Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Photobucket Experiment

As we discussed in class yesterday, Photobucket can be used when one wants to create a link directly to a photo. For example, click here and see what image you get...

You can insert a small thumbnail photo that will enlarge when clicked on like the one below:

You can also upload short videos (up to 5 minutes they say) and link them to your blog like I am doing here... There is also a remix function (available after you have logged in) where you can edit the video. I haven't played with it yet but it might be useful and/or fun.

Check out Photobucket to see what else you can do there.

Link to Photobucket

This is, of course, no endorsement. Please read their terms of service to make sure you want to actually use them. They do claim that the image remains the property of the person who uploads it. On the other hand, your images are out there and accessible to anyone, unless you change your photo album from a public to private setting. I am sure there must be other services that do similar things. If you have recommendations, please give them in a comment.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Bizarre" Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Commercials

Does Japan have a military? Technically (and according to the Japanese Constitution, Article 9), no. Article 9 states:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

The Japanese Self Defense Force was established in 1954. According to a Forbes.com article (9/15/05), Japan's estimated military budget for 2004 was $46 billion dollars, only to be exceeded by the United States, China and Russia. I won't get into the controversies of changing Article 9 and/or what the real role of the Japanese Self Defense Forces is (you can get some info on this in the Forbes.com article) here.

Link to The Front Line on Forbes.com

What I am interested in is the way that the Japanese Self Defense Forces portrays itself in promotional videos. The primary goal of these videos is to recruit new members. Borrowing from Martinez (1997 - see previous post for full citation) again:

representations are political

representations reflect our own concerns, fears, weaknesses

How do these ideas work with these commercials? Check out some of the videos for the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. You can see these on their official web page:

Link to Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Homepage Commercial Video

Or look at them here via You Tube:

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Commercial (2006)

This ad is spoofing a popular Japanese superhero genre, sentai ("task force"). One popularly known example in America is "Power Rangers." The same voice actor who narrates in the shows is used in the commercial. The commercial is meant to attract new recruits and give the Maritime Self Defense Force a better image. Read more in a recent Daily Yomiuri article:

Link to "Bizarre" MSDF ad targets young recruits

Link to The Sentai Series Page

Compare this ad with ads from previous years.

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Commercial (2004)

This commercial is a little more along the lines of what you would expect for a military recruiting commercial. But why the use of English (in this commercial and the next one as well)?

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Commercial (2003)

SEAMAN SHIP? Many people have a hard time believing this is an official commercial. It is. Really. Apparently this ad was played on three different billboards in Shibuya (in Tokyo) 30 times a day in March of 2004. Does this remind you of the Village People's In the Navy (1979)?

Read reactions to the ad on Japan Today:

Link to Impressions of MSDF ad on Japan Today

How do you feel about these representations? What concerns, fears and weaknesses are being reflected? Does it make you curious as to how the $46 billion per year is being spent? Does it make you want to join? How effective do you think these ads are?

Monday, April 9, 2007

North Korea Photo Exhibit

Just a hop, skip and missile flight away from Japan
(すみません) lies the DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, more commonly referred to as North Korea. Photographer Philippe Chancel has a current photo exhibit in London called "DPRK" that might be of interest to visual anthropologists and East Asian specialists.

According to a recent article in the Daily Yomiuri by Katherine Hyde (4/7/07), "DPRK" is an observation of everyday life in North Korea. Each photo is taken exactly as the eye sees it and Chancel frequently uses a direct, straight-on camera angle to document life there.

"When you are a photographer, sometimes you do not get what you expect. In North Korea everything was like a real dream for a photographer," Chancel says, explaining, "The choreography is fantastic... [everyday] I expected something magical - like an invisible choreographer - to manage everything for me."

To read the complete Yomiuri article, click on the following link:

"A French photographer's peek inside North Korea"

See Chancel's photos from his web page:

philippe chancel

You can navigate to see other projects by Chancel as well.

Many of the photos in "DPRK" do seem choreographed, official, dogmatic, clean... rather than illustrations of everyday life. Or perhaps we should question whose everyday life we are talking about. Chancel's photos are very good in artistic quality, and he makes no claim to be a journalist or anthropologist, but still there is a particular bias in this representation of the DPRK. These are pictures that the west would expect North Korea to present (or allowed to be presented) as everyday life.

"What sort of images are these? They are not false images, that should be noted straight away... but they are decontextualized images" (Martinez 1997: 108). Martinez is talking about representation of the Japanese education system in British documentaries, but the same sort of logic works for Chancel's photos as well. Fragmented images tell us little about North Korea, rather they tell us what we think we already know about North Korea.

Martinez, D.P. (1997) "Burlesquing knowledge: Japanese quiz shows and models of knowledge" in Rethinking Visual Anthropology, Marcus Banks and Howard Morphey, eds. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


Cherry Blossoms and Senryu Poetry

Spring in Japan means an explosion of cherry blossoms, transient and evanescent... Everyone wants to see cherry blossoms (and eat, drink and socialize under them); these line the small stream behind my house.

Upstream, people in the area write 川柳 (senryu), short humorous poems similar to haiku, on colorful pieces of paper and hang them from a string under the cherry blossoms. (The following rough translations make no attempt to fit the 5-7-5 syllable pattern...) Yellow paper in foreground: "The first warm spring breeze brings the first hay fever sneezes."

"Even Ultra Seven is under the cherry blossoms." But why the Japanese and Italian flags?

cherry blossoms float/
covering mucky water/
what do the fish think?

blue car, spring design/
cherry blossoms, wind and rain/
troublesome car wash

Monday, April 2, 2007

"Babel" and Japanese Sign Language

The Problems of Visually Representing Visual Communication...

