Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Day of the Year, Last Toshikoshi Soba...

On New Year's Eve in many parts of Japan it is traditional to eat soba noodles called toshikoshi soba, or "end of the year soba." We usually buy the noodles and soup mixing from a local shop and they are always busy selling soba at the end of the year. I went there today around 4:00 PM and was lucky to get the last package of soba. Must remember to get there earlier next year.

Please note that these photos were taken with my new iPhone 4s, the acquisition of which was one of the last big events of 2011 (and I'm still trying to learn how to use the thing...).

Thank you for your attention and efforts during 2011. Happy Holidays from VAOJ!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cute "Subway Manners"

A reminder to mind your manners on the train, even if you have been drinking...

Image from today's Japan Today's "Picture of the Day."

UPDATE 2/3/12:

Another poster in the series...


Thursday, December 15, 2011

"DR Congo election: Deaf anger at ban on texting "

It seems the importance of keitai mail isn't limited to the Japanese deaf... From BBC News, 12/14/11:

Deaf people in the Democratic Republic of Congo say a ban on texting threatens their lives because they no longer receive warnings of violence.

The government banned SMS messages more than a week ago to preserve "public order" following disputed elections.

President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner, but his main rival, Etienne Tshisekedi, rejected the result.

There are an estimated 1.4 million deaf people in DR Congo, which is recovering from years of conflict.

Last month's elections were the second since the 1998-2003 war which claimed about four million lives.

Four people were killed in the capital, Kinshasa, after Mr Kabila's victory was announced. He is due to be inaugurated for a second term next week.

The official results gave him 49% of the vote against 32% for Mr Tshisekedi.

The opposition says they plan to organise mass protests, alleging the polls had been rigged.


"Since 3 December, we've been unhappy," said Pastor Kisangala, the deaf community's religious minister in the capital, Kinshasa.

"We're finding it very hard to communicate. All our communications used to go through SMS messages," he says.


Interior Minister Adolphe Lumanu said he had been "forced to suspend all cellular [mobile phone] text messaging services to preserve public order" because they had been used to "incite ethnic hatred, insurrection and xenophobia" around the 28 November presidential and parliamentary elections.

The measure means deaf Congolese people have been condemned to indefinite isolation.

"Our members are scattered across the city, some are ill in hospital, others are dying. Without communication we don't even know about it," Mr Kisangala said.

Read the whole story.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Silent apps help creeps peep / Disabling camera shutter sound makes smartphones stealthy"

From today's Daily Yomiuri On-line:

Cases of secretly photographing unsuspecting targets using smartphones have been on the rise as users exploit apps that disable the camera shutter sound, but there is no legal impediment to creating and selling these software programs.

Firms in the industry say the blame lies with people who misuse these apps rather than the programs themselves.

On Nov. 12, a man was arrested at a train station in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, after he took photos up the skirt of a female vocational school student with his smartphone as she stood on an escalator.

The man reportedly told police he used an app that silenced the shutter sound to prevent his target from noticing what he was doing.

A man arrested in September after he photographed a woman's underwear in Tokyo also reportedly told police he had used such an app to stealthily take photos about 20 times.

According to the National Police Agency, 1,741 cases of illicit photography were reported nationwide last year, a 1.6-fold increase from 2006.

The largest number of snap-happy camera voyeurs was reported in Kanagawa Prefecture.

"About 30 percent of cases involved the misuse of smartphone apps," a senior Kanagawa prefectural police investigator said.

The latest applications include "upgraded versions" that enable people to silently take photos while an e-mail or website is displayed on the phone's screen to provide cover for the surreptitious picture-taking.

"We can't help but think these apps are designed specifically for taking sneaky photos," another senior prefectural police investigator said.

The shutter sound emitted when a regular cell phone takes a photo is voluntarily installed by phone companies to deter users from taking photos without a subject's knowledge. It cannot be disabled.

However, the situation differs for smartphones.

According to major cell phone carriers NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Mobile Corp., smartphone cameras come equipped with a shutter sound. However, one main feature of smartphones is that users can customize the settings--including adjusting or neutralizing the shutter sound, according to the firms.

A search for the Japanese words "muon" (silence)" and "kamera" (camera) on app sites for Apple Inc. and Google Inc. smartphones turned up about 200 applications. Some boasted they enabled users to "take photos in silence without bothering others," and others said the function "was perfect for taking photos undetected." Some of these programs have been near the top of app ranking charts.

Apple Inc. developed the iPhone, and Google Inc. created the Android operating system.

A representative of Apple Japan defended the availability of the apps.

