I’m sorry for not writing updates on my blog but I have not been feeling very well recently. I’m feeling a little better, but I need to take it easy. I also have to earn a living translating and the like. I’m right now working on some material for the massive booklets that will go into the Strike Witches Season 2 DVD releases in Japan. It’s too bad these roughly 100 page mini books don’t show up in the English releases.
A quick refresher regarding the pending bill in Tokyo.
Tokyo already has the power to designate anything that is too sexually stimulating for minors OR too sadistic for minors OR too likely to cause criminal acts among minors OR cause suicide among minors as “harmful material”, and force such material to be treated as adult only material.
But a conference assembled by Governor Ishihara in 2009 felt that this was not enough. Among the numerous suggestions made by this group was to restrict ALL depictions of minors in sexual situations in fiction, regardless of sexaully stimulative qualities if the dipictions were “immoral”.
In March, the Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety (OYAPS) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) proposed to address 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. The bill created the concept of a “nonexistent youth”, defined as any character that appear to be a minor, and considered their appearance in fictional sexual depictions as deserving of special treatment.
Novels were exempt.
The proponents of the bill framed the bill as a smut restriction bill, but the opponents noted that the concept of the nonexistent youth was far too vague and would subject creative fiction to adhere to morality standards as set by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, or else the creators would be forced to have their works be regulated as adult only material even if the work was not highly sexually stimulating.
A huge public backlash ensued and the bill was defeated in June.
Governor Ishihara would have none of it and promised to revive the bill, with some of the wording changed to make it less ambiguous.
Well the bill was a no show for about 5 months, until preparations for the winter session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly started. Newspapers, fed by tips supplied by the OYAPS, talked about a new bill but the actual contents of the bill was not revealed until November 22nd, the last day possible until for a bill to be revealed.
The new bill, Bill 156, essentially stipulates all sexual acts that would be illegal in real life OR sexual depictions between close relatives who could not legally get married to be treated as adult material if they are presented in “unjustifiably glorified or exaggerated manner.” Note that illegal sexual acts go way beyond just rape–Sexual relations between minors and adults are also illegal in Tokyo under certain conditions, and there are many other restrictions that exist regarding real people.
The age specification has been dropped in the bill itself, but since the bill is based on pre-existing real world sex related laws and ordinances, the “nonexistent youth” stipulations are effectively still active. Bill 156 has been dubbed the “Nonexistent Crime Bill” and many criticized not only the wording of the bill, but the fact that the TMG didn’t release the details of the bill until the very end.
Now creators that deal with science fiction, fantasy, historical works, myths, and stories that involve foreign nations must abide by Tokyo and Japan’s criminal code when dealing with sexual acts. OYAPS has stated specifically that even the manga adaptations of Tale of Genji will be subject to restriction if the sexual relationships are described in a “unjustifiable glorified manner”.
Furthermore, the bill specifically targets anime, manga, and any other visual medium that would involve pictures, which would mean games would be included as well.
Furthermore, not only novels, but anything produced with live photography (real-life actors in front of a camera) would be exempt in Bill 156.
So novels, films, TV, photographs, and any other medium involving text and real world people are free to do what they wish, but anime and manga and games will have to follow a different standard.
The proponents of the bill continue to frame this bill as a bill that would regulate hard core pornography from the hands of children, but Tokyo already has the power to regulate anything highly graphic and sexually stimulating as harmful.
During a debate on the floor of the assembly, Governor Ishihara defended the provisions of the bill as likewise:
“Pertaining to sexual products, such as magazine, books, and movies included, [Northern Europeans] are far ahead of Japan and surprisingly open…But! They have no perverse works with children as their subject matter.
Now I have to say, it may be a case where this is because their religion is sound in some respects or that their morality based on religion is clear cut, but as I have deliberated previously in this general assembly, we should listen to parties entrusted with such affairs [in Europe] regarding comparisons between Europe and Japan, and explain specifically what kind of principles and basic rules, and beliefs have led to the banning of books and movies that feature children [in sexual situations in Europe], and that should be enough to persuade otherwise those nonsensical crowds that put a nonsensical opposition [to our efforts.]”
