Monday, April 28, 2008

Yasukuni, NHK and Documentary Styles

Philip Brasor contributes to the ongoing dialogue about "Yasukuni" in his recent contribution to Japan Focus. He discusses various documentary styles (like we have been doing in class) and their repercussions.

Yasukuni Film and NHK’s Declaration to Promote National Interests. Government Funding, Free Expression and Propaganda in Japan

Here are Brasor's final two paragraphs:

Mori's idea is what connects Komori Shigetaka to Inada Tomomi. Neither of these authority figures trusts viewers to make up their own minds about the information they receive. Komori believes that overseas viewers of NHK World broadcasts will not form a correct idea of Japan's interests unless those interests are conveyed exclusively; while Inada thinks that anyone who sees "Yasukuni" will come away from it hating Japan.

Both of these positions are inherently patronizing, which brings to mind a comment a Japanese friend made after seeing "Yasukuni." She said that all the local reports about the movie stress that it has no narration. Japanese people have been raised on NHK-produced documentaries, which could be described as over-narrated: the visuals and dialogue are reinforced with redundant voiceover that, in some cases, is added for the visually impaired but whose content and tone nevertheless implicitly tell viewers how to process what they're taking in. A 74-year-old man who attended a public preview of "Yasukuni" in Tokyo told the Japan Times that he was bothered by the film because its " not clear." The trouble many Japanese will have with the documentary is not that it brings up difficult issues, but that it doesn't tell them how they're supposed to feel about them.

Link to Brasor's article in Japan Focus:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Markus Nornes/ Sato Makoto Film Screenings and Talk

Announcement from H-Japan... I don't expect many of us will be able to travel to Berkeley during Golden Week. But this announcement has a lot of interesting information and issues for visual anthropologists to ponder. And if you can go to this film screening and colloquium, I'll give extra credit for a report...

The University of California Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures Berkeley Film Seminar Program in Film Studies Present ....

In 1992, director Sato Makoto released "Living on the River Agano", a documentary closely examined the impact of Minamata Disease on a rural community in the mountains of Niigata. It was the result of several years spent living with the old farmers in the area. Ten years later, Sato and his cameraman returned to Niigata to renew their friendships with the farmers at least those that had survived in the intervening years, and on this occasion, they made another film "Memories of Agano" (2004).

These two films posed a range of challenges to the subtitler, beginning with the remarkably thick dialect of Niigata. Sato wanted his sequel to steadfastly resist the reduction of these people to the Disease, deciding that his goals could be best served by forcing spectators to listen to how people spoke rather than simply what they were saying.

This posed a novel challenge to the English subtitler. Nornes used Memories of Agano as an opportunity to bring his theorization of an "abusive subtitling" into thorough practice. After screening his version of "Memories of Agano", Nornes will discuss his collaboration with Sato.

Abe Markus Nornes is the author of Cinema Babel (Minnesota UP), a theoretical and historical look at the role of translation in film history. He also wrote Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary and Japanese Documentary Film: From the Meiji Era to Hiroshima (both Minnesota UP). He co-edited Japan-American Film Wars (Routledge), In Praise of Film Studies (Kinema Club), and many film festival retrospective catalogs. He is on the editorial boards of Documentary Box (Japan), International Studies in Documentary, and Mechadamia and has been co-owner of the internet newsgroup KineJapan since its inception.

Sato Makoto Living on the River Agano
1992. 115 minutes
Thursday, May 1, 2008
7 PM-9 PM
142 Dwinelle Hall
Followed by Q&A with Markus Nornes

Subtitling Can be Disturbing: Memories of Agano & Abusive Translation
with a screening of Sato Makoto, Memories of Agano, 2004, 55 mins
Abe Markus Nornes
Screen Arts & Culture/Asian Languages & Cultures
University of Michigan
Friday, May 2, 2008
2:15 PM - 4:00 PM
142 Dwinelle Hall

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Documentary: "Wings of Defeat"

(Image borrowed from "Wings of Defeat" website.)

"Veteran kamikaze pilot" might sound like a contradiction in terms — kamikaze were, after all, the Japanese warriors trained to crash their planes into Allied targets in World War II. Around 4,000 of them died during the war's last days.

But some kamikaze survived, and several of them have been visiting high schools and colleges around the United States. That has led to unusual scenes: classrooms full of teenagers — black, white, Latino, Asian — all teary-eyed from the experience of meeting elderly men once dedicated to fighting America to the death...

The former kamikaze on the schools tour are featured in a documentary called Wings of Defeat, which examines the frantic, desperate nationalism that engulfed Japan toward the end of the war. The film makes clear that the kamikaze corpsmen weren't volunteers. Most were drafted as teenagers, barely able to fly.

The kamikaze were told that they were gods, heroes, divinely chosen to save their country. They were beaten and brainwashed. Wings of Defeat includes archival footage of officers exhorting their young charges to die.

Read the whole story, listen to the whole story, see photographs and video clips from the film at the National Public Radio Website.

Link to "Wings of Defeat": Kamikaze Stories, Told in Person on NPR:

Get more information about the award winning 2007 documentary film at its website.

Link to "Wings of Defeat" website:

This film doesn't seem to be generating the controversy that another recent Japanese documentary has been... "Wings of Defeat" was screened at the Japan Embassy in Washington, D.C. with the director and producer available for comments and questions afterwards. And, apparently, the film is available on DVD in Japan under its Japanese title, Tokko.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Resource: Japan Foundation

A recent announcement from H-Japan informed us about the Japan Foundation's new on-line newsletter. The Japan Foundation has a number of scholarships and programs (film, literature, performing arts, etc.) that might be of interest to visual anthropologists. Here is a partial description from their website:

Established in 1972 by special legislation in the Japanese Diet, the Japan Foundation became an Independent Administrative Institution in October 2003. The mission of the Japan Foundation is to promote international cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Japan and other countries.

The Japan Foundation activities, aiming comprehensive and effective development of its international cultural exchange programs, consist of following three major categories:

1) Arts & Cultural Exchange
2) Japanese-Language Education Overseas
3) Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange

The Foundation maintains its headquarters in Tokyo and operates through a network of 19 overseas offices in 18 countries worldwide.

Link to the Japan Foundation Website:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

(Pre-)Earth Day Activities in Nagoya

This weekend, Earth Day was celebrated in a variety of areas, including locations in Japan. Earth Day, which technically is April 22, celebrates the beginning of the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day took place in the United States in 1970 amid much political turmoil and pollution that was almost taken for granted as a sign of prosperity.

On April 22 [1970], 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment... Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values. (from Earth Day Network "History" web page)

Earth Day is now an international event celebrated widely around the world. You can read more about Earth Day at the Earth Day Network Web site.

Link to Earth Day Network:

To be honest, I don't really remember celebrating Earth Day when I lived in America. I do remember friends celebrating a similar occasion on April 20. I have found Japan to be especially socially and environmentally conscious; I beleive this is evident by the increasing number of Japanese people involved in NGOs and NPOs. Here are some pictures of Earth Day as celebrated in Nagoya's Hisayaodori-koen near the Sakae area. How is Earth Day celebrated in your part of the world?

There were a variety of performances. Here, little school children advise the audience via song and dance how to properly recycle and use environmentally damaging appliances.

Other children dressed as "recycling power rangers" - each grappled with a different piece of refuse and taught us how to prepare and stick the item in the correct bin.

There was a variety of international foods available as well as various art activities. Here, people enjoy themselves against the backdrop of the famous Nagoya TV Tower.

There were lots of crafts, healthy food and environmentally friendly product booths; it reminded me of hippies in San Francisco...

On the other hand, there was a booth sponsored by JT (Japan Tobacco) that was encouraging people to purchase the new TASPO card. The TASPO card is an age-verification ID card that lets the over-age-20 user purchase cigarettes from vending machines. The card has proven to be somewhat unpopular and so driver's licenses will also be allowed to be used by people to buy tobacco in vending machines. Should JT really be at an Earth Day celebration?

Many have commented about the lack of trash cans in public in Japan. Here is a rarity, three in a row. But they are closed for Earth Day. Caption taped across the trash can reads: "Today is Earth Day. Let's bring our garbage home!"

There was also a young woman, sponsored by JT, handing out trash bags and tongs, encouraging people to pick up litter. Here she is approaching a young woman while a group of older women enthusiastically look for trash among the foilage.

A nearby man takes advantage of the public art in the park for a nap. His pillow is a bag of aluminum cans.

Near the park, but as a separate event, members of a local political activism group try to garner support for world peace, continuation of the Japanese Constitution's Article Nine and allowing the controversial documentary Film, Yasukuni, to be shown freely in Japanese theaters.

Happy Earth Day! And for my Deaf friends, Happy Eyeth Day. Please do whatever you can to make the world a better place for all people. Peace.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Noh and Kyogen Presentation in Kyoto

Another announcement from H-Japan...

The upcoming Kyoto Asian Studies Group meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 20, 2008 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 217 at Kyodai Kaikan. Our speaker will be Jonah Salz (Professor of Comparative Theatre at Ryukoku University and Co-founder and director of the Noho Theatre Group and Traditional Theatre Training). His paper title is "Virtual noh: negotiating the authentic with the fascinating in introducing noh to foreign audiences" (see below for abstract).

Sponsored by the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies

For information on access:

Please remember that you may bring only bottled drinks (with caps), no food.


Noh and kyogen has aimed to enlist foreign patrons in its striving for recognition abroad and at home as the highest of human artistic achievements. First in translations, then in performances for invited foreign dignitaries, finally in tours abroad, noh managed to become well-known among students of Japan and theatre.

In the past few decades, NHK, noh producers, and foreign academics have produced internet sites, video, dvd, and cd-rom aimed at non-Japanese audiences. This lecture examines the various means to present noh virtually, including explanatory tracks, subtitles, documentary, voiceovers, and "behind the scenes" views. At the same time, the power relationships between noh performers and these mediating media will be explored.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Even if you're not cute, you can make big yen in Japan...

(Image borrowed from Guesthouse Yougendo)

In 2010, Japan will celebrate the 1,300th Anniversary of the Nara Heijo-kyo capital. And what is the best way to do this? Create a cute mascot, of course. But the mascot for this important celebration has committed the ultimate sin in the land of Hello Kitty and Ebi-chan, he isn't cute... With all the controversy of Sento-kun not being cute (where did they go wrong with a little boy Buddhist monk with deer antlers?), he has become quite famous and gained commercial notoriety. According to The Daily Yomiuri, the coverage of his unpopularity has given him a commercial value of 1.5 billion yen. The article concludes by noting the mascot made much less than the new governor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto. Does this mean the governor is cuter that Sento-kun?

Read the whole story at The Daily Yomiuri On-line:

Link to Unpopular mascot scores 1.5 bil. yen in publicity

Here are some more links for stories about Sento-kun and how unpopular he is...

Link to "Horny" mascot for ancient Nara capital named "Sento-kun"

Link to Mascot of Nara at Guesthouse Yougendo:

Link to New Mascot for Nara Heijo-kyo Anniversary at Tokyomango:

Are we really sure he is not so cute? Or maybe he is growing on us? Some people seem to be having fun with him at YouTube:

Who is to say who or what is cute? Is cuteness static or subject to semiosis? Is Sento-kun pushing the envelope? Is he really such a bad mascot? How would you create a symbol of Nara to celebrate the ancient capital?
(Image borrowed from Mainichi Daily News)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Another Resource for Documentary Films: Women Make Movies

Women Make Movies - films by and about women...

This is another good source for documentary films, including some about Japan. Here's a partial description from their general information web page:

Established in 1972 to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry, Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. The organization provides services to both users and makers of film and video programs, with a special emphasis on supporting work by women of color. Women Make Movies facilitates the development of feminist media through an internationally recognized Distribution Service and a Production Assistance Program.

Link to Women Make Movies:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Resource: Asian Educational Media Service

Another good resource for visual materials about Japan and Asia... Here is a partial description about their services from the Overview section of their website:

The Asian Educational Media Service (AEMS) is a program of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Our mission is to promote understanding of Asian cultures and peoples and to assist educators at all levels, from elementary schools to colleges and universities, in finding resources for learning and teaching about Asia.

AEMS offers help in locating audio-visual media resources about Asia and advice in choosing among the many resources available. We maintain an extensive database with more than 5,000 records for DVDs, video cassettes, CD-ROMs, audio cassettes, and curriculum units with audio-visual components that are useful for learning and teaching about Asia. Each record includes information on how to obtain the item directly from its distributor. We invite you to be in contact with AEMS for direct assistance in finding resources, free of charge. Call us or write us (see contact information below), or use our request info form.

Link to AEMS Website:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Japanese Sign Language Education Gets Official Nod"

(article from The Asahi Shimbun, 4/11/08, by Mika Omura)

You can click on the link above to get to the official Asahi Shimbun story, but I am providing the whole article below because it is an incredibly important step for deaf people, deaf students and the recognition of JSL as a real bona fide language in Japan. (Also, I'm not sure how long the link will work...) The declining birthrate in Japan of course means that there are fewer deaf children as well. So many deaf schools are scheduled to close. There are plans to merge schools for deaf, blind and other so-called handicapped children. This can be seen as a terrible blow for deaf culture, as deaf schools are a major place for children to pick up sign language and deaf culture. How are children who cannot hear and children who cannot see study and learn together? But for now let's celebrate this good news...

A school that will use sign language to teach deaf children, the first of its kind in Japan, opened Wednesday in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward.

The school is the brainchild of the Tokyo-based Bilingual Bicultural Education Center for Deaf Children (BBED), a nonprofit organization whose members are deaf people and parents of deaf children. The group gathered donations from around the nation to fund the project.

