Friday, December 26, 2014

"Prosecutors indict vagina artist on obscenity charges"

Text from Japan Today, 12/25/14:

Japanese prosecutors on Wednesday charged a feminist artist who makes objects shaped like her own vagina with distributing “obscene” data, according to her lawyer, in a case that has sparked accusations that authorities are out of touch.

The charges follow Megumi Igarashi’s arrest this month after she raised funds online to pay for a genital-shaped kayak which she made on a 3D printer.

“We don’t agree with the prosecutors’ contention at all,” Takeshi Sumi, one of Igarashi’s lawyers, told AFP Wednesday.

“We will continue pleading not guilty on behalf of Igarashi, who argues her works are not anything obscene,” Sumi said.

Read the whole article:

Click here for past VAOJ coverage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A moving photo: "Frozen memorial"

Photo and text from The Japan News, 11/28/14.

A shrine and lodge are covered with snow and ice Thursday atop Mt. Ontake, which erupted two months ago. Fifty-seven people were killed and six are still missing in the disaster on the mountain, which straddles the prefectures of Nagano and Gifu. The search for victims was discontinued in mid-October and is scheduled to resume in spring next year.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Osaka court rules tattoo check on city employees illegal"

Sometimes the courts do the right thing... Story from Japan Today, 12/18/14:

The Osaka District Court has ruled that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s order to check whether municipal office workers had tattoos was illegal and constituted an invasion of privacy.

The court handed down the ruling on Wednesday in a damages suit filed by a 56-year-old city bus driver, Tadasu Yasuda, who was transferred to a desk job after he refused to answer questions on whether or not he had a tattoo, Sankei Shimbun reported Thursday. Presiding Judge Kenji Nakagaito invalidated the transfer and ordered the Osaka municipal government to pay Yasuda 1.1 million yen in damages.

The judge said ordering employees to reveal if they have tattoos or not encroached on individuals’ privacy and carried a risk of creating workplace discrimination. The court also ruled that the plaintiff should be reinstated to his previous position as a bus driver.

The tattoo check, which was requested by Hashimoto in May 2012, involved 35,000 city employees who were asked to reply in writing. Of those who answered, 114 said they did have tattoos on their arms or legs, while six refused to disclose whether they had any tattoos or not, Sankei reported. Those six, including Yasuda, were subjected to disciplinary action. Yasuda said later that he did not have a tattoo, but refused to cooperate with the investigation because he felt it was an invasion of his privacy.

When he launched his anti-tattoo campaign, Hashimoto said at the time that “citizens feel uneasy or intimidated if they see tattoos (on workers) in services and it undermines trust in the city.”

Although small tattoos are now a common means of self-expression in Japan and are no longer indicative of gang membership, Hashimoto threatened to dismiss any city worker who has tattoos. “We need to have possession of this information. Anyone who doesn’t respond to the survey should be reported to HR and passed over for future promotion. This all goes without saying,” Hashimoto said.

Japanese media reported that Hashimoto first brought up the issue after learning that a worker at a children’s home threatened kids by showing them his tattoos.


Click here for previous VAOJ coverage of this story.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Sea Shepherd files complaint against police to protect Cove Guardian volunteers"

More about "The Cove" from Japan Today, 12/17/14:

A Japanese attorney based in Tokyo has sent a formal letter, on behalf of his client Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, to the Shingu and Wakayama City Police, countering accusations from the police departments that Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardian volunteers violated Japanese law by following a truck on public roads and taking photographs to document the transportation of dolphins for captivity.

Sea Shepherd said in a press release that the formal letter is the beginning of legal action to protect the basic constitutional rights of Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardian volunteers on the ground in Japan.

On Nov 21, Cove Guardian volunteers followed a truck holding dolphins in crates, as the cetaceans captured in Taiji’s hunt were being transferred for captivity at an aquarium or marine park. The Cove Guardians say they complied with Japanese law to ensure the safety of all involved.

