Sunday, August 17, 2014

Local Matsuri, 2014 Edition

Despite periods of heavy rain and the usual hot/humid weather, the local summer festival was able to take place. Here are this year's offerings...

See last year's festival:

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri I: The Mikoshi, posted July 30, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri II: Evening Activities, posted July 31, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri III: Tamago Senbei, posted August 1, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri IV: People, posted August 2, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri V: くわしく, posted August 3, 2013.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Semi-sounds = Japanese Summer

If you play the above video before reading this text you might wonder what the point is: not much action other than a few bugs (yes, they are bugs, not birds) flying about, an occasional bicyclist passes by... But here the image/visual is not so important - it is the sound. Watch/listen to the video again with the volume turned up to the highest setting and you will begin to get an idea of the summer sounds of cicada (semi, セミ in Japanese). Yes, those large, fluttering creatures in the video are cicadas. The semi-sound is constant and loud of the Japanese summer. Here is a brief description of Japanese cicadas:

In Japan, cicadas start screaming around the middle of July and they disappear around the beginning of September. During this period, you can't really escape from the deafening chorus of their love songs. As long as there are some trees, you can find them on the trunks of the trees.

It said they spend several years underground as larvae and they pop out from the earth in a relatively dry summer evening. You can find their larvae slowly climbing the trunks of nearby trees. Once they have found a nice and stable position, they start the metamorphosis. Their wings are soft, thick and opaque at first, but becomes harder, thinner and clearer as they are dried overnight. Next morning they fly somewhere. However, they are allowed to live their life as a mature form only for a week or so. Therefore, they shout and scream their love songs as aloud as possible.

Normally, cicadas only sing during daylight. However, these days busy cities are brightly illuminated even at night, so that some confused cicadas scream at night as well.

There are a number of cicada species in Japan. Each has a different song.
(Source: Cicadas in Japan,

Behind my house is a stream lined with cherry trees. The spring brings beautiful sakura (cherry blossoms) while the summer brings the wall of sound of the semi. Until one gets used to it, it could drive one mad. Or inspire poetry, stories, movies and manga as it has done in Japan.

Another point here is the emphasis on sound. A good visual anthropologist/filmmaker knows the importance of a good microphone in the field and the challenge of mixing sound in the editing booth. Sound is especially important in contemporary and experimental visual anthropology. One example of this is the work of Amanda Belantara, 耳がきゅっとなる ("Ears Are Dazzled, Touched by Sound"). She describes the project as follows:

A collective exploration of the sounds that surround us, this film features sounds and images inspired by sound diaries kept by local people in Yamaguchi, Japan. An intriguing portrait of the invisible, the film’s unconventional style attempts to reveal the magical quality of sounds that lies hidden in the everyday.

Of course the semi-sound is not hidden at all. There are a number of interesting websites dealing with semi. Here are a couple:

Japanese Cicadae Homepage:

Singing, ticking timebombs – 5 facts about the special significance of cicadas in Japan:

There was another excellent article about the connection between semi and notions of the Japanese seasons by cultural anthropologist/naturalist Kevin Short; unfortunately the source, The Japan News, has removed it... Anyway, articles, webpages and videos don't do justice to the sound. One must experience the hot, humid and noisy Japanese summer to fully appreciate it. But we visual anthropologists still try to share the experience...

Friday, August 8, 2014

"SDF pilot arrested for taking photos up girl's skirt at train station"

From Japan Today, August 8, 2014:

A 42-year-old Air Self-Defense Force pilot has been arrested after he took photos up a girl’s skirt at a train station in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture.

According to police, the suspect, identified as Shigetaka Katagiri, took photos up a 27-year-old woman’s skirt with his smartphone, while riding an escalator at Nagareyama Otakanomori station at around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, TBS reported.

Police said that while taking the pictures, Katagiri’s phone came into contact with the woman’s buttocks, causing her to notice and cry out. Katagiri attempted to flee the scene, but was chased and caught by the woman and a man who had been nearby at the time.

According to Ministry of Defense officials, in April of this year, Katagiri was transferred from the ASDF to the Ministry of Defense Inspector General Headquarters. As inspector general, Katagiri had been in charge of enforcing sexual harassment prevention protocols.

Sigh... yet another example of what visual anthropologists (or anybody else) should not do. You might want to check out the interesting comments at the source.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Who owns this monkey’s selfie?"

Image and text borrowed from MSN News, August 7, 2014.

When a monkey commandeered a nature photographer’s camera on a small Indonesian island a few years ago, the results were extraordinary. Among the images captured by the crested black macaque were a few amazing images of himself.

