News media across Japan, yesterday reported on the verdict of the case of the so called ‘vagina artist’, Megumi Igarashi.
Sculptor Igarashi (also known as Rokudenashi-ko / Good-for-nothing-girl), is perhaps most famous for sculpting/making a kayak based on a 3D scan of her vulva. The project was financed through crowdfunding, and those who made contributions were sent 3D-scans of said body part.
Public display of genitalia is a no-no in Japan, and on Monday, the Tokyo District Court found Igarashi guilty of obscenity and fined her 400,000 yen (according to Wikipedia, the kayak cost 3,000 yen). However, this isn’t about the kayak. This is about the distribution of those 3D scans. According to a report in The Mainichi, the Presiding Judge Mihoko Tanabe had this to say; "The data realistically reproduce the shape (of the genitalia) and stimulate the viewers' sexual desire." Well, now hang on! That ‘stimulation’ is surely a matter of personal opinion. What are you saying judge?!
Another matter at hand concerned the Dec., 2014 arrest of Igarashi on the suspicion that she was involved in the display of an obscene object publicly. In a Tokyo sex shop! The judge ruled that this was OK though because the vagina-shaped plaster art did not immediately suggest they are female genitals as they are decorated and painted with colors different from skin color. (The Mainichi). The fact that it was in a sex shop doesn’t seem to have come into it (no pun intended).
All this brings about the question of what is obscene? And what is ‘art’? Igarashi and her legal team tried to argue that her art is a form expression, and not something to get all sweaty about (our words, not theirs). Igarashi herself wrote a book entitled ‘What is Obscenity?’ so obviously has some credentials in having considered the issue.
For the time being though, the law is what it is, and public display of genitalia will get you in trouble, whatever the purpose.
However, something doesn’t sit well here. Back in Oct. 2015 we posted about kids reading manga and came across this quote in a The Guardian article; “Japan must ban sexually abusive images of children in manga comics, despite claims that such a move would threaten freedom of expression, the UN’s special envoy on child protection has said.” (The Guardian UK, Oct. 27, 2105)
So, sexually abusive images of children OK, 3D vagina scans sent to recipients who presumably knew what they were getting into, not OK.
Are we mixing our issues here, or are Japan’s lawmakers themselves sending out mixed signals? Presumably one would argue that, filthy (to say the very least) that some of Japan’s manga is, it doesn’t look real enough, and you can’t see any of the naughty bits! The blunt sexual nuance is surely there though. Maybe it’s OK though, as a lot of those manga volumes come plastic wrapped!
To be fair, going back to those scans, if some random dude fired off a few emails of his ‘bits’ and called it art, we’d all be calling him a sex pest!
Something that seems to be going under the radar here, are the judge’s comments that Igarashi’s scans “... stimulate the viewers' sexual desire.”. Such comments seem to be suggesting that this is a bad thing. Well, urban Japan must be a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah then. You only have to step out of your door to wade into an ocean of ‘sex sells’ marketing. Besides, of all the myriad of mad, depraved, questionable, bonkers, banal, and weird stimuli out there, a scan of an adult’s ‘bits’ would seem to be least of our concerns. Wouldn’t it?