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Sexual Expression Research Books' 'Harmful' Designations Draw Criticism

posted on by Jennifer Sherman

Local governments in Japan recently designated books that trace the history of sexual expression as "harmful publications." Some people believe that this labeling, which even extends to research books, is inappropriate and excessive.

Shiga Prefecture designated the Zenkoku-han Ano Hi no Erohon Jihanki Tanbō-ki (Chronicle of Searching for Erotic Book Vending Machines That Day National Edition) book as "harmful" on March 23. Then Hokkaido designated the Ero Manga Hyōgen-shi (The Expression History of Ero-Manga) book as "harmful" on March 30. After deliberation among experts, both works were judged to be publications that "are in danger of obstructing the healthy raising of youths" in accordance with the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths. Due to the new designation, the books are prohibited from being sold to people under the age of 18, and retailers' displays separate the books from general publications in prefectures that deem the books to be "harmful."

The two books have "ero" (erotic) in their titles and reprint book covers and manga panels that depict naked female bodies and sexual acts. However, Ero Manga Hyōgen-shi focuses on research about the changes in ways of drawing nipples and genitals in manga. Zenkoku-han Ano Hi no Erohon Jihanki Tanbō-ki is a report on the current state of erotic book vending machines as they vanish in light of the expansion of the Internet. The Japan Magazine Publishers Association (JMPA) is questioning the labeling of the books as "harmful" because they are books that reveal new areas of research and represent fieldwork.

Zenkoku-han Ano Hi no Erohon Jihanki Tanbō-ki author Tetsuya Kurosawa said his motive in writing the book was to show how things that once had a large-scale presence for his generation are in the process of disappearing. He believes there is value in leaving records of erotic book vending machines because no records previously existed. Similarly, Ero Manga Hyōgen-shi author Kimirito said that including sexual depictions is crucial to the content of the book. Kimirito believes the book is the same as medical journals and research books on erotic woodblock panels, and the author never expected such a scholarly work to be designated as "harmful."

In regard to the label, Shiga Prefecture said that in addition to showing nudity from other works, Zenkoku-han Ano Hi no Erohon Jihanki Tanbō-ki is problematic because it discusses "harmful" vending machines that were "finally" removed from the prefecture seven years prior. The Hokkaido government said the reason it designated Ero Manga Hyōgen-shi as "harmful" was because the book includes many "scenes with lewd depictions of sexual acts between men and women."

Kōtarō Ogino founded Uguisu Ribbon, a non-profit organization that campaigns to protect freedom of expression. Commenting on the two books recently labeled as "harmful," Ogino said, "When [a book] is designated as harmful, it becomes difficult for public places such as libraries and citizens' lectures to handle it [any longer]. Isn't discussing the nature of sexual expression in open spaces [the mark of] a healthy society?"

Public opinions on the "harmful" designation of books seems to be split in Japan. Some online commenters said, "If there's inappropriate content even for research purposes, it can't be helped," while other said, "Regulating research books is going too far."

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly controversially passed Bill 156 in 2010, which revised the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths. One of the bill's updated regulations requires the industry to regulate "manga, anime, and other images (except for real-life photography)" that "unjustifiably glorify or exaggerate" certain sexual or pseudo sexual acts. In the years leading up to the revision, prefectural governments had already been labeling a variety of manga as "harmful publications" due to the nature of their sexual depictions.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun (Yūsuke Katō)


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