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Kyoto Prefecture to become the first to ban child pornography, while Japan's Ruling Party does nothing.


Feb 24, 2011

You read that right! Kyoto Prefecture announced plans to roll out a policy that will officially outlaw the possession and acquisition of child pornography, with plans to enact the regulations some time this year. Kyoto will be the first prefecture in the country to create and enforce such a regulation.

Possession of child pornography is currently legal under Japanese law, as long as there is no intent of sale or distribution. Child prostitution and pornography laws currently only outlaw the creation and distribution of pornography featuring those under 18 years of age.

Kyoto Prefecture’s new regulation will require owners to dispose of all media containing sexual depiction of youth under the age of 18, and the government is currently considering penal regulations if such requirements aren’t followed. Possession of pornography featuring children under the age of 13 constitutes child sexual abuse, and will become an automatically jailable offense. Anime, however, is not covered by the new law.

The proposed legislation was part of Kyoto governor Keiji Yamada’s manifesto during the April 2010 race for governor. The regulations were proposed in a report authored by an investigative commission of nine experts, including academics, experts in law and experts in child welfare.

The new law seems a bit fuzzy. One major problem with current legislation is the lack of specifics in what constitutes child pornography. While some content is very explicitly pornographic, Japan’s large junior idol industry exploits a grey area in the law by purporting to be art while washing their hands of any additional connotations images of scantily-clad children may have–and how those images may be used by other individuals. According to the Kyoto Shinbun, the report points out that the law would need to distinctly define what is covered under the law, for example just explicitly sexual acts, or things alluding to or involving genitalia.

The fact that anime is exempt from the law should be a point of debate as well, and is quite a large statement in the wake of Tokyo’s move to restrict the sale of anime, manga and games containing sexual images of those under 18. The simple “slap on the hand” given to first-time offenders is also questionable, and at this stage the proposed law is dubiously flimsy. It is however a step forward and much more than the Japanese national government is doing. Currently, there is not even a bill in committee to ban child pornography possession.

Additional observations from Jake:

In addition to being an editor for this website and a writer, I’m also a board director of the Polaris Project Japan, an organization which helps human trafficking victims, works to stop the sexual and labor exploitation of women, children, and foreigners, and has been lobbying the Japanese government to make possession of child pornography a crime for several years. I am also the police liaison for the organization, which means that when we have a good tip on a human trafficking organization or child pornographers, Shihoko Fujiwara, the director of Polaris Project Japan and I collect the data and information and bring it to the police. I spent over a decade covering the Japanese police force as a reporter and understand what they need to make a case. There are many detectives who are enthusiastic about cracking down on human trafficking and child pornography. One tip which we took to the police last year resulted in the arrest and indictment of a child pornographer and the dismantling of a pedophile network.

However, what was a major obstacle in the initial investigation is that the police felt that they could not get a warrant to search the home of the child pornographer if he only possessed it. They needed proof that he had been selling the materials to get a search warrant. One detective explained it very simply, “Possession is not a crime. Therefore, even if we suspect someone is involved in producing and distributing it but only know that they possess it, we can’t make a raid. We can’t seize the computer or materials that would help us track down the source of the child pornography or help us rescue the victims.  Even if possession was made a crime with no punishment other than a fine, it would immensely aid our investigations. We detest the stuff and the victimization of children as much as anyone does. Even more. However, our hands are tied behind our back. The FBI and other federal agencies pass on over a hundred tips to the National Police Agency each year about child pornography issues. Maybe one or two actually turn into prosecutable cases. Since Ando Takaharu became head of the National Police Agency, we’ve been getting more support on those investigations but they’re still very difficult.”

On February 15th, I went to  a hearing on child pornography in Japan, at the National Diet Lower House Member’s Building, as a board member of Polaris Project Japan.  Bradley Myles, the CEO of Polaris Project (Washington DC)  attended as did members of UNICEF and two senators from the Diet. We made a strong case for the criminalization of simple possession.Myles was very succinct, stating: “The actions of any country, including Japan, play an important role in the global effort (to eliminate child pornography) and when possession of these images is legal in Japan, it creates a gap and an impediment to the entire international effort to police the problem.” He advocated that Japan make possession a crime punishable by a fine and jail time.

Japan and Russia are the only remaining G-8 countries that defends the ownership of films of real children (not manga) being molested for personal enjoyment. I was hoping to ask some pointed questions after his speech, but  the Diet members skipped out halfway through the meeting and were not available for the Q & A that followed. Personally, it says a lot to me about how seriously the Japanese government takes this problem.

