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The History of Pornography in Japan

The Japanese constitution prohibits formal censorship, but one thing that remains under close scrutiny and is still heavily censored in Japan is pornography. This doesn’t mean that Japanese people don’t watch or crave pornography. As a matter of fact; they have a long history dating back to the 17th century when there was a popular type of erotic artwork called Shunga which were images on a woodblock print that depicted sexuality and men with giant penises. This was the first form of pornography to become popular in Japan, but the growth of this type of content was soon to be frowned upon by the Japanese government.

It was after the Meiji Restoration Era in 1868 that pornography first began to become widely restricted in Japan. Victorian morals from the West influenced Japanese culture promoting the idea that pornographic materials were “injurious to public morals”. Any such material was banned and the ban was strictly enforced. When Japan was defeated in World War II; American authorities changed many of Japan’s laws to allow for freedom of speech and artistic expression. They decided to leave the pornography law as is and it remains on the books to this day.

There was a recent ruling by the Japanese Supreme Court that may serve to finally change the strict standards for obscenity in Japan. The ruling found that publisher Takashi Asai of Uplink had the legal right to sell a photography book by artist Robert Mapplethorpe that contained sometimes violent sexual images. The court had to determine whether the content in the book was obscenity or art and ultimately decided it was art.

Lifting a ban on sexual images in the name of art is far from accepting pornography, but it still goes a long way toward showing that Japan is finally becoming more accepting of sexual content. Another recent development shows additional evidence of that. A film showing male and female genitalia was allowed to screen in Japanese theaters without being censored. It was an American film named Kinsey starring Liam Neeson. The film contains a scene in which Neeson’s character is showing a slideshow that has images of penises and vaginas. This marks the first time that a film was allowed to be shown legally in Japan that had uncensored images of human genitalia.

Today, adult films generate $20 billion a year in Japan. Even though Japan has one of the largest pornography markets; Japanese produced porn is still censored. Both male and female genitalia are covered by a mosaic blur. Some Japanese men become so desperate to see uncensored porn that they purchase an expensive machine that takes out the blur. Although; it is easier to get uncensored porn that is produced outside of Japan thanks to the internet. The internet allows Japanese men to download uncensored videos from sites that are hosted outside of the country. Unfortunately, all porn that is actually produced in Japan is still censored. Some say that Japanese porn films are superior to American porn films because of this. They say that the censorship has prompted Japanese porn producers to film higher quality scenes that focus on the overall sex. Porn films in the U.S. tend to focus on the penetration and fail to capture the most titillating part of a sex scene.

Attitudes toward sex have become much more liberal in modern Japan than ever before, but the anti-pornography law is still in place and so is the mosaic blur in Japanese produced porn films. This seems hard to believe considering that people in Japan are so sexually liberated that there are fertility festivals featuring giant penis shaped symbols that are paraded through the streets. Hopefully, the recent loosening of Japan’s grip on censorship will carry over into their porn industry and Japanese men can enjoy a full hardcore sex scene without straining to see through the annoying blur that covers up the central part of the action.

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