Sunday, June 29, 2008

Update: Takashi Murakami

(Takashi Murakami Flower ball (3D), 2002. Acrylic on canvas mounted on board 39 3/8 inches diameter, 1 15/16 inches depth. Private Collection, courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris and Miami ©2002 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image borrowed from

In April I blogged about the artist Takashi Murakami (link). Today H-Japan provides this announcement:

The SSRC in New York has just published the following feature about Takashi Murakami based on an interview with UCLA sociologist Adrian Favell. This may be of interest to subscribers following the ups and downs of Japanese contemporary art on the international stage since the Bubble years.

Link to "A Sociologist's Guided Tour of © MURAKAMI"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

English Picture Book about 1945 Okinawa Mass Suicides

Interesting visual methods are used to describe an important and controversial topic. Article from The Japan Times Online:

Twist in Okinawa mass suicides tale

Teacher based book about civilians ordered to kill themselves on own family tragedy


Chie Miyagi, an English teacher in Okinawa, has published an English-language picture book to teach her students about the mass suicides involving local civilians during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

"A Letter from Okinawa" depicts a girl whose parents kill themselves under orders from the Japanese military on Tokashiki, one of the Kerama Islands. The girl lives separately from them on Okinawa's main island, where she has been drafted into the nurse corps.

The girl, Sachiko, sends a letter to her parents after surviving the war but never receives a reply. She later finds out that her parents died in March 1945 in a mass suicide.

At the end of the story, it is revealed that Sachiko is Miyagi's mother and that the story is based on her mother's life.


"A Letter from Okinawa," published last November, has an accompanying Japanese translation and is available for ¥700, including tax. For further information, phone Okinawa Jiji Publishing Co. at (098) 854-1622.

Read the whole article (link).

"Documentary on Forced Confessions Screened in Tokyo"

(Photo by Taro Fujimoto; image borrowed from Japan Today)

From Japan Today (6/26/08):

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) on Monday night screened a short documentary film “Presumed Guilty Creating False Confessions” at its headquarters in Tokyo. The DVD version with English subtitle was also released the same day.

The 45-minute documentary, which the JFBA produced, is about the Shibushi case, in which police and prosecutors forced 12 people, including a local politician, to confess to buying votes prior in an election in Shibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture, in April, 2003. After being held in prisons in a local police station, known as “daiyo kangoku,” the 12 were tried and all acquitted in 2007.

DVD title: “つくられる自白 ~志布志の悲劇” (Tsukurareru jihaku - Shibushi no higeki)
Price: 2,415 yen
Available at book shops.

Read the whole article and reader comments (link).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Walking Advertisement?

T-shirts with company logos and famous brand clothes with their conspicuously located labels/tags have long served as walking advertisements, substitutes for the old fashioned walking sign board. But what is being advertised in this photo? Is this student standing on the bus serving as a willing walking ad for the Golden Arches?

McDonald's in Japan has had some interesting connections with fashion, as can be seen from their commercials.

McDonald's also has connections with pop culture as well. Here's Ronald McDonald doing para para...

Here he is doing a more modern song and dance...

Does this really make anybody feel hungry?

McDonald's is certainly associated with youth culture in Japan.

If McDonald's really has anything to do with the jeans the student on the bus is wearing, I wonder how they control the message. Do they limit the size of the jeans? Would super-size jeans sprouting the Golden Arches really serve as a good advertisement?

McDonald's also serves as an interesting example of globalization. Is McDonald's really American anymore? What is Ronald McDonald doing dancing para para and eating teriyaki burgers and moon viewing burgers? For more on this globalization aspect, check out a post on the subject by one of my students (link). Do American students wear the Golden Arches on their backsides? If so, what message is being sent?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Anthro-Related Resources

Here are some resources recently announced in H-ASIA that might be of interest to visual anthropologists.

The Institute of Oriental Culture

Description (from their web page): The mission of the Institute of Oriental Culture is to conduct research on Asia through a synthesis of our broad expertise in the humanities and social sciences. The region covered by our studies extends from East Asia to the Middle East, which we consider naturally to include Egypt and North Africa. Unlike studies bound by government and political issues, ours do not have specific jurisdictional borders determined by a map. We study the world with a focus on Asia.

There are many useful links to databases, articles and various other resources.


The Research Cooperative

Description (from their web page): The Research Cooperative was established in 2001 as an international, not-for-profit organisation. Our aim is to help people anywhere develop skills and discover opportunities for writing, editing, translating, publishing, and other areas of research communication. The Cooperative welcomes volunteers, learners, people with experience, and professional services.

This seems like a good resource for cooperation and collaboration.


