Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weird Japan - Zen Pet Boom?

Conan the Chihuahua prays with his master at a Zen temple in Okinawa (Image borrowed from Read the whole story:

Link to story at

In Body/Comm class we discuss many different examples of Japanese gesture. This semester we have discussed Buddhist mudras, our favorite coming from the story of Buddha and the Drunk Elephant. Yesterday we were analyzing the para para and other dance gestures in Maeken's Trance Project video. All of these things seemed to come together in the Zen dog story above.

But we might want to ask, is this visual anthropology? Or yet another example of weird Japan? There are a number of blogs that deal with weird aspects of Japan and Asia that have some great photos and videos. The danger of these blogs of course is the representation of Japan as being uniformly weird. Japan is often stereotyped as a homogeneous nation, so when we see these weird things, we might believe that such things are normal to the Japanese when in fact they are not. Japan has a population of over 127.4 million people all squeezed into an area slightly smaller than the state of California. So it makes sense that weirdness and creativity run rampant. Check out these sites for more doses of weirdness; place the photos and stories in a larger context and we might indeed have some data for visual anthropology...

Tokyo Mango: Everything you ever wanted to know about the birth city of Godzilla, Gundam, all-you-can-eat shabu shabu, panty vending machines, and me.

An Englishman in Osaka: he's english, he's a man, and he's in osaka.

TV in Japan: This is what TV is like. In Japan.

Weird Asia News brings the best of weird, strange, funny, odd, and just plain crazy news and stories from the lands of the Far East. We have 6 authors who dedicate their time to bringing you the best breaking news possible.

If you have some recommendations for similar sites, please share via a comment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Break 2008 in Osaka

This is a completely self-indulgent post by the author who apparently is becoming a real blogger more and more everyday... With a few days off I was able to explore my city and take hundreds of photographs. Here are some that I like the best. Click on the way too many links for more information on particular items featured in the photos.

Aloha! Who is Hawaiian and who is Japanese? (This one and only photo taken in Tenri-shi, actually...)

Early hanami at Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park.

Spring activities at Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park.

Many ways to relax at Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park.

Dotombori's oh so many sights...

Taking pictures of people taking pictures of their friends with a famous Osaka character, Guriko-man.

Different paths of life in Namba.

Den Den Town: home of multitudes of electronics shops and otaku stuffs.

Also in Den Den Town: A maid massage parlor on the third floor; cosplay space on the second floor.

Shinsekai with Tsutenkaku Tower in the background.

Cleaning Billiken; although not originally from Osaka, he has become an important symbol of Osaka.

Sumo. These shots are from the Spring Basho (Day 12) at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. These are lower ranked wrestlers that fought early in the day. The matches start at 8:50 AM and last until almost 6:00 PM.

I took over 200 pictures at the basho. This one I worked the hardest for - trying to get a shot of the purifying salt throwing.

You can see more of my sumo pictures here.

Now the break is over - back to work we go. 頑張りましょう!

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Camera (not a product endorsement...)

Kids front and center

Do you know how to take a decent photograph of your kids? Sony, apparently, thinks not, which is why it has just introduced a Cyber-shot camera with something it calls “Child Priority Mode.”

The DSC-T300 (10.1 megapixels, 5x optical zoom) is capable of picking out any kids in the frame and automatically shooting a snap off when they smile. Any adults involved can look like death warmed over for all Sony cares, as long as they pay for the wretched thing and are happy to be ignored by the smart snapper.

From (the newly reformatted) Japan Today, March 24, 2008

Now how does this thing work? Are there other priority modes? What kinds of priority modes would you like for your camera?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some Thoughts on Photographing in Public

(Image and caption borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri, March 22, 2008, p. 3)

This post continues from a recent entry and subsequent discussion on the ethics and responsibilities of visual anthropologists photographing people in public places. I have been researching this topic during the spring break and find myself with a lot of data and sources to go through before I can make a coherent report. But in the meantime here are two recent news articles dealing with this subject. The first is about a secret shot of the reclusive Meiji Emperor sniped by a professional photographer.

