Various Musings

Matt talking to himself. Feel free to talk back.

When I see something written in English that is criticizing some aspect of Japan, the first thing I wonder is why the person is writing it in English, presumably to an audience of people who are in no position to do anything that could change the situation. Obviously, readers often want to learn about situations in societies whose languages they do not speak. Journalists try to and often succeed in conveying information about one society to the people of another society, and when they do so, we expect them to do so as objectively as they can, showing us the range of views a native of that society would encounter.

Opinion is an entirely different matter. When you express an opinion about Society A in the language of Society B, rather than that of Society A, you are presumably doing so for a reason. It is a political choice, and I think it is fair to ask the writer why they chose to target the members of Society B with an opinion about Society A. I suppose there are any number of scenarios in which a writer would reasonably make such a choice, but two obvious reasons come to mind.

One possibility is that the author thinks Society B could learn something from Society A in regards to the topic at hand. This is actually rather common, and of course is a fine thing.

The other possibility that comes to mind is that the author wants the people of Society B to know that Society A is Bad, if only in regards to the topic at hand. Since the readers can usually do nothing about the Bad Thing discussed (other than sign a petition or donate money), the motive probably boils down to wanting to express distaste for Society A (or at least that aspect of Society A). It is an expression of contempt with no practical purpose beyond the spreading of hatred.

But perhaps there is a third possibility. Perhaps the author just wanted to get this thing off their chest, and chose to do so in their native tongue because it was too much trouble to write it in the language of Society A. This is akin to me sitting here and saying out loud to this empty room (as I sometimes do), “God, I hate this air conditioner. It makes the room smell funny and we need a new one.” Except that it is one thing for me to think out loud to an empty room, or in the presence of my wife or other close friends or family, and it is a very different thing for me to say such a thing in print or on the Internet where it can be seen by any number of people who know nothing about me and my relationship to my air conditioner.

Oh, and here’s a fourth possibility: The author chose to write about Society A in the language of Society B because someone was willing to pay them to do so. (Come to think of it, I have done this myself, and would cheerfully do so again. Make me an offer.)

The more I see this sort of thing (and I see it so very often), the more I think that the third and fourth reasons, or a mixture of the two, are actually the most common.

I am loathe to criticize anyone for writing for money anything that is not morally evil, and it’s hard to begrudge anyone the right to think out loud on the Internet (heaven knows I do it every day, and am doing it right now), but I think it’s important for writers to beware that, regardless of their motives, the effect on the reader will probably be the same as if the writer’s motive was either the first or the second described above. That is, the reader will come away thinking either, “This thing Society A does is swell, and we should do it, too,” or “Society A is as fucked up as I imagined it to be. Seriously; fuck them.”

Take this brief diatribe by Sophie Knight, “Japan Has a Cute Problem: How the pink apron keeps women down.” There is very little in here that I flat out disagree with (although Ms. Knight should know that the most current WEF ranking puts Japan at 104, thanks to the Maldives plummeting from 97 to 105), but the piece rubs me the wrong way, as do most diatribes about Japan written in English. The problem is not in the facts.

Just yesterday, I started my lecture in my Women and Manga class (女性とマンガ) with a diatribe of my own, pointing out that women make up just 8.1% of the Lower House of Japan’s Diet, that they earn just 45 yen for every 100 yen earned by Japanese men, that they hold just 11.1% of managerial positions in the Japanese business world, that they account for about 97% of victims of sexual assault in Japan, and that they account for 65.9% of Japanese living in poverty. I did so because after the previous week’s class, in which veteran manga editor Kaori Mikawa talked to my students about discrimination in the manga publishing world, one anonymous male student complained about what he perceived as “reverse sexism.” I should point out that this all took place in Japanese. I teach my class in Japanese, 90% of my students are Japanese citizens, Kaori’s talk was in Japanese, and the anonymous student’s whining was in Japanese. A Japanese problem addressed in Japanese to a mostly Japanese audience.