However, police approached the volunteers on Nov 22 and told them that following the truck is an offense under “Minor Offense Law.” On the morning of Dec 9, police also told the Cove Guardians that photographs taken Dec 8 outside a location that purchases dolphin meat were taken in violation of Wakayama city ordinance. The police warned the Sea Shepherd volunteers that if they attempt these activities again, they will face arrest.

Sea Shepherd’s attorney has notified the police departments that the Cove Guardians acted within the basic rights guaranteed by Japan’s constitution. The formal letter states (translated into English), “These activities are to investigate the truth and to record it, as it is guaranteed by our constitution article 21-1 ‘Freedom of Expression’ and it is not at all ‘illegal.’ Therefore we demand that you notify us, which actions would apply to which law, the number of articles, etc. in a precise manner within two weeks after receiving this letter. If we do not receive your reply, then we will conclude that you have admitted that you did an illegal action of impeding their freedom of expression.”

Each year since the beginning of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Infinite Patience campaign in 2010, the Cove Guardians have been on the ground in Taiji throughout the entire six-month annual hunt season, documenting the capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales, and live streaming these atrocities for the world to see.

Sea Shepherd Senior Cove Guardian Campaign Leader, Melissa Sehgal was denied entry into Japan this month to document the slaughter, despite never violating the law during her four seasons in Taiji. She was sent home on Dec 8 — the same day the Cove Guardians were being monitored by police — after nine hours of interrogation and an overnight stay in a holding cell on Dec 7.

“Sea Shepherd promised that our Cove Guardian volunteers will always act in accordance with Japanese law, and we have continued to honor that promise. We want to ensure that the Cove Guardians are able to return to Taiji until the slaughter ends,” said Sehgal. “I am hopeful that this beginning of legal action will not only protect the rights of our volunteers on the ground, but also help us to be even more effective in our efforts for the dolphins and whales.”


No matter how one feels about the dolphin/whale issues, it seems these Cove Guardians are a bit naive about Japanese law. Laws other than those in the constitution apply, which include those dealing with photographing without consent, nuisance and portrait rights.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Kanji of the Year: 税 (tax)

Photo and text from Japan Today, 12/12/14.

The kanji character “zei” (税) meaning “tax,” has been chosen as the character best representing the sentiment and events in Japan in 2014.

The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, a Kyoto-based organization that promotes kanji, conducts the survey nationwide every year. The foundation said 167,613 submissions were received this year, with “zei” being the most popular, garnering 8,679 votes.

In an event held on Friday, Seihan Mori, the head priest at the world-famous Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, drew the character with a large calligraphy brush, whose bristles were the size of a bowling pin, on a huge piece of “washi” (Japanese paper).

The character of “zei” was chosen following months of coverage by the media about the hike in the sales tax last April 1 and the debate over when to increase the sales tax again.

The second most popular character was 熱, meaning fever, a reference to the sporting passion that gripped Japan this year with the Sochi Olympics, World Cup soccer and Kei Nishikori’s success on the tennis court. Fever also referred to the Ebola outbreak. The third most popular kanji was 嘘, meaning lie, referring to many political scandals and the claims of a stem cell researcher.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Return of signing urged at DisneySea"

From The Japan News, 12/10/14:

At Tokyo DisneySea in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, an aquatic show called “The Legend of Mythica,” that was accompanied with a sign language performance came to an end in September. However, there have been growing requests for a restart of the show from hearing-impaired people.

DisneySea began introducing the special performance, in which cast members convey the story’s outline and characters’ lines through sign language, in July 2004 with the hope that people with hearing disabilities could fully enjoy the show. The performance was continued even after the show’s contents changed, and many hearing-impaired people visited DisneySea for the show from all over the nation.

The show was terminated as the theme park’s entertainment programs were set to be renewed. Though other attractions have services such as captions for narration, only the aquatic show offered the sign language performance, which enables people with hearing difficulties to enjoy the show without taking their eyes off the show itself. These visitors are requesting the sign language performance be restarted.

