Thursday, December 25, 2008

Electric Christmas in Japan...

(Image borrowed from MSN Travel)

MSN Travel has a nice slideshow of Christmas trees around the world. The photo above shows Japan's contribution. Accompanying caption reads: A Christmas tree befitting Tokyo's nighttime neon display is projected onto the exterior of the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka.

See other trees (and some very nice photos) at the slideshow.

Link to Christmas Trees 'Round the World

Japan is famous for its Christmas light-up display shows, perhaps the most famous is the Kobe Luminarie which serves as a memorial for the Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 17, 1995. I have been to Luminarie a few times and it is quite spectacular. And crowded.

This year I went to check out the Osaka Hikari-Renaissance in the Nakanoshima area. This display is much smaller and more low key than Luminarie but I was still excited to see it, especially after the new extension of the Keihan Train Line and its ushering in of a "Brand-New Osaka."

I am sure there is a lot of potential for futher development in the Nakanoshima area, but I wasn't greatly impressed with the new Keihan train stations. The two things that struck me about the Nakanoshima station was its abundance of stairs (Was it three stories worth straight up via exit 6? Where were the escalators and elevators? So much for the needs of the aging society and handicapped population...) and the wavy hand rails.

Trees adorned with changing multicolored lights across from West Light Park.

Inside West Light Park. There was an aroma life display (lights and smells), a live stage, various international food booths (I enjoyed the kebab sandwich, tandori chicken and hot wine), and light displays. Perhaps the most spectacular display was the laser show (images shot on to a building which acted as the display screen).

Light-up snowmen and Santas were popular attractions, especially for people with cameras (and kids and/or significant others).

Needless to say, Christmas is a big event in Japan, although its celebration and meanings are somewhat different from western interpretations making it a great example of globalization... If you are in Japan, good luck getting your Kentucky Fried Chicken, Christmas cake and love hotel rooms...

OK, so if that's not enough to get you in the mood for an eclectic, electric Christmas, check out these links (sent to me by my good friend Myra): Click here and here (click on the X to get the match). Happy Holidays from VAOJ.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

End of the Semester Funnies...

For all who are busy finishing up their final papers, grading, etc, here are some comics to help reduce your end of the semester stress. Enjoy... and 頑張って下さい.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fall 2008 JSL Study Group 忘年会

The end of the semester and the end of the year can only mean one thing for signers on campus:

The K.G.U. Japanese Sign Language Study Group 忘年会 ("end of year party").

This semester the study group grew in numbers and activities as evident by the number of participants in the 忘年会 (10 deaf, 19 hearing; 29 in total which served to take over half of the izakaya...). Every week this semester we had between 15 and 20 international and Japanese student participants. As always, T-san came every week; U-san and Y-san also came for most meetings giving the students more chances to interact with and learn from deaf people. This was also nice for the Coordinator as he was able to hand off review and teaching responsibilities to deaf people and student sempai. One week we had a deaf guest from France. He signed in French Sign Language while a Japanese deaf woman interpreted into JSL; I in turn attmepted to interpret into English. Another memorable activity for the group this semester was a fieldtrip to the Ikuno Deaf School Culture Festival in Osaka. I am hoping to make a short film about the study group and its activities this year. Stay tuned to VAOJ for more information about its release date.

I was especially happy to see such a diverse group of people getting along, having fun and communicating in JSL at the 忘年会. I hope the study group will continue to grow and evolve with the basic mission of spreading JSL and the understanding of deaf culture. To all participants this last semester, ありがとうございました and お疲れ様でした! To continuing participants, let's continue to grow and have fun with JSL. よろしくお願いします!

Click here for posts about previous 忘年会.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Stunningly Brief and Quick Look at the Visual Anthropology of Japan - Fall 2008

How do you compress 80 minutes of class time into less than a minute? Add toe, of course. Visual Anthropology of Japan, Fall 2008. Time flies when you are having fun... Thanks for a great semester, and stay tuned to VAOJ!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Resource: AsiaPortal

AsiaPortal an interesting and useful resource dealing with Asia in the spirit of open access. Here is a brief description from its own web site:

The AsiaPortal is a Nordic information portal for researchers, students, government officers and journalists with an interest in Asia. Its content is primarily based in the Social Sciences and Humanities. It is a collaborative endeavor between the 23 universities and research institutions in the Nordic NIAS Council and NIAS/NIAS LINC. Financed by DEFF - Denmark's Electronic Research Library.

