Monday, March 28, 2011

Media Responses to the Japan Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Reactor Crisis

It has been fascinating/disturbing to follow the media coverage of the 3.11 events in Japan. Here are some suggestions for related interesting resources to check out.

MSNBC's Photoblog: High quality images of the disasters and the outcomes. Includes some panoramic shots. Continually being updated.


Japan Quake Shakes TV: The Media Response to Catastrophe by Philip J Cunningham at Japan Focus: A discussion and description of the Japanese media coverage of the earthquake. Includes several interesting YouTube clips.


JPQuake: Journalist Wall of Shame: Lots of examples of how the foreign/western media has provided "sensationalist, overly speculative, and just plain bad reporting" of the events.


Blog: Colin Tyner, the Labour of Nature, and Island Life: Reports from the disaster areas and discussions of news coverage.


Here is an attempt to record and archive many reports from anthropologists and academics on various listservs. This announcement appeared on H-Japan:

The Reischauer Institute is part of a growing effort to record and archive the communications after, and responses to, the disaster. We are working quickly to set up a data archiving project that will capture and store the numerous forms of electronic communication that occurred in the immediate aftermath as well as the longer term.

As a first step to archiving social media and other possibly ephemeral documents, we have established the email address "_daishinsai-archive@fas.harvard.edu_" which will collect relevant email correspondence (such as reports circulated by people in affected areas of Japan), web links, videos, or digital images. If you would like contribute materials to this archive, please email them to _daishinsai-archive@fas.harvard.edu_, and include as much contextual information as possible (e.g., who created the record, when, where, and so forth).

Due to the high volume of submissions, we cannot respond to these contributions individually.

We will be working to make as much of this information available to the scholarly community, for immediate and longer-term analysis of the disasters and their aftermaths.

As soon as possible, we will be distributing more information about the archiving efforts on which we are embarking. If you know of any other similar efforts, please let us know so that we can coordinate with other organizations, rather than duplicate efforts.


(Subbed) Nuclear Boy うんち・おならで例える原発解説: YouTube clip describing the effects of radiation poisoning to/for (?) children.


Please feel free to suggest more resources on these topics via comments to this post.

P.S. As of Friday, 121 international exchange students have left my university to return home, either permanently withdrawing or as a temporary evacuation. However, we remain fine in the Kansai area...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Despite a Potential Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima, Life Goes On in Osaka - Graduation Ceremony Photo Essay

Japan is certainly facing the most difficult time it has faced since WWII - the 9.0 earthquake and aftershocks, tsunami destruction and a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. The world is worried and concerned about Japan and its people. Countries are worried about their citizens in Japan, companies are worried about their employees in Japan, universities are worried about their exchange students in Japan and parents are worried about their children in Japan. This is all very reasonable and right. As of today 90 international exchange students from my university have decided (or have had it decided for them) that they are going home.

I am not in any position to critique such a decision. Better safe than sorry. I am not a fan of nuclear power and I severely question the actions of governments and nuclear power companies in times of crisis. Still one needs to be cautious about reacting to information that is not accurate. The international media is making the nuclear situation sensational to say the least. Headlines and teasers are misleading and many people don't bother to read details buried deep in the story.

Perhaps the greatest disservice to everyone living in Japan has been the foreign press 'mis'-reports in their attempt to present 'Breaking News' which in turn have inflamed home country families to an emotional level that they bombard many of us living here with calls of GET OUT! RUN! ESCAPE! (Nakamura post on EASIANTH listserv, March 21, 2011)

Japan is suffering from cultural orientalism and geographic orientalism. People need to look at a map. Japan is not as small as is being reported. Not all of Japan is at risk in this crisis. I came across this Twitter post from tomoakiyama that puts things in perspective:

Distance between Three Mile Island & NYC: 100 miles / Between Fukushima Nuclear Plant & Tokyo: 150 miles. Stay calm pple.

The distance between Fukushima and Osaka is 350 miles.

Do the research and make up your own mind. Don't be blinded by sensationalism and biases in the media and governments...

And so while we can worry and debate about the safety of Osaka and Japan, in areas not directly effected by the earthquake and tsunami, life generally goes on. This isn't an act of ignoring the problems or of defiance or indifference. It is real life. Over 3000 students graduated from my university on Saturday. They have worked hard and we are proud of their accomplishments. A moment of silence was held during the ceremonies and a student group collected donations for the recent earthquake in New Zealand and the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan.

