About the « harmful works classification » in Nagasaki Prefecture -  part 3

                Overlook on the committee

On August 7th 2014, at 1:30 pm, the Nagasaki Prefecture Committee for Youth Education and Protection was held on the Etoile Hall, 5th floor of the Saint Priere Hotel in Nagasaki City[1]. As I was allowed to be present as an auditor, here's my report on what I witnessed that day.

This committee is made of 20 members (Head of Nagasaki Junior College, Superintendent of Nagasaki Prefecture Education, representatives of the PTA, lawyers, all recruited through public announcement) and 13 coordinators (among them is the Head of the youth section of the Police department, the Head of Nagasaki city's Youth Center, the head of Nagasaki Prefecture Education Promotion Agency), and 6 others members, employees of Nagasaki Prefecture Children's future agency.

Here are the 4 topics that were debated on that day :

1)    Confirming the inclusion of new titles in the harmful works classification

2)    Discussing the possible withdrawal of works from the classification

3)    The overall state and application of youth protection within the Prefecture

4)    The overall state of juvenile delinquency

Among those topics, only the first and second one are concerning me directly, so I will focus on these. Auditors are not allowed to record audio or video during the meeting, thus I based everything of the notes I took and my recollections. I strove to be the most accurate one could be, but it is entirely possible that what I quote here might not be the exact phrasing used by the committee members during the meeting.

In a few days, I will be able to get my hands on the official transcription of the meeting I will check the content of this article to reflate accuracy. Any mistake that could have appeared in here will be corrected as soon as possible.

Among 33 harmful works candidates, 29 were pre-selected by the employees of the Children's Future Agency (materials that were passed during the meeting containing the system of marking discussed in article 2). All 29 of these these works were sanctioned harmful by the committee. The official announcement will be disclosed soon via local media and the agency's homepage.

In my own opinion, among the suggested works, many of them appeared to me barely harmful to underage readers. The official announcement still not being published, I cannot directly name the incriminated works, but I will get in touch with the authors, and ask their opinion on the matter, whether they wish to contest the decision.

 

Here is the part concerning the appeal procedure in order to withdraw Manhole Volume 1 from the harmful works classification.

The reasons justifying my appeal are the following :

A) My book was deemed harmful on the basis of ginvitation of the young audience to extreme violence and cruelty, thus harmful to a healthy developmenth, however many mistakes were made while assessing my manga. For example, a character covered in mud was mistakenly thought to be covered in blood, how can a mud covered person be considered harmful material ?

B) Although manga is a form of expression that blends image and text, adding works in the classification is done only by visual judgement of the contents, without taking into account what really makes a manga, and overlooking the textual element which could be as harmful.

C) In 5 years, myself, author of an incriminated work have never been informed of the decision to classify my manga as harmful. It is more than regrettable that I have been kept in the dark for such a long period of time, without being given the opportunity to defend my own work against a mistakenly made judgement. In the future, authors and publishers should be kept informed of such decisions.

This is what Nagasaki Prefecture answered :

A) Even if there were some misinterpretations, the global judgement is still sound. The gharmful ratioh made by the Children's Future Agency is only but a visual cue, and not in any case the only criteria when deciding to include a book in the classification. The final judgement is made by the members of the committee, composed of many scholars, thus any judgement made is the fruit of a debate and an objective decision.

B) About taking into account specificities of the media, unfortunately there isn't enough time to take such measures. Indeed every decision is mostly made by visual cues from the books, but since every book is thoroughly inspected by more than a dozen members, we believe that the committee's decisions are accurate.

C) This classification's main purpose is protecting young audience from harmful materials. We update the classification through our website and by sending the list to distributors and local stores, our goal being that every place where people can access these harmful works be warned. We do not think it necessary to involve authors and/or publishers.

Unfortunately my appeal was declined and Manhole wasn't withdrawn from the classification. During the meeting, 4 copies of the first volume circulated through the members and were browsed, but my case was only allowed about 5 minutes, which makes about one minute of reading per member.

Hence, all 20 members (2 were absent) unanimously decided to confirm that the decision made by the 2009 committee was fully justified. In the end, the head speaker asked other members if they had any further comment to make, and one of them said this :

gI was not a member of the 2009 committee. Is it really our role to challenge a decision made 5 years ago by our esteemed predecessors ? For me it is something that is beyond our means. Therefore I do not wish to discuss any decision made in the past.h

This was to me a clear confession that none of these so-called scholars were qualified to judge any work of art. On this day, I had to go through more than 10 hours of traveling to be able to attend this meeting in Nagasaki, and after such words, I had lost all hope.

These people, completely incompetent by their own admission, are spending public money to waste, and given the task of choosing what can be given to read to our youth. How can no one realize that by leaving the future of the children in the hands of such people, they are themselves creating a harmful environment ?

By the way, it was the same 2009 committee and its esteemed members that decided to banish recognized cultural assets, Edo era shunga (erotic prints)[2], a decision that was not made in any of the other 46 Prefectures ! I don't think that these people have the same idea of what an objective judgement is. (and as far as I know, as of September of 2014, the only prefecture who has decided to classify Manhole Vol.1 as harmful is Nagasaki Prefecture)

However, there is more to what this member said to me. The organization of this committee itself is unthinkable. That day, on the first topic of discussion, confirming the inclusion of new titles in the harmful works classification, the members took about 35 minutes to classify 33 books ! (from 2:05 to 2:40 pm)

Dear reader, do you think it possible to read and analyze a book in just a minute ?

And not only understanding its content, but also to be able to judge whether said book is proper reading material to underage audience. Unless they are gifted with some superhuman reading abilities, it seems to me an impossible task.

Nagasaki Prefecture argues that that since more than a dozen scholars composing the committee are reading the material, their judgement is objective. You need only to see how the committee proceeds in its decision making to find it laughable.

If you only have one minute to read an entire book, even if there's 10 or a 100 readers, there is no way that their joint opinion could be decent. What they really do is nod along to the candidate books prepared by the Children's Future Agency : gThis is harmful.h gIndeed it ish They are but a bunch of yes men passing along the work without ever emitting an objection.

Here's a list of what I consider are the biggest problems with the harmful works classification of Nagasaki Prefecture :

1)    Completely ignorant people reading the material and wrongfully checking harmful pages for the committee

2)    Committee members who have the astounding ability to read and analyze a book in under a minute, confirming whatever was decided by the Children's Future Agency.

3)    Even if their decision is proven to be unfair and mistaken, they consistently refuse any dialog with the authors.

4)    And when an objection is raised about a past decision, the members reply that it is gbeyond their meansh to contest it.

Can you see in what sort of danger is Nagasaki Prefecture heading now ?

More than my indignation towards the unreasonable classifying of my work, I have started to grow worried for the future of the children of Nagasaki.

This concludes my report on the committee meeting I witnessed.

To prepare this appeal with the committee, I sought legal counsel on numerous times with Tokyo Law Office Authense[3], and benefited from the joint effort of many counselors. What we earned was the right for me to audition a meeting of the committee, of which I was expecting much. To be told that it was gbeyond their meansh to contest past judgement was disrespectful to say the least. Once I heard this, I seriously doubted the sincerity of this committee's so-called mission of protecting the children, and could not feel the least bit of respect towards the works of art they were judging. It was a really painful day.

About 10 years ago, a series of dramatic incidents involving juveniles shook the Prefecture. The reaction to this was, with the creation of the Children's Future Agency, a policy of drastic purification of the children's environment, removing any harmful element.

If the reasons behind this policy are respectable, the administration is censoring works that have nothing to do with these tragic events, all in the name of this great cause called youth protection. I strongly disapprove of this easy alibi making of our administration, who tries with excessive control of means of expression to prove that they have made enough prevention in case any such incidents would ever happen again.

There's a saying in Japanese that goes gclimb in a tree to try to catch fishh, it means trying to achieve a goal through mistaken or impossible means. What is Nagasaki Prefecture trying to solve by classifying works of art, considered valuable national assets, such as Edo era shunga, as harmful ? I believe that Nagasaki Prefecture is trying to tarnish the image of manga, a medium of leisure duly appreciated by children.

Once again it was made cleared to me that Nagasaki Prefecture has been for the past 5 years, excessively controlling my means of expression by classifying Manhole as a harmful work. As an author, I live and thrive of artistic creation, and I am determined to oppose this unfair infringement of my freedom of speech, and I feel compelled to continue watching closely this situation.

Tetsuya Tsutsui                                                                              

September 8th 2014



[1]           St Priere Hotel – Nagasaki City

            http://www.nagasaki-heiankaku.jp/stpriere/sp_index.html

[2]      Harmful works classification, Nagasaki (from 2002 to 2012)

       Classification of 2008 : Shunga - Sun special issue, published by Heibonsha https://www.pref.nagasaki.jp/shared/uploads/2014/09/1412141141.pdf

[3]                 Authense, law office http://www.authense.jp/