‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
-George Orwell, 1984
On April 19th, the offices of Core Magazine were raided by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. The news regarding the police bust was not publicized for many weeks. Only rumors circulated about. But then, in May, it was clear that something had changed. Books and magazines published by Core Magazine were censored far more than before. News rippled about how the sexual organs were completely covered up with black or white blots. Authors started complaining about the sales of their books were falling because of this new policy by Core Magazine.
It appeared that the police had declared war on genitalia in adult material marketed and sold to adults. Previously, the police arrested and penalized material that were uncensored but left alone material if the genitals has been partially obscured by black boxes or filters. But after May of 2013, it appeared that the police was demanding more self-censorship out of the publishers.
Of course, this was pure speculation. For months, no new information came into light regarding what had taken place. All that was known was that Core Magazine was forced to shut down operations regarding some magazines. What made this case harder to understand was that, as far as I can recall, all previous arrests pertaining to obscenity involved only one publication. But in the case of Core Magazine two publications–a manga magazine and a photo pictorial magazine, both adult publications marketed for adults–were said to be targeted. This was very strange. Why two? Was there some reason why police had to get both manga, which is pure fiction, as well as photographs of real people involved?
The logic involved in the raid was unclear, but the adult publishing industry noted that the raid had taken place and publications from companies other than Core Magazine started to self censor their material more.
Weeks turned to months, and come July, people were starting to think that perhaps the police had given up. Perhaps the prosecutor’s office declined the case because it was too weak, especially in the age of the Internet when so much uncensored pornography is available by the click of the mouse. Also, while censoring of the genitals was considered lax in the photographic pictorial, the manga magazine’s self-censorship standards followed industry protocols that had been in place for nearly a decade.
Then in July 29th, a full three months later the raid had taken place, news broke that arrests were made. The charge was obscenity, and the case was going to court. It was clear the police wanted to make an example out of this case as the police alleged both the manga magazine and the pictorial constituted obscene material.
What was especially disconcerting was the fact that the arrests took place immediately following the electoral victories of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP,) a political party known to have strong connections to the police and has campaigned on the platform of stronger law and order for Japan. The revision of the Child Pornography law and nationalizing restrictions of minor’s access to media have been part of the LDP agenda for quite some time.
A police force is supposed to be a neutral party and dutifully go about enforcing law regardless of what party is in power, but this timing was very troubling.
What is even more troubling is the fact that the police had effectively re-written its own rules for what constituted obscenity and they were not afraid to hide it.
For nearly 10 years, the industry standard was that obscuring the crown of the penis (the part that funnels out near the tip,) and clitoris, and instances of physical contact that constitutes sexual intercourse (i.e. insertions of objects into the vagina or the rectum) would absolve the depiction as being obscene. The police seemed also to reinforce this mantra, as they encouraged censorship of the kari (crown,) kuri (clitoris,) and the setsugou-bu (point of contact) and no more.
This was relatively straightforward, and while publishers and authors may deviate from this norm, the norm itself was fairly clear.
The standards for magazine aimed at adults sold in convenience stores were more nebulous. Theoretically, convenience stores do not sell adult publications. That is what is touted publicly, but the reality is that both the retailers and the publishers want to have magazines aimed at adults stocked at one of the most numerous retail outlets available in Japan. For this reason, convenience store franchises have guidelines that have effectively allowed soft-core material, taped closed so that minors would not have access to them without purchasing the material. The logic here is that the store can make sure no one too young was buying the magazines. There are numerous guidelines regarding content (some of them are rather laughable) but one important guideline pertains to how the genitals are supposed to be censored more heavily to lessen their erotic appeal. And thus, a type of differentiation was in place–Adult only publications would be self-censored less, while publications sold to general audiences would be self-censored more.
But with Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s arrest of the editors of Core Magazine, this system no longer makes any sense. The police had helped construct this system and yet they were now casting it away, blurring the lines of what constitutes illegal speech.
I can only imagine the interrogation that took place between the police and the editors.
“We’ve always demanded that the genitals be completely censored. If you can see the genitals, it’s obscene, isn’t it?”
“But self-censoring the crown, the clitoris, and the contact points used to enough for adult only publications.”
“We never publicly said that. Genitals are obscene.”
“Then what of the precedence created by the police for the last decade?”
“There is no such precedence.”
“Then why didn’t the police demand self-censorship beyond obscuring the crown, the clitoris, and the contact points?”
