Explanation of the hijitsuzai reform proposal (1/3)

As mentioned in the previous post, and despite suspicions of a last-minute reversal, it was decided last Friday that the so-called hijitsuzai seishounen reform proposal introduced a few weeks ago in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly would be given further consideration. It should not go to vote before the summer. It isn't dead yet, though, and since there has been a measure of confusion as to what the proposal was actually about or why it was introduced (including awfully researched pieces surfacing in the Western mainstream media), this is an attempt at clarifying things a little.

I initially set out to write a single tl;dr post on the subject, but it kept getting bulkier as I went along, so that cutting things into writable, and hopefully readable, pieces began to look like a good idea. This will be three-part post: this first part gives an overview of what the proposal is about, what it isn't about, and how it came about. The second part (later this week?) will be a more in-depth look at the major specific changes that the proposal meant to introduce, and the problems they create. The third part should cover the reactions to the proposal and future prospects regarding the whole affair.

The Basics

This proposal would introduce numerous changes in the “Tokyo Prefectural Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Upringing of Youths.” The ordinance itself, which was enacted in 1964 (originally under a less totalitarian-sounding name) and amended multiple times since then, is a series of prefectural regulations supposedly promoting a safe and wholesome environment for children. Among various provisions (prevention of underage sex, parental duties, juvenile curfews, etc.), it has a lengthy section restricting the sale and distribution of so-called “unhealthy books” (or, as other prefectures call them, “harmful books”), currently defined as materials (books, but also photographs or movies) containing pornography, promoting cruelty or inciting crime or suicide. These “harmful books” may not be shown, distributed or sold to minors; publishers must place age restriction markings or self-censor, and prefectural authorities can put offending materials off the shelves.

The main changes introduced by the reform proposal are as follows:

  1. extend the notion of “harmful book” to additionally include any material containing visual depictions of fictional characters “seemingly” below 18 years old engaged in sexual or “sex-like” acts (art. 7, 8 and 9-2);

  2. affirm that child pornography and the sexualization of minors are evil; provide that collaborating with prefectural authorities towards their eradication is the “duty” of residents, publishers and parents (art. 18-6-2 to 18-6-5);

  3. instate mandatory filtering of children's mobile phones and computers that may not be deactivated by either parents or resellers; parents or resellers who do not take appropriate steps to shield children from harmful contents can be subjected to “counselling” by prefectural authorities (art. 18-7 and 18-8).

The next installment will take a detailed look at points 1 and 2, as they are the most relevant to the contents industry. Some provisions related to point 3 have serious implications for privacy, net neutrality and freedom of information rights in Tokyo, however, and could very well sneak back with little change in June.

Common misunderstandings

  • This is not a proposal to reform national Japanese law, only Tokyo Prefecture regulations. If passed, however, it would have consequences nationwide—if a book is meant for an all-age market but has to be considered “unhealthy” by Tokyo standards, it probably doesn't make commercial sense to publish it at all.

  • This proposal does not directly ban pornographic manga and anime involving underage characters, or create additional restrictions to the distribution and sale of materials that were already marked as 18+. In particular, this is not a “loli ban” as some have called it. Some provisions related to “staving off the proliferation of sexual visual depictions of youths” are contrived enough that they might conceivably cause difficulties of a political or administrative nature for publishers of lolicon manga, but not legal trouble per se as none of those provisions are legally enforceable. It is true, however, that the people who crafted the proposal are also vocal supporters of a national ban on pornography with fictional minors.

  • On the other hand, the proposal does apply to pretty much everything else: non-pornographic manga, anime, games, movies for all demographic groups. In particular, BL and risqué shoujo manga à la Shocomi are very much within scope, as are all books that aren't particularly meant for kids but are sold without a 18+ marking nonetheless (e.g. seinen manga in general). Although the proposal itself doesn't make it clear, authorities have explained that novels are exempt because “understanding novels require maturity” (light novels, on the other hand, might not be).

  • Since they aren't sold through official circuits, doujinshi do not really fit within the framework of “unhealthy books” regulations. Nonetheless, metropolitan officials have made it clear that they would turn to event organizers (especially Comiket) for enforcing age restrictions in accordance with the ordinance.

  • The proposal does contain language dealing with junior idols; it doesn't make the industry illegal (it would be blantly inconstitutional to do it at the prefectural level) but makes it possible to shame the parents (which is only very likely to be inconstitutional).


From a historical point of view, I think this proposal can be linked to three distinct but more or less related trends:

  • a series of backlashes by Parent-Teacher Associations (conservative opponents of the progressive teachers unions) and “child protection” groups against perceived morally objectionable contents in books read by children, especially manga; the so-called “battle of harmful comic books” targeted manga like Naigai Gō's Harenchi gakuen and Tezuka's Apollo no uta in the 70's, or Dragon Ball and Hokuto no ken in the wake of the Miyazaki Tsutomu case in the early 90's. The Tokyo PTA is an active supporter the current proposal.

  • a long-standing campaign by conservative Christian and hardline feminist organizations for outlawing pornography at the national level (including a ban on drawings, novels and voicework). This started in the mid-1990's, especially at the Tokyo office (STOP) of anti-sex tourism NGO ECPAT. That Tokyo office is actually a branch of the Japanese Association of Christian Women for Moral Reform, and has long pushed a socially conservative agenda under the guise of defending women and children's rights (which gained it allies in the Jimintō apparel). It played a significant role in shifting the focus of the 1999 bill away from the prevention of child abuse and sex trafficking, towards the regulation of child pornography and enjo kousai, and in the 2008 Diet debates, where it was joined by the Japanese Committee for UNICEF, a Japanese-law foundation with no formal ties to the UN which collects funds for independent lobbying.

  • a push by Governor Ishihara to “protect minors from crime” by taking steps to clamp down on such reckless behavior as reading books or going to the game arcade after dark. Curfews for all teenagers below 18 are the most visible of these measures (taken in 2007 amid renewed public outrage over enjo kousai), but there has been talk of stronger “unhealthy books” regulations since at least 2003.

That's the long-term perspective. The more immediate start of the whole affair was a 54-page draft report published on November 26, 2009 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Commission on the Problem of Youths about the Healthy Upbringing of Youths in the Expanding Information Society. It proposed a long series of “concrete measures” to “foster a suitable relationship between youths and cellphones/the Internet” and “improve the current trend of sexual objectification of youths in the media,” based on dubious fact finding, and consistent with Ishihara's ideology of social control. These measures included amendments to the ordinance, as well as calls for reforms at the national level (virtual child porn and the like).

That Commission on the Problem of Youths, by the way, is a consultative body made up of Tokyo bureaucrats and people like Gotō Keiji (ECPAT/STOP advisor and former police officer), Shintani Tamae (head of the Tokyo Primary School PTA), Ōba Nanako (representative director of the Japan Birthing Association) or Maeda Masahide (a professor of criminal law at Shudai, known for his close political ties and strong support of censorship). When the minutes of debates at the Commission were released, the rest of us were dumbfounded to read comments like:

The e-mails of protest by mangaka are acts of violence, however you look at it. They're so violent that we shouldn't even need to explain the basis for this legislation. [...] Must we not spread the notion that [readers of lolicon manga] cause cognitive impairment? (Ōba Nanako)

It's not about youngsters not seeing those things. I don't want to hear that "if it's manga there's no victim." Even if only adult see those things, many people have committed crimes based on that. Anime culture, lolicon culture, they all promote sexual abuse! (Shintani Tamae)

The list goes on and on. Anyway, in accordance with proper procedures, this draft report came with a call for public comments to be submitted by December 10. And the commission did receive many, including responses from such high-profile organizations as the Japan Book Publishers Association, the Japanese Magazine Publishers Association or the Japanese Publisher Union Confederation.

None of those comments were taken into account. The reform proposal presented before the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly last month, on February 24, was taken almost verbatim from the draft report. It came again with a call for public comments, to be submitted by February 25, the next day. After the start of the Assembly's plenary meeting, it was briefly considered in opening questions by group leaders, and subsequently refered to the General Affairs Committee for examination on March 18–19. It was expected to go to vote after that, but the great uproar you have all heard of caused committee members to opt for “continued examination” until the next Assembly session in June.

That's where we are now.


Edit (2010-03-25): the next post will go into more details about this, but in view of some (welcome) reactions to this post, I feel it might be useful to stress two particular points that I wish I could have made clearer the first time around:

  • clearly identified pornography is (to the best of my understanding anyway) out of scope of the “unhealthy books” regulations, because it is already age-restricted: this reform doesn't make it illegal to sell 18+ material identified as such to adults.

  • on the other hand, the potential consequences of this proposal are far worse than those of a “loli ban.” As a consumer of loli manga myself, I would be very upset by a ban, but ultimately, that's only a niche market. What this proposal does is restrict the sale of a much larger body of non-pornographic works with possibly mild sexual contents. It would effectively kill off a wide range of works, all the way from Boys' Love and titillating stories for girls to Kodomo no jikan and Vampire Bund (because, let's face it: their respective magazines won't get a 18+ rating just to keep them on board, most of their audience won't buy “adult” manga and many book shops won't carry that sort of things anyway, or not in the same quantity at least).

7 comments for ‘Explanation of the hijitsuzai reform proposal (1/3)’.

Thanks for posting this. Very illuminating.

Despite personal contact with some companies who would be most affected by such legislation, it's hard even for me to get them to talk openly about it, beyond a general expression of worry for the future of the industry. So I'm greatly looking forward to the next installments.

So basically, the bill tries to extend the definition of "unhealthy books" so widely that many non-pornographic titles would be restricted as if they were porn. No wonder there was so much outcry in Japan, especially given the clear history of deaf obstinance from the bill backers.

Thank you. This is very informative.

"Shudai"? Begging your pardon, but while I understand that "Shudai" refers to a Japanese university, I don't know which one.

Thanks for the comments. The second part should be posted shortly. Let me also refer you to this page that was put together yesterday by Dan Kanemitsu, certainly the single most knowledgeable English-speaking person on this affair.

@DocWatson: it's the Tokyo Metropolitan University (not to be confused with the University of Tokyo).

Thanks for the explanation—the University of Tokyo's "Tōdai" is the only such contraction with which I am familiar (and which seems to be in current use in American fandom).

Good for Sony! The issue is not porn. People should be restricted on the content they can access. What should and should not be accessed needs to be left to the individual.

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