Secretly taken photograph of Emperor Meiji released

A secretly taken photograph of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) has been made public for the first time--nearly 100 years after a student at an Imperial Japanese Army accounting school had a photographer surreptitiously snap the shot at a graduation ceremony in 1911.

Few photographs of the camera-shy emperor exist, and very little is known of pictures taken by private citizens of the emperor at a time when the act of taking photographs was deemed disrespectful, so the picture is expected to draw considerable interest.

Tsuneo Ando, 83, a former company executive of Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, has donated copies of the photograph given to him by his father to places including Togo Shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, as he believes it is of historical value.

The picture shows the emperor attending a graduation ceremony at an Imperial Japanese Army accounting school in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on May 16, 1911--the year before his death.

In the picture, the emperor is being led by the school's principal along a carpet rolled out on the school grounds from a tent bearing the Imperial crest of the chrysanthemum. Senior army officers are standing in a row in the background saluting him.

Ando's father, Noboru, a student at the school in its seventh graduating class, reportedly secretly asked a professional photographer to take a picture from the second floor of the school building.

From: The Daily Yomiuri Online, March 22, 2008

Are there still occasions today when the act of taking photographs is disrespectful?

The second article comes from Wm. Penn's TELEVIEW column that appears in The Daily Yomiuri every Friday. In a recent column he questions the use of photos taken in public.

TELEVIEW / TV raises questions in more ways than one

Am I the only one who finds CNN's use of other people's tragedies in the network's "distinctive journalism" commercials offensive? The scenes of little children and old men sifting through the rubble of their homes in the Middle East or an African child about to lose his parents to AIDS were definitely examples of distinctive reporting when they happened. But playing the scenes over and over again a dozen times a day now to advertise CNN seems like using their pain for profit. Or is it only me?

Link to "TELEVIEW / TV raises questions in more ways than one" at The Daily Yomiuri Online:

No, it is not only you, Mr. Penn. The use of photos taken in public that exploit the subjects and serve to profit the photographer remains problematic. The news media is not exempt, nor unfortunately are anthropologists. It is my hope to reconcile Japanese media standards, privacy laws and anthropological ethics to come up with some guidelines to share with students of visual anthropology. Any advice in this endeavor is greatly appreciated. Stayed tuned...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Globalization in Kobe Fieldtrip Spring 2008

Another new semester, another globalization trip to Kobe... It was a great time - the weather was perfect for our walking tour of Kitano, Nankin-machi and the harbor area. Here are the usual group pictures, in Google video form:

Click here to get still group pictures.

Below are some photos taken by fieldtrip participants. I was hoping to get a few more but I will post what I have received so far. Feel free to send more photos if you wish... How do the following photos illustrate Globalization in Japan?

Photos by Antti.

Photo by Yurie.

...[M]y best globalization picture. I found it in Chinatown and it's funny because it said in French "product of China Popular Republic" and you have Arabic too but I can't read it. So it's from China but the package is written in French and Arabic, weird! Photo and text by Camille.

Photos by Csaba.

Sherlock Holmes in Kobe? Apparently SHE is alive and well in Kitano.

A sampling of Chinese food goodies available on the street. Yum...

All sorts of oriental(ist) treasures can be found in various shops.

Weddings are plentiful in Kobe, especially western style weddings. Here is a close-up of a ceremony at a wedding chapel near the harbor.

We weren't the only ones watching the wedding... They are popular tourist attractions. Photos and text by Steven.

See posts from previous Kobe fieldtrips here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another first...

VAOJ received its first obscene comment and link about this post from March 17. My apologies to anyone who saw it and/or was offended by it. The comment was in Japanese and I wonder how it got there... Anyway I turned back on that pesky word verification function for comments; I don't want to turn into a fascist moderator. But as you know, I am new to these things. What do you think? Should I be happy about the obscene link (does it mean people or machines are reading the blog?) or concerned? Is moderation really necessary for blog post comments? What does this say open open access and collaboration?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another "Yasukuni" Update

VAOJ readers have been following the story about the controversial documentary film "Yasukuni" directed by Li Ying. Now it turns out a movie theater in Tokyo has decided against showing the film for fear of inconveniencing its neighbors.

