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...)