Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016 秋祭り (Autumn Festival)

With the coming of autumn, fall festivals are celebrated in many neighborhoods across Japan. This year it seemed that the danjiri brought the cool autumn weather with it as it was pushed and pulled through the narrow roadways of my neighborhood - there was a noticeable change in temperature after the festival was completed on Sunday evening.

As I have been observing and participating with my neighborhood's festival for several years now (see previous VAOJ coverage through the links below) it has been interesting seeing children grow and older people's hair getting grayer. The unfortunate observation is lesser participation in the festival. It seems most of my neighbors are too busy and/or uninterested in this event. It makes me admire even more the extraordinary efforts of those who come out year after year. They start out preparing the danjiri Saturday morning and after a blessing by the local shrine's Shinto priest they parade the danjiri around the neighborhood receiving donations from residents along the way. After a grueling afternoon of hauling the danjiri around the same people organize and run an evening festival at the shrine, preparing various food, holding games for children and hosting groups from other neighborhoods. After cleaning up after the festival they get up early on Sunday morning and haul the danjiri around once again. After cleaning the danjiri they put it away for next year and then hold a thank you party for the participants in the shrine grounds. It is a full 2 days of work carried out by 40 people or so for the benefit of the whole neighborhood. I worry about the future of this event as the core members and most participants are well into their 50s and 60s. I am honored to be allowed to record and participate in the festival (my assistance in pushing the danjiri seems to be valued than my photography...).

Previous VAOJ Fall Festival Photo Essays:

2014 Fall Festival:

2013 Fall Festival:

2012 Fall Festival:

2010 Local Matsuri in Classic Black & White:

2010 Local Matsuri In Living Color:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Face saver: Surgical masks worn at speed dating sessions"

From Japan Today, 10/18/16.

Looks aren’t everything. At least, that’s what one Japanese dating service is trying to prove - by requiring participants in speed dating sessions to wear white surgical masks.

“In order to achieve marriage, it is important to provide chances to know a partner’s personality and values in the early stages,” said Kei Matsumura, head of Tokyo dating service Def Anniversary. “We chose surgical masks as an essential tool for that.”

White surgical masks covering most of the face are common sights in Japan, where people don them to avoid catching diseases, keep out pollen and, sometimes, just to keep their faces warm. Some women also opt for a mask on days when they haven’t worn makeup.

“Since I wasn’t judged by my appearance, I think I was able to be more outgoing with women,” said 28-year-old Yasumasu Kishi at a weekend speed dating event for 19 men and 18 women.

Dating services are booming in Japan as young people shy from tying the knot. The marriage rate has plunged by 50% over the last 40 years, from 10.1 per thousand in 1975 to 5.1 per thousand in 2014, according to a Health Ministry survey.

Young people brought up in the digital era find face-to-face encounters daunting in ultra-polite Japan, while long work hours add still another hurdle. These make konkatsu - active “marriage seeking activity” - often the only option.

“I think I was able to find out more about their inner selves and not just judge them by their looks,” said Chiharu Tsukahara, a 28-year-old office worker.

“In this event, personality matters. I quite liked that,” she added as she prepared to leave with Kishi and two friends for another date. This time, masks were optional.


YouTube video of the event:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Police up surveillance against Peeping Toms among Kyoto’s camera-toting tourists"

From The Japan Times, 10/17/16.

Police are ramping up their vigilance at train stations, temples and shrines amid an increasing presence of alleged Peeping Toms in Kyoto’s major tourist areas.

Due to the compactness of image-recording devices, peeping techniques have become far more stealthy, and victims aren’t even aware they are targets.

Kyoto is also a city full of camera-toting tourists, making it hard to determine who might be a Peeping Tom.

In the latest case, a 55-year-old male high school teacher of Osaka was caught red-handed Sunday at the renowned Kiyomizu Temple after he allegedly took a photo up the skirt of a female college student, Kyodo News reported.

The 18-year-old victim was sitting on steep stone steps within the temple compound. Suspect Yoshikazu Tamura reportedly told police he was “disguising himself as a tourist taking photos of the scenery.”

The incident was discovered by staff of TV station Tokyo Broadcasting System who were reporting on Peeping Tom incidents in Kyoto.

In addition to major tourist sites, Kyoto Station, the gateway to the ancient capital, has also experienced a surge in the number of voyeurs.

According to a report by the Iza News website, some internet users call the station a major panchira spot, meaning “that’s where you can get a glimpse of panties.”

The report quoted the Kyoto police as saying the number of peeping incidents in the first half of this year has already exceeded the total of last year.

Plainclothes police are increasing vigilance near escalators and stairs, the report said.


