It seems that Singaporean photographer, Leslie Kee, has just been arrested by Japanese police for violating Japan’s law against obscenity (わいせつ); or more specifically, Article 175 of the Criminal Code.
The penal provision stipulates that Kee may now be facing imprisonment of up to 2 years or a fine of not more than 2.5 million yen. Given that this was a for-profit venture (he was selling his book for 6000 yen – bargain!), it’s more than likely that he will be given a fine. I would be surprised if he (and especially the two employees of the book publisher) were to serve any time in prison for this.
As unfortunate as this is, it does serve as a good opportunity to shine a spotlight on the ironically perverse manner in which Japan defines obscenity, and enforces against it. Forget that the Japanese Constitution (drafted by Americans, let us not forget), provides at Article 21 that:
Article 21. Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.
No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.
It’s fairly explicit; pithy yet certain in its language. And yet, the Supreme Court seems unconcerned in upholding it in any meaningful way.
The most curious thing about this legal contradiction is the paradox that emerges from the juxtaposition also of this seemingly totalitarian penal code re: naughty rags with the abundance of soft-core porn in newspapers and magazines, and also the ease with which one can obtain borderline criminal material like the Rapeman comic. Perhaps the newly-minted Minister Tanigaki could take a look a reforming this archaic law… but we would be wise not to hold our breath.
For more reading, I suggest looking at the journal article, Obscenity, Pornography, and Law in Japan: Reconsidering Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, by James R. Alexander - it’s a nice (and relatively recent) introduction to the topic. Another, perhaps more relevant, article is Obscenity in Japan: Moral Guidance without Legal Guidance, by Amanda Dobbins.