Link to AsiaPortal:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Change... or Strange? 2008 Kanji of the Year Announced

(Image borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 12/13/08)

"Hen," which means "change" in English, has been chosen as the single best kanji to characterize the year 2008, a Kyoto-based kanji promotion organization said Friday. The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation said it received a total of 111,208 entries for its poll to select the single best kanji reflecting society in 2008.

Of the total, 6,031, or 5.4%, picked "hen," followed by "kin" (gold) and "raku" (fall). "Kin" was apparently chosen because of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, while "raku" was chosen to reflect falling stock prices. "Hen" was chosen to symbolize successive changes of power in Japan from 2007 to 2008, the victory of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who called for change during his presidential campaign, and the deterioration in the global financial and economic landscape, the association said.
(Text from Japan Today, 12/13/08)

Of course "hen" also means strange, which could be fitting. The kanji "hen" is also used in "taihen" meaning "difficult." Perhaps things have been strange and difficult this year and we are all in need of change...

You can read more about the choice (in Japanese language only) at the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society web page.

You can see what the kanji of the year since 1995 has been at this encyclopedia site.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Mugi-chan Photos Available...

As requested, I have posted new pictures of Mugi-chan at my Photobucket account. I will continue to add photos so visit often to see her grow... I also added a Mugi link under the "Labels" menu on the right side of the blog layout.

Link to the latest Mugi-chan photos:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tastes and Smells of Japan...

Can't afford to make it to Japan but still want to experience its culture in a bodily sort of way? Check out these products for a virtual reality sensual tour of Japan... (Usual disclaimer: this is not a product endorsement. In fact, please DO NOT tell my mom about these websites...)


Pleasure And Pain

Wasabi sneaks up on you. One moment youre innocently enjoying some nigiri, the next moment you're squinting, wincing and reaching for the sake.

With these Wasabi Gumballs you dont have to go out for sushi to experience that intense explosion of pleasure/pain.

See more details at perpetual


Our sushi scent smells of sticky white rice and seaweed, with a hint of ginger and lemon. Delectable! After all, if it smelled like fish, would you wear it?

Everyone has a personal library of meaningful smells. The memories they trigger are somehow more intense than those we dredge up by conscious effort. It's as if smell provides a shortcut to our deepest memories and brings them back complete with the emotions and sensations we felt at the time.

See more details at perpetual

Of course the issue here again is the representation of Japanese culture. These products move beyond the visual to the sensual worlds of taste (and perhaps pain) and smell (perhaps discomfort here as well). Do these products bring back memories or create new ones? Japanese people do not eat wasabi gumballs (and they seem to be shocked at the foreigner who eats chunks of wasabi by itself), but there are wasabi flavored chips and other snacks that are commonly found at stores and super markets; nor do they use sushi scented perfume. So do these products serve as representations of Japanese culture? How would Japanese people respond to these products? Lots of interesting possibilities for discourse here - comments are strongly encouraged.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Visual Anthropology of Japan" Included in Top 100 Anthropology Blogs

Christina Laun at Online has complied a list of the the top 100 anthropology blogs. The list is quite comprehensive and has blogs from all four fields of anthropology. Visual Anthropology of Japan was included in the list in the "region specific" category. Check out the list to find other fine anthro-related blogs.

Link to Top 100 Anthropology Blogs at Online

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Train Manners Poster

Here's an update from an earlier post on Japanese manners...

Image borrowed from Japan Today, 12/2/08. Caption reads: Just in time for the party season—Tokyo Metro’s manner poster for December.

How effective do you think such visual posters are? How do you feel about the use of Japanese and English text? Who is the intended audience for this poster?

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Land of the Rising Fastball" at Happy Trailers HD

(Image borrowed from Happy Trailers HD Posters)

New Japanese Baseball Film

I came upon this item while reading one of my favorite web sites, In one of the discussion boards, one of the film makers was looking for information about a baseball player and Japanese baseball fans. The film is still a work in progress; a film clip and trailer can be found at a site called Happy Trailers HD:

Link to film clip and trailer at Happy Trailers HD:

So far, the film seems to be a good introduction to Japanese baseball to those unfamiliar with the game and phenomenon. It has interviews with all the right people and lots of scenes of Koshien and Hanshin Tigers' fans. I will try to keep abreast of this film and update this post when the film is completed and released.

