Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Useful Visual Anthro Sources: Minpaku and Digital Himalaya Websites

Some more good visual anthro resources coming our way via EASIANTH postings...

Minpaku is the National Museum of Ethnology located in Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka. It is a museum, research facility and graduate school. Its website has links to information about research projects, various databases and museum collections. The museum's permanent exhibitions include collections from all over the world, including a specific Japan exhibition. Many exhibition images can be accessed through this website. Also of interest for visual anthropologists is the Videotheque.

"The Videotheque was developed by the Museum in 1977 as the world’s first on-demand video library of its kind. It contains video programs that introduce rituals, performing arts, and the living cultures of peoples around the world, as well as information on the artifacts on exhibit at the Museum. After several renovations to incorporate the latest technology, the fourth-generation Videotheque started service in April 2006.
The new system features a touch-panel screen and uses more graphics to increase user-friendliness. In the spacious booths in the Multifunctional Terminal Room, visitors can watch longer video programs of valuable footage from fieldwork conducted by researchers, sitting on a special-effects sofa that provides special effects corresponding to the selected program."

Link to Minpaku

This next link isn't Japan related, but it is an interesting website and an example of salvage ethnography. The Digital Himalaya website is a "project to develop digital collection, storage, and distribution strategies for multimedia anthropological information from the Himalayan region." You can access photos, short video clips, maps, journals, etc.

Link to Digital Himalaya

You might also note that I have included a new link list dedicated to KGU resources. You can access the library and campus databases from this list (including First Search). Everything you need is here at VAOJ...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Visual Anthropology of Racism in Japan

Cover of Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu borrowed from Arudou Debito's article in Japan Focus.

If you don't already subscribe to Japan Focus or haven't seen its latest articles, do check it out. Of particular interest is an article about a recent Japanese publication called Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu (The Underground Files of Gaijin Crime) which has what only can be described as a negatively biased view of foreigners in Japan.

Link to Gaijin Hanzai Magazine and Hate Speech in Japan: The newfound power of Japan's international residents.
By Arudou Debito, in Japan Focus.

Arudou describes and discusses the problematic publication and provides several useful links, including one where scanned images of Gaijin Hanzai can be viewed. The depiction of foreigners in Japan as evil and dangerous has created quite a stir and has generated a lot of buzz in blogs and other more conventional media. In terms of visual anthropology, Arudou describes the biased use of photos and manga illustrations: "Photos that show mixed-nationality scenes have the Japanese faces blurred out. The gaijin faces, however, are mostly left intact, regardless of privacy concerns. When asked about this..., the editor claimed it necessary for 'the illustrative power of the image,' so readers could 'recognize [the criminal] as foreign.'"

Also of visual interest is Arudou's belief that the Japan National Police Agency, or some branch of it, is behind the publication of Gaijin Hanzai because of the content and methodology of photography.

This article and the issues it raises are interesting and quite disturbing. It also provides a good illustration of the power of imagery and representation.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Globalization in Kobe

Recently I brought my "Japan and Globalization: A Cultural Approach" class on a fieldtrip to Kobe. Kobe is a very globalized city reminding me of San Francisco in many respects; while walking around there it is sometimes difficult to remember that one is still in Japan. We visited the Kitano area (Ijinkan), Nankin Machi (Chinatown) and the Harbor Area.

Students had ample opportunity to look for examples of "globalization" and attempt to photograph them. Below are some photos submitted by students in this First Annual Globalization in Japan Kobe Photo Contest.

Photo by Geoffrey: "I think no matter where one travels to there will be someone very happy to serve ice cream. And sometimes at a considerable profit."

Photo by Erica: "Meg Ryan in Kobe, Japan sponsoring Nescafe. This brand of coffee created by the Nestle company started when Brazil approached the Swiss company with offers of coffee bean trade. Now it is sold in about twenty six countries worldwide."

Photo by Erica: "Who would have thought they could visit a traditional Japanese shrine and gaze at an array of lovely European style houses? In Kobe, Japan there is a whole district full of European homes. This is thanks to Kobe's history as one of the first open ports of Japan, bringing in foreign tradesmen and ambassadors from all over the globe."

Photo by Erica: "Wait, where are we again? Kobe, Japan's Chinatown attracts many tourists from all over the world and all over Japan. It also seems to attract curious Globalization classes. Lead by their brave and fearless teacher. (you can take that last line out if you wish)"

Photo submitted by Hanae: "I wanted to take a funny picture; Japanese girls posing as China dolls."

