Monday, February 21, 2011

ABC News Story: "A Father's Plea: Desperate Effort to Return American Children Abducted to Japan"

 Video grab borrowed from ABC

International child abduction is a controversial subject in Japan and it is problematic that Japan, as opposed to most other developed countries, has not signed the Hague Convention governing international child abduction... yet. There have been many heart-wrenching stories about foreign fathers not being able to even meet their children after divorcing their Japanese wives. Once the children are in Japan, foreign fathers have absolutely no rights to joint custody or even visitation.

ABC News in the United States has done a report on this subject and it is available at the links below.


Video and text:

Longer video version:

This is a big problem, and it is increasing as so-called international marriages increase (blame globalization?). In Japan alone it is said that one out of every twenty marriages is international. And one out of every eighteen divorces is international. But this isn't a Japan only sort of problem (as ABC News reports in another story linked to the Japan report) and nothing really so new. My own uncle married a woman from Switzerland in the 1980s and they had a kid. They got divorced and his ex-wife claimed to be taking the baby back to Switzerland for a vacation. Of course they never returned to America. Switzerland had not yet signed the international convention. So I know very well the anguish that such fathers face. And this post is not meant to belittle their suffering or the problem at all.

But this post will be critical of the way ABC News covered their report and the way in which they present Japan. One must also wonder why Japan is being singled out, as most Asian countries have not signed the international convention. Nor has Russia or most African countries. One might ask why so many American men are marrying Japanese women and taking them back to America.

For more information on the Hague Convention, see the link below.

Link to Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction:

"So what is it about Japan?" ABC News asks. It answers the question with problematic language and facts which are not so accurate. Phrases like Japanese women are taking American children "thousands of miles way" and "half a world away." Japanese women have "fled to Japan" with American children. American children have been "Spirited off to Japan" (a reference to the popular Miyazaki anime). It seems that they forgot that the wives are Japanese and going home. Where else would they take their children? And aren't the children (at least half-)Japanese as well?

The report also states that mothers have stronger parental rights than fathers in Japan because of "law based on centuries of tradition." This is not accurate. Centuries of tradition would suggest that children are property of the patriarchal head of household. Divorce and single parent households in Japan are relatively recent. It is true these days that mothers usually get custody of their children after divorce, but not all of the time.

The reporting style gets pretty ridiculous at times. Why should the FBI have jurisdiction in a foreign country? Why is the reporter going after Japanese mothers and relatives and engaging them in English?

And why not throw in some post-911 paranoia when in the business of othering? How is this issue a "national security threat?"

Should all of Japan and Japanese culture be blamed for this problem because the government has not signed the international convention and because 321 Japanese wives have kidnapped their kids and brought them to Japan?

Is the visual anthropologist losing sight of the big picture by focusing on such details of misrepresentation?

Can't such a serious problem be reported upon in a more accurate and less orientalist fashion?

I believe the Japanese government will eventually sign the convention as indicated by the two recent news stories below.

Link to "Japan conducts online survey on parental child abductions" (Japan Today, 5/26/10):

Link to "Gov't sets up cabinet-level council on Hague child abduction convention" (Japan Today, 1/22/11):

Will signing the convention solve all the problems? Most likely not. The problem stems from marriage difficulties between people rather than being an international conspiracy. But hopefully signing the convention will be a step in the right direction to assist those involved in international relationships... For the fathers, for the mothers, and most especially for the children.

In the meantime, let's hope that ABC News can improve on their coverage of international problems.

(Thanks to JH for bringing the report to my attention.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Back to the Future" Portraits

Image borrowed from photographer, Irina Werning. 

Here are some more interesting portraits from photographer Irina Werning's "Back to the Future" project. She explains how she is fascinated with old photos and then likes to create the updated version. Fun stuff. And another example of finding cool things on the internet via Twitter (Thanks, Dada!).

Link to "Back to the Future"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just in time for the new semester: Social networking and "50 Inspiring Examples of Emotional Portrait Photography"

Image borrowed from DZineblog 360.

Perhaps you have noticed that VAOJ has jumped on the social networking bandwagon with its very own Facebook page and Twitter account. This seems to be standard practice now with bloggers and a way to further connect with possible readers and/or collaborators. It also allows you to see even more what is out there in the internet in terms of photography and visual anthropology. I found this blog post about "emotional portraits" through Twitter - and it seems timely as my new visual anthropology students completed their first portrait assignment and will be working on others in the future.


The collection here certainly has some nice and ethnically diverse photos. The text briefly talks about the photographer having control over composition. And from an anthropological perspective I wonder how representative these photos are of the individuals. In the first in-class assignment, students worked together to negotiate and take each others' portrait. Some discussed the awkward nature of this process and others seemed to hesitate at the portrait really being representative of them. Hopefully the assignment will make them further aware of their responsibilities of cultural representations.

With this in mind, please be aware that the new students' blogging efforts will begin soon. Please check out their blogs and leave feedback. I anticipate another great semester. Yoroshiku.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Steal big ideas from Japan's miniature architecture"

Photo by Makoto Yoshida, courtesy of Atelier Tekuto, borrowed from

Here's some Japanese architecture in the news... How do those Japanese people make do with such little available space to build their houses? Check out this slide show.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Japan to go fishing ... for space debris"

Image borrowed from MSNBC.

