Earlier this year, Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi said it was her dream to make a life-size "pussy boat" and "set sail across the ocean". Unlike most of us, she actually achieved her goals: She went on to design and create a kayak using a 3-D mold of her own vagina. But yesterday things took a turn away from the whimsical when she was arrested by Japanese cops on obscenity charges for distributing the digital blueprints for her boat.
There's nothing obscene about Igarashi's kayak, which is banana-yellow and covered with neon-green and orange writing. When you look at it with a vagina in mind, you sort of see the way the intricate folds near the center resemble a vulva, but not any more than if you looked at, say, a taco with a vagina in mind. The difference, of course, is that Igarashi's kayak was designed using a mold of her own vagina and created by a 3-D printer.
But the kayak itself isn't what got her in trouble. It's the source material - the digital images from the hold - that is the problem.
Japan's strict obscenity laws ban actual depictions of genitalia thanks to an archaic part of the Japanese Penal Code known as Article 175, which prohibits the sale, distribution, or display of "obscene" materials. Although the law is enforced sparingly, you can't legally buy porn in Japan if the genitals aren't censored. (This is why if you happen to watch Japanese porn the performer's private parts are rather absurdly blurred out.) The pornography industry has skirted the issue by selling fetish-y porn that doesn't show P's and V's and by offering services that claim to remove the pixilation on genitals in porn.
In 2004, there was a case that challenged Article 175 by arguing that it violated freedom of expression, which is protected by the Japanese constitution, but the country's Supreme Court ultimately upheld the law. Igarashi's obscenity charges - which could earn her two years in jail and a fine of about $25,000 if she's convicted - are expected to force discussion about the law again.
Igarashi describes herself as a "vagina artist," and her works includes elaborate dioramas made from molds of her vagina, including a scene where little dolls are playing golf on a putting green made from a mold of her genitals. Unsurprisingly, given that her work is basically illegal in the country she calls home, she's been arrested on obscenity charges before. Back in July she spent five days in jail because she sent 3-D-printable files of her vagina to potential donors for the kayak project. At the time, she told reporters that the goal of her art was to destigmatise and demystify female genitalia in Japan, where she has said the vagina is "overly hidden".