Japan's child porn addiction

A nation that openly sexualises youngsters has become the world hub for a dark, booming industry. Now police have decided to tackle the culture of abuse

Tokyo

It was a shocking find: crudely made DVDs with images of grown men having sex with children as young as 12. Until this year, the men who bought those images faced little more than a slap on the wrist. But police in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, decided for the first time during the summer to pursue criminal charges against three male customers in a country widely seen as much too lenient on child pornography.

The police campaign is largely the work of Kyoto's prefectural Governor, Keiji Yamada. During his fight for office two years ago, Mr Yamada pledged to roll out an ordinance banning the buying and possession of child porn – still legal under Japanese law, unless there is proven intent to sell or distribute. Even if the makers are arrested, the images circulate for years on the internet and in secondary markets.

Child porn-related crimes have grown fivefold in Japan through the last decade, according to the country's National Police Agency. At least 600 children a year fall victim to paedophile directors and photographers. "The internet is probably the biggest factor," said Akira Koga, spokesman for the Kyoto Police. "It's very difficult to monitor and control." A new police cyber patrol uncovered the trail back to the three men from the DVD producer in Tokyo.

Japan has long been considered a hub for the production and possession of paedophile images. It is the only OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) nation that has not banned possession of child porn, partly to protect its manga and anime industries, which churn out thousands of titles every year that sail close to the legal wind. A government survey in 2002 found that 10 per cent of Japanese men admitted to owning child porn at some stage.

Bookstores and convenience stores across the country stock magazines carrying semi-naked pictures of pubescent and pre-pubescent children. Many underage girls have built careers as so-called "junior idols", posing in suggestive poses. In the electronics district of Akihabara, Tokyo's capital of geeky cool, tourists gawk at cartoon images of children in various stages of sexual distress, all perfectly legal. One of the nation's most popular pop groups, AKB48, features a revolving cast of members, some as young as 13, persuaded to pout in adult lingerie for videos and magazine covers.

The UK-based Internet Watch Foundation traced nearly 16,250 websites depicting child abuse back to Japan in 2006, enough to put it third on a global watch list. In 2009, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection placed Japan fourth among the top five countries hosting websites with child abuse images, according to ECPAT International, an NGO that fights to end the commercial exploitation of children.

Campaigners engaged in a cat-mouse-game with paedophiles across the world say a new approach is long overdue. "The US is very frustrated with Japan," says Jake Adelstein, a journalist and board member with the Polaris Project Japan, a non-profit organisation that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation. "The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations give Japan's police hundreds of tips on child pornography makers and distributors every year and none of them are acted upon."

Police complain that they do not have the legal resources to fight the problem. Japan only banned the production and distribution of child porn in 1999, mandating punishment of up to five years in prison. Kyoto today is still the only one of Japan's 47 prefectures that threatens prison for possessing child porn. Since Governor Yamada's ordinance, possession carries a maximum one-year jail term or a fine of up to 500,000 yen (£4000).

One reason for the reluctance to roll out new national legislation is the fear that police may use it too liberally, threatening freedom of creative expression. Conservative politicians have long demanded a clampdown on pornographic images. Two years ago, Tokyo's metropolitan assembly banned the sale or rent of comics and anime movies depicting younger characters engaging in "extreme" sexual acts, including rape.

But the ban was resisted by Japan's biggest publishers, who produce hundreds of risqué manga a year featuring fetishism, incest and "Lolita porn", along with more mainstream fare. The Tokyo Bar Association also criticised the wording of the legislation, warning that it could be the thin edge of the censorship wedge against sexualised images of any kind. The association and many legislators want the police to continue targeting producers and distributors of child porn, not consumers.

Opinion polls suggest that most Japanese voters want stricter laws. But with parliament essentially gridlocked ahead of a general election, widely expected this autumn, there is little appetite for a messy political fight over what is seen as a relatively minor issue. The ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) has shelved a 2008 draft law that would have banned any involvement in child pornography. Their conservative opponents, the Liberal Democrats, have promised a tougher line.

Until then, say campaigners, paedophiles will continue to have the upper hand. "Child pornography prosecutions almost always involve images contained on computer hard drives or start with an internet protocol (IP) address that is known to have accessed child pornography material," said a spokesperson for ECPAT International. "The fact that Japanese courts cannot grant search warrants based on IP address information hampers the fight against child pornography."

The organisation warns that Japanese police cannot coordinate with international sting operations because domestic law is out of sync with most of the developed world.

As if to underline the legal challenges ahead, Kyoto police say prosecutors have declined to press charges against the three men, citing a lack of evidence. The three bought the DVDs from a dealer in Tokyo after seeing them advertised on the internet. Police raided the dealer's house and found transaction records showing many more customers around the country. Unfortunately for the victims, few of the men can be prosecuted, even when the law works well.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit