Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Major revision of sign language dictionary under way"

From today's Japan Today:

Around 1.2 million people are said to be using sign language in Japan. While they are dealing with new words and phrases that constantly emerge such as in information technology, many also say they are often confronted with difficulty expressing subtle nuances peculiar to Japanese.

To address these challenges, a major revision, the first in over a decade, is under way to a sign language dictionary aiming to make sign language easier to understand and use.

University professors, former teachers at schools for the deaf and others gathered at a sign language training institute in Kyoto in June for discussions on how to express in sign language ‘‘futokoro ga itamu’’ in Japanese, a rough equivalent to ‘‘hit someone in the pocketbook’’ in English.

One expert said, ‘‘How about pointing out with a finger to the chest (futokoro) and then wave a hand to express being in pain (itamu).’’ 

‘‘It would just mean ‘the chest hurts’,’’ followed another.

‘‘Or better yet, why don’t we just adopt a gesture for throwing money away,’’ another person said.
Even though discussions on this topic were drawn out for hours, they—all members of the Japan Institute for Sign Language Studies in Kyoto—could not reach a conclusion at the meeting, where they also deliberated on other issues.

They are engaged in a wholesale revision of ‘‘Nihongo - Shuwa jiten’’ (Japanese Sign Language Dictionary), a work compiled in 1997 that lists words and phrases along with example sentences that would be useful in conversation.

‘‘Futokoro ga itamu’’ means cash in hand is getting scarce. ‘‘Futokoro’’ is an inside breast pocket where one places a wallet, while ‘‘itamu’’ denotes ‘‘hurt.’’ The Japanese expression is also loaded with the nuance that one is in pain because of mounting expenditures.

‘‘Just lining up words could run the risk of producing a completely different meaning,’’ said Akihiko Yonekawa, supervising editor of the dictionary who teaches at Baika Women’s University in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.

How sign language exactly originated in Japan remains shrouded in mystery. Some say it was derived from ‘‘conversations’’ of hearing impaired people using gestures, while others say signs were created as a tool for instruction at schools for the deaf.

Like spoken languages, sign languages vary depending on countries or region.

In Japan, a school for the blind and hearing impaired was established in 1878 in Kyoto, where sign language was used for instruction. Thereafter, a number of organizations were set up in various parts of the country for hearing-impaired people and for those wishing to learn the language.

In 1969, the Japanese Federation of the Deaf in Tokyo published a lexicon called ‘‘Watashitachi no Shuwa’’ (Our Sign Language), the first attempt to list sign language expressions commonly used nationwide. Some people, however, were puzzled by the use of some words that appear in a wide range of expressions such as ‘‘nomu,’’ a verb, meaning literally ‘‘to drink,’’ but which is used for not just drinking liquids but also taking medicine or catching one’s breath.

The Japan Institute for Sign Language Studies is planning to publish the revised edition of its dictionary next spring with around 6,000 words and more than 10,000 example sentences, around 20 percent more entries than its 1997 edition, according to editors.

To be added are words from information technology, health care and other areas. ‘‘The Internet,’’ for instance, is expressed with the clenched left hand encircled once by the right hand with the little finger lifted, while ‘‘influenza’’ requires the right hand with the little finger lifted put in front of the mouth accompanied by coughing, the editors say.

In Europe and the United States, many private-sector companies and government offices have dedicated sign language interpreters. In Japan, sign language services are provided often only by volunteers, who are limited in number.

Eiichi Takada, the 77-year-old director of the institute who is also hearing-impaired, said, ‘‘Through this dictionary, I hope an increasing number of people will feel more familiar with sign language and study it.’’

Read the story and reader comments:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend in Kyoto

Autumn has finally come to Japan and I was lucky to be able to enjoy the sunny, cooler weather in Kyoto - along with my trusty Nikon D-700 of course. Featured below are shots from Kyoto Station, the Philosopher's Path and a fire drill.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gallery Talk on Early Photography from the 1860 Japanese Delegation to New York

 Image borrowed from Museum of the City of New York Webpage.

Announcement from H-Japan:

Early Photography Talk at the Museum of the City of New York for the exhibition, "Samurai in New York: the First Japanese Delegation, 1860"

I would like to announce that there will be a gallery talk given by Mr. Tom Burnett, one of the most prominent collectors of early Japanese photographs in the Unites States, this Sunday, September 26th, 1:00 p.m. at the Museum of the City of New York.

Mr. Burnett is one of the major lenders to the exhibition at the museum, entitled "Samurai in New York: the First Japanese Delegation, 1860, "which commemorates the hundred fiftieth year anniversary of the Tokugawa mission's visit to the city as the final destination of their tour through the United States.  The purpose of this mission was to ratify the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the two nations, which had been concluded by Townsend Harris in 1858.

