Japanese in Their Late Teens Can Now Film Porn Freely. Not Everyone’s OK With It.

A change in the age of adulthood has raised legal and moral questions about the Japanese porn industry.

TOKYO — In Japan, 18 is the new 20.

Millions of young Japanese became legal adults overnight on April 1 as the country lowered the age of majority from 20 to 18, bringing itself in line with most other nations in a bid to revitalize its aging workforce.

This means 18- and 19-year-olds in Japan no longer need their parents’ permission to rent an apartment, sign a phone contract, and—controversially—star in pornography.

The age of sexual consent in Japan is 13, one of the lowest in the world, but the country allows only those 18 or older to film porn, following the prevailing standard worldwide to protect children from sexual exploitation.

And until this month, the Japanese government had long offered those at least 18 years old but below 20—the previous age of adulthood—additional safeguards: These young Japanese must get their parents’ approval to make pornography, and they could rescind any contract they signed anytime and demand their videos removed.

Now, the nearly 2.4 million young Japanese adults in this age group no longer enjoy the protection because they are, well, adults. But some activists and government officials have expressed concerns this could cause an uptick in sexual exploitation of 18- and 19-year-olds—some of whom are still in high school—arguing that more young Japanese could be coerced into having sex in front of a camera.

Speaking in front of the Japanese Parliament last month, representative Ayaka Shiomura called on her colleagues to better protect young adults from potential exploitation by the adult video industry. But hers was a lone voice in Japan’s male-dominated legislature: her fellow lawmakers laughed at her for proposing a bill to keep the protective measures for those in their late teens even when they’re considered full adults.

“Everyone, this is no laughing matter. It is an important issue,” Shiomura said. Video of the exchange has gone viral on Japanese Twitter.

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

Human rights groups have similarly called for the government to continue granting 18- and 19-year-olds the right to nullify a contract to star in porn films.

The week before Japan raised the age of adulthood, lawyers and nonprofit leaders collected nearly 40,000 signatures, including from sex workers and former porn stars, for a petition demanding the government to keep these guardrails.

At another parliament meeting late March, a YouTuber who goes by the name of Aroma Kurumin spoke of her own experiences being coerced into filming pornography as a college senior and backed the call to give 18- and 19-year-olds special protections.

Kurumin was scouted on the streets of Tokyo to appear in a music video. But once she showed up to the set, the gig turned out to be pornography—a common deceptive practice. Though she resisted, the staff at the time, over 10 people, pressured her to strip and film, she said. 

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“This experience has become a scar that will never go away,” she said at the meeting, arguing that teenagers deserve a second chance.

Porn actor Ginji Sagawa (left) on set with Karin Itsuki at a studio in Tokyo. Photo: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP via Getty Images

But some industry insiders say keeping the guardrails would be pointless because they didn’t work anyway.

Shiho Miyazaki, who entered the pornography industry in 2004 at the age of 18, said she was never asked to provide her parents’ signatures when she signed with an adult model management company.

“They’re not thorough about parental consent, probably because they don’t check each and every one of the contracts,” Miyazaki told VICE World News.

Then a high school student, Miyazaki was looking for part-time work and was drawn to the porn industry by its mystery and high pay—acting in one video can earn an actor anywhere from $4,000 to $24,000. 

Her parents only found out a year later when they discovered in their daughter’s bedroom a script for a porn video. They told her to quit, but she kept working in the industry for four more years and had appeared in about 300 videos before retiring. Now an office worker, she said she had no regrets about her career choice at the time.

“I learned how to have good sex in a safe environment, and I am who I am today because of my past experiences,” she said.

People working in Japanese porn have also argued that the industry has in recent years become much better regulated. 

Facing mounting pressure to tighten regulations following a damning report of abuses in 2016, porn production companies have widely adopted a standard contract meant to improve the working conditions for porn actors, Suzuki, a porn talent manager in his early 40s, told VICE World News. He requested the use of a fake name because he doesn’t want his family to know what he does professionally.

The agreement requires producers to disclose how much money an actor will receive upfront, and bars companies from suing actors if they refuse jobs.

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“If production companies don’t comply with these standards, then they can’t get work—and at the end of the day, that’s all porn is; it’s just work,” he said.

The contract was drafted a year after a human rights watchdog compiled an extensive report documenting many instances of bullying and rape within Japan’s porn industry and drew official scrutiny to the country’s adult video businesses.

Suzuki said that major production companies now regularly interview the applicant, asking about what they are and aren’t comfortable with. He said his company gives models a weeklong cooling-off period before signing a contract.

Hana Kanno, an active porn star, said many production companies are likely to refrain from employing adult teenagers simply because of the controversy around it and possible legislation.

Suzuki, the porn talent manager, said he isn’t against further regulation of the industry as long as it ensures that people know what they’re getting themselves into.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you still deserve a proper explanation about the contracts you’re signing, and you deserve protection if you’ve been deceived,” he said.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.

Tagged:

worldnews, porn

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