Foreign Policy Blogs

Ordinance bans explicit comic sales to children

A Tokyo ordinance starting April 1 will require publishers to impose self-restrictions on sexual depictions in manga comic books. Authorities will be able to ban books they judge have extreme sexual content to children.

The ordinance was proposed by Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara (regular readers of my blog already know my opinion on him). The Tokyo government will be able to designate comics its screening panel deems “unhealthy,” books glorifying incest or rape, or portray extreme sexual acts, for instance.

Following the enactment of the ordinance in December, Shin’ichiro Inoue announced in a Dec. 8 Twitter post that his company, Kadokawa Shoten, will skip the metropolitan government-hosted Tokyo International Anime Fair 2011, which was scheduled to take place in late March, but was canceled following the Mar. 11 earthquake. Nine other publishers forming the group Comic 10 Shakai followed Inoue’s lead.

The comic book publishers protested the ordinance on grounds that it would stifle the creativity of their artists, who might feel frightened into self-censorship. However, Stu Levy, founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based manga publisher TokyoPop said there is no reason to react sharply to the ordinance. He pointed out that there are few regulations on the industry, and that from the American point-of-view the sexual depictions in the manga are very shocking. The U.S. already restricts sexual content in Japanese manga.

Inoue said, “While we would like to see this as a business opportunity, fans can obtain mutual understanding of different cultures by sharing works with various people.”

I disagree that manga helps fans “obtain mutual understanding of different cultures.” Entertainment tends to refract reality, rather than reflect reality. They are entertaining because they are not realistic. A reader whose entire perception of Japan came from manga would have an extremely warped view of the country. A Japanese friend of mine once asked me why foreigners think Japanese women are oversexed, and I said, “Probably because that’s the way they’re portrayed in Japanese manga.”

At the risk of agreeing with Ishihara, I do think the manga industry needs some regulations. Sexually explicit manga are sold at every convenience store in Japan at eye level for any 6-year-old. Middle-aged men shamelessly flip through the comics in crowded commuter trains. While I am not a fan of government censorship, I do see a problem with the country’s mores being dictated by perverted middle-aged male manga artists. Girls as young as 14 feel pressure to lose their virginity because that’s depicted as normal in manga, which many in Japan’s male-dominated society don’t see a problem with.

I think the problem with the ordinance is that the metropolitan government didn’t clearly define what would be judged as “unhealthy.” Inoue said, “There were no discussions or explanations (from the metropolitan government) to the publishing industry or manga artists in the process of voting for the ordinance.” The government should state guidelines on what is permissible so as to avoid the perception of unfair censorship.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]