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Paddling the “pink canoe” into dangerous waters

by Robin Stanford January 20, 2015
Paddling the “pink canoe” into dangerous waters

Japanese artist’s vagina kayak highlights sexism in obscenity laws in the country

Megumi Igarashi is an artist of a different kind. She has created a piece of art which has caused a stir worldwide, led to her arrest, and demonstrated the deeply sexist nature of her homeland, Japan.

The oeuvre in question is a bright yellow kayak with multicolored writing. What makes it special is the opening for the passenger, which is shaped in the form of the artists’ vagina. Through a crowdfunding initiative, Igarashi was able to use 3D scanner on her lady parts and 3D printer to create the boat.

Problems arose when the kayak’s 3D data was distributed to the donors who made the work possible. According to a report from The Japan Times, Iganashi was arrested in July of last year for “distributing obscene data”. She was released a few days later after pressure from thousands of people via a signed petition.

The artist was arrested once more in December, along with Minori Watanabe, after displaying the kayak in the window of a sex shop. Although Watanabe was released later in the day, Iganashi stands charged with three counts of distributing obscene data.

Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashi, poses inside of her kayak, fashioned after her vulva. (Press Photo)

If convicted the artist faces up to two years in prison and a fine of $20,000 USD.

Freedom of speech, as understood in Canada, technically applies in Japan as well. According to the Japanese constitution, ch. 3 Article 21, “Freedom … of speech, press, and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.”

In practice, according to The Japan Times, a variety of “obscenity laws ban pictures of actual genitalia, which normally are obscured in pornography.”

In other words, the home of tentacle porn, does not allow depiction of the genitals…sort of.

It should be noted that Iganashi’s depiction of female genitalia is nothing new for the artist. Her personal web page is filled with various anime-esque models based on this form. Also, the form of the kayak itself is difficult to recognize. The audience almost has to know what they are looking at in order to see a vagina.

What the artist’s crime seems to be is becoming famous—and being a woman.

According to an interview with the artist in The Daily Beast, Japan is home to at least one penis festival.  For example, the city of Kawasaki holds an annual “Festival of the Steel Phallus” in which penis shaped shrines are paraded through the streets. These types of events are not deemed obscene even though they portray male genitalia.

Japan is not necessarily against the portrayal of genitalia, only the female form.

According to her interview with The Daily Beast, it is specifically the taboo around female genitalia that Iganashi is working to normalize: “she ‘wanted to make [it] more casual and pop’ by creating accessories like vagina-shaped lampshades and smartphone cases”.

One can only hope that Iganashi is victorious in her quest, and that the people stand with her and pressure Japan into releasing a valuable voice in the work towards sexual equality.

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