Generally, if you were to ask someone is child pornography in any form is morally wrong, the consensus would be absolute, in that it is morally repugnant. Therefore, it would be safe to think that these people would be aghast to think that there is a developed nation that condones certain aspects of child pornography.
In Japan, along with general idols, there is a more specific type of idol titled a ‘Gravure Model ( グラビアアイドル). Most of the time these idols appear in publications that are geared towards men. This includes multiple magazines, DVDs, and even books. Gravure can be considered “soft-core” porn and yet there are girls under the age of 18 appearing in these magazines on a regular basis. A lot of these editorials feature these girls in swimsuits, posing in multiple ways that can be visioned as improper, as well as the addition of the seifuku or schoolgirl uniform, which is used to de-age the girls even more. There is not one magazine that does this, there are not two, there are not even three, there are around a half-dozen or more magazines that frequently use underdressed idols on their covers, or feature “adult” spreads. For example, off the top of my head there are: BOMB, ENTAME, UTB, BUBKA, G the Television, etc… (Galbraith).
These jobs used to be solely for gravure idols, but this has changed since the idol boom. Now even extremely popular fashion models, such as Mai Shiraishi (22 years old) pose in gravure magazines, since she also happens to be an idol. Her group has attempted to distance itself from AKB, so her and other group members do not take part in the bathing suit photos.
AKB48 typically have a summer single that shows off all members in various bikinis. Considering videos in the West this is not that abstract, however, there is the issue of having young girls parading around in swimsuits for a large male dominated audience. Examples of this are Sayonara Crawl (The female director for this video also directed the music video for ‘Heavy Rotation’, the arguably the groups’ most controversial video), and Labrador Retriever . These videos have been viewed online millions of times, and both singles sold over 1 million physical copies. Both of these videos, while front lined by older members also have underaged members as well.
It just brings to question where is the line drawn? The only reason gravure is not illegal when it uses young girls is because they do not show full length naked photos. But how much of a difference is there between a swimsuit and a undergarments?
Something to keep in mind from my previous article is that Japan had only just outlawed the possession of child porn. Even now this issue is jumped around. To some, this is a form of art, and it is rapidly defended. There is an article from Japan News that interviewed a couple consumers to get their points of view. Most shocking there was a 45 year old man who said that “Looking at junior idols soothes me, I do not have children of my own, so seeing them makes me happy” (Galbraith JT). If this was said to a Western audience about a 14 year old girl posing in “glossy” photos I doubt there would be many positive thoughts about this opinion.
In fact, if you go to the Wiki page for a gravure idol, at the bottom for the related works, “See Also”, links include: Japanese idol, junior idol, pin-up girl, and last but not least, sexual objectification.
If that does not shed light on this pressing issue, then I do not know what will.
Galbraith, Patrick W., and Jason G. Karlin. Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
Galbraith, Patrick. “JapanToday.” Japan Today RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2015. <http://www.japantoday.com/category/lifestyle/view/innocence-lost-the-dark-side-of-akihabara>.