Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Japan’s picture ID before World War II"

Images and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/2/16.

[T]he Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo currently has an exhibition of tourism posters and other promotional material from the 1920s and ’30s. It is a fascinating and at times unusually beautiful glimpse into how different art movements, regional craft practices and the spirit of the times contribute to forming commercial visual culture.

Given that the function of a promotional poster is to seduce you, with perhaps only a few seconds in which to do it, you can expect to feel pandered to — complex history and culture, beautiful landscapes and far-east exoticism have been condensed into powerfully sweet eye-candy. A surprising range of media were employed in this, including traditional woodblock prints, painting and photography. For many of the exhibits, the level of creativity and design is very high, commensurate with the desire to show off Japan at its best.

Apart from this, the exhibition is a great opportunity to consider how Japan’s national identity was constructed in the interwar years. It should be no surprise that the “come hither” message relied heavily on sexuality to catch the viewer’s eye. Many of the posters use images of young women in kimono as a stand in for Japan as a whole.

In a 1911 poster for the South Manchurian Railway by artist Renzo Kita, a demure female companion sits across from us in a railway carriage with the sun setting behind an ancient stupa in the window behind her. The poster is sponsored by Thomas Cook, and is in the style of an Edwardian illustration. The copy tells us that the new rail link brings London “within a fortnight’s journey from Tokyo, Peking and Shanghai, thus saving much time and money, as well as the tedium of a long sea-voyage.”

Our female companion is depicted in a style characteristic of the Gothic period to portray aristocratic or sacred figures; languid, expressionless, elongated and pale. Her blue kimono is decorated with white lilies, symbolic of chastity and purity. On her obi is a butterfly, the symbol of the soul, and perhaps a nod to the opera by Puccini, which had premiered seven years earlier. The undergarment below the kimono is a warm ruddy orange, and using a visual pun common to shunga (erotic prints), appears at the edge of the sleeves as wrinkled slit-shaped orifices. The artist seems to be the same Renzo Kita who later created the solemn historical painting “Last Moments of Admiral Yamaguchi,” which commemorates the admiral’s death in the 1942 Battle of Midway.


“Visit Japan: Tourism Promotion in the 1920s and 1930s” at the The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo runs until Feb. 28; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥430 (includes admission to the “MOMAT Collection”). Closed Mon.


Exhibition website:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Student films documentary about Rohingya [refugees] in Gunma Prefecture"

Image borrowed fromひかり-2/.

Story from The Japan News, 2/2/16.

University student Shiori Suzuki visited Myanmar in 2013 as a tourist. What she did not notice there was the plight of the Muslim minority Rohingya — and only learned about them and their situation from a newspaper article upon her return.

“What did I see in Myanmar?” the 22-year-old Keio University student recalls asking herself after reading the news piece about the persecution of Rohingya and the human trafficking they undergo to seek better conditions in other countries.

Suzuki decided to do something. She bought a secondhand video camera and began chronicling the lives of members of the ethnic group who have sought refuge in Japan.

She and her friends started making frequent visits to a community of Rohingya refugees in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. Over the course of about 18 months they followed the lives of 50 out of some 200 residents there.

Suzuki made a 20-minute film, titled “Hikari” (Light), which focuses on everyday life for the migrants in Japan rather than what they have left behind.

She filmed children playing together as their fathers look on smiling.

“We want the audience to know the true face of those labeled ‘refugees’ in Japan,” she said. Typical scenes include activity in a kitchen at the home of a refugee family and at a school athletic field.

Suzuki made the film as part of her activities with S.A.L. (Send Out, Aid, Learn), a student group that aims to deepen understanding and raise public awareness about international issues.

The film was completed in fall 2014. It began attracting attention and has been screened at a youth event hosted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Suzuki said she is willing to screen the film at other events upon request.

One of the Rohingya she documented said he had been tortured and showed her his scars. He has failed to obtain a work visa in Japan and remains unemployed.

Suzuki expresses frustration at being unable to do anything to help the Rohingya migrants.

They keep smiling and supporting each other,” despite the reality facing them, she said. “I was impressed.”

The student hopes her film will help viewers in Japan feel close to the Rohingya living in the country.


S.A.L. Official website with info on "Hikari" (in Japanese):ひかり-2/

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Prosecutors seek fine for 'vagina kayak' artist at obscenity trial"

From Japan Today, 2/1/16:

Prosecutors sought a fine of 800,000 yen Monday at the Tokyo District Court from an artist charged with obscenity after distributing 3D scans of her own genitals.

