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Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan
[Web version]

(Short title = Pornography and Rape in Japan)

[Paper Version]
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 22(1): 1-22. 1999

Milton Diamond

University of Hawai'i - Manoa
John A. Burns School of Medicine
Department of Anatomy and Reproductive Biology
Pacific Center for Sex and Society
Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822, U.S.A.

Ayako Uchiyama

National Research Institute of Police Science
Juvenile Crime Study Section 6, Sanban-cho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102, JAPAN

Click to go to references Introduction
Click to go to references Methods
Click to go to references Definitions
Click to go to references Pornographic materials
Click to go to references Sex crime data
Click to go to references Results
Click to go to references Pornography availability
Click to go to references Discussion
Click to go to references References


The question of how or even if pornography is linked to rape or other sex crimes has been with different societies for many years. In the United States, it was shown that, as far as could be determined by a Commission appointed by U. S. President Lyndon B. Johnson (Pornography, 1970), no such relationship of pornography leading to rape or sexual assault could be demonstrated as applicable for adults or juveniles. Following the idea of the 1970 President's Commission, in 1986 the findings of the United States' Attorney General's Commission were released (Meese, 1986). Appointed in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, this commission found, in contrast with the previous Presidential Commission, that: "substantial exposure to sexually violent materials . . . bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence." In distinction to the Presidential Commission, however, this Attorney General's Commission was politically, not scientifically, constituted. This Meese Commission was primarily composed of nonscientists who did no research of their own and commissioned none. It solicited testimony mainly from specific parties and organizations which it anticipated would be sympathetic to its goals while ignoring testimony from those it suspected would be disagreeable (Lynn, 1986; Nobile & Nadler, 1986; Lab, 1987). The Meese Commission's own minority report, by two of the only three women on the panel, --one of whom had a great deal of experience in sex research-- dissented from the majority report in saying the findings were not in keeping with the amassed social science data (Meese, 1986). Subsequent nation-wide studies in the United States also seemed to find no strong evidence that rape rates were associated with the availability of pornographic magazines (Baron and Straus, 1987) or adult theaters in a community (Scott and Schwalm, 1988; Winick & Evans, 1996).

In Britain, the privately constituted Longford Committee (Amis, Anderson, Beasley-Murray, et al., 1972) reviewed the pornography situation in that nation and concluded that such material was detrimental to public morals. It too dismissed the scientific evidence in favor of protecting the "public good" against forces that might "denigrate(e) and devalue(e) human persons." The officially constituted British (Williams) Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, however, in 1979 analyzed the situation and reported (Home Office, 1979): "From everything we know of social attitudes, and have learnt in the course of our enquires, our belief can only be that the role of pornography in influencing the state of society is a minor one. To think anything else . . . is to get the problem of pornography out of proportion (p. 95)." A review report by McKay and Dolff (1984) for the Department of Justice of Canada essentially says similarly: "There is no systematic research evidence available which suggests a causal relationship between pornography and the morality of Canadian society . . . [and none] which suggests that increases in specific forms of deviant behavior, reflected in crime trend statistics (e.g., rape) are causally related to pornography." In Canada, the Fraser Committee in 1985, after a review of the topic concluded the evidence so poorly organized that no consistent body of evidence could be found to condemn pornography (Canada, 1985, pp. 99).

Among those European/Scandinavian societies investigated for any relation between the availability of pornography and rape or sexual assault, again no such correlation could be demonstrated (Kutchinsky, 1985a, 1991). For the countries of Denmark, West Germany and Sweden, the three nations for which ample data were available at the time, Kutchinsky showed that as the amount of pornography increasingly became available, the rate of rapes in these countries either decreased or remained relatively level. According to Kutchinsky, only in the United States did it appear that, in the 1970s and early 1980s as the amount of available pornography increased, did some increase in rape occur (Kutchinsky, 1985a, 1991). But Kutchinsky also noted a change in how rape was recorded which could account for the apparent increase in the American sex crime rate.

Considering the volume and intensity of debate in Europe and the United States surrounding the possible link between pornography and sex crimes it was thought valuable to see how another nation, one quite different from those in the West, compares in the availability of SEM and the occurrence of rape and other sex related crimes. Japan, an Asian culture with its ancient tradition of male prerogative and female subservience and 13 year post World War II period of legal prostitution provides a sufficient cultural contrast to that of the United States and the other Western countries investigated.

In Japan, a definite upswing in concern regarding pornography occurred at the beginning of the present decade. Conservative groups and the media began to call for government action to stem the rising tide of pornography they saw occurring. For instance the citizens of Wakayama prefecture loudly called for the control of sexually explicit manga [comic books] directed at children (Mainichi-shinbun, 1990).

Presently in Japan, sexually explicit video tapes, books, and magazines which cater to all sorts of erotic interests and fetishes are readily available. These include sexually obvious manga without age restrictions as to availability. Phone booths in commercial areas and city newspapers contain advertisements for sexual liaisons of every sort. However, this availability of modern pornography is relatively new. Essentially since the end of World War II with the imposition of American military rules, which lasted until 1951, there was prohibition of any sexually explicit material. This continued under the Japanese government into the late 1980s; images or depictions of frontal nudity were banned as were pictures of pubic hair or genitals. No sex act could be depicted graphically.

The situation began to change markedly at the turn of the present decade. While the laws themselves were not modified, interpretation of them changed. Judges during this period became increasingly liberal allowing more pornography of wider scope to be considered "not obscene." Concomitantly with this, as the widely reported uproar regarding a case of rape by American servicemen of a young Okinawan girl in 1995 might reflect, this crime is taken quite seriously in Japan (Anonymous, 1995). Analysis, thus, particularly of the years covering this last decade of rapid change, seemed of value.

This present study concentrates on the offenses of Rape, Sexual assault and Public indecency in Japan and analyzes how their occurrence correlates with the increasing availability of pornography. For comparison and as "control" measures we also look at the incidence of Murder and nonsexual Violent crimes for the same period. We particularly attend to any influence the introduction of widely available pornography might have had on juveniles.