Asia Monitor Resource Centre

Description (from their web page): AMRC has developed over the years, but is still an independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) which focuses on Asian labour concerns. The Centre supports a democratic and independent labour movement promoting the principles of labour rights, gender consciousness, and active workers’ participation in work-related issues. [...] AMRC provides information, consultation, publications, documentation, and internships, and conducts research, training, advocacy, campaigns, labour networking, and related services to trade unions, pro-labour groups, related NGOs, academics, researchers, and professionals on labour issues.


The China Beat

Description (from their blog): The China Beat examines media coverage of China, providing context and criticism from China scholars and writers.

This is a nice source and example of scholarly blogging.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Visual Experience of Puppetry" and More JSL in the News

(Image borrowed from Deaf Puppet Theater Hitomi web page.)

Here is an article from today's Daily Yomiuri (link) about a theater company called "Deaf Puppet Theater Hitomi." Throughout the course of my research here in Japan I have been able to see some of their performances. They are quite wonderful - it is amazing how deaf and hearing people work together to incorporate sign language and puppetry into a theater production. If you have a chance to see them, please do.

Article text reads as follows:

Deaf Puppet Theater Hitomi, a theater company that includes members who are hearing impaired, will perform a voiceless puppet show on June 28 and 29 that uses various-sized boxes to represent more than 100 items.

Director Tsubame Kusunoki is said to follow the credo, "a puppet show is a visual performance," something he once heard that eventually inspired him to choreograph puppet shows.

Hako Boxes: Jiichan no Orugoru (Boxes: My grampa's music box) is visually oriented and makes use of puppet movements, including pantomime. The accompanying music is performed live during the show, and for audiences made up of the hearing impaired, the musicians add to the visual enjoyment by incorporating unusually shaped instruments.

The story features the relationship between family and society, and deals with a variety of electrical appliances, from washing machines and black-and-white TVs to cell-phones and computer games.

Beginning before World War II, a little boy named Senkichi becomes infatuated with a girl named Sumi. He one day gives her a music box. Years later, Senkichi comes back from the front and marries Sumi, and later have a daughter they name Yukie. By the time Yukie becomes a mother herself, everything, from their lifestyle to their familial relationships, has changed. Old Sumi begins remembering the past when she brings out the music box.

The Deaf Puppet Theater, which was established in 1980, is the only puppet company of its kind in the world, and has been invited to perform Boxes at an arts festival for the disabled in Cambodia.

"Hako Boxes: Jiichan no Orugoru" will be performed on June 28 from 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and June 29 from 2 p.m. at Setagaya Theater Tram in Tokyo. Admission: 3,500 yen for adults and 2,500 yen for children. For more information, contact Foundation Modern Puppet Center at (044) 777-2228 or visit

Link to Deaf Puppet Theater Hitomi web page (in Japanese):

Actually, I have been pleasantly surprised by the recent coverage of Japanese Sign Language in the Daily Yomiuri lately. Here is an article from June 12 (link) about the difference between JSL and Signed Japanese:

Japan's evolving sign languages a challenge for users and interpreters

By Yoji Yamahata / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

When it comes to sign language, you have probably noticed that some television news programs feature it, or you may have seen interpreters signing during lectures to convey what is being discussed. Often, the kind of sign language seen in such settings is Manually Coded Japanese--also called Signed Japanese. It is a system in which word-level signs are simply applied in accordance with the word order of standard Japanese. It can easily be learned by the hearing as well as those who become deaf later in life.

In contrast, Japanese sign language (JSL) is something that has developed spontaneously among hearing-impaired Japanese. For those using JSL, it is difficult to understand Manually Coded Japanese. Therefore, some JSL signers who also teach the language released a set of DVDs earlier this year, aimed at sign language interpreters and hearing people.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there were about 276,000 recognized deaf people in the nation as of 2006, of whom about 64,000 communicated by sign language.

It is believed that modern JSL has its origins in signs that were used at a school for the deaf that was established in Kyoto in 1878. In JSL, which features a different grammatical system from that of Japanese, movements of not only hands, fingers and arms, but also facial features--with the mouth moving as if to pronounce "pa" and "po"--can supply grammatical elements. According to one unofficial estimate, there are about 57,000 people who communicate using JSL today.

On the other hand, Manually Coded Japanese is based on a system used at a sign language organization established in Kyoto in 1963. This type of sign language is often taught at clubs by hearing people.

According to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, the nation's official education system for the deaf until the 1990s focused on training children to read lips and produce sounds. In recent years, more and more schools for the hearing-impaired have begun teaching Manually Coded Japanese as they believe that it can benefit such children.