Megumi Igarashi, 43, who works under the pseudonym “Rokudenashi-ko” (good-for-nothing girl), maintained her innocence on the charges of distributing obscene objects through the Internet in return for money, arguing that her artwork uses female genitalia as its subject but is not of a salacious nature.

In her final statement, Igarashi called for an impartial judgment by the court. “Having created works that defy the (existing) image associated with genitalia, I cannot agree with my arrest,” she said.

The court is expected to hand down its decision on May 9.

To support her plea of not guilty, Igarashi’s lawyer said in closing arguments that she distributed the data “as part of her creative activities, with the aim that her supporters would use it to create new works.”

A prosecutor said Igarashi “carries great criminal responsibility” as she sent out the data regardless of the possibility that recipients might create obscene objects.

In a past hearing, a university professor specializing in art history testified in Igarashi’s defense that the works “do not appear to be obscene (materials) that cause sexual arousal.”

Igarashi told a press conference after her initial arrest in July 2014 that she sent the data to those who donated more than 3,000 yen to a campaign to fund her creation of a kayak also modeled on the 3D scans.

According to the indictment, Igarashi distributed data over the Internet that could be used to make 3D reproductions of her genitals in October 2013 and March 2014, and in July 2014 exhibited vagina-shaped plaster artwork at an adult shop in Tokyo.

Japan’s Penal Code prescribes a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 2.5 million yen for distributing obscene objects.


Click here for previous VAOJ coverage.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Photo of Helen Keller’s 1937 visit to Gifu school discovered"

Photo and text borrowed from The Japan News, 1/18/16.

A photo taken during a visit by Helen Keller, a noted humanitarian who overcame being deaf and blind, to Gifu Prefectural School for the Blind in 1937 has been discovered at a late student’s house and was donated to the school.

School officials were delighted at the discovery since many of the school’s photos and documents of the time had been destroyed in the July 1945 air raids.

“It is a precious photo and we would like to carry on the message of what Helen Keller tried to convey her entire life,” said Toru Hayashi, 58, the school principal.

The photo, which shows Keller wearing a hat and smiling while surrounded by students and teachers, was taken in a hall at the school, the fifth for the blind nationwide, during Keller’s visit on June 8, 1937.

Kanemitsu Takahashi, who graduated from the school and eventually became head of the Gifu welfare association for the blind, had kept the photo at his house. Takahashi passed away at the age of 80 in 2011 and his family donated the photo to the school last November.

During her first Japan visit, which lasted three months, Keller, who was 56 at the time, visited schools for the blind and deaf in cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Shizuoka, where she strongly advocated the need for education for the disabled.

When she was in Gifu, she experienced cormorant fishing, a traditional fishing method in which trained cormorants are used to fish in rivers.

Keller returned to Japan after World War II in 1948 and 1955, and the speeches she gave during her visits were believed to have helped lead to the enactment of a law to promote the welfare of the physically disabled.

Her visit to Gifu Prefectural School for the Blind was reported in a newsletter for the graduates in braille, and in a written document stored at the school.

The article said Keller had received a warm applause from a large audience.

When one of the people who accompanied her asked if she could hear the sound of the applause, she replied that she could tell from their breathing and through the vibration of the floor.

Before taking the photo, Keller told the students they should study hard and noted they were blessed to have the opportunity to study in such a distinguished school.

The photo was reused in a newsletter published in 1994 to commemorate the school’s 100th anniversary. While its existence was not a secret, the whereabouts of the original had been unknown.

The school plans to put the photo on display for students during school events.

According to the Tokyo Helen Keller Association website, Helen Keller (1880-1968), who was born in the U.S. state of Alabama, fell ill with a high fever when she was 19 months old, leaving her blind and deaf.

