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A Double Standard in Japan

This is all really NSFW, but there's nothing in here that you won't discover through The Economist or Wikipedia

I subscribe to The Economist, because unlike most news publications it's rarely hateful, has something of an international scope, and has a definite sense of humor. Furthermore, with a paper called "The Economist", you know what their agenda is, and you know to watch out for the occasional burst of "Free markets would solve this problem!" dogma. The economist is also reasonably supportive of free speech and civil society, though in recent issues they've been less supportive of Edward Snowdon than I would have expected.

One thing you get from the Economist, is odd little stories from around the world that shed a little light on how things are. One such is this report on the arrest of artist Megumi Igarashi. Ms Igarashi's artworks have a reaccuring lietmotif: they're based around her vagina. So far, so Japanese. Having been subjected to a deluge of eye-popping anime and manga, most westerners have accepted that the Japanese are less hung up about sexual matters than we anglo-saxons.

But apparently that's all bullshit, because Ms Igarashi was arrested "after she e-mailed 3D data of a kayak in the shape of her vagina to supporters." Stop snicking, this is serious stuff. She was "marched away in handcuffs" (even ignoring the gender question in this egalitarian age, is it really necessary to handcuff artists? They're not noted as violent characters, artists) interrogated for 23 days (how the hell can you interrogate a woman for 23 days who's only offence was designing a kayak? What questions are they asking?) and now faces trial under Japan's obscentity laws. Images of the kayak can be seen here, and it's not a particularly shocking object, it's a yellow kayak with some peculiar wrinkles.

Apparently Ms Igarashi has fallen foul of a wrinkle in the Japanese legal system that says she can make and sail her unusual boat, but she cannot release its design secrets to others (this sounds a lot like the U.S.A's prohibition on exporting cryptograpy. Presumably the Japanese government considers Ms Igarashi's vagina to be a munition, and are worried about it falling into the wrong hands).

From the "Japanese Law Translation Database System. Ministry of Justice" (oh internet, is there no end to your bounty?)

Article 175A person who distributes, sells or displays in public an obscene document, drawing or other objects shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more than 2,500,000 yen or a petty fine. The same shall apply to a person who possesses the same for the purpose of sale.

Well hang on, "obscene document, drawing or other other objects"?! What about all the decades of comics and cartoons? I don't particularly partake in either japanese comics or animation (except studio Ghibli) and I know that the sexual and violent content of manga and anime is overstated, studio Ghibli movies I've seen have none, but when it's there, it's really there. I've seen some very uncomfortable scenes in anime myself, and I'm not watching that much of it. Japan's been pumping this stuff out for longer than anyone cares to remember, but when this lady does something comparatively mild, it's suddenly a problem?

But I know some will object that, regardless of what's happening in a manga, depictions of private parts are not allowed. I seem to recall having seen some stuff that contravenes that, but perhaps I'm misremembering. However, what about the "phallus festivals" like Kanamara Matsuri that feature giant models of phalluses? (The wikipedia page for Kanamara Matsuri straight-facedly tells us that "It used to be a small festival, but it has become bigger and bigger!") Doesn't the giant pink object we can see on wikipedia count as an "obscene object displayed in public"? And if it doesn't, then what's the problem with Ms Igarashi's kayak? It will be interesting to see if the Japanese establishment will come right out and say that manparts aren't obscene, but ladyparts are.

For me, I can't help but think there law is being inconsistently applied, and that Ms Igarashi is being victimised for some reason. Certainly I'm going to be looking at some of Japan's cultural output with a more skeptical eye from now on. It'll be interesting to see what the courts conclude.