Thursday, June 21, 2018

This is what was waiting for me in my office at school after the recent earthquake in Osaka...

It could have been much worse as seen here. I went around and took photos of the damage in some of my colleagues' offices, especially those who are currently out of the country. Something for them to look forward to when they return (insert sad/sarcastic emoji here).

Link to news about the earthquake (The Japan Times, 6/18/18):

Link to "Osaka earthquake: Useful links and resources (The Japan Times, 6/18/18):

My dissertation was damaged and an important teaching folder has disappeared. The biggest casualty was a souvenir from Germany.

My office now smells like old Hefeweizen...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda visits the stadium that’s home to all of America"

Photo borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/24/18.

The subject matter of this film is not my favorite since I am a graduate of Michigan State University. But I won't let my bias interfere with the reporting about one of my favorite filmmakers... Go Green! Go White!

From The Japan Times, 6/12/18.

The Japanese media covers American football about as often as it covers American sumo — seldom to never. Few here play the game and not even a recent scandal involving an illegal tackle by a Nihon University player will change that.

So the upcoming release of “The Big House,” Kazuhiro Soda’s incisive, multifaceted documentary on the huge stadium that hosts University of Michigan football games, is something of a surprise. Soda, whose past documentaries have examined the absurdities of the Japanese election system (“Campaign,” 2007) and the struggles of a Japanese fishing community (“Oyster Factory,” 2015), confesses that he “didn’t even know the rules of football” before he started shooting “The Big House” in the fall of 2016.

Soda was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to teach a class on the practice and theory of “direct cinema” at the university with professors Markus Nornes and Terri Sarris. As developed by such pioneers as D.A. Pennebaker and Albert and David Maysles in the late 1950s and ’60s, and since refined by many filmmakers, Soda included, direct cinema says no to narration, background music, interviews and other practices of the conventional documentary.

“The object is to minimize preconceptions — you don’t think a lot about what story you want to tell,” Soda explains. “Instead, you roll the camera and make discoveries.”

The Michigan stadium, nicknamed “The Big House” and officially accommodating 107,601 spectators — just shy of Ann Arbor’s entire population — struck Soda and his collaborators as a rich field for discoveries.

“It’s a microcosm of American society,” he says. From the start of the shoot, which concentrated primarily on the 2016 games Michigan played against Illinois and Wisconsin, “our motto was ‘Everything but the game itself.'”

The cameras of Soda and his credited 16 co-directors — 13 students and three professors — are able to film moments on the playing field, but most of the film deals with the people on the sidelines — from strenuously upbeat cheerleaders to a straight-faced boy selling candy bars outside the stadium. The film even features glimpses of the contentious 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign unfolding at the time, but most fans seem oblivious.

The filmmakers had access to every nook and cranny of the Big House, including the private locker of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the man responsible for getting those 100,000-plus fans the victories they’re rooting for.

“It was only possible because we were a university class; outsiders would never be able to do it,” says Soda. “Markus Nornes was able to get us permission from the athletic department, but why they gave us such unlimited access I still don’t know.”

Before deciding who would film what, Soda took his students to an early-season game and let them explore possible ideas.

“Usually I don’t believe in democracy in filmmaking,” he says with a grin, “but I gave them responsibility for shooting their own footage in their own way.”

The students reviewed and critiqued each other’s work regularly, with Soda giving his own comments as well.

“By the end of the semester we had come up with about 60 to 70 scenes,” he explains. “I put them together in one sequence and spent four months editing with three student assistants.”

The two-hour theatrical version of “The Big House” had its international premiere in February at the Berlin Film Festival — one of the world’s “Big Three” film festivals — and Soda was in attendance.

“That was our ambition from the beginning,” he says, “but I was a little skeptical we could do it” due to his student filmmakers’ inexperience. “Some of them had never handled a camera before joining the class.”

