Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A call out to my friends and colleagues, visual and multimodal anthropologists, cultural anthropologists, photographers & sake and tachinomiya lovers in Tokyo and the surrounding area; VAoJ is making a rare appearance in Tokyo for a special lecture:「The Intersections of the Sensory, Multimodal and Ba: The Tachinomi Project」Please share and spread the word...

Check it out!

July 17, 2024, 18:00-19:30
Room 402, 4F, Building 2
Sophia University, Tokyo

Abstract:「The Tachinomi Project」is a visual ethnography based upon the con- vergence of social science research and contemporary art. The project began with long-term participant-observation and a photographic exhibition featuring a 40-year-old tachinomiya (standing drink bar) in Osaka called Tenbun. The study sought to explore photography in public spaces, privacy and image ethics while showcasing a “grimy” (Farrer 2019) and stimulating atmosphere with colorful characters including the shop owner, employees and regular customers. The interactions with Tenbun collaborators and gallery audience at the exhibition became the first of several post-fieldwork encounters, leading to the re-positioning of the research into wider social and academic contexts during and after the COVID 19 pandemic. This present account utilizes reflexivity, autoethnographic vignettes (Stevens 2013) and photography to explore the intersections of the sensory (Pink 2013 [2009], multimodal (Collins et al. 2017), and ba (Kajimaru et al. 2021) of Tenbun and other eating and drinking establishments.

Click here for some background on the project.

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Standing Drink Bar「Tenbun」Old Boys Reunion 立ち呑みの居酒屋「天文」O.B. 会

We were on the bus, traveling through the borderlands between Osaka and Kyoto Prefectures when the imojōchū began to kick in.

We had just finished an hour-and-a-half of “all you can eat/all you can drink” at a traditional izakaya banquet. This kind of gluttonous binging and imbibing pushes participants, especially those on a pensioner’s budget with little left over after pachinko and horse race betting activities, to extremes, to make sure they get their money’s worth. Since the food turned out to be only standard fare, we concentrated on the drinking: beer, sake (nihonshu) and sweet potato distilled liquor (imojōchū; usually 25-35% alcohol).
A half hour in we were getting livelier and louder, and receiving dirty looks and disapproving frowns from the shop staff and other customers. Our severs were stingy, only allowing us to order a new drink after giving up the empty vessel from the previous beverage. Some of us countered this policy by pouring alcohol into PET bottles and plastic bags for secret take-out. We drank steadily until the last order. Somehow, we all were able to stand, pay our portions of the bill, use the toilet and stumble to the return bus without too much trouble.
What started out as a gathering of long-lost friends taking a short trip on a privately rented bus with quiet small talk of recent illnesses, hospitalizations and deceased drinking companions, was now a drunken cacophony of laughing, shouting, quiz games and attempts at singing enka. We exited the bus at the Keihan Kuzuha train station, took a memorial photo and made our way to the shopping arcade, formerly the aged, everyman Norengai (“Noren Street”), home to several traditional eating and drinking establishments. Recently this arcade was gentrified and renamed “El Kuzuha.” The older shops, many of which closed due to COVID-19, were conveniently replaced with fashionable chain restaurants. We wandered through the corridors until deciding on an acceptable pub for our continued revelry.
This post-fieldwork encounter chronicles a reunion of the owner and regular customers (the O.B.s or Old Boys) of a 40-year-old tachinomiya (“standing drink bar”) in Osaka called Tenbun, that closed in 2020.

Imojōchū has a strong taste and pungent smell, even when mixed with ice and water. For me, drinking it results in a contemplative body buzz; but when combined with beer and sake, the odoriferous contemplation turns into a gregarious stupidity. Nonetheless, this can be fun with the right people at the right time.

The Tenbun O.B. reunion was such a righteous group and occasion.
After all, we were trying to resurrect something. Not a specific time, place, feeling, memory or dream. Something more, perhaps a sort of fluid liminal communitas (and I do not use these terms lightly) that, in the past, we could enter at will, or at least between Tenbun’s usual business hours Monday through Saturday. The hour of day (or night), people, circumstances, jokes, arguments, daily specials and drinks always varied and at the same time enmeshed to create this familiar something. Looking back, I can see how we took it for granted, the longest-term customers for as long as 40 years. But now we missed it. And we wanted it back, even if only for this one day.
Of course, none of the O.B.s explained the reunion in these terms, except for the over-analyzing anthropologist with a camera, soaking in another post-fieldwork experience. Ba…

To be continued…

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Announcement: New Book Release「Teaching Japan: A Handbook」

Teaching Japan: A Handbook. Ioannis Gaitanidis and Gregory S. Poole, eds. 2024. Japan Documents (MHM Limited, Tokyo).

For more information:

Perhaps of special interest to visual and multimodal anthropologists:

Chapter 15 The Visual Anthropology of Japan: In and Outside the Classroom, p. 243-258.

There are a lot of great chapters from excellent teachers, researchers and authors in this book. I am honored to have been included in Teaching Japan. And I am grateful to the editors (Ioannis and Greg) for their exceptional enthusiasm, encouragement, support and and hard work.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Announcement:「A Primer on Deaf Communities in Japan: Identity, Sign Language and Diversity」@YCAPS, Getting to Know Japan Webinar (via Zoom) -- Thursday, June 20, 2024 at 19:00 (JST)

Accesss the meeting link here:

The program format is 30 minutes of lecture and 30 minutes of discussion. Of course it will be impossible to cover everything about this topic in such a short time. So the reading list below might be helpful.

Abstract: Are deaf people in Japan considered to be simply disabled, or an oppressed linguistic minority, or both? Specific recent actions, events and moments have greatly influenced and shed light on societal views and attitudes regarding deafness and disability such as the Tottori Prefecture ordinance recognizing and promoting sign language (2013), successful elections of deaf (2015) and disabled (2019, 2022) politicians, the Law to Eliminate Discrimination against People with Disabilities (2016), the Sagamihara care home massacre (2016) and the Paralympics in Japan (originally scheduled for 2020). How have deaf people themselves contributed or reacted to these happenings? This presentation, based on 25 years of ethnographic research, will be a brief overview of the situation(s) of contemporary deaf communities in Japan, with discussions of academic and social welfare models (deficit and cultural), identity (Deaf and deaf), intersectionality (diversity) and sign language use (Japanese Sign Language).

Keywords: Deaf/deaf, Japanese Sign Language, cultural model, deficit model, intersectionality

Suggested Reading List:

Fedorowicz, Steven C. 2023. “The Embodiment of the Deaf in Japan: A Set of Heuristic Models for Identity, Belonging and Sign Language Use.” In Anthropology through the Experience of the Physical Body, edited by K. Fushiki and R. Sakurada. Singapore: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-99-5724-8_4.

Fedorowicz, Steven C. 2021. “Barrier-Free Communication for the Deaf in Japan: A Local Initiative for Medical Interpretation Services in Japanese Sign Language.” Journal of Inquiry and Research 11: 319-337.

Available online:

Fedorowicz, Steven C. 2019. “Performance, Sign Language, and Deaf Identity in Japan.” Anthropology News website. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1182.

Available online:

Fedorowicz, Steven C. 2013. “How to Play Deaf in Japan” The Journal of Intercultural Studies 38: 17-25.

Fedorowicz, Steven C. 2006. “Living Partial Truths: HIV/AIDS in the Japanese Deaf World.” Deaf Worlds 22, Number 1 (Special Focused Edition: HIV/AIDS and Deaf Communities, edited by C. Schmaling and L. Monaghan): 197-221.

Mori, Soya and Atsubumi Sugimoto. 2019. “Progress and Problems in the Campaign for Sign Language Recognition in Japan.” In The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages, edited by M. De Meulder , J. J. Murray and R.L. McKeep. Bristol, Blue Ridge Summit: Multilingual Matters. DOI: 10.21832/9781788924016-008.

Nakamura, Karen. 2006. Deaf in Japan: Signing and the Politics of Identity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

United Nations Economic and Social Commission For Asia and the Pacific. 2023 Sign Language, What Is It? An ESCAP Guide towards Legal Recognition of Sign Languages in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok: United Nations.

Available online: