A law to regulate pornography filming contracts is currently before the Japanese parliament, and will make sex contracts legal for the first time in post-war Japan.
It’s popularly thought that prostitution is legal in Japan, given the size and predominance of its sex industry. But, in fact, the 1956 Prostitution Prevention Act, and even the legal provisions covering the ‘adult entertainment’ industry, do not actually permit commercial contracts to be made for penetrative sex. This situation is set to change, however, with the anticipated passing of a law relating to the pornography industry.
Companies producing pornography in Japan have been under pressure since 2015 when a series of court rulings exposed industry tactics to coerce women into filming and to circulate pornography of their exploitation. Japan’s conservative government consequently supported feminist and left-leaning NGOs to take action on behalf of victims, and convened a long-running committee incorporating politicians and outside stakeholders to address the problem.
At the same time, the pornography industry has been active for years in lobbying and campaigning in defence of its commercial interests.
Special exemption laws were passed in 2021 to exclude drinking, smoking, and gambling from activities newly permitted to youth from 1 April 2022 when Japan’s age-of-majority was lowered from age 20 to 18. But pornography was not included in these exemptions, and so NGOs assisting survivors (like PAPS and Colabo) were faced with the urgent task of negotiating solutions.
Ruling party MPs conferenced among themselves, excluding outside stakeholders, over an extremely short period of time. This resulted in the draft law that now looks set to pass. Activists had aimed for a law strictly regulating ‘performance’ (not specifically sex) contracts, especially for people aged 18 and 19, with greater powers for victims to dissolve contracts and withdraw footage from circulation. Making sure the law did not specifically refer to contracts for commercial sex was not just a matter of semantic sophistry: victims of all ages have won court cases against pornographers in Japan precisely on this omission of commercial sex contracts in Japanese law.
But activist demands were ignored, and, as a result, the draft law that is likely to go before parliament for the first time in post-war Japanese history recognises commercial contracts for penetrative sex. A petition has been launched against the draft bill, and protest action is planned for 22 May 2022 from 5.30pm outside Shinjuku station’s east exit.