Perhaps, making an appearance at the beginning was the best that the senators could do.  However, when one of the Diet members made the remark, “It’s hard to find a balance between freedom of expression and criminalizing the possession of child pornography”, I felt like puking. Pardon me. Films of children being sodomized, gagged, tortured, raped and abused on film for the sadistic entertainment of others are not “freedoms of expressions” or “works of art”–they are evidence of a crime and a clear violation of decency. If you can stomach it, read the testimony of children who were used in child pornography to understand how deeply it hurts them, even years later while the films still circulate.  These films are also certainly a violations of Japan’s laws on personal privacy, if you want to get into the finer legal problems. As such, the only people who should have child pornography in their possession are the police. As long as the purchase and possession of child porn are not crimes, there will be a demand for them and there will be anti-social elements who make money off feeding that demand, some of them yakuza, some of them simply sociopathic entrepreneurs. Japan continues to be one of the largest producers and suppliers of child pornography in the world.

Hiroko Tabuchi, ace reporter of the New York Times, offered very insightful commentary as I was live tweeting the conference. By no means was she defending child pornography, she has written very balanced articles on the problem but she did point out, “The Government cites concerns people could be prosecuted for mistaken downloads, being sent files unknowingly etc.”  I would have to agree with that point. I can easily see how the law could be abused to frame people for a crime and its the kind of thing a smart yakuza would do to take down a nuisance–unilaterally send them  numerous pictures of child pornography and then immediately call the police and “inform” on the victim. Teenagers being arrested on child pornography charges for sending nude pictures of themselves to friends or their consensual partners is a clear example of law enforcement being poorly applied, and deeply flawed laws.

The law can be written requiring a burden of proof that the individual actively downloaded or bought the child pornography, repeatedly, with full knowledge of what they were buying. An exemption can be made for underage children who send naked pictures of themselves willingly to their friends or lovers.  I would also suggest possession be made a crime punishable by  a substantial fine or jail time rather than mandatory jail time. By giving the police and prosecution some leeway, it would encourage the possessor of the materials to cooperate with the investigation.  Even just making possession a simple crime punishable by a fine would be enough to let the police seize evidence in cases and capture the makers and distributors of the child pornography rather than just the end users.

If the Democratic Party of Japan has any decency they will at least put forth a bill to committee to ban possession of child pornography. There is not even a bill under debate at present–in effect, they are doing absolutely nothing. Judging by their failure to rid themselves of Ozawa Ichiro, their loyalties seem to be more about their own interests rather than the public good. Many of their financial supporters are people in the adult film and anime business producing neo-child pornography. The DPJ should be aware that Japan’s failure to act on the problem is an international embarassment. I guess that’s the best way to end these comments, with a little Japanese vocabulary lesson that I hope the Democratic Party of Japan would take to heart. “恥を知りなさい”(haji wo shirinasai). Be ashamed of yourselves.

Jake Adelstein, board director, Polaris Project Japan

28 thoughts on “Kyoto Prefecture to become the first to ban child pornography, while Japan's Ruling Party does nothing.”
  1. Good news, hopefully it goes national soon.

    As a writer and lecturer on anime and manga I’m also interested in the issue of anime, and manga erotica. The question becomes one of are drawings the same as real minors and how do you judge the age of a drawing? Not an easy thing to define.

    If you are willing I’d like to discuss some 0f this offline. You have my email address so feel free to contact me if you wish.

    1. Giles, thank you very much for writing in. I’d be happy to discuss it. I’m not sure what I think of the laws restricting manga, anime and games that would be considered child pornography in the United States. I’m still debating the issue internally. I know that I’m opposed to the possession and production of child pornography where real children are the victims.

  2. Good thing that at least someone in Japan is taking actions against child pornography. The whole idea that posession of child pornography is somehow related to freedom of expression is laughable.

    I’m curious about remarks at the end about financial connections between DPJ and semi-child porn producers. I wonder how interconnected the adult industry, yakuza, child pornography producers and Japanese politicians are. Clearly in Japan there’s a lot of money involved in both actual child porn business and it’s legal anime and child idol counter parts, so I’d imagine there to be rather powerful behind the scenes interest groups lobbying against any tightening in the laws.

    1. Jan-san,
      Thank you for writing in and I agree with your observations. There’s always someone making profits off the misery of others. When human trafficking was still a non-issue in Japan, the Zengeiren, which was an association of brokers of foreign entertainers, and a group with dubious connections—well, they used to have their annual meeting at the LDP headquarters. It’s not clear if they dissolved or are still active. At least Amazon Japan is making serious efforts to keep child pornography off its website. It is nice to see that the Lawyer’s Association of Japan has also finally agreed that possession of child porn should be criminalized in some fashion.

