A Japanese artist known for her work depicting female genitalia pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a charge of obscenity as she called on Japan to stop treating the subject as a shameful taboo.
Taking the stand at the first session of her Tokyo District Court trial, Megumi Igarashi, 43, said she is fighting the charge to challenge Japanese society’s widely held belief that female genitals were “dirty,” “shameful” and “abhorrent.”
“For all these years, I have continued to proudly say aloud the word ‘manko’ because that is an important part of my body,” Igarashi said in her opening statement, referring to the Japanese slang for “vagina.”
“But in Japan, female genitals are somehow treated as something disgusting. And I think that’s terribly wrong.
“Our society is for some reason more accepting of mentions of male genitals, which you can see all over ads on trains or the Internet,” she said, adding that such a knee-jerk aversion to female genitals amounted to discrimination.
Igarashi, who goes by the moniker Rokudenashiko (“a good-for-nothing girl”), stands accused of displaying and distributing indecent objects.
The artist allegedly displayed three plaster objects in the shape of female genitals in a sex-toy shop where she worked in July 2014. Prior to that, she also emailed her fans a link to a website where they could download data to create a replica of her vagina using a 3-D printer, prosecutors said.
If found guilty, Igarashi faces up to two years in prison or a fine of up to ¥2.5 million, though her lawyer believes a prison term is unlikely.
Igarashi’s lawyers have not disputed the charges against their client, but claim she is innocent on the grounds that her vagina-inspired artworks cannot be considered obscene in the first place.
They have characterized her trial as a rare opportunity to seek the judiciary’s judgment on the matter.
Lead defense lawyer Takashi Yamaguchi told media gathered outside the court that Igarashi’s artwork, including a modified kayak, solely depicted her genitalia and involved no other sexually provocative images.
He said whether molded in plaster or downloaded for 3-D printing, the end products — despite their central motif — in reality barely resembled actual genitalia.
Given these points, Igarashi’s artwork was unlikely to “arouse in a person unsolicited sexual excitement,” as is stipulated by the obscenity law, Yamaguchi told the media.
Fellow defense lawyer Takeshi Sumi said the criminal law under which she was charged is invalid because it runs counter to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
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