And what did you do over your school vacation?

Last March, Kagawa Prefecture became the first in the country to pass an ordinance limiting the time minors should spend either playing video games or on smartphones. Dubbed the Ordinance for Measures Against Internet and Game Addiction, it sets standard gaming time-limits of 60 minutes on weekdays and 90 minutes on weekends for anyone under 18. In addition, non-study use of smartphones was also to end after 9 p.m.

As draconian as that sounds, it’s just an ordinance and is non-binding, not enforced, and carries no punishments. However, that didn’t stop it from raising alarms all over the Internet when it was introduced, and now one young man is setting out to challenge his very prefecture, claiming that these rules were carelessly set and violates human rights.

Seventeen-year-old Mr. Wataru is currently preparing his lawsuit against Kagawa Prefecture, demanding compensation both for infringement on his rights and the mental anguish associated with it. Since he is still a minor, his mother is stepping in and putting her name on the suit.

“I’m in high school now, but I thought bringing a court case against Kagawa Prefecture would make a big social impact,” Wataru told media, “I figured I should do something about it myself rather than wait for someone else to do it for me.”

Representing Wataru is attorney Satoshi Sakuhana who has experience in constitutional rights suits. He argues that local governments such as Kagawa can only enact laws within the scope of the constitutional law, as stated in Article 49 of the Japanese Constitution.

Sakuhana also asserts that the ordinances violate Article 13 of the Constitution which guarantees everyone’s “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He told media, “There’s a good chance this regulation will spread nationwide, but if it violates our rights, is such an expansion OK?”

▼ Fig 1.1: An example of the constitutionally enshrined “pursuit of happiness.”

Although it’s probably an unpopular opinion, I actually think this ordinance is a good thing. What it essentially does is set an official guideline as to what is considered appropriate screen times for young people. This could be a useful tool for social workers in getting the legal backing to look into cases of neglected or abused kids.

For example, let’s say a child is staying home alone playing video games all day because his or her parents are out playing pachinko and never home. That clear and quantifiable evidence of screen time, defined as inappropriate by law, could then be used to facilitate a wider investigation of child abuse.

So rather than resulting in jackbooted gestapo breaking into regular homes and cracking kids’ skulls with batons for playing too much Banjo-Kazooie, this ordinance will probably just sit in the books to be used if and when needed.

▼ I may not be able to play it that long, but the man ain’t going to keep me from watching an eight-hour video of someone else playing it.

That being said, I also think that what Wataru is doing is fantastic and is an excellent example for people young and old to follow.

“I’m really sad more than angry that this ordinance and its numbers were written and passed based on a very scant scientific evidence.” said Wataru, remembering that last February an upper house member of the Japanese Diet went on record as saying there was no scientific evidence that limiting game time has any effect on the development of a gaming addiction.

Although Wataru and Sakuhana may have trouble proving the ordinance really interferes with their constitutional right to play video games as much as they want, they are holding their elected officials accountable for their work. That’s an important civic duty, these days perhaps more than ever.

Wataru is now calling upon people both inside Kagawa and across Japan to lend their support to his case. Soon he will be setting up a crowdfunding site to raise funds to pay for legal expenses, and then the suit will be filed. Regardless of how it turns out, Wataru is getting a valuable education in law and governance that few people his age do.

Source: TV Asahi, KSB
Top image: Pakutaso
Inset image: Pakutaso
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