally dispatching women to work in pornographic films, allegedly coercing them to do so as well.
Executives of this firm were arrested for illegally dispatching women to work in pornographic films, allegedly coercing them to do so as well.

 

Shihoko Fujiwara, Founder of Lighthouse-

Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims have received over 100 complaints regarding forced participation in porn. 10% of these complaints are from young men around 20 years old, (some coerced into gay porn as well).

In the porn industry, the production side holds all power while the agencies and scouts who cater to them by supplying the talent often deceive the so-called talents into doing the shoots. The producers cannot get away with claiming that they did not know. It is possible that the entire industry play a part in creating a system of forcing people into porn acting in a similar manner as human trafficking.

The reality is that there are too many young men and women who are forced into porn, for the industry to dismiss it as something they were unaware of.

Victims are talked into signing a fashion modeling contract, however when they turn up on set they are given a porn script and informed that it is a porn shoot. They beg to quit or go to home but are threatened to be charged millions of yen for penalties and often end up giving in. They are used and disposed with long lasting consequences on their schooling, careers and marriages.

The time has come for the government and the society to face the issue head on. There are currently no laws or ministries who oversee the porn industry but there is a dire need for such authorities to take control of the situation.

This is Lighthouse’s statement in Japanese.
人身取引被害者サポートセンターライトハウス(Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims) には、この18ヶ月の間にも100件以上のポルノ強要相談が来ています。1割弱と少ないが20歳前後の男性からの相談もあります。
 ポルノ製作をする制作会社は業界内でも権力がある側にいるのではないか。我々の経験では、そこに俳優を供給するプロダクション(agent)やスカウトは、若い女性を騙したり、脅して無理やり連れてくる場合がほとんどだ。制作会社は「知らない」では済まされない。業界全体でポルノ俳優の供給に人身売買と言えるような強要が使われているのではないか。

業界全体が知らなかったでは済まされないほど、若い女性や男性が無理やりポルノに出演させられている現状を支援団体は目の当たりにしている。ファッションモデル契約と聞いて契約に同意したのに、当日に突然ポルノ出演と聞かされ台本を渡され、帰りたいやめたいと懇願しても数百万円の違約金を払えと脅され屈する、若干10代の若者たち。使い捨てにされ、インターネットや販売店に拡散された「商品」によってその後の進学・就職や結婚にも大きな影響が出ています。

 • これを見逃していた国や社会全体が問題を直視する時期に来ています。現在ポルノ産業を管理所轄する法律も官庁もないが、早急に整備が必要だと考えています。

 

“My pussy (まんこ) is not indecent!” Japanese artist fights sexist obscenity laws

“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.

The artist Rokudenashiko holds up the comic book she wrote explaining why she makes art about female genitalia & her own vagina. (After being released from custody for obscenity charges)
The artist Rokudenashiko holds up the comic book she wrote explaining why she makes art about female genitalia & her own vagina. (After being released from custody for obscenity charges)

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.

Apparently this 3D "functional" model of a Japanese porn star vagina is not obscene but an artist's 3D data for her vagina is obscene. Go figure.
Apparently this 3D “functional” model of a Japanese porn star vagina is not obscene but an artist’s 3D data for her vagina is obscene. Go figure.

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 shares a moment of levity with her lawyers after being asked why "vagina" (manko) is such a taboo word on Japanese television. The absurdity of Japanese obscenity laws is funny---unless you get put in jail for them.
Rokudenashiko shares a moment of levity with her lawyers after being asked why “vagina” (manko) is such a taboo word on Japanese television. The absurdity of Japanese obscenity laws is funny—unless you get put in jail for them.

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. 

Child pornography pulling profits?

“How can you crack down on child pornography in this country when it is not a crime to be posses it?”

“When you are looking at child pornography, you are not looking at something sexually titillating. You are looking at a crime scene. I mean it is crime scene. It is evidence that crime has been committed and that people can derive sexual pleasure from that or profit on that is horrifying.”

— Jake Adelstein

The Australian Broadcasting Corperation’s Radio Australia reports on how old time Yakuza are concerned about the rising number of younger blood who are looking to make their fortune with child pornography. Jake Adelstein weighs in.

Listen here:

Veteran Yakuza express concern over porn push [via Radio Australia’s Connect Asia]