Given this shifting history, it is often difficult for many middle-aged deaf people--who only know JSL--to understand people who use Manually Coded Japanese.

"In the case of Manually Coded Japanese, I can understand just about 20 percent of what is being signed," said Kayoko Sakata, 46, a lecturer at Kansai Shuwa College in Osaka, a school that teaches JSL to the hearing and sign language interpreters.

One of Sakata's colleagues, Kazuki Yano, 58, said, "I can feel at ease if we can enjoy service in JSL at hospitals [for example]."

Sakata and Yano are among the producers of a set of two DVDs titled Odoroki no Shuwa "Pa" "Po" Honyaku (surprising sign language: translations with "pa" and "po") released in March this year by Osaka-based publisher Seikosha. The discs, which run to 4-1/2 hours and are accompanied by a 192-page book, feature a list of vocabulary, give advice on how to express feelings and explain how expressions can be different between men and women or between generations.

"If sign language interpreters also have knowledge of JSL, they can give translations that allow the deaf to understand better what is being talked about," said Fumikazu Teraguchi, 42, a hearing employee of Kansai Shuwa College.

Prof. Akihiko Yonekawa of Baika Women's University in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, pointed out that there is often miscommunication among the deaf, saying: "Middle-aged people signing JSL find themselves not understood by the younger generations who are fluent in Manually Coded Japanese.

"It is desirable that [interpreters] can switch between suitable kinds of sign language depending on the audience they are working for and choose expressions that they can understand."

Of course this article over simplifies many things and I have problems with some of the claims and statistics cited, but still I am happy that such issues are being reported in a daily newspaper.

Here's another article from the Daily Yomiuri on June 12 about Meisei Gakuen school (link):

Kids connect at school in sign language

Tomonori Iwanami / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer

With smiling faces all around, there was lively conversation among students in a classroom at Meisei Gakuen school in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. Yet the classroom remained silent.

Opened in April this year, the private school is the nation's first school for hearing-impaired children offering classes based on Japanese sign language (JSL), which can be acquired naturally as a mother tongue by such children and features a different grammatical system from that of Japanese.

Traditionally, sign language has been discouraged in the nation's education of deaf people, which instead has mainly encouraged children to lip-read and make sounds. This approach was based on the theory that hearing-impaired children have to fit in with the life of the nondisabled, and sign language was thought to be a major obstacle for deaf children when learning Japanese.

However, such training has also resulted in a great burden on hearing-impaired children, said Principal Michio Saito, when The Yomiuri Shimbun visited the school in mid-May.

"They can live a happy life even if they use only sign language," he said. "Creating a school that allows children to study in sign language has been our hope for more than two decades."

Meisei Gakuen currently has 41 students studying in its preschool and primary school. Some of them live in Tokyo's neighboring prefectures, including two who come from as far as Shizuoka Prefecture.

The primary school offers almost the same curriculum as regular primary schools, but one exception is that sign language classes take the place of music lessons, giving students the chance to learn the rewards of expressing themselves in JSL.

Meisei Gakuen is set to open a middle school in a few years.

"It's really fun here," said fifth grader Nanami Miyasaka. "I want to become a kendo teacher in the future."

"What kind of school is suitable for children using JSL? Take a look and you can see for yourself," Saito said.

Many of the students appeared relaxed in class and confidently made presentations in front of other students--scenes that reinforced the principal's comments.

I had a post about this school in April that included a story from the Asahi Shimbun (link).

(Images borrowed from Meisei Gakuen web page.)

Here are two links for more information about the growing movement of accepting sign language as a real bona fide language and allowing deaf children to use JSL as their first language at school:

Link to Meisei Gakuen web page (in Japanese):

Link to Bilingual Bicultural Education center for Deaf Children web page (in Japanese):

Let's hope these positive trends continue.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday Morning Fun: Sign Language Star Wars

Anything and everything can be said with the hands... The question is: would we "get this" if we didn't already know the story? This isn't real sign language per se, but gestures that could accompany a sign language in illustrating the story. Ponder the semiotics of it all, or merely enjoy the video on this early Monday morning.

Link to video:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kyoto Police On Alert To Terrorism

Kyoto Station is an interesting place on many levels. The atmosphere, architecture and people intermingle to create visual treasures. One of my students did a blog on the "Anthropology of Kyoto Station" (link). Now, however, there is an increased police presence and signs announcing terrorism alerts. With various G8 meetings in Japan this year, Japan has been holding drills and publicizing its efforts to make the world feel at ease and/or increase paranoia. I have written before about the various photos that appear quite often in the Japanese media (link). Here's another example:

(Image borrowed from MSNBC.) The caption reads: A police dog bites the arm of a "suspect" during an anti-terrorism practice at the Tokyo shopping and business mall of Roppongi Hills on June 4, 2008. The training was held for the upcoming G8 Hokkaido summit.