For more information about the student group (in Japanese):

Now for the pictures of the celebrating students, student groups and family members:

The Center for International Education at my university is advising students to monitor these web sites for more information:

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

World Health Organization (WHO)

Japan Times

Kyodo News

Here are a couple of links to stories from the BBC:

Here is some information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs in English especially for foreigners:

Regarding volunteer efforts, see the Tokyo Voluntary Action Center website:

Related: "Why I’m not fleeing Japan" at Washington

Related: "With Crises, Universities Worry About Students Abroad" at NY

Call for papers: conference on Words and Images, East and West, Sydney 28-29 October 2011

Announcement from H-Japan:

Conference: Words and Images, East and West

Location: Australia
Call for Papers Date: 2011-05-30
Date Submitted: 2011-03-07
Announcement ID: 183625

University of Sydney
28-29 October 2011

Word and Image, East and West

In 1991 Mieke Bal defended the verbal and textual aspects of visual artifacts, arguing that a new cultural paradigm exists based on the assumption that the culture in which works of art and literature emerge and function does not impose a strict distinction between the verbal and the visual domain. In cultural life the two domains are constantly intertwined (Reading Rembrandt, 1991, p. 5).

In the last twenty years the relationship between the visual and the verbal has become a key issue in the humanities in general and, in particular, in the creation of new inter-, multi- or transdisciplinary areas of study. Reaction to the growing presence of images in contemporary culture has, thus, led to a flourishing of publications, conferences and academic courses on the varied interactions between text and image. Yet, a comparative investigation on the way the East and West perceive the interrelation between the visual and the textual still needs particular

The purpose of the symposium is to bring together scholars and researchers from different backgrounds (historical, literary, theoretical or philosophical) in order to discuss and compare the mutual interdependence of words and images, the mixed mediality of the visual and the verbal, and the way they have been interlacing in different geographical and cultural areas, from Europe and the US to the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region, throughout the years.

Contributions are invited, but not limited to:
- literature and painting
- iconography and narrative
- visual poetry
- writing and photography
- narrative and maps
- mixed-media forms and intermedia texts
- graffiti

Discussions are therefore encouraged on the different modalities one medium has been included in the other in the Western and Eastern cultures, as well as the way the interaction of word and image has contributed to challenge the East/West binary.

Contributions are invited to discuss issues of:
- transcription
- juxtaposition
- transposition and translation
- interference
- ekphrasis

We invite proposals for twenty-minute papers in English. Please submit a 500-word abstract and include name, university affiliation, as well as a short paragraph with biographical information by 30 May 2011.

Selected contributions will be included in a 2012 Special Issue of the international refereed journal Literature & Aesthetics.

Essays (in English) for the issue will be commissioned by 15 November 2011. Commissioned essays are due no later than 1 March 2012.

Enquiries and proposals should be addressed to:
Giorgia Al:
Francesco Borghesi:

Digital Photography Residency in Shanghai, June 4-July 2, 2011

Announcement from H-ASIA:

In recent years, the city of Shanghai has become an integral hub for Asia’s burgeoning art and photography worlds. With a rich multicultural and cosmopolitan history that blends the East and West, Shanghai offers a unique portal into Chinese civilization that frames the city as the embodiment of China's future.

This unique four week program emphasizes the exploration of Shanghai and encourages the integration of Western and Eastern photographic practices. Participants engage with the Shanghai art community and have individual and group critiques, with the goal of seeing their world and their work from a more global perspective. Along with an intimate investigation of Shanghai’s contemporary art world, there are individual portfolio reviews by prominent members of Shanghai’s photography community that provide the opportunity to share ideas and network with curators and gallery owners as well as colleagues.

Deadline is April 15, 2011. For more information, see their website:

ROUNDTABLE AT AAS on Scholar Filmmakers

Announcement from H-Japan:

A roundtable discussion with scholar-filmmakers, sponsored by the Asian Educational Media Service, will take place at AAS on Saturday, April 2, 4:15-6 pm in the 'Emalani Theater, Rm. 320. Scholars will discuss their filmmaking experience, including their decision to work in film, problems encountered along the way, and their assessment of the experience.

More information about the films, including the complete schedule, can be found at the Expo's website:

This link is a good list of recent films about Japan and Asia with helpful links about the individual films.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Images of disaster in Japan lend visual power for news networks"

From today's Japan Today:

Sometimes it’s a fast-moving ooze: A street becomes a stream, grows into a river and then a raging mountain of moving debris. Sometimes, it’s a wet curtain of water crashing over a shoreline, tossing trees, ships and cars casually aside as a child would a stack of Legos.

Until a week ago, a tsunami was one of the most mysterious of natural events, its devastating power usually evident only in the aftermath. Yet from the first moments the earth started to shudder on March 11, Japan’s tsunami was one of the most recorded disasters ever to be captured on film, lending a visual power to story-telling unmatched since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago.

Quake footage was available almost instantly: Office workers running outside as building chunks slam to the ground; skyscrapers swaying like evergreens in a windstorm; pictures falling off walls; store stock spilling to the floor. One man kept recording as his living room seemed to fall apart around him. His camera caught his shaky steps as he finally rushed outside.

But as dramatic as the earthquake images were, the tsunami video — some of it live — was breathtaking. A handful of tourists captured the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, but there was much less variety and inferior film quality. Technology — particularly cell-phone cameras — was not what it has become today.

Japan, too, is unique — a nation that not only produces electronics but also focuses on technology, camera phones, handheld video and digital cameras. And it may also be the most well-wired country for recording such disasters. With its geologic history, seismic monitors and robotic cameras are mounted throughout the archipelago.

News crews quickly took to the streets and skies after the earthquake, leaving them well-positioned to capture the tsunami.

At times, they were too well-positioned: A video that surfaced late last week showed a local news crew abandoning a car with the tsunami approaching and rushing into a building as water began swirling around their feet.

What, though, do these images do? Do they change how we perceive the event? Do more higher-quality images of catastrophe make it seem more real or more movielike? Will we remember the 2011 Japan tsunami differently than its calamitous predecessors because we saw so much of it so quickly?

In the days that followed the earthquake, CNN producers constantly monitored social media sites to find newly posted material, and dozens of Japanese citizens sent footage directly to CNN, said Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president for CNN news-gathering worldwide.

“In this case, it certainly captured images that no one expected to see,” she said. The story gave CNN its best ratings since President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the Nielsen Co. said.

Viewers couldn’t get enough — even those who were personally touched by it.

“I tried, but couldn’t stop watching,” said Maisararam from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, who lost her husband and three daughters in Indonesia’s 2004 tsunami. “It was exactly the same, except they have this horrible footage, events unfolding right before your eyes.”

One particularly arresting video showed water and debris rapidly rising as a group of people struggled to make it up a path to higher ground; CNN stopped rolling the shot — the fate of the crew unknown. In another instance, men who had raced to the top of a parking garage kept recording the tsunami even as one openly wondered whether he would survive or not.

The wealth of visual material stood in contrast to events at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex where six reactor units have had fires, explosions or partial meltdowns. As the water receded and attention turned to the crippled nuclear plant, the story became one of those events that television is poorly equipped to tell.

Images are elusive. Except for a handful of aerial shots, the drama at the plant has largely been seen in fuzzy video taken from many miles away. Occasionally, water is dumped on damaged nuclear reactors from the air, yet it’s so difficult to see that it must be highlighted by editors in the pictures.

Evacuation zones have also led American TV networks to pull many of their teams out of the immediate area for safety reasons over radiation poisoning.

But no one knows what is really happening at the plant, or what will happen, and how much radiation is being exposed to how many people. That leads to less-than-illuminating reports, such as Lester Holt revealing on the “Today” show that his shoes tested positive for radiation.

Other than lost footwear, what did the incident really teach us?

Television frequently returned to old-fashioned and visually dull habits out of necessity, bringing a succession of experts before cameras to report the nuclear threat.

The uncertain aspects of the story quickly led to on-air debates over whether television was “hyping” the nuclear danger. NBC’s “Nightly News” pointed a finger at the media in a report that minimized any danger to the United States. Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith labeled “sad and pathetic” Americans who bought anti-radiation pills in large numbers.

Yet his own network showed this headline Friday: “Growing Concern Over Radiation Plume Drifting Over Western United States.”

But radiation is not a television event; it is, for the most part, something you cannot see — ambiguous, invisible, diffuse.

There was nothing ambiguous about the tsunami footage. In an era of unremitting visuals, it was imagery like none other — another example, in a time of technological change, of how we can watch the world unfold, even in its saddest, most frightening moments.

See the story and reader comments:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Supermoon" in Osaka

The moon was the closest it has been to earth in 18 years, and it happened to coincide with a full moon - so we were treated to what has been dubbed a "supermoon" viewing. Even the visual anthropologist couldn't resist taking a few shots on a cloudy night in Osaka on his way home.

For more about this phenomena, see

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Explorations in Practice: An art exhibit exploring the human experience

Exhibition held in conjunction with the University of British Columbia Anthropology Graduate Student Conference, Vancouver, B.C., Canada. March 18 - April 1, 2011.

With works by Valentina Ricca, Charles Bateman and Dianja Zunic, Steven Fedorowicz, Anne Townsend, Otto Kamensek, Jenny Leese, Iain McKechnie, Chris Arnett, Ryan Gauvin, Lara Rosenoff, I am Scott, Jake Salvador, Deyan Denchev, Steven Breckon, and Dalia Vukmirovich.

With live performances by Chris Arnett, Jon Irons, Reggie Caiquo, and Farzad Amoozegar-Fassie.

For more information:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Osaka is a long way from the earthquake and tsunami - we are fine.

Photo borrowed from

Even though the epicenter was far away from us here in Osaka I could feel the big quake at 2:46 PM local time and several aftershocks. It was the biggest quake I have ever felt and it seemed to last forever. I spent the next few hours watching the effects (like the picture above of the tsunami spreading across Sendai) on Japanese TV and CNN. My university is confirming that our students are OK. They have urged all students to inform their parents/friends/home universities that they are safe. The internet, e-mail and Facebook seem to be the best way to communicate out of Japan. I have heard that land lines and cell phones are swamped and jammed in the Tokyo area. Here we seem to have problems sending keitai mail (text messages). Despite this disaster - and the effects to come - most people I know in the Kansai area are doing business as usual. At least for now.

Link to stunning earthquake/tsunami photos at

UPDATE: This post is not meant to downplay the devastating earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan at all. The immediate effects seem not to have hit the Kansai area yet. People are working and doing the things they need to do everyday. (I am having a hard time pulling myself away from the news and concentrating on reading blogs and preparing for next week's classes.) Still we mourn the dead, worry about the fate of missing friends and loved ones in northern Japan, and are concerned about the possibility of radiation exposure in Fukushima and resulting power outages and shortages all over Japan. Here are a couple of links to access the latest news and warnings.

Kyodo News (in English; check out the photos as well):

Japan Meteorological Agency:

We in Osaka are not isolated from the events in northern Japan (and who is?) but are safe.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sunny Saturday Street Photography in Sanjo

After the overwhelming response to my plea for advice on photographing in public in Japan on the blog, Facebook and Twitter (sarcasm intended), I decided to head out once again. This time I went to Sanjo in Kyoto. There was a lot going on and it reminded me of the carnivalesque settings Mikhail Bakhtin describes in his Rabelais and His World - a mixture of people and events creating a cacophony of culture; I had flashbacks from my San Francisco days in the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate Park and more recently the scene around the great cathedral in Cologne, Germany. It was a great opportunity to interact with people and take photographs.

I had no problems asking people's permission to take their photographs, beginning with the young woman handing out flyers for the izakaya she works at. I encountered many interesting people, including street musicians, a group of my own students out for ramen and other adventures, a group of Japanese professors from my university, school girls asking to practice English and even political activists holding a petition drive and political rally criticizing U.S. military bases in Okinawa.

This man introduced himself as Ju-Ju. I first saw him playing percussion on his bicycle with a couple other street performers (the song, Stand By Me...). He spoke English and said he was a jazz musician and tarot card fortune teller. We took pictures of each other and with each other. But my photos definitely fail to capture the character and personality of this man.

The name of this group is Kyoto Action; they are a citizens group opposed to new U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Check out their web page for more information on this important issue.

Link to Kyoto Action's web page (in Japanese):

I had a great time meeting and photographing people in Sanjo. I was able to speak with people in Japanese, English and even Japanese Sign Language. Some people seemed to be attracted to my foreignness, others to my attempt to speak Japanese, and others interested in my camera. It would seem that walking slowly and being friendly is a good method for street photography. Thanks to all who let me take and post their pictures!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sunny Sunday Street Photography in Shinsaibashi

We have been discussing the challenges and ethics of taking photographs in public in Japan in class lately. I have provided my students with a conservative set of guidelines that serve to protect the people we research/photograph and the students themselves. We had wonderful weather over the weekend, so I took advantage and went to Shinsaibashi in Osaka to do some street photography, all the while keeping the ethical guidelines in mind. Can my students follow the guidelines and still do good visual anthropology? Here are some of the shots I took.

Crowds - OK. Street performers and people watching - OK (especially when other people are taking pictures). Aside from the band pictured here, I encountered another street performer: a young woman playing guitar and singing. She was very attractive and wearing somewhat revealing clothing. She attracted a good sized crowd, including a few photographers with long telephoto lenses that were aimed at the young woman (to get extreme close-up shots I suppose). I started to take pictures as well - until I noticed the sign next to her. The sign included her name as well as the fact that she was a second year junior high school student and 13 years old. She certainly didn't look 13. Minors (children!) - not OK. I stopped taking photos and was grateful to have noticed the "well-labeled society" that Ted Bestor discusses in his chapter of Doing Fieldwork in Japan (2003, University of Hawaii Press).

The final shots are of things which certainly add to the environment and flavor of Shinsaibashi. But the real attraction is the people. And I want to photograph more people. Perhaps I have been in Japan too long because I felt a little shy about asking strangers if I could take their picture and put it on the blog. So I ask your advice, dear readers of VAOJ, how can I go about ethically taking pictures of people in public? Comments, please!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"'Cove' director gives free DVDs to Taiji residents"

More about The Cove from today's Japan Today:

Copies of the 2010 Oscar-winning film that depicts the slaughter of dolphins in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji have been delivered free to its residents, compliments of the director.
Louie Psihoyos, director of “The Cove,” said Monday the film dubbed in Japanese was delivered via regular mail over the weekend to all households, with the help of a local group called People Concerned for the Ocean.
An official at Taiji city hall confirmed that two copies of the DVD had been received, but no one had looked at them yet.
Psihoyos said he was concerned many Japanese have yet to see the film, but especially the 3,500 people of Taiji in the southwest of the country.
“The people in Taiji deserve to know what millions of others around the world have learned about their town,” said the American director.
“The Cove” received a Best Documentary Oscar a year ago for its scathing portrayal of Taiji’s dolphin hunting tradition. It showed about a dozen fishermen scaring the dolphins with metallic banging noises into a cove, and then stabbing them as they bled and writhed in the water.
The film outraged many around the world, but Japan has defended the practice.
The film was shown last year at some theaters in the country. But the theaters and the distributor were often targeted by protesters who objected to the film as disrespectful to Japanese culture. They used trucks with blaring loudspeakers in an attempt to intimidate neighborhoods into shutting down the shows.
“I hope the people of Taiji feel a sense of relief when they see ‘The Cove’ because they’ll realize that it is just a handful of local environmental thugs giving a whole nation a black eye, not them,” Psihoyos told The Associated Press. “To me the film is a love letter to the people of Taiji.”
The Japanese government allows about 20,000 dolphins to be caught each year. Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat. The hunts generate far more money from selling live animals to aquariums.

According to a senior member of the association, the package’s sender was ‘‘Umi o kangaeru gurupu’’ (a group that thinks about the ocean).
Along with the DVD, the envelope contained a message urging recipients to watch it once to judge what the movie wants to convey, he said. ‘‘It’s creepy. I don’t plan to watch it,’’ he said.
Free viewing of the Japanese-dubbed version of “The Cove”:
“The Cove”: 

Read the story and reader comments:

"Keio train equipped with antigroping cameras"

From today's Japan Today:

Keio Electric Railway Co on Monday introduced surveillance cameras in one of its trains in an attempt to combat commuter groping. According to Keio, which operates trains linking Shinjuku with the western Tokyo suburb of Hachioji, four cameras were put in the ceiling of one of the 10-car trains on the Keio Line.

The locations of the cameras, which are in car No. 6, were decided based on reports about gropings blamed on “chikan” (perverts), Keio said. The railway plans to install surveillance cameras on another train this month, it said.

The Metropolitan Police Department said 86 known groping cases were reported on the Keio Line last year, making it the worst railway for riders.

Keio is the second railway to adopt onboard cameras. East Japan Railway started using them on the JR Saikyo Line in December 2009, according to the transport ministry.

The cameras record images while the train is in operation, Keio said, adding they could be handed to police as evidence.

“We have decided to introduce surveillance cameras based on a police request,” a Keio spokesman said. 

“But we will carefully consider how we should expand surveillance because privacy issues are involved here.”