Publication Details

McLelland, MJ, Thought policing or the protection of youth? Debate in Japan over the "non-existent youth bill", International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA), 13(1), 2011, 348-367. Copyright IJOCA 2011.


In early 2010 Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintarō, supported by international child welfare organisations and a range of conservative Japanese politicians and commentators, sought to extend the range of material caught by a ‘Healthy Youth Development Ordinance’ that prohibited the sale of publications deemed ‘harmful’ to those under 18 in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Material featuring pornography or strong violence was already prohibited from sale to minors, however, the proposed extension would have included publications featuring ‘non-existent youth’ -- that is, purely fictional or imaginary characters who were, looked like or sounded like they were under the age of 18 and who were ‘recklessly’ depicted in sexual scenarios.

In many western jurisdictions such depictions are not simply limited to an R18+ audience but are actually illegal -- although legislation prohibiting them passed with little public interest or scrutiny. However, in the Japanese context, public protest against the proposed extension of a ban on sales (not production) of depictions of ‘non-existent youth’ was considerable. The Democratic Party, the Communist Party, ten publishing companies, 1,421 manga creators, the Japan Pen Club, the Japan Cartoonists Association, the Writers Guild of Japan, several high-profile lawyers and academics and even fictional manga characters themselves all voiced their opposition to the bill, resulting in the proposal being sent back for redrafting.

While most of the public outrage against the bill was directed at perceived limitations on adult freedom of expression guaranteed in the Japanese constitution, many commentators argued that the bill had got its priorities the wrong way round. Rather than paternalistically ‘protecting’ youth from ‘harmful’ content, it was argued that the fantasy space provided by anime and manga was the ideal context for young people to encounter and explore difficult and confronting aspects of human behaviour. This paper examines the recent debate in Japan over the supposed impact of ‘non-existent youth’ on young people and questions whether freedom of expression within Japan's manga and animation industry is sustainable in the face of ever more aggressive globalising and colonising constructions of childhood vulnerability and innocence.


200202 Asian Cultural Studies; 200205 Culture, Gender, Sexuality; 200206 Globalisation and Culture