Sexuality No More Comic in Japan

  • by Suvendrini Kakuchi (tokyo)
  • Inter Press Service

The move, the first in Japan, has resulted in a fierce ongoing battle between supporters — mainly parents and some medical doctors — and Japan’s lucrative comics industry.

'The Tokyo Metropolitan law has definitely dealt a blow to the comics industry,' says Takayuki Nishitani, a spokesperson for Japanese publishers. 'Many aspiring animation artists have stopped producing new works fearing they will become targets of the law.'

Expressing sharply different views is Tamae Shintani, head of the Parent Teacher Association of Tokyo Primary Schools, who says she is livid about the 'shocking and incomprehensible attitude of the comics industry.'

'The law is a long awaited step by concerned parents who want to protect children from the influence of kinky sexual fantasies of adult animators. This has to stop,' she says.

Japan is a world leader in pop culture. Manga, the Japanese word for comics, is hugely popular and manga books are translated into many languages, boasting a wide international readership. The industry is estimated to make almost six billion dollars annually.

While most manga books are highly creative and cover themes from philosophy to medicine, they also contain sexually explicit material that includes rape and incest.

Mika Sakurai, who is in charge of enforcing the new law at the Metropolitan Government points out, 'The popularity of animation has led to abuse by some illustrators and publishing houses with children depicted in violence and sex.'

Starting in July, Tokyo will begin to screen publications with such content to be restricted for sale to minors. Some of the criteria that regulators will apply include whether comic book characters are dressed in clothing worn by children such as school uniforms, as well as the visual background in which children are portrayed.

The law imposes a 3,000 dollar fine for those who do not comply, and also stipulates that such books be kept secluded in 'adult corners' of bookstores.

One controversial example is a manga series under the title, 'My Wife is an Elementary School Student'. Released by the leading Akita Publishing Company since 2006, it tells the story of an elementary school teacher married to a 12-year-old girl and vividly illustrates his sexual longing — she is depicted with a banana covered in condensed milk in her mouth - which he cannot fulfil because she is a child.

A magazine series published in Osaka for children, 'Young Love Comic Aya', featuring homosexuality with illustrations of naked young men in love, was also recently identified as a threat to minors.

Dr. Tsuneo Akaeda, an obstetrician who runs a clinic for young people, believes sexually explicit manga have a negative influence on young children.

'My work to prevent HIV infection among the youth has shown me how sex is taken lightly, almost as a game, among school children,' he explains. 'One of the main reasons for this is the way sexual relations are portrayed in public, which highlights only the physical enjoyment, leaving out the dangers of irresponsible behaviour.'

Akaeda, who mingles with young people in cafes and night clubs offering them quick HIV testing, points to the fact that even university students lack accurate knowledge of sexual diseases because of popular misconceptions.

Still, opponents of the latest move by authorities argue it is unfair to blame the situation only on raunchy comics.

Professor Yukari Fujimoto, an expert on girls’ manga, explains that the new ordinance could lead to stringent restrictions on publications illustrating sexual acts or violence, which in the long run could be unhealthy for minors.

'It is important to discuss this law against the background of Japanese culture that, unlike in the West, does not view sex only as a moral offence,' she says. In Japan, she explains, there is the concept that fact and fiction are separate, and therefore minors can learn to cope and come to grips with their desires if sexual acts are in the open.

The ongoing debate has, apart from the friction, also raised a growing call for effective sex education and information on reproductive health among school children, singling out the fact that this is more effective in developing a critical and mature understanding.

Akaeda says an increasing number of 15-year-olds are sexually active but the topic is still socially taboo, which must be changed if parents want to protect their children from irresponsible publishers.

Ironically, Nishitani, one of the more vociferous critics of the new law, agrees. 'If parents are angry with sexually explicit comics, then they must be able to educate their children to be aware of what is wrong and right.'

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service