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Child pornography laws in Japan

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The production, sale, distribution, and commercialization of child pornography in Japan is illegal under the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children (1999),[1] and is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a fine of ¥5,000,000.[2] Simple possession of child pornography was made illegal by an amendment to the act in 2014.[1] Virtual child pornography, which depicts wholly-fictional characters, is legal to produce and possess.

Manga artists and anime directors have argued that it is dangerous to try to define child pornography when it comes to artwork, drawings, and animation when regarding hentai due to it being highly ambiguous, and have cited freedom of expression to prevent it from being abused. For example, they argued that even in the anime and manga series Doraemon, the scene of the schoolgirl Shizuka Minamoto taking a bath might be construed as "child pornography".[3] Arts depicting underage characters (lolicon and shotacon) and photography of underage models (junior idol) remain controversial in Japan.[4][5]




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.[6]

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 $30,000). Production or distribution of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment with labor for up to five years and a fine of up to five million yen (approximately $50,000). Article 34 of the Child Welfare Act, applicable since 1947, 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".[7]

However, there were no laws addressing the simple possession of any kind of pornography in general (which included child pornography, with no intent to sale or distribute). On 4 June 2014, a bill was approved to be passed to ban the possession, closing this loophole in the nation's child pornography prohibition law, although it did not apply to hentai in anime and manga in order to prevent abuse of the law.[8][3][9] The bill passed on 18 June.[10]

Political background


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.[11] 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.[12][13] 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.[14]

In 2008, the Japanese branch of UNICEF called on the government to outlaw simple possession of child pornography, as well as manga and anime pornography depicting minors. It also called for tighter restrictions of Junior idol media under existing laws.[15] 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.[11]

On August 25, 2011, the Liberal Democratic Party submitted a petition requesting stricter laws on child pornography, which included child pornography in anime.[16] In late June 2013, the Liberal Democratic Party moved forward with their proposal.[citation needed]

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 anime and manga, while 90.9% endorsed regulations of "harmful materials" on the Internet.[17]

Junior idols


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 photobooks sold between 2006 and 2007.[17]

While junior idol content currently stands on legally ambiguous ground due to open interpretations of child pornography laws,[17][18] 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.[19][20] Multiple junior idol distributors closed after possession of child pornography was made illegal in Japan in 2014.[21]

Lolicon and shotacon


In Japan, lolicon is an attraction to visually underage girls by men or women of any age. It can also involve attraction to older characters with youthful neotenic features that make them appear to be younger than they really are. Lolicon is a hentai subgenre in doujinshi, manga, anime, and video games in which childlike characters are usually depicted in an ero kawaii (erotic cute) manner, which can range from explicitly pornographic to mildly suggestive, romantic, or entirely non-sexual.[22] The young boys equivalent is called shotacon. Outside Japan, lolicon only refers to the hentai subgenre, usually involving simulated pornography.

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.[17] The age of consent in Japan was 13, however it was raised to 16 in 2023 with the adoption of a new sex crime law which also established grooming, voyeurism, and asking for sexual images of children under the age of 16 as crimes.[23][24][25] No regulations are in place to control images portraying sexual content of hentai in manga or anime.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28][29]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children; Act No. 52 of May 26, 1999". Japanese Law Translation. 26 May 1999. Archived from the original on 21 February 2012. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  2. ^ "2011 Human Rights Reports: Japan". 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, United States Department of State. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b Kawamoto, Hiroshi (5 June 2014). "Japan nears outlawing possession of child pornography". The Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  4. ^ "Ban on possession of child porn takes effect in Japan". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. 15 July 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  5. ^ "Japan finally enforces ban on possession of child sex abuse images - but not in manga or anime". The Independent. 16 July 2015.
  6. ^ Police White Paper, 1994. (in Japanese)
  7. ^ "Child Welfare Act". Japaneselawtranslation.go.jp. Archived from the original on 21 February 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  8. ^ "Japan to finally outlaw possession of child porn, but manga gets free pass". The Japan Times. Agence France-Presse, Jiji Press. 4 June 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Possession of child porn to be banned". Yomiuri Shimbun. Jiji Press. 4 June 2014. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  10. ^ "Japan passes law banning possession of child pornography". CNN. 18 June 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  11. ^ a b Japan police crack down on 300 child porn cases Kubota, Yuko. Reuters. Accessed August 19, 2009
  12. ^ Proposal by the ruling parties Archived September 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine (in Japanese)
  13. ^ Democrat's counterproposal (in Japanese)
  14. ^ The Movements for Internet Active Users (MIAU) Answers to Question 8 (in Japanese)
  15. ^ Isabel Reynolds (11 March 2008). "UNICEF says Japan failing to control child porn". Reuters.
  16. ^ "請願:参議院ホームページ". Sangiin.go.jp. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  17. ^ a b c d William Sparrow (23 February 2007). "Japan's Lolita merchants feel the heat". Asia Times. Archived from the original on 17 May 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2008.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  18. ^ Galbraith, Patrick W. (8 July 2009). "Innocence lost: the dark side of Akihabara". Metropolis. Archived from the original on 12 March 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2021 – via JapanToday.
  19. ^ December 3, 2007 Archived February 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine (in Japanese)
  20. ^ July 19, 2009 Archived July 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine (in Japanese)
  21. ^ ""聖地"も閉店 ジュニアアイドルDVDビジネスはあと半年の命か". Tokyo Sports (in Japanese). 7 February 2015. Archived from the original on 5 June 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  22. ^ Thompson, Jason (2007). Manga: The Complete Guide. Del Rey. p. 501. ISBN 978-0-345-48590-8.
  23. ^ "Access Asia - Japan: New legislation redefines rape, raises age of consent". 16 June 2023.
  24. ^ "New Bills Redefine Rape and Raise Japan's Age of Consent Green Network Asia". 5 July 2023.
  25. ^ Yamaguchi, Mari (16 June 2023). "Japan raises the age of sexual consent to 16 from 13, which was among the world's lowest". Associated Press. Retrieved 25 June 2023.
  26. ^ Japan main culprit in online child pornography Archived 2009-07-15 at the Wayback Machine by Noriko Sakakibara of The Daily Yomiuri, ANN, AsiaOne. December 4, 2008
  27. ^ Statement on February 21, 2003 (in Japanese) Archived 18 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ The Japan PEN Club's statement on November 26, 1998 (in Japanese)
  29. ^ McCurry, Justin (27 October 2015). "Japan urged to ban manga child abuse images". The Guardian – via www.theguardian.com.