One of the stranger stories we’ve been following is that of artist Megumi Igarashi, aka “the vagina kayak lady.” Her story began back in 2014, when she was arrested for selling and distributing 3D printable files of her own vagina. She was released days later after an appeal, but what followed was a long saga of court cases, additional arrests, and an eventual indictment that ultimately resulted in a penalty of ¥800,000 (about $6,600).
The Japanese name for the law is Waisetsu Butsu Hanpu To, or Distribution of Obscene Objects – and while another law, Article 21 of the 1947 Constitution, says that “no censorship shall be maintained,” Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code reads “a person who distributes, sells or displays in public an obscene document, drawing or other objects shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more 2,500,000 yen or a petty fine. The same shall apply to a person who possesses the same with the purpose of sale.”
What it means in practice that exposed genitals in any kind of visual material are hidden with what’s known as ‘bokashi,’ a blurring or fogging with a digital mosaic or overlay.
Igarashi refused to pay the fine, insisting that the female anatomy is not obscene, and public opinion largely agreed with her. The Japanese court system has announced a final verdict, and while the penalty has been reduced, the decision is as seemingly incomprehensible as the rest of the case has been.
Igarashi initially began distributing the files of her 3D scanned vagina as a way to raise money for a personal project: she wanted to build a kayak modeled on her lady parts. After she was arrested for the distribution of obscene material and subsequently released, she continued to defy the courts and share her kayak plans online.
Judge Mihoko Tanabe explained that the court was clearing Igarashi of the obscenity charge relating to her sale of miniature vagina kayaks, stating that because the kayak doesn’t overly resemble a vagina, it’s okay – but that the files themselves were realistic enough to “sexually arouse viewers” and are thus pornographic. The verdict reduced the fine by half – Igarashi is now required to pay ¥400,000, but she’s still not having it.
“I am of course indignant,” she said at a news conference. “I’ll fight until the end … I will appeal and continue to fight in court. I’ve been working to change the concept of obscenity, which is usually seen from the perspective of men — I’m mortified the (female) judge didn’t understand that.”
Igarashi explained in a blog post that she made the kayak and other vagina-based artworks to challenge the taboo in Japanese society on the representation of genitalia. An English translation of her book “What is Obscenity?”