It was a pleasant surprise then to see the students slowly gain confidence, their cameras capturing scenes that pointed to larger societal themes, including America’s racial and class divides. In one sequence a young worker pushes a large steel refrigerator from an underground food service area onto an elevator, past milling fans on the ground level and up another elevator to a VIP box. It is, we see, filled with gourmet treats not found at the usual concession stand, but available to those able to afford a VIP box at $61,000 per week. It’s also hard not to notice that most of the food service workers are black, while the VIP section is white.

The Berlin audience, however, focused on something else: masses of fans decked out in blue and gold howling “The Victors,” the University of Michigan’s militaristic fight song, and the school marching band strutting in tight formation across the field.

“They compared (the film) to ‘Triumph of the Will,'” says Soda, referring to Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious documentary of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Some were also reminded, he adds with a smile, of “patriotic rallies in North Korea.”

Michigan football has evolved since this writer was a student at the university from 1967 to 1973. When I was a freshman the team had a 4-6 losing record and even the game with archrival Ohio State played to 40,000 empty seats. Now, Soda says, “the Big House is a magnet to keep the interest of the alumni,” one strong enough to draw them from around the world and keep them writing large checks to the university. Tickets for Michigan-Ohio State games are now gold, with one online site pricing the few remaining for the Nov. 24, 2018, match in Columbus between $400 and $800.

This support from football fans is vital to the economic health of the university.

“When you were a student there in the 1970s, the state of Michigan supplied about 80 percent of the university budget,” Soda tells me. “That’s now down to 16 percent. They have to earn the remainder themselves. The football program makes a big contribution.”


YouTube trailer:

Kazuhiro Soda's web page:

Author bias:

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Contemporary Woodblock Prints Reimagine David Bowie as Mystical Japanese Legends"

Image borrowed from My Modern Met.

When David Bowie died in 2016, fan tributes in all shapes and sizes started appearing in cities across the world to celebrate his music and life. Laid flowers, street art murals, and public installations popped up in London where the artist grew up, as well as in Berlin and New York where he lived during his career. However, although it’s well known that Bowie had a connection with these major European capitals, some might not know that he also had an affinity with Japan. His interest in Japanese culture began in the 1970s when he worked with fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto to create ensembles for his colorful alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust. He also worked with actor Bandō Tamasaburō who taught Bowie how to apply traditional kabuki makeup, which led to the entertainer’s iconic lightning bolt look.

One of the latest Bowie tributes comes in the form of two contemporary woodblock prints created by Masumi Ishikawa—one of the artists behind the Ukiyo-e Project. The first piece is inspired by Brian Duffy’s iconic photograph of Bowie featuring a red lightning bolt painted across his face. The image, originally used for the cover of Aladdin Sane (1973), was transformed by Ishikawa to mimic the woodblock style of the Kamakura period, in which Bowie is imagined as a legendary snake-taming sorcerer.

The second print was inspired by Terry O’Neill’s Diamond Dogs photograph from 1974 in which Bowie poses calmly beside an irate dog. The print sees “The Thin White Duke” reimagined as Takezawa Toji, a popular magician from the Edo period. The dog is stylized in the traditional style, appearing as a dragon-like mythical beast.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tuesdays are for HIV testing...

I was riding the Keihan bus home one recent evening in Hirakata-shi and saw the ad above. Close-up below.

When I was growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA) the local progressive rock station WLAV-FM had "Two for Tuesdays" which meant they played two songs by the same artist in a row on Tuesdays. In college Tuesdays often became a day for taking a trip to break up the monotony of classes. Now in Hirakata-shi it seems that Tuesdays are the day for getting an HIV test.

VAOJ has long been researching and posting on HIV/AIDS in Japan in general and for Deaf people in particular. To remind, HIV/AIDS continues to increase in Japan. One reason for this is a lack of any real public discourse and education about HIV/AIDS and safe sex. So I am always (pleasantly) surprised when I do see exceptions like the ad on the bus. While it is encouraging to see occasional ads, especially promoting getting tested for HIV (free of charge and anonymous), it is unfortunate that testing is so limiting (Tuesdays from 10:00 - 11:30 AM). I wanted to find out more information about the local situation in Hirakata-shi and found the following information. First, a post on Facebook from a student at my university.