The period chosen for investigation includes the twenty-three years from 1972 to 1995. These are years for which official data from Japan are available. Prior to 1972 the data collection methods and associated definitions used in Japan were significantly different from those presently in use and are not suitable for comparison. These years cover a time period during which Japan transitioned from a nation whose laws (or their interpretation) relating to pornography changed from sexually prudish to a country whose sex censorship laws can now be classified as permissive.


The terms pornography, rape, sexual assault and such are in popular use but are also legal terms. For the purposes of simplicity in the present discussion, pornography is broadly defined as any sexually explicit material (SEM) primarily developed or produced to arouse sexual interest or provide erotic pleasure. It may be in any media and it may be legal or illegal. In Japan, as in the United States, sexually explicit material to be found illegal must be found obscene. Production or distribution of obscene materials is illegal. Each prefecture can, with its own ordinances, modify the law as it is applied to persons under 18 years of age. In application, nationally not only might pornography include so-called hard core erotica, but until the 1970s and into the 1980s this included material that graphically presented genitals, pubic hair, or frontal nudity. Depictions of any sexual act in educational material or work of art might fall under this definition. Public and official attitudes toward such materials, however, appeared to gradually relax from the 1970's on. Particularly in the years 1990 and 1991, major shifts became apparent in how this law was interpreted; fewer materials were being charged as obscene and even fewer convictions obtained. The reasons for this shift are not obvious.

The jury system is not used in Japan. Final determination of which materials or acts meet any criteria of criminality are typically decided by a panel of 3 judges to whom the material or incident is presented. In Japan, the laws are applied nationally but often interpreted regionally; judges in the cities are often more lenient regarding pornography than are those in rural areas. To promote uniformity across the country, approximately every three years the judges are rotated to a different prefecture. As in other countries, initial determination of criminality is first made at a lower level, e.g., the local policeman or custom agent. Alleged obscene material is confiscated with a determination of actual obscenity to be made later.

Japanese law recognizes six fundamental types of sex crimes (Roposensho, 1989). These crimes are defined approximated by the following: 1) Public indecency [Article 174] refers to behaviors such as public exposure of the genitals; incidents which "violate a sense of morality." Presently this article is most often used against strip theaters that the authorities consider pressing the limits of lewdness but is also used to deal with behaviors such as flashing and peeping. 2) Obscenity [Article 175] is any practice or sexually erotic material whose preparation, sale, distribution or display can evoke "uncontrollable or disquiet reason." 3) Sexual assault [Article 176] is defined as threat or actual force in a sexual encounter less than rape. 4) Rape [Article 177] is penetration, regardless of how slight, of a female's genitals with a penis. There is no provision for rape of males. 5) Constructive compulsory indecency and rape [Article 178] relates to statutory offenses, where an individual due to mental or physical limitations, is considered unable to offer knowledgeable consent. Here males or females can be considered as victims for this crime. 6) Attempted sexual assault, attempted rape or attempted statutory rape [Article 179] law applies to rape or sexual assault that has been attempted but not accomplished. Attempted rape applies only to females, attempted sexual assault can consider as victims either males or females.

Pornographic Materials

The exact amount of pornography available now or at any time in the past, is, difficult to determine. Unlike sex crime statistics, such data are not accurately amassed by any government or private agency in Japan. Many, if not most, of the manufacturers or distributors of pornography are legitimate companies whose production figures are kept confidential as commercially proprietorial. Additional illegal manufacturers of pornography have products which are available but whose production figures are not. In Japan, however, it is safe to say that whatever definitions of SEM and pornography are used, there are more such materials publicly available now than there were in the 1970s and 1980s. Indications are that the amount and types of such items have been increasing over time as measured in numbers of units produced or in yen value. Where available, actual figures for the amounts and types of pornography or sexually explicit materials are given below. In other cases qualitative measures or descriptions are offered.

Sex Crime Data

Data on the actual number of reported sex crimes in Japan are from the files of Roposensho, the Japanese National Police Agency (J.N.P.A.). This agency is somewhat comparable to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States. The J.N.P.A. has been maintaining crime statistics for Japan since 1948. Basically yearly reports from all 47 Japanese prefectures including Okinawa are collated. These official crime records are based on reports from independent police investigations. During the period under review there has been no known change in the method of collecting and recording of data.


Pornography Availability

There are many indications that document an increase in the number and availability of sexually explicit materials in Japan over the years 1972-1995. Under the auspices of "Juvenile Protective Ordinances" formulated within and for each prefecture (except Nagano prefecture), data have been collected of items that might be "considered harmful for juveniles." Once items are so designated they are forbidden to be sold or distributed to minors under 18 years of age. Collected by local authorities, these are statistics on items such as sexually explicit films, books, magazines and video tapes. It can also include explicitly violent materials. These data are forwarded yearly to the Youth Authority in Somicho (Government Management and Coordination Agency). Items so listed increased from some 20,000 items in 1970 to slightly more than 37,000 in 1980, to almost 41,000 in 1990 and to roughly 76,000 in 1996, the last year for which such data are available. Since 1989 the greatest increase in such materials were accounted for by sexually explicit video tapes. Despite any such categorization, these materials remained readily available to persons of any age.

In 1991 twenty-one prefecture governments designated 46 specific sexually-oriented publications as being "harmful to juveniles" and complained of them to the publishers (Burrill, 1991). The companies involved accepted the criticism and its industry's "Publishing Ethics Council" voted for self regulation and advised its member firms to affix an "Adult Comics" mark on sex oriented manga (Anonymous, 1991a). The Council further advised their distributors to maintain these comics in the "adult corner" of their stores. This advice was not always followed. Sales of such sex-filled comics totaled more than ¥ 180 billion in 1990, a figure up 13 percent from the year before (Burrill, 1991).

