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Japanese “Otaku Politician” Yamada Taro Proposes Law to End Hentai and Pornography Censorship

Update: On Takahashi has provided us with additional comments. We will add these to the article below.

Japanese politician Yamada Taro has proposed changes to Criminal Code 175, so that hentai and pornography would no longer be censored.

Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan is to prevent the distribution and sale of of indecent material, and its current interpretation includes pornography. This leads to a curious situation in which adult material must be partially censored, usually across genitalia. This law seems to override Article 21, Japan’s free speech law.

Dan Kanemitsu (translator and contributor to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund), explained how the censorship was intended to prevent individuals of being accused of obscenity, even if the censoring was minimal.

“For nearly 10 years, the industry standard was that obscuring the crown of the penis (the part that funnels out near the tip,) and clitoris, and instances of physical contact that constitutes sexual intercourse (i.e. insertions of objects into the vagina or the rectum) would absolve the depiction as being obscene. The police seemed also to reinforce this mantra, as they encouraged censorship of the kari (crown,) kuri (clitoris,) and the setsugou-bu (point of contact) and no more.”

The law also results in other oddities, such as the broadcast version of Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure censoring Jotaro Kujo smoking as he is 17 (Japan’s minimum smoking age is 18). The censorship was done via a heavy shadow across the lower-half of his face.

In 2004, Monotori Kishi (CEO of Shōbunkan) was found guilty for publishing the hentai manga Misshitsu, in which “bodies were drawn in a lifelike manner with little attempt to conceal genitalia, making for sexually explicit expression and deeming the book pornographic matter,” according to Judge Yujiro Nagatani of the Tokyo District Court. He also stated it was “mostly devoted to undisguised, detailed portrayals of sex scenes,” and that “no healthy society today could allow” the book.

Kishi was given a one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years. He later appealed to the Tokyo High Court, having his sentence reduced to a 1.5 million yen fine ($13,817 est.). He later took the case to the Supreme Court of Japan, his attorney arguing that the material was no worse than other adult material that was available. The Supreme Court still upheld the ruling. The book’s author Yūji Suwa and an unnamed editor were also fined 500,000 yen ($4,606 est.). Yūji also avoided jail time by pleading guilty.

In 2013, three people involved with Core Magazine (including head of the editorial department Akira Ōta) were arrested for selling “obscene images” as their hentai manga Comic Mega Store and Nyan Club 2 had been insufficiently censored. The production of Comic Mega Store was suspended indefinitely, and all three men would later plead guilty.

Dan Kanemitsu also notes in his blogpost “Orwellian Obscenity” that Core Magazine and other adult magazines (featuring hentai and real people) began to censor their work more heavily. He accused the police of enforcing the law far stricter than before, and the implications it could have even in foreign nations.

“It appeared that the police had declared war on genitalia in adult material marketed and sold to adults. Previously, the police arrested and penalized material that were uncensored but left alone material if the genitals has been partially obscured by black boxes or filters. But after May of 2013, it appeared that the police was demanding more self-censorship out of the publishers.”

[…] “While this debate might be taking place in Japan, the outcome of this debate may impact the quality of entertainment you enjoy in your own home nation. After all, many agree that Japan is at the vanguard for many forms of visual entertainment. Even those that dislike Japanese erotic fantasy will agree, Japan boasts tremendous diversity in the realm of fiction that is unavailable else where.

Alas, if one of the most liberal lands of fiction is muzzled, what will become of lands that are less liberal?”

In 2019, one Japanese politician would take many by surprise. Yamada Taro of the Liberal Democratic Party (the same party as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) successfully gained a seat in the Japanese House of Councillors with 540,000 votes. He heavily appealed to the “otaku” voters (obsessive fan, usually of anime and manga).

His campaign involved daily “internet door-to-door” speeches around Tokyo and in Akihabara, as well as digitally through popular internet communication services like LINE, Twitter, YouTube, SNS, and even Nico Nico. His campaign vehicle even broadcast vocaloid songs.

Yamada’s platform is focused entirely on freedom of expression and communication privacy, along with being an advocate for the anime and manga industry. As such, it is no surprise he now seeks to tackle Article 175’s restrictions head on.

On Takahashi- CEO of adult doujinshi (independent magazine) translation publisher Irodori Comics- brought attention to the story on Twitter to English-speaking users. We reached out to him for more details on the story. “The post I wrote is a very simple version of this complex issue,” On stated. We asked him to elaborate further.

He explained Yamada’s proposal was still in it’s infancy (presenting the idea in a presentation), and a little more on Yamada’s history and how others perceive him.

“Yamada Taro is around one step before the review. He’s talking to other stakeholders of censorship to try and “define” a direction of reviewing Criminal code 175. […] He built his career in the manga/anime otaku culture industry. So he’s kinda the “voice” of Oktakus in the Japanese diet. He’s “younger” and more down to earth than your standard JP politician.”

On also stated his social-media focused strategy was what enabled him to engage with voters directly, and that he was “instrumental” in ensuring donations to the victims of the Kyoto Animation arson attack were not taxed.

Since Yamada’s proposal is still in it’s infancy, there has not been any outspoken support or opposition at this time. The changes would be strictly to pornography and hentai, while “content involving real under-aged individuals and those who do not give their consent, will of course, remain censored.” In any case, such material is illegal to distribute in Japan.

However, On stated his concerns that others may attempt to defame and denounce Yamada. “When I used the phrase “doxx” I was referring to “Cancel culture”,” On explains.

“That tactic used nowadays where we lump up someone’s ENTIRE identity with one thing they support that we might not agree with. For example, a politician in the US who says “I want immigrants to come to the US legally” is often automatically branded as a “racist”. That [is] “Knee-jerk branding?”

Japan has that too. Freedom of speech and ideas isn’t exactly firmly rooted in JP society and identity like it is for Americans. We don’t have many mass marches and protests etc. So it’s often hard for people to voice our their opinions and say how they really feel.

Add to that, the online culture of “knee jerk branding” and you have a space where “supporting the removal of censorship” is really limited. The “other side” (usually the groups opposing a lot of Otaku stances) tend to “belittle” and “rubbish” proposals and opinions of Otakus who don’t reveal their faces.” “

On explains that those with “anime avatars” on social media tend to have their opinions rejected, and the media refuses to comment on opinions from accounts not using a real name. He notes he has seen a similar effect in western social media.

Continuing, On mentioned two particular groups that would likely be the biggest opposition to the law being changed. One of these was the Nihon Ethics of Video Association (abbreviated as Viderin or Biderin). Acting as the Japanese equivalent of the ESRB or PEGI, they act as rating organization for videos in Japan.

On proposes that they would not be in favor of the ban, as they would lose money.

“Their very existence is to check content, but it’s a huge money maker. EVERY porno goes through them, and studios have to pay a lot of money to get videos assessed by them. Why would these guys give up that free cash revenue?

They are in a very comfortable situation now where they get paid for censorship, and changes that will lessen censorship hits their bottom line. So Biderin will strongly oppose, or straight up say no.”

The other proposed group who may be in opposition to this is the Japanese Parent/Teacher Association (PTA). The Japanese PTA is much more of an obligation compared to the US equivalent, organizing many school events and even helping out with the local community.

According to some reports [1, 2, 3] many Japanese mothers are less-than keen to take part in the time-consuming and intense organization, even resulting in games to decide who takes part. It seems they rely on Japan’s culture to work for the betterment of the collective, and shame to those who do not or obstruct it.

This tactic seems to extend beyond their group however, with On claiming the Japanese PTA may have more power than the US National Rifle Association (NRA). While the NRA has the Second Amendment to act as its “battering ram” (as On puts it) to hinder those attempting to implement tighter laws on guns, the PTA seems to use a tactic that is sure to sound familiar to those with even a passing knowledge of western politics: Think of the children.

“In their case, their battering ram is: children,” explains On. “It’s very easy to sway an argument when you ask people “What example are we setting for the kids?” etc. And something no politician or adult wants to be on the receiving end of.”

On also explained how the group had called for censorship and banning of certain manga as early as the 1950s. “Even now, instead of directly advocating for laws etc, they just simply “issue a comment” which has a lot of weight behind it.”

Due to how many mothers are pressured into joining the PTA, On states the group uses its large numbers to intimidate politicians. It seems they use guilt-tripping not just to hire, but to influence.

This is supported by the University of Wollongong’s Mark McLelland, and his 2015 paper Sex, censorship and media regulation in Japan: a
historical overview. In the segment on the modern era (The 1970’s to the Present, pages 12 – 15), noted that most media producers had their own internal regulatory bodies. Nonetheless, he notes the PTA’s influence at the time, and the police changing their reasoning for preventing obscene material was to protect the youth.

“Since the 1970s, police concern over the deleterious impact of obscene material on the ‘lower’ social orders has been largely replaced in official rhetoric with concern over the ‘healthy development of youth’. In particular, calls for restrictions on sex and violence depicted in manga directed at young people, often led by Parents and Teachers Associations (PTA), have gathered pace since 1968 when Japan’s most popular boys’ manga Shōnen janpu (Boys’ jump) began to serialize the story ‘Harenchi gakuen’ (Shameless school). This wildly successful series (later made into several movies and a TV show) made explicit reference to the repressed sexuality of a co-educational school environment and scandalised many parents and educators.”

McLelland goes on to explain how “the most sustained call for reform of manga content” came after the Tsutomu Miyazaki murders [1, 2]. Miyazaki had murdered four girls aged four to seven between August 1988 and June 1989. His other crimes included necrophilia, cannibalism, vampirism, taking body parts of his victims as trophies, and sending them to the victim’s families.

When caught on July 23rd 1989, reporters found his home contained 5,792 videos of slasher horror films, anime, and pornography- particularly focused on young girls. The media stopped calling him “The Little Girl Killer” and began dubbing him “The Otaku Killer.” While numerous trials argued if Miyazaki had the mental capacity to tell right from wrong (or if Miyazaki was attempting to fake insanity), he was hung on June 17th, 2008.

This created a moral panic in early 90’s Japan, with police cracking down on the sale of doujinshi (of any kind) to minors. Sharon Kinsella’s paper Japanese Subculture in the 1990’s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement, notes one incident in 1991. After a raid at one manga store, 74 “young people” were questioned over doujinshi, and over 4000 manga (of which 1808 doujinshi) were confiscated.

Kinsella also notes the media proposed that Miyazaki’s isolation, distant parents, bullying at school, and the death of his grandfather (seemingly the only person who gave Miyazaki positive relationship) caused him to “retreat into a fantasy world.” Kinsella proposes the media focused more on Japanese society’s family unit breaking down, and poor role models as the key motivators for Miyazaki’s actions. She also quotes Keigo Okonogi (a psychoanalyst at Tokyo International University) speaking to the Shūkan Post

“The danger of a whole generation of youth who do not even experience the most primary two- or three-way relationship between themselves and their mother and father, and who cannot make the transition from a fantasy world of videos and manga to reality, is now extreme.”

Eiji Ōtsuka (Critic, editor, folklorist, novelist, manga artist, and professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies) spoke out against the outcry against otaku, claiming that photographers had added additional pornography books to their photo’s of Miyazaki’s room to emphasize their point. He later wrote that he “became somewhat angry about how judgment of [Miyazaki’s] crimes kept shifting onto otaku hobbies or tastes” [1]Ironically, the term “otaku” was first used in Manga Burikko, in which Ōtsuka was its editor-in-chief.

Outcries against manga have continued into the modern era. McLelland notes in 2008, an unnamed group demanded a library in Sakai City (Osaka) remove their “boy’s love” manga (BL, manga aimed at young women, focused on male homoerotic undertones between beautiful men). The library restricted the loaning of those manga to over 18s, but “after the intervention of a number of women councillors supported by high-profile feminist academic Ueno Chizuko, the titles were eventually returned to the shelves.”

McLelland states that “feminist commentators were quick to identify the Sakai library incident as part of a more general ‘backlash’ against anti-discrimination measures critiquing traditional gender roles with which BL’s supposed ‘promotion’ of homosexuality seems to have become confused.”

McLelland also notes that in 2008, the 28th Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference (held by the Tokyo governor) recommended “the sale and distribution of manga, anime and games depicting ‘non-existent youth’ (that is, fictional characters) in ‘anti-social sexual situations’ be restricted.” 

In 2010, Bill 156 was submitted by then Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintarō. The bill would “extend” the powers of police to identify and remove the sale of material deemed “harmful to youth” in the Tokyo area. However, the press refereed to the bill as the “Non-Existent Youth Bill”, mocking its focus on fictional characters.  Combined with how it was denounced by manga industry representatives, writers, artists, and academics for it’s vague language and attempts to use the police as moral guardians, it was defeated at the first vote.

It was later revised and submitted to target any character of any supposed age engaged in “sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life’ or ‘sexual or pseudo sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal’ if presented in a manner that ‘glorifies or exaggerates’ the acts in question.” It was then mocked by feminist academic Fujimoto Yukari as the “Non-Existent Sex Crimes Bill.”

In spite of the mocker, the bill was passed in December 2012. Critics argued that manga’s visual style attempted to distance itself from reality, rather than mimic it. Nonetheless in June 2019, Japanese representatives (along with the US) rejected a proposed “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child” law by the United Nations, fearing it’s vague wording could resort in banning material not intended to be pornographic, or contain inappropriate images of children (fictional or otherwise).

On finished by stating a rather bleak outlook for how things will go. In spite of Yamada getting a lot of support from otaku, On stated that even united, they would lack influence on their own.

“I just thought more context to the “power imbalance” on Twitter will be an interesting insight. A lot of foreigners think that Otakus can get together and make a difference. The truth is that Otakus are powerless, because “Otaku” doesn’t unite people. There is no organization etc. So the lobbying power etc is virtually non existent.

So even with this censorship law, it’s easy for foreigners to say “Awesome, everyone should get being Yamada and change it”. It’s really nothing like that.”

Yamada seems to have a hard fight ahead of him, with outrage mobs likely to surface and influence what policies other Japanese politicians think is “safe” to pursue. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.