Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Personal information law hindering right to know"

A recent article from the Yomiuri On-Line discusses the so-called personal information law and several of its problems. As I discussed in earlier posts dealing with the ethics of photographing in public in Japan, the law seems to have been over-interpreted by many to the point of making them paranoid about providing even the most basic information. This is not an easy or healthy environment for anthropological fieldwork. Full text article appears below:

The Personal Information Protection Law was meant to do exactly what its name suggests--protect people's personal information--but it has also led to excessive restrictions on the flow of information, something Cabinet minister Mizuho Fukushima is aiming to fix as she spearheads efforts to review the law.

The state minister in charge of consumer affairs and the declining birthrate, Fukushima recently instructed the Consumer Affairs Agency to thoroughly review the law, including the question of whether it should be revised so this country does not move further toward becoming an "anonymous society" stifled by the law's rigidity.

All parties concerned should conduct serious discussions about government organizations and businesses' refusal to release information due to their overreaction to the law's stipulations on guarding people's privacy. The proposed review should lead to truly effective measures that ensure the public's right to know, the very foundation of a democratic society.

The task of reviewing the Personal Information Protection Law, which took effect in April 2005, will be undertaken jointly by the Consumer Affairs Agency and the Consumer Commission, a Cabinet Office watchdog organization charged with consumer protection.

"I've instructed [relevant officials ] to carefully scrutinize cases of overreaction to the law's requirements," Fukushima told a press conference on Oct. 27.

At a session of the House of Councillors Budget Committee in 2006, Fukushima called for the release of information concerning amakudari, the practice by which retired bureaucrats secure high-paying jobs at companies or organizations in sectors they formerly oversaw. Specifically, she demanded that information be made public about the retirement allowances received by former high-ranking officials of the defunct Defense Facility Administration Agency from agency-linked entities where the officials acquired postretirement jobs.


Excessive self-restraint

However, Fukushima's demand was turned down by the government, which said the facts she sought represented "personal information," and the law prevented their disclosure without the consent of the individuals involved.

That bitter experience led Fukushima to resolve to change what she called the "structure of concealing information" at ministries and agencies.

The biggest problem involving the personal information law is this country's continuing march toward becoming an anonymous society, with people finding it more and more difficult to obtain information they need in their everyday lives.

Immediately after the enforcement of the law in 2005, many people lodged complaints with offices of the National Consumer Affairs Center, an independent administrative institution with branches across the country.

One typical complaint came from a woman with a daughter in middle school. She said a list from her daughter's school of students' names for use in times of emergency did not contain either the addresses or phone numbers of the students' homes.

"I worry about what could happen in an emergency," the woman said.

There actually is no problem with distributing such information--students and their parents only have to agree to it--but school authorities were nervous and went to excessive lengths not to violate the law, center officials said.


Scandals repeatedly covered up

In 2008, the administration of then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda carried out a review of the law. It ultimately did not make revisions, saying that overreactions would end when the public came to be well informed about the law. However, coverups of scandals involving government organizations have continued endlessly.

There also have been more than a few cases in which the press have been hindered in their coverage of the news.

Any measures to improve the application of the law--without getting to the heart of the problem by revising the legislation--likely will fail to stem this country's progress toward becoming an anonymous society.

"The current law does not strike a balance between the need to protect personal information and the value of personal information to the public," the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association said in a statement issued in March.

In the statement, the association demanded the law be revised to include provisions giving "special consideration to the value of personal information related to news organizations' activities in support of the public good and common public interests."

Masao Horibe, a professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University who specializes in the freedom of information, said: "The law should be revised to change the current state of affairs in which disproportionately high importance has been given to the protection of personal information."

The forthcoming discussions on reviewing the personal information law under the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama should focus on how to devise measures that safeguard the people's right to know.

(Nov. 12, 2009)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Photographer Shinoyama's office, home raided over nude photo shoot"

From Japan Today, 11/11/09:

Police investigators searched the office and home in Tokyo of photographer Kishin Shinoyama on Tuesday on suspicion of public indecency over the shooting of nude photos for his book of photos "20XX TOKYO." The investigators also raided the office in Tokyo of a talent agency to which one of the two models, a 21-year-old actress, belongs.

Shinoyama, 68, allegedly took outdoor shots of the nude models in Tokyo from mid- to late August 2008 in situations where anyone could see them, police said.

The Metropolitan Police Department plans to question Shinoyama later, police sources said.

The investigators have found nothing illegal in the photo album itself, but question the manner in which the photographs were taken, police said.

Shinoyama allegedly took the photos at a dozen locations in Tokyo, mainly at night. Some of the photos were taken on railway tracks and in cemeteries.

A number of nude photos of the two actresses appear in the photo book, which was published in late January this year and is about 60 pages long. The collection has sold out, its publisher Asahi Press says on its website.

Shinoyama’s office and the Asahi Press declined comment.

Tokyo-based Asahi Press said it has heard nothing about the police raids from either Shinoyama or the police. The Asahi Press has no links with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper or TV Asahi.

Shinoyama became a freelance photographer in 1968 after working for an advertising agency.