Those monkey selfies made headlines back in 2011, and two of the photographs made their way to the Wikipedia page for the monkey’s species, which is endangered. Wikipedia only uses images that are in the public domain, but the feeling was that, since the monkey snapped the photo, no one could claim the copyrights to it.

“This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested,” Wikipedia’s collective band of editors explained.

The nature photographer, David Slater, felt otherwise. He sent a takedown request to the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, claiming that the photographs belong to him because they were taken with his camera.

“We didn’t agree, so we denied the request,” Wikimedia said in a new report about takedown requests it has received. The organization clearly highlighted the monkey selfie dispute in an effort to draw attention to its broader campaign against censorship.

See the whole story and related video:

VAOJ took up similar issues in the Japanese context in 2009 that included information from North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources. In their Image Use Protocol which suggests "Best practices for locating and using Japanese visual images for teaching, research, and publications," the following are rights holders to a particular image: copyright holders, owners of objects (in the image), image owners and subjects in the photos. So for the self portrait (I hate the term "selfie") of the monkey, can we ask permission for image use from the monkey (does the monkey know sign language?)? Does the photographer automatically have copyright because it was his camera and his efforts that brought the photo to the attention to the public? Did the photographer have permission from the Indonesian government or other agencies where the monkey is located? Why didn't Wikipedia ask the photographer in the first place? Does Wikipedia have the right to establish what is public domain on their own?

These are complex questions and issues that illustrate current copyright ideas/practices are no simple monkey business...

North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources:

VAOJ Shooting Culture in Japan project:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Restroom Etiquette: No Noodles in the Sink!

I found this notice posted in the restroom at a certain university in Osaka. Apparently someone doesn't know the rule about noodles in the bathroom...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

ONLINE COURSE: Visualizing Japan

Announcement from H-NET Notifications:

Harvard-MIT MOOC: Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

Seminar Date: 2014-09-03 Now open for registration. Free!

A first-time MIT/Harvard MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Visualizing Japan opens windows on Japan’s transition into the modern world through the historical visual record. Teachers include John Dower (MIT), Andrew Gordon (Harvard), and Gennifer Weisenfeld (Duke).

This co-taught course looks at Japanese history and the skills and questions involved in reading history through images now accessible in digital formats. The course is based on the MIT "Visualizing Cultures" website devoted to image-driven research on Japan and China since the 19th century ( The introductory module considers methodologies historians use to “visualize” the past, followed by three modules that explore the themes of Westernization, in Commodore Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to Japan; social protest, in Tokyo’s 1905 Hibiya Riot; and modernity, as seen in the archives of the major Japanese cosmetics company, Shiseido.

This MOOC will be followed by Visualizing Postwar Tokyo by Shunya Yoshimi of the University of Tokyo.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Arrest of Tokyo vagina artist sparks free expression protest"

Here's an article about Japan's laws related to the visual (especially those deemed "obscene")... From Japan Today, July 16, 2014:

Japanese police have arrested a Tokyo artist on obscenity charges for distributing data that allowed recipients to make 3D prints of her vagina, sparking protests over what supporters said was an attack on free expression.

Megumi Igarashi, 42, who calls herself Rokude Nashiko which roughly translates as “bastard kid”, had been trying to raise funds online to pay for the construction of a kayak, using a 3D printer, modeled on the shape of her genitals.

Japan has a notoriously vibrant pornography industry that caters to a vast array of tastes. But obscenity laws still forbid the depiction of actual genitalia, which usually appear censored or pixellated in images and videos.

The artist—who has created other genital-inspired artworks—was arrested Saturday for “distributing data that could create an obscene shape through a 3D printer,” a police spokesman told AFP on Tuesday.

Before her arrest, Igarashi—who remained in detention on Tuesday—had collected about one million yen through an Internet crowd funding site.

In exchange for donations, she supplied data to supporters that would let them create 3D prints of her genitals.

Igarashi’s supporters said they were shocked by what they described as the police’s unusually broad use of Japan’s obscenity laws in this case.

Activist Minori Kitahara said police raided Igarashi’s office and seized 20 of her artworks.

“Japan is still a society where those who try to express women’s sexuality are suppressed, while men’s sexuality is overly tolerated,” she said.

Japan’s pornography industry is predominantly targeted at men and the country only last month made the possession of child pornography illegal.

The ban excludes “manga” comics—those aimed at adults as well as children, “anime” video and computer-generated graphics, following calls to protect freedom of expression.

Campaigners had long urged Japan to toughen its stance on child pornography, complaining it was a major source of the material for global markets.

If convicted, Igarashi could receive up to two years in jail or a fine of as much as 2.5 million yen, according to her lawyer.


UPDATE! Check out how The Huffington Post covered the story (thanks to MH for the reference):