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). Igarashi refused to pay the fine, insisting that the female anatomy is not obscene, and public opinion largely agreed with her. Today, 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, as well as creating and selling an entire series of vagina-inspired art that included smartphone cases, lampshades, and a toy model of the kayak, which she finally built at full scale.
Her case drew attention to Japan’s outdated and bizarre views of obscenity and pornography, which seem to be completely arbitrary; trying to make sense of them makes one want to bang one’s head against the wall. You’d think that a country with a $20 billion a year porn industry would be pretty liberal about sexuality in art and media, but even in Japanese pornography genitals are typically pixelated or blocked out with black bars. However, while the legal system is hung up on blocking images of natural anatomy, they’re very free in their acceptance of anime and manga that depict the subjugation and abuse of women and children, albeit in cartoon form.
Then there’s the penis festival, a yearly event that celebrates the male member with phalluses everywhere, from giant floats to edibles. The double standard is obvious, and Igarashi’s legal battle has drawn global attention to an antiquated system that celebrates the penis but seems to be rather afraid of the vagina – which is why the artist states that she will continue to fight the courts after today’s verdict, which concluded that, essentially, while Igarashi’s vagina figurines can be considered pop art, the 3D printable files are still pornography, and thus the artist is guilty of the distribution of indecent material.
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.”
So this certainly isn’t the last we’ll be hearing of Igarashi, who appeared at the news conference with several cartoon vagina figurines. I don’t know what her chances are in terms of changing the court’s mind, but she’s certainly drawn a lot of attention to Japan’s attitudes towards female sexuality – and that’s something of a victory in itself. Thoughts on this ongoing case? Discuss in the 3D Vagina Artist forum over at 3DPB.com.