On Monday May 9, Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi was fined ¥400,000 (USD 3,700) by the Tokyo district court for distributing obscene images. Igarashi, also known as “Rokudenashi-ko” (which translates to “good-for-nothing girl” in English), was accused of unlawfully disseminating 3D data files of her vagina online in July 2014. The files were shared in 2013 with those who contributed to a crowd-sourcing campaign to fund the building of her “pussy boat,” a kayak shaped from a mould of the artist’s vagina.
During her first arrest in July 2014, the then 44-year-old artist’s vagina-inspired works caused her house and studio to be raided, and cell phone and computer seized. She was incarcerated by police for distributing 3D data of her genitalia that was available by donation from various buyers online. She was released five days later following a large-scale petition signed by thousands and a legal appeal. In December of the same year, Igarashi was arrested for disseminating the 3D plans for her “pussy boat” online and displaying the completed kayak in a Tokyo sex shop. Prosecutors at the time had sought an ¥800,000 (USD 7,350) fine.
On Monday morning this week, the presiding judge for Igarashi’s case, Mihoko Tanabe, dropped the charge relating to the display of plaster versions of “pussy boat” at the adult goods shop in Tokyo, explaining that it did not exactly mirror the look of female genitalia; however, Igarashi was found guilty over the 3D files distributed online. According to Kyodo News, Tanabe asserted that despite the data being “flat and inorganic” it still had the potential to “sexually arouse viewers.”
Igarashi describes herself as a “DECO-man” artist who decorates moulds of her vagina (referred as “manko” in Japanese slang) in an effort to lighten the conservative views surrounding female genitalia in Japan. She has sought to make the vagina more “casual and pop,” making colorful figurines and humorous depictions of her vagina-alter ego, “Manko-chan,” or “Miss Pussy.” Responding to the recent charges, Igarashi informed ArtAsiaPacific that “the Japanese judicial world is too rigid and conservative” and that “because [her] works are sexually provocative . . . the court ignored all issues about feminism, ready-made and conceptual art,” a point which Igarashi and her attorney sought to raise. Igarashi also commented, “I learnt that is has been 30 years since an artist won charges against the obscenity law. I will fight until this is completely won, even if it goes up to the Supreme Court.”
Igarashi’s high-profile case has drawn widespread criticism of what many regard as an outdated obscenity law that censors and prohibits free artistic speech in Japan. Accusations of double standards and selective practices of Japanese laws regarding sexual representation have also come to fore. While the country has a booming pornography industry, the obscenity law prohibits representations of male and female reproductive organs, requiring such images to be blurred or pixelated. Igarashi maintains that her artworks are not obscene, and will continue to appeal the Tokyo District Court’s ruling.