Editorial: How Bill 156 Got Passed

by Dan Kanemitsu, Dec 28th 2010
Author's Note: This article is an English translation of the article that I wrote for Takeshi Nogami's 2010 winter doujinshi, An Idiot's Guide to Tokyo's Harmful Books Regulation. The article was originally titled なぜ「非実在青少年条例」は否決されたのに「非実在性犯罪条例」が可決されたのか. I've changed parts of the article to make it easier for English readers to read and understand the subjects that I am talking about, but this English translation largely follows what was written in the original Japanese article.

What follows below is my own personal analysis of the circumstances at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Please keep that in mind.

In a nutshell, Tokyo's Bill 156 advocates prevailed through waging a war of intelligence and propaganda.

At the same time, a candid acknowledgment must be made over how some people learned valuable lessons from the defeat of the Nonexistent Youth Bill, while others rested on their laurels.

Early to mid March was when most people first learned of the term "nonexistent youth" and the ruckus over the revision of the Tokyo ordinance started to grow larger and larger. Actually, a limited number of artistic freedom advocates were aware much earlier on that a clear and present danger was on the horizon. I was one of those people. An even smaller number of individuals, such as lobbyists who oppose censorship who have close relations with Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly legislators, plus a few journalists who continually cover free speech issues, learned about these dangers even earlier and had already started taking action.

Long before any mention of "nonexistent youth" came into being, many of us were alarmed over the direction the 28th Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference was taking. Appointed by Governor Ishihara, the 28th Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference was responsible for drafting a report that would become the basis for the Nonexistent Youth Bill.

Looking back now, it is abundantly clear the advocates for increased regulations were rather careless and made big mistakes. They engaged in inflammatory rhetoric easy to counter and criticize, they created the bizarre term "nonexistent youth", and their defenders in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government did a sloppy job in trying to convince their detractors of the merits of the bill. The revision went far beyond simply expanding the definition of what constitutes harmful material, but in fact included provisions that clearly intended to influence national policy regarding child pornography toward the direction of including fictional depictions, and some clauses of the bill unabashedly advocated thought control and altering public opinion. The bill was overly ambitious in attempting to encompass far too many things and change things far too radically.

Those who were pushing the bill seemed to think they could do all this while easily muzzling the opposition, but there was no way its critics would give up a fight so easily. At first, emphasis was placed on making the argument that "restricting all fictional depictions that involve youth in sexual situations is far too broad, so more deliberations were necessary", and thus legislators who were against the bill were able to redirect the proceedings in March toward allowing the deliberations to continue into June. Tetsuya Chiba, Machiko Satonaka, Go Nagai and Keiko Takemiya--all of them giants in the world of Japanese manga--made their opposition to the bill loud and clear, and an energetic opposition rally held inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly building itself played a crucial role in boosting the overall intensity of the opposition, but even then numerous legislators staked huge amounts of political capital in just stalling the vote, and they jumped through unimaginably difficult hoops to secure an extension of the deliberations. It was very, very close.

The opposition itself was not of one mind. There were those who felt radically expanding regulations quickly was a bad idea, while others were opposed to the very idea of increasing regulation, and still others felt that the bureaucracy advocating this bill in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government lacked sincerity. There is no doubt in my mind that most legislators that eventually voted against the bill in June actually felt that some degree of increased regulation was necessary, but they felt that this particular bill in front of them was too radical and far too broad. At the same time, you have to realize that the majority of legislators of Tokyo really didn't have any strong personal conviction regarding this bill, pro or con, and that they simply voted as directed by their party leadership.

You would be surprised at how often this is the case with bills in any assembly, even in the United States.

As of 2010, Governor Ishihara allied himself with the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party. The two combined together still do not hold enough seats to secure a majority in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. The party with the largest number of seats is in fact an opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan. In the spring of 2010, most everybody in the assembly were much more interested in Governor Ishihara's plan to move the Tsukiji Market, the world's largest wholesale fish and seafood market located in Tokyo, world famous as a tourist destination.

The market is currently located in prime real estate in downtown Tokyo, and combined with the fact the building is old and needs to be rebuilt, the Tokyo Government is pushing to relocate the marketplace to a location in Toyosu, further out into Tokyo Bay, but many are not happy with the idea. The reason is that the plot of land was used by Tokyo Gas, a natural gas utility company, and before it was handed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the company warned that the land was laden with toxins and pollutants. And yet, Governor Ishihara insists that the relocation is a good idea, while the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and other opposition parties were firmly against moving Japan's largest fish market to landfills confirmed to have high levels of dangerous chemicals, no matter how extensive preventative and health safety precautions were to be incorporated into the new structure.

