Hiroko Tabuchi of the NY Times has a lengthy piece on Japan’s recent legislation banning sales of adult material to minors. Along the way there’s a lot of “Only in Japan!” stuff:
Japan, which has long been relatively tolerant of the open sale and consumption of sexually oriented material, has developed a brisk trade in works that in many other countries might be considered child pornography. But now some public officials want to place tighter restrictions on the provocative depictions of young girls — referred to as “junior idols”— that are prevalent in magazines, DVDs and Web videos.
One particularly big target is manga comic books that depict pubescent girls in sexual acts. They are a lucrative segment of the ¥450 billion, or $5.5 billion, industry for manga, illustrated books drawn in a characteristic Japanese comic-book style.
An ordinance newly revised by Tokyo’s metropolitan government to restrict the sale of such material has prompted a national debate between its publishers and critics inside and outside Japan, who say the fare exploits children and may even encourage pedophilia. Other local and regional governments, including the prefecture of Osaka, are considering similar restrictions.
And things that are even more icky:
“I loved the white bikini,” Ms. Iinuma, the 13-year-old model, told the adult male fans who turned out at the Sofmap electronics store in Tokyo for an event to promote the release of her second DVD, “Developing Now.” It is a plotless 70 minutes of Ms. Iinuma in various costumes and poses.
However, in the lively (100+) comment section, one reader points out that it’s not as clearcut as it seems:
A key aspect of this legislation, that admittedly was rather glossed over in the article itself: the new Tokyo bill does not *ban* any manga, it merely extends the list of subject matter that make it illegal to sell to persons under 18. Adults can continue to read about whatever they wish; only teenagers are now prohibited from fantasizing about teenagers.
I am disappointed that the Times chose to link this bill with material that sexualizes girls; the Times seems to have accepted the argument by Ishihara and his fellow conservatives that this bill targets “extreme sexual content” and exists to protect children from exploitation. But the existing Tokyo Youth Ordinance of 1964 already makes sexually explicit and violent material illegal to sell to minors; this revised legislation exists to allow regulation of non-explicit stories.
Positioning this bill as a fight against pedophillic material also ignore the fact that, during the last 15 years, the existing Tokyo ordinance has largely been used to regulate *romance comics targeted to teenage girls*, especially comics that contain LGBT relationships. These comics are not intended for men, are rarely bought by men, and are just as likely to sexualize male characters as female, but have attracted great opposition from conservative groups who do not like the idea of young women reading about sexual relationships.
This revised bill is not about protecting children from sexual exploitation by adults, it is about “protecting” teens (especially girls) from material that shows types of sexuality (teenage, premarital or LGBT) that Ishihara and his ilk disapprove of. I wish the Times had more clearly explained the background and context of this legislation.
While we support the notion that drawn material is not illegal, as a photo or filmed version would be, we do caution those who are a little too vigorous in their “Let free speech be free! This is all harmless!” defenses: all this stuff is really creepy, even by US standards.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.