  3. Excellent article, Sarah and Jake. Good to see Kyoto tackling abuse.

    I read somewhere that one “sticking point” to improving laws is that many people in Japan have pictures of their children at bathtime etc because of relaxed attitudes to shared baths/nudity etc. I believe it’s necessary, as you say Kyoto Shinbun points out, that the law should be clear on these aspects (ie just pictures of naked children itself doesn’t lead to prosecution) because the Japanese attitude to nudity is arguably “healthier” than in the UK, for example. (In the UK someone was questioned – though, sensibly, in the end not charged – over prints developed at the local photo shop of their child in the bath. I would hate to see such Japanese attitudes – which have no connection to child abuse whatsoever – damaged by a new law/attitude.)

    The manga/anime thing – not covered in the proposed Kyoto ruling – still gives me pause. Good to see in your comment above, Jake, that you’re still debating that internally. For example, I just finished reading “Ayako” by Osamu Tezuka, written in the 70s. It looks at corruption within a rich family, post-war, as they stop at nothing to maintain their power and “good name”. Without going into details, it includes and shows under-age incest, and other “non-normal” relationships. Quite patently this is in the interests of telling a dark, powerful story, and Tezuka (also of course of Tetsuwan Atom, Buddha, and Black Jack etc) clearly has zero connection to abusive work. It might well be an adult book – and so untouched even by the Tokyo bill – but with his cross-age appeal, there may well be 15 or 16-year-olds who could easily read and want to read this. But a blanket, unclearly worded bill. like that in Tokyo, could have lead in theory to Tezuka not going ahead and making such a book or to “punishment” for doing so.

    Laws are difficult things to deal with “grey” areas (like, when is a manga “serious” art?) and so getting wording right so that child abusers can be dealt with, but attitudes that differ to the UK/US etc can be maintained is important. And that, in terms of manga, any promoters of real abuse are restricted/unpublished/stopped while those serious folk dealing in drawings can raise issues in our world without any worries overhanging them.

    Meanwhile, as to real-people pornography, this possession thing is crap, isn’t it. I mean even if possession is legal, the possessor must have got it from somewhere. Since selling/distributing it is illegal, can’t a possessor be questioned as to where they got it from? If it’s within Japan, although the possessor can’t be charged at the moment, shouldn’t they legally have to help police in tracking down criminals by being legally obliged to say where it came from if asked? After all, owning it is OK currently, but knowing where a criminal distributor is, and not informing police when asked, surely can’t be?! If you follow what I mean!

  4. Hi Jake –

    Thanks for the article. The whole issue makes me sick to my stomach.

    Any idea if this article (or something to this effect) will be posted in Japanese, as well? Best to shame the DPJ in their own language.

  5. I’m not sure I understand the desire to ban child porn when it’s things like manga or anime, because real children aren’t involved in it (as far as I know). I thought the issue with child pornography was that children were being exposed unwillingly to physical and psychological torture and trauma. Other than finding it personally distasteful, I don’t see any harm in images of fictional kids doing weird things. I remember a news article circulating around some months ago about a guy in America being arrested and possibly facing prison time because a box of his kiddie porn manga imported from Japan was seized. It turned out he had a rather sizable collection of the stuff in his home, but not a single video or image of a real child. He’d never assaulted or harassed real children, he kept his proclivity strictly to fictional images.

    Some people on the messageboard it was posted on thought “bleh, kiddie porn is sick and wrong, this guy shouldn’t be doing anything close to that, he deserves it”. Other people thought “hey, if he gets off on this to the point he doesn’t seek out images of real kids, let him do what he wants.” I don’t think it’s fair to let my personal distaste dictate how other people should act as long as no one is being harmed by it. My being disapproving isn’t going to make whatever psychological or emotional issues pedophiles have disappear and it’s probably not going to help them. The only grey area I’d see in manga or anime is maybe if they were getting real kids and forcing them to do stuff and sketching it or recording their voices to dub in or something. That’d be a little trickier…

    But anyway, good for Kyoto for stepping up. Hopefully it’s only the first step to bigger and better things and not just a token effort to pacify voters.

  6. I only hope other prefectures follow up on this quickly. Tokyo especially should really be looking into such a law with it’s large population.

    Bocc Kob wrote:
    “I remember a news article circulating around some months ago about a guy in America being arrested and possibly facing prison time because a box of his kiddie porn manga imported from Japan was seized.”

    Christopher Handley, He had little erotic manga with under aged characters, he did have a very large manga and anime collection in general. He eventually plead guilty to obscene material sent across states lines for a reduced sentence.

