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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Visual Anthropology Links

One of  the things that continues to amaze me is how this VAOJ blog allows me to meet so many interesting people connected with visual anthropology. I have met fellow anthropologists, filmmakers, artists and have benefited from their own work and advice. And of course this blog project got me the visiting professor gig in Germany over the summer.

Lately I have been fortunate enough to have been contacted by two visual anthropologists who have very interesting blogs. I am happy to add them to the ever growing "Visual (and/or) Anthropology (and/or) Blog Related Links" section.  I am thrilled with this kind of networking and collaboration. Please check out their excellent work.

Visual Culture Blog

Self description: As he reached the finishing line of doing a PhD in Photography Studies at the University of Westminster in October 2010, photographer Marco Bohr began the Visual Culture Blog to vent some ideas that didn’t fit into his thesis. His research is concerned with a new generation of photographers emerging in parallel to an economic, political and social shift in Japan during the 1990s. Born and raised in Germany, studying photography in Canada, living in Japan, and continuing postgraduate studies in the UK, Marco hopes to bring an international perspective to the study of visual culture(s). His essay ‘Photography and Metaphors’ will appear in a Visual Culture Reader edited by James Elkins and published by Routlede in 2011. Marco is a guest lecturer in the Visual Sociology department at Goldsmiths, and the Photography departments at University of Westminster and University of Plymouth.



Self description: Wilton Martinez is a Peruvian visual anthropologist and producer based in Baltimore, Maryland. He holds an M.A. in visual anthropology and a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Southern California. Wilton currently teaches anthropology at the University of Maryland University College and is associate visiting professor with the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. He also works as a visual anthropology consultant and producer in Peru, the U.S. and other countries.

Wilton has conducted research on the educational use and the reception of ethnographic films and published related articles in various countries. His award-winning productions have been created both independently and in collaboration with anthropologists, NGOs, indigenous organizations, and with various institutions and private organizations. Wilton is currently conducting research on the reception of YouTube videos of Andean music by transnational Peruvian migrant communities and the recreation of national identity by means of transnational dialogues. He is also planning, along with anthropologist Paul Gelles, the production of a new documentary, Transnational Fiesta: Twenty Years Later, a “sequel” to the original Transnational Fiesta: 1992.


Monday, November 22, 2010

VAOJ Student Photo Exhibition

My student, Cristina Grigore, is holding a photo exhibition on campus beginning today in the Student Lounge in Building 2. The theme is portraits of university judo and kempo karate club members. She has been working on this project for the entire semester and despite many challenges has come up with many great photos. This is another first for the VAOJ class - I hope more students will be inspired to do exhibitions in the future. Please check it out.

You can see more of Cristina's work on her visual anthropology blog:

Friday, November 19, 2010

"See the light: Kozo Miyoshi captures peaceful, glowing moments from modern life"

Photo borrowed from
From today's Daily Yomiuri Online:

"They say a chick considers the first thing it sees to be its mother. In my case, that 'first thing' was black-and-white pictures. That was my indoctrination into the world of photography," says Kozo Miyoshi, who has for more than three decades been capturing monochromatic images of subjects he considers to be equals.

"I've always got a theme I'm working with, but it can be hard to find things that fit the brief. So, I have to travel if I want to meet them. Whether it is to the United States, throughout Japan or even just within Tokyo, I find my subjects when I'm on the move," Miyoshi says at Photo Gallery International, where many new prints of photos he took from 1978 to 1983 are on show until Dec. 22.

The exhibition--Kozo Miyoshi "See Saw"--features about 20 of his works, the majority of which are being shown for the first time to go with his latest book of photographs, Origin, is being published.
The event coincides with Kozo Miyoshi Photographs, another exhibition of photos from the same period that ended its run at Harajuku's Vacant gallery last week. "Both events are to showcase work I shot before I switched to an 8x10 camera. That period really marked my birth as a photographer," says Miyoshi, who held his first solo exhibition in 1979, just over seven years after he began taking pictures.
Miyoshi lived in San Francisco in 1972, and again in 1979-1982. He spent 1991-97 in Arizona, first as a researcher on a government program at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, and then working on his own.


"I see no difference between humans and inanimate objects. I snap the shutter only because I find them to be interesting subjects," Miyoshi says.

The photographer also says he sees his photographs as no more than objects; he prefers not to discuss spiritual or abstract notions when talking about his work. "Photographs are things," he says. "I face my subjects on equal terms and the lens helps make it clearer."