“We never said we were not demanding more. You simply were not aware of our demands.”
What does this exchange remind you of? It sounds a lot like the following passage.
“Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.”
That, of course, is a passage from George Orwell’s 1984.
Personally I have deep reservations over a philosophy that would treat parts of the natural human body as shameful and obscene, but the major issue here lies elsewhere. The fact that authorities can change standards of what is illegal and legal on a whim is what concerns me the most.
Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code restricts the distribution of obscene materials. Any material found to be afoul of 175 is obscene and thus illegal, therefore those associated with its distribution are criminals and the work is shameful contraband, something that must be restricted from society. Any material that is not considered violation of 175 is legal and its existence is permitted. The line that separates the two realms is arbitrary. It all comes down to who is prosecuted for what reason by the authorities. The authorities do not want to have the courts rule something is legal under 175, so they will only go after material they are certain they can win a conviction. There have very few cases where an Article 175 prosecution has failed in the Japanese courts.
Normally, it would be better if the line that demarcates illegality is set unambiguous and transparent. It would be easier for citizens to understand what is illegal and avoid skirting the law, especially in cases where the element that is considered illegal is part of their own bodies. In fact, citizens could even aid law enforcement if they have a clear understanding of what is illegal and why it is illegal. It simply improves citizenship. But when it comes to Article 175, the law is extremely vague.
“Those who have distributed obscene text, drawings, electromagnetic recordings contained om storage mediums, or such, or have publicly displayed the same material will be sentenced to two years of imprisonment or less or must pay a fine of no greater than 2,500,000 yen, or a combination of such penalties.”
Notice how what constitutes obscenity is completely left out. As of 2013, the court precedence that is still in effect arises from Japanese Supreme Court’s ruling over the Sunday Goraku Case of 1953.
“[Obscenity is defined as any material] that recklessly excites or stimulates sexual passions, and offends a normal person’s shamefulness against sexuality and is contrary to virtuous sexual morality.”
If the words “recklessly” were replaced by excessively, that part of the passage would make more sense, but I have faithfully translated the ruling from Japanese into English. How does one ascertain if something offends “a normal person’s shamefulness against sexuality?” Who determines “virtuous sexual morality?”
I confess that I am a layman, and being a layman I find it very difficult to comprehend how blots of ink on genitals have anything to do lessening a normal person’s shamefulness against sexuality and being contrary to virtuous sexual morality.
In other words, the current construct of obscenity in Japan is largely determined by the police and only by the police. It is possible to remove all references to sex from a work, and thereby guarantee immunity from Article 175, but that would be like throwing out the baby along with the bath water. The entire point of having freedom of expression is to be able to engage in a free and open discussion of ideas, to talk about our existence and what it means, and sexuality just happens to have a lot to do with our existence on this planet.
In other words, Article 175 is an over-broad law that can ensnare nearly anyone that engages in creation of artwork involving the human condition.
Had the police and other moral authorities made it their prerogative to slowly move toward ensuring more freedom, then this law is easier to accept. While I do not see concealing the human body serves the public good, it would make sense to moderate acceptance of new sexual norms. Perhaps everything should not be made free at once, but instead done incrementally.
And consequently, liberation and gradual relaxation of regulation of sexuality is exactly what has been taking place in the half century since the end of World War 2. There is no doubt the material that is available today is more explicit then what was available in 1955, but make not doubt about it–What was available in 1955 was revolutionary compared to what was available in 1935.
Mr. Ishihara Shintaro became famous for breaking contemporary standards regarding depictions of sexuality in his novels published in the 1950s. Later, he would publish a book in the 1970s claiming no text could coax a child toward crime or delinquency, and thus he felt perfectly fine having sexually explicit material available for his children to read. But come 2010, as Tokyo Governor and an advocate for passage of Bill 156 which increases restrictions on material available for minors in Tokyo, he refuted his own previous claims, stating “I was misguided back then…These days, the world has become a lot more crazy…Back then books that affirmed perversion was few and far between.”
It is amazing that Mr. Ishihara, who authored sexually explicit passages at a time when their existence would have raised a storm a mere 10 years ago, was now claiming Japan had reached a state that was “too uninhibited.” But since he could claim authority as Tokyo Governor, and since this authority was backed up by the police, for those who are not familiar with history or representations of sexuality in popular culture could find little reason to doubt his statements. Mr. Ishihara never fully explained why it was acceptable for depictions of sexual violence against minors to be included in his novels, but should not be tolerated within manga. Any hard questioning tending to end with him stonewalling the question or getting angry over how literary works such as his novels should be compared equally to manga.
And thus, it is very clear that the passage of time does not automatically guarantee acceptance nor relaxation of depictions of sexuality within fiction. The police and other authority figures can and have acted as guardians of public morality, ready to influence public culture in the image they see fit.
This has happened independent of Tokyo’s bid to win the Olympics for 2020 and unrelated to manga or any form of published or displayed entertainment. On May 29th, Mr. You-Ichi Furuya, the head of the Public Chief Division of the National Police Agency, gave a speech to an pachinko trade group meeting. Pachinko is Japan’s legalized form of gambling and its operations are heavily regulated by the police to ensure players are not exploited financially and organized crime do not get involved. But on this occasion, Mr. Furuya talked about how recent images and graphics displayed on pachinko machines could be found contrary to public morals and threaten healthy environments. He specifically talked about how erotic or grotesque imagery should be avoided. Had Mr. Furuya been talking about theme parks frequented by children or public displays exposed to the general public, this would sound sensible. But minors are forbidden from playing pachinko in Japan. In effect, Mr. Furuya was acting as the public moral guardian over adults.
In his article about the police raid against Core Magazine, Mr. Hiruma mentioned detectives talking about how Core Magazine was being made an example, i.e. the police intends to interfere and direct how pornography is created for adults. This sounds Orwellian to say the least. Some of you might write this off as fanciful writing on the part of this reporter, but Mr. Hiruma backed up this claim with a follow-up article, and I personally have also confirmed this story from multiple sources as well. Here is an example by Jin Toriyama, an author and editor of adult novels.
Since September 17th, at least three publishers of erotic manga have been directed to report to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to “discuss” how publishers should self censor their material and what subjects should be avoided.
It is very clear that the Japanese police and perhaps other parties are aspiring to become more involved with shaping the nature of Japan’s adult entertainment industry.
In the near term, this intervention by the Japanese police will primarily impact Japan’s creators. While the logic behind this intervention will always be about protecting Japan’s public morality, restricting the production of sexually explicit material will have little impact on a public which can easily access uncensored erotica from abroad, however if the police’s power to direct and influence the Japanese creative community is left unquestioned, the authority of the police to direct public morality will be further entrenched.
There is talk of making United Kingdom an opt-in state regarding Internet pornography, where any citizen who wishes to have access to erotica would have to specifically request their Internet service provider to turn off their filtering software. That could also happen in Japan, especially if fantasy regarding sexuality is deemed fall within the domain of state intervention.
Article 175 is both the symptom and a root cause behind how the moralists authorities in Japan wield power over the public. As a taxpayer and a voter in Japan, I am saddened to think valuable public resources that could otherwise be spent toward repairing the damage of the Great East Japan Earthquake or other such pressing public needs are being diverted to the entrenchment of a state bureaucracy that self-perpetuates itself through the diminishment of citizens’ rights.
But people overseas can also make a difference, by making their protests public online and not letting the subject die. Donations to organizations that rigorously address free speech issues, such as the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will allow these groups to continue asking hard questions against the Japanese establishment.
While this debate might be taking place in Japan, the outcome of this debate may impact the quality of entertainment you enjoy in your own home nation. After all, many agree that Japan is at the vanguard for many forms of visual entertainment. Even those that dislike Japanese erotic fantasy will agree, Japan boasts tremendous diversity in the realm of fiction that is unavailable else where.
Alas, if one of the most liberal lands of fiction is muzzled, what will become of lands that are less liberal?
2010 “Our nation was at war with anti-social erotic fiction. Our nation has been always been at war with anti-social erotic fiction.”
2014? “Our nation was at war with erotic fiction featuring minors. Our nation has been always been at war with erotic fiction featuring minors.”
201X? “Our nation was at war with erotic fiction featuring sexual exploitation and criminal sexual acts. Our nation has been always been at war with erotic fiction featuring sexual exploitation and criminal sexual acts.”
201X? “Our nation was at war with erotic fiction featuring unrealistic and exaggerated human anatomy that reinforce stereotypes. Our nation has been always been at war with erotic fiction featuring unrealistic and exaggerated human anatomy that reinforce stereotypes.”
20XX? “Our nation was at war with erotic fiction not involving procreation. Our nation has been always been at war with erotic fiction not involving procreation.”
20XX? “Our nation was at war with erotic fiction…”