Because the DPJ's leadership was much more focused on how to deal with the Tsukiji Market issue, the younger generation of DPJ legislators was much freer to actively advocate rallying their party toward voting against the bill.

Another important element to keep in mind is the fact that, back in spring of 2010, the DPJ's image in the public was still strong and popular. While there was strong disappointment at the Hatoyama Cabinet's handling of the Okinawa US bases relocation issue, the criticism was focused more on then Prime Minister Hatoyama instead of the DPJ overall. In addition, the fact that numerous magazines critical of the Nonexistent Youth Bill first broke the news on this development most likely helped build a negative first impression in the public.

From March to June, popular resentment against the bill continued to build even more. The branch within the Tokyo Metropolitan Government responsible for this latest effort, the Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety (OYAPS), countered by saying that misinformation and ignorance over of the bill is tainting the debate, but among DPJ critics, the wording of the bill itself was at issue, and no amount of creative interpretation by OYAPS regarding the bill's text would be sufficient. Furthermore, Governor Ishihara himself admitted that the wording of the bill, specifically the term "nonexistent youth", was problematic. Even if the Governor and OYAPS were in agreement over the worthiness of the bill's aims, it must have been very difficult to make adjustments to the bill's language that both Liberal Democratic and New Kometo legislators could agree to.

Advocates for Tokyo's increased regulative efforts can be roughly divided into two groups. While this is only my opinion, I am fairly certain this conclusion is a safe assumption. On one hand you have the "ideologues" who want to purge or isolate any and all sexual depictions in manga and anime they feel are "offensive" or "incomprehensible". Members of another camp are willing to negotiate and compromise if that is what it takes to establish a new legal framework. The "pragmatists" see value in expanding the legal framework to encompass a new criteria in of itself. It goes without saying that OYAPS are the pragmatists. The pragmatists and the ideologues must agree on a certain level if they wish to create a united front in advocating more regulation.

From the standpoint of the specialists and legislators who are ideologues, any amount of compromise to attempt pulling in the DPJ is absurd. From their standpoint, if they can get the DPJ to vote against the bill, it would provide them with ammunition to heavily criticize them as politicians that aren't concerned about protecting the children. I suspect these were the circumstances that brought the situation where OYAPS realized that their bill would be scuttled by the DPJ and other opposition legislators, and yet they did were not able alter course because the advocates pushing for the bill could not agree on a coherent strategy.

As it turned out, the ordinance amendment was defeated in June and the bill died.

But there was no way Governor Ishihara and OYAPS were about to surrender. They had reputations to protect and perhaps there were other circumstances within the ranks that necessitated that the bill, any bill, become law. High ranking police bureaucrats from the National Police Agency sent into Tokyo's Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety had their backs against the wall, and it could be that their careers were on the line unless this issue was resolved somehow.

At this point, the ideologues' voices died down somewhat, but their conviction that the status quo in anime and manga should not be tolerated was firmer as ever.

As it so happens, even some of the legislators who opposed the bill in June also felt that the status quo needed to be addressed. Only a small number of legislators really could be considered to be those who both accepted the status quo and felt that no further restrictions were needed. Those who felt there were distinct problems in how manga and animation featured sexual depictions were not a small minority even within the DPJ.

While manga and anime featuring explicit hard core sexual depictions are generally restricted to an "adults only" treatment, even some working in the industry were alarmed at how material that included rather risqué portrayals of sexual acts could be perceived as being easily available to all age groups. While numerous self-regulatory schemes and guidelines actually exist, these are not well known among the public. To those that are not party to the unwritten laws shared by an industry, what that industry produces can appear unregulated and unrestrained.

This type of misunderstanding could be alleviated if the publishing and animation communities explained these various guidelines more enthusiastically, and there was no question this needed to be conducted more. Because these efforts were woefully deficient, it provided a huge opening that the regulation advocates could take advantage of. Legislators who opposed Tokyo's efforts feared they would find themselves in an compromising situation if their constituencies started to complain about this problem, and for that very reason, the legislators wanted the industries to address the issue.

Of course, some legislators who were enthusiastic about artistic freedom were more than willing to explain these guidelines to their voters, but that should not be their job. That is the industry's job.

When you stop to think about it, the very concept of dividing all books into "adult" and "general audiences, ages 0-17" is ridiculous, and the fact that convenience stores have this strange system where they refuse to sell books labeled "adults only", but they are willing to sell books that are aimed toward an adult audiences really has to be acknowledged as a charade more than anything else.