See more photos of Japan's anti-terror efforts at the link below (and please don't ask me why they mixed photos of Mariah Carey in with them...).

Link to Japan G8 Security Training on MSNBC:

Back to Kyoto Station. When I was there recently, I saw the sign below.

In case you cannot read the text on the blurry picture (taken on my cell phone camera), it says: With the G8 Minister of Finance Meeting scheduled in Osaka, tighter security measures throughout the Hotel have been recommended by the Authorities. One specific measure that may inconvenience the guests of this Hotel is the removal of paper towels and trash cans during the following period: From Wednesday, June 11, 2008 To Sunday, June 15, 2008. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you in advance for your kind understanding and cooperation.

This observation was confirmed by a recent news article, "Security Stepped Up in Osaka." (Kyoto and Osaka are relatively close and linked together by several train lines.)

Police and other authorities tightened security throughout the city on Friday, both on the ground and across waterways, as the Group of Eight finance ministers meeting got under way here.

The Osaka prefectural police will deploy about 6,000 officers during the event, including guards posted at the Osaka International Convention Center in the city's Kita Ward, the main venue for the meeting, its neighboring facilities and major train stations.

Road access to areas near the venue is restricted until the meeting concludes on Saturday, and all vehicles entering sites near the venue may be subject to police inspections. On Friday, many drivers were asked to open their trunks, and police officers also checked beneath cars for suspect materials.

Many of the trash cans at train stations in the city have been sealed.

Link to "Security stepped up in Osaka" in The Daily Yomiuri, 6/14/08

Train stations in Japan have already been removing (the few and rare) trash cans and coin lockers because apparently terrorists like to place bombs in them. But why the removal of paper towels? Will this prevent terrorists from washing their hands? Luckily, the hotel did not decide to remove the toilet paper.

The hotel sealed the trash cans while the Kyoto Station authorities removed them all. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they removed the public ash trays as well.

Is this all a bit much? (Have I asked this question before?) While I was walking around Kyoto Station I saw a plastic bag with some sort of container in it - apparently litter. But it was suspicious because one rarely sees litter at Kyoto Station - it is incredibly clean. At least two security officers passed by the suspicious bag/litter, almost stepping on it, but did not seem to notice it. Is this the real kind of alert to terrorism that we can expect?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Koshien on a warm summer night...

Since the Hanshin Tigers are so hot (currently in first place, 8.5 games ahead of the Dragons, and riding a 6 game winning streak), it is difficult to get tickets to games. Koshien fills up and die-hard fans stay until the end and even longer. Sometimes one finds themselves trapped in their seats and only able to communicate with the beer vendors for news of the outside world.

Friday, June 6, 2008

"Interactive DVD for Shy People"

(Image borrowed from the Avex Miterudake webpage.)

From Japan Today:

Avex Entertainment has introduced an interactive DVD called “Miterudake.” In the DVD, 50 women appear and just keep looking at you. This is for shy people to train themselves to get used to strangers. You can choose people of different ages and nationalities.

External Link:

2,625 yen
Available from May 23, 2008

Check out the story at Japan Today to see some interesting comments about this "video."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"RACE Project on MSNBC"

Also form the AAA eNews, June 2008:

Not necessarily Japan related, but a follow-up to an earlier post on RACE (Are We So Different? :: A Project of the American Anthropological Association). It's actually pretty cool, check it out.

The RACE Project’s timeline of racial milestones in U.S. history currently is being featured on the original series: “Gut Check: Multiracial In America.” The Gut Check series includes news stories and interactive media components that explore the growing number of Americans living in multiracial families and the issues they face. View the articles, video gallery, a state-by-state map and, best of all, the AAA timeline on the web.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Anthropology News 2008 Fieldwork Photo Contest

From the AAA eNews, June 2008:

Anthropology News welcomes submissions for the AAA Fieldwork Photo Contest. AN will publish winning photographs in a fall 2008 issue of AN and online. Selected photographers will also be invited to exhibit their work at the AAA office.

For submission guidelines, see

Deadline: August 15, 2008.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Discussion Board on HIV/AIDS, Deafness and Disability

Leila Monaghan has started a new discussion board on HIV/AIDS, Deafness and Disability. She describes it as "a place to share information and ask questions. Any information you can share from all your different countries would be welcome." This is another good example of collaboration and open-access and a good source of information for these important issues.

Link to HIV/AIDS, Deafness and Disability: