Censorship in Japan

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Censorship in Japan is effectively mandated through the Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan with regards to pornography.

While Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits formal censorship, effective censorship of pornographic content does exist and is justified by the Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan. Historically the law has been interpreted in different ways—recently it has been interpreted to mean that all pornography must be at least partly censored; however, there have been very few arrests based on this law.[1]


Edo Period[edit]

As publishing became more popular in the Edo Period, the Tokugawa shogunate began to turn to censorship. Initial targets included Christianity, criticism of the shogunate, and information on the activities of the Tokugawa clan. With the Kansei Reforms, any material deemed to be disturbing the traditional way of life, as well as luxury publications came under scrutiny. Under the Tempō Reforms, printing blocks of erotic literature, as well as the novels of Tamenaga Shunsui and Tanehiko Ryūtei were among those seized.

Meiji Period and the Pacific War[edit]

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which marked a major political shift in Japan, the government began heavy censorship of Western ideas, pornography and any political writings critical of the Emperor of Japan and government, wanting to control the spread of information. Censorship of materials increased from this point, often using ongoing wars to increase police penalties. In 1930, the death penalty was added to the list of punishments deemed acceptable for certain violations. This continued, eventually to the Information and Propaganda Department (情報部, Jōhōbu) being elevated to the Information Bureau (情報局, Jōhō Kyoku) in 1940, which consolidated the previously separate information departments from the Army, Navy and Foreign Ministry under the aegis of the Home Ministry. The new Bureau had complete control over all news, advertising and public events. The following year revision of the National Mobilization Law (国家総動員法, Kokka Sōdōin Hō) eliminated freedom of the press entirely, doing things such as forcing papers in each prefecture to either merge into one paper or cease publication, with all articles by the paper having to be screened by government censors before they could be published.

Occupation of Japan[edit]

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers abolished all forms of censorship and controls on Freedom of Speech, which was also integrated into Article 21 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. However, press censorship remained a reality in the post-war era, especially in matters of pornography, and in political matters deemed subversive by the American government during the occupation of Japan.

According to Donald Keene:

Not only did Occupation censorship forbid criticism of the United States or other Allied nations, but the mention of censorship itself was forbidden. This means, as Donald Keene observes, that for some producers of texts "the Occupation censorship was even more exasperating than Japanese military censorship had been because it insisted that all traces of censorship be concealed. This meant that articles had to be rewritten in full, rather than merely submitting XXs for the offending phrases."

Dawn to the West[2]


Under Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan, most pornography in Japan must be at least partially censored.

Due to the current interpretation of Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan, which forbids distributing "indecent" materials, it is believed that most pornography in Japan must be at least partially censored. The primary means is to put a digital mosaic over genitalia. There have, however, been very few arrests for violations of this law.[1]

The most recent trial based on this law, the first in 20 years, was the conviction of Suwa Yuuji in January 2004 for his hentai manga Misshitsu. He was originally fined 500,000 yen (about US$4,900) and avoided jail time by pleading guilty. When he appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Japan on arguments that the manga was not as indecent and explicit as much material on the Internet and that Article 175 violated the Japanese Constitution's protection of freedom of expression, the Court upheld the ruling and the fine was tripled to 1.5 million yen.[3]

After Yuuji's conviction, a number of bookstores and chains removed their adults-only section. Their motivation has been attributed to chilling effect of the outcome.[4]

In July 2013, three people related to the Core Magazine, a Japanese publishing company focused on adult material, were arrested for selling "obscene images" with "insufficient censoring".[5][6] They later pleaded guilty in December 2013.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Natsui, Takato (July 2003). Cybercrimes in Japan: Recent Cases, Legislations, Problems and Perspectives (PDF). NetSafe II: Society, Safety & the Internet. New Zealand: netsafe. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  2. ^ David M. Rosenfeld, quoting from Donald Keene (Dawn to the West. New York: Henry Holt, 1984. p. 967.) in Unhappy Soldier: Hino Ashihei and Japanese World War II Literature, p. 86, note 5.
  3. ^ "COMIC MEGA STORE Publication Suspended Due to Obscenity Investigation | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund". cbldf.org. Retrieved 2018-05-09.
  4. ^ Gravett, Paul (2004). "Chapter 09: Personal Agendas". Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. London: Laurence King Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 1-85669-391-0. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  5. ^ "Core Magazine's Head Editor, 2 More Arrested for 'Obscene' Manga, Photos". Anime News Network.
  6. ^ "Japanese Editor Arrested for Distributing Obscene Images | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund".
  7. ^ "Core Magazine Pleads Guilty in Japanese Obscenity Case | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund".


  • Allison, Anne. Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8133-1698-7.
  • Hirano, Kyōko. Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: The Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation, 1945–1952. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1992. ISBN 1-56098-157-1, ISBN 1-56098-157-1. OCLC 25367560.
  • Mitchell, Richard H. Censorship in Imperial Japan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-691-05384-7. OCLC 9219486.
  • Rubin, Jay. Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984. ISBN 0-295-96043-4.

Further reading[edit]

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