They are the first generation to have grown up as teenagers with easy and individually-tailored access to hardcore and child pornography in the form of manga comic books and the first to benefit from technological innovations that allowed them to easily shift their consumption to DVDs and internet porn made using real women and children.
Japan is certainly not unique in the world in terms of the size and scale of its sex industry, nor is it the only state currently exercising weak administrative oversight of prostitution and pornography. Nonetheless, even compared to other rich, industrialised nations, the Japanese government takes a notably laissez-faire approach.
The possession of child pornography is still legally permitted. There is almost no restriction on the acts that can be filmed in pornography and this has led to the production and open circulation (e.g., through Amazon Japan and Rakuten) of pornography featuring extreme levels of violence against women, including films in which women are set on fire. Japan is also the only rich country to be awarded ‘Tier 2’ status in the US Department of State’s yearly Trafficking in Persons Report and one of only a handful of countries that have not yet ratified the United Nation’s anti-trafficking Palermo Protocol.
Under international pressure, the Japanese government criminalised the production and selling of child pornography in 1999 and introduced anti-trafficking measures in 2003. But while child pornography cannot be sold in Japan, no policy measures have been enacted to address the peer-to-peer network sharing of material legally bought before 1999.
The possession of child pornography is still not criminalised, so users have an untouchable sphere in which to swap and consume pornography of children that was legally bought in the 1990s (in addition, of course, to anything bought illegally after 1999). And the depiction of child rape and abuse in manga remains both legal and widespread.
There are currently two laws governing the ‘sexual depiction’ of a person in Japan. Virtual images of children produced as comic, animation or computer graphics are subject to regulation under an obscenity law, and the use of real children in the production of pornography is banned under a child protection law.
But a loophole created by the two laws allows for the legal production, distribution and consumption of graphically animated or manga comic depictions of child rape and sexual abuse, as long as the genitals are not explicitly drawn. In reality, there is no government monitoring of pornography and this provision is not actually enforced. The system runs according to industry self-regulation, with no restriction on violence in pornography, either animated or live.
As a result, graphically-generated pornographic representations of violence, incest, bestiality, and other abuses of children continue to be legally produced, circulated, and consumed in Japan. While the Tokyo metropolitan government in 2010 acted to restrict the selling (to children), and display, of manga that glorifies rape, they have issued no infringement notices to date.
From the viewpoint of the sex industry, manga’s role in inculcating a whole generation of boys growing up in Japanese society in the 1990s with a sexuality that is hostile to women was a gift it was able to capitalise on through new communication technologies.
The lax legislative environment in Japan encourages entrepreneurs to diversify their activities in relation to child pornography. The industry developed chakuero or ‘junior idol’ pornography products after the 1999 legislation banning the production of child pornography.
Chakuero feature footage and pictures of underage children (mainly girls) wearing skimpy bathing suits posed in sexualised positions. The DVDs feature girls stripping out of school uniforms to their underwear, pornographically posing on beds and playing on playground equipment in skimpy clothing while cameras focus on their crotches. They are sold on shelves labelled according to the age of the child appearing in the film, which range from around six to 17. Businesses selling chakuero pornography arrange ‘meet and greet’ events for consumers to interact with girls in the films, who are recruited through ‘modelling’ or ‘talent’ agencies.
The failure to regulate the production and circulation of pornographic manga and the failure to do anything substantial about violent and child live-filmed pornography has allowed the grooming of a whole generation of Japanese boys to sexually respond to extreme violence against women and girls, even before they became adults. This grooming was well underway by the late 1990s, with Japanese researcher Sugita Satoshi reporting in 1999 that 60-70 per cent of pornography on sale in second-hand video/DVD shops in Japan comprised films of women being raped.
The Japanese government not only fails to right past wrongs, but through its policymaking on pornography today, continues to cultivate a social environment that renders children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation and threatens women with violence and abuse.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. This is an edited extract from her lecture, “A State Reliant on Pornography: Japan in the Twenty-first Century”, presented as part of the Global Studies Seminar Series at RMIT University. Follow Caroline’s tweets at @carolinenorma