Don’t Undermine Freedom of Expression
July 3, 22
On April 4, 2022, a full-page advertisement for the comic Tawawa on Monday ( Getsuyo-bino Tawawa) published in the morning edition of The Nikkei Shimbun lead a big controversy online.
The advertisement was to announce the release of the new comic book with a big illustration of a high school girl, the main character, smiling at the reader was posted along with the words “I hope you have a wonderful week.”
The main problem was the illustration of this girl. The girl has a baby face and an innocent look, but she wears an extreme miniskirt and her chest is unrealistically emphasized in the traditional high school uniform.
In response to this, many criticisms were received, such as “the advertisement unethically encourages high school girls to be an objects of healing” and "it is inappropriate as a newspaper advertisement that many people of all ages see."
A few days after the advertisement or it was posted, it was discovered that UN Women’s New York headquarters was protesting against Nikkei. UN Women sent a letter to Nikkei executives on April 11, 2022, protesting that this full-page advertisement was "unacceptable." They requested a review of the process of deciding whether or not to place an advertisement. There is a reason UN Women has embarked on a protest.
The Nikkei is a member of an initiative called "Unstereotype Alliance" that promotes gender equality through advertising and eliminates harmful stereotypes, centered on the UN Women Japan office. Furthermore, the company is in a leading position in this effort. In collaboration with the UN Women Japan Office, the company has played a leading role in gender equality in advertising, such as by hosting the Nikkei Woman Empowerment Advertising Award, which recognizes advertisements that contribute to gender equality.
UN Women accused of the company, which drives gender equality in the newspaper industry, that they should not run ads that encourage the sexual stereotypes.
Freedom of Expression
In an interview with HuffPost Japan, journalist Jibu Renge made a comment on the matter (HuffPost Japan 2022). “The fact that people who want to read the magazine to pick up and read the Young Magazine is not an issue at all. But the problem is that the media failed to protect the right of women and men, who do not like nor want to see sexually explicit manga, could not but forced to see the ads.” Jibu argued that the major problem was that the ads reached people who did not want to see them.
Many people voiced their opposed opinion to her, saying that freedom of expression is superior to the right of not being forced to see what you do not want to see. The discussion then became even more heated, with the focus shifting from "good or bad advertising" to the freedom of expression.
Very often, in Japan, internet flaming wars about misogyny are accelerated like this. At first, the debate is about whether the issue under fire is about appropriateness or inappropriateness of carrying the ads, but as time goes on, the argument evolves to how to regulate the inappropriate ads or how to limit the “freedom of expression," and eventually it becomes women versus men issue, by attacking women to protect freedom of expression.
One of the many controversial examples of freedom of expression on the Internet is Hajime Kinoko’s bondage art. This art was realized through a collaboration between Hajime Kinoko and the Stand By, an art space in Harajuku, Tokyo, run by the Japanese creative agency En one Tokyo.
During the exhibition, the installation was on display with countless red strings binding the Stand-By building. This creative work, which even ties up buildings and spaces, has attracted a great deal of attention, but why on earth did it come to be discussed?
The controversial event took place on May 7, 2022, as a finale events, five young women were tied to the exterior wall of the building with red string. Hajime Kinoko was originally acclaimed for his unique works that sublimate bondage into an art form, without being caught up in eroticism, but this work has caused controversy on the Internet due to its shocking visuals.
Many critical voices were raised, such as, "not using helmets and harnesses when working at heights is a violation of the Health and Safety Code," and "it is inappropriate to display a work that discriminates against women in a place used by everyone.” On the other hand, there were also positive comments such as, "it is strange to deny women the right to participate when they are most likely to participate proactively," and "if there are no safety issues, then it’s freedom of expression."
To what extent does freedom of expression apply? To what extent should artists take this into consideration?
Is It Only in Japan?
In an interview with the news site Comic Natalie, Yuki Ogawa, the animation director of Tawawa on Monday, had the following to say about the work (Comic Natalie, 2022). “In the case of Tawawa, the object of attraction, or rather the object of explicit reflection, is inevitably breasts, so I did not have any feelings that if a woman were to watch it, but thought, rather I wanted to make something that men and myself would want to watch.
It was not appropriate to put a cartoon in the newspaper as an advertisement to support men of all ages, a cartoon that is completely aimed at men. The cartoon itself is not a problem, but perhaps some consideration should have been given to where to place the ads.
Also, Kinoko is highly regarded for his bondage as art, but it is inappropriate to exhibit bondage in a place where any person can see it. He should have considered the location.
On SNS community, some people see the independence as Otaku vs feminists. Japan has big readership and market of anime and manga including porn and sexual ones., under the loose regulation. Some mania do not want to give up accessing sexual manga. Do they use the freedom of expression as an excuse? And it is only found in Japan?