He has released a number of photo collections of celebrities, including novelist Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), singer Momoe Yamaguchi and actress Rie Miyazawa.

In 1991, he released "Water Fruit," a collection of uncensored nude photos of actress Kanako Higuchi in which her pubic hair is visible.

Japan’s Penal Code sets penalties of imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to 300,000 yen, detention for up to 29 days, or a petty fine of less than 10,000 yen, for persons who commit indecent acts in public.

The story:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall 2009 Globalization Kobe Fieldtrip

A couple of weeks ago the Globalization class and some guests went on a fieldtrip to Kobe in search of... globalization. We hit the usual spots of Kitano, Nankin-machi and the Harbor area.

Good times were had by all. Click here to read more about the fieldtrip from a visual anthropology student.

After the trip proper all went their separate ways for further exploration. While many students went to MOSAIC in search of Kobe beef and Halloween parades, I cruised around looking to capture some night scenes.

For pictures of previous Globalization class fieldtrips, click here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

New Horizons of Academic Visual-Media Practices: 13th Kyoto University International Symposium

New Horizons of Academic Visual-Media Practices: 13th Kyoto University International Symposium

December 11[Fri] 10:00-18:30, 12[Sat] 10:00-18:30, 13[Sun] 10:00-18:00, 2009

Kyoto University Clock Tower Centennial Hall

With visual media and discussions from such diverse fields as medical science and astrophysics, to biology, Anthropology, sociology, psychology and Informatics, we present a revolutionary interdisciplinary endeavor unique in the world! Pioneering new fields of academia through the visual practices, Kyoto University opens the door to a century of academic films with this International Symposium!

Applications [limited to 400 people] and Inquiries:


Sunday, November 8, 2009

耳がきゅっとなる ("Ears Are Dazzled, Touched by Sound")

Filmmaker and Sound & Vision Specialist Amanda Belantara has been kind enough to contact me and inform me about her latest project, 耳がきゅっとなる ("Ears Are Dazzled, Touched by Sound"). She describes the project in her web page as follows:

A collective exploration of the sounds that surround us, this film features sounds and images inspired by sound diaries kept by local people in Yamaguchi, Japan. An intriguing portrait of the invisible, the film’s unconventional style attempts to reveal the magical quality of sounds that lies hidden in the everyday.

See more at her web page, including a trailer:

The film will be shown at the Kyoto University Museum as part of a workshop on resonant sound and image.

For more information:

Sound is on one of the most important aspects of a good film and I don't spend nearly enough time exploring it in my class or research (Can I excuse myself by claiming my interests in sign language?). Often times the first thing my students will critique in a film is the soundtrack and/or background sounds. So Belantara's attention to sound seems to be an important contribution. Her film trailer is very cool and I am looking forward to seeing/hearing the film/sound.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Body/Comm Fall 2009 Poster Workshop: Beauty in Contemporary Japan

It's that time of year again when Body/Comm students ponder the meaning of beauty in contemporary Japan. What are the criteria for beauty in Japan and how does one get and retain beauty (if not already naturally endowed)? We read Spievogel and Miller for an anthropological context of beauty. We explored cosmetic surgery and watched Beauty Coliseum. We discussed fashion and accessories. Putting all of our research and discussion into application, we made posters to illustrate beauty in Japan. What I found to be most interesting this semester was that more attention was paid to men than in the past. This is not to say that there have never been any beautiful/handsome men before. Perhaps the interest in men is a result of the latest trendy term, herbivore men. These are, apparently, men who aren't as interested in sex and female conquest as they are in their own fashion and looks. While there might be some truth to these claims, one needs to be careful not to jump to conclusions about sexual orientation and a lack of masculinity. Also, these herbivore men seem to be the latest to blame the ills of Japanese society on following the likes of parasite singles, freeters, NEETs and hikikomori. But I digress. Let's get back to beauty and see what the students came up with this semester. Click on the photos to see more details on the posters. Enjoy.

Click here to see photos from previous semesters' workshops.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Junko's Birthday

This semester's members of the KGU Japanese Sign Language Study Group wished Junko a Happy Birthday with a surprise party. Junko was so happy she was moved to tears. The group is large this semester with 20-30 students attending every week. We continue to have deaf guests to help us learn JSL, but of course it is Junko who comes every week. Students admire her super-genki nature. Many thanks to the sempai and all members who helped organize the party. Click here for video clips.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jazz Guitar Duo

On October 29, Hidekazu Sakai (pictured above, right) debuted as a professional jazz guitarist with his teacher Miko Kanazawa at the Sea Press in Neyagawa-shi. The venue was small and intimate; jazz lovers and supporters were numerous and enthusiastic to see/hear the music. The audience was not let down. Teacher and student really started to jam during the second or third song. The last set was brilliant, showcasing Sakai's technique and Kanazawa's playful plucking. Watch for these guys - they are going places.

A dark room and back lighting made a challenging setting for photographing the event. Despite taking many shots from multiple angles I was extremely disappointed with what I got. Should I use Photoshop to fix the problems? Or do the images captured under the harsh conditions better capture the jazz-atmosphere?