Because the sales generated at convenience stores are so great, some publishers are willing to follow strict guidelines that are stipulated by the franchise management to keep their books on the racks. As a consequence, the "mild adult manga" that is sold in convenience stores tend to be tamer and be very restrictive when it comes to subject matter. They attempt to be "mainstream" in their erotic situations, but this creates extremely absurd situations were authors are told they can only portray certain safe situations and they must not be too sexually stimulating, and yet make their works appealing to readers.

As you can see, there are numerous self-regulatory agreements and guidelines in existence already, but many of these are unwritten laws that only the readers and publishers really understand, and in some respects, they can be characterized as schemes that are intended to protect the supplier, first and foremost.

The point is, the general notion that the status quo has problems provided a bridgehead upon which Tokyo's advocates could launch their disinformation and propaganda campaign.

In other words, they amplified the notion that there are lewd books abundantly available in Tokyo, free of any decent amount of restrictions. Tokyo's advocates would add that they had a suitable solution to resolving this situation but they were impeded by the Democratic Party of Japan caucus in the Tokyo assembly.

Truth be told, we only have a sketchy understanding of what kind of briefings were conducted 81 times by the Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety against various PTA groups that started in the summer and lasted until the unveiling of Bill 156. What is certain, however, is that by conducting these pitches over and over again, OYAPS was able to create some sense of dissatisfaction against the status quo among some and have it directed at the DPJ caucus.

By the time November came around in 2010, a dark cloud came to envelop the entire DPJ on a national level, and the leadership of Tokyo's DPJ caucus started to get very worried about how to deal with the uniform regional elections that were to scheduled to take place next year.

At this point, the Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety started to leak statements and information to the press which puts their agenda in an advantageous light. They talk about how Tokyo is awash with lewd manga, and that their aim is to protect children from graphic sexual material that any parent would find objectionable. In addition, as if to solidify their chances of success, they talked about how even the DPJ would most likely agree with the new revision bill, while at the same time inconspicuously refusing to release the exact wording of the new bill they are planning to submit. This was mid November.

Now I am certain the industry itself was very willing to resolve any big problems if they arose, but from their perspective no retailers nor their consumers were complaining loudly about any specific issues pertaining to the treatment of harmful material, and the news media did not take particular aim at the issue until mid November, so it would have been difficult for them to realize that trouble was afoot.

Thus a situation arose from nowhere and this was followed up by a development that put the opposition in an even more difficult situation.

The new bill, Bill 156, incorporated most of the changes that the DPJ originally demanded be made against the original bill in spring. In other words, Tokyo could justifiably claim that they compromised and conceded ground to their opponents in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

Of course publicly, Governor Ishihara and the Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety would repeat the mantra that "the spirit of the bill has not changed", but it is my opinion that they were able to project an image to the Tokyo legislators of how the ideologues' demands were restrained overall, resulting in a new bill which is far more practical and limited in terms of a legislative agenda.

I would argue Bill 156 has numerous problems. However, since many of the clauses in the original bill that the DPJ previously objected to very vocally were remedied per their requests, it became much more difficult for them to oppose the new bill.

Had the problems and dangers of Bill 156 revealed much earlier, and if public opinion could be rallied enough to counter Tokyo's disinformation campaign, then the situation would have been much more different. In fact, with each passing day, the tides were turning in favor for the opposition. As more companies, author groups, industry organizations and some newspapers decried the bill, the mood grew to such a point where even the ideologues in the assembly where pushed back enough to be willing to accept a supplemental resolution that would promise to make sure the new bill would not unduly infringe upon freedom of expression and take numerous merits of the work into account. For the ideologues, this was a bitter pill to swallow, since they felt that there was nothing wrong with the bill in the first place. I am certain many Liberal Democratic and New Komeito legislators felt that such a rider was completely unnecessary.

I frankly question the worth of a non-binding resolution, but it is clear the situation changed so drastically that legislators were compelled to agree to the rider in order to accommodate the opposition's increasingly louder voices.

While Bill 156 did pass, the battle is far from over. There are numerous large vulnerabilities in advocate's agenda, i.e. with regard to implementation of the new expanded definition for harmful material and how the advocates are presenting themselves since the bill's passage. Whether or not opponents of Bill 156 and other forms of censorship can take advantage of these vulnerabilities to mount a counteroffensive is entirely dependent on what we do in the future.


About the author: Dan Kanemitsu is a professional translator in the field of anime and manga. You can read more of Dan's take on Bill 156 at his blog.


Illustration © Takeshi Nogami

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