Japan vagina artist convicted in obscenity case

Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi

Japanese artist who makes objects shaped like her vagina was convicted Monday after a high-profile obscenity trial, in a decision likely to reignite accusations of heavy-handed censorship.

Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi

The Tokyo District Court slapped Megumi Igarashi with a 400,000 yen ($3,700) fine, but the penalty was half what prosecutors had demanded and she was also cleared of one of several charges.

“I believe I’m innocent. I’ll fight until the end,” Ms Igarashi told a news briefing after the ruling.

“I’ll appeal to the higher court. I want to fight these charges.”

The 44-year-old artist, who had lined a table with vagina-shaped figurines, waved to and greeted supporters who showed up to court.

Ms Igarashi was arrested two years ago for trying to raise funds online to pay for the construction of a kayak in the shape of her vagina, by disseminating a coded 3D image of her genitals that would allow users to make copies.

While Japan has a multi-billion-dollar pornography industry, actual depictions of genitalia are banned.

Igarashi who calls herself Rokude Nashiko – slang that loosely translates as “reprobate child” – was released days later following a legal appeal and after thousands of people signed a petition demanding her freedom.

But several months on, Tokyo police arrested her again for distributing “obscene” items – displaying decorated plaster figures moulded in the shape of her genitals and giving away CD-ROMs containing the computer code.

On Monday, justice Mihoko Tanabe convicted Igarashi of distributing obscene material.

I’ve been working to change the concept of obscenity, which is usually seen from the perspective of men

Megumi Igarashi

The artist and her supporters scoffed at the fact her genitals were the focus of a court case.

“I’ve been working to change the concept of obscenity, which is usually seen from the perspective of men – I’m mortified the judge didn’t understand that,” Ms Igarashi said of the judge, who is female.

Kenya Sumi, one of her lawyers, said it was “disappointing” that the court did not see the data as an artistic work – and warned the decision could have a chilling effect.

“It would be regrettable if (the ruling) has the effect of intimidating other artists,” he said.

Prosecutors, who did not ask for jail time, had called for an 800,000 yen fine.

Japan’s prolific pornography industry caters to all imaginable tastes, but tough obscenity laws mean genitalia normally appear pixellated or blacked out.

Images of male and female genitals can be found throughout the country, however.

Last month, revellers carried giant phalluses through the streets of Kawasaki, near Tokyo, to worship the penis and pray for fertility in an annual festival.

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