This Week in Censorship News: Japan and the UK-UPDATED

TOKYO—Believe it or not, Japan has no law prohibiting possession of child pornography—and they're about to try to rectify that with a vengeance.

Current Japanese law allows citizens to possess child porn as long as the possessor does not create the images him/herself, nor tries to sell or distribute the material—but now, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has a supermajority in the lower chamber of the National Diet, the Japanese equivalent of our Congress, has formed an alliance with minority parties the New Komeito Party and the Japanese Restoration Party, and together, they have proposed a law that would criminalize possession of "sexual images of individuals under 18," according to the Japan Daily Press.

There's just one problem: The proposed law doesn't distinguish between sexual images of actual children and the "virtual child porn" that can be found all over Japan (and much of the rest of the world) in the form of animated short features ("anime") and sexy comic strips in book and magazine form ("manga").

In the U.S., though, importers of Japanese anime have been careful to make it clear that the characters depicted, young-looking as they may be, are supposed to be adults.

"I'm very familiar with the current state of Japanese anime, and there's a lot less of it being made than ever before, mostly because of all the piracy," said one industry professional familiar with the market. "I personally have never been approached with or seen any animation that was child pornography or a minor portrayed in a sexual situation, and as far as I am aware, there is none being sold in the United States. For example, there are series about doctors and nurses working in a hospital—how could any of those people be under 18 years old? I talk with Japanese suppliers all the time about what are the hottest trends, what's selling the best, what broadcasters are looking for, what stores are looking for, and a MILF genre has always been something that we've discussed. It's different than their usual style, but it's something they have been embracing for the last several years and have been expanding into."

If the proposed law passes—and there's good reason to think it will, since the LDP and its allies control the Diet's Lower House and can pass the bill unilaterally even without a vote by the Upper House after a 60-day waiting period—then Japanese citizens possessing sexy anime will face fines of ¥1,000,000 (US$10,437) per offense... and if the person has been found to possess the material "for the purpose of satisfying sexual curiosity," add a sentence of up to one year in prison for that "enhancement."

Several anime and manga creators including graphic novelist Izumi Mito/"Raika Kobayashi" and manga creator Ken Akamatsu have spoken against the bill before the Diet, but the bill's sponsors hope to have the law in place by the time the current legislative session ends on June 26.

Meanwhile, roughly half a world away, British feminist organizations UK Feminista and Object have enlisted the aid of 11 attorneys for a pro-censorship program dubbed "Lose the Lad Mags," an attempt to get the country's newsstands, bookstores and even supermarkets to stop carrying such sexy fare as FHM, Front, Gear, Loaded, Nuts and Stuff, all of which contain female nudity.

"The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign by UK Feminista and Object is calling on high-street retailers to immediately withdraw lads' mags and papers featuring pornographic front covers from their stores," the groups wrote in a letter to the Guardian newspaper. "Each one of these stores is a workplace. Displaying these publications in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs, may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Similarly, exposing customers to these publications in the process of displaying them is capable of giving rise to breaches of the Equality Act.  High-street retailers are exposing staff and, in some cases, customers to publications whose handling and display may breach equality legislation. Displaying lads' mags and pornographic papers in 'mainstream' shops results in the involuntary exposure of staff and, in some cases, customers to pornographic images."

The groups charged that failure to remove the magazines would leave retailers "vulnerable to legal action by staff and, where those publications are visibly on display, by customers," and that the magazines promote "sexist attitudes and behavior," and "underpin violence against women." Similar arguments, of course, are often heard in the U.S. from conservative religious groups, which usually save their most potent barbs for hardcore adult videos and magazines.

However, as Toby Young, a blogger for The Telegraph, points out, "If lads' mags do indeed "underpin… violence against women" and transmit "incredibly dangerous messages", you'd expect an increase in violence against women to coincide with increased sales of lads' mags. In fact, the opposite is the case. Lads' mags first appeared in the mid-90s and the most popular ones, such as Loaded, sold upwards of 450,000 at their peak, yet between 1997 and 2009 incidents of domestic violence fell by 64 percent, according to British Crimes Survey. ... Far from increasing violence against women, the widespread availability of pornography actually decreases it. So if these well-heeled, middle-class feminists really care about protecting their more vulnerable sisters, they should be launching a campaign called Save the Lads' Mags, not Lose the Lads' Mags."

And indeed, not all UK feminists are on board with the campaign.

"The Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign presents the relationship between harassment and pornographic representation as an a priori truth," wrote Nichi Hodgson of NewStatesman. "Both Object and UK Feminista are convinced that female objectification can be nothing but demeaning. The notion that it is possible for women to be 'active objects' and in control of their own sexual representation, or that sex, power and desire entwine in a trickier amoral triad than equality legislation can conceive of, may fall beyond the remit of this campaign—but neither UK Feminista nor Object engage with these complexities anywhere in their public-facing campaign work. Instead, the message is quite simply 'button up, or you’re being degraded'."

It's a charge that many American adult performers have had to deal with, but fortunately, unlike actresses and models in the United Kingdom, they have the First Amendment to protect them.