"There's no problem as long as the developer's stated purpose for the app doesn't go against social ethics," he said.

A Google Japan spokesman said: "A market is a place where developers respond to users' needs. It's up to users to follow etiquette when they use the apps."

The two companies do not plan to remove these apps from their sites.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said it does not have the legal authority to regulate these apps or mobilize government offices to issue administrative guidance.

"Application markets aren't covered by the Telecommunications Business Law," an official of the ministry's information security section said.

However, Keio University Prof. Keiji Takeda, an expert on information security, said some rules were needed for these apps.

"There are limits to legally regulating smartphones whose settings can easily be changed," Takeda said. "However, from a corporate ethics viewpoint, we shouldn't ignore the fact that they're being misused for crimes. We need to consider guidelines for screening and putting apps on the market."


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fall 2011 KGU JSL Study Group - Junko's Party

It's hard to believe that the Fall 2011 semester is almost over. In many ways it seems as though it just begun. Time flies when you are having fun, and plenty of fun was had at the Japanese Sign Language Study Group this semester. We had a good turnout for the whole semester and were able to benefit from a new teaching approach used by local Deaf sign language instructors called the "natural approach." Deaf people from all over Osaka joined us during the semester, and of course Junko came every week to help us study. Tuesday was our last meeting of the semester and we used the occasion to have a thank you celebration for Junko.

Mark Tracy, the Asian Studies Program's Executive Director, presented Junko with a certificate of appreciation and thanks for her six years of volunteer service in the JSL Study group. She was also presented with flowers and other gifts (including some great home-made cookies from M.B.). We spent some time looking at photos of the study group through the years and then had a surprise video message from a former student now back in his own country of Czech.

It was another successful semester of JSL study. Thanks again to Junko, other Deaf visitors and of course to all participants. Keep on studying and spreading sign language in Japan and your own countries.

Click here for more photos from the last meeting. (An extended middle finger means "brother" in JSL...)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BBC's "In pictures: Osaka seeks economic growth"

Photos borrowed from BBC News.

Toru Hashimoto won the position of mayor of Osaka in the election on Sunday. Here is how the BBC reported it (11/28/11):

Japan 'gangster son' Toru Hashimoto wins Osaka ballot


Previous story (11/24/11):

Gangster son takes on conservative Osaka mayor


Hashimoto is quoted here as saying, "There is no other city as vulgar and obscene as Osaka."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. I fear Hashimoto's eyesight...

And here is how the BBC represent Osaka in a 9-picture slide show with captions (11/24/11):

In pictures: Osaka seeks economic growth


Personally, I feel slighted by this representation and Hashimoto's "vision" of Osaka. My frustration and disappointment with Japanese politics continues.

Related links on the Osaka election from Japanese newspapers:

Maverick pair claim mandate to unify city, prefecture
Hashimoto, Matsui win twin Osaka polls


Editorial: Osaka elections mark beginning of full-fledged debate on 'double administration'


Hashimoto wins election / Vows to quickly press central govt on Osaka metropolis plan


Monday, November 28, 2011

"Health ministry warns of increasing rates of HIV, AIDS infection"

Image borrowed from

We were discussing this subject in "Deaf World Japan" class today (and a couple weeks ago in "Globalization" class) and it occurred to me that the increase of HIV/AIDS hasn't been in the news recently. But with World AIDS Day (December 1) it makes sense that we get a story.

From today's Japan Today:

Health Minister Yoko Komiyama made an appearance at an AIDS awareness event in Shibuya on Sunday to encourage Japanese people to take an HIV check ahead of the U.N.-designated World AIDS Day on Dec 1.

Komiyama said AIDS checks are available at public health centers across Japan and are free and anonymous, TV Asahi reported.

World AIDS Day aims to draw attention to the steadily increasing rates of AIDS infection around the world.

The ministry revealed that reported cases of HIV and AIDS infection in Japan last year surpassed 1,500 and that infection rates are increasing. The ministry also added that of those infected, around 70% were in their 20s and 30s, TV Asahi reported.

The ministry also said that it believes around 90% of those infected caught the disease through unprotected sex with an infected partner. A spokesperson urged people to use a condom for contraception and to visit a health center for a check.


Link to HIV/AIDS and Deaf People in Japan:

Link to other HIV/AIDS posts at VAOJ:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Motorcyclist flashes peace sign at cameras during series of speed violations"

There's just no getting away from that peace sign when taking photos in Japan...

Story from today's Japan Today:

Police have arrested a motorcyclist in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, who they claim made peace signs at speed cameras while repeatedly breaking road traffic laws.