Monday, October 17, 2016

"'Japan: Guilty Until Proven Innocent' documentary shines light on controversial legal system"

From Japan Today, 10/17/16.

Japan is known for being one of the countries with the lowest crime rate in the world. Numerous reasons are given for this such as the illegality of weapons, a smaller wealth gap, or unspoken rules of conduct that people live by.

But one other factor behind such low crime could have a darker reason to it: fear of the Japanese legal system.

Al Jazeera news recently put out a documentary on that very subject, showing one of the scarier parts of Japan that most people don’t have experience with. The full video is below.

The documentary follows the story of Keiko Aoki, a woman who in 1995 was convicted of setting her house on fire and intentionally murdering her daughter to collect life insurance money. Her conviction was based solely on her and her husband’s written confessions that they claimed were made under extreme duress.

Keiko and her husband spent the next 20 years in jail, claiming they were innocent the entire time. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the verdict for their retrial was finally delivered, proclaiming them not guilty.

But why would someone confess to a crime they didn’t commit? Put simply, the documentary claims that the Japanese legal system is designed to extract confessions no matter what.

In Keiko’s case, she was held in an interrogation room with police investigators who constantly yelled and berated her for 12 hours straight. She was never allowed to see a lawyer. Eventually, she was told by police that her husband had already confessed to the crime, so she should too. Mentally destroyed, she gave up and wrote a confession dictated to her by police.

Keiko claims that confusion, exhaustion, and the guilt of not being able to save her daughter came together to make her admit to a crime she was innocent of.

In Japan, anyone can be held by police for 23 days without being charged. Lawyers are not allowed in interrogation rooms, and police are not required to record any of the interrogation sessions. As Hiroshi Ichikawa, a former Japanese prosecutor described, investigators can just rotate in and out as they get tired of questioning the suspect, until he or she is so mentally exhausted that they will admit to anything to make it stop.

But why is the Japanese legal system so intense when it comes to extracting confessions from the accused? Ichikawa claims it’s because there’s immense pressure on police and prosecutors to obtain a guilty verdict. In a country with a near universal conviction rate, no one wants to be the only lawyer who failed to get a guilty verdict, so they’ll do anything to get it.

The documentary is very enlightening about a part of Japan that is rarely discussed. If you want to watch the full documentary, check it out on Al Jazeera’s website or official YouTube page.

When it comes to false convictions and innocent people behind bars, Japan is not alone. The U.S. and other developed countries have just as many – if not more – legal problems. But the only way any of them can change is by getting the word out that there is a problem in the first place, and this documentary is a great first step in letting people know that the system that is supposed to serve them is broken.


See the film below.

See related VAOJ posts on this subject:

"Documentary on Forced Confessions Screened in Tokyo"

"Law change would tape interrogations"

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Shiseido app adds makeup to faces on video conferences"

Photo and text from The Japan Times, 10/11/16.

In a potential boost for the government’s drive to get more people telecommuting, cosmetics company Shiseido Co. has developed an app that makes users look as if they are wearing makeup. It amounts to an instant makeover for the unfortunate worker called to appear on screen from home at an awkward hour.

The TeleBeauty app, developed in collaboration with Microsoft Japan, allows users to choose from four different makeup options: natural, trendy, cool, or feminine.

While on camera, the makeup on the user’s face syncs with real-time facial movements, “unless the face moves wildly,” according to Shiseido spokeswoman Megumi Koyama.

The idea for the app came from Shiseido employees about a year ago, Koyama said.

She said colleagues found it bothersome to have to put on makeup for video conferences, especially those with colleagues overseas, as calls tended to come at odd hours.

And workers do not have to scramble to tidy up their homes, either.

The app, for which the company utilized makeup simulation technology that it began developing in the late 1990s, has a feature to blur the background.

“Telecommuting is becoming more common, both in our company and in society. We hope the app will contribute to that trend,” she said.

Shiseido introduced a telecommuting program in January. So far, staff have used it around 200 times.

The app, which has yet to hit the market, will be made available on an experimental basis on Skype for Business for the staff of companies taking part in a weeklong campaign by Microsoft Japan from Monday.

The aim of the campaign is to reform the way people work. In addition, 100 female staff from the software manufacturer are testing it.

Koyama stressed that the app is not just for women.

“We would like men to use it, too, because it is often said that faces of people participating in video conferences look darker than they really are, and depending on the angle of the camera, the workers look as if they have bags under their eyes,” she said. “The app is set up so the users’ skin looks brighter. I think it’s a feature that helps anyone look professional.”

The government is pushing telecommuting as a way to help female workers balance family and work. It wants to boost the percentage of people working from home at least one day a week to 10 percent of the workforce, in a bid to get 73 percent of women aged 25-44 into work by 2020.


Monday, October 10, 2016

"Disabled woman yelled at for using train’s priority seat, 'not looking like a handicapped person'"

Photo and text from Japan Today, 10/10/16.

What comes to mind when you think of people with disabilities? Chances are you imagined someone in a wheelchair or other mobility aid, or perhaps some other physically apparent handicap. However, oftentimes the disability is internal – otherwise known as an “invisible/hidden disability” – and can be anything from heart problems to anxiety disorders.

Trains in Japan have special priority seating in each car especially reserved for those who need it, including pregnant mothers, the elderly, and people with physical disabilities. While no one would question someone walking with a crutch using the priority seating, a person with, say, painful arthritis who has no outward, physical signs of their suffering may be seen by those around them as someone who needs a priority seat.

On September 28, Twitter-user @SugimotoYohko shared an unpleasant episode of discrimination her friend, who has a hidden disability, had gone through earlier that same day. The post included a photo of a tag her friend keeps with her that reads “I have an internal disability”, as well as a call for others to share the story:

“I was taking the train to the hospital in town for a check-up, my ‘invisible disability’ tag on the front of my bag as it should be, and sat down in the priority seating area, when an older man yelled at me. ‘These seats are for handicapped and the elderly! Get up!’

To be sure, I showed him the physical disability certificate, but then he said, ‘Well that’s misleading. If you’re handicapped, then you should look more like a handicapped person!’

I felt like crying. I got off at the next stop to take the following train. And after going through the trouble to look nice for a trip into town… There’s not a lot of understanding towards people with invisible disabilities, so sometimes painful things like this happen… It’s unfortunate.”

@SugimotoYohko wrote of the incident: “‘Look more like a handicapped person…’ What’s that even supposed to mean?! I don’t want my friends or anyone else with similar conditions to feel bad, so I ask everyone for their understanding and cooperation.”

The tweet has been receiving a lot of attention, with over 20,000 retweets since it was originally posted. There have been numerous angry comments about the situation, and rightly so, with a many others who have invisible disabilities themselves speaking up as well.

“I have an internal illness too, so I completely understand that feeling… You can’t tell there’s anything wrong by looking at me. I don’t care how old the person is, I wish there was something we could do about people like that who just don’t understand.”

“I’d like to reply back, ‘How about, if you’re elderly then you should act more like it! An old geezer like you shouldn’t sit in the priority seats!’”

“What the hell? That’s horrible! Terrible!”

“Is there even a handicap way to look in the first place? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

While in recent years there have been efforts to raise awareness of disabilities and handicapped people, there still seems to some way to go to increase knowledge of less-obvious disabilities. And perhaps we can all take this as a reminder to not judge a book by its cover.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Documentary focuses on ‘rakugo’ artist’s inspirational return to the stage"

From The Japan Times, 10/7/16.

The Japanese tradition of rakugo (comedic storytelling) depends largely on a quick wit and a way with words. So when storyteller Hayashiya Kanpei became speech-impaired due to a stroke, the challenge he faced getting back on stage was a momentous one.

Kanpei, 67, and his struggles are the subject of a new documentary film titled “Namida no Kazu dake Warao Yo” (“Let’s Laugh As Many Times As We Cry”).

The artist was 41 when he suffered a brain hemorrhage. It left him paralyzed on the right side of his body, which also affected his speech. Popular for his brisk way of speaking and specializing in classic rakugo stories, Kanpei had been promoted only five years earlier to the status of master storyteller or shin-uchi.

For a rakugoka, who tells comical stories while sitting on stage clad in kimono, the effects of the stroke were horrific.

Kanpei, whose real name is Kazuo Shibuya, gradually recovered from the ordeal to write his own story and perform it on stage.

“I love classical rakugo stories featuring warm human relationships,” he says. “But as recommended by the people around me, I decided to write a new story to express myself.”

“Let’s Laugh As Many Times As We Cry” depicts Kanpei’s arduous rehabilitation process, which continued even while nursing his 93-year-old mother at his home in Tokyo. It also focuses on the support he received from friends and fellow rakugo performers.

In August, Kanpei performed his new monologue, “Let’s Go, Shogaisha” (shōgaisha is the Japanese word for a person who has a disability), on stage as part of a show organized in Tokyo by disciples of Hayashiya Sanpei I to commemorate their late master.

In the last part of the monologue, Kanpei said, “We shōgaisha feel refreshed when we go out and meet people,” which drew a round of applause from the audience.

Kazuhito Ogino, a former movie studio executive who planned the documentary says that Kanpei’s efforts have proven inspirational to people in his generation who are concerned about life after retirement.

The film was first shown at a theater in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, in early September and is scheduled to be screened at other selected theaters through November.


More information and film trailer (in Japanese):