Japan is a high developed capitalist country where women’s social, economic, and political status is very low, and feminist and women’s movements are weak (see Caroline Norma, ‘Japanese women remain marooned in a patriarchal paradise,’ Feminist Current, 1 October 2019). Porn culture has been dominant in post-war Japan, and its pornographic items have been exported in vast quantities into many Asian and other countries. Japanese pornographic manga and animation are consumed worldwide. And, since the early 1990s, ‘sex work’ theory has spread among feminists and in other progressive circles and academics in Japan. Despite these conditions, our abolitionist research and activism has continued for two decades.
In 1999, we founded the Anti-Pornography-and-Prostitution Research Group (APP) mainly to do public research and education on problems relating to the sex industry in Japan from a feminist perspective. This group has been very small, but includes determined abolitionists in Japan.
APP published a yearly journal of its research between 2000 and 2011. For some time after the Great East Japan earthquake disaster in 2011 the group was inactive, because some leading members suffered the influence of the Fukushima atomic-power accident. However, from 2015 onwards, it resumed activities and began to publish its journal again (the 11th publication in 2016). The most recent issue (the 12th publication) was published in August 2019. It featured the #MeToo movement in the US, Japan and South Korea, and also featured the significance of the Nordic Model and the awful circumstances of countries legalising prostitution.
In 2004, Seiya Morita, our founding member, published an English article on pornography, prostitution and women’s human rights in Japan in Rebecca Whisnant and Christine Stark eds, Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography (Australia: Spinifex Press). In 2007, Hiroshi Nakasatomi, another founding member, wrote a book in Japanese titled Pornography and Sexual Violence (Porunogurafii to Sei Bouryoku, Tokyo: Akashi-shoten).
Recently, another two English articles were written on the basis of APP’s research on pornography in Japan: Yukino Yamamoto (APP member); Caroline Norma (APP collaborator); and Ruwan Dep Weerasinghe, “Consumer Involvement in Japanese Pornography Production,” Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence: Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2018; Caroline Norma and Seiya Morita, “Feminist Action Against Pornography in Japan: Unexpected Success in an Unlikely Place,” Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence: Vol. 4: Issue 4, 2020.
Over its two-decade long history, APP has produced a large volume of empirical research on Japan’s porn industry. This includes surveys of various harms of pornography, research on spycam filming, analysis of violent pornography contents and users, auditing of pornography-related serial rape trials, and monitoring of pornography-related website forums.
In 2009, some APP members and other activists set up a supporting organisation, called People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence (English Website), to engage in direct-service outreach to survivors of pornography’s harms and others seeking assistance in relation to Japan’s sex industry. In particular, PAPS tackles problems relating to coercion in pornography filming which frequently happen in the production of porn videos in Japan.
Since 2016, PAPS and its partner groups such as Lighthouse have received many painful and disparate demands for consultation and help from a vast number of victims of pornography and prostitution. By 2020 their numbers amounted to nearly 800 people. As the impact of APP/PAPS’s research and campaigning has spread in Japan, the government has begun to enact policies and programs against ‘coerced’ pornography filming. PAPS and Human Rights Now (HRN) currently are attempting to get political support for the tabling of a draft bill to tackle the various harms of pornography including coercion into pornography filming.
In mid-2019, members of APP, PAPS, VAWW-RAC (a group tackling the ‘comfort’ women problem), and Colabo (a group supporting formerly prostituted and/or abused girls) formed an explicitly abolitionist network group in Japan, called Anti Sexual Exploitation Network (ASEN). This group includes Japanese, Korean and Australian members. At present the members translate a large volume of foreign media pieces and reports about prostitution policy and its results overseas to provide members with basic knowledge about the global abolitionist movement. Some people participating in this group have forged links with abolitionists in South Korea who have decades of experience advocating for the Nordic Model.
In January and February 2020, we held our 20th anniversary events in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively, with 30 to 50 participants. A record of these events was published on July 20, 2020 in a special magazine entitled Towards the Abolition of Pornography and Prostitution.
In April 2020, we launched this website, featuring ‘International news and views‘ in order to inform Japanese people about the movement of abolitionists around the world and the actual conditions of prostitution and pornography in various countries, and to disseminate information about the abolitionist movement in Japan to the world in English.
Japan’s 1958 Prostitution Prevention Law is still in force, and this law is semi-abolitionist in its framing. However, the law has many deficiencies; for example, the ‘prostitution’ that this law defines excludes many types of commercial sexual services, and purchasing sex is illegal but not punished, so, in fact, prostitution has only semi-legal status in Japan. APP and ASEN aim to revise the Law to turn it into a type of Nordic Model.