Word came in on Friday from the organizational committee of Sunshine Creation (one of the largest Japanese doujinshi conventions after Comiket) that beginning with the 37th iteration of the event on October 8th staff will be checking the contents of each new book to go on sale there. This has long been standard practice at Comiket and other smaller doujin conventions, but the fact that in their official statement announcing the change Sankuri is tying the decision directly to the recent doujin arrest and other stifling developments on the 2D free speech scene is alarming. The statement refers multiple times to the changing environment surrounding doujinshi and a shifting definition of obscenity – this is the canary in the mine shaft of democracy, and if Japanese artists and responsible adult consumers don’t start standing up for their rights soon they’ll wake up one day to find they don’t have any. Further discussion of the urgent state of free speech in Japan can be found in this recent HD editorial. A translation of the September 7th statement from the Sunshine Creation executive office is below:

Sunshine Creation 37
Urgent Notice and Information from the Creation Executive Office

September 7th, 2007
Creation Executive Office

Thank you for applying to participate as a circle at Sunshine Creation. From this time forward due to a change in the state of society we will begin a policy of “checking new books first on sale at this event”. The following is an excerpt of a letter sent to participating circles detailing the background and explanation of this decision.

On August 23rd, on the suspicion of distribution of a self-published book containing obscenity, an illustrator in Ehime prefecture was arrested on the charge of “obscene drawing distribution”. The premises of the printing company that printed this self-published work was also searched by the police, and the printers were questioned.

While noting that presently the individual is being held as a “suspect” and that the situation is not yet settled, it is clear that the gathered attention of society has focused on the problem of obscenity in manga and illustrations.

Ever since the final report issued by last year’s “Research Session to Protect Children from the Evils Brought About by Virtual Society”, in June there was the affirmed conviction in the Shobunkan manga trial [ed. the Misshitsu case] in which the Supreme Court confirmed guilt on counts of obscenity, in Kyoto there was the intensive designation of lolicon-type commercial [non-adult] comics as harmful to minors, as well as other developments indicating a precipitous shift in public consciousness surrounding manga, in addition to related issues of the shift in obscenity standards.

These changes have affected all doujin sales events in terms of the criteria for appropriate distribution they uphold, including this summer’s Comic Market 72, at which the post-convention review meeting confirmed that the number of books needing to be amended prior to distribution increased threefold [emphasis added]. (For the distinction between “obscenity” and “harmful books”, click here [see below]*).

It has been Creation’s policy in the past to prohibit the distribution of items seen as obscene, but barring request for consultation on the matter it was left to the individual circle to determine whether what they were selling was obscene or not.

However, given the recent changes in the social state of affairs, we have begun preparations for the screening of items to be distributed at the event, but taking into account the current status of fumbling about for a definition of “obscenity” we want to work with the circles to determine how best to present their work to the world. Thus, from the next event we will introduce book checking simultaneously with circle participation registration.

As a first trial of the process we know issues will arise, so we ask you to contact staff nearby on the day of the event with questions and to fill out the questionnaire included in your application to share your opinion. In addition, following the closing of the event at 16:30 there will be a review meeting which all are invited to attend where the event will be open to frank discussion.

Creation’s concept of “responsibility for the freedom of speech” will not change. We intend to work henceforth to cooperate with other sales events to bring you information on the changing social conditions surrounding doujinshi and the issue of “responsibility for expression”, and we are aiming to be consultation partners with you, the expressors of that speech.

We apologize for the inconvenience of this sudden and last-minute information, but we hope for your understanding and cooperation.

*This page claims to explain the difference between “obscenity” and “harmful books”, stating that the former is the depiction of sexual material and may not be sold under any circumstances, while the latter may be sold to adults and includes sexual material among a variety of other topics (brutality, suicide, etc.). Those looking for legal guidance as to the definition of obscenity or undistributable material won’t find it here.

A note of clarification: my position here is not that checking books is a bad thing, or necessarily an abridgment of free speech (anything that keeps adult material out of the hands of children is a Good Thing). Rather, I’m alarmed that Sunshine Creation is taking this step as a reaction to a vague legal menace and not on grounds of principle; we’ll have to wait and see whether this affects the actual content of books issued at the event, in which case it has the potential to be a very serious development indeed.