Governor Ishihara seems to be completely leaving out Europe’s numerous literary and film traditions which feature minors involved in sexual situations, but even leaving that aside, he appears to be comparing Europe’s rather overall limited adult comic book and animation market with Japan’s extraordinarily developed field of erotic manga and anime that caters to every demographic and preferences one can imagine. To me, this is akin to telling sushi lovers to listen to advise from people who only eat canned tuna, but you be the judge.
I would argue that, overall anime and manga, especially manga, has grown to be an extraordinarily vibrant, mature and diverse medium of self-expression in Japan, similar to the function novels and movies play in the West.
If someone went up to an Englishman or a Frenchwomen and say to them, they should hide away novels that feature depictions of rape that are NOT sexually stimulating but “moral of the story was considered unsatifactory by their local municipality”, I think they would be rather startled. How would a German like to hear performances of Oedipus Rex must not only be free of “sexuality stimulating treatment” but ALSO be free of excessive justification and exaggeration of the incestual relationship (which happens to be a major plot point in this classic Greek tragedy), or else the local cops will shutdown the show and tell people it has to be an adult only showing.
What’s worst, the wording of the bill is so nebulous, most people won’t have a clue as to what will the evaluating committee in city hall deem to be “harmful” until precedence is established over a number of years, and even that could change when the membership of the committee rotates.
Well the opposition was not about to take this lying down.
Numerous groups, too many to list here, really, voiced their opinion against the bill. Out of 5 major national newspapers in Japan, Mainichi and Asahi have printed editorials condemning the Bill 156. Many regional newspapers also joined in.
With Governor Ishihara and OYAPS officials claiming that the spirit of the new bill is essentially the same from the previous bill, one might expect the same opposition would arise from the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (TMA).
Based on numerous reports it is now clear that OYAPS engaged in a smear campaign against the members of the largest party of the TMA — The Democratic Party of Japan. I’ve already written on how they are the party in the middle, and are wavering toward endorsing the bill, with some supplemental resolution attached to address the concerns over how the bill might impact works worthy of artistic merit. Unfortunately, a supplementary resolution is not legally binding, so it will have little impact on the bill’s enforcement.
Part of the reason why Kadokawa and Shueisha and others are so angry that they are pulling out of the Tokyo International Anime Fair is that they have almost ZERO opportunity to give input about the bill that was proposed. Had the bill been revealed sooner, and the industry to could have provided some input, the anger against it might have been much more subdued and perhaps even a conciliatory atmosphere might have come about.
It’s hard to accept Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s posturing of being a manga and anime friendly municipality through its operation of the Tokyo International Anime Fair when they are not allowing the industry and the creative community to have any input on legislation that will impact them, and they are ramming through legislation that singles them out.
Well on December 13, the vote will be taken in the General Affairs Committee of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. The results of the voting in that committee will decide the fate of the bill, and the bill’s fate will be sealed on the 15th when the full assembly takes up the vote.
Now by the way, this bill is not a ban! BUT in some respects it’s worse than a ban since the bill will encouraging self-censorship and compel authors to avoid particular subject matters, unclear what kinds of depictions would be subject to designation of “harmful material”. If your book is labeled “harmful”, then that magazine or books will be pushed into spots where many people don’t know to find them. Also, once a book or magazine is deemed harmful by Tokyo, as a rule Amazon Japan and many other retailers won’t sell them. There are many instances where retailers will overreact–When a few Boys Love book was designated harmful by Osaka, the local Kinokuniya bookstore removed ALL Boys Love books. Note that very few books that are deemed to be harmful get reprinted as an adult only title, so they usually go out of print very quickly.
In other words, having the label “harmful material” is a kiss of death if you want to reach a wider audience. Some might argue that authors could simply avoid this issue by not dealing with sex crimes in comic and manga. This same logic resulted in how race issues and the Untouchables issue in Japan has been effectively wiped off of mainstream fiction. The fear of persecution results in creators avoiding an issue, creating a world where people are taught racism and discrimination is bad, but they really don’t know what the issue involves.
Bill 156 Scheduling
2010-11-22 Bill submitted for consideration to member of the General Affairs Committee of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
2010-11-30 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly convenes.
2010-12-07 Party representative’s questions.
2010-12-08 General assembly member’s questions.
2010-12-09 General Affairs Committee meeting (debate).
2010-12-13 General Affairs Committee voting.
2010-12-15 Full assembly voting.
PS: I’ll try to post feedback to the comments soon, but I’m just too busy right now, so please forgive me.