When searching for more information on the film, I came across this dated (1985) but interesting Sports Illustrated article on Japanese baseball (with the same title as the film...).

Link to 1985 Sports Illustrated article, Land of the Rising Fastball:

There have been many recent academic articles on Japanese baseball by Robert Whiting and William Kelly among others. Such articles can be found by doing a keyword search for "Japanese baseball" at Japan Focus.

Resource for Filmmakers

Happy Trailers seems to be an interesting resource for filmmakers. From their "Pitch:"

Our Unique Philosophy

We operate under the realization that the conventional Hollywood system is nothing short of backwards when it comes to both pitching and producing films. Why produce an expensive film and then its comparatively inexpensive promotional trailer when you can simply produce the trailer, test the market for interest, and make a significantly more educated investment of your time and wallet? In terms of the pitch, why present your story in ninety pages of prose rather than five attention-grabbing minutes of film?

Our Mission Statement

Keeping Hollywood’s two flaws of pragmatism in mind, Happy Trailers HD has revolutionized the process of film production: the company takes your screenplays and films a trailer during one-to-two day shoots whose brevity make the A-list crew’s services affordable. Next, Happy Trailers HD edits and scores the footage, creating handsome three-to-five minute promotional trailers on high-definition video. The trailers are marketed by Happy Trailer HD’s team of publicity and advertising professionals, who create a tagline, poster art, and website, as well as demographics monitoring. Finally, when it comes time for Happy Trailer HD’s producers to pitch your project to our established niche of production and distribution companies, the trailer is used not as a substitute for your screenplay, but as an attention-grabbing complement.

There are a lot of resources available at Happy Trailers, including information on film festivals, image galleries, stock footage and links to other resources. Definately worth a look for anyone interested in film.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Finger-pokin' Fun: Tuttuki Bako

(Image borrowed from Crunch Gear)

From Japan Today (11/30/08):

When it comes to thinking up vaguely creepy toys, Japan really takes the cake. Case in point is the new Tuttuki Bako, a plastic box with a finger-sized hole on one side. Stick in your digit and it magically appears on the screen in front. You can then engage in all kinds of poking, flicking and squashing fun. Our favorite is the Face Stage, where you poke a digital person’s nose until they sneeze. There are also several mini games that let you bounce a panda or squash an amoeba-shaped blob.

Here's some more things you can do with your finger. Lots of interesting visual potential here...

(Image borrowed from Crunch Gear)

Read more at Crunch Gear:

Here's a YouTube clip illustrating the fun...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Local groups try to combat the rise of HIV infection in Japan › Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

(Image borrowed from

The HIV/AIDS situation in Japan slowly starts to be reported in mainstream media. Here's an example:

The statistics speak for themselves: 25 million dead, 33 million infected and 2 million new cases each year. The global AIDS epidemic, which first reared its head 27 years ago, continues to spread around the globe. As governments and NPOs work together to lessen the impact, infection rates have slowed and the public’s knowledge throughout the First World has increased — except in Japan.

Read the rest of the story.

Local groups try to combat the rise of HIV infection in Japan › Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

Posted (as an anthropological blogging experiment) using ShareThis

World AIDS Day is December 1. Here are some links with useful information on how you can get involved.

World Aids Day 2008:

World AIDS Campaign:

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Announcement from H-ASIA:

A Human Rights Film and Arts Festival titled 'Move Media Rights Festival' (MMRF)( focusing on South East Asia, but covering the wider Asian region, will be held from the 11th to the 19th of December, 2008 in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Mae Sot. It is being organized for the first time in Thailand on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

During this year's festival around 30 films will be shown over 8 days, this includes films as well as documentaries. 9 open dialogues sessions with film makers, experts, victims and producers on the themes of the films is also incorporated into the program.

