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:

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Look-alike dolls comfort bereaved"

Photo borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri, 9/22/11, Edition T, p. 3.

This story strikes me as... different to say the least. I would like to hear more about this practice. Informed comments are most welcome. Story from The Daily Yomiuri Online:

Mika Sato has found that two dolls resembling her 6-year-old daughter, who died in the March 11 tsunami, have helped soothe her emotional scars.

"It was like my daughter came back to me," said Sato, 36, recalling the day earlier this month when she received the two dolls from the nonprofit organization Tamezo Club.

Omokage bina are dolls that resemble people who have passed on. They are made by craftsmen who work from photographs of the deceased person.

Since early August, Tamezo Club, a welfare services organization, has been donating them to people who lost loved ones in the March 11 disaster.

While studying the photographs, the craftsmen work carefully to make the doll's facial expression, hairstyle and other features capture the character of the person they are a tribute to. Creating a single doll takes about one month, according to the organization.

Iwatsuki Ward is known for hina doll production, and local hina doll makers have been cooperating with Tamezo Club on the donation program.

The group plans to offer 1,000 dolls in total. Thirty-six dolls have already been given to bereaved relatives, the group said, and requests have been received from people who want dolls to remember not only children, but also parents and grandparents who died in the disaster.

Yoshihiro Okuyama, 62, a Tamezo Club representative, said, "I hope people keep the dolls close to them, and that the dolls give them emotional support."

After reading about the program in a newspaper, Sato - who lives in the hard-hit city of Ishinomaki - contacted the group and asked that they create a doll modeled after her late daughter Airi.

Airi and four other children from kindergarten in the city died after a school bus carrying them was engulfed by the tsunami. Airi had always looked after her sister and shown great character, Sato said.

Some time after the disaster, Sato found a notebook in Airi's desk, in which Airi had written a birthday message for her mother:

"Dear Mom,

Airi will help you at home.

Mom, I really mean it.

I really love you, Mom.

From Airi"

The two dolls, which were delivered to Sato on Sept. 11, each is wearing a gentle smile. Their straight black hair falls on their shoulders.

"The big, round eyes look exactly like Airi's," Sato said.

"I've been given these hina dolls that look like you, Airi. I have to take good care of them, don't I?" she said while stroking the head of one of the dolls.

Tamezo Club is currently accepting requests for omokage bina dolls. The organization is also seeking donations from the public to help raise funds needed to make the dolls.


UPDATE: Recommended source from a colleague...

Schattschneider, Ellen.
The Bloodstained Doll: Violence and the Gift in Wartime Japan
The Journal of Japanese Studies - Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 329-356

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Towards Medical Interpretation Service in Hirakata (for Deaf and Foreign People) - The Second Forum

After the success of the First Forum in May, the Second Forum for Medical Interpretation will take place on Saturday, September 17, 2011. The Executive Director of the International Medical Interpretation Association, Izabel Arocha, will speak about the state of medical interpretation in the United States. Please join us as we continue to study and discuss the lack of interpreters for Deaf people and foreigners in Japan. Click on the posters above for more information and directions to the event in Hirakata-shi, Osaka, Japan. Admission is free. English, Japanese and JSL interpretation will be available.

Link to information about the First Forum:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hirosuke Ono in Hirakata-shi

Recently Hirosuke Ono, a teacher at Meisei Gakuen and NHK Sign Language News 8:45 newscaster, gave two lectures in Hirakata-shi, Osaka.

The first lecture was for 日本手話アトリエ (Japanese Sign Language Atolier). Ono discussed Meisei Gakuen and his job at NHK. Meisei Gakuen is the only Deaf school in Japan where Japanese Sign Language is used as the first language. Ono talked about the history of the school and its philosophy of biculturalism/bilingualism. Deaf identity and JSL are stressed but not at the exclusion of Japanese culture and Japanese language. Students have Deaf culture and Japanese culture. And they communicate in JSL and written Japanese. Ono also talked about his experiences as a NHK newscaster. To be honest, I haven't watched the sign language news for some time because of its use of Signed Japanese rather than JSL. However this has changed according to Ono - Deaf people seem to have much more input in the production than they did before. A nice change for sure. Ono also talked about his experience covering the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accident. NHK provided extended sign language news during this time.

The second lecture was for the newly formed Hirakata-shi Sign Language Interpreter Dispatch NPO. This lecture focused more on Meisei Gakuen and its bicultural/bilingual curriculum. Both lectures were very interesting and informative. These kinds of lectures and events are important for sharing information about the ever-changing Deaf situation in Japan. If you ever have a chance to attend Ono's lecture, please do so. And check out NHK Sign Language News 8:45 (NHK educational channel 12, Monday - Friday, 8:45-9:00 PM).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

関西外大 by AERA

 Photo borrowed from Kansai Gaidai University webpage.

A special publication about my university has been published by AERA in their Japanese University series - Kansai Gaidai is the first university to be featured in the Kansai area. In a way it is an advertisement for the university and its various programs. But there is a lot of really nice photography included as well. There are features and photos of the campus, students, students studying abroad, alumni, faculty etc. Perhaps the most interesting section is a photo spread featuring international students from last semester (p. 91-102) by photographer Asisa Kasai. I am of course biased because many of my students were featured. Kasai did a wonderful job of capturing their personalities in her portraits. Kasai studied in San Francisco and worked under Eiichiro Sakata. She recently began working freelance. I think she is going to have a great career.

Check out her homepage:

Link to announcement at Kansai Gaidai webpage:

You can purchase this edition of AERA at as well as other places.