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Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi shows a small mascot shaped like a vagina, "Manko-chan," at a news conference in Tokyo on July 24. / Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP/Getty Images

TOKYO ?? Here's a note for your next trip to Japan: Don't build a vagina-shaped kayak. It could land you in jail.

Tokyo artist Megumi Igarashi was charged with distributing obscene material for providing 3-D images of her vagina to supporters in a crowd-funded project.

"It might be obscene if I were depicting actual sexual intercourse or sexual activity, but I'm just projecting a part of my body just as it is, and I don't consider that obscene," Igarashi said at a news conference Thursday.

Igarashi said a kayak modeled after her vagina was intended to build awareness of Japan's bias against discussion of that particular part of female anatomy.

It may have worked too well.

Igarashi, 42, who works under the name Rokudenshi-ko (which translates roughly as "good for nothing girl"), was arrested July 12. She was released after six days, but could be re-arrested and formally charged later. If convicted, she faces up to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Igarashi's arrest sparked a media frenzy, along with charges of hypocrisy. Pornography and sexual imagery are pervasive in Japanese society. It is not unusual to see men openly reading sexually explicit magazines and manga comics on trains and subways, or to see the same on sale in convenience stores within strolling distance of schools and playgrounds.

Manga are adult- or young-adult-oriented comic books or graphic novels, often with dark or sexually oriented themes. They are unique to Japan, but are increasingly popular overseas.

The Japanese parliament voted only last month to ban possession of child pornography, after years of international pressure. But legislators exempted explicit images of young children in manga and animation after publishers argued against restrictions on freedom of expression.

"It just shows that there is a double standard in Japanese society. It's a freedom of speech issue for men, but not when a women does it," said Jake Adelstein, a Tokyo journalist and authority on organized crime and the sex industry in Japan.

He said police also may have been spooked by the new 3-D technology. A man in suburban Tokyo was arrested in May for possession of several handguns produced on a 3-D printer. Handguns are tightly regulated in Japan and difficult to obtain.

"I understand where they are coming from. They may have wanted to send a message that this wouldn't be tolerated, but they overreacted," Adelstein said.

Ten Tokyo police officers marched into Igarashi's home last weekend, put her in handcuffs and confiscated dozens of her artworks ?? most of which she said reflect vagina-related themes.

Ironically, her arrest came months after the kayak project was completed. Igarashi said she raised about $10,000 through a crowd-funding website in September and October. For those who donated $30 or more, she provided a link to a site where a 3-D-printable image of her vagina could be downloaded.

The bright yellow kayak was completed shortly after.

An attorney for Igarashi said police officers apparently were not aware of the project until the artist re-sent a message in March to a supporter who had not downloaded the data earlier.

Igarashi said police officers at first did not seem to understand the concept of crowd-funding, but later said it was not relevant.

The case has produced widespread sympathy.

More than 20,000 people signed an online petition demanding Igarashi's release, according to her attorney. She was ordered released by a three-member appeals board after six days in jail ?? an unusual rebuke to prosecutors, who can hold suspects without bail or formal charges for up to 23 days, under some circumstances.

No word on the status of the kayak.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Japanese artist who made vagina-shaped kayak is jailed

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