Monday, January 26, 2015

"It’s OK to film people in public in Japan, if the conditions justify it"

My colleague Sally brought this recent article by attorney Kyoko Hijikata in The Japan Times (1/25/15) to my attention. It addresses a complex question that VAOJ has been wrestling with for years.

Reader R.S. asks, “In Japan, is it OK to film other people in public?

Well, in Japan, freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. As filming and taking pictures are two of the means by which individuals can express their ideas, they are protected by Article 21.

On the other hand, people have the right not to be photographed or filmed without good reason. We call this their portrait rights, and this right is based on Article 13 of the Constitution, which guarantees the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So, Japan’s courts have had to consider which right takes priority in particular cases. In a ruling in 2005, the Supreme Court stated that taking photos without consent is illegal if the extent of the violation of the subject’s personal rights exceeds the maximum acceptable according to social norms, while taking into consideration the social status of the people photographed, the content of activities, the location where filming took place, the photographers’ purpose, the way the pictures were taken, the necessity of capturing the images, and so on. Although the case that led to this ruling concerned courtroom photographs and drawings, the precedent is considered to apply equally to film.

In the Supreme Court case, the photographer had taken pictures of the accused in court, and the Supreme Court made the judgment that this act was illegal because the accused was in handcuffs, which were tied to a rope around his waist, and the photographer had not obtained the court’s permission to take pictures.

As described above, the courts make judgments based on several factors, which means the decision-making process can be quite detailed, and rulings will differ from case to case depending on these variables.

For example, in another quite similar case in November 1993, the Tokyo High Court ruled that images of a suspect being driven to court were legal. The filming was done from the road, and the picture of the accused only showed his upper body, so restraints such as handcuffs and ropes were not visible.

So, to answer the reader’s question, “Is there a right to film other people in public?” the answer is “Yes, but only if it can be justified in the circumstances.”


I think this answer to the question of photographing in public in Japan is dangerous because of its simplicity. Hijikata discusses the difficulty courts have in making such decisions (there are many more cases the author should probably have considered other than those dealing with criminals - how about some real life scenarios?) so how can a normal citizen, student and/or foreigner judge "if it can be justified in the circumstances"? It is more than simple rights - ethics, morals, values and feelings should be considered. If I were pressed to give a simplistic answer to this question, I would say ask the person you are photographing for permission.

For previous VAOJ coverage of this question, see the Shooting Culture in Japan project:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

R.I.P. Gertrude M. Fedorowicz 1919-2014

Photo by Charles K. Fedorowicz

You might have noticed that VAOJ has been inactive for awhile. VAOJ is mourning the loss of Gertrude Fedorowicz, age 95, who passed away peacefully in her sleep in the evening of December 25.

Gertrude lived through interesting, important and difficult times in both personal and cultural/historical contexts. She was smart, talented, flexible and open-minded. She cared for those she loved as a daughter, friend, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. As an individual she loved to drive, was active in her church, an excellent cook and seamstress and a voracious reader. Those who knew her benefited from her knowledge, experiences and sweet demeanor.

Friday, December 26, 2014

"Prosecutors indict vagina artist on obscenity charges"

Text from Japan Today, 12/25/14:

Japanese prosecutors on Wednesday charged a feminist artist who makes objects shaped like her own vagina with distributing “obscene” data, according to her lawyer, in a case that has sparked accusations that authorities are out of touch.

The charges follow Megumi Igarashi’s arrest this month after she raised funds online to pay for a genital-shaped kayak which she made on a 3D printer.

“We don’t agree with the prosecutors’ contention at all,” Takeshi Sumi, one of Igarashi’s lawyers, told AFP Wednesday.

“We will continue pleading not guilty on behalf of Igarashi, who argues her works are not anything obscene,” Sumi said.

Read the whole article:

Click here for past VAOJ coverage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A moving photo: "Frozen memorial"

Photo and text from The Japan News, 11/28/14.

A shrine and lodge are covered with snow and ice Thursday atop Mt. Ontake, which erupted two months ago. Fifty-seven people were killed and six are still missing in the disaster on the mountain, which straddles the prefectures of Nagano and Gifu. The search for victims was discontinued in mid-October and is scheduled to resume in spring next year.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Osaka court rules tattoo check on city employees illegal"

Sometimes the courts do the right thing... Story from Japan Today, 12/18/14:

The Osaka District Court has ruled that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s order to check whether municipal office workers had tattoos was illegal and constituted an invasion of privacy.

The court handed down the ruling on Wednesday in a damages suit filed by a 56-year-old city bus driver, Tadasu Yasuda, who was transferred to a desk job after he refused to answer questions on whether or not he had a tattoo, Sankei Shimbun reported Thursday. Presiding Judge Kenji Nakagaito invalidated the transfer and ordered the Osaka municipal government to pay Yasuda 1.1 million yen in damages.

The judge said ordering employees to reveal if they have tattoos or not encroached on individuals’ privacy and carried a risk of creating workplace discrimination. The court also ruled that the plaintiff should be reinstated to his previous position as a bus driver.

