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Why Is Japan So Upset About a 3-D Printed Vagina?

Prostitution is effectively legal in Japan — but sending 30 people the 3-D schematics for her vagina just got a conceptual artist arrested.
Photo via Creative Tools

In Japan, 3-D printer–related crimes are big news these days. In May, a man was arrested for making a gun that could fire live rounds with a 3-D printer. And Monday, a Japanese conceptual artist who distributed data allowing others to make life-sized renderings of her vagina using 3-D printers was arrested for violating Japan's obscenity laws.

Unlike the gun, police have not yet labeled her vagina a lethal weapon.


The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department arrested artist Megumi Igarashi on "obscene electromagnetic record distribution charges" — in other words, for e-mailing engineering specs for her privates. Child porn possession was only just outlawed last month in Japan after many years of political struggle.

While distributing uncensored vagina pictures is a crime, it is not illegal in Japan for consenting adults to pay for or sell sex. (Prostitution is technically illegal, but the customer or the prostitute can’t be arrested in the majority of cases; only the pimp or brothel owner can.) Under current interpretations of Japan's obscenity laws, even the country's traditional erotic artwork, known as Shunga, which has graphic depictions of sexual activity, could potentially be considered illegal. As a result, some of the best collections of Shunga art are only seen outside of Japan.

Disguising a corpse as a sex doll — a nearly perfect crime in Japan. Read more here.

Igarashi, a manga artist who uses the pen name Rokudenashiko [good-for-nothing child], sent the data to more than 30 people who had donated money to help her fund a project to build a kayak shaped like a vagina. The boat is called the Manbo, a combination of the Japanese slang word for vagina and the word for boat, a.k.a., Pussy Boat. Igarashi says her work is intended to demystify the female genitalia.

Igarashi with part of her vagina-shaped boat. Photo by Rokude Nashiko/Facebook

Police also allegedly raided Love Piece Club, a sex shop founded and run exclusively by women that Igarashi is involved with, and collected all of her art to be used as “evidence,” according to Minori Kitahara, the founder of Love Piece Club.

“I wrote a written report that stated that I don't think [her] work falls under obscenity,” Kitahara wrote on Twitter. Police sources confirm that Kitahara, who has been a vocal critic of Japan’s strange obscenity laws and police enforcement of them, is denying the obscenity charges.

The arrest has sparked a petition on calling for Igarashi's release, which gathered almost 15,000 signatures in less than a day.

“In regard to the judgment made by the police, Igarashi's handout was not 'obscene' — it's a fine piece of [data for] artwork that has a rational concept to it,” said Masanori Takano, creator of the petition and a programmer who follows Igarashi's work. “In addition, the exchange was only made between people who were connected to her via the Internet, so it does not infringe on the human rights of any individual and there is no reason for an arrest.”

Photo via Flickr