Monday, February 22, 2016

"5 cultural tips for taking photos in Japan"

From Japan Today, 2/21/16:

Believe it or not, there’s a Japanese way of taking photos. We’ve compiled some cultural guidelines as well as language tips to help you take happy snappies on your next trip to Japan.

Naturally, the first rule of photography in any country is to obey the rules. Always look for signs at tourist areas to make sure it’s okay to take pictures. If you see the “No photos” or “No flash,” do comply, no matter how much you want to capture the moment.

But there are other not-so-obvious things to consider when taking snapshots in Japan, especially when local people are involved. The following hints should help you understand photography protocol in Japan. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, just guidelines based on our collective experience working and playing in Japan. No one says you have to follow them, but you know, when in Rome…

1. The Peace Sign

For reasons unfathomable to most foreigners, in Japan a common way to show you’re having fun in a photo is to flash the peace, or “bui” (V), sign. If you think this gesture ruins your images, you’re going to be extremely disappointed because this little hand gesture is ubiquitous. Our advice is to just accept it and move on as it is a part of “posing,” which is central to Japanese photo-taking. Posing is so ingrained in the Japanese psyche that you’ll notice children as young as three years old will automatically pose for snapshots: they’ll cock their head to one side, freeze a smile, and whip out a peace sign.

More than likely, you’ll eventually join in on the banality of it all and start proudly displaying the peace sign in your own photos taken with Japanese people, just to show how Japanese you’ve become.

Language: “Chiizu!” (Cheese! Said before clicking the shudder).

2. The guest goes in the middle of the photo

Another element of posing is to make sure people are placed properly in the frame according to specific precepts which may or may not include family and social status. In the U.S., we tend to arrange people according to height, and while that is also taken into consideration in Japan, they’re also careful to make sure the guest is standing (or sitting) in the center, the most prominent spot in the image. Most often in Japan, you will be the “guest” in someone’s photo.

Rather than stride brazenly into your obvious position as the guest, however, it’s better to exercise a degree of humility and wait for a Japanese person to tell you or nudge you in that direction.

One occasion when the “guest in the middle” conduct may be ignored is when you are with elders, especially people like grandparents. Elderly people get the utmost respect and should be placed in the center of any photo. Since this may cause conflict with the guest placement, in some cases the guest and the grandparent(s) can share the middle position.

Language: “Isshoni shassin or torimasho.” (Let’s take a picture together).

3. Privacy Considerations

Privacy regarding the inclusion of people in photos is stricter in Japan than you may be used to. If you want to use a photo of someone on your blog but don’t have their permission to use it, protocol dictates that you should blur the person’s face so they are not immediately recognizable. I admit that it looks odd, but you’ll see it often on Japanese blogs — and indeed on our own pages from time to time, since we’re based in Tokyo and have to play by the same rules. I’ve even had Japanese people ask before they “share” photos I’ve posted on my own private Facebook page. This is good policy and avoids confusion or hard feelings down the road. I’ve also seen Japanese people mosaic (or use a black rectangular box over the eyes) their own children’s faces on Facebook posts in order to protect their child’s privacy.

Example: Below is a textbook perfect Japanese snapshot. I’m the guest, so have been placed in the middle. I only had permission from one person to publish this photo, so for those I didn’t have permission, I pixelated their faces. And of course, no Japanese snapshot would be complete without at least one peace sign.

Actually, there is no law against taking photos of people in public places in Japan. It’s the publishing, or uploading them to the Internet where the laws come into play.

The exception to having to ask permission is if people appear in a public event.

Language: “Watashi no burogu de shasshin o kokai shite iidesuka?” (May I publish this photo on my blog?)

4. Selfie sticks are banned in certain locations

Be aware that selfie sticks are not allowed in some locations in Japan including JR West train stations. As we all know, selfie sticks obstruct other people’s vision and can cause accidents when people aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them. As tourism increases to Japan, expect this ban to be adopted in more and more places in the future.