I think it’s fair to characterize Ms. Knight’s piece as a diatribe, since she paints in broad strokes. The piece is light on details and nuance, and heavy on generalizations. A reasonable person with little knowledge of Japan would read “As the strongest wave of feminism in decades sweeps through the West, Japan is well overdue a movement of its own,” and conclude that Japan has never had a feminist movement. It has in fact had at least two major feminist movements, arguably more, and a quick search of Twitter in Japanese will show you that there are still plenty of Japanese women (and even some non-women) who identify as feminists and fight the good fight every day. And there are in fact certain fields in which Japanese women can claim to be far ahead of any of their Western sisters, such as the creation and consumption of comics, and the production of pornography by and for women. (Seriously.)

Ms. Knight, whether she intended to or not, reinforces stereotypes held by most Westerners about Japan and Japanese women. The tone, whether or not she intended it to be, is smug and condescending. It is what we call in Japanese 上から目線 (“ue kara mesen”), or “looking down from above.”

I wrote that the first thing I wonder when I find something like this is why the author chose to write in English. The second thing I do is to search for anything the author has written in Japanese. I am much more willing to cut slack to an author who has written anything in Japanese, even if it’s just a handful of tweets. (Bonus points if the author has done the reverse, which is to say criticize Society B in the language of Society A.) I refuse to believe a person can be an authority on a society if they cannot even read and write in that society’s language. (Would you take seriously a Japanese person who claims to be an expert on American society if that person was not reasonably fluent in English?) I searched and could not find anything written in Japanese by Ms. Knight beyond the two words 記者・騎士 found in her Twitter profile. I searched her name in Japanese, and unfortunately could only find links to a Japanese brand of pantyhose with a very specific purpose. For all I know, her Japanese may be better than my own, but if she has written anything in Japanese, she has done a good job of hiding it.

If Ms. Knight had written the exact same piece in Japanese, I would not have hesitated to share it on social media.

Ms. Knight and I have a mutual friend on Facebook for whom I have enormous respect. (Like, huge.) For that reason alone, I am sure Ms. Knight is a wonderful person, and that if I had the pleasure of meeting her in person, I would think she was the bee’s knees and would want to hang out with her all the time. I am also certain she had nothing but the best intentions in writing her diatribe.

My own policy is to not criticize Japan in English, and not criticize America in Japanese. When I make an exception, I do so with a clear purpose that I have thought out in advance. (Unless I’m drunk.) But that’s just me. Still, I sincerely hope that, in the future, Ms. Knight (and you, Dear Reader) will pause before writing an opinion about Society A in the language of Society B, and first consider how it might be received and what unintended consequences might arise.

Will it spread love, or will it spread hate?

Break Max, March 2013

BREAK MAX, March 2013

I am still plowing through this…unusual interview with ASANO Inio, in which he* talks about his crisis of gender identity (and after reading a bit, I think it’s fair to call it a “crisis”). One thing’s for sure: Asano is confused and has not done much serious homework on trans* issues. Another thing that is certain is that he picked a hell of a forum to speak up about this. Break Max (unfortunately abbreviated “BM”) was a magazine that was frankly sleazy. Much of it was reviews of adult videos. Much was pages of photos of celebrity women showing any sort of flesh at all. Much was really sketchy and unconvincing celebrity gossip. They called themselves “Asia’s Number One Scoop Magazine,” but this was certainly not remotely true. It lasted ten years, but only lasted two more issues after the featuring Asano’s now famous (and yet mostly unread) interview.

YOSHIDA Goh

YOSHIDA Goh

Surprisingly, this was Asano’s second interview with this magazine. Apparently he hit it off really well with the interviewer, some guy named YOSHIDA Goh. Why anyone would spill their darkest secrets to this guy is beyond my ability to comprehend, but Asano seems to like him.

Another surprise is that Asano’s talk of wanting a sex change was not some offhand comment made in jest. The whole reason this interview was held was that Asano revealed his desire to Yoshida at a party they both attended, and Yoshida felt it merited an entire new interview. And Asano happily obliged.

One thing we learn about Asano very quickly is that he cannot help saying what he is thinking, no matter how awkward or ill-advised. In fact, at the time this interview was conducted, Asano frankly told the interviewer that his relationship with his wife (yes, he is married, to a woman) had taken a decidedly chilly turn precisely because Asano does not know when to keep his mouth shut. I feel certain that this interview did not help to improve that relationship.

