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Vagina Art & the Paradox of Japanese Censorship Laws

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Published on Aug 14, 2015

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In July, artist Megumi Igarashi, a.k.a. Rokudenashiko, was arrested on obscenity charges after building a vagina-shaped kayak and distributing data that would allow people to 3D print a model of her genitals. She was released shortly thereafter but re-arrested again in early December; the day before Christmas, she was released on bail. She is currently undergoing a lengthly trial. If she's found guilty, she faces up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

There’s not much nuanced coverage of her case in Western media, but some experts say that it could be a landmark case for Japan, where strict obscenity laws forbid the depiction of genitals in all mediums, including art and pornography. However, despite these laws, traditional Japanese festivals persist--many of which openly celebrate genitals. We went to the annual Festival of the Steel Phallus, at which revelers gather in the streets to watch a procession of massive penis statues, to try to make sense of this contradiction: Why is a 3D-printed vagina classified as obscene, while a penis parade is seen as family friendly?

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