Friday, April 27, 2012

IBASYO: Self-Injury Among Japanese Women

Several years ago it seemed as though wrist cutting was featured in the Japanese media quite a lot. I even had a (male) friend who was doing it. Today my colleague (thanks, EK!) sent me a link to a recent article and YouTube video about the photo project on wrist cutting by Kosuke Okahara.

In Japan, Suffer the Children

“She just took the razor and then she started cutting in front of me.”

That was how the photographer Kosuke Okahara began a six-year connection with several young Japanese women who regularly harmed themselves through cutting, making thin, repetitive slashes on their wrists, forearms and thighs. 

The theme of his photographs, assembled in a compelling new video presentation by the Asia Society, is called Ibasyo, which Mr. Okahara says means inner peace or “a place where one can feel.” His poignant pictures are all the more remarkable for their rare penetration of Japan’s famously closed-off society and what he calls “our culture of shame.”

Link to the complete story:

I am not so sure if hikikomori should have been so easily associated with wrist cutting in the article. Or the idea that males do the former and females do the latter. But we are more interested in the work of Okahara. In the video Okahara brings up several interesting points about ethics and the place of the photographer in such a project - these kinds of considerations should be familiar to visual anthropologists.


Link to Okahara's webpage:

Wrist cutting certainly isn't unique to Japan. But here are a couple of links about the research of the problem in Japan:

Study probes teens' wrist-cutting:

Patterns of self-cutting: a preliminary study on differences in clinical implications between wrist- and arm-cutting using a Japanese juvenile detention center sample:

Finally, here's a link to a bizarre YouTube clip from the movie, Tokyo Gore Police. This is not a real commercial or product, although several blogs present it as such (more weird Japan...). Whatever it is, it is very disturbing. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

AJJ Presentation: The Face(s) of the Japanese Deaf 2012 - and - some comments on the McCartney/Portman/Depp sign language collaboration...

The Anthropology of Japan in Japan (AJJ) group is holding their spring workshop this weekend at Osaka Gakuin University. The meeting schedule can be viewed at their blog:


Of special interest might be this paper:

Bicultural and Bilingual in Japan: The Face(s) of the Japanese Deaf 2012

Abstract: There is much variation within the so-called deaf community in terms of identity and language use because of diverse educational, family, work, social and regional backgrounds. Japanese Deaf researchers explain this situation as a process of pluralization created by multiple groups and individuals rather than falling under the hegemony of major organizations or heuristic models. This paper has two goals: providing 1) a general overview of contemporary deaf people in Japan including their own ideas of biculturalism (Deaf and Japanese) and bilingualism (Japanese Sign Language and a signed version of Japanese), and 2) a visual anthropology of sign language use through photographic portraits of individuals focusing on facial expression. The data for this paper comes from long-term ethnographic fieldwork with a local Deaf organization in Osaka, Japan - in particular, its classes, clinics, workshops, projects and lectures conducted in Japanese Sign Language (with no interpretation) to share perspectives and explore the place(s) of deaf people in Japanese society. 

By coincidence as I was putting this presentation together, the new video for the Paul McCartney song "My Valentine" came out along with comments and criticism of the sign language use by his featured collaborators, Natalie Portman  and Johnny Depp.

Link to "My Valentine" video on YouTube:

Here is an example of the criticism from

Depp, Portman screw up sign language in McCartney vid

Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman probably jumped at the opportunity to appear in the video for Paul McCartney's song "My Valentine," but they probably wish they hadn't used sign language for some of the lyrics: Some deaf fans are claiming Depp and Portman's signing is rife with gaffes. When Depp attempts to sign the word "valentine," several YouTube commenters note that in British sign language, he's actually saying "enemy." Not really the sentiment Macca was going for. Portman fares just as badly, if not worse. Her naughty-looking sign at the 56-second mark for the word "appear" is actually the word for "tampon." What's the sign for "whoops"?


You can find a lot of commentary to support or critique the sign language in the video but my thoughts as related to my upcoming AJJ presentation are as follows. Despite some flaws in the signing (and the comment that a certain sign in American Sign Language has a different meaning in British Sign Language should not be a criticism. Rather it illustrates that ASL and BSL are two different languages. The extended middle finger that has an obscene meaning as a gesture in America means "brother" in Japanese Sign Language and "mountain" in Korean Sign Language. Spoken languages are rife with examples of similar sounding words with very different meanings...) I see the main problem in the video to be a lack of facial expression. Portman is beautiful but her facial expression rarely changes - and it should to express the meaning of the song lyrics she is signing. Depp certainly looks cool but his facial expression remains constant as well. The song is about love and romance but these emotions/feelings are missing from the sign language. It is akin to someone singing the song in monotone. There seems to be a focus on hands (and rings with Depp) at times with no view of the face. Sign languages use the entire body and so the focus on just the hands is only presenting a part of the communication process. And there are scenes where there is singing but no signing. This is akin to there being gaps in the lyrics. Who is this video really for? Is it a video for deaf people to enjoy or another case where sign language is being (incorrectly) used for artistic effect?

Am I being too critical as an academic? Perhaps I should enjoy the video and be happy that there is sign language? Maybe this will encourage others to study sign language? I imagine my Japanese deaf friends might applaud the video on the surface but critique the flaws among themselves (however I cannot speak for Japanese deaf people...). Many of my foreign friends make fun of the mistakes Japanese artists make in their songs with their English usage. The difference here is the lack of politics - English is not a not a minority language used by a group of people historically discriminated against. American Sign Language is (and so is JSL). Greater understanding of the nature of sign language along with its role in identity is needed.

Anyway, if you are in Osaka over the weekend, please check out the AJJ Spring Workshop. Yoroshiku!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Trans-Asia Photography Review: “Women’s Camera Work: Asia”


The spring 2012 issue of the Trans-Asia Photography Review, entitled “Women’s Camera Work: Asia,” has just been released. This issue includes over 200 photographs, representing past and present women photographers working in Thailand, Japan, India, China and Korea, along with scholarly writings, which expand our knowledge of the field.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

お花見: Cherry Blossom Viewing 2012 Part 2 - Temmabashi during non-peak hours

The riverside of the Okawa River near the Temmbashi Keihan Train Station is one of the most popular spots for ohanami in Osaka. As such it is extremely crowded with people and food stalls on the weekends and evenings during the sakura season. However if one goes during midday it is not so crowded. One can stroll along the river under the cherry blossoms, enjoy the food stalls and sit leisurely on park benches. The river cruises are quite pleasant as well. I was lucky enough to visit the area during a recent research day.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Body/Comm Spring 2012 Poster Workshop: Beauty in Contemporary Japan

Beauty in Contemporary Japan was once again taken up by students of "The Body and Communication in Japan" class during a recent poster workshop session. Students balanced academic sources and their own observations of beautiful women and men (both were assigned as homework) in their creative endeavors. Common themes included youthful cuteness, thinness, light skin (from products and through genetics via the popular half Japanese phenomena), small faces and big eyes (and various methods to accomplish these goals), shorts to emphasize/create long, shapely legs, fingernail art and accessories. See each poster for more details. Students will next take up fashion and other forms of body ornamentation (tattoos, body pierces) to explore the ultimate question of how body image and presentation contribute to communication.

Click here to see posters from previous semesters.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

お花見: Cherry Blossom Viewing 2012

It's that time of year again. This year we ventured to the Mitsujima area in Kadoma-shi for ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) activities. The area boasts a long canal with cherry trees on either side. The neighborhood association provides free boat rides. Many people enjoyed the boat rides and food/drink under the sakura.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Deaf student qualifies to teach English in Nagoya"

Thanks to GH for calling this to my attention. Photo and story borrowed from The Japan Times Online.

A deaf student at Nagoya Gakuin University who obtained a license to teach English to students with impaired hearing graduated on March 15.

Misato Fujiwara, 23, will start teaching at Aichi Prefectural Nagoya School for the Aurally Disabled in Chikusa Ward, Nagoya, on Wednesday.

Fujiwara wore a traditional "hakama" outfit to the graduation ceremony at Nagoya Congress Center in Atsuta Ward.

"I like wearing the outfit because I can feel myself straightening up," she said.

All speeches and announcements during the ceremony were interpreted in sign language for Fujiwara.

When the university's president, Hisao Kibune, said in his address that "what makes a difference in your life are courage and willingness to change," she nodded her approval.

When she was interviewed after the ceremony, she introduced herself in fluent English: "My name is Misato Fujiwara. I love English!"

At the time she enrolled, the freshman was the only deaf student at the university and told the faculty she wanted to study in exactly the same way as the other students. In response, the faculty introduced a "note-taker system" to allow other students to take lecture notes for her.

"The most difficult thing was to look for a student who could help me. Other than that, I didn't feel myself to be disabled," Fujiwara said.

As a sophomore, she met an English-language teacher who also had hearing difficulties and became determined to take a similar path, hoping "to teach deaf students the fun of learning English."

She earned enough credits to graduate after four years, but extended her studies by another year to obtain a teaching license.

"She is a great student and seems like she doesn't feel disabled," a university official said.

While studying English sign language, Fujiwara also practiced pronunciation, repeatedly trying out words until she mastered the correct form.

Her determined efforts were rewarded when she passed the teaching exam.

"As I am deaf myself, I would like to move forward with my students by putting myself in their shoes," said Fujiwara.

"They can't hear but if they have a strong will to communicate, they will be understood in English, too."


