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 

“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.