Saturday, October 31, 2009

"1st grad school for visually, aurally challenged to be launched"

From Japan Today, 10/31/09:

Japan’s first graduate school for students with visual or aural handicaps will be launched next April at the state-run Tsukuba University of Technology in Ibaraki Prefecture, it said Friday. It will be the world’s first graduate school for visually impaired students and the third for hearing-impaired ones, following such schools as Gallaudet University in the United States, according to the university.

Master’s degrees will be offered in two faculties—industrial technology for visually challenged students and health science courses for hearing-impaired students, which will focus on acupuncture and moxibustion as well as physical therapy. The university is planning to provide various learning aids, such as sign language, Braille and magnified letters to accommodate the students’ needs.

Good news, perhaps, but word to the wise: sign language is not a "learning aid." And why should blind and deaf people be limited to only two fields of study? This story is another classic example of the deficit model of deafness (and other so-called handicaps): let's help the disabled by giving them prescribed programs. Such good intentions ignore the basic human rights of minority peoples who use different languages and/or language delivery systems than the majority.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don't be a self-centered zombie visual anthropologist

Today in Vis Anth class we were discussing Susan Sontag's "On Photography" (1977); in particular we were talking about how the action of taking photographs affects the scene being photographed. Certainly the act of photographing makes the scene even more important, something worth commemorating. What we as visual anthropologists want to do is to reduce our interference and invading of the scene. By coincidence there was an interesting article in Japan Today entitled "Self-centered zombies running rampant through Japanese society" that provided some good examples of interference/invasion.

During the Japan Open golf tournament held in mid-October, 18-year-old pro golf prodigy Ryo Ishikawa botched his swing on a bunker shot for a double bogey.

It may have been shutter noise emitted from the cell phone cameras brandished by the horde of adoring spectators that interfered with his concentration. Subsequent to that, staff at the country club went into the crowd to plead that spectators refrain from picture-taking. But ring tones and shutter noises continued right up to the final hole.


A certain Ms A and her female friend women were partaking a meal in an upscale Italian restaurant when she noticed the couple at the neighboring table using a cell phone camera to shoot pictures of their food—probably to post on his blog. The boyfriend looked over at the dish “A” was eating and said, “Wow, that really looks tasty,” and then without warning approached her table and snapped photos of her meal.

“I was too shocked to say anything, but thinking about it afterwards, I really felt humiliated,” she tells the magazine.

The article discusses these and other scenarios as examples of bad manners in Japan. Self-centered zombies, as if in time for Halloween, are running amok. Avoid such interference/invasion and don't be a self-centered zombie visual anthropologist, not even for Halloween only.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lecture on New Visual Research Methodologies

Announcement from SSJ:

Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture presents

Dialogues on the Intersection of Art and Scholarship (II): an introduction to new research methodologies

DATE: 12 November 2009
TIME: 5:00pm to 7:30pm (Q & A with directors after screening)
LOCATION: Room 301, Building 10, Sophia University

The program will consist of short films and a discussion of the methodological issues surrounding the intersection of the following terms - auto-ethnography, anthropological films, a/r/tography, ethnodrama, ethnographic poetry, ethno-fiction and art-based research or action research.

Dr. Sik Ying Ho is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at University of Hong Kong. She is internationally recognized for her work on male and female sexualities and published widely in international journals. Aside from her work as a scholar she also has an active role in radio broadcasting, currently hosting a radio talk-show whereby callers explore their relationship and intimacy issues with her. She has also discovered a passion in documentary film making after her latest project on the lives of middle aged women in Hong Kong. It is through her work in these areas that Dr. Ho had begun to engage in artistic endeavours and other forms of art-based research on gender and sexuality issues. She hopes to show that meaning making and creation can just be as powerful through actions and images as through the written word.

Jolene Mok is a graduate in Creative Media and now works as a research assistant to Dr. Ho. Her interests span a number of mediums including photography, video and new media as a way of creating her own platform for expression. She is particularly interested in action/participatory research which emphasize interaction and collaboration among participants. She believes that this will not only lead to a development of a mutual educative relationship but also to allow her to continue her journey of learning and growth.

Sik Ying HO & Jolene MOK Production was co-founded in 2008. Their collaborations have led to the creation of a number of documentaries detailing the lives of Hong Kong women and their experiences of middle age. The two women whilst born in different eras share a belief that communication is a multi-channel process and through their experiences of making the documentaries have discovered how filmmaking has been an alternative yet powerful way of presenting these women’s stories as well as eliciting their own.

List of films to be shown during the session:

Virgin Mary, 10 mins (Dir. Sik Ying HO), 2009
“Virgin Mary” is the story of Constance, a single woman at the age of 48 who is still a virgin. This film explores her reasons for adopting a 4 year old boy as
well as reasons for staying single.

My daughter’s younger brother...but he’s not my son, 10 mins (Dir. Sik Ying HO), 2008
The story of TO-Bik Yu, whose divorced husband has asked her to care for his son that he had with his new younger mainland wife. The film focuses on how she handles her life after marriage and the relationships that arose as a result of its demise.

Love Competition, 10 mins (Dir. Sik Ying HO), 2009
A story of a Hong Kong woman who is fighting to win back her husband from the mistress that he met on the mainland. Her belief is that if she loves her husband more, then he will realize this and return to her. Thus she sets out on a mission to become the ideal wife to him in order to show that her rival is of no competition.

24, 30 mins (Dir. Jolene MOK), 2009
In this auto-ethnography Jolene MOK compares the path she has embarked upon in contrast to two friends who had taken distinctively different paths. Through this film it is hoped that her journey of discovery as a result of the Second Spring project can be shared with her classmates from the School of Creative Media as well as to a secret lover who had yet to hear her true feelings.

No prior registration necessary
Lecture and discussion in English
Films have subtitles in English

For more information see the ICC webpage:

"Cop caught taking up-skirt videos during anti-pervert campaign"

From Japan Today, 10/27/09: (Amusing considering the last post...)

Police said Monday that a Tokyo police sergeant will be prosecuted under a prefectural nuisance prevention ordinance after he was caught using his cell phone camera to take up-skirt videos with his mobile phone camera on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line on Sept 18.

The incident took place right in the middle of an anti-“chikan” (pervert) campaign being conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to stamp out groping on trains.

The offense was noticed by another police officer who was on the same train. Police said that the sergeant broke his cell phone in half, destroying the evidence, after he was reprimanded by the officer.

According to authorities, the sergeant, who is in his 50s and served in Tsukiji’s organized crime division, resigned from his post and apologized, admitting to the charges and saying that he had committed the same act several times in the past.

For the story and reader comments:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Police to request installation of security cameras on trains"

From Japan Today, 10/24/09:

Police decided Friday to request that 16 train operators in the capital region install security cameras on trains as measure to prevent groping and provide investigators with hard evidence of the crime often believed to result in wrongful convictions.

The Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo along with the Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectural police will convey the request to East Japan Railway Co. and 15 other train operators on Monday at the Tokyo police headquarters, the police said.

The National Police Agency plans to set up a study group in fiscal 2010 on introducing security cameras on trains as some have raised questions about the idea in relation to cost and privacy concerns, but the four local police headquarters decided to move ahead, saying they hope the request to serve as a ‘‘catalyst’’ for a debate on the issue.

Police expect high-resolution cameras to be installed on the ceilings of train carriages, which they say may not be able to capture a groper’s hand movements but could provide information on who stood where inside the train when molestation occurred. They also believe the cameras would serve to deter crime, they said.

Read the whole story:

"Diplomats express 'wabi,' 'sabi' concepts via lens"

From Japan Today, 10/24/09:

An exhibition of photographs taken by diplomats and members of their families in Japan will open Oct 27 in Tokyo, showcasing a variety of work imbued with the Japanese concepts of "wabi" and "sabi."

About 90 works by 58 diplomats and family members, representing 37 countries plus the European Commission and Palestine, were selected from about 500 submissions that freely interpreted the theme "Colors of Japan" for the annual show, known as "Japan through Diplomats’ Eyes."

This year’s show, which will move to Nagoya in November and Osaka in December, features a special theme, "Wabi-Sabi," with "wabi" reflecting beauty found in simplicity and tranquility and "sabi" showing appreciation of transience and withered things. It is the first time that the event has carried a second theme, making it more challenging for participants to express their interpretation of Japan through the lens.


The show will run through Nov 3 at the Roppongi Hills business and commercial complex in Tokyo. It will be held in Nagoya from Nov 21 to Dec 3 at the Central Park shopping mall, and in Osaka from Dec 16 to 24 at Osaka University of Arts’ Hotarumachi Campus in Fukushima Ward.

Read the whole story:

For more information, see Japan through Diplomat's Eyes:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Controversial New Documentary Film: The Cove

(Image borrowed from

There has been much talk about the new documentary film, The Cove, which depicts the alleged slaughtering of dolphins in a small Japanese village. The film brings to the forefront the age-old question of cultural traditions versus animal rights. Do the Japanese have the right to kill and eat dolphins? How about whales? How about blue-fin tuna?

Here are some sections of a recent article about the new film from Japan Today:

"The Cove" gets mixed reaction from Japanese audience

"The Cove," a U.S. investigative documentary about dolphin hunting in Wakayama Prefecture, made its debut in Japan on Wednesday, with the movie’s director describing the work as a "love letter" to Japanese people informing them of the adverse health effects from eating dolphin meat.

The film, which has prompted criticism of dolphin hunting in the western Japanese town of Taiji following screenings in countries such as the United States and Australia, was shown as part of the lineup of the 22nd Tokyo International Film Festival.

Director Louis Psihoyos flew into Tokyo for the festival despite worries that he might be arrested on trespassing charges from making “The Cove.” Police have repeatedly questioned the secret shooting of key footage in the documentary.

The fishermen have blocked access to the cove with barbed wire and fences, and Psihoyos was unable to get permission to access it. So he and his film team secretly broke into the restricted area—which is in a national park—at night to set up cameras that capture the slaughter.

“It’s very courageous of the Tokyo film festival to show this film,” said Psihoyos. “I’d also like to thank the Japanese government for not arresting me when I came in. I was pretty nervous yesterday, and I’m still a little nervous about getting out.”


Organizers at the Tokyo film festival clearly wanted to distance themselves from the film. A disclaimer stating that the festival had nothing to do with the production of “The Cove” ran at the start of the screening, and festival officials prevented journalists from interviewing viewers, herding them off the premises of the event in Roppongi Hills.

Japanese people who watched the movie showed mixed reactions, with some calling afterwards for a halt to the dolphin hunting and others raising questions about some of the ways the film was made.

"It’s a movie that takes up a difficult issue," said Mai Miyashita, a 32-year-old housewife living in Tokyo. "I can only say that dolphin hunting should be stopped immediately...although I do not think it will be easy because the livelihood of people in Taiji depends on it."

Rikako Yamane, a 21-year-old university student from Tokyo, said she was shocked to see footage of dolphins being killed by fishermen, but added that she felt the movie was lacking in the presentation of objective data as well as the voices of people in Taiji.

Tempei Miyaji, 26, a university student who lives in Germany, expressed concern that the scene of the dolphin killing was taken covertly.

"I cannot deny that (the movie) is evocative, but there may be some parts that are exaggerated," Miyaji said. "It would have been good if it had included what local people have to say and become something that would lead toward a resolution through talks."

Junko Inoue, a resident of Saitama, said she found the final scene, where dozens of dolphins trapped in a hidden cove are speared by fishermen, turning the water blood red, “shocking.” But she didn’t think the hunt should be stopped entirely. “There are a lot of cultural differences in people’s eating habits,” she said.

“Westerners say it’s OK to kill and eat cows, but not dolphins,” said Hiroshi Hatajima, a 42-year-old office worker from Tokyo. “That kind of special treatment isn’t going to register with a lot of Japanese. We have to eat animals to survive. It’s a cultural clash.” The film, while well-made, “comes across as somewhat propaganda-like,” he said.


At a press briefing following the screening, Psihoyos praised the film festival for its "courageous act" to show the film, but noted that the move was made possible due to the change in government in Japan that ousted the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"Three months ago, it would have been impossible to show this film. The LDP...was an oligarchy and the outgoing powers did not want this film shown," he said without further elaboration.

Read the whole story and reader comments at Japan Today:

The film brings up a lot of interesting issues in both its subject matter and filming methods. And it certainly does not hide its own bias.

For more information about the film:

Sundance Film Festival webpage:

The Cove webpage (includes a trailor):

Friday, October 23, 2009

“Architecture & Photography: Longing for the Past and Reconstructing the Future”

Announcement from H-Japan:

Upcoming event at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, Japan:

Nichibunken Evening Seminar on Japanese Studies (143rd Meeting) November 5, 2009 (Thursday), 4:30 P.M.-6:00 P.M.

Speaker: Murielle Hladik

Topic: “Architecture & Photography: Longing for the Past and Reconstructing the Future”

Language: English

Place: Seminar Room 2, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 3-2 Oeyama-cho, Goryo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 610-1192



What are the relationships between architecture and photography? How has the photographic eye toward the past been used as an instrument for a (re)-construction of national identity? If in the West, modernity in architecture was constructed with a hypothetical tabula rasa, what about Japan’s interest in traces and remains of the past? What is the meaning of “past”? Is “past” not always a kind of reconstruction and even “a foreign country,” as stated by David Lowenthal?

Japanese modernity, which oscillates consciously or unconsciously between “tradition” and “modernity,” needs to be reinterpreted in terms of reconstruction of national identity. How did the photographic medium, used as an instrument of propaganda, play an important role in this (re)-construction process? The selective choice of an “image” of the past will be aired in textbooks on the history of architecture in Japan, but also becomes an image that will be exported to the West. This talk will explore how this re-invented image of the past serves as a reinterpretation of a phenomenon and (re)-creation of modernity, or even as a hybrid modernity.

About the speaker:

Murielle Hladik, an Architect with a Ph.D in Philosophy, is a professor at the School of Architecture of Saint-Etienne and a researcher at the Research Center for Contemporary Logic of Philosophy, University of Paris 8. Her research interests include Japanese aesthetics, comparative philosophy, and theory of architecture. She is the author of the book Traces and Fragments within Japanese Aesthetics (2008).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Japanese Film Workshop at Meiji Gakuin University

Announcement from H-Japan:

Please join us for the next meeting of the Japanese Film Workshop on November 12 (Thursday), 7PM, at Meiji Gakuin University, Shirokane campus. The venue is called "Kyozai junbi shitsu" (教材準備室), a room next to the office of the Department of Art Studies (芸術学科) on the 6F of the main building. The Japanese Film Workshop is open to all, and directions to Meiji Gakuin can be found at:

The Alterity of Cinema: Subjectivity, Self-Negation, and Self-Realization in Yoshida Kijû’s Film Theory

Patrick Noonan--PhD Candidate at University of California, Berkeley.

In a number of articles written between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, filmmaker Yoshida Kijû sought to re-theorize the production and consumption of film in Japan. He called for a cinematic form in which filmmakers paradoxically disassociated themselves from the production of they very films they were creating. Renouncing control over a film, he believed, would prevent filmmakers from communicating a specific message to an audience and, thereby, provoke an audience to interpret and complete a film’s significance. Creating such a film, he contended, required a new understanding of the filmmaker’s self. The previous generation of filmmakers, Yoshida thought, saw themselves as entities distinctly separated from others, entities that used film to express a particular idea, often politically disengaged fantasies, to an audience of passive receivers. For Yoshida, by contrast, the filmmaker’s self always existed in relation to an other – the very film itself, an actor, or an audience. By “negating” the individuated self during production, a filmmaker could create a film that would cause audience members to analyze it and, in turn, incite them to scrutinize and engage in the social and political situation of the time.

Yoshida’s film theory, I argue, displays an ethics of self-realization in its formulation of the relationship between the self and other. In his theory, self-negation (jiko hitei) leads the self to know itself as other, as essentially unknowable to itself, through its interaction with others. At a time when devotion to a theory of self-negation ultimately led sects of student activists to violently attack one another with the intent to eradicate those that adhered to differing revolutionary ideologies and tactics, Yoshida’s use of the term led him to formulate a theory of ethical social life wherein self and other remain mutually exclusive yet bound to one another through a common activity: the creation of cinema. Within the context of the 1960s, Yoshida’s theory represents one among many attempts to conceptualize and practice a form of collective life outside of or in contrast to the dictates of dominant institutions and ideologies of the time.

For more information, please contact:

Always interesting to know what others in the field are doing...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sour Music Video - Cool Webcam Videography

Here's a fun viral video that was recently featured on Boing Boing by the band Sour. Very creative, visual and collaborative. Check it out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Be careful, even with consent you might get busted...

We have been talking a lot about the ethics of taking photographs in public in Japan, perhaps too much. Now it seems many of my students are afraid to take pictures of people. The following story certainly won't help matters...

Story from Japan Today, 10/15/09:

Taxi driver, woman arrested for making up-skirt videos in Osaka park

Police on Wednesday arrested a Kyoto taxi driver and his female companion on charges of creating a public nuisance after they were caught making up-skirt videos on a slide in a park in Osaka’s Minato Ward.

According to police, Isao Tanabe, 38, and Maiji Kurozawa, 25, were spotted by a passerby at about 11 a.m. Kurozawa was flashing her underwear while Tanabe was filming it. The passerby, a woman, called police.

Officers arrived on the scene and questioned the pair. The two told police they met via the Internet, and that Tanabe paid Kurozawa 10,000 yen to pose for the video. Tanabe was quoted by police as saying, “It’s been a passion of mine to film women’s underwear, and I have done it before.”

The park is located in a residential area.

OK, so this is an extreme case. But the point is that the taxi driver asked for permission to take photos of the woman. And she said yes. In class I didn't mean to scare my students away from photographing people by introducing a set of guidelines, rather I hoped to encourage them to interact with people. Get their permission to take their photograph. Talk with them. Get useful information. This is called fieldwork. Respecting people and their privacy and following ethical guidelines does not mean avoiding people altogether. As some of our readings have suggested, the camera forces us to be out their and open with the people we study. It forces collaboration. This is an important contribution that visual methods give to the discipline of anthropology.

"HIV/AIDS continues steep increase in Japan"

Story from Japan Today, 10/15/09:

Many foreigners who live in Japan are surprised to know that HIV and AIDS is increasing rapidly in Japan. While HIV/AIDS infections in North America, Western Europe and Australia peaked in the late 1980s, Japan’s HIV infections have continued to increase. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s Annual Report on HIV/AIDS Surveillance in Japan reports that in 2008 there were 1,126 HIV and 431 AIDS reports, the largest number of yearly reports to date.

Despite much media attention to the point of what is now known as the “AIDS panic” when the first AIDS patients were diagnosed in 1992, in recent years there has been a lack of media attention given to HIV/AIDS. The lack of English information, in particular, might lead foreigners in Japan to assume that they do not need to think about HIV when having sex in Japan.

“The majority of HIV and AIDS reports in Japan are among gay and bisexual men, who have little targeted HIV information and support, and there is a particular lack of resources in English. In recent years, the data indicates a slight increase in HIV reports among foreign gay and bisexual men, so we decided there was a need to investigate the health and information needs of foreigners in Japan,” said Prof Seiichi Ichikawa who is head of the Study Group on the Development and Evaluation of Community-based HIV Prevention Interventions for Men who have sex with Men at Nagoya City University.

The study group is looking for gays, lesbians and bisexuals living in Japan who are interested in doing the English language Internet survey which is being conducted until Jan 31 2010. The survey is anonymous and confidential. The Gay Travel Internet Survey can be found on a secure SSL site at

An important reminder of the HIV/AIDS situation in Japan as it's been a while since VAOJ has posted on the subject. Click here for previous posts. While it is good to see these kinds of stories in the media in Japan, it is unfortunate how much attention is paid to foreigners and gay men as the usual scapegoats, rather than looking at the more important reasons for the increases in HIV/AIDS. "The lack of English information, in particular, might lead foreigners in Japan to assume that they do not need to think about HIV when having sex in Japan." How about the lack of information or dialogue among Japanese people leading to assumptions that they don't need to worry about safe sex?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese Invisible Man

(photo borrowed from

Myra in the Hawaii VAOJ office brought my attention to this. No photoshop here, this man uses paint to blend in. Seems there is some political commentary going on as well.

Check out more photos of this art at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Photo Album featuring Ainu Living in Tokyo

Photo and story borrowed from Kyodo News, Oct. 6, 2009.

Photo album of Ainu people living in Tokyo published

A record of the daily lives of Ainu people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area has been published as a photo collection.

Around 160 photos in "Ainu, at times Japanese" depict Ainu people who are involved in traditional religious exercises, dancing and singing, and marriage ceremonies despite being far from their hometowns, mainly in Hokkaido.

"I have repeatedly visited Hokkaido to photograph Ainu people as I considered it their living base," said Makiko Ui, a Tokyo-based freelance photographer who shot the pictures between 1992 and 2008. "But I was surprised to know it is estimated that at least 5,000 Ainu people live in and around Tokyo."


The new photos also include a shot of a Tokyo rally in May last year, at which Ainu people demanded the government give them indigenous status. In response, the government eventually recognized in June last year that the Ainu are an "indigenous people that have their own language and religious and cultural identity."

Read the whole story: