Japan has for the third time in a row been elected to serve on the UN Human Rights Council. And certainly, compared to nations like Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and the United Arab Emirates (which have also been elected to the Human Rights Council ), Japan would appear to be a relative paragon of respect for human rights. However, as morality and justice are not graded on the curve, Japan itself has some serious problems that make it a dubious choice as a nation whose job it is to police human rights in the world. Today, I would like to examine some of Japan’s difficulties in human rights that need to be dealt with before Japan can be a fit model for the world as an exemplar of human rights.
Japan has a pretty rough history when it comes to human rights. Its atrocities in the notorious rape of Nanking are justly known worldwide, and its systematic exploitation of “comfort women” forced into prostitution from occupied territories during its imperial period has never been sufficiently recognized or addressed. Japan is also known for its gender-based discrimination as well as discrimination against migrants (Japan’s media, including such shows as Tokyo Breakfast, is notoriously racist) as well as the disabled. But a shocking and often unrecognized aspect of Japan’s human rights difficulties is the problem of child pornography.
There are a lot of ironies about child pornography in Japan. One of them is that the possession of child pornography is only illegal in Kyoto and one neighboring prefecture. Another irony is that Japan’s age of consent is 14 (!), which means that child pornography in Japan would have to be girls at the age of 13 or lower, mostly prepubescent girls as opposed to teenagers. Another irony is that Japan as a whole is in the throes of a seemingly terminal demographic decline, with few children and extreme difficulties in marriage and family, but ten percent of adult males have admitted to owning child pornography, an incredibly high percentage . Who knows how many have owned it without admitting it? It is unclear the precise relationship between a society that does not appear to want family and children and a society that seems to systematically sexualize its children (especially girls), but there may very well be such a connection.
It appears that a large part of the reason why Japan has not criminalized the possession of child pornography is because of the role of anime. For understandable reasons, Japan’s anime industry is concerned that any laws that would criminalize the possession of pornography about girls younger than 14 (!) would endanger its business. This would suggest that Japan’s anime industry is hopelessly corrupt, as any industry whose business model depends on the exploitation of children, whether in imagination and drawing or in photographs and videos, is a corrupt society that requires moral reformation. And certainly those Japanese who are of upright moral character ought to be upset that their society as a whole is becoming known for such offenses.
But there is a larger irony here. Every society, since it is made up of human beings of a mixture of good and evil, is going to have some moral problems. But because we are all mixed beings, all with a dark side, all societies are going to have an underworld of some kind that is under rub swept, that is either tolerated or ignored or denied even as it forms a deep part of the fabric of society. Japan’s moral problems make it a poor example of human rights for the world, but Japan is far from alone in its problems. There is probably no nation in this world who is a fit example for the world in terms of morality and human rights, as every nation has corruption in some fashion that has been allowed to influence society as a whole, some aspect by which it departs from the standards of God. Such is life in a fallen world. Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that the United Nations feels the need to have a Human Rights Council at all, regularly composed of massive human rights abusers.