This is interesting-- and somehow ties into my Ike Reiko posting from earlier today. As hyper sex obsessed as Japanese society is, in some sense, it's easy to forget that there are still strict morality laws governing pornography.
Publisher fined Y1.5 mil over obscene comic
Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 07:03 EDT
TOKYO — The Supreme Court ordered a comic book publisher to pay a fine of 1.5 million yen for distributing obscene comic books containing sexually explicit scenes, upholding a lower court ruling, legal sources said Friday. The top court dismissed an appeal by Motonori Kishi, 58, president of publisher Shobunkan Corp.
The district court had sentenced Kishi to one year in prison, suspended for three years, saying, "We cannot overlook the fact that the defendant brought about a harmful influence on sexual morality" by distributing the comic. According to court rulings, Kishi distributed about 20,000 copies of the "Misshitsu" (Honey Room) comic book containing graphic sexual scenes to 16 companies in April 2002. (Kyodo News) Link
Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code is known as the 'Obscenity Law'. It is the only case of open contradiction within the 1947 Japanese constitution, wherein under article 21, censorship is strictly forbidden. However, a hold over from the 1880 penal code governing Waisetsu (or obscenity) has helped lay the groundwork and the current confusion as to what constitutes obscenity (the following definition has changed several times since its implementation in 1907):
"...any person who distributes, sells or publicly displays an obscene writing, picture or other materials shall be punished with penal servitude for not more than two years or be fined not more than two million and a half yen or minor fine. The same shall apply to any person who possesses the same with the intention of selling it."
The history of obscenity and censorship in Japan is, of course, enough to fill up a semester's University course and I won't (nor wouldn't dare) go into it. Suffice it to say, for those who want to know more, this article is far more authoritative and detailed in its scholarship.
What follows is an excerpt from the article in describing the stakes and situation surrounding MISSHITSU (aka. Honey Room):
Nevertheless, in April 2002 a manga Misshitsu (Honey Room) was taken to court for the first time charged with obscenity causing a massive commotion and starting a public debate on freedom of expression and the ubiquitousness of manga with sexual content all over the country. In January 2004 the Tokyo District Court passed sentence and punished the editor of the manga Motonori Kishi with one year in prison for violating article 175 of the Penal Code for selling and distributing obscene literature. In this instance the president of the jury declared that the manga was far too graphic. Given the large variety of pornographic material found in all sort of formats and sold all around Japan, the court decision caused some amount of incredulity. Kishi made an appeal to the Tokyo High Court alleging a violation of freedom of expression. The sentence imposed by the Tokyo District Court was reduced in June to a fine of 1.5 million yen by the Tokyo High Court. Nevertheless, the presiding judge rejected any allegations made by the accused that Article 175 is unconstitutional as it violates freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
At any rate, it is agreed that the current obscenity laws are highly fluid -- if not arbitrary -- and the decision for the government as to whether to prosecute is most likely politically motivated. (Depending on the way the winds are blowing... Hey, why should it be any different then in the US?) In the case of MISSHITSU, it has been greeted with great debate. While certainly NOT the most offensive item out on the shelves, with today's decision it was made an example of to threaten all other peddler's of -- what no one can quite agree how to define once and for all -- obscenity.