Production of the classic Japanese love film Ai no corrida ("In the Realm of the Senses") was banned from Japan due to its nudity and erotic content. This film by Nagisa Oshima was produced in France in 1976 and quickly became a sensation at film festivals in New York and Cannes. When first shown in Japan, however, in October of 1976 the film was seized by authorities. Based on a true story well known in Japan, its content --involving the vivid depiction of asphixiophilia-- was nevertheless considered too obscene for public viewing in Japan. The producer and script writer were taken to court and charged with obscenity but found not guilty (Okudaira, 1979; Oshima, 1979; Uchida, 1979). A cut expurgated version was subsequently released. Frontal nudity was permitted to appear on film for the first time at the 1986 Tokyo film festival (Downs, 1990).

The American college sex text book Sexual Decisions (Diamond & Karlen, 1980) was republished in a Japanese edition in 1985 (Diamond & Karlen, 1985). Depictions of sexual positions and other images were allowed only after the book was edited to reduce the number of illustrations with pubic hair or exposed genitalia. It was the first college level sex text in that country. The first art photo book with full frontal nudity of women was also published in 1985 (Downs, 1990). As with the text, SexWatching, a trade book for general readership illustrated with some 300 images, published in England in 1984 (Diamond, 1984), was published in Japanese in 1986 (Diamond, 1986). Again, several of the original illustrations, considered middle-of-the-road in the United States and the United Kingdom, had to be replaced with images considered less sexually explicit.

Change from this conservative posture of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s began to most markedly shift toward permissive in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse, due to their display of public hair, were banned totally in Japan until 1975. They were then allowed to be imported into Japan if the offending images were "sandpapered" or otherwise rendered opaque. This original ban against the display of pubic hair was applied so routinely that objective commentators noted that obscenity standards occasionally blocked distribution of serious art works but were ineffective in slowing the increasing availability of sexually explicit materials (Anonymous, 1992). In June 1991 the Japan Times described the influx of pornographic comics into the market as showing a rampant growth that "depict sexual perversions and violence, including the utter debasement of women, in graphically appalling detail even if pubic hair is not shown." (quoted in Woodruff, 1991). Almost simultaneously, the Asahi Shinbun newspaper reported that police would no longer prosecute "pubic hair" pictures for obscenity since the social trend has moved to accept photos of this type and concluded "the decision not to prosecute indicates that pubic hair is no longer a uniform standard for obscenity" (Woodruff, 1991).

In the early 1980s, European and American pornographic video tapes were the most prevalent form of contraband seized by Japanese custom agents from travelers returning from aboard (Abramson & Hayashi, 1984). These materials were routinely confiscated. Now such tapes are locally produced and readily available in Japanese shops. They often contain actors or actresses that are still legal minors.

In 1989 a survey of manga in book shops and magazine stalls by a voluntary citizen's group, the "Tokyo Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs," found that more than half of the stories depicted sex acts. They reported: "in many cases, female characters were treated simply as sex objects for the satisfaction of men." (Anonymous, 1991a).

Again in 1989, a report by the Japanese "Publishing Science Research Institute" presented statistics for the legal production of Japanese publications. Playboy and Penthouse were among the best selling adult men's magazines. Semi-annual sales figures for Playboy averaged some 900,000 for each issue in 1977. The monthly value of magazines with sexual content increased from ¥ 3,264 million in 1984 to ¥ 3,665 million in 1988 (Shupan Nenkan, 1988, 1997).

In February 1991 the Liberal Democratic Party asked its members to introduce legislation to regulate sexually explicit manga (Anonymous, 1991a). The motion failed but again served notice that the increase in pornography was of widening social concern. In that year a survey ("Survey on Comics among Youth") by the "Japanese Association for Sex Education" (JASE, 1991) found that among Middle School students 21.6 percent of males and 7.6 percent of females regularly read so called "porno-comics." In 1993 a survey by the Youth Authority of Somucho (Government Management and Coordination Agency) found that approximately 50 percent of the male and 20 percent of the female Middle and Upper High School students were found to regularly read "porno-comics."

Another index of sex related materials available in Japan might be reflected in the number of sex related industries (fuuzoku kanren eigyou) registered with and monitored by the police. These industries include strip theaters, so-called love hotels (rooms available by the hour), "adult" sex shops (for the purchase of pornography or paraphernalia associated with sexual activities), and "soap lands" ("massage" or "shampoo" parlors known to offer sexual services). The authorities use such statistics in monitoring potential influences on juveniles. According to J.N.P.A. statistics these numbered approximately 7,500 establishments in 1972 and more than 12,600 in 1995. The largest segment increase was seen in the number of so-called "fashion massage parlors" in operation which offered sexual services. A newer type of "body shampoo parlor" is also now available (Roposensho, 1995).

Telephone sex lines have become increasingly common. In the first 18 month period since they started operation, a commercial business information service, "Dial Q2", which at first provided sports results, advertisements and medical guidance, in 1991 switched more than one-fourth of its lines to telephone sex services (Anonymous, 1991b). This remains a popular form of sexual commerce even though individual households must initiate a special request to even participate. "Telephone clubs" have also proliferated. In such clubs men wait for calls from girls. The phone numbers to call are widely advertised as free for the female caller; "excitement" and "romance" are promised. This is often an outlet for prostitution contacts. It is also of general social concern since informal surveys by the police have found that some one-fourth of high school girls have made contact via a telephone club.

While in 1992 authorities occasionally continued to cite magazines and newspapers for public indecency if they showed nude pictures, or if genitals or any pubic hair were visible, police confiscation became uncommon and prosecutions inconsistent. Peculiarly these legal challenges might have occurred even when these images were clearly artistic works (Anonymous, 1992). By 1993 that type of prosecution became rare.

In 1993 the Shukan Post became Japan's top-selling magazine. This appeared due to photos containing glimpses of pubic hair and feature photos of nude girls and articles on sex. Circulation jumped from about 850,000 in the first six months of 1993 to about 867,000 for the first six months of 1996. This popularity spawned two additional magazines which were even more sexually explicit: Shukan Bunshum and Shukan Shincho. In 1995 these magazines had average weekly sales of more than 600,000 copies (Shuppan Nenkan, 1997).

The public attitude toward pornography might be considered reflected by the number of police cases where the arresting charge was "distribution of obscene materials." Despite the rise in available SEM, arrests and convictions for the distribution of obscene materials significantly declined from 3,298 in 1972 to 702 in 1995 (Roposensho, 1995).

Currently, not only are visuals with pubic hair and exposed genitalia present, but available are visual depictions of hard-core sexual encounters which include bestiality, sadomasochism, necrophilia and incest; the characters involved may be adults, children or both and they can be in manga as well as in adult reading materials. There is a "Child Welfare Law" in Japan which prohibits child prostitution. However, there are no specific child pornography laws in Japan and SEM depicting minors are readily available and widely consumed. Most charges of obscenity presently are related to depictions of group or violent rape or realistic and graphic film or video depictions of sexual behaviors considered deviant and dangerous (as in Ai no corrida).

According to one report, the Japanese Diet had considered unveiling a collection of X-rated books and magazines it has hidden from the public for the past 30 years. A spokesperson for the National Diet Library said that the collection illustrates how Japanese authorities' interpretation of obscenity has changed over the decades. The library has gathered about 2,800 copies of books and magazines labeled as obscene by the Tokyo municipal government and banned for sale to minors aged under 18. The collection, composed of materials compulsorily donated by the publishers, includes photographs of nude girls, pornographic novels and comics, and editions of mass-circulation magazines that contain nude photos (Anonymous, 1996).

An additional measure of erotica available in Japan is that reported by Greenfeld (1994). In 1994 he wrote that approximately 14,000 "adult" videos were being made yearly in Japan compared with some 2500 in the U.S. And the average Japanese watched nearly an hour more of TV a day than did Americans.Sex Crimes

Data regarding sex crimes, consistently and regularly recorded in police records, are clearly more available and definitive than those for quantitative or qualitative measures of pornography. It is readily obvious from the data (Table 1) that the incidence of rape has been steadily and dramatically decreasing over the period under review. The incidence of rape has progressively declined from 4677 reported cases with 5464 offenders in 1972 to the 1995 incidence of 1500 cases with 1,160 offenders; a dramatic reduction in incidence of some two-thirds. The character of the rape also changed markedly. Early in our period of observation many of the rapes were gang (more than a single attacker) rapes thus accounting for the number of offenders exceeding the number of rapes reported. This has now become increasingly rare. The number of rapes committed by juveniles has also markedly decreased. Juveniles committed 33% of the rapes in 1972 but only 18% of the rapes committed in 1995.

Over the same period the incidence of sex assault had also decreased from a 1972 incidence of 3,139 cases to fewer than 3,000 cases for the years 1975 to 1990. In 1995, however, the incidence of reported sexual assaults rebounded to 3,644 cases. Since these figures represent actual cases rather than rates, it can be seen that even the proportion of sex assault cases did not increase. During these intervening years the population of Japan had increased more than 20 percent, from approximately 107 million in 1970 to more than 125 million persons in 1995 (Nihon no Tokei, 1996). Thus, the actual rate decreased slightly from .0292 to .0290 per thousand persons. It is also noteworthy that during this period, according to J.N.P.A. records, the rate of convictions for rape increased markedly from 85% in 1972 to more than 90% in the 1980s and more than 95% in the 1990s. This might be because, increasingly, in these latter years the rapist was less likely to be known to the victim; proving lack of consent became easier.

The data regarding public indecency (e.g., flashing) was more in keeping with those for rape than assault. The incidence of reported public indecencies decreased about one third over the period. Considering the concomitant increase in population this corresponds to a rate decrease of some 50%.

Police statistics use the victim age categories: 0-5, 6-12, 13-19. 20-24, 25-29, 30-39, 40-49, etc. The first three age categories reflect ages associated with "preschool," "elementary and beginning middle school," and "later middle school and high school" years. It also reflects the Japanese consideration of 20 being the age at which one reaches legal majority.

The most dramatic decrease in sex crimes was seen when attention was focused on the number and age of rapists and victims among younger groups (Table 2). We hypothesized that the increase in pornography, without age restriction and in comics, if it had any detrimental effect, would most negatively influence younger individuals. Just the opposite occurred. The number of juvenile offenders dramatically dropped every period reviewed from 1,803 perpetrators in 1972 to a low of 264 in 1995; a drop of some 85% (Table 1). The number of victims also decreased particularly among the females younger than 13 (Table 2). In 1972, 8.3% of the victims were younger than 13. In 1995 the percentage of victims younger than 13 years of age dropped to 4.0%.

In 1972, 33.3 % of the offenders were between 14-19 years of age; by 1995 that percentage had decreased to 9.6%. Thus, over the period in question, there was a major shift in the proportion of victims and offenders from the younger categories to older categories.

Lastly, in Japan, while the total number of rapes decreased, the percentage of rapes by a stranger increased steadily from 61.6 % of the rapes reported in 1979 to 79.5% of the rapes in 1995. Thus, date rape and familial rape decreased significantly. Also gang rapes decreased markedly. In 1972, 12.3 % of the rapes by juveniles were conducted by two or more offenders. Over the years, the percentage decreased so that in 1995 only 5.7% of the rapes were of this category.

As a statistical control measure of sorts we analyzed the cases of murder and non sexual violent physical assaults reported during the years 1972 to 1995 (Table 1). Here also dramatic decreases occurred over the period reviewed. Murders dropped by some 40 percent and non sexual physical assaults decreased by about 60 percent. In these last two categories of crime, however, there was no comparable shift in the age groups involved in these activities either as victim or offender.


Within Japan itself, the dramatic increase in available pornography and sexually explicit materials is apparent to even a casual observer. This is concomitant with a general liberalization of restrictions on other sexual outlets as well. Also readily apparent from the information presented is that, over this period of change, sex crimes in every category, from rape to public indecency, sexual offenses from both ends of the criminal spectrum, significantly decreased in incidence.

Most significantly, despite the wide increase in availability of pornography to children, not only was there a decrease in sex crimes with juveniles as victims but the number of juvenile offenders also decreased significantly.

These findings are similar to, but are even more striking than, those reported with the rise of sexually explicit materials in Denmark, Sweden and West Germany. The findings from Europe were, in turn, more dramatic than those reported for the United States. Kutchinsky (1991) studied the situation in Denmark, Sweden, West Germany and the U.S.A. following the legalization or liberalization of the appropriate pornography laws in those countries. The first three countries mentioned, decriminalized the production and distribution of sexually explicit materials in 1969, 1970, and 1973 respectively. In the U.S.A. there was no widespread decriminalization or legalization but, as in Japan, interpretations of the laws seemed to change and prosecution against SEM decreased markedly. Concomitantly, the availability of pornography increased commensurably. Kutchinsky studied the course of sex crimes for the 20 year period 1964 to 1984. Thus his period of study overlaps with the first half of ours.

Kutchinsky found (1991) that in Denmark and Sweden adult rapes increased only modestly and in West Germany not at all. In all three countries, nonviolent sex crimes decreased. The slight increase in Denmark and Sweden, was thought by some most probably due to increased reporting as a result of greater and increasing awareness among women and police of the rape problem (Kutchinsky, 1985b, pp. 323). In Japan too, over the two decades reviewed in the present study, there was also most probably an increasing likelihood of reporting which makes the decrease in sex crimes seen in Japan even more impressive.

Similar to our findings, in Denmark and West Germany the most dramatic categories of sex crime to show a decrease were rapes and other sex crimes against and by juveniles. Between 1972 and 1980 the total number of sex crimes known to the police in the Federal Republic of Germany decreased by 11 percent; during the same period the total number of all crimes reported increased by 50 percent. Sex offenses against minors (those under 14 years of age) had a similarly slight decrease of about 10 percent during this period. For those victims under six years of age, however, the numbers decreased from 1,421 cases in 1972 to 579 in 1980, a decrease of more than 50 percent (Kutchinsky, 1985b; pp. 319).

Other researchers have found similarly. In Denmark homosexual child molestation decreased more than 50 percent from 74 cases in 1966 to 20 cases in 1969 (Ben-Veniste, 1971; pp. 254). These decreases in sex crimes involving children are particularly noteworthy since in Japan, as in Denmark, for the time under review, there were no laws against the personal non-commercial possession or use of depictions of children involved in sexual activities; so-called "childporn" (Kutchinsky, 1985a; pp. 5). Considering the seriousness in how sex crimes against children are viewed in both cultures, this drop in cases reported represents a real reduction in the number of offenses committed rather than a reduced readiness to report such offenses.

Correlated with an increase in pornography we found a decrease in gang rapes in Japan. Again, similar findings had been reported elsewhere. In West Germany, from 1971 to 1987 group rape rates decreased 59% from 577 to 239 cases. In contrast with these findings in Germany where rape by strangers decreased 33% from 2,453 to 1,655 cases (Kutchinsky, 1991 pp. 57), in Japan the number of rapes committed by individuals known to the victim, decreased and rape by strangers increased. Since rapes by strangers or groups are more likely to be reported than date or marital rapes, again there is little doubt these findings in Japan represent real differences. It is also noted that the Japanese police focused more heavily on the control of rape by strangers than on date rape or rape by a known assailant.

Some might (e.g., Court, 1977) attribute the overall decrease in the number of sex crimes recorded in Japan as reflecting a public attitude change concomitant with the increasing availability of pornography. This is doubtful. While it might be true for relatively minor offenses as those of public indecency, rape has always been taken seriously. Indeed, one can argue that the inhibitions to reporting have decreased. The case can be made that the increased prevalence of SEM makes it easier for children or women or likely victims to be less inhibited in talking with their parents, partners or authorities about sexual matters; particularly about any sex offense.

Another factor to encourage reporting is that special police rape investigation units sensitive to women's issues were established in September, 1983 and women no longer are treated as if they are the offenders. This was often so in the 1970s. Also significant is that Japan, in the 1990s, established a women-run rape crises center in Tokyo and women's centers in major cities throughout the country. In 1996 the police also started public awareness campaigns which encouraged the victims of sex crimes to report. Sex educators too deserve credit. Sex education, K-12, is standard in Japanese schools and has been so since the 1970s. Sex educators have increasingly become schooled in rape theory, prevention, and reporting, and added such materials to their classroom presentations.

It is accepted that the application of the appropriate laws or the social forces at play might not have been consistent over time. Any short term glitch in how the data were volunteered, solicited or recorded, however, should not effect the overall trends. Regardless, it is safe to say that over this prolonged period, interpretations of the definitions of obscenity have been getting less rigid with more material passing as acceptable and entering public awareness while the prosecution of laws relating to rape and sexual assault have been getting tougher. Currently less sexual "license" for sex crimes is accepted by the general Japanese population or by victims than was true 25 years ago. And surely one can not attribute the decrease in murder and nonsexual violent assault to a reluctance to report concomitant with an increase in SEM.

It has been said that "pornography historically has been an integral part of Japanese culture" (Abramson & Hayashi, 1984). It is more true to say that erotic and fertility themes have been a traditional part of Japanese culture. Indeed religious shrines, ribald stories and both suggestive and explicit art have incorporated sexual icons and representations without shame and without the sin aspect associated with sex in the West. Traditionally these views of sex were in keeping with cultural or Confucian themes seen as enhancing family solidarity through child bearing and as a form of sex education (Abramson & Hayashi, 1984) and a way to enjoy the "good life."

This attitude essentially remained with the people even with the modernization of Japan ushered in with the 1868 Meiji Restoration. The government of the Meiji era, to enhance respect from the West, began to modify Japan's attitudes toward sex by adopting some of the West's comparatively restrictive and conservative mores. For example, the then common practices of nudity and mixed bathing, were newly forbidden in public bath houses (Dore, 1958). This ordinance was actually randomly enforced and basically only in the major cities. But this was a small part of the Meiji government's plan which came to be called wakon-yoosai (Japanese spirit and Western technology); a plan to develop and strengthen the nation by melding Western knowledge and technology with the Japanese spirit and culture (Hijirida & Yoshikawa, 1987).

During World War II many sexual restrictions were relaxed in Japan as they were in the West. Following the war, the United States' forces occupying Japan imposed Western ideas of morality and law. The Japanese slowly came to adopt some of these ideas and practices. The wakon-yoosai attitude reemerged (Hijirida & Yoshikawa, 1987). Negative ideas of pornography, foreign to Japanese culture, were accepted and particularly applied to visual depictions since they were the ones most likely recognized and thereby criticized by Westerners. Little attention was given to written SEM since foreigners would be unlikely to read Japanese and thus would not notice and criticize these (Abramson & Hayashi, 1984). Other visible sex related matters were bent to Western ways. Prostitution, previously legal and accepted, for instance, was declared illegal in 1958 and separate-gender toilets and public baths began to replace the ubiquitous uni-sex facilities. Interestingly, while visual depictions of erotic themes were increasingly restricted, written pornography was slowly becoming more prevalent, more risqué and more fetishistic in tone. This was seen by some as a liberating reaction to the restraints of both Confucian feudalism and Western morality (Kuro, 1954). These were the laws and situation that basically existed in 1972, the starting date of our study.

In the ensuing years, sexually explicit materials, first gradually and then in the late 1980s and into the 1990s rapidly increased in prevalence. The years 1990 and 1991 seemed a watershed. Major shifts developed in how much pornography was produced and how the obscenity laws were interpreted. Fewer materials were being charged as obscene and even fewer convictions recorded. Once more this was similar to findings elsewhere. In Denmark the repeal of the ban on pornographic literature in 1967 was a consequence of provocative publishers producing and distributing to a waiting market and increasingly permissive court rulings (Kutchinsky, 1973b). In Japan the production and relaxation of control seemed to occur simultaneously; not one obviously causing the other.

The types of pornography available in Japan is also of interest relative to sex crime. The SEM produced caters to every taste and fetish and is typically much more aggressive and violent than that seen in the United States. And there are rarely enforced age restrictions in the purchase of or posing for these materials. This was essentially similar to the situation in Denmark (Kutchinsky, 1978). Kutchinsky further found that while the available SEM increasingly became fetish oriented and aggressive, such materials were not necessarily more often used. It appeared to remain a minor portion of the pornography available. In Denmark, Kutchinsky (1978, pp. 114) estimated hard core sadomasochistic materials and the like comprised no more than approximately 2% of all obtainable. Winick (1985) found about the same among U.S. materials. Giglio (1985) argued that Kutchinsky's data may not be applicable considering a climate where violent pornography may be more prevalent. While we did not analyze in detail the pornographic materials in Japan for sadomasochistic or violent content it appears from inspection that such content is certainly much higher in Japan than in the U.S.A. or elsewhere.

Kutchinsky (1973a), in his studies, found that the least serious sex crimes decreased the most and rape the least. We on the other hand found the opposite. In Japan, rapes decreased 79 percent while public indecency decreased 33 percent. The reason for the difference is not clear. We believe the compulsivity generally associated with the crimes considered under the public indecency law are less easily modified than is rape. Also, the incidence of peeping and flashing might already have been at a low incidence close to a base line. Public shame is an extremely strong social force in Japan and can be a major factor in controlling public indecency.

Our findings regarding sex crimes, murder and assault are in keeping with what is also known about general crime rates in Japan regarding burglary, theft and such. Japan has the lowest number of reported rape cases and the highest percentage of arrests and convictions in reported cases of any developed nation. Indeed Japan is known as one of the safest developed countries for women in the world (Clifford, 1980). This not withstanding, Japanese social critics and feminists think things can be better still (Radin, 1996). Many women's advocates think the police authorities can be more responsive to women's concerns and women themselves less reluctant to complain. This comment can probably be applied everywhere.

Despite the absence of evidence, the myth persists that an abundance of sexual explicit material invariably leads to an abundance of sexual activity and eventually rape (e.g., Liebert, Neale, & Davison, 1973). Indeed, the data we report and review suggests the opposite. Christensen (1990) argues that to prove that available pornography leads to sex crimes one must at least find a positive temporal correlation between the two. The absence of any positive correlation in our findings, and from results elsewhere, between an increase in available pornography and the incidence of rape or other sex crime, is prima facie evidence that no link exists. But objectivity requires that an additional question be asked: "Does pornography use and availability prevent or reduce sex crime?" Both questions lead to hypotheses that have, over prolonged periods, been tested in Denmark, Sweden, West Germany and now in Japan. Indeed it appears from our data from Japan, as it was evident to Kutchinsky (1994), from research in Europe and Scandinavia, that a large increase in available sexually explicit materials, over many years, has not been correlated with an increase in rape or other sexual crimes. Instead, in Japan a marked decrease in sexual crimes has occurred.

While it might be accepted that pornography does arouse some people sexually, there is reason to believe it can lead to legal sexual expressions but no measure was taken of such activities. Couples might have increased their love making frequency, artists might have created newly inspired works of art, multitudes might have used the pornography as vehicles for sex education and not a few have probably used the material for reading or viewing pleasure and masturbation. All of these are positive, legal and constructive, or at least nondestructive, social outlets. In Japan, as elsewhere, publishers and others maintain that erotic stories, even in comics, serve as a means of relaxation for adults who feel suffocated in Japan's '"controlled society" (Burrill, 1991).

No population studies have demonstrated a link between pornography and sex crimes. There are, however, occasional research reports of a linkage. One, for example, reported: "Retrospective recall provided the basis for estimating the use of sexually explicit materials by sex offenders (voluntary outpatients) and non offenders during pubescence, as well as currently . . . Rapists and child molesters reported frequent use of these materials . . . Current use was significantly related to the chronicity of their sexual offending . . . (Marshall, 1988)." The actual evidence in this report, however, seems at closer scrutiny, to indicate that pornography used by adult sex offenders is viewed immediately prior to their offense. Unstated, but contained within the Marshall study, is evidence that exposure to pornography was usually absent from the offenders' experiences during formative years.

This seems to be a crucial consideration. Most frequently, as it was found in the 1960s before the influx of sexually explicit materials in the United States, those who committed sex crimes typically had less exposure to SEM in their background than others and the offenders generally were individuals usually deeply religious and socially and politically conservative (Gebhard, Gagnon, Pomeroy, & Christenson, 1965). Since then, most researchers have found similarly. The upbringing of sex offenders was usually sexually repressive, often they had an overtly religious background and held rigid conservative attitudes toward sexuality (Conyers & Harvey, 1996; Dougher, 1988); their upbringing had usually been ritualistically moralistic and conservative rather than permissive. During adolescence and adulthood, sex offenders were generally found not to have used erotic or pornographic materials any more than any other groups of individuals or even less so (Goldstein & Kant, 1973, Propper, 1972). Walker (1970) reported that sex criminals were several years older than noncriminals before they first saw pictures of intercourse.

Many who deal with rapists feel rape is a sexual act for a non sexual problem, e.g., a defeat or frustration at work might motivate rape (Groth, 1979). Others see rape as an expression of power (Groth, Burgess and Holstrom, 1977). Goldstein and Kant concluded that "few if any" of the sex offenders they interviewed had been appreciably influenced by pornography. "Far more potent sexual stimuli" are real persons in the environment for the sex criminal (Goldstein & Kant, 1973; Lynn, 1986). Danish experts, including feminist criminologists who have studied rape in Denmark, also agree that there is no relationship between pornography and rape (Kutchinsky, 1985a, pp. 12).

Nicholas Groth, a specialist in the treatment of sex offenders, has written "Rape is sometimes attributed to the increasing availability of pornography and sexual explicitness in the public media. Although a rapist, like anyone else, might find some pornography stimulating, it is not sexual arousal but the arousal of anger or fear that leads to rape. Pornography does not cause rape; banning it will not stop rape. In fact, some studies have shown that rapists are generally exposed to less pornography than normal males (Groth, 1979, pp. 9)."

Wilson (1978, pp. 175) found that "Males who develop deviant patterns of sexual behavior in adulthood have suffered relative deprivation of experience with pornography in adolescence." He suggests that pornography not only can, but does, help to prevent criminal sex problems (pp. 176). Wilson claims exposure to sexually explicit materials can have therapeutic advantages and, among couples, help by promoting greater communication and openness to discuss sexual matters, and provide sex education. It can also help by providing an anxiety and inhibition-relieving function. Thirty-nine percent of the convicts surveyed by Walker (1970) agreed that pornography "provides a safety valve for antisocial impulses."

Several other explanations have been offered to account for the decreasing and low incidence of sex crimes in Japan. Abramson and Hayashi (1984) attribute the low incidence of rape in Japan to internal restraint which is part of the Japanese national character instilled by the tight society. While that might be so, it is difficult to imagine that restraint stronger in the 1990s than it might have been in the more conservative environment of the 1970s. Kutchinsky (1973b) credits the reduction in sex crimes associated with the high availability of SEM in Europe and Scandinavia to "most of the population became familiar with pornographic literature: but very quickly the point of saturation was reached, mainly because the interest was based on curiosity rather than a genuine need." We believe this to be a partial answer.

Other factors too are probably involved. For instance, over the period under review, 1972 to 1995, concomitant with the decrease in male sex crimes there has been an increase in female consensual sexual availability. In addition to females available as sexual partners via prostitution and other commercial sex outlets, the "girls next door" are now more ready to accept nonmarital sexual activities than was common two and three decades ago (Uchiyama, 1996).

Many laboratory experiments are alleged to prove a negative societal influence from exposure to pornography. Results from different experiments supposedly demonstrated that exposure to pornography, particularly that which includes violence, leads to the degradation of women, the trivilization of rape and increased likelihood of aggression or acceptance of violence against women (for overview of this area see Malamuth & Donnerstein, 1984, and Zillmann & Bryant, 1989).

The laboratory-school experiments are hardly comparable to situations in the real world and may not be relevant to it. The typical laboratory experiment exposed college students to different types of pornography for various durations and attempted to measure their subsequent attitudes and behaviors. Further, and considered crucial, the situation was often manipulated so that the students were duped into situations that confounded the experimental design (e.g., Donnerstein, 1984, Donnerstein & Barrett, 1978; Zillmann, 1984; Zillmann & Bryant, 1982; 1984;1989, Zillmann & Weaver, 1989). These studies have been seriously critiqued (e.g., Brannigan, 1987; Brannigan & Goldenberg, 1986, 1991; Christensen, 1990; Becker & Stein, 1991) for being methodologically flawed and inappropriate for practical consideration. Often the findings themselves don't seem consistent. For instance Zillmann and Bryant (1984; 1988a, 1988b) reported that their results indicated on the one hand that large amounts of exposure to pornography reduced the willingness of student subjects to aggress against another after erotic stimulation [inferred positive effect] but led to "a general trivialization of rape," decreased satisfaction with the present partner and supposed lessening of "family values" [inferred negative effect]. And even experimenters in this area of classroom research have significantly criticized how the data have been extrapolated for the courtroom (e.g., Linz, Penrod & Donnerstein, 1987). Lab experiments typically do not take into account context and other crucial social and situational factors in considering the audience or the material.

The results we find for Japan, and Kutchinsky reports for the U.S.A., West Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, are from huge diverse populations that have had years of exposure to sexually explicit materials. These materials could be chosen or not, used or not and modified or not to taste. No person was obligated to expose him or herself to experiences found distasteful while, on the other hand, anyone could exploit any available material or opportunity available. Individuals in real life could use the material alone in private or with partners. In real life, individuals can elect to experience some pornography for minutes or hours, at a single session, or over years. In real life, individuals are free to satisfy different sexual urges in ways unavailable to students in classroom situations.

Kutchinsky (1983, 1987, 1992, 1994), has discussed the relative merits of lab studies compared to events outside the laboratory. Basically Kutchinsky believes that pornography, in the real world, offers a substitution for the sexual and nonsexual frustrations that might, in other circumstances, lead to sexual offenses (Kutchinsky, 1973a, p175 ff.). "If availability of pornography can reduce sex crimes, it is because the use of certain forms of pornography to certain potential offenders is functionally equivalent to the commission of certain types of sex offenses: both satisfy the need. . . If these potential offenders have the option, they prefer to use pornography because it is more convenient, unharmful and undangerous." (pp. 21). This too we believe is only a partial answer.

What other societal factors, aside from an increase in pornography, might have led to the decrease in crimes in Japan? And if pornography doesn't lead to rape and sex crimes, what does? Obviously these are complicated multifaceted questions. In response, we agree with many (e.g., Brannigan. 1997; Fisher & Barak, 1991, Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) that crimes in general are not simply a matter of "monkey see - monkey do." As with most other crimes, sex crimes are usually opportunistic, given little forethought and typically committed by individuals with poor self or social control. And such individuals are often identifiable before they would be exposed to any substantial SEM. More than half of adult sex offenders were often known to be adolescent sex offenders (Abel, 1985; Knopp, 1984). As Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) state: ". . . the origins of criminality of low self control are to be found in the first six or eight years of life, during which time the child remains under the control and supervision of the family or a familial institution . . . policies directed towards enhancement of the ability of familial institutions to socialize children are the only realistic long-term state policies with potential for substantial crime reduction (pp. 272-273).

The increasing competitive nature of the Japanese educational and employment situation over the last two decades has pressured more time being devoted to school achievement starting in preschool and continuing through college; hours of home-work and extra tutoring after school (juckyu) are common (Efrom, 1997). And Japanese mothers usually remain at home to supervise their children through the middle school if not the high school years. We believe this in itself reduces the opportunity for anti-social or criminal activity and helps socialize the child to avoid criminal behaviors as an adult.

Ellis (1989) attributes sex crimes to innate motives toward sexual expression and a drive to possess and control. The increased early age times under family jurisdiction can help modify these drives. So too, we think, can the standard Japanese K-12 sex education programs take some credit. Thus, socially positive proactive forces, in themselves, may account for much of the reduction in the crime seen. Other forces responsible for the modification of sex crimes rates in Japan or elsewhere have yet to be determined.

A companion question also arises: Might there be negative effects of the increase in pornography availability other than measured by our inspection of documented sex crimes? Feminists, religious conservatives and other moralists consider pornography a problem even if it can not be proven that it leads to an increase in sex crimes (see e.g., Court, 1984; Osanka & Lee, 1984). Some see it as violence against women per se, e.g., "The question is not: does pornography cause violence against women? Pornography is violence against women, violence which pervades and distorts every aspect of our culture (Dworkin, 1981, book cover)." And Steinham (1983) has written: "pornography is about power and sex-as-weapon - in the same way we have come to understand that rape is about violence, and not really about sexuality at all (pp. 38)." MacKinnen (1993) considers even written pornography degrading and harmful to women by its mere existence.

There are certainly anecdotal reports of negative consequences, aside from sex crimes, attributed to pornography. These range from domestic violence (e.g., Sommers & Check, 1987), to child abuse (e.g., Burgess & Hartman, 1987). There is, however, no evidence that pornography is in anyway causal in such terrible and regrettable crimes (Howitt & Cumberbatch, 1985). These anti-social and criminal acts, we believe, are more likely due to the poorly parented and inadequately schooled individuals with poor self or social control mentioned above.

Another potential ill effect of pornography is reviewed by Howitt and Cumberbatch (1985); the possible negative effects of pornography on men. They review reports of men reduced to impotence by "performance anxiety" and not being able to match the ever-potent, hugely endowed, skilled studs in pornography (e.g., Moye, 1985; Fracher & Kimmel, 1987; Tieter, 1987). Howitt and Cumberbatch conclude that the factors actually responsible for impotence and performance anxiety probably have nothing to do with pornography and have also yet to be determined.

In sum, the concern that countries allowing pornography would show increased sex crime rates due to modeling or that adolescents in particular would be negatively vulnerable to and receptive to such models or the society would be otherwise adversely effected has not been vindicated. It is certainly clear from our data and analysis that a massive increase in available pornography in Japan has been correlated with a dramatic decrease in sexual crimes and most so among youngsters as perpetrators or victims. We have mentioned some possible influential factors.


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Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1989). Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Zillmann, D., & Weaver, J. B. (1989). "Pornography and Men's sexual callousness toward women". In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant (Eds.), Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 95-125). Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.

Milton Diamond, Ph.D.

Phone: (808) 956-7400
Fax: (808) 956-9481

University of Hawai`i - Manoa
John A. Burns School of Medicine
Dept. Anatomy & Reproductive Biology
Pacific Center for Sex & Society
1951 East-West Rd.,
Honolulu, Hawai`i, 96822 U.S.A.

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