Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Pilot took photos from cockpit upon takeoff, landing"

OK, so here's an instance when a viausal anthropologist should not take photos...

From Japan Today, 1/31/09:

A 31-year-old captain of an All Nippon Airways group airline has been found to have taken photos with a digital camera from the cockpit of a plane at the time of takeoff and landing when the use of electronic devices is banned, government and airline officials said Friday. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry issued a stern warning Friday against Air Nippon Network, telling it that such action violates the civil aeronautics law that prohibits anyone on board from committing safety-impeding acts.

Air Nippon Network, also known as A-net, said it has grounded the captain and is considering taking disciplinary action. The captain, whose name is being withheld, took photos of the runway at Kochi airport and bird-eye shots of Osaka airport upon takeoff and landing on Dec 6, 2008, the officials said.

Read the whole story:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sunakku Mamas

(Image borrowed from littlemore chika website)

From The Daily Yomiuri Online, 1/30/09:

Sunakku, or snack bars, may be an institution peculiar to Japan. The bars, which can be found in any town--large or small--are run in a rather obscure way compared to more fancy hostess clubs, and they are usually presided over by female managers called mama.

Sunakku can be mysterious places, not only for non-Japanese people but also for Japanese non-sunakku frequenters, as the charm of such a bar is not easily visible. The interior is usually hidden behind a closed, windowless door.

But the photographs of 177 sunakku mamas taken by Naoko Yamada at 164 locations around the nation show that the mamas themselves are the main feature of the cozy bars, as they draw customers with their combination of manly and womanly characteristics.

"As I started to work at a snack bar myself about 10 years ago, I noticed the bar revolves around the mama, or the mama is the draw of the place. I found they are real 'career women,' who can handle customers and various matters, including drinking-related troubles, with masculine determination and womanly care," Yamada told The Daily Yomiuri, while leafing through Sunakku, her debut photo book published by Little More Co.

"While working at a snack bar in addition to my work as a photographer, I began to hope to meet mamas around the nation and take their pictures. So I set off to capture them with my camera, traveling throughout the Japanese archipelago," Yamada said.

Yamada said simply visiting a snack bar and asking for cooperation usually wasn't enough to get her request for a photo shoot accepted. She said she was able to take her pictures thanks to the kindness of many mamas and their customers who were helpful in finding her photographic subjects.

(Image borrowed from colette)

"Sunakku: Yamada Naoko Shashin-ten" will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 18 at Little More Chika in Harajuku, Tokyo. 12 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed on Mondays. Admission: 200 yen. For more information, call (03) 3401-1042 or visit

Read the whole story "Sunakku 'mamas' rule the roost"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Be Linky...

(Image borrowed from Frank's Blog)

One of the early lessons I learned about blogging, and one that I request my students to do in their own blogs, is to be linky: Provide important hot-linked urls that are related to the post subject matter.

Myra from the VAOJ Hawaii Office has forwarded this to me, the master of all linky-ness. Check it out.

How can VAOJ be added to All My Faves?

"In Japan, British photographer finds a home and a theme"

More photo related material in the media that serves as a tool for procrastination for the professor who should be writing syllabi...

From, 1/16/09

They are neither straight reportage, nor simple depictions of nature in rural Japan. Yet, Johnny Hymas' photographs have a lyrical, serene quality.

Held in the lobby of the Electric Power Development Co. office in Tokyo's Ginza district last month, the British nature photographer's solo exhibition "Japanese Scenery Appreciated by the World" was a solemn view of Japan's scenic beauty through 36 large-format images. Brilliant in color, his pictures of a field of rape blossoms swaying in the wind in Nagano Prefecture, cascading Oirase Stream in Aomori Prefecture, the Kushiro Marsh in broad sunlight in Hokkaido and geometric patterns of stepped rice paddies in Chiba Prefecture remind us of the richness found in seasonal changes of this country.


"If you take a photograph, it's an instant thing, but you have to know it means something. If you don't feel anything in your heart when you take a picture, it's worthless..."

Read the whole story:

See Johhny Hymas' official homepage:

"New Panasonic cameras come with facial recognition feature"

Another story from Japan Today, today:

Panasonic Corp said Wednesday that from February it will market four compact digital cameras capable of registering facial data in advance so that the cameras will automatically focus on specific people. With the function, users can take pictures of their relatives and friends in group photos more easily and can also input the names and ages of their children to record the process of their growth, the electronics giant said.

