Saturday, July 13, 2019

"Directive to promote 'awamori' spirit adopted in Okinawa town"

Photo and text from Japan Today, July 12, 2019

A town assembly in Okinawa on Tuesday unanimously adopted a directive to promote toasting with awamori, a rice-based distilled spirit, as part of efforts to revitalize the local economy.

The "ordinance" implemented by the assembly of Yonabaru in Okinawa Prefecture is the first in the country for awamori, according to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association.

Similar moves to promote sake and shochu alcoholic beverages during toasting have been introduced by local governments in many parts of Japan.

Awamori, produced in Okinawa, is regarded as Japan's oldest distilled spirit, dating back around 600 years.

Yonabaru's efforts to encourage drinking of awamori, incorporated into the municipal code, points out that the number of awamori distilleries has declined sharply and shipments of the spirit have been falling since peaking in 2004.

It also calls on local residents and related business operators to cooperate in supporting consumption of the spirit.

As of Monday, a total of 144 "kampai ordinances" had been passed in Japan, according to the association, with Kyoto implementing the first one for sake in 2013.


Friday, July 12, 2019

「Makeover! Dramatic Before & After」-or- I was finally able to clean-up my office a year after the earthquake...

Before: June, 2018

After: July, 2019

Cue up Soundgarden's "Outshined" (Badmotorfinger 1991, A&M Records). Replace the lyrics "I'm... feeling Minnesota" with "I'm feeling Marie Kondo." Or maybe "I'M feeling LIKE Marie Kondo" might be more appropriate...

What a difference a year makes! And what a difference not having classes makes. I feel real accomplishment and joy. What you can't see in the after photos are my updated computers, back-up files and clean desk. Of course this means now I have to get to the real work: writing! 頑張ります!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

How to create your own personal bubble of oblivion -or- private space in a public setting

I don't usually take photos on the train but I couldn't resist last night when I saw this isolated soul wearing a personal mini-fan unit (one fan on each side connected by a neck wrap-around), surgical mask and bluetooth earbuds absorbed in a video game on his smartphone, oblivious to the world around him. I am well aware that there is an expected privacy in public in Japan especially when it comes to photography. I quickly snapped the photo and looked around to see if anybody heard the shutter sound. Everyone was wearing earphones so I got away with it... At least the guy wasn't sitting in a priority seat. All too often we see people sitting in such seats oblivious to disabled people, elderly people or pregnant women who actually need the seats...

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"Nearly 70% of ill and disabled people have difficulties working in Japan, report finds"

From The Japan Times, July 9, 2019.

A total of 66.3 percent of people with illnesses or disabilities say they have difficulties balancing work and treatment or working with their condition, a government report showed Tuesday, indicating a lack of workplace support for them.

A labor ministry survey conducted in February last year drew responses from 1,000 such people aged between 20 and 64. Of them, 664 were working, 268 were not and 68 were on leave from work, according to the 2018 white paper on labor and welfare.

The report underlined a strong desire among people with illnesses or disabilities to be part of the workforce, with 84.5 percent of all respondents saying they want to work or continue working. Among the 268 nonworking respondents, 64.2 percent said they want to work.

For those who think they cannot work or continue working despite having the desire to do so, 50.6 percent said it is because they lack physical strength, and 36.9 percent pointed to a lack of flexible working hours and leave. Multiple answers were allowed.

A total of 30.3 percent also referred to difficulties in gaining understanding or support from their bosses or coworkers for their condition.

The ministry said it will strengthen support measures for companies that help people with illnesses and disabilities continue working.

The theme of the 2018 report is “to realize a society in which everyone can play an active role while fighting disability, illness and other hardships.”

Creating an environment where disabled people, cancer patients, those with incurable diseases and people facing other difficulties can be fully active in the workplace is important to achieving the dynamic engagement of all citizens — one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy goals — the paper stressed.

The release of the annual white paper was originally slated for summer or autumn last year, but had been delayed due in part to the ministry’s response to a scandal over government statistics concerning the employment of people with disabilities.

The scandal, which involved central government agencies overstating the numbers of disabled workers they employed, has “severely damaged the trust of the public,” the report said.

The ministry, which is in charge of promoting the employment of people with disabilities, “deeply regrets” the incident, it said.

A total of 3,700 employees at 28 government bodies had been inappropriately counted as disabled workers as of June 1, 2017, according to a report announced by a third-party investigation panel in October 2018.


Japan Today also carried this story ( and had the following reader comments:

This is typical Japan and not necessarily the companies fault. I believe the workinghours are set legally by the ministry of labor etc and the company has to abide by them but not entirely sure if that is true. ...Sadly, people with disabilities face a tough time in public (e.g. on the train) as well.

With the Japanese work force gradually shrinking, the government should at least make it more appealing for ill and disabled folks to work or else risk losing more of its work force. How about a little compassion?