Recently my students have remarked how clean Japan seems to be (as a first impression) yet also expressed confusion/frustration about the lack of trash cans in public. Here's some more garbage news about Japan from MSNBC:

Japan's space agency is reportedly teaming up with a fishing net manufacturer to catch and remove debris from Earth orbit, where it poses a threat to spacecraft, astronauts and satellites.

The space fishing net would span several kilometers and be made of thin metal wires. As it scoops up space debris, it will be charged with electricity, allowing Earth's magnetic field to reel in the haul and eventually burn it up in Earth's atmosphere...

See the whole story:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Documentary featuring double A-bomb survivor set for July release in Japan"

From Japan Today (2/9/11):

A documentary featuring the late Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived the U.S. atomic bombings on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, is set for release across Japan in July, organizers said.

The film "Niju Hibaku—Kataribe Yamaguchi Tsutomu no Yuigon" (Twice Bombed, Twice Survived—The Last Words of Peace Speaker Tsutomu Yamaguchi), will be shown in theaters in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they said. Yamaguchi died of stomach cancer in January 2010 at age 93.

A Nagasaki native, Yamaguchi, who was a ship-building engineer, suffered the Aug 6 bombing during a business trip to Hiroshima and also the Aug 9 bombing after returning to Nagasaki by train.

The film contains scenes such as Yamaguchi tearfully speaking at the U.N. headquarters in New York and other locations of the need to abolish nuclear weapons, and also his receiving a visit by American film director James Cameron two weeks before his death.

The film was directed by Hidetaka Inazuka, 60, a television producer from Tomakomai, Hokkaido. Inazuka met Yamaguchi for the first time in 2005 while making a program about the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings.

Around that time, Yamaguchi lost his second son, also an atomic-bomb survivor, to cancer, a tragedy that prompted him to firm his resolve to break his silence to tell his experience in public.

Inazuka, who closely followed Yamaguchi for the program, recalled Yamaguchi reiterating the need to convey atomic-bomb victims’ experiences to overseas audiences, saying the survivors’ thoughts and feelings have yet to be fully understood.

Yamaguchi did not belong to any particular survivors’ organization. But Yamaguchi’s desire to abolish nuclear weapons and achieve peace was stronger than anyone else’s, Inazuka said.

"I want the audiences to see in the film the words and aspirations left by Mr Yamaguchi," Inazuka said.

The 68-minute film is narrated by singer Tokiko Kato.

Monday, February 7, 2011

手話の顔 日本映像人類学 写真展 (Sign Language Faces: A Visual Anthropology of Japan Photo Exhibition)

VAOJ is holding a photo exhibition at the NPO Deaf Support Osaka Gallery starting today, February 7, for at least a month. Here is the abstract:

Sign language entails the use of the entire body. Facial expression as a non-manual sign (NMS) not only conveys meaning, it also plays a crucial role in the grammar of sign language. This photo exhibition illustrates the natural and grammatical facial expressions of members of Atolier Sign Language Circle in Hirakata-shi, Osaka. Atolier teaches and advocates the use of Japanese Sign Language as the first language of deaf people in Japan. Correct use of facial expression is an important and perhaps the most complicated component of sign language study.

Click to enlarge the image below and see the abstract in Japanese, along with a map to Deaf Support Osaka.

I am especially excited about this exhibition as it brings together my interests in deafness, sign language and visual representation. Please note that the gallery is closed on Sundays, Mondays and national holidays. Come and check out the exhibition! Yoroshiku!

Link to NPO Deaf Support Osaka (in Japanese):

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Takatsuki City Federation of the Deaf - Youth Section Meeting

Earlier today I traveled to Takatsuki-shi to give a lecture about deafness, sign language and visual anthropology at the city's youth section of its deaf federation. I also participated in a discussion about cross-cultural issues between Japan and the United States and between deaf and hearing people. It was a great opportunity to meet people and discuss important issues about Japanese society. The participants are pictured above. One might note that the number of young people is not so large - this is perhaps an illustration of the declining birthrate of deaf people and Japanese people in general. But age is not so important. Young at heart makes for lively and useful discussions. Many thanks to all for allowing me to participate. And please come to the KGU JSL Study Group in the future!

"Theaters show 'barrier-free' films for hearing, visually impaired people"

From today's Japan Today:

Two movie theaters in Tokyo’s Kamata district are offering what may be called ‘‘barrier-free’’ films for people with hearing or visual impairments.

At Theatre Kamata and Kamata Takarazuka, both located in a commercial and industrial area near Haneda airport, subtitles are shown on large displays and narration is provided through FM radio in the special services offered every Sunday through March.

More than 20 movie houses operated near JR Kamata station in Ota Ward during the golden age of the motion picture industry in Japan in the early 1960s. The two theaters, now the only ones in operation in the district, began offering movies for the benefit of hearing and visually impaired people last May on a trial basis.

On the second floor, large displays to show subtitles are provided to those with hearing difficulties. They can also bring portable audiovisual terminals such as iPhones and receive information wirelessly.

Users may have some difficulties deciphering whose subtitles are being shown on the display, though. And translating the movie’s sound effects into visual information is not easy.

Special headphones lent by the theaters are equipped with small displays while bodily sensation seats generate vibrations along with sounds in the movie.

For the visually impaired, the theaters offer a voice guide service via FM radio.

Sho Terada from Setagaya Ward, a 27-year-old student at a vocational school, watched a Japanese samurai drama with the aid of a small display at Kamata Takarazuka.

"I found it troublesome to look at the screen and display alternately but I got used to it fast," he said. "In terms of understanding the content of movies, it was the best film I’ve watched."

Terada frequently watches foreign movies with Japanese subtitles. He said he can now expand his scope of entertainment as he can watch Japanese films too.

The Media Access Support Center, a nonprofit organization in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, which began the special services, says the number of motion pictures with subtitles directly printed on films has been on the rise in Japan thanks to efforts by major movie producing companies.

However, it said, the number of such films accounted for only 10% of the 488 shown at theaters in 2009, with most of them available only in urban areas for limited periods of time on an irregular basis.

An official of an organization supporting hearing impaired people said the situation is far from where the disabled "can see films at anytime anywhere."

MASC director Koji Kawano said, "We rely much on business corporations and organizations as well as local government subsidies in carrying out support projects."

He said major movie producers also find it difficult to promote projects to print subtitles on the film given high costs.

The situation in Japan is in stark contrast with the United States where the disabled are guaranteed the right to take in art and entertainment under the law, he added.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Japan 1st to adopt U.N. product hazard symbols"

Respiratory risks: image source

Ultraman: image source

In a worldwide first, household chemical products labeled with universal hazard symbols indicating risk or harmful effects are scheduled to be on the domestic market as early as within the week, according to sources.

This is the first time that these marks, formulated by the United Nations, have been shown on household products, the sources said.

Classification methods and indications of product danger differ from country to country and these differences are believed to often cause misunderstandings. It is expected the adoption of the universal marks will improve household safety.

The universal hazard symbols include a skull mark that indicates strong toxicity and a threat to life if the product is swallowed. 

An exclamation mark indicates a skin irritation while an illustration of a human torso with damage to the chest shows respiratory risks such as cancer or asthma if the product is inhaled.

Industry groups such as the Japan Soap and Detergent Association and the Japan Paint Manufacturers Association decided to adopt the hazard warning labels for some of their products shipped in January.

Concerning detergent products, skull and exclamation mark warnings informing users about the danger of mixing chlorine-based detergent with oxygen-based detergent will be added to the conventional indications and marks already printed on containers.

Kao Corp. has labeled a chlorine bleach for kitchen utensils, Kitchen Hiter, with the appropriate hazard symbol and has begun shipping of the product. 

Other manufacturers plan to adopt the universal hazard symbols sequentially within this year.

A U.N. expert panel formulated universally common rules, including these symbols, in 2003 and has urged each country to adopt them.

Regarding industrial goods, universal hazard symbols are commonplace throughout the world. In Japan, the Industrial Safety and Health Law has stipulated proper product labeling since 2006.

However, the labeling of household items, such as detergent, has been delayed because of difficulties in determining the products' toxicity.

Cross-cultural symbolism is tricky. I have written about this before - people from different cultures see the same image differently. So this story about Japanese chemical manufacturers deciding to use universal hazard symbols is quite interesting. But I wonder, as the news story states, what kinds of misunderstandings Japanese people have had about domestic poisonous substances because of a lack of universal symbols? And are these universal symbols really understandable by Japanese people? The first symbol indicating respiratory risks seems like a picture of a manga super-hero. And the symbol for strong toxicity, the classic skull and crossbones, seems to be smiling in this image. Is this image really so scary? And I wonder if the chemical companies have been paying attention to Japanese fashion as of late. The skull and crossbones seems to be a fad, perhaps cool and/or cute. Is there a pirate boom going on (perhaps due to the Disney movies series, Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp) in Japan or elsewhere (I can choose "Pirate English" as my primary language on Facebook)?

Strong toxicity: image source

J-Fashion: image source

Practical question: Are the hazardous products meant to be shipped abroad? Theoretical question: Can globalization make symbols universal? Symbols are powerful and evoke strong emotions. My international students sometimes do not understand why some Japanese people are so offended by the Hinomaru (Japanese flag) and Kimgayo (Japanese national anthem). This continues to be an issue as the Japanese Supreme Court recently ruled that municipal school boards ordering teachers to stand for the flag and sing the national anthem "does not cause serious damage and does not violate their freedom of thought and conscience." Obviously many teachers and others disagree with this idea, as illustrated in the film, Against Coercion: Refusing to Stand for "Kimigayo" (Matsubara and Sasaki, 2006). The debate will continue, I'm sure. Symbols are powerful and tricky.

Link to news story, Making teachers stand, sing 'Kimigayo' constitutional: court, at Japan Today: