Above: Entrance to the store Lumiere (ルミエール) in Shinjuku...
Lumiere is a landmark of gay Tokyo. Since 1986, the bookstore has loyally provided a physical space for gay culture, selling magazines, manga, books, sex toys and videos (including videos produced by Lumiere’s own porn label) to the local community and pleasure-seeking pilgrims alike. They directly support gei comi artists: right now, for instance, their website prominently features the books of Gengoroh Tagame and several recent doujinshi by the great Kazuhide Ichikawa.
Perhaps because of the shop’s stalwart endurance over three decades, it’s all the more disturbing to read reports that Lumiere’s 61-year-old manager and an employee were recently arrested by the Tokyo Metropolitan police on “obscenity” charges. According to the Tokyo Reporter:
Officers took the 61-year-old manager of Lumiere, a shop located in the 2-chome gay quarter that sells DVDs and magazines, and one other employee into custody for selling copies of books in [fashion photographer Leslie] Kee’s “Super” series that contain pages of uncensored images of male genitals deemed to be obscene and in violation of the law.
Article 175. (Distribution of Obscene Objects)
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 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.
Precisely what “obscene” means has never been defined in concrete terms. From observing the cases in which Article 175 has been enforced (including against the seminal gay magazine Barazoku in 1975), the government is far more concerned with the depiction of specific anatomy than the content of the sex act depicted: a picture of a gang rape is fine, but a picture of a gang rape with pubic hair visible? Call the police!
Likewise, it’s generally assumed that dicks always need to be censored, but there’s no uniform standard for exactly how much of a dick needs to be covered. As a result, in gei comi, as with much of Japanese erotic art, you’ll find varying degrees of self-censorship– full mosaic, blurring, a black bar delicately draped across the glans– in an effort to avoid running afoul of this ambiguous notion of “obscenity.”
The recent arrests at Lumiere are part of a larger, long-term government censorship campaign aimed at Leslie Kee, a commercial fashion photographer who has shot countless Japanese and international stars including Lady Gaga and Beyonce. After the release of Kee’s latest photo books (which were sold at Lumiere) and an art show at Hiromi Yoshii Gallery that included full-frontal male nudes, Kee was arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned for two days before being released. Kee describes the moment the scope of the investigation against him came into focus, in an interview with Blouin Artinfo:
Actually, during my interrogation, I realized that I’d seen the police officer many times before. He had actually been attending and following all my photo exhibitions for almost a year, starting in 2012! How scary to realize that I have been secretly under surveillance for such a long time.
Within the last two months, the police have additionally arrested the manager of Hiromi Yoshii Gallery; Koichi Kodama, the 71-year-old president of Lee’s publisher Hakkou Art; and Kodama’s son, the printer’s sales department chief. It’s not clear why the Japanese government has been so aggressive in their campaign against this high-profile fashion photographer, but it’s this sense of uncertainty and confusion that the police rely upon to scare other artists into complacency with the law.
I look forward to the day when depicting male nudity is no longer a criminal act in Japan, and the incredible artists shared here on Gay Manga! can work without the fear of prison time lingering in the back of their minds.