Censoring Heritage

In my last entry, I discussed how elements within the Japanese police force are effectively bullying parts of the adult entertainment industry by leaving the line that separates what is legal and illegal very vague and prone to whims of the police. This creation of a very large zone of legal ambiguity impacts visual arts culture acutely. Leaving creators unsure about legal boundaries tends to sap artists’ confidence of artists and entire communities tend to swing between exuberant euphoria (“The police haven’t come after us. We must be in the clear.”) to excessive self-censorship following police action. (“I’m not sure how far the police will go, so I’ve got to make sure not to stand out.”)

For more information about how this chilling effect functions, please read this entry of mine. I describe in some detail about how this phenomena manifests itself in Japan.

It is not rare for chilling effect to create some very strange situations. In today’s case, the legal ambiguity of obscenity has brought about a situation where Japanese museums and artistic institutions are shunning their own country’s cultural heritage, they very heritage that is being celebrated in the West by major institutions.

The British Museum is currently putting together a major exhibition of Japan’s early modern sexually explicit artistic print culture, known as shunga. Shunga: Sex and Humor in Japanese Art, 1600-1900 is a wonderful opportunity to examine sexual attitudes and erotic visual arts alien to the European traditions. By examining something very different from ourselves, we learn something about ourselves and how diverse cultures can be.

Unfortunately, as it stands now, it appears the Japanese public will not have an opportunity to examine and learn from this exhibition that deals with their own heritage since no major institution in Japan is willing accommodate it.

The Tokyo Shinbun newspaper reports the exhibition organizers have yet to find a Japanese institution willing to host the exhibition. This is especially ironic since Japan created the legal framework of obscenity in the late 19th Century in part to meet Western demands that Japan become enlightened and civilized.

In yet another bizarre twist in over self-censoring, a Japanese junior high school cancelled a speech by the English translator of Barefoot Gen, who the school had originally invited. I will quote from the English article reported by the Mainichi Shinbun, but the principle’s statement is very strange. “I have not read Barefoot Gen. The students have not studied it, either, so I thought they would not be interested in the lecture. When I asked that Gleason not focus the speech on Barefoot Gen, he refused.”

I have had someone mention to me that the newspaper misquoted the person, and that the principle requested that the translator not talk exclusively about Barefoot Gen, but even that sounds rather strange.

This entry was posted in censorship, news, public morality and media, translation and intercultural issues. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Censoring Heritage

  1. Ignorance is a curse that plagues all. I haven’t read Barefoot Gen but I’m not willing to kick someone out for it.

    It seems nowadays, many people talk with both sides of their mouths. I’ve seen people who champion individual liberty and rights for all proclaim people like me are terrorists and evil men because we would like a smaller government that is less intrusive on our lives, and our cultural and constitutional right to firearms ownership.

    Hoping this crazy ride will stop is tomfoolery, and it requires a calculated and well run counter-push to get these asshats to stop. As you’ve proven though, the fight isn’t just with the old-timers, but the youngins who have led sheltered lives.

  2. Dark says:

    Ah yes, the part “meet Western demands that Japan become enlightened and civilized” is the one make me laugh the most, while feeling my heart hurt. Changing the name Japan to any other names of Asian countries, including China, and we will have the situation in colonizing era, when lots of valuable things, both in physic forms and/or culture/society, destroyed because we had to “become enlightened and civilized” by European empires. Not even know how to react anymore.

    I think it’s best if I stop here, before I turn into an anti-Western freak (It’s not, actually. Don’t group me with dumb-ass blah blah blah how their own kin is the best and blah blah blah)

    So what’s the situation, Dan? Is P.M Abe so busy to even think about this bill, because from what I’ve heard, he got bunch of other crap to worry about? or the diversion between those who oppose this stupidity and those who think this ****it not enough (:facepalm: seriously? How far dumb human’s mind, or rather, old fools and/or stuck-up brainless’ mind could go?) keep this (#%&#*t at bay for as long as it take?

    Damn it :facepalm: again

    • anon says:

      The west is to be blamed in this case but it’s not all the west’s fault. Japan was lucky being an island nation: It managed to be mostly safeguarded from Confucianism and other Chinese sexual mores, also very sex-negative, for a long time, unlike China’s neighboring peoples and nations. This is one of the reasons why pornography is illegal in most of Asia, even if it is laxly enforced in some countries. This moralism could have also came through the influence of Islam — as it did in parts of southeast Asia — too. In short, for some reason, humans seem to have a tendency to become sex-negative as population and schools of thought grow. It probably has something to do with the fact most parents couldn’t properly raise the children they had and few efficient contraceptive methods existed in the times those morals developed.

  3. Rigobeano says:

    Any updates on the censorship bill?

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