“Do you like Tomo?” That’s the title for AKB48’s Tomomi Kasai’s debut photo book, due to be released on February 4. But the real question is: “Do you think Tomo’s photo is child porn?”

The photo which shows 21-year-old Kasai with her breasts cupped in a te-bura – or ‘hand bra’ – by a young boy has thrown publisher Kodansha into a child porn investigation at the hand of the Japanese police.

Kansai’s provocative picture, which was originally to be used as the book’s cover photo, was also planned to be featured as a publicity shot in Shukan Young Magazine, also published by Kodansha.

Shukan Young Magazine has since had its publishing date delayed and now they’ve been forced to cancel the issue entirely, explaining on their website: “The photo contains an inappropriate expression.”

The apology hedges around the real issue of just how inappropriate the picture is but Japan Today reports that two Kodansha employees voluntarily alerted police of the photo “after receiving a request for a hearing over the issue.”

The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper also quoted an investigator saying that police decided to investigate because they “thought this issue might turn into an international controversy.”

In other words, all those responsible for this photo – the editors, the publishers and even the police – are saying something to the effect of ‘Well we didn’t have a problem with it, but we’re worried that other people – people from overseas – will have a problem with it, so we’re looking into it.’

With that attitude, though, you have to wonder just how hard investigators will be looking into the case.

Kodansha obviously stands to lose a lot of money from their botched issue as well as brand damage. But with Japan’s lax child porn laws the company faces, at worst, a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of five million yen ($US 55,500).

So is the photo really child porn?

According to Wall Street Journal’s Asia Japan Watch AKB48 fans have defended Kasai’s photo saying that anyone who considered it pornographic had an “obscene mentality.” And while the photo is inappropriate it seems to stretch the boundaries of what is and isn’t pornographic.

But for lawyer Toru Okumura, also interviewed by Asia Japan, regardless of whether people would be aroused by the picture “there is the possibility of the photo being considered child pornography.”

Also, Tokyo Reporter writes that investigators interviewed by Sankei Shimbun have said: “The act of (a child) touching a woman’s nipples (as in that photo) is prohibited by law.”

As for me, I tend to agree with what appear to be an outspoken minority on social networking sites. As many people on Twitter pointed out, for this photo to have made it to the digital draft copy of Shukan Young Magazine, and to even be considered for the cover photo of Kasai’s book, it had to be approved by tens of people. Presumably some of those people have children of their own.

Japan’s lax attitude towards child pornography and over sexualizing young teens is a sad and frightening side to one of the most wealthy and powerful countries in the world. And maybe the only official statement surrounding this whole fiasco comes from an unnamed Kodansha spokesperson: “Whether or not it is child porn, it infringes on socially accepted standards.”