The Uneasy Ceasefire of 2012: Revised Tokyo Ordinance’s Current Status

I’ve had many people ask about what’s going on with Bill 156. If you are not familiar with Bill 156, please read THIS and THIS.

In a nutshell, Bill 156 expanded Tokyo’s power to regulate manga and anime (and some games) beyond the authority they already had. Previously (pre-2011,) Tokyo could unilaterally designate any printed material (including films and software as well as books) as being harmful to minors if 1) it was excessively sexually stimulating, 2) it featured violence that found to be excessively sadistic in nature, 3) it contained depictions of criminal acts highly likely to compel criminal behavior among the youth, and/or 4) it contains material that’s highly likely to compel minors to commit suicide.

With the passage of Bill 156 in December of 2010 and its formalization in July of 2011, Tokyo’s power to regulate expanded to include the following; 5) any material that “unjustifiably glorifies or exaggerates” sexual or pseudo sexual acts which are illegal under current Japanese law and/or local Tokyo ordinances, and 6) sexual or pseudo sexual acts between family members who cannot marry under Japanese law.

The revision of the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance brought about with the passage of Bill 156 galvanized public attention on many issues, i.e. Why should manga and anime be singled out? What is the role of the state in raising children? What is the industry doing to alleviate concerns about potentially objectionable content? Who and how should particular material be considered “objectionable for youth?”

Here’s my quick rundown on the current state of affairs regarding the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance.

Bill 156 passed and the definition of what constitutes “harmful to minors” has been changed in Tokyo, and yet NOT A SINGLE TITLE has been determined to be harmful to minors under the new expanded definition (as of August of 2012.) However, publishers are mandated by the ordinance to keep any material that might run afoul of the new definition out of general circulation. This is in keeping with how Tokyo’s media regulatory regime works. Remember, the revision only expanded the definition of what constitutes harmful. It did not change how something is designated harmful and how the industry is mandated to keep such material off the market.

Yes, I realize many have read this following article:

I would like to remind you that none of these books have yet to be designated harmful by Tokyo. They can’t, because they all went out of print prior to the ordinance coming into force. You cannot designate a book as being harmful under the new definition if the book was printed prior to change in the definition. But if the book is reprinted, it could be, and that’s the reason why all these books went out of circulation. If you look around bookstores in Japan today, there’s a chance you could find copies of the six books listed above, but that is because those are copies that were printed prior to July of 2011.

Books do continue to get designated as being “harmful” by the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Evaluation Panel, but the numbers of books determined to be “harmful” have not changed since when the revision took place. All books deemed to be harmful by the panel were deemed to be in violation of definitions 1~4. Definitions 5 & 6 (the ones newly introduced by Bill 156) have yet to be invoked as of yet.

You could say the publishing industry is dutifully following the letter of the law, and the fact that no titles have been found to be in violation of the new definition proves the existing industry self-regulator regime is working. Publishing groups would claim that the system works, and there was no need to introduce Bill 156. Advocates for the passage of Bill 156 would argue that it was the threat of penalization introduced with the revision of the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance is making all this possible.

There is no doubt self-censorship has come about following the revision of the ordinance. The publishing world of women were hit the hardest. I’ve come across numerous testimonies of authors stating how editors demanded major changes in material aimed at general audience that features sexual situations involving minors. Books distributed electronically for female audiences appear to have been impacted the most.

And yet, there is no doubt many advocates who argued for more drastic regulation of manga and anime feel let down by the fact that a lot of material remains freely available. Case in point:

You could also say the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has been very cautious about exercising their new power because:

A. The TMG knows it is very unpopular among a sizable number of people who are very vocal.

B. The passage of the ordinance itself was more important that the enforcement. The architects of Bill 156 have all been transferred out of the TMG.

C. The TMG does not want to give the publishers an opportunity to go to the courts and challenge parts of the ordinance that might be found to be unconstitutional. (For example, how manga and anime is singled out while live-action films are not could be grounds for striking down parts of the ordinance.)

or D. The fact that the TMG has the authority to enforce the new powers is enough, as it compels publishers to adopt certain self-censorship policies.

What is clear is that neither the TMG, the publishers, nor the authors are in a mood for a major confrontation. With the revision in place and the governor of Tokyo still having another three years of his term remaining, there’s little opportunity for opponents to be able to show their opposition. Perhaps for the TMG, the fact that Bill 156 has passed and industry is now subject to regulation pertaining to certain “questionable material” is enough.

Face saving is an important part of Japanese culture, and the circumstance surrounding Bill 156 made a lot of people lose face, especially for the TMG. So in a way, not provoking another major confrontation is a win for the TMG, and it is a win for the publishers as well, since they can turn around and say Bill 156 was unwarranted since it the revisions made possible with the bill’s passage hasn’t been invoked yet.

There are two other important things that have to be placed in perspective. One is that fact that the publishing industry was rather uneasy about how women’s manga did not adhere to the same guidelines that men’s manga did. The passage of Bill 156 and the re-calibration of self-censorship within the industry has made it painfully clear that books aimed at women were operating under different principles, and the close public scrutiny of women’s and girl’s manga has forced a great deal of introspection to come about.

Another is how the political parties in Japan are in a mess right now.

Party caucuses in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly are so unstable, it is unclear who is in control at any given moment. While the Democratic Party of Japan’s unraveling in the national scene has impacted the party’s standing in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, other parties are not doing so well either. Entrenched political parties, such as the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party, are all facing challenges from smaller newer political parties that are taking advantage of voter unpopularity with taxes, nuclear power, and government bureaucracies.

While it might be disheartening to realize that there’s little that can be done as of now regarding rolling back revisions to the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance, let me point out how the Japanese political process works (or doesn’t work, depending on you point of view.) The Japanese legislative system enables many politicians to defer, delay, and/or disrupt some extremely popular initiatives among the voters by employing certain procedural roadblocks.

Case in point: Nuclear power reactors.

“The Tokyo metropolitan assembly dashed the hopes of 320,000 Tokyoites by rejecting their petition for a referendum on the future of nuclear power plants.” from

That’s just for calling for a referendum and not about abolishing nuclear reactors. Holding a vote to let Tokyo voters voice their opinion on nuclear power was scuttled. I can imagine many in the Golden State would be dumbstruck that something like this could even be possible. (For those who aren’t familiar with US politics, California is known for having a lot of referendums and voter led initiatives becoming part of how the state operates.)

As Takeshi Nogami points out in the illustration below, what hurts the authors and creators the most is lackluster sales. As long as people are buying books and software, authors and creators have the means to keep on going, skirting around regulations and whatnot.

I would also like to point out that tremulous circumstances involved in the passage of Bill 156 helped establish a mood where authors and creators are less afraid to question authority. Do you recall the stir that was created by Gen Urobuchi?

Both the creators and consumers of anime and manga haven’t forgotten about the revision of the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance and the shady circumstances that surrounded it. Those who cheered the passage of Bill 156 continue to press for more laws and regulations regarding manga and anime. They are frustrated that the creators and the industry continues to thrive and remains socially acceptable in Japan.

The fact that advocates of censorship of manga and anime actually have little to show for their two decades of activism is proof enough for me that we are still going strong and this current uneasy ceasefire is a show of our strength and not weakness.

I’d say the fact that we’re still here is pretty special. Help us keep it that way.

This entry was posted in bureaucracy, censorship, harmful material, nonexistent youth, public morality and media. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Uneasy Ceasefire of 2012: Revised Tokyo Ordinance’s Current Status

  1. BranchDevidian says:

    Excellent post, Mr. Kanemitsu. Thank you for helping update us on the situation. I’m ashamed to admit that I take a small, self-interested, comfort in knowing that some Japanese political and cultural forces many westerners deem “dysfunctional” have played a part in keeping Bill 156 toothless so far.

  2. While Bill 156 will only affect the Tokyo area, given that the vast majority of anime and manga makers are located in the area around Tokyo, it could still have a potentially critical effect on the industry.

  3. Mike Creig says:

    Given that ordinary Japanese nowadays are forming groups standing up to the status quo, it’s time that Japan’s Otaku and Fujoshi population might consider forming their [i]own[/i] political organisation or party. We Otaku worldwide shouldn’t sit idly by any longer while conservatives or worse erase everytrhing we love!

    • dankanemitsu says:

      That’s easier said than done, but I agree with you that more people should get involved in advocating for protection of artistic freedoms, not only in manga and anime, but all mediums as well.

  4. Dark says:

    I have one question for you, and I would sincerely like to hear your all opinions: With the LDP on set to return to power, what do you think would happen to this ceasefire? Would more & more people like Governor Ishihara appear & blah blah blah about stricter regulations? Or is it that they now have so much more & larger fishes to fry?
    Like I said, I would sincerely like to hear your all opinion, so, PLEASE, do NOT delete this.
    Thank you.

  5. omorino says:

    Hi! I’m a member of Nihon university student. We are researching about Japanese manga’s onomatopoeia. Finally create gesture movie and put together in PDF file. If you interested in Japanese manga,please check out this project. I wish you will be interested in.
    Thank you!


    Manga project PDF

    • dankanemitsu says:


While I may not be able to respond to all comments, I always welcome feedback. Thank you.

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