rokudenashiko: what is obscenity?

Rokudenashiko cover

Who determines obscenity?
At first glance it would appear the regulations on obscenity are determined by the state, but there’s actually a lot of self-regulation on the part of publishers and media corporations. There’s a list of “banned words” for TV but you can’t actually be punished for broadcasting those words. And yet for decades, TV networks have bleeped over and censored the word “manko.” The “manko taboo” has been permeated the national thinking because of these censors. It is a strange phenomenon, but a lot of people haven’t noticed how wrong it is to police our thoughts.


Have you been to the Kanamara Matsuri?
Yes. Actually I just went the other day. I even spoke to the Shinto priest at the Kanayama Shrine. The festival is frequently viewed as a strange event by foreigners because practitioners ornament a giant statue of a penis, but I learned that there’s more to it than that. The giant penis is an honored dedication for the worshippers of the shrine, and the shrine votives that weren’t manufactured by the shrine. But it also includes votives of female genitalia and is not exclusively meant to worship male sex organs. On the day of the Kanamara Matsuri, the men of the shrine pronounced the following: Where do you come from? Let us ponder how you came to be here now.
All these flagrant penis votives may come across as misguided but I think it’s important that more people know that this is also a serious event where people get to think about the origins of human life.


One stylistic aspect I found really charming throughout reading What is Obscenity? was the way in which you depicted both the items and food you purchased and those provided by the jail. Despite how unsatisfactory the conditions and the croquettes were, you visually itemize these objects and render them in a very tender way. Can you talk about this specific representation of things?
Thank you! I’m happy to hear that. I could probably have decided to depict the jail more realistically, but I thought that to get the story across to as many people as possible, it was important to make the art cute, simple and a little bit unique. I don’t think people would stick with the story just reading the anger and frustration and hideousness of the situation. People are attracted to joy. This is something I also realized when crowdfunding for my manko boat.


How do you think manga activates and tells your story in perhaps a different way than other media? How do you feel about the way various news sources tell the story of your trial?
I believe illustration is easier to understand than letters. There are, of course, great written works, but I believe manga is the most comprehensive media for people of all levels of education to appreciate.


As for how the media portrayed my ordeal, mainstream news merely parrots what the state wants them to so they still refer to me as a perverse woman, and refuse to acknowledge that I am an artist.


You said about Manko art that: “Though this was kind of a joke at first, now I am joking around with every ounce of my body and soul.” This quote really resonated with me, a reminder that some of the most powerful work and most critical discourse is by means of humor or fun. What would you say to the people who are unable to access the humor in your work?
I think those who can’t understand the fun of manko art must have negative associations or anger towards sex and sexuality. There are women who think female sexuality should be portrayed more deeply, more seriously, and won’t forgive my having fun with this. But no one gets mad when male sex organs are portrayed comedically, and that’s what I find ridiculous. I do think that this is because women have been forced to take a moralistic view of only their own sexuality.
If you look at the people who troll me on Twitter, I often think their psychological circumstances are so difficult that they are unable to ever see things positively. And because times have been so tough in Japan there are increasingly more people who can’t see things positively. Unfortunately I think we have  along way to go before people can start talking about sex more comortably.


What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and her Pussy is out now from Koyama Press and available at MASSIVE

Rokudenashiko in conversation with Marisa Espe