Police are investigating publisher Kodansha Ltd. over a photo involving a "graduating" member of the popular all-girl AKB48 group that possibly violates child pornography laws.
The photo features Tomomi Kasai, 21, topless with a young boy standing behind her and covering her breasts with his hands.
Under the Law Banning Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, any photo that depicts a child touching the breasts or sexual organs of another individual and which could sexually arouse or stimulate a viewer is defined as child pornography.
Kodansha had planned to run the photo in its Young Magazine, a weekly manga magazine, and to use it as the cover for a collection of photos of Kasai.
After sports newspapers ran the photo in their Jan. 10 editions, however, concerns were raised on the Internet that the photo depicted child pornography, leading Kodansha to drop the photo.
Kodansha officials postponed the sale of Young Magazine from Jan. 12 until Jan. 21 and removed the offending photo.
The photo will not be included in the Kasai photo collection, either, which was to have gone on sale Feb. 4. Instead, a new edition without the controversial photo will go on sale in the near future.
On Jan. 11, after Kodansha had decided not to use the photo, an official with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department phoned Kodansha and asked company officials to explain the details surrounding the situation.
On Jan. 17, a Kodansha official went to the Metropolitan Police Department to explain how the photo came to be shot and what the company plans to do in the future.
Some AKB48 fans have defended the photo, saying that anyone who considered it pornographic had an "obscene mentality."
However, Toru Okumura, a lawyer who has worked on child pornography cases, said the photo could constitute an example of child pornography.
"The Osaka High Court verdict last July found that if anyone, even a small number of people, became sexually aroused, that would fulfill (the condition in the child pornography definition)," Okumura said. "Regardless of whether or not a large number of people would become sexually aroused by a photo of a child touching someone else's sexual organs, there is the possibility of the photo being considered pornography."
Kasai joined AKB48 in 2006, but announced on Dec. 17 that she was graduating from the group. The photo collection will be her first solo photo book.
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