Photo by Hanae: "I wanted to photograph the scenery. I had never been here before."

Photo by Jess: "[I]n my ideal fantasy world, everyone is multilingual. Heh."

Photo by Jess: "The photo of the Gordon's London Dry Gin has a small receipt with Japanese on it near the bottle. And is that ivy a native Japanese plant?"

Photo by Reid: "Roman guy... taken by Kobe harbor."

Photo by Reid: "Mexican restaurant/bar that I found at Kobe."

Photo by Steven: "No smoking in Kitano. That's what it says on the sidewalk, anyway..."

Photo by Steven: "Eclectic Chinatown side street."

Photo by Steven: "Norika married in (or to?) Kobe... Her image is everywhere in Kobe; this shot near the Harbor Area."

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Many of my recent photos lack humans - perhaps odd for an anthropologist. I wonder if I am too worried/concerned with the ethical issues of capturing people in the act. Privacy is a big concern in Japan these days. Can one still do visual anthropology without photographing people? Material culture is still culture... And people can still appear in photos without being identified (either through intentional framing or poor quality...). Question: Do these photos of my favorite watering hole DO anything for you? While I am partial to this particular shop, its master and workers, its customers and food, I believe the setting to be fairly typical. One can find such an izakaya in most (urban) places in Japan. Do you see what I see when you are at such a place? Do you want to see more customers (people)?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Multi-media website on RACE

RACE - Are We So Different? :: A Project of the American Anthropological Association

This is a very visually-interesting site dealing with important issues. A nice balance of form and content, art and science... Good visual anthropology...

From its "ABOUT THE PROJECT" section:

We expect people to look different. And why not? Like a fingerprint, each person is unique. Every person represents a one-of-a-kind, combination of their parents’, grandparents’ and family’s ancestry. And every person experiences life somewhat differently than others.

Differences… they’re a cause for joy and sorrow. We celebrate differences in personal identity, family background, country and language. At the same time, differences among people have been the basis for discrimination and oppression.

Yet, are we so different? Current science tells us we share a common ancestry and the differences among people we see are natural variations, results of migration, marriage and adaptation to different environments. How does this fit with the idea of race?

Looking through the eyes of history, science and lived experience, the RACE Project explains differences among people and reveals the reality – and unreality – of race. The story of race is complex and may challenge how we think about race and human variation, about the differences and similarities among people.

  • Link to RACE
  • Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Some excellent photos of Japan...


    I recently had the opportunity to meet Mr. Hebbrecht at a design group meeting in Osaka. He seems to be a real Renaissance man: pantomime artist, teacher, photographer. Check out his on-line photo gallery. There are lots of interesting images of Japan (portraits, lanscapes, still life, digital, recollections, etc.), sometimes with brief commentary.
  • Link to Julian Hebbrecht's Photo Galleries
  • Sunday, March 11, 2007

    FRAPPR! Freaks me out!

    This really freaks me out (OK, call me paranoid) but how does this thing work? How can it know where I am? Who else knows where I am and what I am doing on the internet? Big Brother? George W. Bush? Why is this a visual anthropology issue (you are probably asking yourself...)?

    According to its web site, "Frappr! Maps give Web site owners and visitors an easy and unique way to visualize and interact with each other. Visitors can add their name, photo and message directly on a Web page embedded with Frappr! Maps, and the Web site owner gets real-time stats on where visitors are coming from and how often they visit."

    Visualize! Interact! Embedded!

    I suppose we should be impressed with the technology, high quality visual imagery and the opportunity/potential for open-text and collaboration. And maps are cool. But am I wrong in assuming such collaboration should be voluntary? Am I naive in assuming that some higher power didn't already know where I was and what I was doing? Be careful with what you click on the map - apparently it can access your computer's camera and microphone. Doesn't this freak you out?

    Thursday, March 8, 2007

    The Image of Beauty in Contemporary Japan: A Visual Anthropology Workshop

    In a recent workshop, the "Body and Communication in Japan" class created posters to illustrate "beauty in Japan." The class had read and discussed excerpts from Laura Spielvogel's "Working Out in Japan: Shaping the Female Body in Tokyo Fitness Clubs" (Duke University Press, 2003) to prepare. Students brought in their own examples of Japanese beauty and borrowed other images from the Intructor's cache of fashion magazines.

    Students broke down into groups and had 30 minutes to make their posters. Students pose in front of their visual creations.

    Many seemed to agree with the four criteria of beauty in the feminine body in Spielvogel: youth, good proportions, shapely legs and skinniness.

