Proposed revisions to the child pornography prohibition law are generating heated controversy.
While everyone agrees that the human rights of children must be protected, the arguments center on whether cartoons and anime should be subject to regulations. Some argue that manga do not create victims and thus freedom of expression is at stake.
The revised law was jointly submitted to the Diet in May by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition partner New Komeito and the opposition Japan Restoration Party, and debate has been carried over to the next Diet session.
The revisions prohibit the possession of child pornography as well as the production and sales of such images. The revisions also suggest that certain scenes or acts in fictitious manga and anime may be banned in the future if they are determined to be harmful to society.
LDP lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa said individuals possessing child pornography should be prosecuted and that Japan is lagging behind the rest of the world on the issue.
"Among the Group of Eight countries, only Japan and Russia have yet to ban the possession (of child pornography)," Hirasawa said. "Japan is regarded by the international community not only as a heaven of child pornography, but also as a country that is not doing anything to stop it."
In 2012, police handled a total of 1,596 child pornography cases, the largest on record.
"The current climate of punishing only those who produce or sell (child pornography) does not go far enough," said Hiroshi Nakada, a Japan Restoration Party lawmaker who was one of the Diet members that jointly submitted the revised law.
The revised law also says that manga and anime could be subject to review and certain fictitious scenes and images could be banned if they are determined to be child pornography.
"In the (popular manga and anime series) 'Doraemon,' there are scenes depicting (elementary schoolgirl) Shizuka taking a bath. Will those scenes be also prohibited?" asked a person on an Internet message board.
The LDP's Hirasawa said such scenes would not be banned and that the person posing the question did not understand the seriousness of the situation.
"There are many serious images that go far beyond what you could call art or culture," Hirasawa said. "There are cases in which some people commit crimes under the influence of photos (of child pornography). We cannot say that they will not do the same if they view such images in the form of drawings in comics."
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations and major organizations in the publishing, and anime and manga industries have expressed opposition to the proposed revisions. Those organizations include the Japan Magazine Publishers Association, Japan Book Publishers Association, Japan Cartoonists Association and Japan Writers’ Association.
The JFBA supports the prohibition of possession of child pornography images, but it is against the idea of punishing individuals, saying that allowing punishment could lead to abuses of power by investigative authorities.
The JFBA also said that a ban of scenes and images in fictitious anime and manga could constitute a serious infringement on the freedom of expression.
"The purpose of the child pornography prohibition law is to protect the human rights of children that actually exist," the JFBA said.
At a recent hearing held by the LDP, Ken Akamatsu, representing the Japan Cartoonists Association, said that in manga and anime, no actual children are victims of child pornography.
"There is also no scientific evidence to prove that so-called 'harmful media' increases crime," he said.
Shinichiro Inoue, president of Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., argued that comics with sexual depictions are already a marginal subculture.
"We fear that regulating such comics will only serve as an entrance for imposing draconian regulations. The government could (later) spread those regulations to the Internet, literary works, newspapers and magazines," Inoue said. "Given the tragedy of prewar Japan that silenced the people, we must continue to speak out, 'What is wrong is wrong.' "
(This article was written by Takeo Yoshinaga and Atsushi Ohara.)
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