It’s clear that Asano is not comfortable being a man. What puzzles is my why an obviously intelligent and talented artist who is willing to do research to create convincing and compelling manga does not simply do some Googling and learn more about transgender issues. It’s as if his only measuring rod is the one provided in popular media and porn created for heterosexual men who like a bit of “spice.” Asano cheerfully spouts whatever pops into his head, but does not seem to seriously consider the consequences. Perhaps that changed after this interview was published. I  hope so. I sincerely hope he not only thinks about his gender and sexuality (he seems to be doing plenty of that), but that he also studies about what it really means to be trans*. He seems to be trying to make sense of something very complicated with an absurdly limited vocabulary.

I may write a follow-up once I have absorbed this rather long interview, but for the time being I offer raw scans of the original for those of you who read Japanese.

 

* I refer to Asano as “he” because that is his stated preference as conveyed to me by his publisher. See my first entry for more on that.

And if you don't trust in God, then obviously you are not "we."

This post has nothing to do shōjo manga, manga, comics, or even Japan (per se), but, hey, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want with it. Sorry.

Lansdale United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania

I grew up, initially, in an “ordinarily” religious household, attending services weekly at the Lansdale Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. The head pastor at the time was the Reverend Dr. Burns Brodhead, an extremely intelligent, warm, and wryly funny man whom I have always held in the highest esteem, and who passed away last year at the age of 91, having lived a very full life. For reasons too messy to go into here, when I was about eleven years old, maybe twelve, my parents became “born again,” and switched to a “charismatic” church run by our neighbor in his basement. I do not believe he was an ordained minister.

Charismatic worshippers

His little church grew, and moved to increasingly large, yet always rented spaces. When I last attended, it was meeting in the gymnasium of a private religious school. At first I tried to go along with the changes, and prayed fervently to God. Yet the church, and particularly the “pastor,” made me extremely uncomfortable. I remember one time he had chosen a recent headline as the basis for a sermon. It seems there were patterns in the rings of Saturn that seemed anomalous. This self-ordained minister declared that God was intentionally defying his own laws of physics in order to show Man that Man could never understand His universe with Science alone. I remember looking around at the faces of the congregation and wondering if they could actually be taking such ravings seriously. Needless to say, the mystery of the rings was explained shortly afterwards as a result of previously undetected gravitational forces. And, needless to say, our pastor offered no correction nor admission of being wrong. At some point in my late teens, my parents switched churches again, this time to a much more mainstream, “normal” church, but by that time it was too late for me. I could not un-think all that I had thought in the interim. (I also learned that a few years after my parents left the charismatic church in question, the pastor was forced out by his own congregation. Presumably I was not the only one who thought the man was unhinged.)

Childhood fantasies

As a child, I was always fascinated by science. I was also fascinated by pseudo-science, and went through a phase of believing in Bigfoot, ancient alien visitors, you name it. At about the time I grew out of that phase, I also came to have serious doubts about Christianity and the existence of God. I remember vividly my much older brother challenging me with this paradoxical question: Can an omnipotent God create a stone that he himself cannot lift? This question set me on the path to atheism. (Ironically, that same brother turned back to Christianity many years later.) By the time I was thirteen, I could no longer take seriously the notion of a God who listens to everyone’s prayers and watches over their every thought and deed.

Buddhist Dharma Wheel

I began studying Buddhism, which struck me as far more logical and requiring far fewer leaps of faith. But I never became a Buddhist, because I saw no reason to accept the notion of reincarnation, and I saw no need to “formalize” my acceptance of certain Buddhist principles. I am, perhaps, a scientist by birth. I simply cannot accept an idea–certainly not an idea as radical as that of an invisible sky wizard obsessed with what every human being does with his or her genitals–without empirical evidence.

My favorite atheist slogan

Atheism is undergoing something of a surge in the U.S., to my surprise, but it’s not a surge with which I can be unconditionally thrilled. Every week brings some news of some little atheistic group somewhere doing their best to offend the religious and usually succeeding. Perhaps such people are recent “converts” to atheism, and still bear some profound grudge that makes them want to publicly give the finger to those who adhere to the faith that they themselves rejected. I have never had such an urge myself. Unfortunately, the actions of such people have inevitably resulted in a backlash, with similarly angry believers demonizing atheists and bemoaning a supposed war on religion.