"I do everything from shooting to printing myself, and can do it almost perfectly, so I only need to take a single shot at each location. That stops me from taking too many pictures," he says with a wry smile. "I really feel this camera has brought me closer to my subjects."

"Of course, my advice for young people learning to take good photographs is to take and print a lot of pictures every day," says Miyoshi. The photographer remembers sleeping with his camera out of "eagerness to take pictures, even in my dreams."

"Sense and talent is something you develop. In other words, sense is something you get after learning to take pictures."


Says Miyoshi: "A photograph cannot capture the air, wind, smells or the atmosphere of a group of people gathered around a tree. You have to be there to feel them. However, taking a photograph of the tree from a completely different view--i.e. in black-and-white--allows me to face the tree as an equal."

"Kozo Miyoshi 'See Saw,'" until Dec. 22, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (to 6 p.m. on Saturdays) at Photo Gallery International near Tamachi station in Tokyo. Only people attending the gallery talk (2,000 yen) can visit after 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 4. Closed on Sundays and national holidays. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Read the whole story:

For more on Miyoshi:

Kozo Miyoshi ''SEE SAW'' at Photo Gallery International:,en/ 

Kozo MIYOSHI at Photo Gallery International:,en/

Kozo Miyoshi – from Shiogama Urato series at Japan Exposures:

Shiogama Urato at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today's Asia Visual Anthropology Related News

Here are some Asia related visual anthropology news stories about the use of photography and imagery. The first two were featured in the Daily Yomiuri Asia feature section.

Photo borrowed from The Jakarta Post.

From The Jakarta Post:

Pre-wedding memento

For many Indonesians, a wedding is not only about having a special gown, picking attractive invitations and souvenirs, reserving a spacious venue for hundreds (or even thousands) of guests for the big day or even ordering good food and floral decorations.

There is another ritual prior to the actual wedding day which many consider no less important than the main event: getting photographed in a pre-wedding session.

Normally, the photos taken in the pre-wedding session will be put on wedding invitations. 

Traditionally a photographer would take standard photos of the couple, but in this era of advanced technology, and particularly special effects, pre-wedding photo sessions have become a medium for couples to express themselves (and to show off their togetherness to their guests).

Nowadays, not only are the photos used for the invitations, but they are also displayed around the wedding venue for guests to enjoy. The bride and groom can explore their creativity by creating special themes for their photos, such as box-office movies.

Thus, pre-wedding photo sessions have become an inseparable “tradition” for most couples here. They have become a huge phenomenon in the last decade, and as a result the pre-wedding photography business has flourished, particularly in big cities.

However, this trend is not without its critics.

Earlier this year, a group of ulemas from East Java declared pre-wedding photos haram (not allowed under Islamic law), claiming that such photo sessions encouraged unmarried people to hug each other while posing.

The declaration has not dissuaded many couple from attending pre-wedding photo sessions.

“I’ve found out that pre-wedding photo shoots only exist in Indonesia. It’s a culture for couples here,” said prominent photographer Darwis Triadi.

Read the whole story:

Photo borrowed from China Daily.

From China Daily:

Made for each other

Dong Liqian, a 22-year-old student of the Film School at Tongji University in Shanghai, is busy with something rather un-academic these days. She is writing a 5-minute music video (MV) screenplay for a newlywed couple.

She is one of the three freelancers hired by Youth Image Studio, a professional studio in Shanghai that specializes in recording personal love stories, dubbed "love MVs".

Basically a short music video on how the couple met and fell in love, such videos are becoming popular in some metropolises.

Dong says she found the freelance job on the Internet, and now takes assignments over the phone. She tailors her scripts to the requirements of her customers, which sometimes include bizarre requests such as setting the video in 1930s Shanghai.

"I earn 150 yuan ($22) for each screenplay," she says.

Her employer, Yang Dan, 28, opened the studio with a partner five years ago while still a at Shanghai University. It was while filming promotional videos for companies in 2007 that the idea of shooting music videos for young couples came to him.

"Everyone was talking of elaborate wedding photo shoots. Why not film a MV instead?" he asked himself.

The studio offers tailormade MVs, with the screenplay based on the couple's romance, for 8,800 yuan ($1,320). This price entitles the newlyweds to 10 sets of DVDs packaged exactly like an original movie DVD, complete with poster and still pictures.

During the long National Day holiday recently, which is traditionally a boom time for weddings after the May Day holiday, the studio received more than 20 orders within a month.

Making a "love MV" follows much the same path as a full-length feature film. Yang first gets to know the couple and their romantic history, and then comes up with a screenplay with inputs from his freelancers such as Dong.