Under the tutelage of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller eventually graduated from Radcliffe College, which was later merged with Harvard University. She traveled the world, advocating for the welfare and education of people with disabilities and delving into political and social issues.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Photo Exhibition and Visual Ethnography - "Tachinomiya: There Are Two Sides to Every Noren"


Thesis/Purpose: This photo exhibition is a visual ethnography of a traditional Japanese standing bar, or tachinomiya (literally “standing drinking shop”). Tachinomiya are numerous in Japan and are usually characterized as inexpensive and convenient spots for a quick drink and snack either alone or with friends. One charm of the tachinomiya, especially in the Osaka area, is socializing with the people next to you whether you know them or not. The specific tachinomiya presented in this exhibition, Tenbun, is a popular shop over 37 years old located near a busy train station on the boarder between Osaka and Kyoto prefectures. Tenbun features many kinds of food and drink and a plethora of interesting characters including the owner, employees and regular customers. Another characteristic of the tachinomiya is the use of a noren, a kind of fabric curtain that signals that the shop is open for business and provides partial seclusion for the shop and customers. The noren can be seen as a fluid wall; when calm it blocks much of the view from the outside, but when the wind blows its separated partitions offer more glimpses of the inside. The glimpses can be narrow or revealing. One cannot control the wind; this fluid wall illustrates the complexities of personal privacy in public spaces in Japan, especially in the context of taking photographs in public and image rights.

Key words: photo exhibition, visual ethnography, tachinomiya, noren, personal privacy

Wednesday, February 3 - Sunday, February 14, 2016
(closed on Monday and Tuesday)
12:00 - 18:00 (Closes at 17:00 on the final day)

Sewing Gallery
2-11-18 Hoshigaoka
Hirakata-shi, Osaka-fu, 573-0013
(inside Hoshigaoka Gakuen)
Tel: 072-840-2476  Fax: 072-840-2492
E-Mail :

Take the Keihan Train Line to Hirakata-shi station and transfer to the Katano Line (platforms 5 & 6). Get off at Hoshigaoka station (2 stops from Hirakata-shi) and then walk up the hill for about 3 minutes. The gallery (inside Hoshigaoka Gakuen) is on the left hand side of the road.

Click here for access

写真展とビジュアル民族誌「立ち呑み屋: のれんの表裏には異なる意味があります」

Click here for English

目的: この写真展は伝統的な日本の「立ち呑み屋」を網羅したビジュアル民族誌である。立ち呑み屋というものは日本に多数存在し、通常安価で、一人であるいは友人と気軽にお酒と軽食を楽しめる場所とみなされている。 立ち呑み屋 の魅力(特に大阪で)は、隣の見ず知らずの人と親交を結べることである。この写真展で紹介されている 立ち呑み屋 「天文」は、大阪と京都の境 にある鉄道の駅の近くで37年以上営業を続けている人気店である。「天文」は多様な食事と飲み物が人気で、店の経営者、従業員、常連客などユニークな人々が集まることが大きな特徴となっている。また「 立ち呑み屋 」の特徴の一つに「のれん」というものがある。のれんというのは、布製のカーテンであり、それが使用されていることで店が営業中である合図となり、又、カーテンの中にいることで外から隔離されるようになる。のれんは「揺れる壁」として見られることもある。無風の時は外からの目を遮り、風で店の中の仕切りとなるのれんが揺れる時は、店の中の様子を覗くことができる。のれんの開き具合によって中が僅かに見える時もあれば、全体がはっきり見えることもある。誰も風をコントロールをすることはできない。この動く壁は日本の公共の場における個人のプライバシーの複雑さを示している。特に公共の場で写真を撮ることにおいて 顕著である。

キーワード: 写真展、ビジュアル民族誌、立ち呑み屋、のれん、個人のプライバシー

2016年2月3日 (水) 〜2月14日 (日)
12時〜18時 (月火休み 展示最終日は17時まで)

〒573-0013 大阪府枚方市星丘2-11-18 星ヶ丘学園内
Tel: 072-840-2476  Fax: 072-840-2492



Monday, January 11, 2016

Shocked and Saddened by the Passing of David Bowie

No words can express the sense of loss that I and many others feel. Perhaps my old college roommate put it best when I expressed my loss to him. He wrote: "I totally get it. He was always there when you needed him."

Image borrowed from

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: the best record ever made! "TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME"

David Bowie's love affair with Japanese style:

Like some cat from Japan - A tribute to David Bowie:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 Hozanji Offerings

This year I made my hatsumode to Hozanji a little later than usual to avoid the big new year's crowds. I also went by car and was pleasantly surprised that it took a little over 30 minutes by the winding mountain road from Osaka to Nara rather than the almost 2 hours by trains (3 transfers) and cable car. I love going to this temple and taking photographs there. I can always find something different to shoot. So here are this year's offerings to add to the VAOJ collection (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014).

Happy Year of the Monkey! I hope all of your efforts and endeavors are fruitful in 2016.

See also the official website for Hozanji (宝山寺) in Japanese: