TOKYO (AP) — Japan's parliament has passed a law which bans possession of child pornography, but excludes sexually explicit depictions of children in comics, animation and computer graphics.
The upper house voted Wednesday to approve the legislation, which amends an earlier law that banned production and distribution of child pornography but not ownership of such materials.
Japan is the last major industrial country to criminalize possession of child pornography, and had long faced calls to crack down on the loophole.
The law provides for prison terms of up to one year and fines of up to 1 million yen ($9,800) for having pornographic photographs or videos of children. It allows a grace period of one year for people owning such materials to dispose of them.
Pictures and drawings of children as young as toddlers posed in sexually suggestive ways are easily found online in Japan.
Child advocates and other critics of the new legislation say it is a long-overdue improvement but are unhappy with the exclusion of depictions of sexual fantasies involving children in "manga" comic books, anime and video games.
Those so-called "creative industries" are a pillar of the government's "Cool Japan" effort to expand culture-related exports and are worth hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenues.
The exclusion was made after publishers and lawyers' associations contended that a ban on such images would violate the constitutional right of free speech.
According to humantrafficking.org, Japan is a hub for the production and distribution of child pornography, part of a massive sex industry that includes prostitutes dressed in school uniforms and other outfits meant to cater to pedophiles.
The new law, which was approved by the lower house of parliament earlier this month, requires Internet providers and other such companies to cooperate with police in preventing and investigating distribution of child pornography, which it defines as photos and videos that expose or focus on children's sexual parts.
Police say widespread use of smart phones has aided the distribution of pornographic images of children. They reported 1,644 cases of child pornography in 2013.