Language: Serufii sutikku/jibundori sutikku o tsukatte iidesuka? (May I use a selfie stick?)

5. Be prepared to be approached by Japanese people wanting their photo taken with you

Japanese people, especially school kids, may ask you to join them in a photo. This typically happens in public places like the Hiroshima Peace Park where kids go on school trips. Don’t worry — unlike third-world countries where you may be hit up for a tip afterwards, these kids are entirely innocent — many of them will be from more rural areas and they just think it’s cool to be seen with foreigners. You can decline if you want, but if you do decide to join in on the fun, you’ll be getting a true Japanese experience. Besides, you can have them take a photo with your camera too, so you can show your friends back home how well you mixed with the locals.

At first it may seem odd that Japanese people would want their photo taken with a complete stranger. But then again, you may find yourself doing exactly the same thing.

We hope you’ve found some of these tips helpful. We’d love to hear some of your own tips you’ve gleaned from your experiences photographing Japan.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Tachinomiya" - A Successful and Memorable Photo Exhibition/Event/Research Method

The exhibition/event "Tachinomiya" finished on a high note on Sunday after a two week run, proving to be an interesting and valuable research method. Thank you to all who came - Tenbun workers and patrons, university colleagues, students and former students, family, friends and new friends I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time. I received lots of good wishes and gifts as well as insightful comments and feedback. The Tenbun crowd examined the photographs intensely, pointed out new details and shared several suggestions for future research. Other visitors asked about theory, methods and techniques providing more inspiration. Thank you to Hoshigaoka Gakuen Head master and staff and Sewing Gallery staff for assistance and support.

There were many spontaneous happenings that added to the event including a visiting sketch artists who made drawing of people at the exhibition and a closing reception on Sunday. Extradiegetic elements added to the scene - the funky nature of the gallery itself, a music soundtrack comprised mostly of old American blues music inspired by drink (an a couple of new David Bowie songs from the Blackstar album) and six 1.8 liter bottles of sake donated by Tencho (they ran out by Sunday afternoon prompting visitors to go out and buy more...).

This exhibition was primarily for the benefit of the Tenbun crowd - as my thanks to them for their incredible cooperation and contributions. I found out during the exhibition that a regular Tenbun customer in a displayed portrait had recently passed away and that a woman appearing in a couple of photos was pregnant. This sadness and joy is a reminder that anthropology is about real lives and real people.

This exhibition in part started as a result of the "Shooting Culture in Japan" research dealing with photo methodologies, rules and etiquette; I was able to apply these things to create the beginnings of a visual ethnography of Tenbun, tachinomiya and Japan. This project will continue. Stay tuned to VAOJ for more news of future exhibitions, presentations and publications. For now, I need to catch up with work and sleep...

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Japan camera makers battle smartphone onslaught"

From Japan Today, 2/12/16.

High schooler Nao Noguchi is a perfect illustration of why Japanese camera sales have plunged the past few years—she uses her smartphone for everything and cannot understand why anyone would bother with a separate device for photos.

“It is easy to take your smartphone out of your pocket if you want to take a picture of someone or something. And you can send the pictures to friends quickly” on social media, said the 17-year-old on a day trip to Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district with her friend Rina.

The selfie-stick toting pair are the camera industry’s worst nightmare.

A rapid shift to picture-taking smartphones has torn into a camera sector dominated by Japanese firms including Canon, Olympus, Sony and Nikon—much like digital cameras all but destroyed the market for photographic film years ago.

And the numbers paint a grim picture: 130 million cameras were sold globally in 2011. Four years later, that figure stood at just 47 million.

The collapse was underscored this month as the firms published their latest financial results, with weak sales threatening a once-vibrant sector.

Now companies are having to scramble for a response, hitting back with upmarket options and offering web-friendly features, or in some cases simply moving away from the hard-hit business.

While Apple and Samsung recently pointed to slowing sales of smartphones, they have proved a mighty rival, offering an all-in-one phone, computer and camera with comparatively high-quality pictures and Internet photo downloading.

The answer, the camera industry says, is to innovate and convince smartphone users to climb up the quality ladder.

“It’s kind of life insurance for the camera industry to always protect this superiority in terms of picture quality,” said Heribert Tippenhauer, an analyst at market research firm GfK.

“The competition from smartphones has almost killed the cheapest cameras, but at the same time so many people are taking photos, as never before in human history.

“The smartphone is the first step into the topic of photography, then people want to upgrade, the potential is there.”

For Canon, whose Sure Shot digital camera has been hit by smartphones, the response is to offer what a phone cannot, such as more powerful zoom options.

“We have been offering cameras that offer features smartphones cannot provide,” said company spokesman Richard Berger.

“People who use smartphones are becoming interested in photography, they want to take better pictures, to be more creative so they are moving up to SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras.”

Another battleground has been in mirror-less cameras, which can be made nearly as small as compact cameras but with picture quality that rivals their bulkier counterparts.

Sony and Panasonic have teamed up with German rivals, including Leica, while Olympus is pushing further into the medical equipment business as a leader in endoscopes, which now eclipse camera sales.

But some like Konica Minolta have thrown in the towel on cameras altogether, opting to go into print and optical devices.

Fujifilm, which was nearly put out of business by the drop in photo film sales, has also shifted focus to other businesses, including the health sector—one of the companies it acquired has developed a drug to combat the deadly Ebola virus.

But Fujifilm has not abandoned the sector that made its name, and scored an unlikely win with the Instax, a nostalgic throwback to the retro Polaroid.

Users can sling the bulky gadget—available in a series of flashy colors—around their neck and print pictures they’ve just taken. The latest versions sell for about $140.

After a slow start, the camera’s appearance on a popular South Korean television series helped jack up Asian sales in recent years, with about five million units moved in the current fiscal year to March.

The appeal of giving friends physical photos sold Calvin Lau on the Instax.

“We never know how photos will come out until they’re fully ready,” said the 31-year-old Hong Konger who now lives in Tokyo.

“It’s fun and exciting for people taking Instax photos and those whose photos are being taken.

“I like the concept that the pictures you take are the one and only ones out there… We can give our friends unique, real pictures.”

Still, Seiko Mikie, who has about 20 years on Lau, thinks the Polaroid throwback is about as lame as it gets.

“I’m not the least bit interested in a Polaroid-style camera—that is something from the Showa era,” said the 50-year-old transportation company employee, referring to the last Japanese emperor’s reign which ended with his death in 1989.

“Back then, the picture quality was good enough for the time, but not any longer.”


Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Government welcomes bid by J-pop idol [Eriko Imai] to run for parliament"

Photo and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/10/16.

Singer Eriko Imai has announced she will run in the Upper House election this summer as a proportional-representation candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The 32-year-old cited her experience raising a son with a hearing disability as a reason for her decision. In a news conference Tuesday at LDP headquarters in Tokyo, she said, using sign language, “I want to create a society in which disabled children can have hopes that are brighter than now.”

Imai’s son is 11 years old. She is a member of Speed, a J-pop girl band that had a string of smash hits in the 1990s.

On the sticky issue of the planned relocation of the Futenma U.S. military base within her home prefecture of Okinawa, Imai said: “Reducing Okinawa’s base burdens is a common wish.

“I will make serious efforts on the issue while listening to the voices of Okinawa residents.”

All four members of Speed are from Okinawa.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed the hope that Imai’s election will help the LDP and its policies.

Noting that she is “influential among young people,” the top government spokesman said her “cooperation with the LDP will be a boost to realize a society with the dynamic engagement of all citizens.” The slogan is one that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently espoused.

Imai said she will remain a singer after the election.


Monday, February 8, 2016

"Tachinomiya" Photo Exhibition and Visual Ethnography: The First Week

The exhibition event finished its first week yesterday. There has been a good turnout everyday. I have found there is a thriving and hip cafe/gallery culture in the Hirakata/Katano area. Thanks to a friend sharing/announcing the exhibition on her Facebook page, I have been able to meet a lot of interesting people who participate in this scene. My friend's announcement got more likes than my own Facebook announcement - I am learning a lot about the power of social media and local networks through this experience.

The Sewing Gallery itself is a vital part of this local network as well. Through their connections a DJ at a local radio station (FM Hirakata) heard about the exhibition and arranged for a live interview. The photo above shows the radio station on-the-scene person interviewing the gallery staff person about the exhibition and gallery.

The Sewing Gallery is part of a sewing school run for several years by an interesting and respected headmaster. On Sunday we had a reception at the gallery with people from the tachinomiya, my university and even deaf people in attendance. The owner of Tenbun donated several bottles of sake and other people brought various snacks. The headmaster commented that perhaps he should make a noren for the exhibition. Before I knew it he did. And all participated in hanging it at the gallery entrance. These kinds of spontaneous happenings as well as feedback from visitors is making the exhibition a rich and valuable experience. You can read more at the Sewing Gallery's Facebook page.

Week Two of the exhibition starts on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, February 14. If you are in the Osaka area, please come. (There is still some sake left...)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Call for Entries: 2016 David Plath Media Award for best film/video/multimedia work on East Asian Anthropology"

Announcement via EASIANTH:

The Society for East Asian Anthropology invites submissions for the David Plath Media Award. Film, video, and multimedia submissions may address any aspect of East Asian anthropology and/or East Asian anthropology’s contribution to the broader field. The 2016 prize will be awarded for material produced in 2014 or 2015.

The prize of $300 is named for David Plath, renowned Japan-scholar and producer of award-winning documentary films. Evaluators of the work will seek to determine the scholarly significance of submissions which contribute to the anthropology of East Asia.Nominations for the prize may be made by producers/authors, distributors, or interested third parties. The award will be announced at the SEAA Business Meeting during the 2016 AAA Annual Meeting (Minneapolis, MN).

Entry deadline: May 1, 2016

Submission Details:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Japan’s picture ID before World War II"

Images and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/2/16.

[T]he Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo currently has an exhibition of tourism posters and other promotional material from the 1920s and ’30s. It is a fascinating and at times unusually beautiful glimpse into how different art movements, regional craft practices and the spirit of the times contribute to forming commercial visual culture.

Given that the function of a promotional poster is to seduce you, with perhaps only a few seconds in which to do it, you can expect to feel pandered to — complex history and culture, beautiful landscapes and far-east exoticism have been condensed into powerfully sweet eye-candy. A surprising range of media were employed in this, including traditional woodblock prints, painting and photography. For many of the exhibits, the level of creativity and design is very high, commensurate with the desire to show off Japan at its best.

Apart from this, the exhibition is a great opportunity to consider how Japan’s national identity was constructed in the interwar years. It should be no surprise that the “come hither” message relied heavily on sexuality to catch the viewer’s eye. Many of the posters use images of young women in kimono as a stand in for Japan as a whole.

In a 1911 poster for the South Manchurian Railway by artist Renzo Kita, a demure female companion sits across from us in a railway carriage with the sun setting behind an ancient stupa in the window behind her. The poster is sponsored by Thomas Cook, and is in the style of an Edwardian illustration. The copy tells us that the new rail link brings London “within a fortnight’s journey from Tokyo, Peking and Shanghai, thus saving much time and money, as well as the tedium of a long sea-voyage.”

Our female companion is depicted in a style characteristic of the Gothic period to portray aristocratic or sacred figures; languid, expressionless, elongated and pale. Her blue kimono is decorated with white lilies, symbolic of chastity and purity. On her obi is a butterfly, the symbol of the soul, and perhaps a nod to the opera by Puccini, which had premiered seven years earlier. The undergarment below the kimono is a warm ruddy orange, and using a visual pun common to shunga (erotic prints), appears at the edge of the sleeves as wrinkled slit-shaped orifices. The artist seems to be the same Renzo Kita who later created the solemn historical painting “Last Moments of Admiral Yamaguchi,” which commemorates the admiral’s death in the 1942 Battle of Midway.


“Visit Japan: Tourism Promotion in the 1920s and 1930s” at the The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo runs until Feb. 28; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥430 (includes admission to the “MOMAT Collection”). Closed Mon.


Exhibition website:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Student films documentary about Rohingya [refugees] in Gunma Prefecture"

Image borrowed fromひかり-2/.

Story from The Japan News, 2/2/16.

University student Shiori Suzuki visited Myanmar in 2013 as a tourist. What she did not notice there was the plight of the Muslim minority Rohingya — and only learned about them and their situation from a newspaper article upon her return.

“What did I see in Myanmar?” the 22-year-old Keio University student recalls asking herself after reading the news piece about the persecution of Rohingya and the human trafficking they undergo to seek better conditions in other countries.

Suzuki decided to do something. She bought a secondhand video camera and began chronicling the lives of members of the ethnic group who have sought refuge in Japan.

She and her friends started making frequent visits to a community of Rohingya refugees in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. Over the course of about 18 months they followed the lives of 50 out of some 200 residents there.

Suzuki made a 20-minute film, titled “Hikari” (Light), which focuses on everyday life for the migrants in Japan rather than what they have left behind.

She filmed children playing together as their fathers look on smiling.

“We want the audience to know the true face of those labeled ‘refugees’ in Japan,” she said. Typical scenes include activity in a kitchen at the home of a refugee family and at a school athletic field.

Suzuki made the film as part of her activities with S.A.L. (Send Out, Aid, Learn), a student group that aims to deepen understanding and raise public awareness about international issues.

The film was completed in fall 2014. It began attracting attention and has been screened at a youth event hosted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Suzuki said she is willing to screen the film at other events upon request.

One of the Rohingya she documented said he had been tortured and showed her his scars. He has failed to obtain a work visa in Japan and remains unemployed.

Suzuki expresses frustration at being unable to do anything to help the Rohingya migrants.

They keep smiling and supporting each other,” despite the reality facing them, she said. “I was impressed.”

The student hopes her film will help viewers in Japan feel close to the Rohingya living in the country.


S.A.L. Official website with info on "Hikari" (in Japanese):ひかり-2/

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Prosecutors seek fine for 'vagina kayak' artist at obscenity trial"

From Japan Today, 2/1/16:

Prosecutors sought a fine of 800,000 yen Monday at the Tokyo District Court from an artist charged with obscenity after distributing 3D scans of her own genitals.

Megumi Igarashi, 43, who works under the pseudonym “Rokudenashi-ko” (good-for-nothing girl), maintained her innocence on the charges of distributing obscene objects through the Internet in return for money, arguing that her artwork uses female genitalia as its subject but is not of a salacious nature.

In her final statement, Igarashi called for an impartial judgment by the court. “Having created works that defy the (existing) image associated with genitalia, I cannot agree with my arrest,” she said.

The court is expected to hand down its decision on May 9.

To support her plea of not guilty, Igarashi’s lawyer said in closing arguments that she distributed the data “as part of her creative activities, with the aim that her supporters would use it to create new works.”

A prosecutor said Igarashi “carries great criminal responsibility” as she sent out the data regardless of the possibility that recipients might create obscene objects.

In a past hearing, a university professor specializing in art history testified in Igarashi’s defense that the works “do not appear to be obscene (materials) that cause sexual arousal.”

Igarashi told a press conference after her initial arrest in July 2014 that she sent the data to those who donated more than 3,000 yen to a campaign to fund her creation of a kayak also modeled on the 3D scans.

According to the indictment, Igarashi distributed data over the Internet that could be used to make 3D reproductions of her genitals in October 2013 and March 2014, and in July 2014 exhibited vagina-shaped plaster artwork at an adult shop in Tokyo.

Japan’s Penal Code prescribes a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 2.5 million yen for distributing obscene objects.


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