I spent a week on crutches a couple of years ago and it was almost impossible for me to get to work in Tokyo during the peak hours. I got knocked over four times by butt-holes running to catch trains, none of who stopped and had to hop from one of the station to the other to get the elevator. I nearly got shoved onto the tracks twice. These knob-head law makers in Kasumigaseki need to spend a week in a wheel chair traversing the Tokyo underground during peak hour to give them an idea just how seriously lacking Tokyo is for handicapped access.

Being a disabled person in an able-bodied world will always be tough, but we have all come a long way. There is still a long way to go, but credit where it's due, I have seen tremendous change in attitude and in the environment to make life safer and more comfortable for the disabled

Friday, July 5, 2019

A LONG TIME COMING: "Japan plans phone relay service for those with impaired hearing, catching up with rest of G7"

From The Japan Times, June 27, 2019 (Thanks to SM for the heads-up via his FB post).

The government plans to launch a telephone relay service to enable people with hearing disabilities to chat online via sign language, government officials said Thursday.

Japan will be the last of the Group of Seven advanced countries to launch such a service for people who cannot make voice calls and aims to start the service within a few years, the officials said.

It will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at a cost similar to voice calls.

There are approximately 350,000 people nationwide with hearing difficulties or speech disorders.

The plan will be included in a draft report to be compiled in the near future by a joint working group of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the officials added.

To fund the service, the government plans to impose special fees on phone users.

With the new service, customers will contact an operator via a website equipped with a video-calling function. The operator will help them communicate simultaneously with people without hearing disabilities via sign language or by speaking text messages out loud, the officials said.

It is expected that people with hearing impairments will be able to talk with a much wider range of people, which would, for example, allow them to make restaurant reservations and contact providers of public services.

Eventually, the service will facilitate emergency calls and let those without hearing impairments make calls to those with hearing disabilities.

Unlike free communication applications, the caller and receiver will not need to use the same service, the officials said.

The Nippon Foundation and other groups and firms have been offering similar services on a limited scale.

The trial service provided by the Nippon Foundation has almost 10,000 registered users but isn’t usable early in the morning or late at night. Emergency calls are also not allowed, according to the foundation.

Even after the government starts offering the service, “It needs to publicize the service to many people, including those without hearing difficulties,” a Nippon Foundation official said.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"Why Sign-Language Gloves Don't Help Deaf People" -and- neither does the "'Woman's hand' iPhone case to keep you company" -and then- a couple of new products that were made with deaf collaboration

Editorial: As per usual at VAOJ, there are no product endorsements here. You might be wondering why I am comparing a technology aimed at "helping deaf people" and an iPhone case/toy. The answer is that they are both pretty ridiculous, although that might be a bit too harsh to describe the iPhone case. There might be a market for the case and it might generate some fun. But it would be as useless for deaf people communicating with hearing people as the sign language gloves. Those gloves are a continuing and contemporary example of the deficit model towards deaf people and their natural language. It expects deaf people to make the added effort to use this new technology so they can better communicate with hearing people through speech. It completely ignores the needs of deaf people and the realities/linguistics of sign language. How so-called scientists could work on such a technology (and receive research grants for it) while ignoring the vast research and literature about sign languages is astounding.

I hope more people read my article.

Fedorowicz, Steven C. 2019. "Performance, Sign Language, and Deaf Identity in Japan." Anthropology News website, June 5, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1182

Read on...

Image and text borrowed from The

Why Sign-Language Gloves Don't Help Deaf People

Along with jet packs and hover boards, a machine to translate from any language to any other is so appealing as a fantasy that people are willing to overlook clunky prototypes as long as they can retain the belief that the future promised by science fiction has, at last, arrived. One particularly clunky subspecies of the universal language translator has a rather dismal history: the sign-language glove, which purports to translate sign language in real time to text or speech as the wearer gestures. For people in the Deaf community, and linguists, the sign-language glove is rooted in the preoccupations of the hearing world, not the needs of Deaf signers.

The basic idea dates to the 1980s, when researchers started exploring how humans could interact with computers using gestures. In 1983, a Bell Labs engineer named Gary Grimes invented a glove for data entry using the 26 manual gestures of the American Manual Alphabet, used by speakers of American Sign Language. But the first glove intended to make interactions between deaf and non-deaf people easier was announced in 1988 by the Stanford University researchers James Kramer and Larry Leifer. It was called the “talking glove,” and the entire system cost $3,500—not including the price of the CyberGlove itself.


The most recent project is from July 2017, when a team at the University of California, San Diego, published a paper in PLOS One describing a gesture-recognizing glove. The project was headed by Darren Lipomi, a chemist who researches the mechanical properties of innovative materials, such as stretchable polymer-based solar cells and skin-like sensors. On July 12, the UCSD news office promoted Lipomi’s publication with a story proclaiming, “Low-cost smart glove translates American Sign Language alphabet and controls virtual objects.” The next day, the online outlet Medgadget lopped “alphabet” out of its headline, and reports of a glove that “translates sign language” again spread far and wide, getting picked up by New Scientist, The Times in the United Kingdom, and other outlets. Medgadget wasn’t entirely to blame—Lipomi had titled his paper “The Language of Glove” and written that the device “translated” the alphabet into text, not “converted,” which would have been more accurate.