The group recognizes sign language, especially Japanese sign language, which has long been unofficially used by deaf people in Japan to communicate, as the "mother tongue" of people with hearing disabilities.

The group previously provided bilingual and bicultural deaf education in a free school called Tatsunoko Gakuen, which it operated until March out of a rented classroom at Asamadai Elementary School in Shinagawa Ward. It is now closed.

For many years, the conventional approach to teaching children with hearing loss focused on "oral" deaf education. The goal was to use auditory technology, including hearing aids, to boost hearing, develop listening skills and teach children to speak Japanese. The aim was to enable communication with hearing people.

Students who studied at Tatsunoko Gakuen using the sign language were ineligible to receive a graduation diploma, as education based on sign language was not accepted by the education ministry.

The BBED's battle to offer education in sign language predates a March 2007 move by the government designating Tokyo as a special district for structural reform for deaf education.

Last December, BBED finally received permission to open an officially recognized school offering a bilingual-bicultural option through Japanese sign language.

The new school is called Meisei Gakuen. It uses facilities at the former Yashiokita Elementary School in Shinagawa Ward. Yashiokita was closed after the consolidation of public schools in the area.

The NPO estimated that it needed 45 million yen to start up the school. The group solicited contributions on the streets, at special events and through the Internet.

It gathered donations from about 550 individuals nationwide, raising a total of 76 million yen. Several companies also supported the cause in their corporate social responsibility activities.

The NPO received many letters of encouragement. One donor wrote: "I want to be of some help to the children." Another wrote: "I am sending a bit from my pension. I am sorry it is not much."

Tomoko Hasebe was in charge of the BBED school project.

"Of course we're grateful for the money. But more than that, we were helped by the warm encouragement. It gave us confidence that people understood our cause," Hasebe said.

Meisei Gakuen has both a preschool and elementary school. About 40 children from Tokyo and nearby prefectures such as Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa and Shizuoka are enrolled. The opening ceremony was held Wednesday.

Yasutaka Itagaki, 8, son of Keiko Itagaki, 39, entered third grade.

"It took us a long time, but we finally managed to achieve our dream of opening our own school. This is only the beginning. We will work hard to become a successful model for bilingual-bicultural education using sign language," Keiko Itagaki said.

The story, unfortunately, seems to be very under-reported in both Japanese and English news sources. The Asahi Shimbun carried it in their Kids News (???) web site.

Link to story in Japanese at Asahi Shimbun News for Kids

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Weekend in Japan" - Video Experiment

What is this? (Do you really want to read this "study guide"/spoiler?)

This short film summarizes a weekend in early April 2008 as experienced by the visual anthropologist. Beautiful spring time weather made cherry blossom viewing even more wonderful. Behind my house is a small stream lined with cherry trees. Up stream the neighborhood elderly people's association writes and displays senryu poetry among the cherry blossoms. Friday night I attended a deaf gathering at a bar in Osaka. The bar was dimly lit, making sign language a little challenging to see. However, we were doing OK when all of a sudden the disco balls started, showering us with rays of brilliant colors. All very beautiful, but once again it made signing a little difficult. But we adapted and continued with our fun. Sunday I was invited to a cherry blossom viewing party with deaf people, uniting my visual themes (key words) of cherry blossoms, deaf and sign language.

I experiment with ordered pairs and dichotomies. Traditional culture and modern practices; deaf and hearing; light and dark; sound and vision; self and other; humans and nature; stereotypes and reality - these things are not opposites or either/or. Rather they are mutually supporting, influencing and intermingling with each other; they are partial truths. The film is composed of sound and vision bites a la Bakhtin's architectonics. Sometimes things are smooth, sometimes they make sense, sometimes things are rough, sometimes things are utterly confusing. This is culture and life - at least for one visual anthropologist for one Weekend in Japan.

Comments and critiques, please. Special thanks to my VAOJ students who have already let me have it - very much appreciated...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Early Monday Morning Visual Offerings...

Kattobase Kanemoto!

(Photo borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri, 4/13/08, p. 24)

This is of course great news for Hanshin Tigers fans, and this is a great photo. Look at their eyes...

Tomoaki Kanemoto got his 2,000th hit on Saturday, earning his entry into the Golden Players Club. Kanemoto also holds the (world) record for most consecutive games played, 1,199.

Read the whole story:

Link to "Kanemoto hits 2,000 mark"

Interested in the Hanshin Tigers and Japanese baseball? Check out these links: is dedicated to discussions about Japanese baseball. It has an incredible amount of information about the game, the teams and players. This site is a great example of open access and collaboration.

Link to

Want to learn the songs and chants for all the Hanshin Tigers players? These sites will help you:

Link to "Fight Songs" in the Tiger Tails 2008 blog:

Link to Tigers players fight songs:

How to say "Australia" in JSL

Recently my former student, "The Aussie kid," sent me this photo after he returned home. Here he is meeting a Gaidai exchange student and they are demonstrating what they remember from the JSL Study Group, the sign for Australia. It's a kangaroo, get it? Why did an Australian student come to Japan to learn how to say his country in Japanese Sign Language? I'm happy they remember...


I promised to post some cherry blossom photos. This one is from a week ago. My students have been blogging about hanami as well. Check out their posts here, here and here. Here's one about plum blossoms.

This is a more recent shot, after much wind and rain.

Mind your manners!

Here's the latest attempt to get people on the train to show consideration for the people around them:

Japan Today's "Picture of the Day," April 13, 2008. Caption reads: The latest manner poster from Tokyo Metro asks subway passengers not to take up space by making a mess.

Link to Japan Today Picture of the Day:

In February, The Daily Yomiuri entitled "Yokohama subway staff to 'encorage courtesy'." Unfortunately the story (2/5/08) seems to be removed from the Yomiuri web site, but it began with the following text:

The elderly, infirm and women who are pregnant are set to have a more pleasant subway journey in Yokohama from March after the city government announced plans to introduce "courtesy staff" on a new municipal subway line. Members of the "smiling courtesy improvement staff" will be tasked with encouraging passengers to give up their seats to people considered in greater need of one...

There were some interesting comments from people the newspaper interviewed about the subject.

A 56-year-old housewife... said she welcomed the move, saying in the past she had been too shy to offer her seat but that the new staff would encourage her to do so.

A 15-year-old high school girl... opposed the scheme, saying she would feel embarrassed if she was told to give up her seat.

An 81-year-old man... said he thought giving up one's seat should be a voluntary decision.

Another version of the story can be found at the Times Online.

The Japanese have a reputation for being well mannered, but this seems to be yet another stereotype that can be called into question with daily experience and observation. The blog, "What Japan Thinks" lists these behaviors as problematic. How many of these have you experienced? Do they bother you? Are these behaviors really big problems?

Sitting with legs akimbo
Young or fit people in the priority seats
Not squeezing up when the bench seat is almost full
Not following telephone manners
Not following the rules when getting on and off
Sitting on the floor
Being noisy in the train
Leaky headphones
Putting on makeup
Luggage in the way
Eating and drinking on board

Link to "Worst train manners"

Oh it's an eclectic Monday... こん週も頑張りましょう!

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Osaka Library Opens Folk Dance Archive to Public"

(A scene from Miwasaki no Aya Odori, a dance from Shingu, Wakayama prefecture, in 1958. Photo courtesy of Ikedabunko Library, published along with the story in The Daily Yomiuri, April 11, 2008, p. 3)

More than 7,000 audiovisual and written accounts of folk performances recorded by the Takarazuka Revue Company, an all-women's theater troupe, have been made available to the public by the Ikedabunko Library in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture...

The material covers many types of performing arts that are no longer practiced, making it an invaluable resource for researchers.

The archive includes 670 DVDs, each with a running time of about 20 minutes, 1,650 audiotapes, with a running time of 20 to 40 minutes, and written reports.

Read the whole story:

This could be a good resource for visual anthropologists dealing with performance. Below is some information about the Ikedabunko Library.

Ikedabunko Library is well known for holding a famous drama collection that includes Kabuki, Takarazuka - Review and Ukiyoe scenarios, script paintings, programmes and other ephemera of the dramatic arts. As a collection of the dramatic arts, Ikeda's collection is only rivaled by that at Waseda University in Tokyo. A lot of the material is delicate and is rarely exhibited, but books, programmes etc are available for viewing.(Close:Monday, National Holiday, first Wednesday)(from Ikeda City Tourism Association website)

Link to Ikedabunk Library website (in Japanese):

Some of my students have blogged about Takarazuka. Read their posts here and here.

Link to information in English on Takarazuka:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Porn producers arrested for filming at McDonald's in Saitama"

(From Japan Today, April 10, 2008)

Police on Wednesday arrested an adult movie producer, two cast members and crew for filming a porn movie at a McDonald’s shop in Higashi-Matsuyama City, Saitama Prefecture, in January.

Producer Kunikazu Ishii, 51, an actress, 21, an actor, 29, and staff were arrested for allegedly shooting a porn film at the McDonald’s outlet around 3 p.m. on Jan 24. A customer noticed them and called police. McDonald’s staff were apparently unaware of what was going on.

One of the suspects was quoted by police as saying, “We didn’t think it would be a problem as long as nobody noticed what we were doing.”
Latest 15 of 67 Total Comments

Link to the story at Japan Today:

More information, including a photo of the actress (clothed) and a video clip of the story as reported on Japanese TV (NTV) can be found at the following Japan Probe post:

Link to "Actress & Crew Arrested For Shooting Porno Movie At McDonald’s:"

Visual anthropology?

Japan Today Picture of the Day

(Image borrowed from Japan Today)

Japan Today has a daily feature, "Picture of the Day." Sometimes, as in the case of the photo above, the picture is quite nice. And often the picture generates interesting comments. For example, the photographer, Burl Hays, responds to some of the comments:

Thanks all for the entertaining comments today! This is the photographer commenting -- to answer some questions:

1) Permission was obtained. 2) The Mom is Japanese. 3) The son is a "double" (one part Japanese plus one part American) 4) His hair is not dyed. 5) Neither the Mother nor photographer has been offended by any of the comments today (including those that were deleted - actually they were quite funny!).

Visual anthropologist might be interested in looking at the "Picture of the Day" to see how certain images of Japan and Japanese culture evoke certain ideas and comments from a variety of readers. Disclaimer: there are often many irrelevant comments that are better left ignored...

Link to Japan Today Picture of the Day Archive:

Still More "Yasukuni" Controversy...

Yes, controversy surrounding the documentary film, which has yet to be seen in public in Japan, continues. The following article appears in Japan Today today.

"Yasukuni" director slams lawmaker for intervention after swordsmith wants his scenes deleted

Link to story at Japan Times:

Japan Focus has an article with an introduction by David McNeill giving some background and context of the Yasukuni controversy, follwed by an interview of the film's director, Li Ying, by John Junkerman.

Freedom Next Time. Japanese Neonationalists Seek to Silence Yasukuni Film

Link to article at Japan Focus:

Politically, of course, the Yasukuni controversy, along with other current events, illustrates serious problems in Japanese society. From the McNeill introduction:

“My sense is that we have entered a very dangerous period for freedom of expression and press freedom in this country,” says Tajima Yasuhiko, a professor of journalism in Tokyo’s Sophia University. “That is the background to these cases. The idea that people are entitled to express different opinions and views is withering. That should be common sense, whether one is on the left or the right.”

There is also a recent article in Japan Today by Tetsuro Koyama about Haruki Murakami and his ideas and experiences with the writing of his non-fiction book, Underground. Underground deals with the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995.

"Why did those people (members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult who carried out the attack) go over to that side? We should fully probe that. It’s not good to put an end to it by simply sentencing them to die."

Murakami was frequently in courtrooms to hear the Aum trials and saw Aum members who had merely obeyed cult leader Shoko Asahara’s order to spray sarin. Through this experience, he "seriously thought about" World War II, he said. "During the war, no one could say ‘No’ to senior officers’ orders to kill prisoners of war. The Japanese did such things in the war. I think the Japanese have yet to undertake soul-searching."

Murakami discusses the importance of story telling in the area of such soul searching. Li Ying would probably agree with this idea as he sees his film as a story whose aim is to explore the events and ideas surrounding Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japanese culture.

Link to "Murakami sees storytelling as global common language" at Japan Today:

From a visual anthropological perspective, this latest Yasukuni controversy brings up interesting ethical questions. I assume that the filmmaker had the sword maker sign a consent form. But now what if the sword maker does not want to appear in the film? Can he change his mind? Should Li Ying remove those scenes featuring the sword maker? What is the filmmaker's responsibility to the subjects featured in his film? Ethically anthropologists are supposed to protect those who help us in our research. Some might suggest that Li Ying should have anticipated that the film would make life difficult for the sword maker. Li Ying is not an anthropologist, of course, but should he have similar responsibilities?

There are no easy answers. How do we balance freedom of speech/freedom of expression with protecting real human beings?


An article in the Mainichi Daily News provides a different perspective about the sword maker's objection to the film.

Link to Sword maker asks his scenes to be deleted...

It would certainly be more problematic is Li lied to the sword maker about the nature of the film and broke his promise about editing a new version.

Yasukuni keeps getting messier and messier...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Body/Comm Spring 2008 Beauty in Japan Workshop

It's that time again, when the students of Body/Comm make their visual anthropology inspired posters to illustrate the concept of beauty in Japan.

Students are instructed to bring in their own images of Japanese beauty from magazine advertisements or elsewhere.

The Instructor also supplies plenty of images from his own private stock of Japanese fashion magazines, along with glue, scissors and markers.

Students work in groups of 4 or 5 and have just over 30 minutes to complete their posters.

They are already well-versed in the area of Japanese beauty not only from their observations and class discussions, but from readings of various sources such as Spielvogel (2003) and Miller (2006).

A common theme this semester was that "fake" is beautiful; many posters highlighted various products and techniques to change or disguise body parts into being more beautiful.

Students presented their posters and explained how and why they used particular images. Once again there were many interesting posters based upon insightful anthropological observations. Click on each photo to see close-ups of the posters.

Click here and here to see posters from previous semesters.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

(Buy) Old Photos of Japan

(Photo borrowed from Old Photos of Japan)

An announcement from H-ASIA.

The following is a commercial site where you can purchase digital versions of old photos of Japan. The site gives various information about each photo and might be of interest to visual anthropologists. Read their own description below:

Multilingual Photoblog of Old Photographs of Japan. Daily uploads of rare photographs and postcards of Japan between 1860 and the 1930's. These images display an abundance of information about the urban settings and customs of Japan. This is further augmented by well-researched articles accompanying the images. Many of the articles contain maps and additional illustrations, making them a very useful resource on modern Japan, especially the Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods. The photographs can be searched by keyword, period, theme, location, photographer and medium. The site was launched on March 1, 2008 and displays photos from a private collection of many thousands of rare photographs and maps.

They further explain: If you wish to use copyrighted data in publications, broadcasting, lectures and so on, please purchase licenses from the tools menu above each image. After payment, you will immediately receive a link where you can download the digital file.

Since you are supposed to purchase the rights to use the image, I'm not sure if technically I can post the photo above. At the site, below the picture is a description of the park and the area in general, a map and then a section called "Blog this!" Bloggers can cut and paste the information (which includes a hot link to the photo at their site) into their own blogs like I have done below:

Osaka 1930s • Nakanoshima Park

Opened in 1891 (Meiji 24), Nakanoshima Park was Osaka’s very first public park. It was built on Nakanoshima, a small stretch of land that divided the old Yodo River into the Dojima River and the Tosabori River. During the Edo Period the banks of these two rivers were lined with Kurayashiki, the warehouses and residences of samurai who sold goods from their domains in Osaka. But by the end of the 19th century, the area was quickly shedding its Edo face and Nakanoshima became the focus of Osaka’s modernization.
Thumbnail URL:

This might be a good source for historical photos and salvage(d) ethnography.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Some Good News for "Yasukuni"

As has been widely reported here and elsewhere, movie theaters in Tokyo and Osaka, and now Nagoya, have canceled scheduled screenings of the film "Yasukuni" for fear that its supposed "anti-Japanese" sentiment would cause protests and other inconveniences. But the good news, at least for those of us in the Kansai area, is that theaters in Osaka and Kyoto will be showing the film after all (thanks to E.K. for the heads up on this).

Osaka's Dai Nana Geijutsu Gekijo theater... said it will screen the film as originally planned for seven days from May 10. Kyoto Cinema also plans to screen the movie in August.

...[T]he operator of the Osaka theater, said it was important that "Yasukuni" be showed.

"If screenings of the movie are cancelled across the nation, it sends out a message that anything unsavory can be stopped just by the threat of protest or harassment," he said. "There'll be people who criticize it, and others who think its message is correct. But you can't get much discussion about the movie if you don't screen it."

Finally, a little bit of sanity...

Read the whole story at Mainichi Daily News.

Link to "Kansai theaters defiantly plan to screen controversial war shrine movie 'Yasukuni'"

Another story appears in The Japan Times Online.

Link to "Osaka theater to screen 'Yasukuni'"

To be fair, the conservative Daily Yomiuri did run an editorial calling for freedom of expression, freedom of speech and apparently the freedom of controversial films to be viewed.

...[O]dious actions that seek to suppress the freedom of expression and freedom of speech must not be repeated.

Starting next month, 13 theaters from Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefecture are scheduled to show this film. We hope the movie theaters, in close coordination with the police, will do their best to prevent any unsavory incidents arising from this situation.

Read the entire editorial.

Link to Daily Yomiuri Editorial, April 2, 2008

In a related but slightly dated story (oh there are so many fascinating things related to Yasukuni Shrine), there is a group called Arei Raise that rap about kamikaze and other nationalist themes.

(Image borrowed from News dal Gioponne)

Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine has found itself with an unexpected hit on its hands -- a rap song dedicated to kamikaze pilots and using lyrics from their farewell letters written immediately before their suicide missions...

Arei Raise can trace its origins to a song contest Yasukuni Shrine held two years ago to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. Yasukuni was looking for a song that would get people to love Japan and the patriotic young rappers responded.

Read the story at Mainichi Daily News.

Link to "Rappers keep the kamikaze spirit alive"

You can hear the song by clicking here.