According to the theater spokesperson, "The film is talked about so much that it may create trouble and we don't want to cause inconvenience to building tenants."

Read more about the story at Japan Today.

Link to "Tokyo cinema decides against screening 'Yasukuni' documentary"

Also in the news today is a story about a teachers' union suing a hotel for canceling a reservation and contract for a venue for their meeting. The hotel canceled because it feared actions against the union from right wing extremist groups. Read more...

Link to Teachers union chief criticizes Prince Hotel for not letting them hold meeting

What is going on here? Businesses are deciding not to let people see controversial films and teachers hold union meetings. Are the lines being drawn? Business to the right? All to avoid inconvenience? Again, what is going on? Big black trucks blast loud music and propaganda not so the people can hear it but to drown out other voices. VAOJ is certainly not hiding its biases, but the major issue here is an unwillingness for dialogue and discussion. And of course visual anthropologists want to see the film... Hopefully coming to a theater near you (Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka) on April 12. Please check your local listing. Or ask a teacher...

Update to the Update (March 26, 2008): Read more about one of the film's producers, Ai Wan, in Japan Today:

Monday, March 17, 2008


Another announcement from the Society for Cultural Anthropology listserv. This session seems perfect for visual anthropology...

Call for papers for a Volunteered Session at 2008 AAA Meeting in San Francisco

Hair, Pubic and Beyond

This session sets out to explore the complex intersections between hair practices, particular forms of human hair, and their connections to larger global markets. The aim is to undress human hair practices, to disentangle local and personal meanings, especially as they are related to "economies of choice" and issues of identity and self, articulated in practices of consumption. As Obeyeskere argued in Medusa's Hair, the hair of the head is culturally elaborated to publicly denote categories of gender, age, sex, and sexuality, at the same time that it is linked, both sensuously and symbolically, to personal and emotional understandings of selfhood. Hair is also implicated in wider processes of globalization, especially in relation to the interaction of groups and individuals with fashion trends. Hairstyles have been set apart by anthropologists, especially in relation to globalization and cultural change, diametrically as either "traditional" or "modern/fashionable." It is not enough, however, to assume that "modern" hairstyles, or the commodified dressing of hair are simply adopted forms and practices that signify consumers as a unified category of personhood. Rather, by considering localized histories and personal choices involved in the dressing of hair, structural constraints, the making of the self through hair practices and consumer practices, can fruitfully be explored.

Pubic hair and the hair of the body are also embedded in these processes. However, there has been a tendency in anthropology to consider pubic hair and body hair as different analytical categories to the hair of the head. How does the recent growth in the availability of consumer products and services, in the form of waxes and dyes, shaping and laser-removal, and the much celebrated "Brazilian" in North America, fit into a person's bodily practices of selfhood? How might these practices provide possibilities for exploring questions of sexuality and sexualization as individuals adopt and seek to define themselves in relation to these relatively emergent consumer practices? If pubic and body hair are seen as critical sites for exploring the connections between desire, pleasure, sexuality, consumption and selfhood, how are these constructed, negotiated, rejected and defined in relation to new consumer products? And how can the adoption of hairstyles, whether pubic or otherwise, be understood anthropologically as both embedded in political economies of consumption under capitalism and as processes of meaning creation for individual subjects?

Please contact :

Angelique Lalonde (PhD Candidate, Anthropology) University of
Victoria, SSHRC Fellow

Again, this seems like a great opportunity for a visual anthropology project. And Japan would certainly offer an interesting setting for such a study...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Exhibition: Disconnected Joints

NU+MAN presents Disconnected Joints featuring Dada Docot and Jong Pairez

This exhibition opens march 20, 2008 in Tokyo. Dada is a visual anthropologist and author of the interesting blog, "Here, there, and somewhere else." Below is an excerpt of the description of her upcoming show.

Dada Docot, a masters graduate of the University of Tokyo, who has combined random concepts about gender with the visual, is showing a video documentation of a performance staged at Shinagawa train station. In her work, she provides a critique of the general attitude of Japanese society towards foreigners in the country, highlighting an instance of racial profiling on a particularly "normal" day in Tokyo.

