Nonexistent Youth's Guide to Regulation and Censorship in Japan
May 2010 Edition
(Ver. 2010.05.9.01)
by Dan Kanemitsu
In every era, authority is enticed by the allure of censorship. Expecting children to grow-up wholesome by putting a lid on unpleasant things is fiction in of itself. It is unfortunate that we can only rely upon "nonexistent politicians" to be wholesome enough to realize that there is a difference between moral standards for right and wrong versus legal enforcement.

- Ehime Shinbun Editorial, March 20th, 2010.[1]

What is this guide?
   This guide what put together by Dan Kanemitsu, a translator living in Japan to help explain current events surrounding regulation and censorship of manga, anime, and other fictional material. This guide is a work in progress.

What is going on?
   There is a bill pending in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly to regulate all fictional material featuring minors involved in sexual situations. The bill is posed as a "youth protection legislation" and is coupled to together with provisions regarding how minors may access information.

Why is it a big deal?
   1) It gives the Tokyo Metropolitan Government the power to deem what is appropriate for general audiences and what should be restricted to adults. Bureaucrats will have the power to decide what is "wholesome for youth," versus what is "harmful for youth." 
   2) Because publishers will be handicapped for releasing mature material that might be deemed to be "harmful for youth," the current rich diversity in Japan's visual fiction entertainment industry will be threatened. Polarization is likely to happen, where the industry will self-regulate and self-censor material into two camps--material acceptable for all ages versus what should be restricted to adults.
   3) The ordnance has provisions that imply pure fiction involving minors involved in sexual situations should be discouraged from public discourse. The bill employs extremely vague and subjective definitions for what constitutes material that should be restricted. These two factors will have a profound chilling effect upon all author's freedom to construct narratives, regardless of artistic worth or social commentary.
   4) Tokyo can perhaps be considered the world's epicenter for manga, anime, video games, doujinshis, and other forms popular creative fiction and visual entertainment. Any regulation conducted in Tokyo will not only impact the industry on a national level, but will most certainly have a global impact.

Is this a ban on (loli/shota/BL)?
   No, it is not a total ban, since this bill is more about zoning fiction into "general versus adult" catagories.
   What is scary, however, is that this could very well beginning of bans on fiction based on subject matter, since the bill basically states that "minors, even if they don't exist, should not be sexualized."

What is the name of the bill?
   "Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths" revision bill.
   Here is the original Japanese amendment bill:
   And no, the bill is not listed on any pages of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government web site as of March 31st, 2010.

Who is charge of administrating the bill if its passed?
   Office for Youth Affairs and Public Safety, Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

What are the specific provisions in the bill?
   If passed, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) will have the power to conduct the following:
   1) The TMG will have more control over minor's use of the Internet and mobile phones. Parents will be discouraged to remove Internet filtering provisions from their children's mobile phones. The TMG can specify which mobile phones minors should be using.
   2) The TMG already has the power to designate "any material that may be detrimental toward the healthy development of youth because of their capacity to be sexually stimulating, encourages cruelty, and/or may compel suicide or criminal behavior" as being "harmful material," and thereby force it to be restricted. This bill will create an entire new class of harmful content category where any fictional material involving visual representations of "nonexistent youth," (anyone who looks like or sounds like being a minor) in sexual acts or any acts that might be considered sexual, could be considered to be "harmful material," and thereby be subject to be restriction.
   3) The bill makes it the responsibility of all citizens and organizations in Tokyo to cease possession of child pornography, even though the definition of what constitutes child pornography is vague and confusing in Japan. (See section titled "What the big deal with child pornography in Japan?" at the very bottom for more information.) 
   4) The bill allows the TMG to encourage the elimination of child pornography and the prevention of "rampant availability" of fictional visual representations of sexualized youth, possibly through establishing and funding groups that would attempt to alter public opinion to accept the notion that reckless sexualized youth in fiction is harmful and must be discouraged in material consumed for all audiences.

Could you clarify exactly what types of material does this bill try to restrict?
   It is not easy, and that is why so many creative types and industry people are against it. 
   The bill first establishes that "any visual or audio representation of an individual that can be identified as being under 18 due to their age, dress, school grade, background, and/or any other element that can be determined as an indicator of their age" shall be defined as "nonexistent youth." This definition is breathtakingly vague--especially the part about voices. How someone could be identified as being over 18 or not based on their voice is hard to conceptualize. 
   Next, the bill stipulates that "any depiction that can be identified through visual means as sexual and/or pseudo-sexual acts" involving nonexistent youth which can be characterized as "a reckless depiction" that positively reinforces the attitude that youth can be considered "an object of sexualization" conducted to a such a level that "may impede the development of a healthy capacity for judgement regarding sexuality of youth and thereby impede the healthy development of youth" should be self-regulated as being harmful.
   Confused? So are we.
   So to recap: 
   Any fiction that features someone identifiable as a minor + involved in sexual and/or sexual like act + that recklessly depicts youth as a object of sexualization in a positive light + which may impede the wholesome mental development of youth regarding his/her sexuality => shall be self-regulated as being harmful content.
   But that's not all. That dealt with material that was to be "self-regulated." There is material that the TMG could unilaterally regulate. The following material is to be rigorously restricted--"Any presentation that can be identified through visual means as sexual and pseudo-sexual acts involving "nonexistent youths" whereby acts such as rape that can be determined as being highly contrary to social norms, depicted in a positive light and thereby may highly impede the development of a healthy capacity for judgement regarding sexuality of youth and thereby impede the healthy development of youth."
   Another recap:
   Any fiction that features someone identifiable as a minor + involved in "anti-social" sexual and/or sexual like act + depicted in a positive light + which may highly impede the wholesome mental development of youth regarding his/her sexuality => shall be regulated as being harmful content.
   The problem with this ordinance is that it depends on so many subjective standards and vague assumptions. What constitutes "anti-social" can very from person to person, for example. The section regarding "depicting acts in a positive light" is also extremely hard to identify. Does this mean if the same rape story has an ending where the victim stabs the rapist to death it is okay, but if the story ends with the victim committing suicide it is should be considered adult content?
   Creators and industry people have hard enough time trying to figure out how their material would be accepted by their audiences. Asking them to become mind-readers to know how the TMG bureaucrats would interpret their stories is mind-boggling to say the least.

Could you be a little more clear about what's being targeted? What have the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said about material they want to go after?
   The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has been very ambiguous in public statements (which is expected) but documents leading to the creation of the bill and information extracted by Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members indicate that BL (Boys Love,) Yaoi, Ladies Comics, romantic Shojo Manga, and many publications aimed toward girls and women are being targeted. Risqu? comedy often featured in certain for boys and men's publications also appear to be on the radar screen, but since many of these books could be considered "too erotic," the blunt of the target appears to be aimed more toward "sensual and introspective romance" titles--a specialty of women's and girl's manga.
   Why are women's publications more likely to be affected by this bill? Because the common visual style in such material is not as graphic as with men's publications, and therefore "not erotic, but dangerous subject matter" criteria for regulation will probably have an impact of women more than men's manga and anime fiction.

Why isn't adult only erotica aimed for men targeted?
   Because most of these titles are already self-regulated as being designated only for adults, so the zoning provisions of this bill won't have a direct impact, but secondary influences (shrinking industry size, book stores discouraged from selling books, usage of convention and doujinshi event venues being denied) may well have an impact.

I heard the novels are not covered by this new regulation. Is this true? And why?
   That is correct. The TMG has said that "the representations of [events] in the form of text requires abilities on the part of the audience [to understand,] but with manga and anime visual imagery are understood regardless of age. In comparison with novels, children with little knowledge can be influenced easily [by manga and anime.]" [2]
   While the TMG has said novels are not covered, depending on how you read this bill, novels could fall afoul of this law.

Is it true that the current governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, wrote stories that could be restricted if this bill passes?
   You be the judge: "In 1955 a young writer of 23, Shintaro Ishihara, won the most famous Japanese literary prize, the Akutagawa Prize, for his second novel, whose original title meant 'Season of the Sun' (translated into English as Season of Violence). Its hero, a young [high school student] boxer, has as his motto, 'I do what I want, as I want'; he leads a bourgeois girl who falls madly in love with him to her death, then goes to disrupt the funeral ceremony. Ishihara followed up the next year with Punishment Room, whose main attraction is the rape of a girl student drugged by a rebellious delinquent student." [3]

So Ishihara's novels are safe because they are written in text, but if you did the exact same story in manga or anime, this bill could restrict it?
   Yes, that is correct.

Is publishing in Japan unregulated regarding content and zoning?
   No, it is not. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government already has the authority to classify material deemed to be too sexually stimulating, too sadistic, and/or prone to compel minors toward criminal activity as being "harmful to minors" and force zoning. Self-regulation is also mandated pertaining to material that "may be considered harmful to minors" for the above three reasons.
Many books with sexually explicit material are designated "adults only" by the publisher themselves. Furthermore, the wrapping (bagging) and partitioned zoning provisions were instituted in 2004 with the previous revision of the youth ordinance.
  A lot of doujinshi with explicit content have "adult only" warnings on either the cover or the back cover to prevent minors from accessing the publication.

I don't understand--If material that is "sexually stimulating" can already be classified as harmful content, then why do they need to expand the definition to include fiction featuring "minors involved in anti-social sexual situations?" 
   We have a hard time understanding this as well, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has responded a number of times stating that "some fiction featuring extreme anti-social sexual situations, such as rape and bestiality, cannot be regulated because they are not highly sexually stimulating to minors." [4]
   If we take their statements at face value, the seem to imply that certain "non-erotic" situations involving sexual situations must be regulated, not because they are sexually stimulating but because their mere existence is somehow dangerous, regardless of social or artistic statement such material might be making.
   It is important to note that a number of Japanese authors have employed the medium of manga to talk about their own experiences of rape and sexual abuse. This bill could very well silence such important social commentary. While the TMG has stated that "fiction that depicts anti-social sexual activities of minors in a negative light will not be restricted," once the bill passes publishers may be discouraged to take up such subject matter because they will want to avoid being at the mercy of how the TMG judges certain depictions as being "negative or positive."

Some say that authors, artists, industry people, and fans are overreacting. It's only a zoning provision and the TMG says they'll only go after "extreme dangerous stuff."
   It's true that the TMG has released numerous statements stressing that 1) only patently offensive material will be pursued, 2) numerous famous works released in the past won't be targeted, and 3) only a few titles will be marked for unilateral designation as "harmful content."   To this, those of us in the industry feel strongly that such assurances are worthless because 1) the TMG could change their guidelines of how they enforce the ordinance at anytime without any prior warning, 2) the claim that only "fringe material" would be targeted implies that mainstream material will be given preferential treatment, a condition that mocks the ideal of equal treatment by law enforcement, and 3) the self-regulatory requirement will have a profound impact on the creative community regardless of how many books are targeted by the TMG.
   Mr. Takashi Yamaguchi, a Tokyo based lawyer very active in opposing efforts to censor manga and anime, has pointed out there is something fundamentally wrong with legislation that assumes that the enforcers of the provision will be benevolent.

What is going on with this bill right now?
   The bill was submitted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, authorized by the Governor Ishihara and supported by his felow Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. The New Komeito Party (NKP) supports this legislation as well. However, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) actually are the largest voting block in the Tokyo Assembly. Some members of the DPJ have gone on record in opposing this bill, but not all members of the DPJ agree. So far, the DPJ opponents of the bill were able to force the debate of the bill to be extended in the committee deliberation phase, but the vote was very close. Other smaller parties, such as the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network (TSN,) have so far supported the DPJ's efforts to oppose the adoption of the bill.
   The bill will come back once more in June for a vote in the committee.

What will happen in June?
   No one exactly knows. Many creators and industry people are hoping to lobby the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly against this bill, but there are those that want this bill to be passed. It critically important that those that oppose this bill should make their voices heard.

Supplemental - What the big deal with child pornography in Japan?
   It is illegal to create, disseminate, sell, and share child pornography in Japan. Possession is currently legal and there is international pressure on Japan to make possession illegal as well.     The problem here is that currently material that would be considered protected speech in the US may fall afoul with Japan's definition of child pornography. 
   As of now, child pornography in Japan is currently defined as:
   1) Any pose of a child engaged in sexual intercourse or any conduct similar to sexual intercourse;
   2) Any pose of a child having his or her genital organs touched by another person or of a child touching another person's genital organs, which arouses or stimulates the viewer's sexual desire; 
   3) Any pose of a child wholly or partially naked, which arouses or stimulates the viewer's sexual desire.
   Many Diet members and others have expressed concern over the subjective and vague nature of the third section in this definition. A family photo could be cropped to appear sexually suggestive and then be planted upon a non-family member to make it look as if it was collected to satisfy sexual arousal. This and other concerns over lack of police oversight has lead to an intense debate in the national Diet over how outlawing possession of child pornography should be conducted. 
   In 2009, Democratic Party of Japan suggested that the troublesome third section be dropped, but Japanese police force and their backers in the Liberal Democratic Party insisted that the third section be left in to give authorities maximum discretion over what constitutes child pornography.

[1] -
[2] -
[3] - Pg. 110, Japan: the burden of success, Jean-Marie Bouissou.
[4] - and


Some Important Terms

LDP - Liberal Democratic Party. The conservative mainstream party in Japan that was in power most of the post-war era. The metropolitan caucus suffered their loss of majority in the July 2009 election, while in the national level, the LDP lost power following their overwhelming defeat in the August 30th, 2009 election of the House of Representatives, which is the lower house of the Japanese national legislative assembly, the Diet.

DPJ - Democratic Party of Japan. The opposition mainstream counterpart party to the LDP. The DPJ members include elements of both the left (former socialists) and the right (former LDP and other conservative party members.) The DPJ, together with the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network political group and the Japanese Communist Party, has a majority in Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. However, the governor of Tokyo is still the LDP politician, Shintaro Ishihara, so the DPJ has a difficult time in initiating legislative actions.

NKT - New Komeito Party. A socially conservative religious party noted for their desire for increasing social spending. The NKP is closely affiliated with a large Buddhist sect, the Soka Gakkai. The NKT entered into a political alliance with non-LDP factions in 1993 to become part of the ruling coalition, but after 1999, they have entered into a coalition with the LDP. They too suffered tremendous losses in the recent national election but actually managed to gain a seat in the local Tokyo election.

TMG - Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The current governor is a LDP politician, Shintaro Ishihara.

Office for Youth Affairs and Public Safety - A branch of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government responsible for affairs related to youth and their public safety.

TYAC - Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference (東京都青少年問題協議会.) A conference subordinate to the Office for Youth Affairs and Public Safety summoned by the governor to help aid in the formation and evaluation of policies pertaining to the youth of Tokyo. The current conference is the 28th Conference summoned on December 2008 with the goal of "addressing the wholesome development of youth in an era where mass media increases its spread within society." Previous sessions of the conference were open to the public, but this was discontinued after the 3rd meeting of the specialists subcommittee of the 28th Conference. The 28th Conference was responsible for the drafting of the revision of the youth protection ordinance to include regulation of "nonexistent youth" involved in anti-social sexual situations and other controversial provisions. The Governor of Tokyo has the power to select members of the conference and the 28th Conference is notorious for a membership skewed toward expanded regulation. The current membership does not include a single member from the publishing industry nor the film industry.

Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Evaluation Panel (東京都青少年健全育成審議会) - A panel subordinate to the TMG that deliberates and chooses which books are to be designated as being harmful. The membership of the panel is comprised of members of the publishing and film industry, a member from the convenience stores self-regulatory group, members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, newspaper editorialists, officials of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. While over 150 books are purchased each month to be evaluated for its "harmful impact" on minors, less the 10 books are usually designated as actually being harmful. There are numerous preliminary meetings that are conducted prior to the evaluation panel itself, and therefore there is considerable negotiations between the entertainment industry that creates material consumed by the public and the officials that regulate the material. The make-up of the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Evaluation Panel is designated by law and therefore is less prone to political interference.

Dan Kanemitsu
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