One of Japan’s most famous photographers, Shinoyama Kishin made national headlines in May 2010 when he was charged with public indecency for shooting nudes in public places. He was shooting for a nude photo book titled 20XX Tokyo which went on sale in Jan. 2010. He was not arrested nor detained, but his home and office were searched for evidence in Nov. 2009. Police later filed charges against him.
On May 26, 2010, at the Tokyo Summary Court, he got off the hook with a 300,000 yen fine and no jail time. Public indecency in Japan can bring jail time up to 6 months or a fine up to 300,000 yen.
Shinoyama played it smart by not contesting the charges filed against him and admitting guilt. He has written a letter of apology on his Web site dated May 20, 2010. Charges were also filed (papers sent to prosecutors) against the two nude female models, but they were later dropped since they stated that they only posed as directed by Shinoyama.
On his Web site, Shinoyama says that he was totally surprised by the sudden police raid on his home/office. The nude photos had already been publicly shown in magazines, exhibitions, and the photo book with no problem. Why now? What was wrong?
It turns out that the book and photos themselves were not cited as indecent, but the act of photographing two nude female models in places where they could be easily seen by passersby was considered as a no-no by police.
Shinoyama photographed the girls in twelve public places during Aug. to Oct. 2008. He did it as discretely as possible. On his Web site, he describes how he did it. The nude model is covered by a gown which can be quickly removed or put on. He has staff looking out for any passersby. He also has staff using boards to hide the model. When it is all clear, he removes the gown and shoots for a few seconds or up to a minute or two at a time.
But it was still impossible to completely hide the nude model from passersby in such urban locations. To file charges, the police zoomed in on the location of his worst offense, the famous Aoyama Cemetery in central Tokyo. Shinoyama had the girl pose on a gravestone while nude. The owner of the grave complained to the cemetery about the photos, that the girl was sitting cross-legged on the gravestone with her crotch wide open. At first, Shinoyama lied and claimed that the girl was wearing a swimsuit. The police used this public complaint to make the charges stick. There is a Japanese law saying that defaming a place of worship, which includes cemeteries, can result in a 6-month prison term and/or maximum 100,000 yen fine.
Meanwhile the 20XX Tokyo book has sold out. The publisher likely has no plans to reprint it which is extremely unusual for a Shinoyama photo book. The book is now fetching premium prices (like 50,000 yen or more at Amazon.co.jp as of this writing).
The moral of the story is, don’t shoot nudes in public places where passersby can see it at close range.