A separate 3-day workshop in English will be held from 16 to 18 December each day"s session lasting from 10am to 3pm. The workshop will conducted by well qualified, experienced and renowned filmmakers and organizers of film festivals. A key resource for the workshop will be Mr. Nick Danziger, the renowned documentary Film Maker and Programme Director of EIUC Summer School on Cinema & Human Rights.

There is a limited amount of workshops scholarships available for talented Thai citizens and other nationals living in Thailand and abroad. Applications are still being accepted.

On 19 December 2008 from 4pm-6pm, The 'Maria Therese Godskesen' memorial human rights defenders lecture on Film and Human Rights will be held to mark the closing ceremony. The lecture will be held at the October memorial hall in Bangkok. The distinguished speakers are:

Mr Mr. Boonthan T. Verawongse, formerly Director, Amnesty International, Thailand

Dr. Mike Hayes, Office of the Human Rights and Social Development (OHRSD), Mahidol University, Thailand

Mr. Nick Danziger, Film Maker & Programme Director of EIUC Summer School on Cinema & Human Rights

Dr. James Gomez, Department of Political Science, Keio University, Japan

Chalida Uabumrungjit from Thai Film Foundation, Thailand

Additionally, there is room for art expositions on human rights and human security issues. MMRF also wishes to honour deserving artists and film makers.

The MMRF is running this human rights film festival in partnership with Amnesty International-Thailand, Office of the Human Rights and Social Development (OHRSD), Mahidol University, South East Asia Regional Cooperation in Human Development (SEARCH), Movies that Matter Foundation from the Netherlands, the Thai Film Foundation and other local partners. The Move Media Project (MMP, web: is the core partner of the event.

For further information please contact:
The Festival Director
Move Media Rights Festival
C/O: International Development Service (IDS)
246, Times Square Building, 12 th floor, Unit 1203, Sukhumvit Rd,
Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Cell: + (668) 4671-9735

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Japanese "Deaf" Drama Starring Suzuki Ami

Story from Japan Today, November 13, 2008:

Ami Suzuki shows warmth in new daytime drama

Singer Ami Suzuki, 26, takes on the challenge of portraying a hearing-impaired character in “Love Letter,” a new TV drama celebrating the 40th anniversary of TBS’s “Ai no gekijou” daytime dramas. Suzuki plays the lead role of a young woman growing up, who communicates through sign language. She travels to Shodo Island in Kagawa Prefecture, where she falls in love for the first time and makes lifelong friendships.

Suzuki expressed her concerns and aspirations when she said “I want to express my true feelings through sign language. With music, I can express things like love clearly through the words, but on stage I have to convey things that are not expressed easily, so that’s tough. But I think I’ll be able to convey the warmth of people through sign language.”

The drama starts on Nov 24 and is on weekdays at 1 p.m.

More information from Asianbite:

Set on Shodoshima in Japan's Inland Sea, the story follows the experiences of the hearing-impaired protagonist along the path to adulthood, such as her first love and her first breakup. The 15-year span of the story is divided into three parts, with Suzuki playing the character as an adult. Rio Yamashita will play the character in junior high, while Yukina Matsushima fills in for the elementary school version of the role.

Well let's see how they do with another deaf drama. Has it really been 4 years since the last one, "Orange Days?" (And is Suzuki Ami really 26?) I have blogged about the challenges of representing deaf people in Japanese dramas. I hope "Love Letter" does a better job.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chinese and Taiwanese Photo Collections

Here's an announcement about collections of photographs from China and Taiwan from H-ASIA.

1. Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images

From the web site: The galleries on display here belong to the category of documentary photography. The main subject area is China and that country's rather rapid transformation from a rural to an urban-centered society. Taken together, these galleries constitute a visual archive that for the most part is meant to capture and to preserve information (or "evidence of certain developments" perhaps). Only sometimes are these photographs speculative or interpretive. And although I do not claim to aspire towards the highest degree of objectivity (or "truth") embodied in the image as such, I do claim a certain amount of authority over and understanding of the subjects treated in this visual fashion.

2. Gerald Warner Taiwan Image Collection

From the web site: The Gerald Warner Taiwan Image Collection is a photographic record of a US consul's impressions of urban and rural life in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule. Totaling 340 photographs and postcards gathered by Warner between August 26, 1937 and March 8, 1941, these images provide a snapshot of Taiwan's hybrid culture of Chinese, Taiwanese, Austronesian, and Japanese influences. The subjects represented are wide-ranging, including clothing, arboriculture, urban structures, agriculture, religious rituals, topography, highways, parks, and more. These digitized images have been researched and annotated to serve as a web-based encyclopedia of colonial Taiwan's material culture.

3. The Michael Lewis Taiwan Image Collection

Colonial Pictorial Works Taiwan Image Collection, Special Collections & College Archives, Lafayette College Libraries, Lafayette College, Easton, PA, USA

A collection of 59 sepia photographs from Taiwan from the period 1933-1938. They are digitized images from a book with the following metadata - Title. English: Taiwan, Title. Japanese: Taiwan no fuko, Format. Medium: Printed pictorial book, Creator. Maker: Yamazaki, Kinichiro, editor, Creator. Company: Publisher unknown, Wakayama Prefecture, Date. Original: circa 1939.

4. Bucklin China Archive

From the web site: In 1923, Harold Bucklin took his family on a remarkable journey from Providence, Rhode Island to Shanghai, China, where he produced an exquisite body of work of large format photographs of Pre-Revolutionary China using a Graflex camera. This website is dedicated to Harold and Hazel Bucklin and their remarkable journey. On the pages that follow, you will have an opportunity to retrace their footsteps and view this unique archive of photographs from another time.

There are also some photos of the 1923 Yokohama earthquake included in this collection.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Congratulations - It's a Girl...

VAOJ is proud to announce the birth and adoption of Mugi-chan. She now fills the post of official (cute/かわいい) mascot and adviser to Visual Anthropology of Japan that was vacated by Gonzo.

Some professional bloggers have suggested that when one writes a post about his/her cat, the blog is headed for doom. Japanese bloggers would beg to differ. One of the most popular blogs in Japan, apparently getting 50,000 hits a day, is about the cat Hatch-chan. Read more about this cat and its blog at the URLs listed below:

Link to "Meet Hatch-chan, Japan's First Blogging Cat" at InventorSpot:

Link to はっちゃん日記 (in Japanese):

Now I am not suggesting that everyone blog about their cats. I personally find it disturbing when cat owners put hats, clothes and other accessories on their pets and take/post photographs of the tortured souls. The topic of this post is the power of photography.

A friend of mine recently found an abandoned kitten at her work place. She herself could not adopt the cat because she has two dogs at home. She asked me if I was interested. I thought about it but didn't give a committed answer. Was I really ready to have another cat in my life? My friend continued to drop hints every once in a while. Finally, around the time we were reading parts of Susan Sontag's On Photography in Visual Anthropology class, my friend sent me a picture of the kitten.

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge -- and, therefore, like power.

There was extreme power in the photograph my friend sent me of the cat, and my friend knew it. The picture was far more powerful than any text spoken or written. How could I possibly refuse?

Post Script: I had indeed forgot what it is like to have a kitten (Mugi-chan is only two months old) - it is like she is tripping on acid all the time. My life has become much more complicated... and interesting.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beauty in Contemporary Japan: Fall 2008 Body/Comm Workshop

What is beauty in contemporary Japan? According to Fall 2008 Body/Comm students: big (enlarged) eyes; colored, curly hair; long, skinny legs; bone-thin body; large (proportioned) breasts; no body hair; whitened skin accessorized with make-up; painted, gem studded and pierced fingernails and an all encompassing cuteness that is non-threatening to the patriarchy...

Thanks to all participants (especially those who braved the Algorithm Exercise warm-up). Click here to see how previous Body/Comm students have dealt with Japanese beauty.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fall 2008 Globalization Kobe Fieldtrip

This semester we had a small and intimate group to discover and experience globalization in Kobe. As usual we examined the Japanese image of western-ness in the Kitano area, the Japanese conception of China in Nankin machi and finally the memorial, port and playground features of the Harbor area. Many interesting observations were made and many good photographs were taken. Enjoy. For previous Kobe fieldtrip posts, click here.

Photos from Maria:

Photos from Yuka:

Photos from Kristina:

Photos from Emi:

Photos from Steven:

Thanks to all who contributed their photos. One can never get enough globalization in Kobe...