Books

“Japan’s View of Pussy Is Really Weird”: Vagina Kayak Artist Releases Manga Memoir

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Rokudenashiko, ‘What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy’ (Koyama Press, 2016) (all images courtesy Koyama Press)

For the past two years, we’ve been following the strange saga of criminalized Japanese “vagina artist” Megumi Igarishi, who goes by Rokudenashiko, or “Good-For-Nothing Girl.” In 2014, police arrested Igarishi on obscenity charges, alleging that she’d distributed files that could be used to 3D-print models of her genitals. The arrest followed a crowdfunding campaign that helped Igarishi build a kayak shaped like her vulva and dubbed the “Pussy Boat,” which she rowed gleefully down a Tokyo river. Some backers were rewarded with vector files of her manko (Japanese slang for vagina). Igarishi’s past projects included vagina lampshades, a remote-controlled vagina car, and vagina smartphone cases. During her detainment, online petitions demanded her immediate release.

Earlier this month, a court ruled that Igarishi was guilty of obscenity for sharing her vagina data, but not for exhibiting the physical objects, since they qualify as art under Japanese law. For violating her country’s strict obscenity laws — which don’t seem to apply to depictions of penises — Igarishi was fined ¥400,000 (~$3,660).

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Rokudenashiko, from ‘What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy’ (2016) (click to enlarge)

Now, Rokudenashiko is telling her story in a new manga memoir titled What is Obscenity? The Story of a Good-For-Nothing Artist and Her Pussy (from Koyama Press). In simple, childlike cartoons, she illustrates the origins of her art practice — her realization, at a young age, that “Japan’s view of pussy is really weird.” She breaks down the process of making plaster molds of her manko, which she then used to “make pieces to present pussy as brighter, funnier, less serious.” The resulting backlash, from “angry old men” and police officers, only made her more intent on fighting “discrimination and ignorant treatment of the vagina” in Japan. The memoir is translated by Ishii, a writer and proprietor of the gay manga paraphernalia brand MASSIVE. On its cover, by legendary graphic designer Chip Kidd, an outraged pink vagina figurine raises its fists in defiance.

The manga’s cutesy, utterly non-pornographic style, like that of Igarishi’s sculptures, gets her point across so beautifully — and in the process renders the charges of obscenity even more more absurd. As many have pointed out, Japan’s vagina-phobia seems especially bizarre when contrasted with the country’s feverish celebration of dicks: The annual “Kanamara Matsuri,” or “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” is centered around a literal penis-venerating shrine. Every year, the streets of Kawasaki are flooded with penis lollipops, vegetables carved into penises, and giant purple penis statues. While this double standard is especially extreme in Japan, it’s easy to find, to varying degrees, around the world.

The kind of shame Igarishi discusses openly is ubiquitous. Explaining why she started making manko art, she writes, “It’s because I had never seen the vagina of others and I was too self-conscious of mine. I did not know what a vagina should look like at the same time, so I thought mine was abnormal.” Igarishi’s hilarious critiques of these taboos landed her in jail twice, but they also made her an international symbol of manko positivity.

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Rokudenashiko, from ‘What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy’ (2016)
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Rokudenashiko, from ‘What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy’ (2016)
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Rokudenashiko, from ‘What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy’ (2016)

What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy is available from Koyama Press.

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