Report: Osaka’s Sakai City Adopts New Rule for Covering Up Adult Material in Stores, Publishers Protest

Photo by Nikkan Sports

Photo by Nikkan Sports

It has recently been reported that Sakai City of the larger Osaka metropolis in Western Japan is taking a further step in the restriction and regulation of adult material in convenience stores, prompting magazine makers to revolt and claim it is a breach of free speech rights. What follows is a translation from what I think is the best of the articles on the issue from Sankei’s livedoor NEWS site:

To sum up briefly:

  • Sakai City’s initiative to put covers over adult magazines has lead to the industry raising its voice in opposition.
  • The Japanese Magazine Publisher Association  and The Japanese Book Publishers Association have announced a protest seeking the halt of the practice.
  • The Associations claim, “It is an extreme form of censorship. It’s obvious this is deviating from the act.”

Sakai City’s idea! Publisher and magazine associations bite into the putting on of “blindfolds” on adult magazines, announce a call to halt it

April 1st, 8:17 PM 2016, Sankei Newspaper

In regards to an initiative to reduce the amount of children who see adult magazines lined up in convenience stores wherein Sakai City and Family Mart have started putting vinyl sheets on the pictures of magazine covers in order to hide them, the Japanese Magazine Publishers Association and the Japan Book Publishers Association decided to announced a call to seek the cancellation of the practice on April 1st.

At the beginning of the week, it will be displayed on both associations’ home pages and sent to the city. [Translator’s note: you can find the  announcement here in a PDF file. While I link to the Japan Book Publisher’s Association, the file is the same on both sites.]

The city and Family Mart reached an agreement on March 16th for an initiative wherein the middle portion of an adult magazine’s pictures and other things would be covered to hide it by a dark green sheet (12 centimeters tall) and it started in one store in that same city. By the next day on the 17th, it had expanded to 10 other stores within the city. The targets are the magazines in the separated section designated as “harmful publications” under Osaka’s Act for the Healthy Growth of Children and Teens.

Hearing of the initiative, the two associations sent an open letter of question to Mayor Osami Takeyama. It stated, “Covers are an important trait in deciding whether or not to buy,” and continued with eight questions such as, “Does this not touch on our right to freedom of expression?” They also asked, “Does this not deviate from the act?” because  in the same act, there is no provision for not letting people see covers.

In regards to this, Mayor Takeyama responded on 30th of the same month. “Whether to join in on the agreement or not is left up to each convenience store. As it is at in its character an agreement [between industry people and the city], it does deviate from the prefecture’s act,” he claimed and went on to say, “This does not count as a violation of freedom of speech.”

The Japan Magazine Publisher’s Association claims, “The vinyl covers are provided with public funds and it amounts to an extreme form of censorship. It is obviously deviates from the act,” and seeks to terminate the agreement between Family Mart and the city in its statement. On the other hand, the Division of the Citizens’ Activism and Cooperation says, “We want to think of a way to handle this once we’ve seen the statement.”

The Japan Magazine Publishers Association represents 88 publishers who publish magazines, while the Japan Book Publishers Association represents 423 publishers.

If you want to see in detail what it looks like, MBS News has a video on their site. MBS News also reports that in response to the associations’ statements, Mayor Takeyama said, “I’ve got the agreement of women and people who have children. I want to continue this from now on.”

Nikkan Sports also offered some quite relevant quotes. In summing up some of the reaction from the average citizen, they offered this paragraph:

A 36-year-old business man who came to the store with his fifth grade son in tow said, “I’ve been troubled when my children stare at the covers with interest,” agreeing with the initiative.  A 52-year-old man who owns his own business took one of the “blind-folded” magazines off the rack and tilted his head to the side, saying, “I think children grow by seeing these types of things here and there. I wonder if this isn’t a little ‘overprotective.'”

Nikkan also quoted an anonymous editor from an entertainment information magazine based in Tokyo who expressed a sense of crisis, saying, “A magazine’s cover is its life. If it were to spread nationwide, we’d have to think of a layout where we’d have to put catchy information on the bottom or the top that is not hidden.” It’s not stated in the article of course, but my speculation is that this one of the many entertainment/lifestyle/fashion magazines which usually don’t have adult content, but can from time to time feature sensational sex issues with famous stars posing nude or semi-nude on the covers.

Nikkan also gave some context for other cities’ regulations concerning adult magazines: “Kanagawa Prefecture has limitations for presentation among several methods, including separation, display behind the register or on the inside of the register, and the placement of a 10-inch partition. Kagawa Prefecture’s law enforces a display method that separates materials so that they are not easily seen by children and teens, and enacts visiting inspections and guidance regularly. Sakai City’s wrapping initiative is rare among the nation.”

Some Japanese government officials, such Taro Yamada of the Parliament, and Shun Otokita of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, have recently come out to protest the government deciding which publications are “harmful publications,” contending that it will eventually lead to more heavy curtailments of free speech. The same acts for the “healthy growth of teens and children” that designated what “harmful publications” are, have also been seen as the primary motivation behind the formation of gaming industry self-regulations boards such as Sofurin and CERO due to sometimes scandalous court cases involving adult material being purchased by minors.

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