In 2009, a legislative amendment that would prohibit the depiction of any virtual youth appearing to be under the age of 18 engaging in sexual activity was proposed in Tokyo. As a result of the language used being vague and open to interpretation, the bill was pushed back for revision by the Democratic Party of Japan.
Following revision, the bill has been officially passed by the Tokyo government, hoping to prevent the sale of material containing underage sexual activity along with themes of rape and incest in Japanese media to those under the age of 18. This covers games, anime and manga.
The Tokyo government is encouraging these industries to regulate themselves, and prevent the sale of such material to minors, and this self-regulation will be mandated from April 1st, 2011.
The bill in question, Bill 156, classifies this harmful content as “Any manga, animation, or pictures (but not including real life pictures or footage) that features either sexual or pseudo-sexual acts that would be illegal in real life, or sexual or pseudo-sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal, where such depictions and / or presentations unjustifiably glorify or exaggerate the activity.”
The bill also empowers the Tokyo government to restrict manga, anime and other media — excluding live photography, ironically — that unjustifiably glorify sexual acts. Reuters report that in the interest of free speech and expression, a work’s artistic and social merits will be taken into account during the regulation process.
So, now for the big question: How exactly will this regulation of adult material take place? That’s where things get rather dicey.
By Bill 156, if a publisher releases content that the Tokyo government deems to be harmful to minors more than 6 times within a single year, the publisher will be reported to the self-regulatory body responsible for it. If the publisher offends again within half a year, the Tokyo Governor will have a right to humiliate them publicly.
To put things into perspective, Japan already has an “adult comics” rating for manga to prevent sales of adult material to minors. All material currently labelled as being “adult only” is accommodated in a separate section of Japanese retail stores, away from the “regular” material. Bill 156 seeks to restrict such subject matter.
Retail stores found violating the bill will potentially face fines of up to 300,000 yen ($3,573) once it passes on July 1st 2011. Keep in mind, however, that this bill’s effect on publishing and distribution of “harmful” works will only be felt in the Tokyo Metropolitan area.
But what about digital content, which is quickly catching on? Bill 156 covers this, too. Mobile phones are the most widespread means of accessing digital content as well as browsing the Internet in Japan. The Tokyo government now has the authority to prevent access of certain material to mobile phone users under the age of 18, based on their registered age, through an Internet filter that is activated by default.
If the minor’s parents wish to deactivate this filter, they will be required to submit a written request to the concerned cell phone provider.
Manga publishers in Japan have voiced their intention to challenge the bill until it passes, and have already begun to demonstrate their objection. A group of ten major publishers, for instance, are refusing to participate in March 2011’s Tokyo Anime Fair in opposition of the bill.
Longtime Japanese media translator, Dan Kanemitsu’s blog has a translation of an interview with Tokyo Governor, Shintaro Ishihara, conducted by Weekly Asahi magazine, where Ishihara comments on his outlook on the bill and why it is being passed.