The Institute Real Desire for Rare Disease Supporters, an incorporated association based in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, has been conducting a signature-collecting campaign and seeking supporters with a goal to collect 10,000 signatures by year-end.

“We appreciate the request as valuable input,” an employee at the public relations division of Oriental Land Co., which operates DisneySea, said. “We ended the aquatic show to expand seasonal events. We would like to consider introducing the sign language performance into another attraction.”

Question: Why is the Institute Real Desire for Rare Disease Supporters leading the campaign? Is deafness a rare disease?


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Very sad news: Stella Young passes away

VAOJ is extremely shocked and saddened by the news of Stella Young passing away on Saturday. Young was a comedian, broadcaster and prominent disability activist who told it like it was. I found her and the term inspiration porn (which she explains very well in her TED Talk) while researching representations of deaf and disabled people. To say she will be missed is a huge understatement. Condolences to her family and friends.

News coverage at BBC News:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"Vagina kayak artist (re)arrested in Japan"

Photo and text from Japan Today, 12/4/14.

An artist who made a kayak modeled on her own vagina was arrested in Japan on Wednesday, police said, in a case that has sparked accusations of censorship.

Megumi Igarashi, who calls herself Rokude Nashiko—offensive slang which loosely translates as “reprobate child”—was arrested in July for trying to raise funds online to pay for the construction of a kayak, using a 3D printer, inspired by her genitals.

She was released days later following a legal appeal and after thousands of people signed a petition demanding her freedom.

But on Wednesday, Igarashi was re-arrested on suspicion of sending a link “that shows her plan to create a boat using three-dimensional obscene data to a large number of people,” a Tokyo police spokeswoman told AFP.

She “tried to have those people who were willing to finance her plan download the 3D obscene data” in October last year, the spokeswoman said.

Igarashi also allegedly sold CD-ROMs containing similar data during a May exhibition in Tokyo.

“I don’t believe my vagina is anything obscene,” Igarashi said in a July press conference after her release, adding: “I was determined I would never yield to police power.”

Sex toy shop manager Minori Watanabe, 44, was also arrested for “displaying obscene goods in her shop window in collusion with Igarashi” from around October last year until July, police said.

Japan has a notoriously vibrant pornography industry that caters to a vast array of tastes.

However, its obscenity laws still forbid the depiction of actual genitalia, which usually appear censored or pixellated in images and videos.

If convicted of distributing, or holding obscene materials for the purpose of selling, Igarashi could receive up to two years in jail and/or a fine of as much as 2.5 million yen.


See also: (in Japanese).

UPDATE! (from Japan Today, 12/9/14):

"Sex shop owner freed; vagina artist still held"

A sex shop owner arrested along with a artist who makes objects shaped like her own vagina has been released from Japanese police custody, lawyers said Monday, after the courts refused to extend her detention.

In a case which sparked accusations that Tokyo’s police are overbearing and out of touch, Minori Watanabe, 44, also a writer and feminist activist, was freed after prosecutors failed to persuade a judge to sanction extended questioning.

Watanabe, whose boutique is aimed at women, was arrested last week for “displaying obscene goods in her shop window”.

Her lawyer Ichiro Muraki said she was freed on Saturday after two days’ detention, in a rare case of a court siding with a suspect.

Detectives arrested Watanabe—who is known in Japan under the nom-de-plume Minori Kitahara—on the same day as they took artist Megumi Igarashi into custody for the second time this year on charges relating to a genital-shaped kayak she made on a 3D printer.

Igarashi was still being held on Monday, with her defense lawyers waiting for judges to rule on whether she should remain behind bars.

“She is banned from receiving visits except from her lawyers,” her attorney Takeshi Sumi said.

“She is being accused of different but similar counts from the last time, which all date back before her previous arrest” in July, he said. “It is baffling why police had to arrest her again.”