Megumi Igarashi – The Woman Who Built A Vagina Kayak

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Posted By Apoorva Jain
queer, cisgender female
she/her

Megumi Igarashi (五十嵐恵 Igarashi Megumi), who uses the pseudonym Rokudenashiko (meaning “bastard girl”, “good-for-nothing girl”), is a Japanese sculptor and manga artist who has received public attention for her work featuring female genitalia.

On her website, she describes how growing up, she had never seen other women’s genitalia, didn’t know what they should look like, and was therefore concerned that her own vulva was abnormal. At first, when she began to use a mold of her vulva to create dioramas, she treated the idea light-heartedly.However, after receiving a lot of criticism and backlash, she began to use her art as a statement. She says that she would like women to be able to speak about their bodies without shame, and believes that the vulva should be a “part of the body … no different from arms or legs”. Her art is made with an intention to make the vulva something that is “casual and pop”. In her words, “[The] vagina is treated like it’s something underground and hidden, so I want to industrialize and mass-produce it.”

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In pursuance of the same, Igarashi has made many vulva-themed works, including a chandelier, a remote control car, necklaces and iPhone cases. The small dioramas are part of series called “Decoman” (a play on the word manko, Japanese for “cunt”).
She also created a cartoon character named Manko-chan (translated as Miss Pussy) in hopes to make this character a pop culture icon. Manko-chan has been made into manga, figurines, stuffed animals, and even a full-size costume. Despite the heavy criticisms by the public, Igarashi did not stop there.

Looking to make something larger, she considered making a door, and a car, before settling on a kayak, inspired by the connection between female sexuality and the sea.

She made a kayak based on a 3D scan of her own vulva. She paid for this project through a crowdfunding campaign, sending the 3-D data of the kayak to all donors who contributed over ¥3,000. Those who contributed were sent 3D data of her vulva and encouraged to make their own vulva art.

This was a bold step even for Igarashi and recieved heavy public attention and criticism.

In July 2014, Igarashi was arrested for the alleged violation of Japanese obscenity laws for e-mailing the 3D scanner data of her vulva in March to people who supported the crowdfunding campaign to build the kayak. In response to the arrest, more than 21,000 people signed an online petition urging the government to free her. She was released a week later after having successfully appealed her detention.

On 3 December 2014, Igarashi was arrested again for suspicion of displaying an obscene object, along with Minori Watanabe (who uses the pseudonym of Minori Kitahara), a writer, feminist activist and sex shop owner. Watanabe was later released. On 24 December, Igarashi was indicted and charged with “obscenity display”, “obscenity electromagnetic record”, and “obscenity electromagnetic recording medium distribution”. She was found not guilty of the charges related to the kayak, on the grounds that the sculpture, with its bright colour and decoration, “did not immediately suggest female anatomy”, in the words of the BBC report. However, she was found guilty of the charges related to the 3D data — for violating her country’s strict obscenity laws — which don’t seem to apply to depictions of penises and was fined ¥400,000 (roughly US$3,500), about half what the prosecution had suggested was appropriate.

Her case drew international attention. American shows like The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart noted that in Japan, female reproductive organs remain taboo while there is a festival dedicated to the penis.

As many have pointed out, Japan’s vagina-phobia seems especially bizarre when contrasted with the country’s feverish celebration of dicks: The annual “Kanamara Matsuri,” or “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” is centered around a literal penis-venerating shrine. Every year, the streets of Kawasaki are flooded with penis lollipops, vegetables carved into penises, and giant purple penis statues. While this double standard is especially extreme in Japan, it’s easy to find, to varying degrees, around the world.

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Post her legal battle and going to jail twice for speaking out, Igarashi released a book under her pen name – Rokudenashiko, “What is Obscenity ? The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and Her Pussy”.

The memoir is translated by A. Ishii, a writer and proprietor of the gay manga paraphernalia brand MASSIVE. On its cover, by legendary graphic designer Chip Kidd, an outraged pink vagina figurine raises its fists in defiance.

Igarashi, with her invincible spirit and beaming passion has, intentionally or unintentionally, started a movement to normalise the female genitilia. Her contribution to the larger feminist movement is commendable and irreplacable. With the conversation her art has managed to open up it is safe to say that she has taught many and inspired more.

Igarashi has successfully initiated open dialogue on the taboo surrounding female genitalia and has managed to create a ripple-like effect run through the intellectual fabric of our current society challenging the fundamentals of the larger sexual and moral sentiment of today’s time.


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www.theoxfordstudent.com     www.newstatesman.com     

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