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The v-word doesn’t always mean victory

by Jake Adelstein

If you are easily offended, please don’t read this column because it’s about obscenity laws in Japan and that in itself may be obscene. If my editor will let me, we’ll even put up a possibly obscene image! (Don’t worry, I won’t — Ed.)

If you read it and are still offended, then I suggest that you take this column and mail it to the police in an envelope. For your own sake, however, make sure you don’t email them a copy. If you do, you could be arrested and held in custody on “obscene electromagnetic record distribution charges.”

Conceptual artist and manga writer Megumi Igarashi, aka Rokudenashi-ko (“no-good girl”), was arrested on July 12 on those charges. The charges that were filed related to the distribution of 3-D schematics of her vagina to supporters so they could make replicas with their own 3-D printer.

And here you are you thinking that 3-D printers can only be used to make illegal firearms. Nope, they can also be used to make “illegal” replicas of an artist’s vagina. I’ve placed “illegal” in quotation marks because the legality of the data depends on whether it’s really obscene or not.

According to her legal counsel, whether her “data” corrupt public morals is a highly subjective decision because obscenity is a victimless crime under domestic law. The police have made up their minds, the prosecutors nodded, but the courts seem to be shaking their heads.

She was only detained for six days. Now, as many of you know, people can be held as long as 23 days in jail in Japan, without access to a lawyer, and are interrogated on a daily basis while in custody. The court usually rubber stamp any requests by the prosecution to detain the accused. This is part of Japan’s fantastic 99 percent conviction rate.

Her lawyers protested to a legal review board, who ruled there was no reason to detain her and she was set free. She didn’t have to pay bail either. The prosecution isn’t sure what they’ll do yet but they won’t have the luxury of coercing a confession out of her.

On the day of her release, her defense said: “Clearly they expected, if they arrested her, she would to confess to sending obscene materials; case closed. She admitted sending a link that would allow them to download the materials but not that they were obscene.”

The data were made available to fans in return for crowd-funding donations that helped her complete her latest genitalia-inspired boat. The goal of the project was to demystify a woman’s body and perhaps call attention to Japan’s silly obscenity laws. Of course, the annual “penis festival” in Kawasaki in April — where giant phalluses are marched through the street — isn’t obscene; it’s a tradition.

However, the question remains: Why arrest her for allowing limited numbers of people to download a scanned image of her vagina? By the way, she sometimes refers to her genitalia by using a vulgar but colloquial Japanese word for vagina that starts with the letter “m.” Despite this word being so taboo that saying it on air will get you kicked off a television program or result in frenzied beeping, you can see genitalia all over the place. Go to a convenience store and flip through the weekly magazines — there is full frontal nudity galore. Sports newspapers even have “pink pages” with recommended places to get oral sex or other delights boldly listed — because those services are legal.

You may fondle a naked woman for less than ¥5,000 and for ¥60,000 you can have sex with her, which is illegal but a crime with no punishment. God forbid, though, if you see a picture of her vagina. And if you dare to send such a picture over the Internet, go straight to jail. It’s worth noting that Igarashi could be sentenced to up two years for her alleged crime.

But here’s the odd thing: graphic 3-D representations of female vaginas are sold all over Japan. Several renowned porn stars in Japan have realistic recreations of their vaginas that are molded in silicone and sold at adult stores throughout the country. They’re even available on Amazon Japan. They are not primarily for decorative use. If this offends you, please write to Amazon Japan — I’m just telling you what’s in stock. Amazon Prime customers, by the way, are entitled to free shipping. They are sometimes sold under the title of meiki (famous vaginas) but the Japanese-English term for them is classic: onahoru — or, quite literally, “woman hole.”

Admittedly, Igarashi is an unusual artist in that her principal theme is the female anatomy, especially the vagina. In fact, she has published an entire comic book titled “Dekoman” about her vagina, making art with it (literally) and detailing why she decided to have cosmetic surgery on it. So be it. That’s her thing.

You could make the argument that her arrest is another example of Japanese sexism at its worst. How come the police aren’t rounding up AV actresses and closing down silicone model makers?

I used to cover the police department that made this arrest and believe their reason for targeting the artist may simply be about headlines — and 3-D printers.

You see, the domestic press almost all wrote the same tagline: “First arrest on obscene electromagnetic record distribution charges ever in Japan involving a 3-D printer.” Get it? It’s a novelty. The first guy to climb Mount Everest — we all know him but the second guy? Pfff.

I imagine some high-ranking detective in the division was reading all the coverage of the 3-D printed gun (that actually shot bullets) and thinking, “Hey, what could we do to get that attention?”

And guess whose name must have come up?

Yes, this case is about sexism but it’s also about the police wanting headlines. Cops want attention, too. It got some coverage but nothing like it got in the West. Sexist conspiracy?

Sometimes, an arrest is just an arrest, and a vagina is just a vagina. What is obscene is an arbitrary enforcement of obscenity laws and putting a woman in jail because she wants to flaunt it. Obscenity really is in the eye of the beholder.

Maybe if 90 percent of the police department were women instead of men, we’d be seeing some arrests next April in Kawasaki. I’ll bet you a penis-shaped lollipop that won’t happen.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.