Moral Low Ground


Japan Charges 3D Printing ‘Vagina Artist’ Megumi Igarashi with Obscenity

Megumi Igarashi in her vagina kayak, made from a 3D print of her own genitals. (AFP photo)

Megumi Igarashi in her vagina kayak, made from a 3D print of her own genitals. (AFP photo)

A Japanese woman who uses 3D printing to create works of art shaped like her vagina has been charged with distributing obscene data in a case that has sparked widespread debate about freedom of expression and censorship.

Megumi Igarashi, 42, who goes by the pseudonym Rokudenashiko (“good-for-nothing girl”), was charged Wednesday in Tokyo District Court for displaying her vagina-based artwork and distributing data that could be used to print 3D copies of her genitals, Asahi Shimbun reports.

Igarashi’s work includes smartphone cases, picture frames and other objects shaped like her genitals. She also creates vagina-themed manga, or comics.

“I want my vagina to travel around the world,” Igarashi said of her most famous work, a kayak made from a 3D print of her vagina. The project drew worldwide attention — and plenty of domestic controversy.

Controversial Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi explains why she created her vagina kayak: 

Igarashi said she was “surprised” by her indictment.

“I am very surprised that the police determined the work was ‘obscene,’ so I cannot accept that decision,” Igarashi said.

“My works are all meant to induce friendly laughter because they involve cutely decorating sexual organs,” she added, reading from a prepared statement. “The works are not obscene.”

Igarashi was first arrested in July for alleged violations of Japanese obscenity laws after she emailed 3D scanner data of her genitals to contributors to a crowdfunding campaign to build her kayak project. She was freed after tens of thousands of people signed an online petition urging her release.

On December 3, Igarashi was arrested again, this time with feminist author and Tokyo sex shop owner Minori Kitahara, on similar charges.

Yoko Tajima, a professor of women’s studies at Tokyo’s Hosei University, told Asahi Shimbun that Japanese police need to update their definition of obscenity.

“The definition of obscenity used by police is outdated,” said Tajima. “In this era of diversity, freedom of expression should be firmly in place.”

Many critics have noted what they say is the sexism and hypocrisy of contemporary Japanese culture, in which popular television programs and animated art often depict women in degrading scenarios without running afoul of obscenity laws. Some religious festivals in Japan also display ubiquitous phallic imagery, including giant penis sculptures, without raising eyebrows or ire.

Perfectly OK, because religion. (Photo: Guilhem Vellut/Flickr Creative Commons)

Perfectly OK, because religion. (Photo: Guilhem Vellut/Flickr Creative Commons)

Much of the problem, say critics, is rooted in the conservative and modest nature of traditional Japanese culture. Many Japanese claim saying the word ‘vagina’ remains taboo, with many people saying “down there” instead.

“When I say the word ‘vagina,’ men, especially, get very angry with me,” Igarashi explained to VPRO Metropolis. “I don’t want them to get angry when I say ‘vagina.'”

“Don’t be angry, ‘vagina’ is just a word,” she insisted.

Dismissing concerns about sexism, hypocrisy, freedom of expression and censorship, a high-ranking official at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department told Asahi Shimbun that “a certain limit is necessary to maintain public morals when it comes to sexual matters.”

“We arrested [Igarashi] based on court rulings and other data. We will take similar actions in the future,” the unnamed official said.

According to the Japan Times, Igarashi faces up to two years behind bars and a fine of up to ¥2.5 million ($20,750) if found guilty.

Igarashi has vowed to fight her indictment “all the way to the Supreme Court” if necessary.

Other Japanese artists who have tested, or in some cases crossed, the line of acceptable behavior have found themselves in legal trouble. In 2012, Mao Sugiyama was charged by Tokyo Metropolitan Police with conspiracy to “openly display severed male genitals” to dozens of art aficionados after he publicly cooked and served four of them his own surgically removed penis and testicles in a bid to raise awareness about transgender and asexual people.

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