Is child pornography legal in Japan?

As of June 2014, a law prohibiting the possession of child pornography passed in Japan.* Once this law was implemented a month later, a one-year moratorium was placed on the penalties for possession, so as to encourage men to dispose of their child pornography collection over time. As it stands today, the penalty for possessing child pornography is up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of one million yen, or $9.800.

Around this same time, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government also made illegal the selling of manga depicting and sexualizing the rape of children, such as “Little Sisters Paradise! 2,” directly to children. Adults, however, were well within their rights to pick up a copy. In fact, to this day it is still legal to possess and distribute animated and illustrated depictions of children being raped and in other exploitative sexual interactions.

Under Japan’s “Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children,” only people who perpetrate against children directly are recognized as having violated the rights of children. As there are no “real” children in manga and in anime, artists, free speech advocates, and publishers have argued that there is no harm. By invoking the Japanese government’s strict censorship before World War II, these groups of people (namely, male) have successfully managed to morph the issue of sexualizing children into a fight against the government’s ideological repression of sexuality. For these anti-censorship crusaders, the matter of harm that their “free speech” does to children (sexualizing children, portraying children as sex-starved “Lolita’s,” making entertainment of child sexual abuse, suggesting that children understand and desire sex on the same cognitive and emotional level as adults) does not seem to matter.

These are the same advocates fighting for the right to code and  distribute the popular “RapeLay” – or “rape play” – a game in which the protagonist must grope, stalk, confine, and rape a mother and her two daughters to win the game.

In more recent times, there have been increased demands within Japan to more strictly prohibit the sexualizing of children via manga, anime, and so on. As of yet, additional police efforts on further legislation have been blocked by stakeholders in the publishing industry.

* In 1999, Japan outlawed the production, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography. Possession without intention to distribution remained legal in all prefectures (except for Kyoto and Nara, which have both explicitly banned child pornography possession on the grounds that it is obviously harmful).