National / Crime & Legal

Japan outlaws child porn possession, but explicit manga, anime get green light

Law won't apply to sexually explicit manga, anime

Reuters, Kyodo

The Diet voted Wednesday to outlaw possession of child pornography after years of international calls for a crackdown, but the change won’t impact sexually explicit manga and anime depicting young children.

Japan is the last OECD nation to criminalize possession of child pornography, although it outlawed production and distribution in 1999, and has long been considered a safe haven for those buying child pornography.

“For too long, there was a poor understanding of children’s rights. Ultimately, that’s why it’s taken so long,” said Kiyohiko Toyama, a member of New Komeito and a proponent of the bill. “By outlawing the possession of child pornography with the intent to satisfy sexual interest, we make it harder for people to trade in such material.”

The new law, however, excludes an original clause calling for a study into the effects of pornographic manga involving young children, after publishers and opposition lawmakers said it could lead to curbs on free speech.

Masatada Tsuchiya of the Liberal Democratic Party supported the bill but said he was disappointed.

“I believed we should go a step further and take a look at manga and anime in which children are sexually abused,” he said, citing a case in which a child murder suspect was found to own dozens of explicit manga depicting children.

“Of course freedom of expression is important. And I love manga. But some of the things out there are so depraved they aren’t worth defending,” he said.

National data show a rise in child pornography crimes, with police uncovering 1,644 cases last year, around 10 times more than a decade ago. More than half of the cases involved sharing or selling photos or videos over the Internet, police said.

The widespread use of smartphones is apparently behind the increased number, a National Police Agency official said, noting that in 318 cases, or about 40 percent of the total, victims in such crimes sent their photos to perpetrators.

Lawmakers said the new legislation should help the police crack down on child pornography as buyers can be held and questioned, possibly leading them to other collectors as well as distributors and manufacturers.

The law is due to take effect next month. Those found guilty will face imprisonment of up to a year or a fine of up to ¥1 million, although such punishment will not be enforced in the first year.

Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said he hopes it will also help change a culture of tolerating objectification of children.

“We must fight against a tendency of looking at children as sexual objects, and allowing them to be taken advantage of, sexually and commercially,” he said in Diet testimony on Tuesday, the day before the Upper House officially voted to adopt the bill.

The Lower House passed it earlier in the month.

Japan’s fascination with young women as sexual objects is apparent from a quick glance through bookstores and subway ads featuring “junior idols,” as child models are known. The new law does not apply to most such images.

More explicit and often violent content is available online. A small portion of Japan’s manga and anime market includes graphic, sexual depictions of children, including stories of incest.

Even without the clause on manga, however, publishers said they are still against the revised law. Some opposition lawmakers also voted against it, saying it could lead to police overreach.

“This could lead to a regression in freedom of expression and put a strain on artists and the publishing culture. This cannot be accepted,” the Japan Magazine Publishers Association, representing more than 90 publishing companies, said in a statement on its website.

Lawyer Yuri Kawamura, who serves as deputy chairwoman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations’ panel on children’s rights, said the definition of child pornography is still unclear under the revised law, and that investigative authorities might abuse the revised law.