Today, the Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court decision finding Megumi Igarashi guilty of obscenity for distributing 3D printable scans of her vagina. The court ordered her to pay a fine of ¥400,000 ($3,700).
For those that have been following this story, Megumi Igarashi — the 45-year-old artist working under the pseudonym “Rokudenashi-ko” or “good-for-nothing girl” whose artwork often centres around women’s rights and freedom of expression — was arrested in 2014 for distributing 3D printable files of her own vagina. She had crowdfunded the files in order to fund an art project — a full-scale, functional kayak modelled on her own vagina. Since her first arrest in 2014 she has been defying the original court ruling which has resulted in further arrests and additional fines.
Japan’s obscenity laws ban the depiction of genitalia in the public realm, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison and/or a fine of ¥2.5m. Indeed — whilst Japan has a thriving porn industry — genitals are required, by law, to be pixellated out of pornographic imagery. However, the trial garnered international attention and criticism from the outset for an obvious double-standard. Critics pointed out the hypocrisy of Igarashi’s arrest at a time when the Japanese authorities were resisting public pressure to ban pornographic images of minors in manga and anime. As Igarashi explained at the time “I’ve been working to change the concept of obscenity, which is usually seen from the perspective of men. I’m mortified the judge (who is female) didn’t understand that”.
A further contradiction Igarashi aims to highlight is that whilst there is a great deal of taboo surrounding the vagina, the penis has long been venerated — look no further than the Kanamara Matsuri in Kawasaki Prefecture where each year the penis is publicly celebrated through illustrations, parade decorations, and even edible candy. In an online post Igarashi said of this contradiction, “Manko (pussy) has been such a taboo in Japanese society. [The] penis, on the other hand, has been used in illustrations… as a part of pop culture. But pussy has never been so cute. Pussy has been thought to be obscene because it’s been overly hidden, although it is just a part of women’s body”.
Today’s verdict found Igarashi guilty of distributing pornographic content — the judge ruled that the 3D scans posted online realistically portrayed the shape of a vagina and could therefore sexually arouse viewers. However, she has been cleared of a different charge relating to the displaying of miniture plaster models of her vagina-kayak project. In the latter case, the judge ruled that she had not broken any obscenity laws as the kayaks didn’t overly resemble a vagina in colour.
This may seem to be a setback for Igarashi and her mission, but in the end the ruling further demonstrates the inconsistencies, in all their absurdity, in the very laws and societal norms she aims to challenge. Even after the verdict, it was clear she has every intention of continuing the challenge; “I’ve always believed that I’m innocent… The 3D data is guilty and Decoman (plaster artwork) is not — the same judgment with the first trial, which I can’t agree [with]” Igarashi said at a news conference in Tokyo.
The story continues.