On June 16th, revision bills to Tokyo’s Youth Healthy Development Ordinance failed in the full Tokyo Assembly. Both the original “Nonexistent Youth” bill and the subsequent reworded and slightly altered bill forwarded by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito Party (NKP) was defeated.
This marks the first time a bill was defeated during LDP Governor Ishihara’s tenure and he seems to be rather upset. He has stated he will resubmit a new bill that will expand the current harmful publications criteria, possibly in time for autumn of this year, but it might be pushed back to the winter session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. While he himself admitted the wording of the original revision bill was vague and troublesome, he refused to retract the bill as the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and other opposition parties demanded. Had he done so, it would have been harder for the DPJ and other members to vote against the new slightly altered bill forwarded by the LDP and NKP. Why Governor Ishihara did not choose to do so is a question hard to answer.
There is little question in my mind the phrase “nonexistent youth” is now effectively taboo within circles involved in attempting to craft new restrictions and regulations against creative fiction. As far as I know, this marks the first time in Japan that a bill that attempted to expand restrictions and censorship against creative fiction was defeated in legislation.
Previous attempts to combat against censorship and restriction had focused on preventing a bill from coming up to a vote, or changing the wording of the bill in the drafting stages. For example, when Japan’s first child pornography law of 1999 was first being drafted, the definition of what constitutes child pornography included artwork–drawings and paintings of minors. (See here and here for records of this.) But thanks to the intense lobbying of numerous parties and individuals, as well as many industry groups, the section regarding artwork was dropped.
There are two reasons for this.
First of all, voting against getting tougher on “the scrooge of toxic child porn” is a hard sell, particular elected officials. As one industry spokesman once said, “Child porn is great,” because it puts anyone expressing even caution against expanding regulation on the defensive. This is one reason why numerous parties have changed their tactics over regulating sexually explicit material. In the past, words like “lascivious” and “decadent” would be employed by those wanted to ban something because those words were enough to stir people contempt. Now, those same words sound even mildly quaint and a little sexy. Now, “child porn” and “children must be shielded” has become the new buzz words that are easily employed to compel people into accepting more regulations and restrictions.
Second of all, while many might think because the manga and anime industry is huge, there would be numerous powerful industry groups that work tirelessly toward safeguarding their interests, in legislative halls and elsewhere. That’s not at all the case.
For example, there is no Japanese version of the US Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The Japanese version of the American Civil Liberties Union, the JCLU, has not issued a single official statement regarding restrictions against creative fiction for at least 12 years or possibly more. Numerous industry groups do exist, but few voiced any concerns over the “Nonexistent Youth Bill” until voting on the bill was put on hold in March. As of yet, associations of animation production companies nor video game companies have issued any statement regarding the bill. Truth be told, the advocates working toward safeguarding artistic freedom of creative fiction are very few and terribly over-stretched. Many of them don’t even work in the industry, but are simply concerned citizens and consumers of anime and manga. For this reason, a full frontal assault against new censorship laws in the chambers of legislative deliberations would be very taxing and could not be sustained for any meaningful length of time.
This could all change in the future, but such was the state of affairs until recently. This legislative victory could change many things, but since history holds a strong sway over how the future is shaped, I think it’s important to keep in mind of the background to the current situation and what might hold in the future.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll describe more in detail regarding numerous elements involved in the debate over censorship of creative fiction in Japan. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I’m still learning a lot of things, even after spending over 20 years studying and observing things.
Some last notes:
I believe Simon Jones described the debate in a refreshing and enlightening viewpoint that is worthwhile to repeat here: “This is a culture battle waged in legislature, and the ultimate goal is to once again push adult content back into the darkest recesses of society, by getting people accustomed to the idea of granting rights to fictional characters, and eroding the rights of real people to have free and unpleasant speech.”
There are numerous parties involved in this debate, but I am quite certain that certain parties do hold the viewpoint Simon stated above. Great analysis.