Fear and Loathing in the Bold New Olympic Era

Unless you have been living under a rock, or simply don’t care about sports in general, you probably heard about Tokyo winning its bid for the 2020 summer Olympics.

This will mean a lot of building and renovating will be taking place in Tokyo for the next seven years. (Some parts of Tokyo’s infrastructure have changed little since they were built in the 1960s as part of Tokyo preparations for their first hosting of the Olympics in 1964.)

One of the facilities that will be used as part of the Olympics and is slated to be heavily renovated is the Tokyo Big Sight, the convention center used for the world’s largest comic book event, Comic Market. Comiket will not be able to use the Tokyo Big Sight for at least three sessions (if it follows its regular schedule) and a lot of construction work will take place before and after the Olympics, meaning this will all be a major inconvenience for any large events that use the Tokyo Big Sight.

It would be a major financial blow to the Tokyo Big Sight if no more doujinshi marketplaces were to take place there, (the Comic Market alone rents the entire complex for eight days every year and rents part of the facilities for multiple other days as well,) and therefore it is in the best interest of the Tokyo Big Sight to try to work out an arrangement so Comic Market and other events can come back once the Olympics are over, but at the very least, some major adjustments can be expected in the works.

Truth be told, the inconveniences of the Tokyo Big Sight are the least of the worries that lays ahead for the anime and manga community in Japan in the coming years.

First of all, winning the Olympics means the current ruling party in government has won a huge amount of political capital. The current Liberal Democratic Party leadership can claim they have won the popular mandate (they have won two major elections within the last 12 months plus they have majorities in both houses of the Japanese Diet,) and assert that they can deliver what the Japanese population desire most–Economic growth and regaining international prestige.

Now it will be harder than before to protest against specific policies of the LDP as their standing has improved considerably. Recall that the current initiative for redefining child pornography to include manga and anime are being pursued by the members of the LDP leadership, but this only the beginning.

Plans to incorporate youth protection ordinances into a national law have been proposed in the past, and the appetite within members of the LDP to subject all media toward a healthy development agenda is growing. Currently, regulating material based on their appropriateness for minors is conducted under the authority of the prefectural bodies (the Japanese equivalent of US states.) Some prefectures have set arbitrary definitions. For example, in Kanagawa Prefecture, if a publication contains more than 20 pages or 1/5 of the publication features people in “indecent postures, sexual acts, or depictions that could be treated as equivalent,” it is automatically considered to be harmful material and must be distributed as an adult only publication.

Kanagawa’s approach is considered more draconian than Tokyo’s approach where each book under review is debated upon. Each month, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government purchases about 100 books that are offered to general audiences and debates which books might be harmful to minors. The definition of what constitutes harmful has changed with the adoption of Bill 156 in 2010, but the mechanism of how a book is treated harmful has not changed. Each month, about half a dozen publications are considered to be harmful to youth by the Tokyo Government.

Details regarding a national version of a regulation “healthy development of youth” have not surfaced, but the creation of a national standards will more than likely create a situation where manga and anime’s diversity will diminish. Currently, the line that separates books aimed for adults and general audiences are rather vague. There are broad frameworks available that keeps sexually explicit material out of easy reach from children, but a nationalized system run by the government will tend to compel publishers to play it safe and avoid publishing material that might run afoul of the law.

There is no overt “for mature readers” label in Japan. I for one would welcome a publisher based initiative to display information that would help act as a guide to parents, (i.e. 9 and below, upper grade school, teen, mature, adult, etc.,) but for the moment, publishers do not want attract attention to their publications as being nothing less than “general audiences.” Why? Because retails have a nasty tendency to avoid to stocking anything that might make them responsible for supervising sales of their books. Long story short, retailers don’t want to be held responsible for supervising their clientele.

While many book stores in Japan do sell adult only publications, the vast majority do not. In the past, this has not been the case, but as fewer smaller bookstores disappear, only larger retailers remain and they tend to want to avoid anything that might offend certain shoppers.

This has created a situation where many books that would be classified as being for adult audiences in the US are not in Japan. A myriad of protocols and provisions are at work to help maintain this current situation (i.e. certain magazines are sold with its cover taped closed to prevent younger readers from looking inside them) but all this would be thrown out the window if the LDP passes a new national youth healthy development initiative.

Actually, it appears that how books will be sold in Tokyo will be changed without the aid of passage of any new laws. News broke where that supposedly members of the International Olympic Committee grimaced over how adult themed magazine were available at Japanese convenience stores, and thus Tokyo will no reconsider how books are sold in convenience stores.

Now some of you may take issue over material that could categorized as “soft core porn” is available in some convenience stores. Mind you, the selection of magazine and books are entirely decided by the proprietor of each convenience store (this is why the selection of magazines are different even among the same chain of convenience stores) and soft core material is easily available in many European countries, so it is not exactly like Japan is entirely unique in this regard.

Personally, I prefer a society where access to erotic fantasy is more easily available than firearms and ammunition, but that is besides the point.

We do not know for sure if IOC inspectors grimaced at magazines in convenience stores, (one of them maybe had the urge to sneeze but was able to fight it off,) but the fact that there is talk of Tokyo’s bureaucrats pushing for revising how publications are sold simply because they perceived foreigners disdain for Japan’s liberal publishing traditions is very chilling. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and any decision made in this city have wide-ranging consequences. If certain people make it their prerogative to force Japan’s anime and manga to conform to foreign standards that are more conservative that Japan, they can make a lot of fuss and could compel publishers self-censor not only sexually explicit material, but material that deals with race relations, political drama, and military themes.

This may be a false alarm. I certainly hope so, but there is much precedence in history.

When the previous emperor died in 1989, the social pressure to be solemn and austere was so powerful, comedy programs went off the air on TV for weeks. The airing of cheerful music was avoided, and many entertainment facilities were shutdown for days on end.

One consequence of the holding the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 involved the systematic beautification efforts that resulted in displacement of the homeless, the revision of the entertainment laws, and flare-up in the bad books removal campaigns that targeted manga. (See here for more information regarding the artistic impact of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.)

More recently, when the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck, cherry blossom parties were cancelled in certain parts of Tokyo out of fear of offending those that were victims of the natural disasters.

There is nothing wrong with forgoing certain activities out of respect for others, but when you start pressuring others to change their law-abiding behavior to fit to your own standards what you feel is appropriate, this amounts to nothing less than tyranny of sensibilities.

Tokyo will be under the microscope of the world, and moralists and authoritarian types are more than likely use this opportunity to pursue their prerogative to “cleanse” Japan of elements they feel are undesirable, and this will all be justified under the mantra of making Japan less offensive to “foreigners.” Notice that I do not define who the foreigner are. This is because the nationality of the “foreign gaze” invoked will change countless number of times depending on what material should be scrutinized.

In any case, the Japanese police force appear to be embolden to pursue their agenda of acting as the moral guardian of the population, because they are now breaking conventions and precedents that been in place for a decade, or in some cases, multiple decades. I wrote about how the police raided a strip club which had been in operation for many decades suddenly because of sensibilities related to the Olympics. (Actually, this article is help talk about how self-censorship works in Japan, so I highly recommend it.)

Now we have confirmation from multiple sources that the police in Tokyo wish to roll back the censorship standards that had been in place for about a decade.

Penal code 175, which regulates the distribution of obscene material, is horribly written. It simply states that it is illegal to distribute obscene material, but does not define what material constitutes obscene. The courts stipulated in the 1950s that material that is injurious to the public’s sense of healthy sexuality shall be deemed obscene. This definition has not been overruled for the last half century.

As broad as this standard my be, through a process of trial and error, a fairly straightforward standard has come about. Publishers are eager to try to captivate the market with the most revealing material, so the more adventurous publishers would be willing to take risks. Sometimes the police would respond and make arrests, but at other times, they would not. Through this process where the most “egregious violators” of this vague standard would be penalized but others were not, a fairly straightforward standard arose.

As long as certain parts of the genitalia are censored, then the police would not come after you, so it was considered to be safe. This had been the precedence that has become established in Japan since 2004 ~ spring of 2013. But now that police arrested of editors of Core Magazine in spring of 2013, this standard suddenly become suspect. An adult only manga magazine previously considered safe suddenly became unsafe.

Recently I received word from multiple sources that the police seem to be intent on forcing total censoring of the genitals.

With the Internet in place, there is no stopping anyone in Japan from accessing uncensored hard core erotica from overseas, so this new standard will not stem the tide of erotica that is available. It will simply reinforce the police’s power to regulate Japanese creators.

As the author of Joe of Tomorrow, Tetsuya Chiba has stated, moralists and censors always go after the unpopular, the extreme material. But then, the moralists and censors will tout such material as the justification for regulating an entire medium. “If we don’t do something now, this filth will swamp all manga and anime,” might be an argument that will be invoked.

Soon anything deemed to be unworthy by authority shall be considered grounds for restricting something and these standards open to radical change depending on who is in charge. (see my article at the CBLDF on Barefoot Gen as well as a follow-up I wrote here.)

Censoring the genitals will not placate the foreign gaze, and yet the police seem hard bent to pursue this policy nonetheless, if only to re-assert their authority to do so. I hardly think most police officers are motivated to make these arrests, but it seems clear that there some in the leadership of the police that would love to retain power over an activity that is enjoyed by many (If you are interested about this aspect of Japanese police force’s power, I highly recommend you to do some research on the relationship of the police and Panchinko parlors in Japan.)

Finally the current trade negotiations revolving around the Trans Pacific Partnership is also casting fear upon the artistic community in Japan. Japanese copyright law does not have a fair use clause, and if the infringement of intellectual property rights can be pursued by the police without the original copyright holder permission, then it is possible for the police to prosecute parody doujinshis. The US Government is pushing strongly to increasing copyright protection, and it appears that the LDP leadership would rather accept US demands on intellectual property to try to gain favorable treatment over their agricultural interests.

In summary, a perfect storm made up of the increasing power of the domestic moralists, international scrutiny in conjunction of the Olympic games, an entrenched police force trying to re-assert their guardianship over society, and the impending TPP trade talks is creating an environment that is casting a dark cloud on Japan’s prospects for maintaining freedom of expression within the manga and anime community.

This entry was posted in bureaucracy, censorship, child pornography issues, harmful material, news, public morality and media. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Fear and Loathing in the Bold New Olympic Era

  1. Anon774 says:

    Hello Dan, thanks for the post.

    Is there any sane political party towards anime, manga and its derivative culture in Japan, anyway? I heard some things about the Social Democratic Party/社民党 but never really bothered looking into it.

  2. ringucci says:


  3. DarkoNeko says:

    I think my reaction to this enlightening text can be resumed as “well, shit ><". this doesn't look good, and I'm afraid that's no false alarm.

  4. Mike Creig says:

    What about the Japanese Communist Party? They had a step up in the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly last June and the Upper House election a month later!!

  5. lorddivides says:

    So it sounds like in addition to the potential law revisions you’ve mentioned being discussed, one of the big problems is police are now arresting artists and art distributors that previously would have thought themselves safe (via the existing law’s ambiguity). Am I getting this right?

    If so, this is rather worrying, and it paints a relatively bleak picture of Japan for this point in time.

    From some of the other stuff you’ve mentioned, it sounds like there’s also at least a hint of irony here, as it sounds like part of the “justification” for this is Japan falling more into the worldview’s light, yet such is itself a symptom of Japan actually being looked on fairly positively as a world-power. Now, I’m not sure how much of that is Japan’s presence as an artistic provider… I’d suspect it’s probably secondary but large, but being a manga-fan myself, my perspective is (obviously) skewed to high hell. Even without that, though, the irony stands.

    I don’t know what else to say. I’m really desperate for every shred of good news I can get here, as currently this paints a rather bleak image. I’m hoping it’s just a passing trend that will soon reverse itself, though.

  6. Mike Creig says:

    Yeah, what ever happened to “Every dark cloud has a silver lining”!?
    Japan needs a REVOLUTION or something!

  7. dankanemitsu says:

    Revision of the current Japanese Child Pornography law is being pushed by the Liberal Democratic Party, The New Komeitou Party, and the Japan Restoration Party. Nearly every other major political party (Social Democrats, Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party, Japan Communist Party, etc.) is against the idea of expanding the definition of child pornography to include fictional depictions.

    • Anon774 says:

      Oh, I didn’t know the DPJ was against it. Good to know.

      On a related note, some westerners and western media covering Japanese otaku like to portray them, specially “moe otaku”, as belonging to the right wing of politics, thus supporting the LDP and Ishihara’s Restoration Party. I, however, have always been a little skeptical of this notion, as it seems to be a pretty superficial view of the issue. I don’t see why these moe otaku would support parties that want to curtail the artistic and speech freedoms currently enjoyed by the own media they consume. If you wouldn’t mind making the favor of enlightening me again, could you tell me anything about it? Is there any truth to it? I personally feel they don’t really lean to the right so much as some of them are just kind of frustrated with their lives and vent that through inflammatory comments online, although that might as well be their real political position on those regards. If anything, I think they just hate everything about politics in general. Also, I’m sorry if this too off-topic.

      Thank you again

  8. mrsean says:

    So because the usa wants stronger copyright that would make the japanese start attacking doujinshi? God is it impossible to get good news these days for regular people? I’m certain that this attempt to get rid of anime/manga with underage characters in ero will pass sadly.

  9. This is decidedly an ill-turn of events to be honest. The last, dying grasp of an elderly population, bulwarked by social stigma of being an otaku?

    Now, I’m not in any way Japanese, or understanding the current moods and flavours the populace has, but this strikes me as very, very stupid. Even now here in America, there are often tales of people within my party, and in the opposition, of media censorship. While I can understand the delaying of a news brief while in a war zone or the obscuring of a location, etc etc, it isn’t the same as asking a Library to not stock books of some author.

    I feel this is what’s happening in Japan, but in a grander scale. While my party welcomes this rise in Japan as helping with the worldwide recovery, I’m not liking on what it will ride roughshod on to obtain it. Do the fools in charge expect anime/manga to just be Doraemon-like cartoons aimed at little kids?

  10. Rick says:

    I think an analysis of how Japan acted in regards to the Nagano Olympiad in 1998 may be more instructive. I know the Winter Olympics are less popular overall and we certainly live in a different world 15 years later, but I think it’d be more useful to know how Japanese government acted regarding a similar issue 15 years ago instead of 49 years ago.

  11. useless mosaics says:

    I’ve always wondered, do the Japanese people know how silly they seem to the rest of the world with their censored genitals? I’m sure the Japanese police think censoring genitals is a sign of mature responsibility, but all it does is make them seem backwards, reactionary, and unsophisticated, especially to foreigners (pixelated porn is one of the biggest “stupid Japan” jokes).

    • noko says:

      It’s actual due to foreigners [victorian morals] (thanks Britfags! ¬_¬) that genitals were censored.

      The Japanese just never bothered to repeal it.

  12. Mike Creig says:

    Isn’t there an Online Petition or something ask to stop the censorship mess?

  13. Mike Creig says:

    Besides, Prime Minister Abe kinda lied about the situation with the earthquake-damaged Fukushima 1 power plant! he said it was “under control”! It ISN’T! You see the news, right?
    All that toxic radioactive water flowing into the Pacific Ocean? Is THAT under control? Also, he invited princess Hisako of Takamado–a member of Japan’s Imperial Family–to give a speech at the IOC event in Argentina! That is a violation of Article 4 of Japan’s Constitution. Even the Imperial Household Agency didn’t like it!

  14. noko says:

    I really hope that that Japan doesn’t do something as stupid as banning lolicon. (I live in a country where lolicon is illegal, but it hasn’t and will not stop me, due to the fact I will disobey unjust laws.)

    Anyway, banning real child abuse is understandable; but lolicon is not, and has never been real child abuse.

    It would be like banning first person shooters because it’s murder, and murder is a crime.

    “Thoughtcrime does not entail death; thoughtcrime is death.”

  15. John Galt says:

    Dan, thanks for reporting about the current situation in Japan.
    I have been wondering about the role of the supreme court of Japan.
    That might strike down the laws againts free speech.

    • dankanemitsu says:

      Unlike the US Court system, a law cannot be struck unconstitutional unless it is actually employed as part of prosecution against someone. Once the bill becomes law, it will be easy for the authorities to simply threaten prosecution to censor large swaths of material.
      I would also like to point out that the Japanese Supreme Court does not have a good track record for finding laws unconstitutional. Laws have been found unconstitutional only nine times since the end of WW2.

  16. Anon says:

    Thank you for this write-up of the situation; for some reason I couldn’t find much information, so this article was extremely helpful. Though I don’t enjoy lolicon myself, I do sympathise with those who do – in my opinion, it’s pretty ridiculous the way the LDP are trying to appeal to the conservatives and foreign onlookers by regulating anime and manga at the expense of reducing sales? Though I don’t know how large the effect will be, or how large a part the anime and manga industry plays in the Japanese economy, it’s probably not a good idea to do such a thing when Japan’s already been in stagnation for over 20 years. Likewise for the doujin scene – as a lover of non-commercial productions, I’m very worried about the destruction or at least severe crippling of what I believe to be one of Japan’s most attractive and unique markets.
    Also, is there any information on when the renovation of Big Sight will be starting? It’s only 2013…

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