    Images from manga (and drawn by some students) and visual kei were also included.

    The instructions for the workshop did not specify female beauty, but women were featured most of the time. Are there no beautiful men in Japan? (Or perhaps, as in one case, female students did not want to sacrifice their photos of Japanese male idols...)

    Foreign influences were discussed and illustrated. But the most important characteristic of beauty (for women and men) is かわいい!(CUTE!)

    Accessories, brand name bags, customized fingernails, diet aids and body manipulation techniques were also included in posters.

    One student noted that all of the posters looked the same. Does that mean that the there is a set criteria for beauty in Japan?
  • Does everyone want to look like Ayumi Hamasaki?

  • What images would you include to represent beauty in Japan?

    Wednesday, March 7, 2007

    EASIANTH, Fort Minor and Japanese Internment in California

    EASIANTH is a listserv dedicated (but not necessarily limited) to the discussion of East Asian Anthropology. Click on the link below to subscribe and have access to the archives of previous posts. EASIANTH is a good example of collaboration and open-text. Posts include various information on East Asia (sometimes visually related materials), new book announcements, questions and requests for information, etc. It's free and open to all who subscribe. Also a good way to network with those who work with East Asian cultures.
  • Link to EASIANTH

  • There has been some discussion on EASIANTH lately about the song "Kenji" by Fort Minor and its powerful lyrics describing the internment of Japanese-Americans in California during WWII. Hear the song and see some attempts of its visual representation at YouTube.

  • Link to Kenji on YouTube

  • If you are interested in this issue and want more information, especially from a visual perspective, click on the link below to Japan Focus and see the essay "Internment Without Charges: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment" by Linda Gordon.

  • Link to Internment Without Charges
  • Tuesday, March 6, 2007

    Umeda on a Sunday Evening, Playfully 1, 2, 3

    What is this? What aspect(s) of Japanese culture might this thing represent? Consider these questions in terms of 1) multivocality of images and 2) the problem of the audience.

    "The 'meaning' of the ethnographic film [or visual image] is not inherent within the film itself or in the intentions of the author, but is a negotiable property that lies within a conceptual triangle formed by the (film) subject, the filmmaker and the audience" (MacDougall in Banks 2001:140, brackets mine).

    Who is your visual project intended for? Who is going to see it? Academics? The general public? What do they know about your subject? What don’t they know about your subject? How much do you want to explain? How much do you want to leave to your audience’s interpretation? What about multiple audiences? What about a “native” audience?

    Even with taking all of these questions into consideration, it is impossible to control or mandate how any individual will "see" and react to your image. Do you want such control? What is a visual anthropologist to do? How much (con)text should one include with a visual image? Is a study guide appropriate? Do you want your audience to be limited by your own intentions/explanation? How much do you want to leave to the individuals' own interpretation? Do you want to hear other interpretations?

    Inspired by Marcus Banks, Visual Methods in Social Research (London: Sage Publications, Ltd., 2001).

    Umeda on a Sunday Evening, Playfully 1

    I showed this photo to a friend and told her beforehand that I was in Umeda the previous evening and took some pictures. "This is Umeda?" she asked. "This is not the IMAGE I have of Umeda..."

    Umeda on a Sunday Evening, Playfully 2

    "Ahh, this is Umeda... This is more of the IMAGE I have in mind... I KNOW that building..."

    Umeda on a Sunday Evening, Playfully 3

    A local band by the name of MIRACLE was playing on the walkway between the Osaka train station. Th female lead singer danced about, especially at the chorus of the song: "3-2-1-Peace!" with a high verticle jump throwing the peace sign into the air, along with a few in the crowd who were watching/listening. In the front of the band were a small boy and girl, dancing playfully as well. To their right (unfortunately outside the picture) was a little (as in small and short) old (as in his 60s or 70s) man who was dancing even more wildly and having the best of times. A pleasant Sunday evening for sure. The band finished and began packing up. A few minutes later 2 uniformed police officers ran up to them to tell them to get out - no performing allowed on such a pleasant Sunday evening. I slowly followed these officers back to their small police box. Right outside the box, literally, was a young man with a small red velvet table and a deck of cards, blatantly engaged in games of chance with passer-bys. And unbothered by any law enforcement.

    Anyway, any guesses about the image at the top? Hint: It's not in Umeda... (I recently figured out how to allow everyone to leave COMMENTS without having to sign in or sign up for anything. I remain, yours, in the spirit of open-text and collaboration...)