Read the whole story:

Such technology might be useful not only for focusing on specific people being photographed in public but for filtering out other people whose privacy we don't want to infringe upon.

"Kabukicho street child subject of new photo book"

(Photo by Kwon Choul; borrowed from The Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan webpage)

From Japan Today, 1/29/09:

Perhaps this need to empathize with the underprivileged may help boost sales of the recently released photo collection “Kabukicho no Kokoro-chan” (Kodansha, 1,500 yen).

According to Shukan Gendai (Feb 7), Kwon Chol, a 42-year-old Korean photojournalist, has chronicled the mean streets of Kabukicho for the past 12 years. Kwon’s newest work introduces touching scenes of a homeless 4-year-old girl he first encountered there in September, 2007.

“What’s your name?” he asked her. “Kokoro!” she replied, holding up four small fingers to indicate her age and grinning to reveal badly stained teeth.

Her parents, from a nearby prefecture, had moved to Tokyo, where they shifted from job to job, and eventually wound up living on the streets of Shinjuku.

Apparently from age three onward, Kokoro was left to wander around Kabukicho on her own, waiting for her mother to return from work. According to Kwon, other homeless fed her—items such as hamburgers with expired consume-by dates and ice cream—and she adapted naturally to her surroundings.

“Her living room was a game arcade,” he’s quoted. “Her toilet was the toilet in the arcade. She’d walk around the plaza in front of Koma Theater in her bare feet. Maybe she regarded it the way other kids think of their own backyards.”

Kwon tells Shukan Gendai he became emotionally involved in the child’s well being, helping her father to find a job and assisting the family in the search for affordable housing. But at the same time he couldn’t resist snapping photos of Kokoro-chan, padding about the entertainment district in a tiny hooded sweatshirt, carrying discarded cardboard boxes and sleeping on the sidewalk.

Read the whole story:

I am assuming that Kwon Choul got permission from the child's parents to photograph her and publish his work. This is a strict and necessary rule in any set of guidelines or ethical standards.

(Photo by Kwon Choul; borrowed from The Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan webpage)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ethics of Visual Anthropology in Japan - Part Two

I have unleashed a monster, but with your help we can tame it...

Today we need to look at the various codes, standards and guidelines that visual anthropologists of Japan need to consider when photographing in public for academic reasons. These codes/standards/guidelines pertain to the behavior of photographing in public in Japan and what is to be done with the photographs taken in the process.

We will begin with the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association. The AAA is the world's largest association of anthropologists and I personally know many who have worked hard through the years to help establish research guidelines. I will quote and comment upon the statements that are most relevant to our cause, that is dealing with visual images. The entire Code of Ethics can be downloaded here as a PDF file.

The Code is not necessarily meant to be be a rigid law. The AAA realizes that real life situations cannot always be regulated. From Part II, Introduction:

The purpose of this Code is to provide AAA members and other interested persons with guidelines for making ethical choices in the conduct of their anthropological work. Because anthropologists can find themselves in complex situations and subject to more than one code of ethics, the AAA Code of Ethics provides a framework, not an ironclad formula, for making decisions.

Let's begin with Part III. Research. This section outlines the various groups and peoples that anthropologists must shoulder responsibility to. Part A deals with "Responsibility to people and animals with whom anthropological researchers work and whose lives and cultures they study."

2. Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities.

3. Anthropological researchers must determine in advance whether their hosts/providers of information wish to remain anonymous or receive recognition, and make every effort to comply with those wishes. Researchers must present to their research participants the possible impacts of the choices, and make clear that despite their best efforts, anonymity may be compromised or recognition fail to materialize.

4. Anthropological researchers should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied, or otherwise identified as having interests which might be impacted by the research. It is understood that the degree and breadth of informed consent required will depend on the nature of the project and may be affected by requirements of other codes, laws, and ethics of the country or community in which the research is pursued. Further, it is understood that the informed consent process is dynamic and continuous; the process should be initiated in the project design and continue through implementation by way of dialogue and negotiation
with those studied. Researchers are responsible for identifying and complying with the various informed consent codes, laws and regulations affecting their projects. Informed consent, for the purposes of this code, does not necessarily imply or require a particular written or signed form. It is the quality of the consent, not the format, that is relevant.

6. While anthropologists may gain personally from their work, they must not exploit individuals, groups, animals, or cultural or biological materials. They should recognize their debt to the societies in which they work and their obligation to reciprocate with people studied in appropriate ways.

Part B. deals with "Responsibility to scholarship and science."

1. Anthropological researchers must expect to encounter ethical dilemmas at every stage of their work, and must make good-faith efforts to identify potential ethical claims and conflicts in advance when preparing proposals and as projects proceed.

Part C. deals with "Responsibility to the public."

1. Anthropological researchers should make the results of their research appropriately available to sponsors, students, decision makers, and other nonanthropologists. In so doing, they must be truthful; they are not only responsible for the factual content of their statements but also must consider carefully the social and political implications of the information they disseminate. They must do everything in their power to insure that such information is well understood, properly contextualized, and responsibly utilized. They should make clear the empirical bases upon which their reports stand, be candid about their qualifications and philosophical or political biases, and recognize and make clear the limits of anthropological expertise. At the same time, they must be alert to possible harm their information may cause people with whom they work or colleagues.

The AAA acknowledges that anthropologists have various responsibilities to those they research, academia ("science") and the public that reads the final written works of anthropologists. The most important and the aspect that anthropologists must deal with the most while in the field is the responsibility to those we study. For visual anthropologists this includes who, why and how we photograph/film/video.

As Karl G. Heider, in his book Ethnographic Film (2006 [1976], University of Texas Press; see especially pages 110-112) discusses, the AAA Code of Ethics does not directly deal with visual images. Nor has the Society for Visual Anthropology (a section of the AAA) ever developed a code of ethics specifically for visual anthropologists. Thus visual anthropologists have had to draw from the general in planning and carrying out their specific projects in specific real life settings.

Heider also discusses the requirements for gaining informed consent from those people we research. ...[W]e have a responsibility to do nothing that will harm the people we study and film. The greta problem, of course, is to anticipate the potential damage a film might do to people's physical, social, and psychological welfare, as well as to the "safety, dignity, or privacy of the people" with whom we work. The ethnographic filmmaker, as well as the ethnographer, must be aware of the considerable responsibility that accompanies the license to study and film.

The conscientious ethnographic filmmaker will avoid the more obviously unethical practices. But it really is not possible for people to give fully informed permission for their images to be used in a film...

The problem is that at the moment of shooting no one can really know how the footage will turn out or how he or she will appear. And the subject certainly cannot anticipate what will be preserved, omitted, or juxtaposed during the editing. And it also turns out that even when people see themselves in a finished film, they cannot anticipate how that film will affect others.

In their introduction to the book Image Ethics (1988, Oxford University Press; see especially pages 3-33), Gross, Katz and Ruby ponder the morality as well as the rights and responsibilities of "image makers."

Although journalists, artists, and scholars may all use photographic technologies for different purposes and in different ways, these are moral imperatives which might appropriately be seen as common to all "professional" production and use of images:

1. The image maker's commitment to him/herself to produce images which reflect his/her intention, to the best of his/her ability;

2. the image maker's responsibility to adhere to the stnadards of his/her profession, and to fulfill his/her commitments to the institutions or individual who have made the production economically possible;

3. the image maker's obligations to his/her subjects; and

4. the image maker's responsibility to the audience.

The authors go on to discuss the changing times and repercussions of the representation of "others." Gone are the times when image makers could treat their subjects as strangers or be confident that their subjects will never see their work. Now we must expect our subjects to see our work and be critical of it. Some subjects might want the opportunity to represent themselves. Some subjects are even Native Anthropologists - see Kuwayama 2004: Native Anthropology: The Japanese Challenge to Western Academic Hegemony, Trans Pacific Press.

The Right to Privacy is another aspect that Gross, Katz and Ruby deal with. They list and describe four breaches of privacy:

1. ...intrusion into one's private space, or even into one's privacy while one is in a public space if one has not consented to being filmed or photographed.

2. ...the disclosure of true but embarrassing facts about individuals, when these facts are not deemed to be of legitimate concern to the public.

3. ...false light by images which distort the truth and create false impressions of one's intentions, character, or actions.

4. Appropriation. The interest protected is not so much mental as a proprietary one, in the exclusive use of the plaintiff's name and likeness as an aspect of his identity (quoting Prosser 1960: 406).

Related to this idea of appropriation is a report of a recent symposium, Japan Image Use Conference.

On June 23, 2008, the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources held a symposium in Tokyo (International House of Japan) entitled “Japanese Images: Using Them to Support Japan Studies Internationally.” Bringing together librarians, publishers, museum staff, editors, Japanese studies professors, and other interested parties, it was a landmark event in developing good practices for image use relating to Japan.


