It garnered headlines worldwide and made a fringe figure the talk of the town. The arrest of Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) on July 12th ostensibly for “distributing obscene materials” after she made data for a 3D printing of her genitalia available to supporters of her crowdfunding campaign ignited a scandal.
She was arrested by ten (yes, ten!) officers, sparking a serious debate over whether she was being punished for being a woman who dared make a thing (literally) out of her you-know-what. There is also the question of whether art was being censored by the state, not to mention how in a nation with a mammoth sex industry, a correspondingly vibrant adult toys market, and the per-capita largest porn business in the world, why were the police so bothered about one woman making a kayak out of her genitalia? And any cursory glance at Japanese mythology or historical art genres like shunga prints would convince you that sexual liberty and nudity should form a healthy part of society.
But this is contemporary Japan, which has a long history of double standards in this area. Although there have been countless full-frontal photography books featuring female celebrities over the past decades — strictly speaking, showing genitals or genital hair is interpreted as “obscene” — and released into the mainstream to great success, last year Leslie Kee was arrested for exhibiting images of naked men in Tokyo. Freedom of expression is not protected for artists and, for example, a couple of years ago a major performing arts event in Tokyo (name retracted on recommendation!), upon being told by the city that they could not allow a public festival to program sexually explicit work, had to ask a director to re-configure a play featuring nudity so that the vital “bits” were hidden from view.
In the end, police decided not to indict Igarashi for now but she still has potential charges (carrying up to two years in prison and a fine) hanging over her. The prosecutors have inadvertently turned Igarashi into a martyr for both feminist and artist causes, though, and would be foolish to continue with their persecution.
Igarashi was released after six days. But getting arrested is an expensive business. Even if charges are not brought or — very rare in Japan! — you are acquitted, you still have to foot your lawyer’s bill.
Always one to utilize her grassroots support, Igarashi has turned to her fans now to help cover the costs. Her gallery has launched a sale of her vagina-inspired “deko-man” (decorated vagina) artworks and she promises in a tweet to use the proceeds to pay her legal team.
Rokudenshi-ko’s mission to reclaim what is hidden, what society deems “obscene”, into something playful and ordinary is here manifest in cute vinyl figurines of female genitalia. You can get pink or gold versions of “Manko-chan”, or even a glow-in-the-dark one! They cost between ¥2,100 ($21) and ¥2,800 ($28), though some of them won’t be available until late August.
See the Shinjuku Ganka Gallery online shop for more. If they put up an English website with PayPal options, we reckon this would be very popular overseas too!