I sat screaming at the TV, reacting to the inaccuracies of the sign language used by poorly trained hearing actors. "Relax," my significant other told me, "it's only TV..."

I finally had the opportunity to view the film "Babel" (2006) directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Colleagues and students have been asking me about the film for months as one of the main characters in the film is a young Japanese deaf woman (played by Rinko Kikuchi who was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the Oscars). For info on the film, click the following link:

Info on the film "Babel" on Rotten Tomatoes

My interest in the film is the use of Japanese Sign Language and how deaf people are portrayed. There have been several problematic yet popular TV dramas in Japan with deaf protagonists:

Ai shite iru to itte kure (Say You Love Me, 1995 TBS network)
Kimi no te ga sasa yaiteru (Your Hand is Whispering, 1997 - 2001 TV Asahi network)
Hoshi no kinka (Heavens Coins, 1995 - 1996, 2000 NTV network)
Orange Days
(2004 TBS network)

The sign language use in these dramas is horrible most of the time. Hearing actors play deaf characters, and despite claims that actors were coached and taught by deaf teachers, the sign language use is rarely smooth or natural. Signed Japanese (manual signs following spoken Japanese grammar rules) is used rather than Japanese Sign Language (the natural language of the deaf with its own grammar rules differing from spoken Japanese). Very rarely are deaf actors used even in small supporting roles. Even more frustrating is the way that deaf people are portrayed in these dramas. True, these are TV dramas we are talking about, fiction to be sure with the goal of entertaining not educating, but is there no room for any accurate portrayals? These dramas are certainly not the source of information about deaf culture in Japan, and I won't go into much detail here on the many mistakes that were made. But one common mistake is the portrayal of deaf people being able to read lips and perfectly understand everything that is going on around them in the hearing world. I have found that most deaf people have difficulties with lipreading in a conversation with a single individual, let alone in complex social interactions involving multiple people. In the TV dramas such communication problems are minimized, "overcome" or ignored; sometimes deaf protagonists are able to lipread across great distances, in the dark and even around corners.

So I have been very curious about "Babel."

Although I have viewed "Babel" only once, I found the sign language use to be adequate (which can be considered a compliment...). What is impressive is the way that young peoples' sign language is used. The sign language of the hearing father (closer to Signed Japanese) is very different than his deaf daughter's and that of her deaf friends. I admit to not being able to capture/understand every sign used by young people in the film. But I have trouble with the sign language of young deaf people in real life. My experience is with mature adults and even elderly deaf. Deaf children and teenagers are sometime difficult to understand. Of course this is true for the spoken Japanese of hearing young people as well... A sad admission of my accelerating age... I can say that I found the sign language use of the film between deaf people to be satisfactory.

However, the film makes the same unfortunate mistake that Japanese TV dramas make, that is the assumption that deaf people can perfectly read lips and understand everything said to them. Granted, in the film deaf characters repeatedly ask hearing people to speak slowly and clearly. But even so, such a perfect understanding as portrayed in the film is not realistic.

A similar problem dealing with "deaf representation" is happening in my university's sign language study group. Every week we are joined by a deaf woman from Osaka. This woman was raised in a hearing world and didn't start to learn sign language until she was in her 20s. She loves studying languages and communicating with foreigners. In addition to spoken Japanese and Japanese Sign Language, she is conversational in American Sign Language and spoken English. She is very good at lipreading (in a one-to-one situation; it becomes difficult for her with multiple speakers) and vocalizing. In this respect she is hardly a representative deaf person in Japan (and of course any individual cannot be held as a representative of her entire culture).

At the beginning of the semester I had to interpret conversations between her and students. However, she began to speak with students on her own. At one point a student said to me: "Sensei, we don't need you to interpret in sign language - we can speak in Japanese and English!" This is extremely problematic in a sign language study group that also endeavors to expose students to deaf culture.

This is not to say that my deaf friend is not a part of deaf culture. She has every right to participate in the group. And she has every right to communicate in whatever language she wants to. (It's a nice arrangement for students to be exposed to her sign language and for her to have opportunity to practice English.) Deaf culture is as diverse as hearing culture. However this understanding is difficult for people immersed in a hearing hegemonic world that views deafness as a deficit. This understanding is difficult for individuals without much experience interacting with deaf people.

You might be saying that I have critiqued "Babel" yet supplied a real life experience that matches the film. This is not the case. The communication styles of the deaf protagonist and my deaf friend are completely different. The deaf protagonist is usually silent, only occasionally attempting to speak. My deaf friend, because of her upbringing and relative late exposure to deaf culture, seems to prefer to vocalize, at least with hearing people.

To support my critique of the film, check out the following link:

"Babel" sans subtitles despite deaf theme: Film a disappointment to hearing impaired
Variety International (March 6, 2007)

Deaf people were consulted and even appeared in "Babel." Yet when it came down to making decisions about supplying captions or subtitles, the deaf were ignored. As in the film, perhaps the filmmakers thought that the Japanese deaf would be able to lipread the spoken Japanese dialogue. But this was not the case, and as a result deaf people found the movie to be confusing and boring.

"Babel" comes close, but not close enough. Too bad...

As for the overall film itself, I found it disturbing and confusing. What was the point of the film? Was it a critique of the misguided politics of the USA in the Islamic world abroad and at its own boarders? Why was Japan included in this film? Does it suggest that Japan is a passive supporter of US policies? Is the inclusion of Japan an example of orientalism? As orientalism we would expect to see a sexually frustrated Japanese woman throwing herself at men and eventually appearing naked.

What do you think? As always, comments always welcome and appreciated.

Yes, I know this post is way too long and not very visually stimulating. You can't always take the academic out of this blog...