For more information visit the exhibition's website:

Link to Disconnected Joints

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Update: Documentary Film "Yasukuni"

(Movie poster; image borrowed from

There is a lot of buzz about the documentary film, Yasukuni, that I wrote about last October. Apparently the filmmaker received some sort of Japanese government subsidy to make the film. With this as a possible excuse, some Japanese lawmakers got a special sneak preview of the film to judge its tone and make sure it is not overly anti-Japanese. Read more in the story reported in today's Japan Today.

Link to story in Japan Today

Also, apparently the filmmakers have been threatened by Japanese right wing groups.

Link to story at Yahoo News

A synopsis of the film can be found at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival webpage.

Link to Yasukuni¬epg=1

Many blogs have been reporting on this subject as well. Here is an interesting post from Tokyomango.

Link to "Yasukuni: A Documentary Explores the Ethics of War Memory" at Tokyomango

The film is scheduled to be released in Japan in April.

Japanese Films at the SFIAAFF

If you are by chance in San Francisco, be sure to check out the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival (March 13 - 23). If you aren't in San Francisco, check out this link to see a list of Japan-related films.

Link to list of Japanese films at SFIAAFF

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Announcements: NASA and Radical Theater

Two announcements for you today. NASA contacted me and asked me to post the first, the second I comes from the Society for Cultural Anthropology listserv. Both sound fascinating and should be of interest to students of visual anthropology.

1. Announcement from NASA:

Attention grad and undergrad anthro students: Please consider submitting an article to the new anthropology e-journal sponsored by the National Assoc. of Student Anthropologists (NASA). The call for papers (pasted below) is organized around the theme for the AAA 2008 Annual Meetings. Completed manuscripts of 1000 words should be submitted by April 21, 2008 to See below for more information...

The National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA) will launch its first online publication, The NASA e-Journal, under the banner of the 2008 American Anthropological Association conference theme: "Inclusion, Collaboration, and Engagement."

We seek scholarly submissions from undergraduate and graduate students worldwide about the application of anthropological theories and methods outside of academia or across disciplines for the purpose of exploring, problematizing, or addressing social problems. Have you worked in an internship, co-op or another job as a student anthropologist and wish to reflect on how you relied on your anthropological training? Perhaps you collaborated with students from other disciplines at a volunteer organization and seek to describe the value you added from an anthropological perspective? Is there a paper you submitted for a service-learning class where you addressed a social problem using anthropological methods? Have you done fieldwork in a community where you sought to create positive social change in the process of gathering data? Tell us about it! Scholarly articles should be 1,000 words in length and will be subject to a double blind review process.

We also welcome innovative commentary submissions to the e-Journal. Commentaries are opinion or avant-garde pieces of work which are the original work of the authors. These submissions are to express the next generation of anthropologists' ideas, goals and beliefs of the direction our discipline should head, be it locally, nationally or globally. We seek a plurality of voices on this issue and intend to raise awareness among fellow students as well as more established anthropologists about the direction our discipline is heading. Commentary submissions might include such mediums as written pieces (1,000 words in length), photo stories (10 photos + 1,000 words of commentary in length) and videos/YouTube clips (10-minute maximum in duration + 1,000 words of commentary in length).

Submission Guidelines:

Please submit a full 1,000 word manuscript for consideration by midnight EST on April 21, 2008 along with any accompanying materials.

Authors should complete their submissions according to the AAA style guide (

Submissions should be saved in Microsoft Word ".doc" format with the file title being the first author's last name and first initial. (example: HebertM.doc)

We invite authors to provide drawings, graphs and maps to enhance the visual component of each article. These should be included as separate attachments in the email. Graphics should be saved as ".jpg" format. The file name should be the first authors last name, first initial and then the number of the photo. (example: HebertM1.jpg) Please also include reference in your text where graphics should be placed by inserting the above identifier in the text.

Videos should be provided as a link (if located on a site such as YouTube) or included as a graphics file in a readily viewable format such as QuickTime or Windows Media Player.

Please send submissions to the e-Journal editorial team with the subject heading "NASA Manuscripts - Vol. 1" at

Authors will be notified regardless if their work has been selected for publication or not. We look forward to publishing submissions for Volume 1 of the NASA e-Journal in the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009.

