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Tokyo Court Rules Japanese Cartoon Book Obscene

Tokyo- A Tokyo court has ruled a Japanese cartoon book obscene, in a landmark court case that sparked debate on freedom of expression and the position of the country’s ubiquitous ‘manga’ cartoons.

Monotori Kishi, a 54-year-old publisher, was handed a one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, for violating Japan’s penal code on the sale and distribution of obscene literature.

Presiding Judge Yujiro Nakatani said Misshitsu, or Honey Room, was too graphic.

“Bodies were drawn in a lifelike manner with little attention to concealment (of genitalia), making for sexually explicit expression and deeming the book pornographic matter,” Mr Nakatani said.

About 45% of all books and periodicals sold in Japan are manga. They often contain sexual material.

“Given what’s available it seems an extraordinary decision,” said the BBC’s Tokyo correspondent, Jonathan Head.

“There is so much pornography available in Japan in every form – in films, computer games, cartoons and famously manga and anime – those books of cartoons you can see men reading openly on the train everyday,” he said.

Mr Kishi immediately appealed to the Tokyo High Court.

“It is an infringement on freedom of expression and deals a great blow to the publishing industry,” he told a news conference.

“The verdict will force publishing houses to curb their activities and lead to a decline in manga (comics).”

It was the first ever Japanese court trial in which a comic book was accused of obscenity.

The penal code article on which the prosecution was based, Article 175, does not clearly define what is deemed obscene, but the legal precedent was set by a ruling on a Japanese translation of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1957.

The Supreme Court at that time declared obscenity was anything “unnecessarily sexually stimulating, (which) damages the normal sexual sense of shame of ordinary people, or is against good sexual moral principles”.

Kishi’s defence lawyers had argued that some photographs, videos, or items on the internet, were far more explicit than Misshitsu.

They had also argued that Article 175 violated Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and press.



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