The Japanese name for the law is Waisetsu Butsu Hanpu To, or Distribution of Obscene Objects – and while another law, Article 21 of the 1947 Constitution, says that “no censorship shall be maintained,” Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code reads “a person who distributes, sells or displays in public an obscene document, drawing or other objects shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more 2,500,000 yen or a petty fine. The same shall apply to a person who possesses the same with the purpose of sale.”
While there is no clause in the law which actually defines the term “obscenity” and “neither government administrators nor the courts were legally compelled to specify what constituted ‘obscene material.,’” it’s been interpreted as the exposure of pubic hair, the adult genitals and the sexual act.
What it means in practice that exposed genitals in any kind of visual material are hidden with what’s known as ‘bokashi,’ a blurring or fogging with a digital mosaic or overlay.
The current interpretation of what’s considered obscene in Japan arose from the translation and distribution of the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover by British writer D.H. Lawrence in 1950. An editor and translator were accused of obscenity for the publication and distribution of the novel, and the Japanese Supreme Court rejected the appeals of the publishers and convicted them in 1957.
Now Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, or Rokudenashi-ko, the “Good-for-nothing Girl,” is facing the same sort of legal heat for distributing digital files of a kayak shaped like her vagina.
Igarashi denied the charges during a court appearance this week and says she’s done nothing wrong in providing the code to 3D print the kayak.
“I am innocent because neither the data for female genitals, nor my art works shaped like female genitals, are obscene,” Igarashi said before a panel of judges at Tokyo District Court.
And the stakes are high indeed as Igarashi could face up to two years in jail if convicted of the obscenity charge.
Her case has drawn the attention of protesters and even The Daily Show where the host, John Stewart, pointed up the hypocrisy and sexism of contemporary Japanese culture saying, “Japan, you arrested a woman for 3D printing her vagina, but you gave dicks their own holiday? What do you have against vaginas?”
Igarashi was released from police custody by a three-member appeals board after six days in jail following her initial arrest in July of last year, but the artist plans to keep fighting the charges.
“I want my vagina to travel around the world,” Igarashi said.
She was arrested again in December of last year on three counts of distributing ‘obscene’ data. The Tokyo police said her CD-ROMs containing computer code for 3D printing copies of her vagina-shaped kayak fit the bill, and she was ultimately held in custody for nearly a month before being granted bail.
“I have been arguing that it is strange to single out one part of a human body that every woman has and treat it as obscene,” Igarashi said at the time. “Some people say my works are cheap and not even art, but that should not justify police moves to arrest me.”
Igarashi’s lawyer, Takashi Yamaguchi, says, “It is extremely outrageous that anybody can be arrested and forced to stand before judges because of making artworks or working as an artist.”
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