Image from the web site of the Madison Baptist Church in Montreal

Which brings me to the point of this post. A lot of people I admire are devout Christians. They are intelligent, well-educated people. And I have to wonder how an intelligent, well-educated person accepts on faith (quite literally) many ideas that seem to me to defy reason. Of course, it’s not easy to put such questions directly to the believer. If I was one of these pugnacious atheists who delights in offending and embarrassing, I might, but I am not. While the believer may feel duty-bound to convert the unbeliever, for the sake of the unbeliever’s immortal soul, I see no reason why the unbeliever should similarly evangelize.

And if you don't trust in God, then obviously you are not "we."

And if you don’t trust in God, then obviously you are not “we.”

You may believe that harm will come to me if I do not accept your beliefs, but I do not believe that harm will come to you or anyone else if you do not reject those beliefs. It is neither here nor there to me whether or not you believe in an invisible sky wizard.

And yet, my life is influenced, often in quantifiably negative ways, by the place of religion in the public life of the United States. As a child, I was dragged to church without regard for my own inclinations. I was forced five days a week to repeat a pledge of allegiance that was revised during the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s to include the phrase “under God.” I am forced to used currency that tells me “In God We Trust.” I am not represented in my government, because a majority of voters would prefer to vote for just about anyone other than an avowed atheist. I am forced to endure countless little humiliations, because atheists are seen as second-class citizens, and too few believers are willing to really stand up for freedom from religion.

And so I pose some serious questions to thinking, educated Christians. These questions are not intended to be snarky. They are not rhetorical questions. I am not interested in setting up straw men. I ask the questions in the sincere hope of receiving intelligent, reasoned responses, from Christians. I ask that Christians respond. Non-Christians may respond (respectfully) to the responses of Christians, but there’s really no point in me sitting here talking with non-Christians about questions I pose to Christians. Snarky, hostile comments, from either believers or unbelievers, will be deleted. There are plenty of places on the Internet for people to engage in flame wars about religion. Here, I will tolerate only reasoned, respectful discourse. Nonetheless, you should be prepared to defend your position. I will respond to your arguments with arguments of my own. Perhaps we won’t change each other’s minds (and, as I said, I’m not really interested in changing your mind), but perhaps one or both of us will move another reader in one direction or the other.

The Golden Rule

I will post my questions one at a time. Depending on the response I get, and how busy or inspired I am, I may post a new question once or day, once a week, or once a month. And feel free to pose questions to me. I ask only that you refrain from engaging in “fallacies of interrogation” (the famous example being, “Do you still beat your wife?”). And please try to avoid circular reasoning. Christians often point to scripture as “evidence,” but please do not forget that it only counts as evidence to those who accept scripture as “true.” And to say that the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true…Well, that’s the very definition of circular reasoning, isn’t it? That is not to say that I don’t want you to refer to scripture. On the contrary, too many Christians make unsupported declarations about “God’s will” as if God sat down and told them his will in person. By all means, please reference scripture so that we know you are speaking for Christianity and not simply expressing your own personal philosophy. (Unless you are expressing your own personal philosophy, which is great; just let me know when that’s what you’re doing.) Let’s try to keep the conversation logical, civil, and pleasant, shall we?

Size of the observable universe

Let’s begin with certain facts that educated people should be able to accept without debate. (Feel free to add others, if you believe they are relevant and you can corroborate them with evidence.) Here are a few. The universe as we know it is between 13.713 and 13.831 billion years old. The universe extends no less than 46 billion light years in any direction from the Earth. (The seeming discrepancy between the age of the universe and the size of the observable universe is explained by the expansion of space.) Our Milky Way is roughly 100,000 light years in diameter, and there are believed to be no fewer than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. No one knows how many planets there are in the universe, but as of December 2012, Hubble alone has found “18,406 potential transiting planet signals” in our own galactic neighborhood alone, so it’s reasonable to assume that there are “lots and lots,” and that at least a few of those are not unlike our own Earth. The Earth is some 4.54 billion years old. Life, as we understand it, first appeared on Earth between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago. Life is apparently tenacious and resourceful, and capable of surviving in extreme conditions. Life on Earth changes through the process of evolution. Homo sapiens, the only surviving member of the genus homo, took on its current physical form some 200,000 years ago, and began to exhibit what is called “behavioral modernity” some 50,000 years ago.

Now, if you do not accept these facts as true, there is probably no way for us to have the kind of discussion I am hoping for, because you reject scientific consensus, and I have no interest in arguing with people who make up their own facts.

So finally I come to my first question. Always keeping in mind all of the shared facts listed above, please explain to me why God needs to be “worshipped,” and what exactly it means to “worship.”

NOTE: There was a problem with commenting, but it is now fixed. If you tried to comment earlier and failed, please try again!

Tags: , , , ,

CNET Japan reports what was already known to those in the know: Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software has banned the production and sale of sexually violent computer games. Here’s my translation:

Screening Organization Bans Production of Sexually Violent Game Software

Emi KAMINO

2009/06/04 18:27

On June 4, the Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS), to which 235 computer game makers belong, announced that it would ban the production of game software that portrays sexual violence.

The controversy surrounding game software that portrays sexual violence began when software produced by a Yokohama-based game software maker was listed on Amazon.co.uk, without having been approved by the British Board of Film Classification. In February, 2009, the British Parliament began to take issue [with the software]. In response, foreign human rights groups protested, calling for a ban on the sale of the software in question, and increasingly vocal demands for reform began to come from many different sectors.

In this context, the maker voluntarily ceased sale of the software. On May 22, the EOCS asked its members to voluntarily cease the production and sale of sexually violent software, and in recent days they decided as an industry to create a rule banning their production.

The EOCS says they plan to begin working out the details of standards used to define sexually violent software.

So there it is. I’ve already expressed my own opinions on the matter in earlier posts, and frankly I’m tired of arguing about discussing it, but I felt obliged to report on the official announcement. This will probably be my last post on the topic.

I have taken the liberty of translating the entry posted to the blog of Abel Group by it’s president, KANNO Hiroyuki, last night. As of this writing, this is the only first-hand account of the proceedings. The links were added by me.

Production and Sale of Rape Game Software To Be Banned: Ethics Organization of Computer Software

The emergency gathering of the member companies just finished.

There wasn’t any major confusion, and, as most people expected, it was decided that the production and sale of rape game software be banned.

<snip>

Here are the details of the gathering.

About a hundred people gathered at Tsuda Hall.

Too many people showed up, so at the last minute they asked that Tokyo-based makers send only one representative each.

Those who travelled from other parts of the country and had tickets for two were allowed in, but, anyway, it was a lot of people.

Rape games will be banned.

I don’t know if this is surprising or not, but there was virtually no one who expressed opposition.

In way, there was this atmosphere of “What can you do?”, so, literally, maybe there was nothing to be done.

Of course, it was an informal meeting, so there wasn’t a vote or anything.

I think more than a few people who didn’t feel comfortable with it.

If there had been a secret ballot, I think there would have been a surprising number of votes against it, but, looking at the whole picture, there was a feeling that a restriction was unavoidable.

It’s not that people didn’t have opinions.

It seems the opinions of BABA-san of Visual Arts, and MORITA-san and YAMAMOTO Kazue-san of Ail stood out.

But no one came straight out and said, “Isn’t this wrong?”

What people seemed more concerned about was, “Exactly what is going to be off-limits?”

That makes sense. There are plenty of makers who are worried, “We’re working on this project right now, but is it okay?”

There were specific questions, like:

“What about tentacle stuff?”
“What about monsters?”

Seriously, how’s that gonna work out? LOL

It was decided that the rules have to be revised, but the details of what those revisions will be are yet to be decided, so there’s no way to answer those questions right now.

Well, I suppose it’s up to the EOCS staff for the time being.

In particular, I think there will be a clamp down on the wording and images of the packages that are the “face” of the games, starting as soon as tomorrow.

It seems there was a lively exchange of opinions, but someone suggested, “Maybe we can drop the label ‘bishoujo game’,” and apparently a few people nodded in agreement.

Candidates for alternative labels included things like “adult game.” I wonder how practical it is to try to change a name that is already a standard and widely used noun, but, surprisingly, people were talking about it with straight faces.

As a creator, I was a bit disappointed that the range of expression will be narrowed, but it seems everyone has been thinking that times have just changed.

Now that it’s decided, we have no choice but to follow the rules.

I’m eager to see how the revision of the rules progresses.

KANNO Hiroyuki
(President of Abel Group)

What surprised me was the calm, dispassionate tone of his report, which contrasts sharply with the foaming-at-the-mouth reactions of pitchfork-wielding fans of the genre on both Japanese- and English-language websites.

Curiously, it is foreign fans, not Japanese fans, who are blaming “those damned feminists.” Sankaku Complex mentions feminists six times in its reaction, e.g.: “bowed to feminist pressure”; “interfering feminist politicians”; “Feminist busybody group ‘Equality Now'”; “foreign feminists”; “avowed feminist”. And that’s just their official reaction. You should read some of the user comments; no shortage of illiterate, incoherent bile and vitriol there. One commenter in an earlier post of mine expressed skepticism at my assertion of the “potential for boiling over into actual violence.” Well, how about this comment for a concrete (no pun intended) example?

Comment by MaidNiac
03-06-2009 03:45

Now i would really love to Curb Stomp them and smash their face on a concrete floor.. Both those feminists and possibly the EOCS too, for being total pussies who let themselves easily stomp by those self-proclaimed protection idiots.
Enjoy your RL raep, b*tches.

In case the code went over your head, that last lines translates, “Enjoy your real-life rapes, bitches.” I wonder if MaidNiac’s, er, “aggression” stems from playing too many violent video games, or if it is an innate agressiveness that draws him to such games? Either way, I hope he doesn’t act on his violent fantasies.

Mr. Kanno, on the other hand–who makes a living producing erotic games and is apparently rather famous in the world of erotic games–seems to be taking the new ban in stride. He also implies that the ban will be a substantive one, and suggests that makers who think it might be limited to cosmetic changes–like changing the nomenclature–are naive. While he expresses disappointment, he acknowledges that times have changed, and it’s time to move on. Let’s hope the angry fans learn to move on, too.

P.S.: It looks like I translated this just in time–or too soon, depending on your point of view. Mr. Kanno has deleted his post, as well as a subsequent post on the matter, saying that as a member of the EOCS, it was not his place to voice his personal opinions on matters that the group has not yet made public. Now I’m torn about whether or not I should delete my translation… (-_-;) That would make this second post I’ve had to redact in less than two weeks. Arghh!!

P.P.S.: Actually, I just realized that Mr. Kanno’s blog entry has already been reproduced at at least four other sites. The cat is out of the bag. So, with apologies to Mr. Kanno, I’ll be leaving this translation up.

Though the news media has not picked up on it yet, and Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS) has not announced it on their website, at least one organization member who attended the June 2 emergency meeting of the group reports that the ban was passed with virtually no opposition. This is not a government ban, and effects only members of the EOCS, but, according to Sankaku Complex (whose opinion on the matter is pretty clear), “this accounts for most companies in the industry.”

I’ll write more later, but right now I have a doctor’s appointment I have to run to.

Here’s my translation of a report from the Yomiuri Shinbun Newspaper, dated May 29.

Ruling Coalition Aims To Strengthen Regulation of Sexual Violence Games, Creates Team to Consider Ways To Put Brakes On Circulation

As international human rights groups and others criticize Japanese-made computer games that simulate the rape, impregnation, and forced abortion of girls, the Liberal Democratic Party, on the 29th [of May], formed a team to consider ways to put the brakes on the current situation, in which such games are circulated in huge numbers.

The New Komeito Party created it’s own team in the middle of this month, and it now appears that the debate within the ruling coalition on the strengthening of regulations is shifting into high gear.

The team created by the L.D.P. on the 29th is called the “Study Group for the Regulation of Sexual Violence Games.” As Japan is accused of being one of the most lenient of the developed nations in the regulation of games involving sexual violence as well as child pornography, the relevant ministries will hold hearings on the matter. In a series of meetings to come, the necessity of strengthening regulations shall be considered.

Minister of Consumer Affairs [Seiko] NODA noted, “In Japan, barriers for the protection of children are extremely loose.” Upper House member Eriko YAMATANI, who chaired the meeting, said, “In terms of further developing Japan’s content industry, it is important that we not risk the loss of trust on account of these games.”

The New Komeito Party created it’s own joint project team to consider the problem of sexual violence games in the middle of this month. Party leader [Akihiro] OHTA and other Diet members conducted an inspection of game shops in Akibahara, and held a hearing of experts.

Additionally, representatives of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reported that the independent screening agency of the personal computer software industry has 1) requested software distributors to cease selling the sexual violence games in question, making them virtually impossible to purchase domestically, and 2) is considering the a ban on the production of sexual violence games known as “rape games.”

(Yomiuri Shinbun Newspaper, 23:20, May 29, 2009)

I think it’s safe to assume that pressure will be high on Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software to ban “rape games” when it meets on June 2. Politicians everywhere like to put a notch in their guns to show voters that they are “protecting children,” but I think what they are doing here is giving the industry a chance to regulate itself, much as the congressional hearings on the effects of comic books in the 1950s led to the creation of the (now all but defunct) Comics Code Authority. Most industries are smart enough to read trends in public opinion and reign in excesses before government intercedes. The manga industry has done a good job of playing this game for some 50 years. This is, in my opinion, the way it should work.

Defenders of Japanese rape games, both inside and outside Japan, have been demonizing Equality Now and other non-Japanese for supposedly “imposing their own values on Japan,” but the bottom line is that the international attention is simply making the general Japanese public aware of a genre that has been all but invisible outside the Akibahara bubble. What worries both politicians and industry insiders, ultimately, is not what foreigners say, but what Japanese voters and consumers will say.

If you search the Internet for Japanese-language discussion of this matter, you will find that, while it is male otaku supporters who are making the most noise about it, other Japanese are saying pretty clearly that such material should be restricted in some way. Most residents of Japan (including me) never even knew about the existence of this genre until the current controversy brought it to light.

Some comments in my last post on this matter challenged my description of such games as a form of “hate speech.” I admit that my viewpoint is subjective, and perhaps arbitrary. All I can say is that, to my mind, “rape games” cross a line that rape fantasies in manga (for either men or women) generally do not. I suppose it is the “active” versus “passive” aspect I see as fundamentally different. It is hard for me to see such games (though I have never played them or even seen the content beyond the box covers and product descriptions) as anything but an expression of a profound misogyny that has the potential for boiling over into actual violence.

We can argue about such distinctions till the cows come home, which is precisely why I oppose government censorship of any form of expression, unless that expression incites violence in a manner that makes the threat of violence immenent. But I am all for industries regulating themselves in ways that reflect that ever-elusive “common sense” that we all know of, yet cannot (and perhaps should not) define.

P.S.: Considering how quickly things have transpired this month, this is already “old news,” but here’s an English-language article from the Asahi Shinbun, dated May 14, that sums up the basic facts of the controversy, and includes comments by a representative of the Ethics Organization for Computer Software.

Regarding the TBS report on the apparent decision of Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software to ban “rape simulation” games I reported in my last post, Canned Dogs is now calling the the veracity of the report into question. None of the sources they cite is terribly reliable.

But TBS has deleted the page that carried the video and summary, and (The page was merely moved. Apologies.) though I’ve been watching TBS’ 24-hour news channel (“News Bird”) for several hours, the report has yet to be replayed.

Did TBS just jump the gun, or did they get it entirely wrong?

It looks like we’ll just have to wait for the outcome of the June 2 meeting of the EOCS.

As The Escapist and Canned Dogs have reported, Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software has apparently decided to ban the production and sale of computer games that simulate rape and other forms of sexual assault, effective June 2. The ban was reported on the 28th by Japan’s TBS News. As of this writing, no other Japanese news sources have reported on the ban, and the EOCS’s web site as yet to post an official statement.

For the past month, the international organization Equality Now has been pressing the Japanese government to ban such games.*

I personally am pleased with the EOCS’ decision. It is an important rejection of a deeply offensive form of expression.

I would not have been pleased if it had been the Japanese government that had decided to ban such material. There is a world of difference between government censorship and the rejection of certain forms of expression as unacceptable by private groups.

Rape simulation games are certainly of form of “hate speech.” Just the description on the package of “Rapelay,” the game that triggered the international reaction, is so sickening I wouldn’t want to translate it here. Just imagine a “lynching simulation game” in which the player attacks, tortures, and murders a random person of African descent, or a “holocaust simulation game” in which the player participates in the slaughter of Jews. “Rapelay” (a combination on the English words “rape” and “play”) is no different.

But in the U.S., at least, even hate speech is protected, unless it is deemed to be an incitement to violence in which the threat of violence is imminent. In the U.S., you could legally make the kind of games I described above. But you would have a hard time finding distributors and retailors. The EOCS’ decision to ban its members from producing and selling rape games will, I hope, help to create an environment in which the sale of such games would be seen by the general public, including gamers, as something shocking and unacceptable.

In an earlier post, I wrote that, “to support free expression is not just to defend expression you like, but rather to defend expression you despise.” Japan’s rape games are a sort of ultimate test of that sentiment. My gut tells me that if such forms of expression were banned by Japanese law, my reaction would be, “Good riddance.”

But that’s the slippery slope.

Banning hate speech only drives it into dark corners where it can fester outside of society’s view. And such expression is a symptom of the hate, not the source of the hate. There’s an expression in Japanese about “putting a lid on something smelly.” The lid protects your nose from the smell, but the source of the smell is still there.

As a supporter of Equality Now, I would prefer to see them focus on the concrete problems that affect actual women, in material ways, rather than pressing governments to put lids on smelly things.

* Note: Equality Now’s Action Report contains two very misleading statements:

The Anti Pornography and Prostitution Research Group, an organization based in Japan which has been working to stop the objectification of women, says it has difficulty in trying to educate a government that even allows real gang rape videos to be sold in the open market.

What are legal are live-action, pornographic videos featuring consenting adults that portray fictional rapes and gang rapes. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been legal to sell video recordings of actual rapes.

It was not until 1999 that Japan outlawed child pornography.

Child pornography–“any representation, by whatever means, of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes“–has never been legal in Japan. What was legal before 1999 was photographs, films, and videos of nude children that did not fit the above definition.

In my last post, I did a little play on words (“Law and (Gag) Orders”), but I just want to clarify that I myself am not subject to any legally-binding gag order, and as far as I know, no one involved in the Handley case is subject to a “gag order” in the strict sense of an order issued by the court. As I understand it, the conditions of the plea bargain Handley agreed to include a (rather standard, I suppose) restriction on what Handley or anyone of his surrogates can say about the case. (Obviously the prosecution is not going to be happy if they strike a plea agreement, and the defendant then tells the media, “I’m acually innocent, but I signed the plea agreement because I was threatened with a harsher sentence if I didn’t.”) The repercussions of violating those conditions, though, are very real, since the prosecution can withdraw the plea agreement, or ask the judge for a harsher sentence.

Can you say “coercive plea agreement“?

In the meantime, I am trying to find a list of the materials deemed obscene by the prosecution, preferably in Japanese, so that I can check it out for myself. (Remember that I live in Japan, where the material is quite legal.)

At this point, all we have are rumors and speculation. For example, a widely referenced article from MTV’s Splash Page contains this passage:

“There is explicit sex in yaoi comics,” Handley’s lawyer Eric Chase told MTV. “And the men are drawn in a very androgynous style, which has the effect of making them look really young. There’s a real taboo in Japan about showing pubic hair, so they’re all drawn without it, which also makes them look young. So what concerned the authorities were the depictions of children in explicit sexual situations that they believed to be obscene. But there are no actual children. It was all very crude images from a comic book.”

Based on this quote, many commentators have concluded that the problematic books were (at least in part) yaoi. The Splash Page writer herself draws the same conclusion when she says, “[Handley] was arrested in Iowa for possession of obscene material based on his private collection, which included lolicon and yaoi manga.” Yet a careful reading of the quote reveals that Chase does not say that the problematic material in Handley’s case was yaoi. His statement could also easily be read as simply offering an example of a kind of manga that could be mistaken for depictions of minors in sexual situations.

I myself concluded that the material must be explicitly pornographic, based on this description from the indictment (quoted here):

a copy of a book containing visual depictions, namely drawings and cartoons, that depicted graphic bestiality, including sexual intercourse, between human beings and animals such as pigs, monkeys, and others.

Yet things I have read and heard since have made me skeptical of this description. The bottom line is we cannot comment on the specifics of the material until those specifics are made public. And as far as I can tell, they have not.

But regardless of whether the manga in question are the kind of thing any manga collecter would have on her shelf or are explicitly pornographic, as long as the material passes the Miller Test (as even the most explicit legal pornography evidently does), the material should be protected by the First Amendment.

« Older entries