Child sex in ‘manga’ — art or obscenity?: Graphic but healthy, free speech

by Takahiro Fukada

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly is deliberating stronger regulations on sexual images of minors in “manga” comic books, animation and video games.

If the revised ordinance is passed, publishers will have to exercise greater restraint on content with sexual depictions of characters that people can assume to be underage. The tougher ordinance would also designate publications that express sexual violence and other material deemed outside the social norm as “noxious” and restrict young readers’ access.

Cartoonists and others have lodged protests over the proposed crackdown, which was introduced by the metropolitan government, arguing it could violate the freedom of expression.

With the assembly debate heating up, The Japan Times interviewed a leading supporter and a vocal opponent.

Yukari Fujimoto, a 50-year-old associate professor of girls manga and gender at Meiji University in Tokyo, is opposed to the revised ordinance, saying it is rife with problems and is a “bad law.”

Fujimoto said a law already exists to keep juveniles from being exposed to hardcore pornography. She suspects that the revisions could lead to regulating all content of a sexual nature depicting minors.

Under the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s desired changes, businesses and residents would be obliged to recognize that materials positively depicting sexual acts of minors can hamper the ability of children to develop a “healthy” attitude about sex and to keep such material out of the hands of minors.

Fujimoto said that if the ordinance takes effect, it would take only one person to step forward and brand, for example, a comic book or game that depicts sexual acts involving high school students as “unhealthy” to have such works removed from stores.

Unless the metropolitan government’s plan is dropped, “movements to suppress undesirable books will begin,” Fujimoto said.

Triggered by self-censorship, the United States saw its comic book industry decline drastically, she said. She warned the metropolitan government’s proposal would deprive artists of freedom of expression and deal a devastating blow to the manga industry.

Fujimoto, who is a former editor at a major publishing firm and a manga critic, said manga have traditionally targeted adolescent readers and dealt with sex and violence. By depicting these themes, Fujimoto said, minors can learn to cope with them and come to grips with their own desires.

“It is important that (children) face a variety of information and establish their own thought patterns,” Fujimoto said.

Academic research on media shows children can be protected from harmful media influences by openly talking about sex with their parents and friends, Fujimoto said. If children are sheltered from sexual information, she said, they aren’t able to talk about sex with anyone and may develop a sense of guilt about their feelings.

Fujimoto said an American study found that the percentage of people who committed sexual crimes was lower among those who were exposed to sexual material from an early age than those who were raised under more strict conditions.

Statistics in Japan support this thesis, she said.

According to her, the number of rape victims who were elementary school students and younger dropped in the last 40 years to less than one-tenth of the peak year of 1965. That period coincides with the gradual rise in sexual content in manga and other media, she said.

“Liberation of sexual expression clearly helped to reduce the number of rape victims in Japan,” Fujimoto said.

Minors have the right to know about sex, she added, claiming an international treaty guarantees this. She said children should “gradually” learn how to deal with sex.

“Under the proposed changes, adults could completely deprive children of opportunities to think about the nature of their sexuality,” Fujimoto warned.

The deliberation process in the assembly has also been rife with problems, she said.

The panel that submitted a report to Gov. Shintaro Ishihara that later became the foundation for the proposed ordinance revisions included members with ties to police, she said. However, it had no participants who were against tightening the ordinance or anyone from the manga industry.

Fujimoto said Ishihara publicly admitted he has not read the revisions or the kind of material that would be subject to the tightened regulations.

Also, deliberations in the assembly have been insufficient, she said.

By expanding the scope of offenders, Fujimoto argued, the proposed revisions will benefit the police because they will be able to trumpet to the public that they are working hard for society.

“(The government) must not regulate expression as proof that the police are doing their job,” she said.

“They should be preventing real children from being sexually attacked,” she said, adding that authorities must protect children from sexual crimes and implement more measures to support victims of those crimes.