These anecdotes evoke the intimate, complex world of image use and permissions processing, a specialized appendage of our writing, publishing, and international research and understanding activities. Visual images of Japanese artworks and reproductions of manuscripts, documents, artifacts, and other materials are being used with increasing frequency in books and periodicals, and even in cases where the images are for educational or scholarly publications, express permission in writing may be required.

This conference wasn't focusing on the individual's privacy and portrait rights but still give interesting insights into the idea that images are something that can be bought, sold and owned.

Let's switch gears away from academia and examine how the Japanese press deals with visual images. The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association (日本新聞協会) has a Canon of Journalism which might be useful to explore.

The public's right to know is a universal principle that sustains a democratic society. That right cannot be ensured without the existence of media, operating with the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, while being totally committed to a high moral standard and fully independent of all powers. Member newspapers resolve to retain their role as the fittest standard-bearers in this regard.

In a modern society flooded with a vast range of information, the public is constantly required to make correct and swift decisions on what is true and which information to select. It is the responsibility of member newspapers to respond to such requirements and fulfill their public and cultural mission through accurate and fair reporting, and through responsible commentaries.


Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and newspapers have that absolute freedom in both their news coverage and editorial comment. In exercising that freedom, however, member newspapers must be duly aware of their heavy responsibility and be constantly mindful not to impair public interests.


Newspapers are the first chroniclers of history, and the mission of reporters lies in the constant pursuit of truth. Reporting must be accurate and fair, and should never be swayed by the reporter's personal conviction or bias. Editorial comment should be an honest expression of the writer's belief, not to court popularity.


Member newspapers should pay utmost respect to the dignity of human beings, put a high value on individuals' honor and give serious consideration to their right to privacy. They should also acknowledge errors and correct them promptly, and in cases when an individual or a group has been unjustly maligned, adequate steps should be taken to rectify the situation, including the provision of an opportunity to reply.


In the performance of their public and cultural mission, member newspapers must be available for anyone to read anytime, anywhere. They should maintain decency both editorially and in the area of advertising, and in their circulation practices they should at all times exercise moderation and good sense.

As for specific guidelines about taking photographs in public and publishing them, I have been told that the Association has published a pamphlet on these issues, 取材と報道. I have contacted the Association and have requested a copy; hopefully I will have access to it soon.

It might be useful as well to see the policies of a specific Japanese newspaper. Japan Today, launched in September 2000, is a Tokyo-based online newspaper, featuring all the latest news on Japan and the world, including national, political, entertainment, business, technology and sports news. I enjoy Japan Today not only because it is convenient to read on the internet and has most of the important new stories, but because it allows readers to comment and add to the stories. Granted many of the comments are not so enlightening, but once in a while somebody really adds something important to the story. This is a good example of collaboration.

Japan Today discusses the use of photographs on-line in its Terms section:


Japan Today makes every effort not to infringe on citizens’ rights when it publishes photos. However, there are times when it will not be possible to obtain the permission of persons appearing in photos. These cases will include events which Japan Today staff or freelance photographers attend for the purpose of news gathering, such as press conferences, outdoor performances such as cultural, entertainment and sporting events, political rallies, crime scenes, business establishments and other events deemed newsworthy by the editors.

From time to time, Japan Today publishes photos of everyday scenes around Japan. In such cases, we will endeavor not to prominently show the subjects’ faces unless the photographer obtains permission.

If a person objects to being in a photo that appears on Japan Today, he or she may contact the editor in writing and ask for it to be removed from the site. A final decision will be made depending on the news value of the photo and the circumstances in which the subject appears in the photo.

Japan Today also has a section for people wishing to post photos along with their comments in its Moderation Policy:



The maximum pixel width is 800. The maximum pixel length is 1,100.
Any images over that size must be made into a link. No more than 3 images per post, to include any images a member places in quote boxes. Three images per post only. Any more than that will become links and if a member continues to post more than 3 images per post, a member will be placed on post moderation.
The following rules apply to photos, illustrations, avatars, anime and manequins:


* Pornographic images and links - not allowed.
* Underage images of a sexual or suggestive nature - not allowed.
* Nipples visible on women - not allowed, not even a little bit of nipple showing
* Nipples through see-through clothing - not allowed
* Pubic Hair/genitals showing - not allowed
* Underage photos - not allowed


* National Geographic Pics of naked women - acceptable
* Nipples standing up under non-see through clothing - acceptable
* Shirtless men - acceptable
* Nude painting - acceptable

So now we know...

