Possession of child pornography, including those depicting real children, is legal in Japan. Distribution of child pornography was made de jure illegal in 2003 after international pressure from the United Nations, UNICEF and other international organizations, although the law made a distinction between hardcore pornography and the softcore pornography that is widely available in Japan, such as at junior idol and lolicon media centers like Akihabara and Nipponbashi, and at most konbini, or Japanese convenience stores. Prosecutions have been made under the new law by Japan's powerful prosecutors under Japan's unique legal system, resulting in some financial verdicts, with relative strictness of enforcement continuing to vary by prefecture.
Japan and Russia are the two G8 member states where possession of child pornography is legal. Compared to the United Nations, possession of child pornography is legal in 90 out of 193 UN member states.
Today, the law permits the simple possession of child pornographic images if there is no intention of selling or distributing them, with child pornography being defined to be explicit images of children having sex, and not the nude and semi-nude images of children that are common in the Japanese child idol industry. The United States ambassador to Japan has stated that Japan's lack of laws restricting possession of child pornography has impeded efforts in the investigation of people who make child pornography by agencies such as the FBI. In June 2008, a bill proposing the ban on child pornography possession was submitted to the House of Representatives of Japan where it was brought before the Diet in September, but failed to pass.
In October 2007, a public opinion poll taken by the Japanese government showed that 86.5% of respondents favored regulation on art depicting child pornography, while 90.9% endorsed regulation of "harmful materials" on the Internet. A previous government survey taken in 2005 also showed that 20% indicated possessing child pornography at one point. A non-government internet opinion poll indicates the opposite result, with 10.35% in favor of punishing possession, and 47.71% against.
The Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party proposed to prohibit possession without distribution, but the Democratic Party of Japan presented a different proposal to prohibit the taking over from anyone. The House of Representatives was dissolved on July 21, 2009, therefore the proposals to revise the law on the table were withdrawn.
During the general election of the House of Representatives in August 2009, politicians' opinions were divided, as shown in answers to open letters from a civilian organization;  those who opposed simple possession feared being falsely accused of such.
Although not always considered explicitly pornographic, media portraying young idols is a large industry in Japan. Although generally lacking nudity, photobooks and videos of underage models in scant, tight fitting and revealing clothing are often taken to be provocative and pornographic in nature. Today, this industry remains lucrative, with The Japan Times reporting an estimated 3 million idol photo books sold between 2006 and 2007. Models are categorized under age groupings, ranging anywhere from 18 years of age (U-18), to as young as 3 years old (U-3). Child models in Japan are not seen in the same light as in the West, with many models gaining large fan bases and being offered acting, singing, or promotional careers.
The largest of the junior idol groups is AKB48, which has recently seen enormous success domestically, and increasing exposure internationally, despite releasing salacious materials such as music videos where underage girls dance in lingerie, and photobooks where underage members pose semi-nude with their hands covering their breasts. International exposure has included a concert in America and singing the theme song for the Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph (known as Sugar Rush in Japan).
Studios producing junior idol media are not exempt from current laws. After 2007, staffs and presidents of some video production firms were arrested on allegations that their productions overstepped the legal boundary at least a few times.
Lolicon and Shotacon
"Lolicon" is the Japanese term used in reference to the child porn industry, although in the West, the term has been changed to mean drawn images in manga form and not real images of actual children (see simulated pornography). It is short for "Lolita Complex". Lolicon manga depict young girls in an erotic manner. The young boys equivalent is called Shotacon.
Figures for the total value of the lolicon and shotacon industries are hard to come by, but it is estimated that 30-40% of manga contains sexual themes or content of underage children. The age of consent in Japan is 13, but generally higher under prefectural laws. Manga is a large industry in Japan, accounting for over $5.5 billion USD in sales alone in 2000; nearly a quarter of the total sales of all published materials in Japan. No regulations are in place to control images portraying sexual exploitation in manga and animated films.
Supporters of legal control of simulated pornography claim to be advocate the laws of human rights and children's rights such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Opponents, such as the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (ja:日本弁護士連合会) also claims to be advocacy of the child rights pointed out the decreasing numbers in sexually motivated crimes.
Constitutionality of the laws were discussed since Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan guarantees freedom of speech, press and all other forms of expression. The definitions of obscenity, specifically written as "arouses or stimulates the viewer's sexual desire" in these laws are argued as ambiguous.
Japanese pornography is regulated by the article 175 of the Criminal Code banning to sell, distribute, display in public and possession for sale of obscene objects since 1907. Pornographic films with clear view of genitals are illegal, thus, genital areas are pixelized in legal pornographic videos (see Pornography in Japan). Article 34 is also applicable since 1947.
In August 1993, a manager of a burusera shop who invited a female high school student to appear in an underground video called ura video (ja:裏ビデオ) was arrested on suspicion of possession for sale of obscene pictures, using article 175 of the Criminal Code.
Distribution of child pornography was first made illegal in Japan in 1999, with the distribution of child pornography in Japan being before that legal. The original law first passed the Diet of Japan in 1998, with the law being amended again in 2003.
- Japan police crack down on 300 child porn cases Kubota, Yuko. Reuters. Accessed August 19, 2009
- William Sparrow (2007-02-23). "Japan's Lolita merchants feel the heat". Asia Times. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JB23Aa02.html. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
- Yoron Chousa (public opinion research).net in 2008 (in Japanese) Archived November 6, 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- Proposal by the ruling parties (in Japanese)
- Democrat's counterproposal (in Japanese)
- The Movements for Internet Active Users (MIAU) Answers to Question 8 (in Japanese)
- October 16, 2007 (in Japanese)
- December3, 2007 (in Japanese)
- July 19, 2009 (in Japanese)
- Sexual Offenses Laws - Japan by Interpol, Aug 3, 2007
- Japan main culprit in online child pornography by Noriko Sakakibara of The Daily Yomiuri, ANN, AsiaOne. December 4, 2008
- Statement on February 21, 2003 (in Japanese) Archived June 18, 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- The Japan PEN Club's statement on November 26, 1998 (in Japanese)
- Child Welfare Act
- Police White Paper, 1994. (in Japanese)
- Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children