Growing up, Rokudenashiko worried her vagina was abnormal. In a culture where women’s vulvas are censored and discussion of women’s bodies stigmatized, she had never seen another woman’s vagina. She began to question the penis’s privileged place in Japanese culture. Why is there a Shinto festival dedicated to “The Steel Phallus”, but pussies are taboo?
Rokudenashiko wanted to break down these perceptions. She wanted to make the vagina more “pop”, free of stigma. This began with models made from molds of her vagina. She took the concept and ran with it. From her molds, Rokudenashiko made a vagina lampshade, a remote-controlled vagina car, vagina accessories, vagina smartphone cases, chandeliers, dioramas, even a vagina kayak that she dubbed "Mango (The Vagina Boat)." She also created the character “Manko-chan” (Miss Pussy) who has been featured in manga and made into figurines, costumes, and toys.
Megumi Igarashi, who works under the pseudonym Rokudenashiko, roughly translated as “good-for-nothing girl,” is a Japanese artist known for using her vagina as a motif for her art.
Originally, the art was meant to be playful, but soon Rokudenashiko’s work began to draw wide criticism. This criticism only encouraged her. Her vagina inspired art became a form of protest. Following her creation of “Mango (The Vagina Boat),” Igarashi was arrested in July 2014, for her artwork. On May 9, 2016, a Japanese court ruled that Igarashi was guilty of obscenity, but not for “displaying obscene materials publicly” and exhibiting the physical objects, since her figurines did not immediately resemble a vagina and qualified as art under Japanese law. Igarashi was fined 400,000 yen for distributing obscene data, from sharing 3-D printer information of her genitals. The data was labeled obscene, allegedly because it could have been used to create a replication of her vagina for sexual arousal.
After the ruling, Igarashi expressed disappointment at the court’s decision: “the ruling explained my artwork was OK because it didn’t look like real female genitals. It still says genitalia are obscene objects.” Igarashi continues to battle Japan’s definition of obscenity with the publication of her book in 2016, What is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy, which seeks to make the vagina “cute” and explores the discrimination and taboo surrounding female genitalia.
The culture of shame in Japan that Igarashi targets in her art is an often overlooked and understated aspect of Japanese society, since the country is known for honoring genitalia at its traditional fertility festivals. Most notably, the annual Shinto fertility festival, Kanamara Matsuri,held at the Kanayama Shrine, celebrates the phallus and features phallic sculptures and memorabilia. Stone images of both vulvas and phalli are sometimes featured in Shinto shrines. However, censorship of genitalia and obscenity laws on the depiction of genitals remain strict outside of these religious environments.
By Julie Trebault, July 2010.