Japanese court rules vagina figurines 'pop art', not obscenity

By Reuters
May 09,2016
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Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, known as Rokudenashiko, attends a news conference following a court appearance in Tokyo April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files

By Minami Funakoshi

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese court found on Monday an artist not guilty of obscenity for displaying figurines modelled on her vagina, signalling a step towards freedom of expression, although the court fined her for distributing digital data of her genitals.

The Tokyo court dismissed prosecutors' charge that Megumi Igarashi, who works under the name "Rokudenashiko" or "good-for-nothing girl", had displayed obscene objects, saying her figurines - decorated with fake fur and glitter - could be considered "pop art".

"This verdict is extremely rare,” said Takashi Yamaguchi, one of her lawyers, adding that it had "high historic value".

Igarashi said she was "20-percent happy" that the court acknowledged her figurines as art, but stressed she was "completely innocent".

The court found Igarashi guilty for distributing digital data of indecent material and fined her 400,000 yen ($3,700). Prosecutors had sought a fine of more than $7,400.

"I am of course indignant. I will appeal and continue to fight in court," she told a news conference, where she displayed several pink vagina figurines that prosecutors had argued were obscene.

Igarashi was arrested and briefly jailed in 2014 after building a kayak and making figurines modelled on her vagina, and sending 3D printer data of her scanned genitalia, used to make the boat, to a number of donors who helped fund the project.

Igarashi's arrest and detention triggered a debate about women's rights and artistic freedom in Japan. More than 1,000 people tweeted about the verdict soon after it was announced, many of them expressing anger and questioning the court's logic.

"What? How about products resembling male or female genitalia displayed at adult sex shops? Are they permissible?" questioned one Twitter user in response to the verdict.

Although Japan has an extensive pornography industry, it is regulated by a section of the criminal code that dates back to 1907. Video pornography in Japan has often used digital mosaics to obscure genitalia in sex scenes to avoid obscenity charges.

While depictions of female genitalia remain largely taboo, representations of male genitalia are shown at shrines and at some festivals, where giant phalluses are paraded openly through the streets as symbols of fertility and sexual health.

(Additional reporting by Teppei Kasai; Editing by Linda Sieg, Robert Birsel)