The tattoo check, which was requested by Hashimoto in May 2012, involved 35,000 city employees who were asked to reply in writing. Of those who answered, 114 said they did have tattoos on their arms or legs, while six refused to disclose whether they had any tattoos or not, Sankei reported. Those six, including Yasuda, were subjected to disciplinary action. Yasuda said later that he did not have a tattoo, but refused to cooperate with the investigation because he felt it was an invasion of his privacy.

When he launched his anti-tattoo campaign, Hashimoto said at the time that “citizens feel uneasy or intimidated if they see tattoos (on workers) in services and it undermines trust in the city.”

Although small tattoos are now a common means of self-expression in Japan and are no longer indicative of gang membership, Hashimoto threatened to dismiss any city worker who has tattoos. “We need to have possession of this information. Anyone who doesn’t respond to the survey should be reported to HR and passed over for future promotion. This all goes without saying,” Hashimoto said.

Japanese media reported that Hashimoto first brought up the issue after learning that a worker at a children’s home threatened kids by showing them his tattoos.


Click here for previous VAOJ coverage of this story.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Sea Shepherd files complaint against police to protect Cove Guardian volunteers"

More about "The Cove" from Japan Today, 12/17/14:

A Japanese attorney based in Tokyo has sent a formal letter, on behalf of his client Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, to the Shingu and Wakayama City Police, countering accusations from the police departments that Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardian volunteers violated Japanese law by following a truck on public roads and taking photographs to document the transportation of dolphins for captivity.

Sea Shepherd said in a press release that the formal letter is the beginning of legal action to protect the basic constitutional rights of Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardian volunteers on the ground in Japan.

On Nov 21, Cove Guardian volunteers followed a truck holding dolphins in crates, as the cetaceans captured in Taiji’s hunt were being transferred for captivity at an aquarium or marine park. The Cove Guardians say they complied with Japanese law to ensure the safety of all involved.

However, police approached the volunteers on Nov 22 and told them that following the truck is an offense under “Minor Offense Law.” On the morning of Dec 9, police also told the Cove Guardians that photographs taken Dec 8 outside a location that purchases dolphin meat were taken in violation of Wakayama city ordinance. The police warned the Sea Shepherd volunteers that if they attempt these activities again, they will face arrest.

Sea Shepherd’s attorney has notified the police departments that the Cove Guardians acted within the basic rights guaranteed by Japan’s constitution. The formal letter states (translated into English), “These activities are to investigate the truth and to record it, as it is guaranteed by our constitution article 21-1 ‘Freedom of Expression’ and it is not at all ‘illegal.’ Therefore we demand that you notify us, which actions would apply to which law, the number of articles, etc. in a precise manner within two weeks after receiving this letter. If we do not receive your reply, then we will conclude that you have admitted that you did an illegal action of impeding their freedom of expression.”

Each year since the beginning of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Infinite Patience campaign in 2010, the Cove Guardians have been on the ground in Taiji throughout the entire six-month annual hunt season, documenting the capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales, and live streaming these atrocities for the world to see.

Sea Shepherd Senior Cove Guardian Campaign Leader, Melissa Sehgal was denied entry into Japan this month to document the slaughter, despite never violating the law during her four seasons in Taiji. She was sent home on Dec 8 — the same day the Cove Guardians were being monitored by police — after nine hours of interrogation and an overnight stay in a holding cell on Dec 7.

“Sea Shepherd promised that our Cove Guardian volunteers will always act in accordance with Japanese law, and we have continued to honor that promise. We want to ensure that the Cove Guardians are able to return to Taiji until the slaughter ends,” said Sehgal. “I am hopeful that this beginning of legal action will not only protect the rights of our volunteers on the ground, but also help us to be even more effective in our efforts for the dolphins and whales.”


No matter how one feels about the dolphin/whale issues, it seems these Cove Guardians are a bit naive about Japanese law. Laws other than those in the constitution apply, which include those dealing with photographing without consent, nuisance and portrait rights.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Kanji of the Year: 税 (tax)

Photo and text from Japan Today, 12/12/14.

The kanji character “zei” (税) meaning “tax,” has been chosen as the character best representing the sentiment and events in Japan in 2014.

The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, a Kyoto-based organization that promotes kanji, conducts the survey nationwide every year. The foundation said 167,613 submissions were received this year, with “zei” being the most popular, garnering 8,679 votes.

In an event held on Friday, Seihan Mori, the head priest at the world-famous Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, drew the character with a large calligraphy brush, whose bristles were the size of a bowling pin, on a huge piece of “washi” (Japanese paper).

The character of “zei” was chosen following months of coverage by the media about the hike in the sales tax last April 1 and the debate over when to increase the sales tax again.

The second most popular character was 熱, meaning fever, a reference to the sporting passion that gripped Japan this year with the Sochi Olympics, World Cup soccer and Kei Nishikori’s success on the tennis court. Fever also referred to the Ebola outbreak. The third most popular kanji was 嘘, meaning lie, referring to many political scandals and the claims of a stem cell researcher.