Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Deaf X-mas in Japan II: The Bad News

Subtitle: Top court rejects appeal by Koreans seeking disability benefits

I have been following this court case since the beginning of my research on deafness in Japan. It has gone all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court, and on x-mas day the court gave this present to my Korean-Japanese Deaf friends in Kyoto: NO BENEFITS!

News of this judgment has been almost non-existent in the Japanese press. It did appear in Japan Today but was quickly removed as it was not a popular discussion article. You can read a short article at the following web site:

Link to Kyodo article on Breitbart

"...[N]ot taking compensation measures is evidently not unconstitutional." What a wonderful quote! These people were born in Japan and use Japanese Sign Language. They pay taxes but are doubly burdened because of their status as Korean-Japanese (click here for more background information on this issue) and an extremely puzzling law that sets up arbitrary age limits to receive social welfare assistance.

Not much is known about this issue. I certainly didn't know about it when I first came to Japan ten years ago. I remember being at a Deaf dinner party and getting frustrated with everyone asking me if I was American. I decided to confront the next person who asked me the question with "Are you Japanese?" The person I ended up confronting was Mr. Kim, who politely signed to me that, no, he was not Japanese but rather a Korean-Japanese. Mr. Kim has been an active fighter of this issue for several years. I interviewed him and the following passage appears in my dissertation:

I have a double burden, one is being a Korean person living in Japanese society and the other is being a disabled person, and because of that I have experienced really upsetting moments. Now Japan's economy is bad and it has been very difficult for me to have a job. Because of that, my younger brother and deaf friends have found me jobs and I have been working doing public works. I told people from the beginning that I can't hear. My boss said he understood but when I made mistakes at work, he said with his voice that it was incorrect and he told me many things. I told him I didn't understand but he scolded me many times saying "it's wrong" so I got angry, too... I got fired. Even when I was working, I was forced to work for a lower wage. One time my salary was unexpectedly small, and when i asked for the reason, I was told, "disabled people get pension [social welfare assistance] so it should be enough." Most people don't know that foreign "disabled people" living in Japan don't get a pension and even when I explain to them why we don't get a pension, people have difficulty understanding. It was such a chagrin and very upsetting, too. People have thought that I have been getting a pension like Japanese people. (Kim quoted in Fedorowicz 2002:102)

Somehow, Kim's boss, thinking Kim was receiving social welfare payments, deducted the same amount from Kim's paycheck. The double burden is a double penalty here. Deaf people because of their so-called "disabled" status earn much less than their hearing counter-parts in Japan. This is bad enough (and so the social welfare payments in theory try to make up for this difference) but what about the plight of the Korean-Japanese Deaf? The Japanese government doesn't seem to understand their plight, or even care about it.

Mr. Kim's fight continues. Why? Merry Christmas indeed...

Deaf X-mas in Japan I: The Good News

Subtitle: A Global Deaf X-mas

I had the pleasure of attending a party for a visiting Deaf couple from Norway in Namba, Osaka on Christmas evening. Another participant was a Deaf man born in Argentina and living in Italy. I was the only American and the only hearing person as well. The Norwegians and Italian attended Gallaudet University and are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). There was one Deaf Japanese man (who had also attended Gallaudet) who acted as interpreter as most of us had little experience or knowledge of ASL. I studied ASL for a year or so in grad school, but since coming to Japan I have forgot most of it. I was able to introduce myself in ASL, but needed my Japanese friend to interpret my Japanese Sign Language (JSL) into ASL for the Europeans to understand. Are you following me? This was truly a globalization moment in Japan. It seems as though Deaf people from all over the world attend Gallaudet and learn ASL. ASL seems to be becoming the lingua franca for Deaf people in international settings. However I was told by one of the Norwegians that International Sign Language is more widely used in Europe. Anyway, the evening was fun and cross-culturally educational for all. This is how Christmas should be - peace on earth...

Sorry I couldn't come up with better pictures for the event - I only had my cell phone camera with me. And most of my photos ended up looking like this:

What do you expect with Deaf people moving their hands, arms and entire bodies all of the time? Yet another challenge for visual anthropologists...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

KGU Japanese Sign Language Group 2007 忘年会

We had another successful semester of JSL study so of course it was more than fitting to celebrate with an end-of-the-year-party. Fall semester 2007 saw a core group of 7 students who attended every week and picked up a lot of sign language in a relatively short time. I am always wavering over which would be better: a large group of students (to "prove" the popularity of sign language to the dean and other school officials to pave the way for a real university level JSL class) or a small group (because smaller groups are better for more effective language learning). I was especially happy with the group this semester. We did serious study but had plenty of fun along the way. We had opportunity to interact with and learn from many Deaf people in the community.

Our party had 10 hearing people and 11 Deaf people. A happy coincidence was that at the same izakaya, another group of 20 or so Deaf people from a local sign language circle. Downtown Hirakata-shi was buzzing with JSL that night.

To all the Deaf people and friends who have helped us during the semester, 本当にありがとうございました! To the students who are returning to their own countries, please continue to study sign language! To the students who will return next semester and become shuwa senpai, よろしく! And to all group members a hearty お疲れ様でした! Happy Holidays and best of luck to all in your future.

Thanks to Kana (her camera) and the izakaya master (the photographer) for the photo at the top.

JSL Study Group will start up again in February 2008. For more info send a comment to this post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Should stock photos be used in visual anthropology?

Visual anthropology focuses on the visual, that is some image either still or moving, that serves to illustrate some ethnographic thesis as a complement or substitute for written text. I must admit that sometimes I find many of my posts here on this blog to be problematic because they are only text. Albeit many such posts are of the announcement variety, but still I wonder if I should offer up some photo as eye candy.

I have thousands of my own original images stored in my iPhoto files, but sometimes I don't have an image that "works." What to do? One temptation is the internet and its oh-so-many-photos-at-my-disposal. But what about copyright issues? one might ask. Can a blog, even one that is academic in nature, freely take images from the internet and use them as the blogger/author wishes. Perhaps, but of course with proper citations and source information and the willingness to remove such images if the original author/photographer/illustrator/filmmaker objects to its use. But this seems like a lot of hassle.

Enter stock photos - images on the internet available for free or for a price that can be used anyway the blogger sees fit. I was excited to see a recent posting on Presentation Zen with a list of sources for free stock photos (also, check out the comments for even more suggestions from PZ readers).

Link to Presentation Zen post "10 links to cool, high-rez images"

So now that we have millions and millions of images at our disposal, the questions are, what do we do with them and how do we use them? (Unfortunately the PZ post doesn't take up these questions.) For presentations it might not be so problematic to include a somewhat related visual as a background or to cleverly illustrate a (power) point. Can we do this in visual anthropology? Or how about academia in general?

Recently there was an interesting article in Slate about a medical journal using a photo to illustrate its story about HIV-positive foster children in Harlem. The problem (for which they have apologized) is that the photo that appeared in the story was that of an orphanage in Ethiopia, an image that can be purchased at iStockphoto. This was not explained in the original story. Why was this photo used? Do authors have such a creative license to illustrate a scientific, academic and/or ethnographic text?

Check out the article:

Taking Stock: Every picture tells a story, sometimes the wrong one.
By Jack Shafer

Link to Slate article, Taking Stock

The bottom line here, I feel, is to be weary of stock photos. They are convenient, too convenient. As a visual anthropologist, why not take and use your own photographs? It seems like everyone has a digital camera at their disposal, even if it is on their cell phone. Taking your own photos brings you closer to the research (which is what anthropology is all about anyway). Taking your own photos and understanding what they are allows you to include important context. The use of images in visual anthropology is not about making something look good or attractive (although these things should not be completely ignored). It's not about throwing in an image at some point to break up ugly text. How creative, original or artistic is the use of stock photos anyway? Presentation is important, but first and foremost we can never forget the purpose of visual anthropology, that is the visual representation of culture. With representation comes responsibility and ethics. Convenience is a poor substitute.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Got tattoos? Want to be a visual anthropologist in front of the camera?

Here is an interesting opportunity (posted on EASIANTH) if you want to get out from behind the camera and show the world how cool visual anthropologists really are! The deadline is a little tight but surely a Hunter S. Thompson like guy (sorry gals, they seem to want a man for this job...) still has plenty of time to get a couple tattoos, shoot some video and shove it down the mojo... 頑張って下さい!

New York Documentary Television Production Company is seeking anthropologists or journalists or travel writers to host a new documentary TV series for a major cable network about tattoo culture around the world.

We are looking for someone who is attractive, smart, a guy's guy, adventurous, engaging, inquisitive. Someone who's up for anything, not afraid to get dirty, be in dangerous situations. Having a tattoo is a plus! This is someone who is driven by curiosity and can share the experience -- be it in Russian prison tattoo parlors or Puerto Rican gangs -- with an audience. He's not in it to get tattooed but is a
seeker with real world experience.

This is an opportunity to host a primetime cable tv series. Must be willing to travel. This could turn into a full-time job.

If you fit this description, please film yourself answering the following questions. Personality is key so have fun with this, while imparting intellect and curiosity. 5-10 minutes max. Shoot outdoors if possible. Waist up so I can see your face. Going for an outdoorsy look, not clean-cut, not too edgy.

Please email your clips (to or overnight them to:
NorthSouth Productions
1140 Broadway, Ste 1201
New York, NY 10001

1. Your name, where you live
2. Your bio in brief - professional, education, hobbies
3. Travel experience -- where have you been overseas? Most memorable experience.
4. Show us your tattoos [if you have any]. Give a brief explanation of 2 of them. Why are you interested in tattoos? Or why are you interested in investigating cultures around the world?
5. What are you most passionate about? Give us a one-minute tutorial on the subject.
6. Have the camera follow you to go "interview" someone (could be someone a few feet away). Ask that person a few questions about a topic they know about.
7. Eat something spicy, sour, gross and react - tell us what it tastes like, feels like. Make us feel like we're experiencing it too.

Tape can be submitted via email, or hard copies on DVD, VHS, or Mini-DV formats. Materials will not be returned.

Must be received by Dec 10, 2007.

Thank you.

Amy Rapp | Head of Development
NorthSouth Productions

Here is their internet site if you want to know more about them...

Link to NorthSouth Productions

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More Contemporary Ainu Resourses

The information in this post comes from an announcement from Japan Focus.

Chisato ("Kitty") O. Dubreuil, The Ainu and Their Culture: A Critical Twenty-First Century Assessment

Chisato ("Kitty") Dubreuil, an Ainu-Japanese art history comparativist, has charted connections between the arts of the Ainu and those of diverse indigenous peoples of the north Pacific Rim. Currently finishing her PhD dissertation, Dubreuil co-curated, with William Fitzhugh, the director of the Smithsonian Artic Studies Center, the groundbreaking 1999 Smithsonian exhibition on Ainu culture.

This wide-ranging and lavishly illustrated interview explores historic and contemporary Ainu arts and Ainu social movements.

This is a very interesting article, and as promised, it includes lots of helpful images and illustrations. There are also some useful links, including one to "Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People," a multimedia presentation that should be of interest to visual anthropologists.

Link to The Ainu and Their Culture: A Critical Twenty-First Century Assessment