TOKYO — In a manga comic book that is well known here, “My Wife Is an Elementary School Student,” a 24-year-old teacher marries a 12-year-old girl as part of a top-secret social experiment. There is no depiction of actual sex. But the teacher’s steamy fantasies fill the comic’s pages in graphic detail, including a little naked girl with sexually suggestive props. Meanwhile, in a widely available new DVD, a real-life Japanese model poses in a tiny white bikini. She makes popcorn in a maid’s costume. She plays with a beach ball while being hosed down with water. Japan, which has long been relatively tolerant of the open sale and consumption of sexually oriented material, has developed a brisk trade in works that in many other countries might be considered child pornography. But now some public officials want to place tighter restrictions on the provocative depictions of young girls — referred to as “junior idols”— that are prevalent in magazines, DVDs and Web videos.
One particularly big target is manga comic books that depict pubescent girls in sexual acts. They are a lucrative segment of the ¥450 billion, or $5.5 billion, industry for manga, illustrated books drawn in a characteristic Japanese comic-book style.
An ordinance newly revised by Tokyo’s metropolitan government to restrict the sale of such material has prompted a national debate between its publishers and critics inside and outside Japan, who say the fare exploits children and may even encourage pedophilia. Other local and regional governments, including the prefecture of Osaka, are considering similar restrictions.
“These are for abnormal people, for perverts,” said Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara, angrily throwing two comic books to the floor during an interview. Mr. Ishihara spearheaded the ordinance changes, which take effect in July.
While the revised law applies to an area containing only about a tenth of Japan’s population, Tokyo is the nation’s media capital and a de facto arbiter of the country’s pop culture boundaries. “There’s no other country in the world that lets such crude works exist,” Mr. Ishihara said.
To protest the ordinance, 10 of the country’s biggest publishers have said they will boycott the Tokyo International Anime Fair next month, Japan’s premier event for manga and animated films. www.wdalaw.com The law specifically bars only the sale of the restricted comics and videos to minors. But industry executives say it would essentially end publication of the material by discouraging risk-averse publishers and booksellers from handling it at all.
“There are no victims in manga — we should be free to write what we want,” said Yasumasa Shimizu, vice president at Kodansha, Japan’s largest publishing company by revenue, which is participating in the boycott. “Creativity in Japanese manga thrives on an ‘anything goes’ mentality.”
Manga taps into a history of erotica that dates at least as far back as the ukiyo-e prints of 17th- to 19th-century Japan, including Hokusai’s famous portrayal of a fisherwoman and octopuses in a salacious encounter. But it was as recently as the 1980s that comic magazines like Lemon People introduced a wider audience to sexual manga featuring young girls.
“There is a culture, an industry that worships youth and innocence,” said Mariko Katsuki, who published a book last year chronicling adults who are attracted to small children. “Much of the attraction is nonsexual, but sometimes it becomes a dangerous obsession.”
The Tokyo law, which applies to anyone younger than 18, bans the sale of comics and other works — including novels, DVDs and video games — that depict sexual or violent acts that would violate Japan’s national penal code, as well as sex involving anyone under age 18. The ordinance also requires guardians to prevent children younger than 13 from posing for magazines or videos that depict them in sexually suggestive ways.