Stacks of manga albums on a shelf at Haruya Books in Tokyo 4 October 2013. What will this shelf look like in 2020?
One of my coworkers is an expert on Japanese subculture, especially manga and porn – and combinations thereof. This colleague told me that as soon as Tokyo got the Olympics 2020, discussions started about how to deal with the more controversial stuff for sale in Akihabara and with the regular porn available at convenience stores. We can probably expect bills to be proposed in parliament. Not to mention a heated debate about it over the next years.
My prediction has long been that the more controversial manga expressions – or to be more exact: those that would be called child porn by the West – will disappear from the manga shelves as Japan caves in to US, UN and EU demands. Until now, Japan hasn’t had any reason to comment on the silly accusations of child porn; there wasn’t anything in it for Japan to do so, except for general reasons connected to globalisation and diplomacy. The outside world had no real leverage, and since manga is one of the foundations of Japanese culture, no one really considered any vast changes of law for real. But it was quite clear in which direction it was going, and Tokyo had already passed a law regulating where sexual manga was allowed to be sold. Mangaka’s spoke of harder controls at the doujinshi printers. So things were moving, but they were moving slowly.
But now things have changed. When Tokyo got the Olympics 2020, the outside world got leverage. All of a sudden, Tokyo must start caring a lot about its image. The Olympics 2020 speeded up the process that was already under way.
Tokyo Reporter wrote about this:
The editor of a manga title from a big-name publisher says that the area’s stores selling manga, anime, character goods and games whose themes are suggestive of child pornography are a distinct problem.
“There will be a massive sweep through Akihabara,” predicts the editor. “This is Japan’s biggest shopping area for electronics. Tourists and athletes will shop there.”
In stores selling adult comics, the walls are covered in posters and signs depicting naked children. “In video stores, there are love dolls of little girls visible through the shop windows from the street,” says the editor. “If tourists and athletes, especially those from Europe and the United States, see this kind of thing it won’t go over well at all.”
The funny thing is that I don’t think the Japanese really get what the West is upset about. Japanese politicians who propose manga bans are against sexual manga in general, which is a quite traditional right-conservative stance; it’s embarrassing and immoral, so it should be banned! But in the West, the opposition originated from the left, and they don’t mind sex manga at all. It’s only “child porn” that is the target of their lobbying. (I use quotes since we’re talking about comics, no real children are involved.) Child porn is like Satan in the West, and since the Japanese are very secularised, this religious way of relating to images is hard for them to comprehend.
So I guess we can expect a mischmasch of confusing law proposals trying to meet these national (sex is embarrassing) and international (child porn is Satan) demands.
The sad thing is that it’s probably possible to cut away the “child porn” from the market while still maintaining a strong manga culture. After all, lolicon and shotacon only make up for a tiny part of all manga, it’s like a subculture of a subculture. Japan can probably cut it away without admitting to having damaged the manga culture at large. But a cut is a cut. And once the first cut has been made, the second and third one will be easier.