Linguists caught wind of the project. Carol Padden, the dean of social sciences at UCSD and a prominent sign-language linguist who is also deaf, passed along a critique of the sign-language glove concept...

“I was surprised and felt somehow betrayed because they obviously didn’t check with the Deaf community or even check with ASL program teachers to make sure that they are representing our language appropriately.”


all the sign-language translation gloves invented so far—misconstrue the nature of ASL (and other sign languages) by focusing on what the hands do. Key parts of the grammar of ASL include “raised or lowered eyebrows, a shift in the orientation of the signer’s torso, or a movement of the mouth,” reads the letter. “Even perfectly functioning gloves would not have access to facial expressions.” ASL consists of thousands of signs presented in sophisticated ways that have, so far, confounded reliable machine recognition. One challenge for machines is the complexity of ASL and other sign languages. Signs don’t appear like clearly delineated beads on a string; they bleed into one another in a process that linguists call “coarticulation” (where, for instance, a hand shape in one sign anticipates the shape or location of the following sign; this happens in words in spoken languages, too, where sounds can take on characteristics of adjacent ones).


Also, though the gloves are often presented as devices to improve accessibility for the Deaf, it’s the signers, not the hearing people, who must wear the gloves, carry the computers, or modify their rate of signing. “This is a manifestation of audist beliefs,” the UW letter states, “the idea that the Deaf person must expend the effort to accommodate to the standards of communication of the hearing person.”


Still, as long as actual Deaf users aren’t included in these projects, inventors are likely to continue creating devices that offend the very group they say they want to help.

Read the whole article:

Images and text from Japan Today, 7/1/19.

'Woman's hand' iPhone case to keep you company

If you're looking for a handy new iPhone case, look no further. Sold by Japanese smartphone case retailer Hamee, this unusually shaped case called "Nami's Hand" is realistically modeled after a real woman's hand, reproducing details right down to the whites of the nails and palm lines. Although not as soft and flexible as a real hand, the fleshy parts of the fingers and palm are still remarkably soft to the touch.

You can use it as a conversation starter, as a joke (but please be careful with people with weak hearts or who are easily frightened or startled) or, if you're not creeped out by an inanimate hand, as a "virtual" friend to keep you company.

You can enjoy a bracing breakfast that will quickly dispel the sleep from your eyes when you put Nami's Hand at your table in the morning.

You can use Nami's Hand to organize your headphones and she looks great when you're charging your phone. You can also give Nami's Hand as a gift to someone in a paper bag (bag sold separately).


Here are a couple examples to help deaf people that actually collaborated with deaf people (again, no product endorsements, just fyi...)...

"Fujitsu develops user interface device to sense sound with body"

From Japan Today, June 30, 2019.

Fujitsu Ltd has launched a service supporting sports and cultural events using Ontenna, a device that lets users sense sound with their bodies. The company said it is providing a free trial version of Ontenna for schools for the deaf.

The trial is being conducted in 30 schools, with the goal of encouraging the use of this device in day-to-day education for deaf students.

Developed in collaboration with members of the deaf and hearing impaired community, Ontenna is a user interface device that can be equipped to users in various ways - worn like a hair pin or attached to the shirt collar-, letting them sense sound characteristics through vibration and light.

The manufacturer of Ontenna, Fujitsu Electronics Inc, plans to develop enterprise businesses using Ontenna and begin sales to individual consumers via ecommerce sites, in July 2019.

Fujitsu said Ontenna can convert sound vibration patterns from an audio source between approximately 60 and 90 dB to 256 levels of vibration and light strength. In addition, by delivering specific sounds at sports competitions and events with more dynamic vibration and light, Ontenna can convey the ambiance and a sense of unity among the audience, increasing the value of the experience.

Because Ontenna is not reliant on language, it can also provide a new way of attending events regardless of disability or nationality, Fujitsu said.


"Wavio and Area 23’s ‘See Sound’ Project Wins Top Innovation Grand Prix at Cannes Lions"

From ADWEEK.COM, June 20, 2019.

A new way to help people who are hard of hearing understand the sounds around them at home has won this year’s top innovation award the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Today at the annual festival in France, judges awarded Area 23’s campaign for Wavio the coveted Grand Prix for its “See Sound” project. The mobile app, enabled by machine learning through a collaboration with Google to identify everyday sounds, notifies users of normal and abnormal sounds in and around the home with text-based notifications on their smart phone.

According to Bill Yom, global creative director of Cheil Worldwide and jury president for the Innovation Lions, the project had the jurors “convinced from the beginning” after the presentation. They were impressed not just by the idea of helping people who are hard of hearing, but also by the use of collaboration with YouTube and the project’s “beautiful design.”

“We should definitely award it to send a signal to the industry that you have to collaborate to create something outstanding for innovation, because that’s the way you have to change to try something outstanding for this world to help people,” Yom said during a press briefing.


Youtube video: