Who knew a country notorious for selling used underwear in vending machines could be so prudish?
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi was arrested this week for distributing “obscene” design files to make 3-D-printed models of her vagina. Igarashi, who goes by the nom de art Rokudenashiko (“Good-For-Nothing-Girl”), was thrown behind bars after Japanese authorities intercepted emails of 3-D printed data of her genitalia, sent in an effort to crowdfund her most ambitious project to date: an oceangoing, vagina-shaped kayak, nicknamed the “pussy boat.” A Change.org petition calling for her release collected more than 15,000 signatures in one day.
“I want my vagina to travel around the world,” Igarashi, 42, told a Japanese television station. And she also wants to demystify something considered shameful in Japan; hers is a radically feminist art project in a country unfriendly to radical feminism.
Igarashi initially made smaller versions of the vessel, along with a variety of other molded replicas of her vagina—an artistic way to “make pussy more casual,” she explains on her website—like her “pussy lampshade, a remote-controlled pussy car, a pussy accessory, a pussy smartphone case, and so on.” And she gushes that the technological wonders of 3-D printing finally solved the difficulty of combining molded private parts with the joy of sea travel: “I finally found that a 3-D scanner can make it happen easily! A 3-D scanner can be used to make a pussy boat that will go across the ocean!”
But Japanese authorities weren’t concerned about whether Igarashi’s vagina was seaworthy—nor were they interested in her feminist crusade. The political content of her artwork, it seems, didn’t exempt her from a draconian 1907 law governing the production and dissemination of “obscene” material.
With the porn industry’s tendency to fetishize Asian (particularly Japanese) women, it’s easy to forget that Japan is a deeply puritanical culture. “They never show the vagina in the media, so I didn’t know what a normal vagina looked like,” Igarashi told Japanese media. And she revels in causing discomfort in her conservative homeland. “When I pronounce the word vagina, especially men get very angry at me...By doing this I say that they should not take it that serious.”
Indeed, puritan Japan is decades behind the puritan United States when it comes to sex. In the 1980s, Japan’s anti-obscenity squads employed an army of Sharpie- and X-Acto-wielding editors, who colored over and scratched out pubic regions in imported porn magazines. And in 2014, when hardcore porn is freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, adult films produced in Japan are still required to pixelate penetrative (including oral) sex.
While the government still wields its moralistic power against artists like Igarashi, her arrest comes on the heels of the country’s long-awaited ban on child pornography, though cartoons depicting child sex will remain legal. And the law generously allows pedophilia enthusiasts a year to dispose of their kiddie porn collections.
But Igarashi is behind bars. The vagina vessel is docked. Japan is safe. And you can still discreetly buy schoolgirls’ soiled underwear in a vending machine.