Japan's Child Porn Problem

06.03.14

Japan's Kiddie Porn Empire: Bye-Bye?

Tokyo is finally making it illegal to buy or own child pornography showing real children, but the manga, anime and computer graphic versions aren’t touched by the new law.

TOKYO, Japan – On Wednesday, Japan’s House of Representatives is expected to pass legislation making the possession of child pornography illegal, according to senior members of the ruling party.

It’s taken them a while.

Japan is the only major developed country in the world that hasn’t put a universal ban on child porn. The creation and distribution of it wasn’t made illegal until 1999, and there was no crime in possessing it or purchasing it until today.

“This law is designed to protect the rights of children,” says Mineyuki Fukuda, an LDP politician and House of Representatives member who has actively supported the bill.

What it does not do is discourage fantasies about all sorts of child abuse stimulated by manga and anime and ever more sophisticated computer graphics.

Why so slow to address a problem that can be so serious? The reasons are partly cultural.

In Japan there has long been a surprising tolerance for sexual exploitation of young children as entertainment; even the first anti-child pornography laws came into being largely due to US and international pressure. Yet there’s a curious prudery about adult pornography, where genitals typically are pixilated into obscurity.

United Nations data show that Japan is still, in fact, the world’s largest producer and consumer of child pornography. Its usage is widespread, with as many as one in 10 men admitting they’ve watched it or that they own it, according to the book Sexnomics, by economist Takashi Kadokura. Almost 80 percent of the child pornography transferred over the Internet is said to come through Japan. According to Interpol, Japanese “entrepreneurs” at home and abroad are also major producers of child pornography in the world market.

The move to change this picture began at the local level. The government of Kyoto took a strict stand against child pornography almost three years ago. On October 2011, the prefecture established an ordinance imposing fines and potential jail time. On July 2012, the prefectural police arrested four men in Kyoto who had bought kiddie porn DVDs online, according to the Asahi Shimbun. It was the first time in post-war Japan that such arrests had been made.

The current bill, which was first submitted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners in May last year, aims to impose a one million yen ($10,000) fine or imprisonment up to a year on those who possess child pornography "for the purpose of satisfying one's sexual curiosity."

While Japanese politicians are in agreement that this commerce should be banned in order to protect the human rights of children, the law failed to pass in an earlier session of the Diet. The reason: opposition from the publishing and anime industries and even from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Japan’s manga industry is a playground for fictitious kiddie and incest porn. One example is “Little Sister Paradise! 2,” which promises on the cover: “More naughty days of a brother and five sisters.” The comic was the first to be banned for minors in the three years since Tokyo tightened an ordinance to prevent children from buying publications that “significantly stimulate sexual desires.” But, of course, keeping kids away from kiddie porn is only part of the problem.

Publishers in Japan argue that the graphic depiction of underage boys and girls having sexual relations in manga doesn’t necessarily exploit real children, and that such a move would infringe on someone’s “freedom of expression.”

The pending version of the bill excludes manga, anime, and computer-generated graphics of child porn. That leaves the door open for stores like those in Akihabara that stock a profuse amount of video games where the objective is to sexually subjugate underage girls or boys, or both.

Fukuda explains the omission from the law by saying unless there is scientific research showing that fictional child porn causes readers to commit crimes, it would be improper to criminalize it.

“Manga, anime, and CG child pornography don't directly violate the rights of girls or boys. It has not been scientifically validated that it even indirectly causes damage. Since it hasn't been validated, punishing people who view it would go too far,” says Fukuda.

The law is not expected to affect borderline child pornography depicting underage girls in provocative poses and sexually revealing outfits, such as thong-style swimsuits, which are still sold blatantly in convenience stores and bookstores. The genre is known as “junior idol.” DVDs and photography books of the underage girls are sold widely and it’s an immensely profitable business. Within the junior idol niche, the most popular among hardcore fans are “U15” idols. U15 is Japanese-English for “under fifteen.”

To some degree, the sexualization of young girls is mainstream in Japan. For example, Japan’s most popular and mega-profitable all-female pop group AKB48 includes members as young as 13; and they’ve posed for ++sexy & semi-nude layouts in Japan’s Weekly Playboy several times. (Weekly Playboy, which began in 1966 in Japan, has no relation to Playboy magazine).

The AKB48 members are bound by their contracts to remain celibate while working for the parent company that manages the group,  but they often appear in lurid commercials and videos depicting the band members exchanging kisses and singing sexually suggestive lyrics.

According to the May 30, 2013, issue of the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho, and police sources, one of the founders of the group was associated with the Goto-gumi, a yakuza group that was involved in human trafficking and child pornography production. The general producer of AKB48, Yasushi Akimoto is a board member of The Tokyo Organizing Committee for the 2020 Olympics (sometimes called the Yakuza Olympmics). There has been some criticism of his selection for the committee.

Swimsuit shots of underage AKB48 girls “won’t fall under the law,” says Fukuda. “As long as it's not a really obscene pose or something in a form which deliberately causes sexual arousal, it is not child pornography. If it's just normal swimwear it's not deliberately obscene.”

The government will also give everyone a year of grace after the law is passed before police start cracking down on child porn possession. After that, the police may be able to crack down harder on child prostitution as well as child pornography, which often are interconnected.

Shihoko Fujiwara, the director of Lighthouse, an anti-human trafficking group and support center for victims, told The Daily Beast, “This law is a great step forward. The pornographic manga is still an issue, but first we have to protect real-life children from sexual exploitation.”

Enforcement will be difficult, however. At present, knowledge that a suspected sexual offender has child pornography on a computer is insufficient to get a search warrant from the courts.

While the new laws probably will not end Japan’s reign as the Empire of Child Pornography, it does show that Japan is making “baby steps,” as it were, toward dealing with the problem. If you’re expecting a giant leap forward in eliminating the sexualization of under-15 girls for “fun and profit,” don’t hold your breath.

Why is there such a fascination with sexual interaction with young girls – known as rorikon (Lolita complex) in Japan? That’s something no legislation can explain or change—for the time being.