    I was a potential expert witness in this case.

    His lawyer had some interesting comments after the conviction:


  7. Interesting how the only people who would even think to defend manga/anime child porn are men.

    This whole subject makes me want to vomit all over my keyboard, but I do want to write this:

    The depiction of “fictional” children in sexual situations in manga or anime is indeed harmful to real children, as it causes the reader to think of children as sexual objects. (I can’t even begin to imagine what goes on the minds of the sick twists who draw this crap for a living – and spare me the Tezuka argument.)

    Think about it – if you knew that a (presumably male) acquaintance of yours had a collection of child porn manga or anime, would you let him babysit your kids? And the “thought crime” argument is invalid, too. Escalation is a real issue.

  8. @ Rune

    Really? Freedom of speech? So that’s how manga pedophiles defend themselves?

    How’s this for free speech: Fuck you.

    USA! USA!

  9. @Gilles Poitras

    Thanks for the link, it looks like I’d forgotten some details in that case.


    I liked that link too. I think it’s a little frightening that anyone could be arrested, fined, or have their property seized for owning a book with some drawings in them.

  10. @Rose

    No, you nincompoop, it is not just a question of free speech, it’s a question of a slippery slope of censorship. I know you disregard this as unimportant, much the worse. It’s laws like these that puts teenagers in jail and on a sex-offenders list for having received a boobshot pic of their girlfriend on their mobile. Let me ask you, are coming of age stories that also focus on a young girl or boys sexuality with no degradation or rape, only to be read in book form? Or would this also be too tempting to some? The imagination is, after all, a powerful tool. If this is ok, then what is not? Where do we draw the line?

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.*

    Your cute ad hominem tells me that you are not up for debating this as much as you want to spew righteous anger. ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’** That, however, does not make it fact. The “escalation” argument is invalid. There are numerous studies documenting a correlation between increase in access of porn with a decrease in rape. On the other hand, there is no data suggesting that looking at images are a cause of paedophilia.

    I also hope, for your moral integrity’s sake, that you advocate against reading the Bible with an equal fervour. There are several instances of rape and incest in that after all.

    * Martin Niemöller
    ** Evelyn Beatrice Hall, popularly attributed to Voltaire

  11. @ Rune

    If you can’t tell the difference between a “coming of age” story and what is created to titillate and raise the prurient interest of pedophiles, then I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I refuse to side with Gaiman’s supposition that the law is a blunt object, not a scalpel. There is a difference, and it is up to each person (or judge or jury) to use their judgement to decide what is valid and what is not. The difference is in the intent, and the intended audience.

    And… Martin Niemöller? Really? Right, because protecting Jews from persecution is the exact same thing as allowing pedophiles to get off on “lines on paper.” /sarcasm

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, I don’t advocate for anyone reading the Bible. You want to talk about censorship, there’s a perfect example of a work that’s been altered by those in power to keep the masses in line. Besides, I’m not Christian.

    We’re obviously not going to see eye to eye on this, so let’s just agree to disagree.

  12. @Rose

    You should educate yourself. The law IS a blunt instrument, as seen with teen boys having their life ruined due to consensual sexting, but kiddie porn in the eye of the law if the girlfriend is underage, even if the bloke is underage as well. My example with the coming of age story was chosen exactly because this kind of story would also be able to land someone in jail.

    Flimsy straw man you got yourself there in response to the Niemöller quote, I won’t deign it an answer.

    I did not ask about advocating the bible or your religious persuasion. I just pointed out the hypocrisy in wanting to ban one and not the other.

    Yes, we should stop this, because you are blinded by opinion and thus have completely disregarded the google search I provided for you, because it undermines what your gut tells you. At the same time you have not presented anything to support your position.

    But if you want to challenge your preconceptions, have a look at this page from a yaoi manga. The man on the bed is the school nurse, the guy is a high schooler. Though the high schooler is the aggressive part (very aggressive if you go on a few pages and very explicit). Because of his age, this would be child pornography as the law is interpreted. Seeing this is Yaoi, it’s targeted at, and the readership mostly consists of, women and not men. Shoujo manga also have plenty of examples of stories that is kiddie porn after the current law. Like Love Strip. The girl is 16 and thus underage in the US hence kiddie porn (wouldn’t be underage in my part of the world, but that is irrelevant in this context). This title is marketed at and primarily sold to a teen girl audience. These are works written and drawn by women.

