Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cleaning Up: Facial Expression and Gestures

I am in the process of cleaning my office from the spring and getting ready for the new fall semester. In doing so I have uncovered some gesture-related gems that could be of interest to visual anthropologist/sign language types.

(Image borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri, 8/16/07, p.3)

1. Hand signals used in on-floor trading at the Central Japan Trading Commodity Exchange Center in Osaka will be discontinued in favor of a new computer system. The gesture system, known as teburi, is 300 years old. Too bad... more visual culture disappearing. Read the whole story by clicking the link below.

Link to "Waving Goodbye to Hand Signal Trading"

The gestures representing numbers are similar to JSL (the gesture for 9 would be understood as 10 in JSL). The meaning of the gesture is different depending on whether the front or back of the hand is shown. Many examples of this can be found in JSL. JSL and teburi seem to be similar in that hand shape, orientation and movement determine meaning.

I am aware of other hand gesture systems in other types of trading. There is a secret gestural system for buying and selling fugu where bidders make a hand shape within a closed bag that needs to be felt by the auctioneer. Interesting stuff. If you know anything more about such hand gesture systems, please do share.

2. These are some interesting quotes from an exam by various students dealing with facial expression. In "The Body and Communication in Japan" class we discuss the importance of facial expression in daily conversation. We also study how to properly use facial expressions when doing Japanese Sign Language. In JSL, facial expressions not only convey emotion, but they can be seen as an important part of of the grammar.

Facial expressions [in Japan] are important because they are basically the irrasshaimase" of the human body.

Facial expressions are the welcome mat of a person.

A face is worth a thousand words.

Facial expression is like a lubricant of machines; if there is no facial expression, our conversation will be awkward because it really reflects our feelings in our minds.

OK. Back to work. Classes begin on September 3 ("panic" facial expression).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Naked Sign Language News in Japan

Warning: This posting is rated PG-13 or maybe even R.

Why didn't any of my deaf friends tell me about this?

Apparently there is a program on the Japanese Paradise TV network where news is delivered in sign language by a nude female telecaster. Until recently it has been receiving subsidies from the Japanese government for its production. Check out the following two links for more details.

Link to Reuters news story

Link to article in Japan Times

See an example of a naked sign language lesson on the Japanese YouTube site. (This clip seems to be the least "offensive." You can see more by doing a search on the Japanese Youtube and verifying your age.)

Link to YouTube clip

Click the below link to see another video clip from CNN.

Link to AOL videoclip

I bet it's not only deaf people who are watching... Perhaps an interesting way to spread sign language use... Comments?

(Special thanks to MH for the heads up on this news item.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hind Site is 20/20?

Here's an entry that falls within "the camera never lies" department. A shop that sells blue jeans has a camera that allows customers to see how they look from behind. This isn't Japan related (yet, who knows, the trend might catch on here...) but perhaps another possibility for an interesting visual anthropology project.

Link to "Hind Site" video

UPDATE: Unfortunately the Yahoo video clip is no longer available. It showed people utilizing the camera to look at their behinds rather than having to crane their necks to look in the mirror. Apparently the camera was a real sales booster.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

HIV/AIDS and Deaf People in Japan

Japan is one of the few so-called developing countries where HIV/AIDS rates are still increasing. This trend continues and will get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. Historically the Japanese government has effectively denied that there was any AIDS problem in Japan and under-reported statistics. While they most likely continue the latter they cannot ignore the HIV/AIDS situation any longer. Recently the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare released a special report that stated HIV/AIDS infections for the April - June quarter in 2007 reached a new high. Read a brief article about it by clicking the link below.

Link to Japan Today article

HIV/AIDS seems to be a bigger problem for deaf people than hearing people, mostly due to the fact that HIV/AIDS information is rarely available in sign language. In many countries rates of HIV/AIDS infections are higher for deaf people than for hearing people. Some research has been done in this area, most notably in the special edition of Deaf Worlds seen below.