It should be noted, and not to belittle any accomplishment, that other deaf people have become English teachers as well. I tutored one such woman in English pronunciation as she had failed that part of the test before. Yes, even deaf people who want to teach English to deaf students have to be tested in English pronunciation in order to get their teaching license. Ultimately she was able to pass the speaking part of the test by using a microphone to amplify her voice. While her pronunciation was perfect, her voice was weak and hard to hear. She is now a teacher at a deaf school.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Interrogations filmed in 97% of major cases"

For those of us who have been following this story for quite some time, this appears to be good news. From the Daily Yomiuri Online, 4/7/12:

Audio and video recordings of interrogations by prosecutors were carried out in 97 percent of major criminal cases from April 2011 to February 2012, according to the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office.

Of all 69 cases handled by special investigation units at 13 district prosecutors offices nationwide, interrogations were recorded in 67 cases. Of that number, interrogations in 28 cases were filmed in their entirety.

The average length of the recordings was 61 hours, with the longest at 127 hours. 

Interrogation recording began a year ago following an evidence tampering scandal involving the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Privacy Gone Too Far (?) Leads to Offensive Photographic Methods?

Photo and story borrowed from WPLG News,

Parents call school photo 'offensive, degrading'

Child's face replaced with cartoon-like head

It's a school picture that makes jaws drop at just one glance.

More than a dozen students in Eileen Diaz's Second Grade Class at Sawgrass Elementary are grouped together in three neat rows.

Some are smiling, some are not and one doesn't even appear human.

Right smack in the middle of the photo is a cartoon-like head placed on the shoulders of a boy where his  face would be.

People who saw it called it "offensive" and "degrading".  Parent Gabriella Cans, whose son is just a toddler, said she felt sorry for the boy and believes the image is humiliating.


So, how did it get there?

Broward County Schools directed us to the Davie-based private company that took the photo.

David Claussen and his wife own Broward County Pictures which they say has been in the school picture-taking business for 37 years.

He didn't want to speak on camera, but off camera said the last thing he ever wanted to do was offend. In fact, he thought it was odd himself.

As he tells it, after the picture was taken a liaison with the Parent Teacher's Association, that helped organize the photo shoot at the school, notified them that two of the students pictured needed to be removed because their parents did not sign a consent form.

Claussen said he was able to use the photo editing software Adobe Photoshop to lift one of the kids out, but had explained to them that there was a problem with the second student. He was sitting in the front row, right in the middle.

He showed me the notes he had written down on a white piece of paper as the pair discussed what to do. He said he would have gladly come out there to reshoot the image. Instead there was talk about putting a star over his face and then, he said,  the P.T.A. asked him to place a smiley face.

He's never received a request like that before. In the nearly four decades he's been in business he told Local 10 he's never done such a thing.

Link to complete story:

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Couples immortalize engagement with photos"

From today's Daily Yomiuri Online:

A photographer zooms in on Seita Tokoi and his fiancee, Akina, as they stroll hand-in-hand on the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo.

Before getting married last June, the couple had a photographer follow them around for a few hours and take their photos.

"After we got married, those pictures felt like they were a kind of family portrait. We're happy to have photos that capture us at that very moment," Seita said, adding the idea was recommended to them by a friend.

Afterward, the couple visited the shop where they first met for another photo shoot.

"The whole photo session became a good memory for us," he said.

An increasing number of couples are eager to hire professional photographers to take pictures of them dating in an effort to turn "their last moments as a dating couple into a precious memory."

These pictures are known as "engagement photos," and some studios are turning the trend into a new business.

"Compared to 'maedori' [prewedding photo shoots in ceremonial dress], I can capture a more casual look and relaxed expressions," said Sayaka Watanabe, a photographer at Tokyo-based photo studio One Style who took the photos of Tokoi and his fiancee. "These photos are candid, too."

Last year, One Photo started an engagement photo business for about 40,000 yen per couple. The photo shoot is free for couples who also hire the studio to take their wedding photos.

Watanabe has taken photos for about 10 couples since the studio began its engagement photo business. Some pictures feature a couple cycling or posing in front of their middle schools. Many of these pictures are displayed on a huge screen during the wedding ceremony or printed on wedding invitations.

The number of studios offering engagement photos has increased nationwide. For example, Osaka-based La-vie Factory, which operates 10 studios nationwide, offers a similar service.

The wedding magazine Zexy featured engagement photos in its November issue. According to the magazine's editors, engagement photos are common in the West and have become popular in Japan over the last few years. When Prince William and Catherine Middleton announced their engagement, a photo featuring the royal couple wearing casual clothes was released and attracted a lot of attention in Japan.

Orie Maruyama, Zexy's deputy chief editor, said, "More people seem to consider the engagement period a precious time and want a reminder that lasts forever."

"By hanging up this happy picture at home, a couple may feel stronger about staying together forever," Maruyama said.

Some couples ask photographers to accompany them on a trip to their hometowns, or somewhere far away.

"These days, many people aren't so shy. They want other people to see them," said Chuo University Prof. Masahiro Yamada, a family sociology expert. "They're used to posting their everyday lives and feelings on blogs or Twitter, and people's understanding of privacy has changed."

"Under the circumstances, many couples might also be thinking, 'If we take photos, let's make ourselves more presentable and let people know about our daily lives.'"