In Japan, the growth of tentacle porn had a lot to do with the country's obscenity laws, which are considered quirky by North American and European standards. For many years, Japanese law forbade the depiction of pubic hair, but that changed in 1991. Japanese obscenity laws still forbid graphic depictions of human genitalia, but depicting tentacles performing sexual acts doesn't seem to be a problem.
Kishi's arrest and prosecution was big news in Japan's adult entertainment industry because it demonstrated that prosecutors are willing to go after hentai artists if they think their work is too explicit. But in Japan — like the United States, Canada and Great Britain — adult entertainment providers often wonder exactly how explicit they can be without violating the law.
"In all countries," Yakamura said, "there is trouble defining what is obscene or crosses a line. Motonori Kishi was publishing extremely detailed genitalia without masking it at all, as most of Japan's hentai artists do. He was basically thumbing his nose at the rules, which say that if you're showing genitalia or penetration, they need to be covered in some way. Most artists draw a tiny line that hides nothing, but they're following the rules ostensibly."
One thing that Japanese adult entertainment is famous for is its abundance of adolescent-like characters. In Japanese adult films, it isn't uncommon to find an actress who is well into in her 20s but is depicted in a very teeny bopperish way.
"Schoolgirl themes are very popular in Japanese porn," Anello noted. "They're popular in hentai cartoons as well as in Japanese porn films that are not cartoons — and the schoolgirl types are often depicted as sweet, sexy and slutty. In both Japanese porn and regular mainstream non-pornographic animé, women are often depicted in a very cute, girlish, adolescent fashion."
But while Japanese erotica has an abundance of cutesy themes, it also has a more radical side that is exemplified by the infamous Turtle Face scene in the early 1990s movie "Tokyo Decadence." The story of a Tokyo-based call girl/prostitute named Ai, played by Miho Nikaido, "Tokyo Decadence" isn't really a porn film; it is best described as Japanese film noir, although the Turtle Face scene is quite explicit. In that scene, Ai reluctantly participates in an S&M scenario in which a client called Turtle Face is humiliated, bullwhipped, forced to drink urine and anally penetrated with a strap-on dildo by a dominatrix named Mistress Saki.
The Turtle Face scene, Yakamura said, is "very shocking. This kind of thing is really such a niche that it doesn't have any effect on people here in Japan. If you go to some latenight used bookstores, which means adult stores in Japan, there is a curtain with adult products on the other side that only adults can go see. Then behind that section, there's another curtain for extreme fetish stuff — peeing, some scat, that kind of thing. It's certainly not generally known in Japan."
One form of erotica that is generally known in Japan is the genre known as "pink movies" — softcore porn films that started becoming popular in that country in the early 1960s. But Japanese erotica started long before the 1960s or even the 1950s, when some softcore Playboy-like magazines began surfacing in Japan; shunga (erotic woodblock art) was popular during the Edo period of 1600-1867. According to historians, the first example of tentacle porn may have been "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" — a shunga that was made around 1820 and depicted an octopus performing cunnilingus on a woman. The tentacle porn style experienced a boom in the 1980s, when many hentai/magna artists saw it as a way to sidestep Japanese obscenity laws.
For centuries, erotica was essentially unregulated in Japan, but that changed with the introduction of obscenity laws in the 20th Century. Under Article 175 of the Japanese criminal code, the sale and distribution of obscene material is illegal — and Japan's Supreme Court has loosely defined obscenity as that which is "unnecessarily sexually stimulating, damages the normal sexual sense of shame of ordinary people, or is against good sexual moral principles."
When Kishi was prosecuted under Article 175, his defense included the following arguments: (1) the "Misshitsu" magna didn't fit the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity, and (2) Article 175 violates Article 21 of Japan's constitution. Theoretically, Article 21 guarantees Japanese citizens freedom of assembly as well as freedom of speech and expression. In Japan, free speech lawyers would argue that Article 21 protects adult-oriented entrepreneurs in much the same way that the First Amendment protects adult businesses in the United States.
Debates over what does and doesn't constitute obscenity have been going on for decades — and if the Kishi case is any indication, they may continue in Japan for some time to come.