Vague Legal Definitions Threaten Japanese Comic Readers

For the second time in four years, members of the Japanese Diet (legislature) are attempting to revise the nation’s flawed child pornography law. While initial revision proposals offered some hope that the problems with the law would be fixed, the current proposal does little to address loopholes and overly broad language that could leave innocent citizens at risk.

Legislators are trying to close a loophole in which creation and distribution of child pornography is criminalized, but possession is not. Of major concern to watchdogs is the fact that the current law does not differentiate between actual images of children being harmed and drawn depictions. Furthermore, the law so broadly defines child pornography, that innocuous family photos and magazine or book images could be construed as child pornography so long as the images depict children and can be shown to cause sexual stimulation.

Blogger and commentator Dan Kanemitsu has covered the law and the attempts to revise it extensively. He describes the attempt to revise the law in 2009:

In 2009, the then opposition party–the Democratic Party of Japan–proposed making it clear that the ban would be restricted to images of real child being abused and making the act of attempting to possess child abuse photos illegal.

And yet the Liberal Democratic Party insisted that the definition was just fine, the police can be trusted regardless of the fact that the police has been forced to admit extracting false confessions from innocent people time and time again, and even further, laying the groundwork toward defining images not featuring real children as the same as images of child being actually being abused.

Though few involved would dispute the merit of fixing a loophole that does not punish people who possess child pornography, serious objections were raised over the existing, overly broad definition of what constitutes pornography. That definition, as Kanemitsu lays out, is:

1) Any pose of a child engaged in sexual intercourse or any conduct similar to sexual intercourse;
2) Any pose of a child having his or her sex organs, etc. touched by another person or of a child touching another person’s sex organs, etc., which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire;
3) Any pose of a child wholly or partially naked, which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire.

Of particular concern is item three, and the stipulation that the imagery automatically becomes pornographic if it can be demonstrated that a viewer was aroused by it.

The 2009 modification of the law was ultimately defeated because the opposition wished to include alterations to the definition that would protect possessors of material that was either not overtly sexual or did not depict actual people. These modifications were rejected by the Liberal Democratic Party, who preferred to put the full power of definition in the hands of the police, through the broadest definition possible:

Japanese police force and their backers in the Liberal Democratic Party insisted that the third section be left in to give authorities maximum discretion over what constitutes child pornography.

Now that the Liberal Democratic Party is back in power in the lower Diet, legislation that is nearly identical to the failed 2009 revision is back on the table. Additionally, steps are being taken toward potentially defining fictional, drawn images as equal to images of actual child abuse.

[A]n investigative provision has been added that requires the government to conduct research into how acts of violations of human rights of children could be linked to manga, anime, CG, virtual child pornography that are similar to child pornography.

Kanemitsu points out that without a requirement that this study be farmed out to a neutral outside organization, manga and anime could fall victim to crusaders against the media:

There is nothing in the revision draft that states the investigation will be conducted by an external third party. The government could appoint harsh critics of manga and anime involving adult situations and craft a report that cobbles together anecdotal evidence and philosophical assertions that justifies expanding the definition of child pornography to include manga and anime.

So, are the authorities deliberately targeting manga and anime? From Kanemitsu:

When questioned by [journalist Taro] Yamada why while manga and anime are singled out, novels will not be subject to scrutiny, former Prime Minister and current Minister of Treasury Taro Aso (LDP) stated: “…children don’t read novels. Children tend to read manga…”

It is difficult to understand exactly why laws intended to prevent adults from viewing exploitative images should be driven by what the government believes children read.

Kanemitsu also reports on the beginning efforts to lobby against the law. The LDP does not have a majority in the upper Diet, so the revision would require a supermajority in the lower house to be forced through, in a process similar to a veto override in the U.S. legislature.

The fact that the bill specifically targets manga and anime while exempting text has been noted by many manga authors, and the concern has been shared by members of both sexes. Izumi Mito a.k.a. Raika Kobayashi, a veteran BL and light novel novelist, suspected that the wording of the bill was designed to disarm resistance toward suddenly making manga and anime subject to the child pornography law. She points out that proponents of the law took note at how a huge outcry resulted the last time anime and manga were considered for inclusion in the Japanese child pornography law.

It remains to be seen what impact these attempts will have on the final shape of the law. The CBLDF will strive to keep you updated the story develops.

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Joe Izenman is a freelance writer and musician in Spokane, Washington. He owns a lot of comics and he’s pretty sure someone, somewhere would be offended by more than a few of them.