Vagina of the Valley

explores censorship after the arrest of artist Megumi Igarashi for 3D printing her vagina to turn it into a kayak



Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, 42,  has gained international attention for her creation of a kayak modelled on her own vagina. Also known as Rokudenashiko or ‘the good for nothing kid’, Igarashi has made it her mission for her vagina to “travel the world”, describing female genitalia as “overly hidden” in Japan. After being arrested for her supposed obscenity, she has created debate over freedom of expression in Japan, as well as the plight of the feminist artist.

The legal issue arose through Igarashi’s use of crowd funding. The data which was necessary to model the kayak and which was produced by a 3D printer was sold online. This was used to raise funds for the production of the kayak, which was seen by the Japanese authorities as the distribution of ‘obscene data’. Igarashi faces up to two years in prison for the perceived offence and a fine of up to £13,000. In order to cover her legal fees, ‘the good for nothing kid’ is now selling her vagina-inspired ‘deko-man’ pieces: small, vinyl figurines, available in a range of colours, with a glow-in-the-dark variety available. Alongside this, for the safety of one’s mobile, Igarashi has created phone cases, once again depicting her lady parts.

Her previous works include manga and sculpture, with the movement into the larger scale depiction of her own genitalia creating a debate over Japan’s censorship laws.

A contrast exists between the depictions of the female anatomy and that of the male anatomy in Japan. In Kawasaki, where Igarashi was arrested, the annual Kanamara Matsuri, or ‘Festival of the Steel Phallus’ is held. It focuses on a shrine, with depictions of the penis being commonplace, while the celebration of Honen Matsuri, or Harvest Festival, features a two and a half metre wooden phallus. Should Igarashi’s lone kayak be seen as disgraceful when compared to these depictions of the male appendage?

Outside of Japan, feminist artists have placed great emphasis on the importance and beauty of the vagina, with their works often facing controversy, yet never indictment. One of the greatest examples of this is Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party installation, created over 35 years ago, a far cry from Igarashi’s current struggle. In a new development, depictions of the vagina are now being used for charitable endeavours. In 2013, The Shoreditch Sisters, members of the WI, knitted vaginas, creating a patchwork quilt known as The Vulva Quilt which was used in the fight against FGM. With depictions of the vagina being seen with less tension and more purpose in Britain, it is shocking to see Igarashi facing charges in a country with a booming adult industry, renowned for its sex toys and fetishisms. It is also interesting to note that under Japanese law, it is necessary to pixelate female  genitalia in pornography, described as ‘indecent’ under the Criminal Code of Japan.

Lawyers “will continue pleading not guilty on behalf of Igarashi, who argues her works are not anything obscene.” We hope Igarashi is granted freedom of expression, and wait with baited breath for the judicial result.