Is it legal to show your underwear in public in Japan?

If you went out at Halloween in Tokyo you might have seen some very scantily clad ladies.

Likewise, a trip to Akihabara often means the chance to see idols performing on the street with a lot on display. Flasher idol Asuka Sawamoto famously got herself arrested in 2008 when she did a series of performances in Akiba where she let hordes of men photograph her underwear. (She went on to a career in porn.)

asuka sawamoto akihabara flasher idol performer

But what about just “risque” fashion. How far is this legal?

A fashion website asked a lawyer about how far you go with see-through underwear in Japan.

Exposing yourself in Japan would apparently come under the ambit of a public indecency crime or a misdemeanor. If you are showing your genitalia to the world, it’s the former, while just your ass would be the latter, it seems. And even if it was a work of art, you are not protected against this.

You could face up to six months in prison or a fine or ¥300,000 ($3,000).

Whether or not “underwear” or “lingerie” comes under the definition of “exposure” is more debatable. Certainly it is clearly defined in ordinances by Kyoto Prefecture, so be careful on your next temple sightseeing trip.

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According to the lawyer, it boils down to who is looking at you and how are they reacting. Are they fans or are they offended random strangers? If it’s a closed event you may be safe, but something like a train or on the street may be another matter.

It’s rare for actual street fashion to be affected by these ambiguous laws, though cosplay and idol culture is always walking the dangerous tightrope.

asuka sawamoto akihabara flasher idol performer

If you are deliberately exposing your hips, thighs or nipples, then you may be asking for a visit from the guys in blue.

That’s what landed Sawamoto in trouble in 2008. Lifting that skirt on the street is crossing the line.

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