Here is the text if you can't read it above:

HIVやAIDSは無関係と思っていました」~関西外国語大学インターンシップ学生からのメッセージ②】 関西外国語大学3回生の金田良介です。今回私は枚方市保健所でHIV検査をしました。私もHIV検査を受ける前はHIVやAIDSは自分には無関係だと思っていました。しかし、枚方市保健所でHIV検査を受けてからはHIVやAIDSに対する考えが変わりました。今回の検査で今まで関心がなかったHIVについて深く知ることが出来ましたし、検査などを通じて自分自身や大切な人たちをHIVから守っていきたいと思いました。枚方市保健所では、毎週火曜日10時~11時半にHIV検査を実施しています。無料・匿名で検査をしているので、誰でも安心してHIV検査できます。検査内容は保健師による問診の後、採血と尿検査をするだけ。もし、何か不安な事があれば保健師さんがサポートしてくれます。今、若者のHIV患者が増えています。自分は大丈夫だと思う前に、一度枚方市保健所でHIV検査してみてください。
I’m Kanata Ryosuke. I’m a student in KansaiGaidai. I did HIV testing at Hirakata City Public Health Center this time. Before examine HIV testing I thought that I’m nothing to do with HIV and AIDS. However, I change thinking about HIV and AIDS after do HIV testing. I thought I want to protect my body and partner from HIV through HIV testing. At every Tuesday AM10:00~AM11:30, we can do HIV testing at Hirakata City Public Health center. HIV testing is free and anonymous. The content of HIV test is very simple. We do drawing blood and urinalysis interviewed by public health nurse. If you feel anxious about HIV and AIDS, public health nurse will support you. Young HIV patient is increasing. Let's go to Hirakata City Public Health Center!


Again, encouraging stuff. Let's hope his classmates see this post. I also found information on the Hirakata-shi homepage about their HIV examinations.


It also includes this video produced by Hirakata-shi and featuring the city's mascot:

And there's another 30 second video featuring a kokeshi doll encouraging taking the HIV test.

Commentary: Information available - good! Information given by a giant mascot and a kokeshi doll - really? Well.. this is Japan and I suppose information is information. And while HIV/AIDS is serious and scary perhaps cute mascots and dolls might soften fear and encourage testing? Remember, the Japanese government uses Sailor Moon to help fight syphilis... Hirakata-shi is concerned about the increase in syphilis infections as well. Check this out:


In case you are looking for information about HIV examinations and treatment in English, you might want to check out these sources:

HIV Testing and HIV/AIDS Counseling Map in Japan (in English and other languages):

Primary Care Tokyo - STD Testing and Treatment:

If you see ads about HIV/AIDS in Japan, or have any information or good resources, please do share with VAOJ on the blog, Facebook or Twitter. Let the discourse grow and stop HIV/AIDS!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sign Language/Linguistics Post: "Sign Language Isn’t Just for Babies" / "Iran officials stop deaf girls’ sign language song, say it resembles dancing" / "How language shape the way we think"

One of those times when a bunch of sources come at me the same time... First, an opinion piece posted on the New York Times, 5/23/18. I am posting the whole text as it is both insightful in its observations and surprising when comparing the American Deaf situation with the Deaf situation in Japan:

Sign Language Isn’t Just for Babies

By Rachel Kolb

Image and caption from New York Times, 5/23/18. 

Part of me feels excited whenever hearing acquaintances tell me they’re teaching their infant some baby sign language. (I’m deaf, so I inevitably become a magnet for these conversations.) These parents rave: “It’s so fun and so visual! I can see what my baby is trying to say to me!”

“That’s great,” I say, and tell them to keep it up.

Baby sign language borrows some signs — like “milk,” “more,” “all done,” “mommy” and “daddy” — from American Sign Language in order to enable hearing parents to achieve some basic sign- and gesture-based communication with their infants before they are capable of speech. In my view, the more people who sign in this world, the better. And I defy you to suppress a smile when a baby signs “more” by bouncing her chubby little fingertips together.