According to police, Junichi Wakayama, 36, a freight truck driver, is alleged to have committed a series of speed violations on Route 357 near Narashino between Aug 1 and 10, NTV reported. Police say he passed the speed cameras three times, occasionally driving 60km/p over the speed limit.

Police said Wakayama drove at speeds of over 100 km/h, although he showed signs that he was aware of the existence of the speed cameras, NTV reported.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Atom @ Atelier

Recently Atom Sunada came to Hirakata-shi to give a lecture at Japanese Sign Language「Atelier.」 Atom, born in 1977 in Ehime Prefecture, is Deaf and comes from a Deaf family. He is an actor, artist and sign language teacher and extremely entertaining (and popular). I first encountered Atom several years ago when he was performing with Akihiro Yonaiyama's R-Group (R stands for rou, or deaf), an exclusively deaf theater group.

Atom's lecture was mainly about his background and growing up deaf in Japan. He discussed his "allergy to hearing people" and how he was able to overcome it through his realization of Deaf culture while visiting Gallaudet University in the United States.

Atom's facial expression are especially rich and very much appreciated by Deaf people. I wonder if hearing people find his facial expressions odd? See more photos of Atom at the following link:

See Atom's own web site:

Check out his column (the コラム link on the left) to see his sign language.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Honda unveils 'smarter' Asimo humanoid robot"

Story from today's Japan Today:

Honda’s human-shaped robot can now run faster, balance itself on uneven surfaces, hop on one foot and pour a drink. Some of its technology may even be used to help out with clean-up operations at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Honda’s demonstration of the revamped Asimo on Tuesday at its Tokyo suburban research facility was not only to prove that the bubble-headed childlike machine was more limber and a bit smarter.


Asimo was also able to distinguish the voices of three people spoken at once, using face recognition and analyzing sound, to figure out that one woman wanted hot coffee, another orange juice, and still another milk tea.

The new Asimo got improved hands as well, allowing individual movement of each finger, so it could do sign language.

“My name is Asimo,” it said, making the signs of its words with stubby fingers.

It also opened a thermos bottle and gracefully poured juice into a paper cup.

Read the whole story:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"'Up-skirt' photos increasing / Advances in camera technology leading rise in voyeurism"

From today's Daily Yomiuri On-Line:

An increasing number of cases of camera and video voyeurism using cell phones and spy cameras have been identified recently. According to the National Police Agency, the number of cases nationwide last year increased about 60 percent over five years ago.

Police have stepped up crackdowns against such crimes, but methods of illicit filming have become increasingly sophisticated due to smaller cameras and improved cell phone video capabilities.

Another factor behind the increase is believed to be the existence of Web sites sharing these photos and videos. Experts say it is necessary to take action against such sites.

According to the NPA, the total number of identified cases of up-skirt photos and videos taken in stations and on trains and illicit filming at public baths and bathrooms was 1,087 in 2006. The number jumped to 1,741 cases in 2010. Of those, 1,702 were cases of up-skirt photos and videos, accounting for about 98 percent.

Among prefectures, 266 cases were detected in Kanagawa Prefecture, followed by 201 cases in Tokyo, 131 cases in Hyogo Prefecture, 111 cases in Chiba Prefecture and 103 cases in Saitama Prefecture. About 40 percent of the cases were detected in the Tokyo metropolitan area--Tokyo and its surrounding three prefectures.

In Chiba Prefecture, cases are also increasing this year. According to the Chiba prefectural police, the number of cases from January through September was 60 percent higher than the corresponding period last year.

Especially noteworthy were videos taken using cell phones. Fifty percent of arrests made by the prefectural police on suspicion of violating the public nuisance ordinance involved filming using cell phone video cameras.

A man arrested by the prefectural police on suspicion of illicit filming in Chiba was quoted by the police as saying: "I used the video function as I cannot take still photos well with my cell phone. The still photo shutter sound is too noticeable."

A police officer explained why illicit video is increasing: "It's easier to shoot videos [than take photos] and it's possible to edit videos when the data is transferred to a computer. The video can be stopped anywhere and photos can be made from it," he said.

According to NTT Docomo, Inc., cell phones began to be equipped with video in about 2003. At first, maximum shooting time was short and images were poor quality. However, they have improved remarkably over the past few years and some current models are equipped with high resolution video capability, producing images as clear as those taken by full-sized video cameras.

Filming methods have also become more surreptitious. Some people hide small cameras in a bag or in their shoe. In Akita Prefecture, a doctor was arrested in September on suspicion of having taken a video of a patient while he was examining her with a video camera watch. The doctor told the police he had bought the camera on the Internet.

The number of cases of illicit filming is also increasing in the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Department over the past few years. A senior MPD officer said, "One of the reasons is cameras have become smaller and quality has improved."

Experts say women using cell phones or wearing earphones are more likely to be targeted. A Chiba prefectural police officer warns women to be cautious of their surroundings, saying, "Please check behind yourself on trains or escalators without being totally absorbed in your cell phone or a music player."


Control of Web sites needed

Rissho University Prof. Nobuo Komiya, an expert on criminal sociology, pointed out the necessity of proactive Web site identification by police. "In Japan, measures against indecent images on the Internet are weak and providers aren't detecting Web sites containing illicit images," he said.

Komiya said if such images spread on the Internet, they may cause other problems for victimized women such as stalking. "These images might induce new sexual crimes. I think it's necessary to review current ways of controlling images on the Internet," he said.

Musashino Gakuin University Associate Prof. Yuichi Kogure, an expert on cell phones, said: "Almost everyone carries a cell phone with a camera capabilities, but moral guidance for users is needed. I think the government and cell phone companies need to educate users."


Monday, November 7, 2011

3/11 as covered in Contemporary Japan and Globalization class

We had our 3/11 class last week and here I want to give a report of what we did. Four students offered presentations and had different topics within the very broad theme of the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear accident disasters. I began the class with a brief overview of the disaster – the usual facts and statistics. I then recalled my own surreal experience of feeling the quake, seeing the tsunami on live TV but not really being directly affected in Osaka. Other students who were here on 3/11 gave similar accounts. The disaster was far away and didn’t really impact our lives at the moment other than people recalling their experiences with the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and empathizing with the people of Tohoku.

MS gave his presentation on the media portrayal of the disasters in Japan and abroad. He had examples of perpetuations of Japanese stereotypes and reporting errors that made it difficult for viewers to have an understanding of the actual situation at the sites of the disasters and in other areas of Japan. The effect here at our university was exchange students being forced to leave Japan whether they wanted to or not.

We then turned to the Fukushima nuclear situation with a discussion of the Murakami speech questioning how Japan became so dependent on nuclear energy resulting in the current crisis, which he referred to as “our second massive nuclear disaster.”

We then watched the Nuclear Boy video clip from YouTube.

JM, a former member of the U.S. Navy who worked for 4 years on a nuclear powered submarine, was able to explain how the nuclear power plant works and questioned the extreme and scientifically unfounded concerns of the dangers of Fukushima. For him, the Nuclear Boy anime could not be more true.

JR gave an overview of the tsunami-affected area at the time of the disaster and how things have changed/improved in the last 7 months. DB discussed the disaster in terms of globalization – how a local area of 561 square kilometers resulted in the support and assistance of individuals, corporations and countries from all over the world.

I presented a sampling of the news from the previous 3 days: stories of nuclear decontamination, changing elections methods in Fukushima, donations for reconstruction, searching for missing victims, volunteer efforts in the affected areas, cesium detection on food, tsunami safety drills, protests of nuclear energy... The majority of Prime Minister Noda’s policy speech dealt with 3/11. So it seems as time goes on, the effect of 3/11 resonate all over Japan as well as abroad.

I was extremely happy with the presentations and the discussions they generated. What was missing, I feel, were personal and ethnographic accounts of victims and eye-witnesses. We were able to read about such experiences but to actually hear from people who were directly affected would have added so much more. We did what we could with our distanced experiences. 3/11 is a major influence in the changing Japanese society and culture. I congratulate my students for their desire to study this subject and their efforts to make sense of the disasters and the repercussions that follow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Visual 3/11 Materials

Next week in the Globalization and Contemporary Issues course we will devote an entire class period to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster of 3/11. That is not to say we have not been discussing the topic yet. 3/11 has impacted almost every subject we have taken up. Even the topic of Japanese baseball we covered today (the season was postponed - out of necessity and respect - and eventually modified - more day games to save power).

How will we try to take on 3/11 in the classroom? This is the concern of many teachers and anthropologists. David Slater at Sophia University has been active in organizing a workshop in Tokyo or Sendai next summer tentatively titled "Teaching the Crisis: Materials, Pedagogy and Research for 3.11." Announcements for this have been posted on many Japan-related listservs.

There is also a blog set up to assist in teaching 3/11 materials. From its own description:

Teach 3.11 is a participatory resource to help teachers and scholars locate and share educational resources about the historical contexts of scientific and technical issues related to the triple earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in Japan.


There is also the massive Harvard's Japan Disaster Archive. Its own description:

The Digital Archive of Japan's 2011 Disasters project is an initiative of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University in collaboration with several partners. We aim to collect, preserve, and make accessible as much of the digital record of the disasters as possible, to enable scholarly research and analysis of the events and their effect. We hope that the records preserved will be useful both in the near term as a source of direct information about the disasters, as well as long into the future as scholars seek to understand the events of March 11, 2011 and their impact on Japan and on the world.


This post is a haphazard attempt to organize some of the material on 3/11. In doing so I find myself keep adding more and more. I fear I have lost any sense of structure. So I am going to stop with what I have now (even at the expense of mentioning the increase in sign language interpretation and news sources for the deaf as a result of 3/11 - remember seeing the sign language interpreter at the early press conferences? I'll save this for a future post...)

Here are sources that include photos, videos, first hand accounts, blogs, articles, etc. Please feel free to add more sources and/or comments/advice about the upcoming class session.

Japan Focus' Guide to Resources on Japan’s 3.11 Earthquake, Tsunami, Atomic Meltdown

Japan Focus has several articles on the 3/11 conveniently organized at the following link.


A Summary of News From Japan: After the Earthquake and Tsunami

Photo caption: Japan Burning After Earthquake 2011. This source is what is says - a summary. 


Japan marks 6 months since earthquake, tsunami

Here's an update as to how things have progresses in the last 6 months from The Frame at The Sacramento Bee.

This combo image, the initial destruction and progress of cleanup after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami is seen in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, in northeast Japan. The top photo, taken March 14, 2011, shows Japan Self-Defense Force personnel search for victims near stranded fishing boats and damage from the tsunami. The middle photo, taken June 3, 2011, shows a temporary dump set up in the same area, while the bottom photo taken Sept. 1, 2011 shows a stranded ship still sits in the area after the debris were removed. AP / Kyodo News

Read more:

Colin Tyner's blog posts on The Great East Japan Disaster

[The posts] exhibit my series of posts on the Great East Japan Disaster (Higashi Nihon Daishinsai). I pasted together as one electronic document. All of the links to the articles and pictures appear as on the day that I wrote the piece.


MSNBC Photoblog

A Japanese tsunami survivor stands in front of messages displayed on the wall of a relief center in Rikuzentakata, in Iwate prefecture on March 22. The twin quake and tsunami disaster, Japan's worst crisis since World War II, has now left at least 9,079 people dead and 12,645 missing, with entire communities along the northeast coast swept away.


Conveying the Sadness in Japan’s Stoicism

Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder lives in Japan and was able to capture some great shots to document the 311 disaster and after effects.

Link to a slideshow of his 311 photos:

Japan Quake Shakes TV: The Media Response to Catastrophe

By Philip J Cunningham at Japan Focus: A discussion and description of the Japanese media coverage of the earthquake. Includes several interesting YouTube clips.


JPQuake: Journalist Wall of Shame

Lots of examples of how the foreign/western media has provided "sensationalist, overly speculative, and just plain bad reporting" of the events.


Debris from Japanese Tsunami Could Hit US

Video from NBC Nightly News via MSNBC.

Bringing Photography Into Life-- After 311 Japan Quake

Documentary: 311

Announcement from H-Japan:

311, Directed by Mori Tatsuya, Watai Takeharu, Matsubayashi Yojuu, and
Yasuoka Takaharu, 2011 / Japan / HD / 94 Minutes

311 is one of the first documentaries completed about the March 2011
disaster in Japan and focuses not just on the destruction and human toll,
but also, in a self-reflexive fashion, on the fundamental problems of
media attempting to report on such suffering.

See more information in the flyer below (click to expand):

VAOJ Posts on 311

A distant view from Osaka...

March 12

March 22

March 28

It seems we have more than enough to get started. I am looking forward with great anticipation to our class and how we will organize and discuss 3/11. Again, I beg for comments and advice.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Japanese Technology in the News...

Tokyo tech fair opens with clapping robot

Story and photo above from Japan Today, 10/21/11.

From robotic hand-clapping arms to a device that could show tsunami alerts in the sky, Japanese technology researchers showcased their latest inventions in Tokyo Thursday.

Two pairs of artificial arms welcomed visitors as the Digital Content Expo opened for a three-day run, producing a realistic clapping sound due to the soft palms of the hands.

