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.