by Justin McCurry
June 5, 2014
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Possession to be outlawed but manga, anime and computer graphics depicting sexual exploitation of minors exempt
A man walks past advertisements for explicit animation DVDs in Tokyo. Photograph: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty
Japan is to ban possession of child sexual abuse imagery after years of delay – but is expected to disappoint campaigners by allowing manga comics and animated films to continue carrying pornographic depictions of children.
Japan currently bans only the production and distribution of such material but not its possession.
A new bill, supported by the governing coalition and three opposition parties, makes possession and distribution of imagery involving real children illegal but does not outlaw similar images in manga and anime.
"The primary reason [for the new rule] is to protect the rights of real children," a lower house legislative official told Agence France-Presse. "Manga, anime and computer graphics are outside its scope."
The bill, which is expected to pass into law before the current parliamentary session ends later this month, would punish people who "chose to possess child pornography to satisfy their sexual urges" with up to a year in prison or a maximum fine of one million yen.
The change in the law comes after years of international pressure on Japan to fall into line with other developed countries.
Japan is the only G7 country where it remains legal to possess videos, photographs or other imagery depicting rape and other sexual crimes against children.
Campaigners have welcomed the change despite the retention of loopholes for manga and anime. "This will send a big message to the domestic public," said Hiromasa Nakai, a spokesman for the Japan committee of Unicef.
"It fills a big hole in Japan's zero-tolerance policy against child porn. It will also allow Japanese police to more effectively co-operate with their counterparts in the international community."
Japan is one of the world's biggest markets for indecent images of children, along with the US and Russia. Police said the number of reported victims of child pornography in Japan stood at 646 in 2013, although the real number was thought to be much higher.
That marks a dramatic increase from the 304 children under 18 who were identified as victims in 2007 and is by far the highest total since police began collecting data in 1999.
The new law's limited reach is unlikely to change social attitudes towards the depiction of child sexual exploitation in manga and anime. Sexual imagery involving children is not difficult to find in Tokyo, where men can occasionally be seen on trains flicking through manga showing, for example, scantily clad schoolgirls.
Tokyo authorities in May said they would ban sales to children of manga depicting incestuous relationships, a popular subgenre of Japanese pornography. In addition convenience stores in the capital were told to make displays of pornographic manga less conspicuous in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.
Manga artists and publishers have long resisted prohibitions on their material, describing it as an attack on freedom of expression. "We welcome that manga and anime will not be targeted for the possession of child pornography," Hideki Takanuma of the Japan Magazine Publishers Association told the Asahi Shimbun.
"But banning the possession while the definition of child pornography is still ambiguous is highly dangerous.
In an attempt to safeguard artistic freedoms, the bill states that "attention should be paid in applying the law in a manner not to infringe upon the rights of the people without due cause in relation to academic studies, cultural and artistic activities and reports".