2. Radical Theater

RADICAL THEATER AS CULTURAL INTERVENTION: Exploring art and politics in anthropology's center-stage.

Call For Proposals - Radical Theater Plays

This is a call for short, one-act plays that address contemporary social issues in a globalizing world. We invite you to read or perform a 10-minute act exploring the effects of drama on the AAA 2008 theme of "Inclusion, Collaboration & Engagement.? We propose using the potential efficacy of radical, open theater to broaden audiences and engage community participation in amore public and active anthropology. We blur conventional distinctions between text and performance, stage and auditorium, performer and spectator, action and dialogue, and art and life. Theater has the potential to stir debate with our many publics both within the humanities and the natural and social sciences, and outside of academia because of the performatic and symbolic efficacy of applause, laughter, tears, and indignation! As anthropologists and theater practitioners, we use radical theater to affect public policy and create social change, transforming future actions of our audiences, communities, and research partners. Democracy, education, environmental justice, health equity, peace-making, and human rights are core matter of story lines we enunciate. Our theatrical visions are inhabited by characters whose diverse voices, gazes, and epistemic perspectives enlarge our center stage, empowering communities and making anthropology increasingly relevant to the global community. Theater and anthropology collaborate to engage the general public into a dialogue for dramatic change.

Please send your 250-word abstract, including title of play and your affiliation to:

Mariana Ferreira


Ariane Dalla Déa

Monday, March 10, 2008

Karma or Photographic Revenge?

I was standing on the platform at my local train station when I noticed a camera lens pointed directly and menacingly at my head a mere three feet away. I felt violated and scared, as if a gun was pointed at me. Instinctively I turned away, offering the back of my head. Probably not the best tactic if it was in fact a gun. As I heard giggles from my attacker(s), I realized that I was packing as well. I pulled out my Xacti High Definition Digital Movie camera from the pouch at my side, flipped the screen open and the lens cap off and twirled around to find my attacker(s) gone. I ran about, searching the platform until I came across a young couple. The male was taking various shots, showing off the results to his female accomplice who in turned laughed and then hit him in the head. This process was repeated a few times before my train came. I quickly aimed as the train approached and was able to get a couple of shots off.

They never saw it coming. I was able to board the train without anyone being none the wiser of my crime. It was self defense I told myself...

In class we have been discussing the ethics and responsibilities of photographing people in public. I have written about this dilemma before. Susan Sontag (1973:14) likens a camera to a gun. We load, aim and shoot. We can do as much harm to people with a photograph as we can with a gun. We have to act with responsibility when handling cameras and using them in public. Ideally we want to talk with the people we shoot and ask their permission. Sometimes this isn't possible. How do we deal with such situations? What are our ethical responsibilities as visual anthropologists?

My students have also been dealing with this topic in their blogs of late. Many have been frustrated when people do not give them permission to photograph them. Some resort to quick or long distance sniping. Some take advantage of occasions when others (or everyone) is photographing the event. Are these tactics appropriate? Do these tactics result in satisfactory and useful images? Are the people we purport to study (and protect) being harmed?

So why did the young couple attempt to shoot me at the train station? Was it karma or photographic revenge for all of my visual anthropological transgressions? Most likely the young couple were playing and wanted a photo of a strange gaijin. But it does give me pause to consider what I - what we - are doing.

Let's be careful out there, people.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Keitai Robots?

An update from an earlier post on robots in Japan... As if Japanese cell phones didn't have enough functions already... Check this out at Japan Today (the above image is borrowed from the same website).

Link to Japan Today: Picture of the Day

Read more at Weird Asia News

We are coming out...

Visual Anthropology of Japan has been announced in, a site deidcated to anthropology with posts/announcements/information in English, German and Norwegian. The site has a useful blogroll of anthro sites. is a nice move in the direction of a true world anthropology. Many thanks, Lorenz!

Check out "our" announcment:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Everything Is Blurry: Photographing Deaf People in Japan

What do all the photos in this post have in common? At least part of the picture is blurry. And why? The Japanese people pictured here are deaf. That means part of their body is being used to communicate while I was attempting to photograph them. Japanese Sign Language entails more than movements of hands and arms - it uses the entire body. In the photo above, I was attempting to take a photo of the young woman when at the last minute the man stuck his face in the foreground. He was very amused at the effect. Coincidently, he is a photographer...

I was attempting a portrait in this second shot as well as the subject is very colorful. However people walk in front of the camera, again at the last minute, fingers, hands and arms moving in active conversation.

The setting of the first three photos was a sign language workshop in Hirakata-shi given by two deaf people from Yamagata Prefecture. One of the activities was a modified version of jan-ken, or rock-scissors-paper. This was a very fun and animated game. The loser of the jan-ken match had to make a JSL sign using the handshape of either rock, scissors or paper (depending on which handshape they threw). If they were able to do a sign within a few seconds, they could continue in the match.

This last shot I took two weeks ago at an Okinawan izakaya in Osaka. Again, I was with a deaf group. One of the participants is a professional wrestler. He is the only deaf wrestler in his organization. I asked how he communicated with others during matches and he replied that he uses gestures and body language. I suspect he can vocalize to some extent as well. I also imagine he is a better communicator than most professional wrestlers, but of course this is my own bias... Anyway, he was promoting his upcoming matches and so had his mask with him. In this shot, he is pictured "wrestling" with Momo-chan, the tiny dog belonging to the master of the izakaya. Due to the continuing pet boom, these little creatures are almost everywhere.

Since he is promoting his show, I think it is OK to reveal his name: エロ桜馬, which can be translated as Erotic Cherry Horse. For more information (and tickets), see the link below (in Japanese). Apparently deaf people can get discounted tickets.

Link to Japanese professional wrestling website

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cute Trash: Not Enough Tots for Toys?

It's burnable trash day here in Kadoma City, Osaka, Japan. It is a challenge to figure out exactly what garbage is considered to be burnable, what is plastic, and what falls into other special categories. It is said that 80% of Japan's garbage is burned, so the separation of various types of trash is especially important, and complicated. Japan is moving towards more recycling, simply because it needs to. Luckily, the separation of garbage/recyclables in Kadoma is not as complicated as it is in Yokohama. See the following story and be sure to view the accompanying slide show as well.

Link to How Do Japanese Dump Trash? Let Us Count the Myriad Ways

In Kadoma, we put out bottles and cans on Mondays, burnable trash on Tuesdays and Fridays and plastic trash on Thursdays. Wednesday changes every week; sometimes it is for PET bottles, sometimes newspapers and cardboard, sometimes glass, sometimes large items. See the rules in detail below.

Link to Kadoma City Garbage/Recycling Schedule (in Japanese)

But which day does one dispose of toys? How sad to see toys being tossed. Is this a consequence of the declining birthrate? Not enough kids to play with toys? As the society grays, is there no longer a need for toys? See the sources below for information about Japan's population.

Link to Japan child numbers at record low

Link to Statistical Handbook of Japan, Chapter 2, Population

Is there a cute trash day? Cute is more than a "boom" (passing fad), some have argued that Japan has a "culture of cuteness." But with less children, even cute things need to be tossed. Is it only me, or isn't it heartbreaking to see such a stuffed animal (Pooh-chan!) get thrown away?

Link to Cute sells in Japan

This post went off in many tangents - all this caused by mere observations of garbage... It goes to show that you really can tell a lot about a people by the things they throw away.

Post Script: As mentioned above, 80% of Japan's garbage gets burned. What happens to the rest? It gets buried and/or exported to poor South-East Asian countries. For more information on garbage disposal in Japan see the following sources:

Link to "Free Trade Cannot Include Toxic Waste" on the Basel Action Network webpage (2007)

Link to "Garbage Disposal in Japan" on the Trade and Environment Database website (2001)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Robots are taking over Japan...

With a declining birthrate and aging society, who will do all the work? Many have said Japan will have to allow more women to work, or allow more immigration. For various reasons, these options are not so popular with the powers that be. So what to do? Make robots. This is not a joke. See the following story on MSNBC (the above photo is borrowed from this source as well):

Japan looks to a robot future

Be sure to check out the slide show as well - lots more interesting images...