  13. in the u.s there was a case afew years ago about a man who imported lolicon and shotacon among other (mature) manga and he was arrested a charged but they couldn’t prove it was kiddie porn since it was “fake”, so they got him with obsecenity charges which there is no clear line on since it’s up to community standards and thanks to the “protect act” loli and shota aren’t legal (supposedly) in the u.s. under the guise that fictional children have rights too which is fine with me but i’m just worried about where the line “ends” so to speak since alot of adult manga (not porn type) has nudity and due to the art style the characters due appear to be teenagers

  14. Anyone who defends child pornography in any medium is despicable. It doesn’t matter which gender created it or which is the intended audience – it’s horrid and should be censored, let alone even produced.

    Rape is an act of violence, power and dominance, not lust or attraction. Correlation does not equal causation. Other experts have already found major holes in the “porn reduces rape” argument.


    It’s a shame such turd blossom comments are allowed to flourish on an otherwise very valuable website.

  15. Jon.

    It is not only adult manga that has underage nudity. Many popular kids titles do. For example Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro has the bath scene, Ranma 1/2 has several nude scenes, DragonBall has plenty with sexual humor poking fun at adults, not to mention Crayon Shin Chan etc. Well Shin Chan is not quite a kids title, but I think my point is clear.

    Where the line is drawn is an issue. Does nudity = porn? Or doe the context have to involve something else? Some countries, such as Australia, apparently even still draw the line at prose works when it comes to sexual descriptions.

    Defining the limits in law is not easy if you wish to allow some works to be legal and other to not be. Apparently in the 1990s there was a short lived attempt to have all depictions, including drawings, of underaged nudes outlawed in the US. Art museums and publishers of art books strongly objected as many classic art works would become illegal.

    In any case, as I stated earlier I hope other prefectures follow Kyoto’s lead in outlawing possession of child porn.

    BTW the person you refer to who was arrested was Christopher Handley who is mentioned above.

  16. In Finland where I’m from there was a short pedofile hysteria about the manga Dragon Ball (and mangas in general), since the early volumes contained nude drawings of the child main character and some penis jokes about said child and his elderly grandpa. The volumes were whitdrawn from sale for a while (with some groups advocating complete ban for the series), but they were reintroduced later after the fuss ended.

    Goes to show that one needs to tread carefully when drawing the line.

  17. Andrew makes an excellent point:

    even if possession is legal, the possessor must have got it from somewhere. Since selling/distributing it is illegal, can’t a possessor be questioned as to where they got it from?

    Jake asserts that police need “proof” before of sale or distribution before making an arrest. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t actually mean that. Police almost always arrest on suspicion and then present that in court, where the allegation may be proved.
    Why in the world wouldn’t police consider possession of child porn evidence enough of sale or distribution? Or, at a minimum, a reason to subpoena the possessor to gather evidence against the seller/distributor?
    Same applies to Jake”s reference to videos that depict sex acts with children. Can’t these be seized forthwith as evidence against whoever produced the film?

    1. Unfortunately, most judges will not give the police a search warrant based solely on the knowledge that Citizen X owns child pornography. It’s hard to even began the investigation unless the laws regarding sales have been violated or they have strong evidence that the person has sold or distributed the materials. That’s the way the law works. Police almost never make an arrest here unless the prosecutor is already on board with the investigation as well, that’s another obstacle. They could ask the owner where he bought it from but the owner is under no legal obligation to comply. And I don’t think you can get a subpoena to question the owner either. The law is very clear that possession is not a crime. If I could find a good translation of it in English, I’d post it.

  18. Andrew makes an excellent point:

    even if possession is legal, the possessor must have got it from somewhere. Since selling/distributing it is illegal, can’t a possessor be questioned as to where they got it from?

    That’s always been the bizzaro behind the law for me.

    I won’t even get into some free speech debate with a pedo on the internet. Talk circles around yourself and I’ll pray your job doesn’t allow you anywhere near kids.

  19. That’s too absurd even for Japan. The biggest crime is in the production of this stuff and the material itself is obviously direct evidence as to the producer and the identity of victims. I can imagine that some Japanese police have, on occasion, used the “our hands are tied” excuse to rationalize lazy or feckless law enforcement, but I simply cannot imagine that the law and prosecutors deliberately ignore evidence in these cases.

  20. Well, as I would say, prosecution, making it a crime, that’s not the most important. The most important thing is to destroy it. Destroy the culture of child pornography once and for all. Destroy any economic reasons behind it. The social aspect is harder. People have been emerged in this culture for a long time. And furthermore, their excessive overworking and stress prevents them from evaluating if what they are doing (watching child pornography) is right. In any case, I think Jake has a really good point. Even if possession is merely punishable by fine, it would make it easier for the police to get the necessary warrants, and thus indirectly making it easier for them to catch people who are creating and distributing the porn.

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