But part of me also objects when baby signs are marketed in a vacuum, isolated from their origins in the full, rich American Sign Language that I know. The increasingly mainstream trend — driven by parenting books and how-to videos — is largely being pushed by hearing people, for the benefit of hearing children. It seems like a major missed opportunity to take advantage of the contributions that deaf people — the primary users (and originators) of signed languages — can offer to the world.

Leading proponents of baby signing say that it’s a way for parents to develop stronger bonds with their babies, and that it has benefits for language development and cognition, though the evidence for this among hearing children is weak. Signing is also clearly valuable for children whose brains might be better suited to visual rather than verbal communication: not only deaf children, but also those with autism and other forms of cognitive difference.

The baby sign language phenomenon connects to what culturally deaf people celebrate as “Deaf Gain:” the notion that all of humanity can gain significant benefits and insights from Deaf visual-spatial contributions to the world, including A.S.L. and all its rich linguistic possibilities. Deaf friends I talk with applaud hearing parents for learning some signs with their children, and express hope that, someday, more people will use a signed language on an everyday basis, making communication easier for all of us.

But the developers and users of baby sign language don’t necessarily see A.S.L. fluency as a goal. Many of the books and websites actually assure parents that they don’t need to learn full A.S.L., and also that using baby signs won’t impede a child’s spoken language acquisition.

Most striking for me, when I browsed top-hitting baby sign videos on YouTube, I found several that featured stretches of verbal speaking and singalong, without any captions. I was watching visual fragments of my own language, framed by spoken English, which excludes me. I felt disjointed, oddly erased.

Finally, there is one more reason I feel ambivalent when my hearing acquaintances tell me they are using baby signs with their children. Often, I notice that these acquaintances are people who have never attempted to use any sign language with me — even though I am deaf, even though I am the one person they know who could most benefit from visual communication. This omission strikes me as a huge loss, even a huge injustice.

When we see sign language as only a fad, a trend or merely as “so beautiful,” and when we separate it from the context of the actual deaf people who use it to communicate, we lose sight of the real stakes of language. Language welcomes, but it also excludes.

For decades, medical and educational professionals have discouraged hearing parents from signing with their deaf children. My own parents were told not to sign with me when I was a baby — and then proceeded to disregard that advice, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Some of these professionals believe that speech is superior and signing is only a crutch for spoken language acquisition, despite the fact that A.S.L. has been recognized as a full language since the 1960s.

The consequences of this philosophy of enforced speech for deaf education, literacy and language development have been disastrous: It has meant that many deaf children never acquire a fluent native language that will enable them to reach their potential. This is starting to change, but most deaf children still do not receive full A.S.L. exposure in their early years, which are critical for language acquisition.

The fundamental injustice of the baby sign-language trend is that our culture touts the benefits of signing for hearing children, but disregards A.S.L. for the deaf children who need it the most.

We need to provide more access to signed language for the people who really need it. As a path toward mainstream acceptance why not give fluent deaf users of A.S.L. more leadership and visibility to usher in the widespread use of their language? (The Baby Einstein signing videos, which star the deaf actress Marlee Matlin, are a good model.) Families who find themselves interested in baby signs may be intrigued by the contributions of deaf storytellers, like Leala Holcomb and her partners at Hands Land or Sheena McFeely and Manny Johnson of ASL Nook, who have put together children’s tales and visual nursery rhymes in A.S.L. And why not invite more people to use A.S.L. throughout their lives?

Sign language has untapped potential for enabling richer, more enhanced communication for everyone — but only if we move past framing it as “baby talk.”


Rachel Kolb's website:

Next, this one on the Rudaw website, 5/27/18...

Iran officials stop deaf girls’ sign language song, say it resembles dancing

Image borrowed from Rudaw, 5/27/18.

Iranian officials have prevented a group of deaf girls from performing a song in sign language because their body movements resemble dancing, which is outlawed in public spaces in the Islamic Republic.

The performance, about Imam Reza, the 8th Imam of Shia people, was organized for Ramadan month. The group performed twice on Friday at the Grand Mosalla of Tehran before officials asked them to stop.

“Unfortunately those who do not understand disabled people came and easily cancelled the performance,” the group’s director said, according to BBC Persian.

There are around 1.5 million people with disabilities in Iran, 225,000 of them suffering some degree of deafness, Iran’s deputy health director told MEHR News agency last year.

Deafness is a hidden disability. Each government institution in Iran is mandated to hire at least one employee who knows sing language in order to assist deaf visitors.

Jabbar Baghcheban established Iran’s first schools for the deaf in the 1920s. His legacy is remembered during the final week of September, international Deaf Awareness Week.


To be honest, when watching the video of the performance (which can be viewed at the above source site), it does appear to be a sign language dance rather than conversational sign. Signed performances of songs usually tend to be done following the grammar and word order of the spoken language rather than natural sign (although there are a growing number of exceptions to this available on YouTube and other sources). Still, I have a problem with any laws outlawing dance. Recall that Japan had a law against late night dancing until 2015...

And finally this insightful TED Talk from Lera Boroditsky, November, 2017:

How language shapes the way we think


Very interesting and slick presentation. But I have two problems with it. 1) Why no reference to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which is basically what the presentation is about? 2) Why limit the notion of language to spoken languages? The same examples she gives works with sign languages as well. Still, a lot of good stuff. Enjoy linguistics! Enjoy sign languages!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Neighborhood Flowers (shot w/ a new camera allowing for immediate reciprocity)

Last year an elderly woman moved into the old one-room apartments near our house. Her husband had just passed away and she had to move to a cheaper place. This is an all too common situation in Japan these days where elderly people have to live alone on a limited government paid pension. But she is very social and seems to get on well with all of the neighbors. She can often be seen outside her apartment tending to her flowers. She is very good at this and her efforts bring some beauty to an otherwise drab apartment building. I wanted to take a photo of her with her flowers but she was too shy. But she appreciated the attention.

I took this photo with a new camera I recently purchased - a Fujifilm Instax SQ10 - it is like a Polaroid camera of old where you can print out the photo on the camera immediately. It is also a descent digital camera. So you can take a shot, have a digital file saved on a mini SD card and if you like it print it out. (It is a bit pricey compared to other models and the film is expensive.) I find it works well as a simple field camera - not too heavy or bulky. And you can print out photos of people you take in the course of research as an immediate form of thanks and reciprocity. The usual disclaimer holds - this is not a product endorsement. Rather it is a handy addition to my fieldwork/research gear. And it made a nice old lady happy...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Update: "Driver of construction vehicle that hit and killed 11-year-old girl in Feb had epilepsy"

From Japan Today, 5/21/18.

The driver of a construction vehicle that rammed into pupils and teachers of a school for children with impaired hearing in Osaka on Feb 1, killing an 11-year-old girl and injuring four others, suffered from epilepsy, prosecutors revealed on Saturday.

Police believe the driver of the wheel loader, Takuya Sano, 35, probably suffered an epileptic attack just before the accident, Sankei Shimbun reported. After his arrest, Sano told police he mistakenly pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal when he was trying to stop the vehicle as the traffic light turned red. He hit Ayaka Ide, and two other pupils of the same age, as well as two female teachers as the five were waiting for a traffic signal near the school's gate in Ikuno Ward.

The accident took place in a residential area about 400 meters south of JR Tsuruhashi Station. Road construction work was being carried out near the site.

Sano admitted that he had been prescribed medication for epilepsy but could not remember if he had taken his medication that day. Police also said that Sano had been in a traffic accident once before while operating a vehicle.

Prosecutors ordered a three-month medical and psychiatric examination of Sano, that ended on May 16.

Drivers who cause fatal accidents due to medical conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia have been subject to tougher penalties since the Road Traffic Law was revised in 2013.