The exhibition visually illustrates this moment of history by featuring objects and images in variety of media, including contemporary photographs, newspaper illustrations, woodcut prints, decorative art, and a sword, lent from Japanese and U.S. private collections and some major museums in the city.  The exhibition will end on November 7th, but all the objects and images lent from Japan will only be shown until October 11th.

This US tour of the main delegation sent by the Tokugawa shogunate has been generally less known in comparison to Kanrin-maru, another steam ship sent by the Tokugawa to accompany the main delegation until they arrived at San Francisco.  The main delegation, on the other hand, proceeded to Washington to ratify the treaty and then went on to New York.  This mission also predated another well-known Japanese delegation in the Iwakura Mission under the Meiji government.  The exhibition will give a rare opportunity to examine this specific piece of early diplomatic history toward the end of Edo period in the environment of an American local museum in a concise display.

Link to Museum of the City of New York "Samurai Delgation in New York" Web Site:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Okinawa photographer captures life around military bases"

From today's Japan Today:

Okinawa Prefecture-based photographer Mao Ishikawa on Saturday opened an exhibition in Nago in the prefecture showcasing the lives of diverse groups of people who live near U.S. military bases.

On display at the Nago Museum are about 80 pictures by Ishikawa, 57, taken between June 2009 and July 2010 during her extensive visits to areas near the Marine Corps’ Futenma air station, its possible relocation site in the Henoko district in Nago and entertainment areas near the Kadena air base.

One picture shows a Marine with a tattoo of the World Trade Center buildings, which collapsed in the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks, with the letters ‘‘NEVER FORGET,’’ while another shows a bar owner treating young American soldiers like her own sons.

Ishikawa, who has long been photographing her native prefecture, has also captured people outside military circles, such as an Indian clothing store owner and Japanese people moving to Okinawa from other parts of the country.

The exhibition will run through Oct 3 excluding Mondays. It will reopen in January at a venue in Okinawa City in the prefecture.

Ishikawa and her work both seem to be very interesting. Here are some more links about her:

Mao Ishikawa (in Japanese):

Mao Ishikawa, by Eye Curious

Review: Mao Ishikawa, Life in Philly, by Eye Curious

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Apple CM iPhone4「恋人」" w/ Japanese Sign Language

Here is a clip of an iPhone commercial that features deaf people doing Japanese Sign Language. I had heard about it for a few weeks but only found it today on YouTube. Pretty cool. There is an American commercail that features a little bit of ASL at the end of it as well. Good technology that both deaf and hearing people can utilize. 


Link to American iPhone commercial (with a little bit of ASL at the end):

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Taiyaki's international photography tour"

From today's Daily Yomiuri Online:

When freelance photographer Mika Sudo travels around the world, she takes no ordinary companion. For the past 20 years, taiyaki, or fish-shaped Japanese pancakes filled with adzuki bean paste, have gone along for the ride.

The taiyaki are immortalized in her photos of Machu Picchu, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Peru. Another photo shows a taiyaki placed precariously on an Indian man's turban.

An exhibition featuring about 80 such photos, taken in 34 countries, began Wednesday at the Senjushuku Rekishi Petit Terrace, a gallery remodeled from an old traditional warehouse in Adachi Ward, Tokyo.

Soon after she went freelance about 20 years ago, Sudo was shooting a beach in Chiba Prefecture. Attempting to eat a taiyaki during a break, she accidentally dropped it on the beach. Inexplicably, she then placed the pancake on a seawall and took its photo.

Seeing the photo later, Sudo felt as if the taiyaki, covered with sand, was looking at the ocean. "I thought: It's alive!" she said.

Unable to forget the elation she felt at that moment, Sudo managed to photograph taiyaki in between school-event and corporate photography work.

Another decisive moment led to Sudo taking the taiyaki overseas. In the summer of 1998, her younger sister Rie, with whom she lived, killed herself.

Sudo was so shocked and lonely that she wanted to kill herself, too. After a while, she decided to cancel all her work and go wandering around the world.

Yet she needed a companion, and immediately chose taiyaki, purchasing some of the sweets in vacuum-packs and putting them in her travel bag.

Shooting photos of the taiyaki on the streets of New York and France, Sudo felt reinvigorated. About two months later, she returned to Japan.

"When photographing the taiyaki, I could concentrate on myself. Because I had taiyaki with me, I wasn't lonely," she said. "It was just like having my little sister along."

Taiyaki have since become indispensable on her photography trips.

Sudo goes abroad three or more times a year "to escape reality," and photographs taiyaki just as ordinary travelers photograph their friends.

Due to language barriers, she often relies on body language to ask people to pose and let her photograph them with taiyaki. Some are suspicious and others amazed at being photographed with the unique-looking sweet.

Read the whole story:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another New Semester...

The new fall semester has begun and new visual anthropology students are starting their photo journal blogs. Their first posts on their early of impressions of Japan are scheduled for Friday this week. So please check out their posts and give feedback. It's going to be another great semester for visual anthropology!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Perspectives of Frankfurt and Goethe

My summer of teaching at Goethe University and living in Frankfurt, Germany was valuable on so many levels. I enjoyed working with the Goethe students and experiencing a language and culture I had virtually no previous knowledge of. I must admit that I have become too comfortable (at times) living in Japan. My summer in Germany shook things up for me, and made me understand a little better what my international exchange students go through here in Japan. I hope the experience has made me a better teacher, anthropologist and photographer. Please excuse this highly reflexive post. But I feel I need to say something now that I have left Germany and am back teaching in Japan. I am not doing this for any sense of closure, because I don't want the experience to end. And in my mind it never will. And so this post, as I told my students at Goethe before I left, is not a sayonara (farewell) but rather a mata ne (see you again).

I went to a lot of places in and around Frankfurt and I took thousands of photos. One might think that seven weeks of this would make me somewhat familiar with Frankfurt. But two things make me question such an idea. Towards the end of my stay my friend Fabian took me on a tour of Frankfurt, beginning with a trip to the top of the Main Tower. Here I was able to see great views and gain a better understanding of the layout of the city. I was surprised at how close certain places were; taking the underground all of the time really distorted my sense of space and time. It seemed crazy that I had to take two different subway lines to get to the university when it was in fact so close to my flat. So I suppose this is a good lesson for anthropologists: get as high as you can to reach better understandings of your environment.

After seven weeks in Frankfurt I left for a three week visit to the United States. Then I returned to Frankfurt (to grade papers and calculate final grades). Upon my return to Frankfurt so many things seemed different. Posters and advertisements in the train stations had changed. Construction had been started or progressed in certain areas. The convenience store below my flat was remodeled. There were enough changes to make me wonder if I had actually lived there for seven weeks. And upon my return, still under the influence of jet lag, one of my students assertively quizzed me about where I had and had not been in Frankfurt. These things made me question the representations of Frankfurt I was making with my photos. Did I really know enough about Frankfurt to post photos on this blog? Did I really have an sort of ethnographic authority to post my photos? Were my Goethe students really justified to be paranoid about me "anthropologizing" them? I will continue to ponder these questions and welcome any thoughts/comments from those reading this post.

Click here to see photos of my friends and students from Frankfurt.

The Ethnology graduate students at Goethe have a tradition of pounding a nail into a special stump after they have finished their degree. Here Bastian looks at the stump in anticipation as he works to finish his Master's Thesis. Oh so many nails sticking out... but not to be hammered down.

Some of the Goethe Ethnology students are doing interesting things with photography. Check out their work below:

Link to Armin's Europott Frankfurt:

Link to Armin's fotografie:

Link to Daniel's thorpe-d:

Link to Annie's Photography:

When trying to come up with a conclusion for this post, the clip on my new Goethe University ball point pen broke off. So much for the stereotype of tough, rugged German products. Much of what I thought I knew about Germany and visual anthropology was challenged during the summer. And I am grateful. Frankfurt: I'll be back. Until then...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"More Western movies being dubbed as Japanese audiences tire of subtitles"

From today's Japan Today:

The number of Western movies subtitled in Japanese is rapidly declining as 3D movies become more common and viewers grow more averse to reading text on screen.

Instead, many theaters are opting to show films dubbed in Japanese.

About 40% of the theaters that showed “Avatar,” the world’s first full-length commercial 3D film, used the dubbed version. That ratio climbed to 60% for “Alice in Wonderland” and about 60% for “Toy Story 3.”

“Inception,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, wasn’t done in 3D, but about 40% of the copies showing here are dubbed in Japanese.

Film distributors in Japan acknowledge that subtitled movies have traditionally been the way to show foreign films in Japan, with the dubbed versions used mainly for animated movies aimed at families with children. In Western countries, however, it’s the reverse: Most foreign movies are shown with the actors’ voices dubbed in the local language.

Nowadays, many Japanese viewers are complaining how difficult it is to read subtitles on screen, movie distributors said.

“Many theaters have started saying they don’t need the subtitled versions anymore because dubbed versions can draw more audiences,” said a sales representative at a major movie distributor.

“The spread of 3D movies will further decrease the number of theaters showing subtitled versions,” the source said.

Natsuko Toda, a noted translator of movies, believes the subtitled version is the best form for enjoying a foreign movie because the true voice is one of the major attractions i the performance of an actor or actress.

Japanese people have long preferred subtitles because of their strong adoration of foreign culture, the country’s high literacy rate and the nature of kanji, which can convey much information in a small space, Toda said.

“It’s good that audiences can have more choices, and I’d be happy if dubbed versions help people who didn’t like foreign movies to see more of them,” Toda said. “But I hope that people don’t start relying on dubbed voices because they can’t read kanji.”


Sunday, September 5, 2010

"UNAIDS Executive Director commends Japan’s commitment to AIDS and the Global Fund"

From, September 3, 2010:

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé congratulated the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on his country’s generosity to the AIDS response. Japan has invested more than US$ 1 billion in HIV assistance to low-and middle-income countries since 2002. Japan is a leading donor of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which was first conceived at the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa.

In his address at the opening of the “Access to Life” photo exhibition in Tokyo, Prime Minister Kan emphasized the commitment of the Government of Japan to support the global AIDS response at the upcoming Summit for the Millennium Development Goals.

“Infectious diseases are a threat to human security, but progress in treatment has enabled people living with HIV to lead normal lives,” said Prime Minister Kan. “At the MDG Summit, I will do my best to present strong support for the global AIDS response through our support for the Global Fund.”


In a public address at Tokyo University, Mr Sidibé urged Tokyo to become the first G8 capital to reach UNAIDS’ bold target of zero new HIV infections by 2015. Japan has a low national HIV prevalence rate of 0.01-0.02%.

Mr Sidibé paid a site visit to the MSM Community Center AKTA which is located in the heart of Tokyo’s famous Shinjuku district. This night district houses one of the world’s highest concentration of gay bars. The community centre run by the Japanese non-profit Rainbow Ring provides information on safe sex, peer counseling and HIV testing. While Japan’s HIV prevalence remains low, new HIV cases among MSM have been increasing.

Japan's efforts abroad are surely to be commended. But the HIV/AIDS situation domestically is severely downplayed in this article. It is a fact that HIV/AIDS rates continue to rise in Japan. It is also a fact that the official statistics are not accurate at all. Why Japan encourages HIV/AIDS education and awareness abroad but not within its own country is incredibly disturbing. Why UNAIDS thinks that Japan will have a zero rate of new infections anytime soon is incredibly naive and unfortunate.

While the Access to Life exhibition, which can be seen in Tokyo September 5-22, is extremely admirable, it would be beneficial if there were a Japanese domestic version.

For more information:

Link to "UNAIDS Executive Director commends Japan’s commitment to AIDS and the Global Fund"

Link to Access to Life Photo Exhibition

Link to previous VAOJ posts on HIV/AIDS in Japan

Friday, September 3, 2010

WWW Resource: - Ninteenth-Century Chinese Photography

Announcement via H-ASIA:

Web site self description: Interest in early photography in China is growing rapidly. The purpose of this site is to encourage that growth by giving access to images of and information about Qing-Dynasty photography. This site is for historical photography only; the cut-off date is 1911 - the end of the Qing Dynasty. The Terry Bennett Collection of original Qing-Dynasty photographs covers the period 1844-1911, and this site will illustrate a selection of images from that collection.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where are you going to buy some good bonsai outside of Japan? In Superior, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

From a recent trip to America. In Germany I grew tired of taking pictures of all the Japanese and sushi restaurants. But I couldn't resist taking this shot. One can get a short term loan and then buy some bonsai - how convenient!

"Kobe eyes tattoo ban at Suma beach after marijuana case"

From today's Japan Today: Totally ridiculous on so many (visual and other) levels...

The Kobe municipal government is considering banning people with tattoos from a beach in Suma Ward following the recent arrests of college students for alleged marijuana possession during a music event at the beach, city officials said.

The city office intends to come up with a concrete plan during this year, including establishing the rule by ordinance, but banning tattooed people from a public beach is a rare case in Japan as most tattoo bans are for commercial facilities such as saunas. The envisaged ban may prompt controversy over its possible violation of the freedom of expression as tattoos are becoming increasingly fashionable with young people, critics say.

"It is our duty to make a safer environment for the citizens," said a city official as senior officials of the city and Hyogo prefectural police are set to form a special team to work out details such as ways to restrict entrance to the beach.

Suma beach saw the lowest number of visitors in 25 years this summer, with about 620,000 people in 46 days. Some citizens have told the city office that they "hesitate to go near the beach" amid an increase in young people with tattoos, the officials said.

The city enforced an ordinance with a penalty in 2008 that forbids loud noise on the beach during nighttime, yet about 70 music events were held this summer.

Read the story and reader comments: