“I am innocent because neither the data for female genitals, nor my art works shaped like female genitals, are obscene.”
Rokudenashi-ko is on trial facing charges of “obscenity” over her famous vagina kayak sculpture and the 3D Printing data of her own vagina she used in its creation. The artist is bravely challenging the charges, and has said she’s prepared to take the case to Japan’s highest court.
The obscenity law in question is laid out in Article 175 of Japan’s penal code:
“A 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 2,500,000 yen or a petty fine. The same shall apply to a person who possesses the same with the purpose of sale.”
The vague statute, which has been on the books since 1907, has been selectively used to prosecute all kinds of artwork deemed obscene by the authorities, from Lady Chatterly’s Lover in 1951, to ground-breaking gay magazine Barazoku in 1975, to the male nude photography of Leslie Kee in 2013. Because the law never defines exactly what is “obscene,” the definition shifts over time and jurisdiction. It’s a law enforced at the whim of the police, often in blatantly homophobic and misogynistic ways. The penis-worshiping Kanamara Matsuri, or the “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” for instance, exposes a deep double standard in Japanese culture regarding depictions of male anatomy and female anatomy.
Most of the time, artists, merchants, and publishers who have been targeted by the obscenity law spend a few nights in jail, pay a fine, and submit to the public shaming. In a country teeming with pornography, the obscenity law seems to exist mainly as a formality to keep artists in line with the government’s idea of modesty. Article 175 is the reason for the tiny black censorship bars you can see barely hiding the male anatomy in gay manga (and erotic manga in general)– an example of how the mere gesture of self-censorship is usually enough to stave off police interference.
Rokudenashi-ko is brazenly refusing to self-censor or to be shamed, and she’s challenging the very notion of obscenity in her court case and in her new book, What Is Obscenity? (ワイセツって何ですか？), available now on Amazon.co.jp!
Spread the word about Megumi Igarashi’s fight for justice! If she succeeds, it could lead the way to reforming “obscenity” and freedom of speech in Japan.