It was the vagina that launched a thousand headlines, millions of social-media posts, a kayak — and a criminal case.

On July 12, 2014, Megumi Igarashi, a Japanese artist also known as Rokudenashiko ("Good-for-nothing Girl"), was arrested in Tokyo under Japan's obscenity laws for producing, displaying and distributing images of her vagina in the form of 3-D data and a one-man kayak. In May, she was ordered to pay a fine of ¥400,000 for distributing the data alone, based on the possibility that it could be used to produce a 3-D-printed anatomically accurate model of Igarashi's sexual organs.

In the Anglosphere media coverage of Igarashi's case, a commonly expressed view has been that Japanese society suppresses artistic expression related to the vagina while celebrating all that is penile, a cultural practice reinforced by police action. This view is untenable: By incorrectly framing the Igarashi case as a misogyny issue, much of the Western media has missed a chance to advance a substantive debate on censorship in Japan and what constitutes obscenity.