"Most want to recount their campus romances. But I have just written a screenplay about love in this life and a past one," Dong says.

Read the whole story:

Photo borrowed from Japan Today.

And then there's Japan...

From Japan Today:

Bra introduces Japan to foreign visitors

Lingerie maker Triumph International Japan Ltd on Wednesday unveiled a concept brassiere meant to introduce Japanese tourism spots to foreign visitors. The dark blue bustier has a holder placed around the stomach to display an image of one of six major tourist spots such as Mt Fuji, the Asakusa district known for the Senso temple and the Akihabara electronics shopping area.

It also has three buttons that can be pushed to play a message saying, ‘‘Welcome to Japan,’’ in English, Chinese or Korean. Another feature is a short skirt attached to the dark blue outfit that flips up to reveal a map of Japan.

Triumph said it hoped the design, the latest in a line of not-for-sale promotional bras it has launched to mark major trends and events, will help support Japan’s goal of attracting 30 million foreign tourists a year.

Read the whole story:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Visualizing Asia in the Modern World: A Conference on Image-Driven Scholarship

Announcement from The Society for East Asian Anthropology:

Visualizing Asia in the Modern World:
A Conference on Image-Driven Scholarship
May 20-21, 2011
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jointly sponsored by the Visualizing Cultures project at M.I.T. and the following programs at Harvard: Asia Center, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Korea Institute, Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies.

This two-day conference will consist of image-driven presentations addressing both Asian and non-Asian representations of 19th and 20th-century developments in the history of East and Southeast Asia.

The conference will be open to the public. Contributors will be provided lodging, but should be prepared to cover their travel expenses. "Visualizing Asia in the Modern World" follows a lively conference on this same subject held at Yale in the spring of 2010, and we again look forward to international participation in opening these new windows of perception and understanding.

The presentations themselves will be relatively brief, no more than 20 minutes in length. Proposals for presentations, up to 3 pages double spaced, plus a small number of representative images, should be submitted by December 1, 2010 to Scott Shunk, Program Director of Visualizing Cultures at

For a suggestive sense of possible topical and thematic approaches, including innovative formatting of online scholarship and pedagogy, see as well as the list of presentations made at the Yale conference Priority will be given to those who did not present at the previous conference.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Seibu Railways to introduce 'maid trains'"

From today's Japan Today and inspired by today's in-class viewing of Tokyology (!):

The Seibu Railway Group has announced plans to introduce a new maid cafe-style train service between Ikebukuro and Chichibu stations. 

Akihabara’s maid cafe culture is closely aligned with Japan’s “otaku” subculture that is rapidly going mainstream. As several animation houses already exist along that stretch of the railway line that runs from Tokyo to Saitama, Seibu Railway officials said they are hoping to promote Japanese pop culture in the area between those stations by solidifying its reputation as an anime production zone. 

It is believed to be the first time a major Kanto rail operator has attempted to carry out such an unconventional project.

The emphasis of the new service will be to allow passengers to ride in “New Red Arrow” trains alongside staff selected from Akihabara’s maid cafes. Maid cafe games and competitions will be held and train announcements will be made by the maids. There are also plans to have small photography studios alongside the station shops around Seibu Chichibu station at which customers can pay to have their photographs taken with a maid (emphasis added).

The fare for a trip will be 3,500 yen for adults and 3,000 yen for children. Each trip will accommodate 360 passengers.

The service starts on Dec 11. For reservations, visit

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Local Matsuri Revisited: Color or Black & White?

Recently there was a autumn festival for a local shrine near my house, Ubusuna Jinja (産土神社). As a part of the celebration the shrine's danjiri cart was paraded through the neighborhood. There are many local danjiri festivals in Japan, the most famous taking place in Kishiwada, Osaka. I was able to follow the cart in my neighborhood for a while and take some photos.

You can see 26 of my photos in two sets within this blog: In Living Color or in Classic Black & White.  

The former displays some magnificent colors while the latter shows off rich textures. 

Which do you prefer? Do certain shots work better in color than in black & white,  or vice versa? Which ones and why? Does each set evoke a different mood or feeling? Which would you want to see in a photo exhibition? How do you feel about mixing color and black & white in the same exhibition? 

Feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.

Click here to see In Living Color thumbnails.

Click here to see Classic Black & White thumbnails.

For further information about the Ubusuna Jinja (in Japanese):

門真市岸和田 産土神社:

上島町 島頭天満宮:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Local Matsuri in Classic Black & White



























Click here to see thumbnail photos.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Local Matsuri In Living Color