The world has many, many vaginas and, compared to their abundance, we don’t spend enough time discussing them. They’re the genitalia underdog. People drone on and on about the waggling and intrusive penis, but the vagina – tucked away, almost demure – is frequently forgotten. Some cultures celebrate it and elevate it; the Kama Sutra describes it with holy significance and the Mesopotamians baked vagina cakes in celebration of their goddess Ishtar. However, other cultures view it with revulsion, extending their fear of the vagina to the rest of the female body; the high incidence of gang rape in Bangladesh may be tied in with their belief that women should not reveal any hair or skin in public.  Japan seems to have a confusing mixture of views that combine fear and fascination, creating a head-spinning otherness that serves to both mystify and obscure female genitalia. In 2014 Japanese artist Rokudenashiko (Megumi Igarashi) was arrested on obscenity charges for creating a kayak modified with a 3-D printed mold of her own manko (the Japanese word for “pussy“).
Rokudenashiko (meaning “good for nothing girl”) began her career as a cartoonist (or mangaka), hustling for work in the competitive Japanese manga world. Her work was more personal and didn’t fit neatly into any of the hyper-specific mini-genres of manga strips. While exploring options online about pubic hair removal she stumbled across an ad for a vaginal rejuvenation procedure (“manko surgery”) and decided it would be a great topic for a book. She went through with the procedure and her editor suggested that she feign insecurities about her vagina as a way to market the story. As a follow up she decided to use dental plaster to make a mold of her new designer pussy. Once she got a look at the mold, she decided that it looked far too dull and embellished it with little flowers and paint, creating what she called “Deco-man” (a portmanteau of decoupage and manko). A journalist noticed the sculptures while profiling the artist and had the idea to hold Deco-Man workshops where women privately made molds of their own parts, and decorated them in a group setting. She expanded on her manko-art by placing the molds in unexpected, subtle settings- a remote controlled robot, a chandelier of manko molds, and elaborate dioramas depicting Japanese life. Her career in manko art started to take off with exhibitions in Europe and the US, but in Japan she received harsh criticism from “angry old men” for exposing “something you should only look at in the dark under a blanket.”  Rokudenashiko ran into a problem of physical limitation; if she wanted to create an impact, her manko-art was going to have to be bigger than her own manko. As a way to create sculptures in various scales, she looked into scanning and 3-D printing her vulva. In 2013 a crowdfunded project led to her creation of a manko kayak; a public event was held in which she paddled down the Tama River in Tokyo. For donors over 3,000 yen (a little over $25 US), she sent the digital file of her scan with the hope that people would print their own manko art. That’s when police came knocking.
July of 2014 saw the arrest of Rokudenashiko for obscenity. She spent a week in jail, detailing it in her manga, What Is Obscenity? The Story of A Good For Nothing Girl and Her Pussy (2016) published by Koyama Press. The book is alternately charming, informative, and enraging; Igarashi’s cute drawing style opens us up to her plight and in between the brief prison stories are photos, informative essays and interviews that contextualize many of the concepts discussed. The experience of reading What Is Obscenity? The Story of A Good For Nothing Girl and Her Pussy is comparable to a reading an article online about a concept you have little experience with and clicking on every hyperlink. Each head scratching concept is laid out for you, such as criminal justice methods in Japan, or Pipo-kun the Tokyo Metropolitan Police mascot. Indignities like being made to eat while wearing handcuffs are recounted with a humble humor rare for an art-martyr (Lenny Bruce wouldn’t shut up about his arrests), and she’s clearly grateful to the benefactors that came to her aide, over 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition to free her. One of the most entertaining bits involved forcing the detective taking her statement to use the forbidden word, “manko,” over and over again. Shimako Iwai, best known to western audiences for writing the source novel for Takashi Miike’s Imprint (2006), is a player in the book, as is controversial Antiporno (2016) director Sion Sono. In December of the same year Igarashi was arrested yet again for similar charges (alongside gallerist Minori Katahara), spending over 20 days in jail this time.
In May of 2016 the Tokyo District Court found her manko-art to be acceptable, but the digital file was found to be obscene. In April of 2017 the Tokyo High Court upheld the ruling of the lower court, ordering her to pay a 400,000 yen fine (about $3,600 in US dollars). Rokudenashiko’s crime was to send a digital file of her middlefront – the context and intent of this act were beside the point to the courts. Modern interpretations of a 1907 anti-obscenity law (Article 175 of Japan’s Criminal Code) has led down a path where Japanese entertainment obscures genitals of both men and women through digital pixelation. The goal of the regulation may be to target pornography, but the shame around the female body has allowed censorship to creep into art galleries and comic books. This odd law has bred strange work-arounds that are undoubtedly more bizarre than anything behind the pixelated curtain-tentacles, bukkake, and a flourishing of fetishisms. Those familiar with the history of smut in America can conjure up birth-of-a-baby movies or nudist camp documentaries as similar ways around obscenity laws. For whatever reason, Japan plowed forward into the hypersexed 21st century and never stopped enforcing the regulations. To add a layer of hypocrisy to the outrage, male members are not only accepted, but an entire Shinto festival called the “Festival of the Steel Phallus” is held annually (and, yes, you need to look up images from it).
Currently raising a family in Scotland with her husband (Mike Scott of rock band The Waterboys), she hasn’t given up on her mission of spreading manko art around the world. The arrests have only made her more strident in her resolve, in fact. “Humor has the power to overcome entrenched concepts. I’d like to keep on expressing in a fun and happy way, while using my body,” she told the Japan Times.  No matter what the courts decided, there would always be the people outraged by a well placed pussy. Rokudenashiko has attempted, through her art, to bring manko into the sunshine. And wouldn’t it have been beautiful to be a spectator of her kayak voyage? A lemon yellow vagina maneuvering through the grass lined Tama River, water flowing past on all sides.
 Rashid, Tania. “An Epidemic of Brutal Sexual Assaults is Terrorizing Women in Bangladesh.” Vice, https://news.vice.com/article/an-epidemic-of-brutal-sexual-assaults-is-terrorizing-women-in-bangladesh
 Rokudenashiko, What Is Obscenity? The Story of A Good For Nothing Girl and Her Pussy. Koyama Press, 2016
 Kikuchi, Daisuke. “‘Vagina artist’ Megumi Igarashi continues her battle with Japan’s definition of obscenity.” Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/18/national/vagina-artist-megumi-igarashi-continues-her-battle-with-japans-definition-of-obscenity/#.WyEPYiIpDYV
Photos are taken from Rokudenashiko’s personal website, https://6d745.com/ except for the panels from What Is Obscenity? The Story of A Good For Nothing Girl and Her Pussy