Governor Ishihara has not happy last June when the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly rejected his proposed revision to the existing Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance. He vowed that a new bill would be crafted to address a pressing danger for the citizen of Tokyo that he and some others in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) believes to exist–Namely the danger posed by fiction that is not obscene, not extremely sexually stimulating, and not strongly prone to compel youth to conduct criminal acts, but still is harmful to youth because they simply deal with the subject of minors and sexuality in a realm of fiction, especially if presented in a “anti-social” manner.
Since many people don’t know how the existing “harmful to minors” regulation scheme over printed material works, I’ll explain it very briefly.
Books sold in Tokyo can be already be deemed to be “harmful to minors” by the TMG if they are considered to be 1) sexually stimulating, 2) encourages cruelty, or 3) may compel suicidal tendencies or criminal behaviors. The current ordinance already has the above definitions on the books. The TMG buys about 100 books each month and about 5 to 10 books are regularly deemed to be “harmful” under the authority of the TMG and its circulation are restricted from minors. If a magazine or a book is deemed to be harmful three times in a row or five times within a half a year, then distributors do not carry the publication any more, meaning it is a kiss of death. The existing scheme revolves around books and other material that are easily accessible to minors, meaning any books that publishers themselves classifies as “adult only” and/or provocative publications that are shrink-wrapped or bound by tape at the distributor level are exempt, since they are not considered to be not available to minors.
But some in the TMG and outside experts felt the existing regime did not go far enough. Each had their own reasons.
Some PTA leadership people and other non-governmental moralists felt that the mere existence of fictional depictions of minors involved in sexual situations should be unilaterally banned, especially if the work does not merit literary, artistic, and/or educational accomplishment. Since a total ban on fiction regarding a particular subject matter would have a hard time holding up in court due to freedom of expression clauses of the constitution and invite a lot of backlash, a committee created by Governor Ishihara instead proposed restricting all such fictional material from minors.
The idea was, if you can’t ban it, let’s first place any and all fiction regarding the “inappropriate” topic subject to governmental oversight.
Some in the TMG, especially police officers sent in from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to work there, loved the idea that they would have additional authority to regulate printed material. Expansion of regulatory authority would imply larger budgets and creation of new oversight bodies.
But there was one catch. The pre-existing regulation already covered a lot of material, as I have listed above. So they broadened the range from “anything sexually stimulating” to “anything that deals with minors in sexual situations.” Their argument for doing this was that it was a bad idea for minor to realize that they had sexuality and worse still was to give them bad ideas for how they might explore it.
Numerous important questions were completely left out.
One was whether or not fiction could easily influence all minors under the age of 18 equally, or the idea that “giving bad ideas” was justifiable grounds for restricting their existence from minors, or how novels would be exempt while manga, anime, figures and video games would not, or if it was a good idea for the government instead of parents to decide what is appropriate for minors, or just how exactly a body was to determine if a depiction was “anti-social” or not.
The list grows on and on.
While many people ridiculed the aspect where the bill adopted the language of “nonexistent youth” to describe fictional depictions of minors, that was a mere tip of the iceberg for foes of the bill, and consequently, the bill was first place on hold in March and then defeated in June.
The TMG went to extraordinary lengths to placate the critics, saying for example the new regulations will only apply to “extremely anti-social material” and that books published in the past won’t be affected and even further stating that many fictional depictions of youth could avoid regulation by merely stating that the characters depicted were above legal age.
Needless to say, the outside experts who first drafted the bill were furious at how they felt the TMG was selling out. But critics of the bill, including yours truly, continued to press for the bill to be scrapped since “promises” to selectively enforce a law are not only completely unreliable, but constitutes a very dangerous idea. It mocks the idea that all are equal before the law.
But the TMG bureaucrats who drafted the law were unwavering in their zeal to have a bill be passed, even watered-down.
Over the course of the summer and autumn the Office for Youth Affairs and Public Safety, TMG office in charge of harmful material regulation, held numerous meetings with industry groups and Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members to see if they could convince a revision to be passed.
They tried to see if they could work out something for the fall session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, but they ran out of time.
Theoretically, anything that resembles a bill that caused such an uproar should be debated in public so its merits and shortcomings could be addressed. But it seems the TMG officials were unwilling to be more public about the bill because they wanted to first negotiate with Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (TMA) members to find some compromise as well as to avoid raising concern from the public and keep protests muted.
After all, how can you protest a bill if you don’t know what it contains?
Well, the TMG took this to the extreme by refusing to reveal any of the details of the bill until November 22nd. The bill is supposed to be debated and voted on during the 4th regular (winter) session of the TMA, which is called into order on November 30th and closes on December 15th.
This leave virtually no time for people to thoroughly debate a new bill.
According to a Japanese article in Cyzo you can read here, it appears the TMG officials that had their first bill rebuffed in the first half of the year are desperate to have some sort of bill passed, or else they would suffer major consequences on returning back to their jobs at the Tokyo Police Department. In other words, police bureaucrats that were sent to work at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government are pursuing this bill in part because they need something to show to their former superiors to be able to get back to their former jobs.
Governor Ishihara only briefly mentioned the new bill yesterday (Friday), avoiding to mention any specifics beyond saying that the bill will address the issue of protecting minors.
Protecting them from what exactly was not very unclear.
Yomiuri states simply the term “nonexistent youth” was dropped and now the age of the character depicted is not specified.
Nikkei reports the new bill will regulate any fiction that features “unjustifiable glorification” of sexual acts that are outlawed in both penal and civil law books. They include fictional depictions of sexual violence and incent as examples.
Asahi goes even further stating that even fictional depictions that are counter to social morals would be subject to regulation.
Even though the text of the bill has not been revealed, the TMG seems to have leaked information to the news media stating that the new bill will now make any and all fiction containing illegal and/or immoral sexual acts depicted in an “unjustifiable glorified” manner to be off-limits to everybody under the age of 18, and that the government will have the authority to deem what material offends this new threshold.
While numerous newspaper articles are talking about the bill in very vague terms, some are implying that the chances of the bill passing are good, irregardless of the fact that specific content of the bill has not been revealed. Yomiuri and Nikkei are both saying the new bill’s language has been modified to placate the critics of the bill within the Democratic Party of Japan. That’s very interesting, since members of the DPJ and other parties have stated on Twitter (1) (2) (3) that they have not even seen the bill yet.
You might wonder how can certain journalists write hype being touted by the Government as being news worthy. I’ll explain this briefly.
Each large institution, such as police departments, political parties, local municipal governments and the like, have a kisha kurabu–A press club. Those that are members of the press club will be provided preferential information that may not be very accurate but be more of a reflection of what the institution wants have known widely in public. In return, they get first crack on special news reports and leaks that the institutions will release from time to time.
In the US, any biased news pieces, especially if a conflict of interest can be detected, would be severely criticized, but that is not the case in Japan, especially since 1) some news pieces are published without a name attached (even today) so individuals are rarely sanctioned for propaganda re-packaged as news 2) expectations of impartiality of the news is less strenuous than the US (it’s more like Europe, where different newspapers don’t hide their political ideological underpinnings) and 3) many Japanese people consider big news outlets nothing more than mouthpieces of big institutions.
If you want more information, I highly recommending typing words “Japan kisha club controversy” and you’ll find more information.
To sum-up, TMG police bureaucrats are using every power available to limit the debate over a bill that would expand their authority to regulate fiction and employing numerous channels to make it seem like this will simply sail through committee and be approved in the full assembly.
The DPJ committee will meet on Monday, November 22nd, so we will have to see if what happens.
In the mean time, a lot of people in Japan are very angry that proponents of the bill have resorted to stealth tactics as described above. The issues regarding how and what material should be regulated from youth should a topic that is debated widely, but Governor Ishihara and TMG appears to not agree.