(from H-Japan)

John Breen ed., Yasukuni, the war dead and the struggle for Japan's past
(Hurst and Columbia University Press, 2008).

Edotor's blurb: The distinctive feature of this book is that it sets out neither to commend Yasukuni nor to condemn it. It seeks rather to present authoritative yet divergent views in order to render more complex an issue too often portrayed in starkly simplistic terms. The book contains chapters by (in alphabetical order) John Breen, Kevin Doak, Nitta Hitoshi, Caroline Rose, Philip Seaton, Seki Hei, Takahashi Tetsuya and Wang Zhixin.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

PLATFORMA VIDEO8 International Film Festival

I was contacted by one of the organizers of this film festival and asked to announce it here at VAOJ. Christos Varvantakis writes, "As it is a totally independent (from faculties) festival, we are open to any students' views on ethnographic film. And as we are granted some travel money from the festival organizers, we really hope to engage in a dialogue about the restrictions and innovations of students films. Yet, of course, everything depends on participation..." This sounds like a very interesting opportunity for students of visual anthropology. Read the announcement below for more details.

International Film Festival PLATFORMA VIDEO8

November 7-10, 2008 in Athens

The (sort of) ethnographic film festival is aiming in films made from anthropology students or related after 2004, either as dissertations or as assignments. This is done, for we aim to discuss the innovations and restrictions of student ethnographic film making (i.e. time, production, department conventions, experimentation). This ethnographic section of the festival is included doesn’t have a competitive character. However, we are keen to invite some of the filmmakers during the festival, depending on available funds. Additionally, we are organising an ethnographic film workshop where we hope to engage in a dialogue on / with the future of ethnographic film.

The deadline for films submission is the 1st of June.

Questions and prior notice for submissions should be directed to:

Kostas Aivaliotis (
Christos Varvantakis (

Check out their web page (in English; Greek is also available):

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

New York Times article about artist Takashi Murakami

Headline: Watch Out, Warhol, Here’s Japanese Shock Pop

Art is visual anthropology, too... Because of my sign language interest, I collect art dealing with hands. I'd like to buy these but fear they would take up too much space in my house...

(Images borrowed from New York Times slide show, April 2, 2008)

The article, written by Carol Vogel, discusses Murakami's exhibition and begins:

The fifth-floor rotunda of the Brooklyn Museum on a recent afternoon was strewn with a curious array of body parts. Resting on a mover’s blanket was most of “Miss ko2,” a busty blond waitress whose jellyfish eyes stared up at the ceiling (and whose white-painted fiberglass bosom pointed skyward too). Nearby, her counterpart from “Second Mission Project ko2” (pronounced ko-ko) balanced on one leg.

Read the article at The New York Times web page:

Be sure to view the slide show for more photos.

Check out Murakami's own web page:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

More "Yasukuni" - Censorship is Alive and Well in Japan

No Tokyo theater to show 'Yasukuni' documentary

Three more cinemas in Tokyo and one in Osaka have decided against screening a contentious documentary film by Chinese director Li Ying on the war-related Yasukuni Shrine scheduled for release in mid-April, officials of the cinemas said Monday...

The 123-minute documentary won a best-documentary award at the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival. It was also shown at international film festivals in South Korea, Germany and the United States.

Read the story at Japan Today

If only this was an April Fool's joke...

See previous VAOJ posts about the film here.


You will notice that the headline and story at Japan Times have changed at the link above. The new headline is:

Tokyo theaters under fire for deciding not to show 'Yasukuni' documentary

Culture minister Kisaburo Tokai on Tuesday expressed regret over the recent moves by some cinemas to decide against screening a contentious documentary on the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo set for release in mid-April...

he Mass Media Information and Culture Union issued a protest statement Tuesday, saying, ‘‘This is an unusual situation in which political pressure and hindrance by right-wing groups is about to thwart film screenings and a movie is about to be crushed. It’s absolutely unforgivable.’’

‘‘The Japanese film industry is faced with a humiliating situation which underlines Japanese society’s abnormality,’’ it said.

Issuing a separate statement Tuesday, the federation of cinema and theatrical workers’ unions urged movie companies and theaters to secure screening opportunities...

The Directors Guild of Japan expressed apprehension about the possibility that freedom of expression may be compromised following Monday’s development and issued a strong protest against some lawmakers’ action of calling for a preview of the film, saying it may be ‘‘anti-Japanese.’’

Cinemas in Sapporo, Nagoya, Hiroshima and Fukuoka are still scheduled to screen the film, according to Argo Pictures, one of the distributors.

It's encouraging to see this kind of reaction. It would be nice if it resulted in more theaters showing the film.