This is not a plug or plea for you to buy the book. It is a request that you read it, spread the word about the problem and add to the discourse on improving the situation. The book includes articles, reports and poetry about deaf people with HIV/AIDS in Africa, the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia. My own article deals with the situation in Japan.

Living Partial Truths: HIV/AIDS in the Japanese Deaf World

Abstract: This paper is intended to be a report on the HIV/AIDS situation among Japanese deaf people. The question of whether HIV/AIDS is a problem for Japanese deaf people as it is for deaf people in other societies will be explored from a number of different angles. First, I give an overview of deafness in Japan. Second, the general HIV/AIDS situation will be described as it impacts deaf people and the mainstream society at large. Third, attempts at HIV/AIDS education in the areas of general information and prevention in Japan will be investigated, including how hearing and deaf school children learn about HIV/AIDS. Finally, I present data on the relationship between deaf people and HIV/AIDS. The heuristic device of “partial truths” will be employed in both the ethnographic and literal sense of the term. Although ways to measure incidence vary, one estimate I make is that there are approximately 300 Japanese deaf people with HIV/AIDS. Although the number might seem small, no happy ending or convenient conclusions are offered and the conclusion argues for continuing dialogue and research.

Unfortunately this book has received very little attention. The publisher has done little promotion and there have been no academic reviews as of yet. As a "focused edition" of a journal disguised as a book, it does not appear in You can find it at the link below:

Link to HIV/AIDS And Deaf Communities book description and order information

In addition, I would be happy to share my text with anyone who is interested. Please submit your request via a comment. Let's do whatever we can to solve this serious and deadly problem.

Monday, August 20, 2007

(Some) Summer Images

Summer 2007 in Japan is almost over - almost time for classes to begin once again. Where did the time go? Here are some nice folks showing us how to dress for the Japanese summer. Foreigners in yukata never looked so good... Has anyone else noticed how often mannequins in Japan are foreigners? This might make sense for western style clothing, but for traditional Japanese attire? This might be an interesting topic for a Visual Anthropology project...

As it has been a while since I posted any pictures, here are some more summer images. What kind of images would you choose to represent summer culture in Japan?

Summer is synonymous with baseball. Here are some images from Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers.

Hanshin Tigers fans, perhaps the greatest/
craziest/most loyal fans in the world ("perhaps" erases any possible bias...)


Summer skyline over an undisclosed metropolis. Notice the layer of brown "air." A nice rain will usually wipe out the brown for a while. Much of Japan suffered from an incredible heat wave in August. A new record high of 40.9 degrees C was recorded in Gifu and Sendai.

It seems as though there is a fireworks festival every night. I myself did not attend one this summer (this photo comes from a friend); the closest I came was when I returned home from a trip abroad. I got back at night and immediately opened all the windows in the house for the first time in two weeks to get some much needed fresh air. But the neighbors were having their own little fireworks show and the resulting smoke filled my house...

A trip to the sea is also usually required in the Japanese summer. One can capture sea creatures (here's a little octopus) and barbecue them right on the spot.

Osaka Castle at night.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Visual Salvage Ethnography: "Culture Agency on Hunt for Rare, Old Films"

The Cultural Affairs Agency is looking for old films that portray the culture and society of Japan between the years of 1868-1989 to possibly designate them as cultural assets. Read the whole story from today's Daily Yomiuri below.

Link to article

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"59 Photographers Peek Behind Tokyo Foreigners' Doors"

Sounds scary, doesn't it? Actually it is the title of a book review by Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer Julian Satterthwaite. The book in question is called Tokyo Gaikokujin: Tokyo Foreigners and features photos of foreigners from all over the world in their Tokyo apartments by recent graduates of Tokyo Shashin Gakuen. Japanese photographers (native anthropologists?) taking photographs of foreign residents in Japan - an interesting concept and something worthy for visual anthropologists to check out.

Link to Daily Yomiuri Book Review