Child pornography laws in Japan

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In Japan, simple possession of child pornography with no intent of sale or distribution is legal. However, the production, sale or distribution of child pornography is illegal.[1] Possession of child pornography with any intent of distribution or sale is also illegal.[1]

Pornographic art depicting underage characters (lolicon) and photography of underage models (Junior Idol) remain controversial.

Legal Background[edit]


Japan and Russia are the two G8 member states where simple possession of child pornography is legal. Compared to the United Nations, possession of child pornography is legal in 90 out of 193 UN member states.[2]


The Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children came into effect on May 26, 1999. Under Article 7, it outlawed the production, transport, import and export of child pornography, as well as possession of child pornography for the aforementioned purposes.[1]

Previously, obscenity was regulated by the 1907 Penal Code of Japan. Article 175 of the code has been applied to underage obscenity, notably in a 1993 case where a burusera shop owner was arrested on suspicion of possession for sale of obscene media, after he had invited a high school student to appear in a pornographic video.[3]

The penalty for possession with any intent of commercialization, sales, or distribution is a maximum imprisonment with labor for three years or a fine of three million yen (approximately $39,000). Japan's Child Welfare Act has also been applicable since 1947. Article 34 of the act states that "No person shall commit an act listed in any of the following items:" with line six specifying "Cause a child to commit an obscene act".[4]

Political Background[edit]

In June 2008, a bill proposing a ban on child pornography possession was submitted to the House of Representatives of Japan, where it was brought before the Diet in September, but failed to pass.[2] The Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party proposed to outlaw any possession of child pornography, but was countered by the Democratic Party of Japan with a different proposal.[5][6] The House of Representatives dissolved on July 21, 2009, and both proposals to revise the law were withdrawn. During the general election of the House of Representatives in August 2009, open letters written by politicians to a civilian organization showed that the politicians were divided on the matter.[7]

In 2008, the Japanese branch of UNICEF called on the government to outlaw simple possession of child pornography, as well as cartoon pornography depicting minors. It also called for tighter restriction of Junior Idol media under existing laws.[8] The United States ambassador to Japan has stated that Japan's lack of laws restricting possession of child pornography has impeded international investigations into child pornography.[2]

On August 25, 2011, the Liberal Democratic Party submitted a petition requesting stricter laws on child pornography, which included animated child pornography.[9][10] In late June 2013, the Liberal Democratic Party moved forward with their proposal. A decision has not yet been reached.[11]

A 2007 public opinion poll taken by the Japanese government showed that 86.5% of respondents believed that child pornography regulations should be applied to art and manga, while 90.9% endorsed regulation of "harmful materials" on the Internet.[12]

Junior Idols[edit]

While not considered explicitly pornographic, media portraying young idols is a large industry in Japan. Photobooks and videos of underage models in scant, tight fitting and revealing clothing are often taken to be provocative and pornographic in nature. The industry remains lucrative, with The Japan Times reporting an estimated 3 million idol photo books sold between 2006 and 2007.[12] However, child modeling in Japan is not seen in the same light as in the West, as many models are eventually offered acting, singing, or promotional careers.

Studios producing junior idol media are not exempt from current laws. After 2007, staff and heads of various video production firms were arrested on allegations that their productions overstepped legal boundaries.[13][14]

Lolicon and Shotacon[edit]

In Japan, lolicon is a broadly defined term that describes sexual attraction to underage girls. Outside of Japan, the term has been narrowed to describe drawn images and simulated pornography of young girls. The young boys equivalent is called shotacon.

Figures regarding the prevalence of lolicon and shotacon are hard to come by, but it is estimated that 30-40% of manga contain sexual references involving underage characters.[12] The age of consent in Japan is 13, but generally higher under prefectural laws.[15] No regulations are in place to control images portraying sexual content in manga or animation.[16]

Supporters of regulating simulated pornography claim to advocate human rights and children's rights such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Opponents such as the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (ja:日本弁護士連合会?) also claim to advocate for the rights of children, pointing out the decreasing numbers in sexually motivated crimes are due to simulated materials providing an outlet to those who would otherwise seek material depicting actual children.[17]

The constitutionality of proposed laws have been discussed, since Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan guarantees freedom of speech, press and all other forms of expression. The definitions of obscenity, specifically written in law as "arouses or stimulates the viewer's sexual desire", have been argued as ambiguous.[18]


  1. ^ a b c "Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children". 1999-05-26. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  2. ^ a b c Japan police crack down on 300 child porn cases Kubota, Yuko. Reuters. Accessed August 19, 2009
  3. ^ Police White Paper, 1994. (in Japanese)
  4. ^ "Child Welfare Act". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  5. ^ Proposal by the ruling parties (in Japanese)
  6. ^ Democrat's counterproposal (in Japanese)
  7. ^ The Movements for Internet Active Users (MIAU) Answers to Question 8 (in Japanese)
  8. ^ Isabel Reynolds (2008-03-11). "UNICEF says Japan failing to control child porn". Reuters. 
  9. ^ Author: Artefact (2011-09-29). "LDP Seeks New Ban: "Manga & Anime = Virtual Child Abuse"". Sankaku Complex. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  10. ^ "請願:参議院ホームページ". Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  11. ^ "Loli Ban Not Rejected". Sankaku Complex. Retrieved 2013-07-13. 
  12. ^ a b c William Sparrow (2007-02-23). "Japan's Lolita merchants feel the heat". Asia Times. Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  13. ^ December3, 2007 (in Japanese)
  14. ^ July 19, 2009 (in Japanese)
  15. ^ Sexual Offenses Laws - Japan by Interpol, Aug 3, 2007
  16. ^ Japan main culprit in online child pornography by Noriko Sakakibara of The Daily Yomiuri, ANN, AsiaOne. December 4, 2008
  17. ^ Statement on February 21, 2003 (in Japanese) Archived 18 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ The Japan PEN Club's statement on November 26, 1998 (in Japanese)