Monday, November 29, 2010

Japanese "Hand Sign" at the Amateur Night at the Apollo Finals

The Japanese dance group, Hand Sign, recently performed at the Apollo Theater in New York and won second place at the Top Dog competition on October 20, 2010.The sign language they are using in this performance is American Sign Language (ASL). My colleague Mark H. (thanks, Mark!) first let me know about this group and I tried to get some more information about them. I found the following YouTube link (apparently it cannot be embedded so you have to watch it on YouTube itself).

Link to Hand Sign New York Apollo Theater Amateur Night Finals:

In this video the group is using Japanese Sign Language when practicing and when performing in Japanese.

Hand Sign also performed on the popular morning show Tokudane; here is the video clip from that performance.

Very nice stuff. Deshoo.

OK, so here's the critical stuff: I suppose it is cool that these all hearing guys are using sign language in their performances. And it is cool that they use ASL in America and Japanese Sign Language (JSL) in Japan. In the New York performance they seem to be using real ASL as opposed to a version of Signed English. But in Japan they are using more Signed Japanese than real JSL. And it is problematic that they are speaking on behalf of deaf people in the Tokudane interview. At least the group leader used the term rousha rather than mimi ga fujiyuna like the interviewer did (who uses that term anymore?). But the overall feeling of the interview is now the poor deaf people can appreciate music for the first time... It is good that sign language is getting exposure. But it is problematic that inaccurate stereotypes and deficit models of deafness are perpetuated in the media. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Hand Sign (or other hearing people) should not be using sign language. Deaf people themselves are working hard to promote the fact that JSL is a real language different from spoken Japanese. But the JSL they are promoting is different than the Signed Japanese in these performances. There are greater identity and political issues here. I want to know more about Hand Sign. And I hope they have more opportunity to interact with deaf people so they can get a better understanding of the deaf situation in Japan, at least better than what was demonstrated in the Tokudane interview. If anyone knows more about this group, please leave a comment.

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