Today we have reviewed academic and media ethical codes, guidelines and standards. Please ponder these things, digest and comment. Yes, I know what you are asking at this point: But what are the actual laws and how to photographers and visual anthropologists go about their work in Japan? I have been working towards these ends. I have contacted many photographers and photojournalists and have received a lot of interesting and important information. I would like to wait a little bit for those who haven't responded yet to voice in. So look forward to hearing from professionals in the field next time, along with some discussion of regulations dealing specifically with posting photos on the internet (Creative Commons licenses; Blogger, Photobucket and YouTube regulations, etc.). I am hoping to have a draft of "The Standards for Students of Visual Anthropology in Japan" around the beginning of February (and the beginning of the new semester). Stay tuned to VAOJ...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Osaka Night Trips and Falls"

Shot in one night with my cell phone camera.

Edited in one day with my Mac.

Inspired by Tokyo Reality and The Prodigy.

For more information, read the study guide/spoiler below.

What is this?

The other night I was out enjoying the Osaka night life. Time slipped by pleasantly and quickly and soon it was time to go. Hopefully I would be able to catch the last train home. I put on my earphones and switched on The Prodigy (Fat of the Land, 1997) on my iPod. On my way to the train station I encountered a dancing baby and a giant pig with skewered meat and beer. It was then that I decided I would make a little movie about my experiences that night and I shot several minutes worth of the baby and pig with my only available resource, my cell phone camera (Toshiba 910T allowing video recording in W320XH240).

As I continued to and through the train stations I encountered people returning home and/or engaged in other interesting activities. I started to put the film together in my mind. It would be a first person narrative based on the sounds and visions of my own experiences returning home. I likened it to the (in)famous "Smack My Bitch Up" video by The Prodigy (the video is constantly being removed and re-added to YouTube, so if this link doesn't work, do a search to find its replacement). Of course my night on the town and return home on the trains would be more mundane and less exciting than The Prodigy video. After all, I was a visual anthropologist making a documentary of real life experiences. I started to concentrate on certain scenes that would be necessary: trips up and down stairs and escalators, getting on and off trains, etc.

Then it dawned on me that I was making similar film as in the recent Tokyo Reality that I posted about not so long ago. This was to be my own low budget Osaka Reality. I was having a good time listening to music, making and filming my observations and contemplating such thoughts.

But then while I was transferring to a different train I happened upon the man lying on the ground. Was he simply drunk and passed out? Was he hurt and in need of immediate assistance? The music on my iPod was now a distraction to the worries in my head. The first thing I noticed is that no one was helping the man. Some people barely noticed him. Others carefully walked around him. Some seemed concerned but unsure as to what to do. A drunk man passed out on the ground is hardly a rare event at this time of night, but what if this man was hurt? I continued filming, not necessarily the man but the actions and reactions of the people around him. Finally a passerby noticed me and blocked my camera with his hand (was the passerby concerned about the man's portrait rights?).

I went up to the station attendant's office and told them about the possibly injured man. The station attendant already knew about the situation and as I turned away I saw the man being assisted out of the train station. So he was only drunk. Same old, same old...

Trying the catch the last train after a night on the town in Osaka. Who knows who and what one might encounter? Or maybe not. Maybe every night is the same.

My film changed drastically at that point. Sure, all's well that ends well, but what if the man was really injured? I was reminded of the Murakami Haruki book about the Aum Shinrikyo subway attacks; one of his main points was few people seemed to care or went out of their way to assist the victims during the tragedy. Many people walked right on by trying to get to work on time. Murakami ponders of how this is a reflection of Japanese society. Are innocent bystanders really innocent? So images of the dancing baby and partying pig were drastically cut yet their symbolism remain important.

Is this too much consideration for three minutes of poor quality video?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

JSL Classes at Kwansei Gakuin

From today's Yomiuri On-line:

More and more universities beginning to offer JSL classes

At one point during a lesson last month at Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, lecturer Kazumi Maekawa turned off the lights and then turned them back on again. This is a sign used among deaf people to call for a group's attention, at which her students stopped the practice exercise they were doing and faced the lectern.

The students were learning Japanese Sign Language (JSL), which has developed spontaneously among the deaf in Japan. An increasing number of higher educational institutions here have been introducing JSL as part of their language programs, with Kwansei following that path since April, when it opened its human welfare studies department.

JSL, which will be offered to freshmen and sophomores, is treated as an elective foreign language for students in the new department. The institution hopes learning the sign language will help the students develop a broader viewpoint on welfare.


In addition to Kwansei, Shikoku Gakuin University in Kagawa Prefecture has been teaching JSL for the past decade, while Japan College of Social Work in Kiyose, Tokyo, introduced it for this academic year.

According to Yasuhiro Ichida, a teacher in the education and training department of the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities in Saitama Prefecture, there are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people in the nation whose first language is JSL.

"It's a welcome trend that JSL has been treated as a language in its own right," he said.

Read the whole story:

Feedback, please: What other Japanese universities offer JSL classes? Are the JSL classes listed as foreign languages or social welfare?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ethics of Visual Anthropology in Japan - Part One

As long and loyal readers of this blog are well aware, VAOJ has always been concerned about the ethics of photographing and filming in public. How can visual anthropologists best illustrate various aspects of Japanese culture and still protect the lives and interests of the people we research? This question is not only philosophical and academic in nature; for me as an active visual anthropologist and teacher it is an everyday concern. What right(s) do I have as an anthropologist to take pictures/video of Japanese people living their everyday lives? And how can I best advise my students who follow the same pursuit?

These are not easy questions and Japan seems to be an especially challenging arena to explore these issues. Loyal and long readers have put up with my procrastination for some time. Many apologies are in order. And so here I go...

The goal of this exercise is to establish a set of guidelines for my students and other visual anthropologists of Japan in their pursuit of using visual media and methods in their ethnographic pursuits. To this end I have been examining ethical standards of academic organizations, Japanese privacy and portrait rights laws, practices of photographers in Japan and the experiences of anthropologists in the field dealing with real life issues and dilemmas. Needless to say the amount of information and data is overwhelming. And so I have decided rather than present a finished piece of work, I will do a work in progress presentation utilizing the advantages of the blog format. Here I can use words and multimedia images and solicit feedback through the course of my research and fieldwork. And so (once again), here I go...

Three things have especially encouraged me to end my procrastination in this endeavor. The first is that the new semester starts in less than a month. This semester I hope to incorporate more information and exercises in photography, so ethical standards of what students can photograph for the course is especially important.

The second thing is a recent article about a police officer taking pictures of a woman's legs on the train. This story is different from the usual and countless stories of men taking "up-skirt" photos. Here, a man, a police officer no less, is taking a photo on his cell phone on the train, a public space. The story appeared in Japan Today, 1/12/09:

Cop arrested for taking picture of woman’s legs on train in Kanagawa

(I provide the entire text of the story as I am unsure how long the link will work.)

A 59-year-old police lieutenant was arrested early Monday for violating a Kanagawa public nuisance ordinance, accused of taking pictures on his cell phone of a woman sitting across from him on a train on Sunday.

Shigeyuki Usui, head of the traffic section at the Misaki police station in Miura City, is accused of taking a picture of a 24-year-old woman’s legs as she sat across from him on the Keikyu line at about 6 p.m. on Sunday. The man sitting with the woman told police he noticed Usui’s cell phone camera flash and heard the camera function twice. He took Usui to station staff when the train stopped at Kanazawabunko station.

One photo of the woman’s legs was found stored on Usui’s cell phone, but he has denied the allegation, saying: “I pressed the wrong button on my phone. I didn’t mean to take a picture.” Usui also said he had been drinking at a friend’s house in Yokosuka City and was on his way home.

Link to story and comments at Japan Today:

So taking photos in public is a public nuisance in Kanagawa? Or is the issue that a man was taking photos of a woman in public without her permission?

The third thing is the "Picture of the Day" at Japan Today, 1/14/09.

(Image borrowed from Japan Today, 1/14/09)

Caption reads: This poster, featuring celebrities’ photos, has been put up at subway stations by the Japan Association of Music Enterprises (JAME) to raise public awareness of portrait rights of celebrities.

Link to photo and comments:

Portrait rights seems to be an important issue in Japan, and although the "rights" in question in the above article seem to be for celebrities and their managing companies, the issues involved might shed important light for the practicing visual anthropologist. With this in mind, I found a couple of blogs dealing with (and mostly critiquing) the idea of portrait rights for famous people. See the following example:

(Image borrowed from

Why is it that you always see pictures of people with their faces blurred out on Japanese blogs? Is it because that the faces have not been blurred out but are actually of people who have blurry-face-disease? The answer is Japanese Portrait Rights(肖像権(しょうぞうけん)) - rights introduced to "protect" folks in the entertainment industry but has become widespread enough to affect just about everybody in Japanese society. Read on to find out why I think that this is a bad thing.

Link to Danny Choo's article on Portrait Rights in Japan

And another:

(Image borrowed from Neomarxisme.)

Infringement on their "portrait rights" (肖像権). You see, the portrait rights are not only a "personal right" (人格権) but also a "property right" (財産権). "Portrait publicity rights" (肖像パブリシティ権) are a big part of the entertainment industry's profit structure, and although there are no laws specifically protecting these rights, the courts have ruled in the management companies (jimusho)'s favor over the years. These rights mean that I can't just throw a picture of Amuro Namie on my candy bars to help sell them in the market.

Link to "Stop Using Images of People We Own!" on Neomarxisme:

One interesting point here, I think, is that there are no existing laws regarding portrait rights specifically whether it be for celebrities or common folk. It seems unfortunate (but not surprising) that courts seem to side with the big businesses. Also of interest is the seemingly unrealistic aspects of these so-called portrait rights. I have witnessed on numerous occasions that whenever a famous person is in view, the hordes of people in the public are all taking pictures of them with their digital cameras and cell phone cameras. Are these people all breaking the law? Of course it depends on what these people do with the images they capture. So what is they post them on a private blog? Or an "educational blog?" Is this OK?

For the purposes of visual anthropology we really need to move away from celebrities and focus on real people. What rules do we need to follow when we do visual anthropology in Japan? What is we are doing a study on fashion and want to photograph women's legs on trains? Is this really a public nuisance? Do we need to get permission from people in public spaces when we photograph them for academic purposes? What are the laws?

I will continue and deal with these questions in my next post. Until then, please give me feedback.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Webby Talents: Share Your Disability Videos

VAOJ recently received an email from Webby Talents:

Webbytalents is a new website sharing for films made by or for people with disabilities accross the world.

It is also a new kink of platform at the crossroads between a social site and a site media designed to break down barriers for the world's disabled.

On Webbytalents you’ll be able to share and discover videos from around the world.

Nonprofits and organizations, Webbytalents helps you publicize activities and events.

It is also a good way to learn about disability from different countries.

No matter who you are, artists, filmakers, performers, athletes, heros or spectators sitting at home. Use Webbytalents to share your talents.

Everyone can participate and become an agent of change for better integration of disability.

Join Webbytalents to learn, share experiences, stories and testimonies. Upload and share videos and links.

For more information, see an article posted on Suite

Link to Webby Talents:

A quick search didn't come up with any Japan-related materials, but there are a few deaf related videos. Webby Talents is relatively new and seems to be an interesting visual resource dealing with the so-called disabilities.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Abstract Logo: Practical Applications for Visual Anthropology

(Image comes from

An interesting query from H-ASIA:

Dear H-ASIA fellow members:

An acquaintance is working on a project. Since it is internet-based, and he is naturally concerned that it have a positive image worldwide, he would like to know if the abstract logo... actually means anything in, say, Japanese, Chinese, Korean. He would be thankful to know if it has any meanings or could infer anything that may have an adverse effect on the international image.

Any comments please?

I find this request to be very enlightened. When working with logos, abstract or otherwise, it is always a good idea to figure out what kinds of meanings they might evoke. Recall the problems that occurred when the Chicago Cubs in an advertising campaign used the image of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy flag in the background of a photo of their new player Kosuke Fukudome. Simple research into the problematic use of such a symbol could have prevented offending American war veterans and Japanese peace-niks.

I offer some possible ideas about the above logo from the Japanese context.

Does it resemble the kanji character, (which generally means old)?

Does it resemble the mask of sentai ("Power Ranger") characters or Ultraman characters?

(Sentai characters image borrowed from

(Ultraman characters images borrowed from Shahizan Homepage)

Does the logo resemble or remind one of the masks worn by professional wrestlers and/or professional wrestlers-turned-politicians?

(Image borrowed from Japan Probe; the Great Sasuke became a member of the Iwate Prefectural Assembly in 2003 and later ran for governor - he lost...)

Does the logo resemble or remind of samurai armor? I imagine many of the above examples are based upon samurai armor, but I am hardly a specialist in these areas.

(Image borrowed from

Have I taken this exercise too far? Maybe yes, maybe no. The meaning creation process involved with symbolism is complex. Interpretants (see Peirce) and chains of associations (see Saussure) are rooted both in cultural contexts and individual experiences. So, once again, I applaud the businessperson making this inquiry. Is the information in this post helpful? Are these the kinds of meanings you hope to generate for your business? What do other visual anthropologists have to say about the logo and/or the ideas expressed here?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Expensive Tuna: Why is this Weird?

(AP Photo borrowed from

This story has appeared in many places, but MSNBC categorized it as "World news/ Weird news."

Premium tuna fetches $100,000 at auction

Prized bluefish tuna is shared between two bidders at Tokyo market

Two sushi bar owners paid more than $100,000 for a Japanese bluefin tuna at a Tokyo fish auction Monday, several times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade, market officials said.

The 282-pound (128-kilogram) premium tuna caught off the northern coast of Oma fetched 9.63 million yen ($104,700), the highest since 2001, when another Japanese bluefin tuna brought an all-time record of 20 million yen, market official Takashi Yoshida said.

Yoshida said the extravagant purchase — about $370 per pound — went to a Hong Kong sushi bar owner and his Japanese competitor who reached a peaceful settlement to share the big fish. The Hong Kong buyer also paid the highest price at last year's new year event at Tokyo's Tsukiji market, the world's largest fish seller, which holds near-daily auctions.


"It was the best tuna of the day, but the price shot up because of the shortage of domestic bluefin," Yoshida said, citing rough weather at the end of December. Buyers vied for only three Oma bluefin tuna Monday, compared to 41 last year.

Read the whole story at

Why is this story classified as "weird?" Is this a case of: Oh, there go those Japanese again overspending on strange fish/food? Certainly it was an expensive tuna, but weird? Not so, I think. Just another case of capitalism run amok...

Anthropologist Ted Bestor has been researching about the globalization of bluefin tuna, sushi, Tsukiji and the fishing industry for some time. Click here to see a preview of his book.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Tokyo Reality"

Tokyo Reality (Canon 5D MarkII) from utsuru on Vimeo.

My colleague, E.K., brought this video to my attention. It is billed as "The world's first non official short movie shot with the Canon EOS 5D MarkII." We get the following information in the film and at the websites:

1 cameraman with Canon 5D MarkII - 3 days in Tokyo
1 video editor with MacBook Pro - 2 days in France

More informations on: (english & french)

David Michaud, Photograph/Cameraman freelance since 2002 in Tokyo/Yokohama Japan

Florent Porta, Freelance Video Editor in France

I can't read French (those that can, please feel free to help me out with comments), but it seems that the whole point of the film is to display the tool that made it. VAOJ usually doesn't delve into the gear so much, but for more information on the camera used, check out the site below.

Information and review of this camera at Digital Photography Review:

What VAOJ usually does dig into is the way Japanese culture is represented in film and video. How do you think "Tokyo Reality" does in this regard? Technically the film is shot and edited well. The contents are on the mundane side, which is a nice change from the heavy "weird Japan" focus that many filmmakers tend to present as of late. But I wonder if it is too mundane. Is there too much focus on the train/subway? Surely Tokyo is more than that. The music is nice, but it seems to be on the mellow and almost sad side and certainly effects the visual images. So again, the question remains, what does the film tell us about the reality of Tokyo? And whose reality is it? Who is the man that the film focuses on from time to time? Personally I would like more background information on this film. Does this film want to make you seek such backgorund information? This would be one indicater of the film's success. The film has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times according to the websites, so they are doing something right. So what am I missing? Should I focus on the camera/tool and not pay so much attention to the contents? Is "Tokyo Reality" a music video (commercial) for Canon?

Saturday, January 3, 2009


(Image borrowed from

Story from Japan Today, 1/3/09:

Filmmaker hopes to start debate on Japan's 'burnout' psyche

By Miwa Murphy

Kazuhiro Soda, a Japanese documentary filmmaker based in New York, says he has always felt uneasiness about the way in which mental illness is often associated with stigma and shame in Japanese society, saying it is as if an "invisible curtain" shields the mentally ill from the rest of the population.

His latest documentary film, "Seishin" (Mental), which premiered at the Pusan International Film Festival in October and won the best documentary award there, is a candid invitation to the world to look beyond that curtain.

A chronicle of lives focusing on a small outpatient mental clinic in Okayama City, the 135-minute film makes the viewer feel as if he or she is making a personal visit to the clinic, questioning what it means to be "sane" and "insane" along the way.

Read the whole story:

For more information, including a trailer and blog with updated news, see the filmmaker's web page about the film.

Link to Mental web page:

Mental health is indeed an important and usually overlooked/ignored issue in Japanese society and most certainly is a worthy subject for a documentary film. Should be of interest for visual anthropologists. Happy New Year!