The arms, named Ondz, are made of white skin-like urethan “flesh” and aluminum “bone.” They create what the developer calls the “organic” sound of human hand clapping by the patting of soft palms.

“I want the the audience to enjoy the creepy and surreal feelings this product gives as entertainment,” said Masato Takahashi, researcher at the graduate school of media design at Keio University, who molded the design on his own body.

Ondz could be used in musical performances, to enhance the sound of real clapping. Or viewers watching a programme online could click a button to make hands at the broadcast site clap, Takahashi told AFP.

He also said he would like to produce a “spanking machine” to hit comedians, as well as stomping feet to complement the hand-clapping arms.

Read the whole story:

'Subtitle glasses' to debut at Tokyo film festival

Story from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 10/22/11.

Olympus Corp. and a nonprofit organization have jointly developed special eyeglasses that project subtitles on the lenses so the hearing impaired can enjoy Japanese movies.

A type of head-mounted display (HMD), the glasses will be unveiled at the Tokyo International Film Festival that runs through Oct. 30.

The device was developed by the Tokyo-based precision equipment maker and the non-profit Media Access Support Center (MASC), based in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture.

MASC has been working to provide better access to information for people with hearing difficulties by promoting captions for films and DVDs, and is providing captions from its Web site through the iPhone to the device.

According to MASC, subtitles for the hearing impaired need to include not only dialogue but also information on who is going to speak before actors deliver their lines. It also needs to explain to viewers about footsteps, honking horns and other sound effects.

As it costs at least 1 million yen per film to print these subtitles, few films provide them. Only 51 of 408 new releases in 2010 had the special subtitles.

Theaters showing these films are also limited, especially in rural areas. Since the subtitles may annoy non-impaired viewers, the films are generally shown only for about two days even in metropolitan areas.

Mitsuhiko Ogawa, 49, vice director of Tokyoto Chuto Shiccho Nanchosha Kyokai, an association for people with hearing disabilities, said films give people with hearing problems an important opportunity to relate to other people and society. "It would be great if we were able to go see a movie with anybody, anytime, anywhere," Ogawa said.

Even if the HMD comes into wide use, however, scripts for subtitles still have to be made for each film. MASC director Koji Kawano, 48, said making HMD subtitles costs less than one-fifth of usual subtitles as the HMD subtitles do not have to be printed on film. "The problem is who bears the cost," he said.

Kawano stressed films with HMD subtitles will also be good for seniors with hearing difficulties. He said demand could be increased by expanding the HMD's functions to allow the use of foreign-language subtitles.

Read the whole story:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Imperial Exposure: Early Photography and Royal Portraits across Asia"

Symposium announcement from H-ASIA:

Coinciding with the Sackler exhibition Power/Play: China’s Empress Dowager, this symposium examines imperial portraiture during the advent of photography in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

While Power/Play addresses the unique circumstances and intentions behind photographs of Empress Dowager Cixi, the symposium is an opportunity for a broader comparative analysis of the engagement with photography in ruling courts across Asia. Among other topics, scholars consider how photographs of court figures were used to create images of power, to establish a sense of nationhood, and to express a religious identity, as well as the relationship between early photographic representations and more recent imperial images from the region.

Freer Gallery of Art
Meyer Auditorium
Monday, December 5–Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For more information:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

変な Henna Tattoos at Kobe India Festival

Over the weekend while exploring Kobe we came across the India Mela 2011 in Merikan Park. There were performances, food, booths selling various Indian merchandise, etc. The Indian food was tempting but we had already made plans to gorge ourselves with meat at the nearby Brazilian restaurant. Somehow the India Mela didn't captivate me as much as other ethic festivals I have attended in the past, especially the Thai Festival in Frankfurt last summer (perhaps already being in Japan I already have enough of the orientalist fix...). What did catch our eyes were the henna tattoos.

Why not mark up our bodies temporarily? The tattoos were supposed to last for a week to ten days they told us.

We requested matching tattoos, 1000 yen each. However the artist wasn't able to make them match and we got a 500 yen discount. Still they looked kinda cool until the henna dried and flaked off, leaving very light markings on our skin no one has noticed this week.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Announcement from SSJ-Forum:

The Japan Echo Foundation (formerly Japan Echo Inc.) has launched a new website:

The site carries content in English, Japanese, Chinese (both traditional and simplified characters), French, and Spanish. We have plans to expand this to include
Russian and Arabic, too.

Readers of _Japan Echo_ magazine may know that our print publication came to an end when the DPJ's "jigyō shiwake" process axed the MOFA funds that bought a portion of its print run for distribution via Japan's embassies and consulates. For a year following the last issue of the magazine, we operated the website Japan Echo Web (, a MOFA-funded project. The contract for this is subject to an annual bidding process, and for the current fiscal year we decided not to take part; a different firm is producing that site's content now.

The Nippon Foundation approached us last year and offered us funding for a new website, which is what we launched yesterday.

The "In-depth" section of the website will carry content similar to what we used to translate for _Japan Echo_, although most of it will be original material, rather than translations from the Japanese monthlies. The other sections of the site include lighter content on Japan's society and culture, interviews with political and business figures, photographic and video presentations, and much more.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Damage control"

Image and text borrowed from Japan Today Picture of the Day (10 October 2011). Caption reads: "This photo, released on Saturday by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), shows the damaged No. 3 reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. Officials said Sunday the plant is now relatively stable."

Sometimes a picture says more than it was intended to...

See the photo and reader comments at Japan Today:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mori Lecture on Cochlear Implants at Japanese Sign Language「Atelier」

Recently Soya Mori returned to Hirakata-shi and Japanese Sign Language「Atelier」for another lecture, this time about cochlear implants. Mori is the Deputy Director and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Developing Economies (Poverty Alleviation and Social Development Studies Group, Interdisciplinary Studies Center) and as such has much experience with cross-cultural deafness studies. He has traveled extensively throughout the world - most especially Asia - for his research.

Mori is also culturally Deaf, and as such has a bias against the use of cochlear implants. And his research supports such a bias. The use of cochlear implants is increasing all over the world as a "cure" for deafness. Mori discussed dangers of the surgery and implications of having such a device. He presented propaganda from cochlear implant advocates and deaf groups opposed to the devices.

When a person gets a cochlear implant, how does it affect their identity? Are they still deaf? Do they become hearing? Do they become part of a new cochlear implant culture? Will deafness and Deaf culture(s) be eradicated?

Mori's position is that deaf people do just fine as they are and do not need the device. Deafness is not a flaw - society's attitudes towards deafness are flawed.

This is a complicated issue but I have the same opinion as Mori. His lecture as an event (as well as his content) confirmed my bias: the whole lecture was done in JSL without an interpreter for deaf and hearing people. There was healthy discourse and jovial conversation. Hearing, or any device to create it, simply was not necessary in this setting.

Click here for more information bout Mori.

Click here for more photos from Mori's lecture.

"Sakura Police nab student for taking upskirt videos on escalator"

From Japan Today, 9/30/11:

Police said Thursday they have arrested a 21-year-old Hosei University student for filming up the skirt of an 18-year-old high school girl on an escalator in Nishi-Tokyo in May. The man used a music player with a built-in camera, which he had affixed to his shoe, to take the video, the Sports Nippon tabloid reported.

The suspect was arrested by members of the Sakura Police unit, set up in 2009 to target indecent acts and sexual assaults against minors and women. The unit, operating from the Metropolitan Police Department head office in Kasumigaseki and the Harajuku police station, comprises 56 officers, 16 of whom are women. The officers target areas where minors or women have been approached or assaulted, and appeal for information as well as conduct stakeouts.

Similar complaints from girls at a school near Hosei University prompted the police to search the university student’s home computer, where they found upskirt videos of up to 200 different girls. According to police, some of the videos show the accused following the girls as far as their homes.

The suspect admitted to police he had taken about 250 videos, and that he felt a sense of accomplishment whenever he got a “great shot.”

This is definitely not a proper research method for oh so many reasons...

Read the story and reader comments at Japan Today:

"Japanese scientists win Ig Nobel for wasabi alarm "

From Japan Today, 9/30/11:

A team of Japanese scientists who invented a fire alarm that smells like wasabi were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes that were handed out for head-scratching scientific discoveries Thursday at Harvard University.

The Japanese team won the chemistry prize for the alarm that emits the pungent odor of wasabi, the sinus-clearing green paste served with sushi.

“Wasabi odor is useful as a fire alarm to deaf people who failed to wake up with a conventional mode such as sound, vibration or flashing light,” said Makoto Imai, professor of psychiatry at Shiga University of Medical Science.

The key is allyl isothiocyanate, the compound in wasabi that gives out its distinctive smell and can be detected even during sleep.

The team settled on wasabi after trying about 100 odors, including rotten eggs.

The 21st annual awards sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research were handed out by real Nobel laureates, and featured the usual doses of silliness, including a mini-opera about the chemistry in a coffee shop and the ritual launching of paper airplanes.

We have been talking in class about how vision is the primary sense in ethnography - fieldwork is going to see it for yourself. And how often do we read about how something smelled, tasted and/or felt? Not often. And the scratch and sniff ethnography idea hasn't seemed to catch on yet. Anthropology is a science, so can this dominance of the sense of vision appear in other scientific fields? Does a chemistry project based upon the sense of smell seem improbable because it doesn't use the dominant trope of vision?

Does a project for an emergency alarm for a specific and statistically small group make it improbable? I remember seeing a report on NHK Sign Language News several years ago about this project and how a pungent smell really can wake a deaf (or hearing) person. I don't think any of my deaf friends have such a device. Like other devices or services catered to the deaf exclusively, the market doesn't seem big enough for success. Deaf people benefit from such things geared at wider markets such as video phones and Skype. Why can't hearing people benefit from products designed for the deaf? Is it such a stretch to associate the smell of wasabi with fire?

Read the whole article and reader comments at Japan Today:

UPDATE: A more majime version of the story appears from Kyodo News:

Japanese team wins Ig Nobel award for 'wasabi alarm'

A group of Japanese researchers won the spoof Ig Nobel chemistry prize on Thursday for developing a smoke detecting alarm that sprays a wasabi scent.

''We invented the wasabi fire alarm to wake up people with hearing disabilities in case of emergency,'' Makoto Imai, assistant professor at Shiga University of Medical Science, told Kyodo News prior to the ceremony at Harvard University, adding that the device is a ''life-saver.''

The 21st annual event to award the prizes, which the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research gives in 10 categories as a parody of the Nobel Prizes, was held at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theatre. It was the fifth straight year for an Ig Nobel prize to go to Japanese recipients.

Imai and his six teammates were honored for discovering the ''ideal density of airborne wasabi'' to awaken sleepers in a crisis, according to the magazine.

Accepting the prize, Imai told the enthusiastic crowd of around 1,200 about the hard work behind the gadget, thanking research subjects who ''choked on the pungent smell'' while they slept in examination rooms.

The seven-member team began their project in 2000 to benefit people who could not hear traditional fire warning systems, which rely on loud sounds, by instead using the sense of smell.

Their experiments focused on the source of the overpowering wasabi odor, allyl mustard oil, and the amount that can arouse a person without impacting health.

Seems Inc. in Tokyo and Kobe-based Air Water Safety Service Inc. used the research for an alarm that alerts the user of danger by emitting the powerful scent until ''a person is unable to tolerate'' the odor, according to the U.S. patent filed in February 2009.

Available since April 2009, the alarm sells for about $600, though a more economic model may be on the market in one to two years, according to the team.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Towards Medical Interpretation Service in Hirakata - The Second Forum Report and Photos

The Second Forum to discuss issues involved in seeking medical interpretation for Deaf people and foreigners in Hirakata-shi successfully took place on September 17. Almost 100 people came to study and support the cause of hospitals providing interpretation for non-Japanese speaking patients. Currently there is no system to provide medical interpretation for Deaf people and foreigners during treatments, consultations and emergencies.

Click here for background information about the First Forum.

Click here for the announcement for the Second Forum.

The keynote address at the Second Forum was given by Izabel Arocha, Executive Director of the International Medical Interpreters Association. She described the situation of medical interpretation in the United States, including major movements, laws and lawsuits that led to mandatory interpretation for non-English speakers at American hospitals. She also gave an overview about the interpretation profession, including training, challenges and professional development. She spoke about medical interpretation in other countries and also included information about sign language medical interpretation.

For me, Arocha's address had two powerful themes:

1) Sign languages are real languages, the same as spoken languages. Hearing and Deaf people equally need medical interpretation.

2) Interpretation is a real job, and a tough one at that. It needs extensive training and professional development as well as cooperation with parties and institutions involved in the process. Competency in a language does not mean a person can automatically and competently interpret.

These two points desperately need to be understood in Japan. Japanese Sign Language is a real language and JSL interpreters need to be treated as professionals, the same as interpreters of French, English and other spoken languages. JSL should not be tied to social welfare and offered as a volunteer service. A hearing person who can communicate in JSL cannot be expected to be a competent interpreter without proper interpretation training.

I wasn't able to take as many photos at the Second Forum as I did at the First because I had other responsibilities this time around. Hopefully you can get the idea of the supportive environment during our exploration of this important issue. Thanks to all the volunteers and staff members who put in so much work for the meeting. A Third and Fourth Forum are in the planning stages. Stay tuned to VAOJ for announcements. Please support this important cause.


Link to International Medical Interpreters Association: