Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Hashimoto clashes with Osaka officials over tattoo survey"

And on and on it goes... From Japan Today, 5/23/12:

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who launched a crusade to eradicate tattoos from the public sector last week, has announced plans to prevent the promotion and advancement of any city employee who declined to respond to a survey asking them if they have tattoos.

Although small tattoos are now a common means of self-expression in Japan and are no longer indicative of gang membership, the right-wing Hashimoto initiated a survey in Osaka that asked employees of the city government to provide information about visible and concealed tattoos, such as how long they had had them. He has also threatened to dismiss any city worker who has tattoos, Fuji TV reports.

The poll found that 110 workers reported having tattoos, including sea turtles, moons and dolphins. It has been reported that many of the respondents work in public transport and the city waste disposal departments. The government is considering whether to ask public servants with tattoos to find other employment, Fuji reported. 

“We need to have possession of this information. Anyone who doesn’t respond to the survey should be reported to HR and passed over for future promotion. This all goes without saying,” Hashimoto told a news conference, according to Jiji Press.

So far, 513 employees have declined to respond to the survey which was given to about 33,000 workers. Hashimoto says they will be pressed again to give the information before disciplinary steps are taken. “If they insist on having tattoos, they had better leave the city office and go and work in the private sector,” he said Tuesday after the results of the survey were released.

Around 800 teachers and other education professionals have so far refused to respond to Hashimoto’s survey, in the belief that it infringes on their right to privacy. A Kansai-based lawyers’ group has also reportedly asked the city to cease the investigation, which it claims violates workers’ human rights, Fuji TV reported. 

Education professionals were to be included in the “investigation” from Wednesday, but the city’s Board of Education has put off the start date and requested that head teachers’ opinions be heard first.

During Hashimoto’s mayoral campaign, weekly tabloids in Japan claimed that his father and uncle, now deceased, were both gangsters, although it was not reported whether they were tattooed. Nikkan Gendai also reported that a cousin of Hashimoto is in prison for manslaughter. Hashimoto has publicly commented on the stories and has not denied them. 


Update: New article from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 5/31/12: 

15 employees defy Osaka tattoo survey
A total of 15 Osaka city employees refused to respond to a survey conducted this month to search out tattooed employees, reportedly saying the survey "violated privacy" or "was not conducted in an appropriate way," it was learned Wednesday. 

The city government said it will take disciplinary measures, including salary cuts and reprimands, against those who did not complete the survey, as it considers their refusal to be disobedience of a direct order.

The survey was conducted on about 35,000 employees, according to a city official. After May 16, the city instructed 513 employees who did not respond to the survey to respond. Fifteen, however, still did not respond, including those who did not return the survey form and those who refused to fill in blanks other than the one for the respondent's name.

"There should not be an organization in which 'Honesty doesn't pay,'" Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto told the press, referring to employees who responded to the survey honestly.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Filmmaker Imamura Lecture in Hirakata-shi

Ayako Imamura recently visited Hirakata-shi and gave a lecture about her filmmaking sctivities. She showed film clips from her work with deaf people in the Tohoku region affected by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Deaf people were the last to know about the disaster as it was happening and had difficulties getting important information afterwards. They were also affected psychologically as they had no one they could talk to in sign language. The importance of communication in terms of sharing information, cooperation and emotional support was a major theme in Imamura's lecture. She talked about the ironic situation where able-bodied deaf people could not get adequate information and thus were unable to assist other people. On the other hand there were hearing people in wheelchairs and such that could understand the information but needed help themselves. Hearing and deaf people need to be able to communicate with one another during emergencies and in their normal life activities. 

This theme also plays out in Imamura's latest film, 珈琲とエンピツ ("Coffee and Pencil"), about a deaf surfer and coffee shop owner who is not only a master of the waves and java, but in communicating with all kinds of people as well. See details in the links below.

For more photos from the event:

Link to Imamura Lecture Photo Album:

For more information about Imamura's films:

Link to Studio AYA Official website (in Japanese):

Poster borrowed from Seven Theater Website.

Link to "Coffee and Pencil" Official website (in Japanese and English):

The film is showing daily between now and June 1 at  12:30 and 14:00 at the Seven Theater in Osaka.

Link to Seven Theater website (for film schedule and theater information):

Monday, May 21, 2012

Osaka Eclipse Obscured by Clouds...

No dramatic ring of fire as reported in less cloudy areas of Asia, which was probably a good thing as I did not have the lens filters that would have saved my camera's sensors under clear conditions. The clouds cooperated in terms of timing as well, holding off a complete blockage until after the ring effect. No frenzy, but pretty cool none-the less...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Update: 110 Tattoos in Osaka

From The Daily Yomiuri Online, 5/18/12:

Osaka govt finds 110 tattooed employees

The Osaka city government has learned 110 of its employees have tattoos.

The number includes 73 employees of the Environment Bureau, 15 of the Transportation Bureau and seven from the Public Works Bureau, suggesting sections involving fieldwork such as garbage collection and subway operation employ many tattooed workers, officials said Wednesday.

The findings were based on a survey conducted this month of about 34,000 employees, excluding teachers.

The city government plans to establish rules on tattooing for workers. It will also instruct employees to keep their tattoos out of sight during work hours and is considering relocating tattooed employees.


Previous VAOJ coverage here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Welcome signs for hearing impaired"

Caption: A whiteboard at the Sign with Me cafe in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, is full of messages from customers. It is also used to communicate with cafe staff.

My friend recently came back from Tokyo and told me about a "deaf cafe" he went to. And then on Saturday The Daily Yomiuri had a photo story about the place. Check it out. Story, captions and photos borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 5/14/12:

By Koki Kataoka / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer
When you go to a cafe or restaurant, you usually hear, "Hello, may I help you?" or "May I take your order?" However, such greetings are not heard at the Sign with Me cafe in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Most of the cafe's seven employees are hearing impaired, so they communicate with customers in sign language or in writing.

Store manager Masahiro Yanagi, 39, who is also hearing impaired, opened the cafe in December in the Hongo district, hoping to create a workplace where hearing impaired people can enjoy their jobs.

The cafe has many customers with similar impairments and occasionally even organizes job seminars for them. 

However, Yanagi said he wants people who are unfamiliar with sign language to visit his cafe, too.

If customers do not understand sign language, they can order using an iPad information terminal or by writing on whiteboards that cover the walls. Yanagi said about 80 percent of his customers cannot communicate in sign language, but quite a few became interested in learning it after visiting the cafe.

Sign language is just one of many languages, like French and German. To help people understand that sign language is a language like any other, a regular study meeting has recently started in a corner of the cafe.

Exchanges in sign language have steadily been expanding little by little.

Here are the rest of the photos.

Caption: A cafe employee uses an iPad to confirm a customer's order. If a customer does not know sign language, they can order with an iPad.

Caption: An employee wears Masclear, a transparent mask enabling those with hearing impairments to see mouth movements and facial expressions, which are important communication tools, more clearly.

Caption: Members of the sign language study group Shikaku Hiroba enjoy conversing in sign language while they eat. Michiko Furuta, second from right, said she can't help but smile whenever she comes to the cafe. 


OK (I can hear my students asking me), what's wrong with the story? Well... The main problem is with the term hearing impaired. The term that should be used is deaf. This is the term that deaf people themselves use for the most part (in Japanese rou, ろう). Perhaps Japanese people feel hearing impaired is more appropriate or polite when they are writing/speaking in English. Perhaps there is some political correctness at play here. But being defined as impaired is not what these people want. Deaf is not a bad word to them.

The last photo is definitely posed. OK everyone, do a sign. 1-2-3... hai chi-zu.

I do like how the photographer captures the whiteboard and the use of technology (iPad) as examples of ways in which the deaf can communicate with hearing people who can't sign.

I also like how the importance of facial expression is emphasized. But the caption makes it seem as though the Masclear is some special device allowing deaf people to have more facial expressions. It is not. It is the same as the usual surgical masks that Japanese people wear when they are sick, have allergies or work with food. And facial expression is much more than a communication tool, it holds the key to meaning and grammar. Facial expression is a non-manual sign and perhaps one of the most difficult parts of sign language to master.

You can find out more about this place on-line. Here is a video message in JSL from the owner (with captions in Japanese).


Check out the cafe's homepage as well.

Link to Sign With Me Official Website:

A common theme in my research over the years is that deaf people are excellent communicators. And they want to communicate with each other and with hearing people. This latest photo essay is another example of Japanese deaf people reaching out for this goal. Thanks to the photographer for this story.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Japan faces 'extinction' in 1,000 years, researchers say"

Image borrowed from "Japan's Children Population Clock."

Story from Japan Today, 5/12/12:

Japanese researchers on Friday unveiled a population clock that showed the nation’s people could theoretically become extinct in 1,000 years because of declining birth rates.

Academics in Sendai said that Japan’s population of children aged up to 14, which now stands at 16.6 million, is shrinking at the rate of one every 100 seconds.

Their extrapolations pointed to a Japan with no children left within a millennium.

“If the rate of decline continues, we will be able to celebrate the Children’s Day public holiday on May 5, 3011 as there will be one child,” said Hiroshi Yoshida, an economics professor at Tohoku University.

“But 100 seconds later there will be no children left,” he said. “The overall trend is towards extinction, which started in 1975 when Japan’s fertility rate fell below two.”

Yoshida said he created the population clock to encourage “urgent” discussion of the issue.

Another study released earlier this year showed Japan’s population is expected to shrink to a third of its current 127.7 million over the next century.

Government projections show the birth rate will hit just 1.35 children per woman within 50 years, well below the replacement rate.

Meanwhile, life expectancy—already one of the highest in the world—is expected to rise from 86.39 years in 2010 to 90.93 years in 2060 for women and from 79.64 years to 84.19 years for men.

More than 20 percent of Japan’s people are aged 65 or over, one of the highest proportions of elderly in the world.

Japan has very little immigration and any suggestion of opening the borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.

The greying population is a headache for policymakers who are faced with trying to ensure an ever-dwindling pool of workers can pay for a growing number of pensioners.

But for some Japanese companies the inverting of the traditional aging pyramid provides commercial opportunities.

Unicharm said Friday that sales of its adult diapers had “slightly surpassed” those for babies in the financial year to March, for the first time since the company moved into the seniors market.

Unicharm started selling diapers for babies in 1981 and those for adults in 1987, said spokesman Kazuya Kondo, who declined to give specific figures on the sales. 


Link to Japan's Children Population Clock:

The first set of boxes shows the decrease in the number of young children (ages 0-14) between last year and this year, a decrease of 280,000 children.

The second set of boxes shows the actual number of children as it decreases every second.

The last set of boxes is the countdown calendar, the amount of time left before there is only one child left in Japan.

I have been using an article from The Daily Yomiuri (Dec. 6, 2004) entitled "Japan heading for extinction / Data in white paper on birthrate make depressing reading" as the introduction to my Contemporary Japanese Society and Culture class for some time, advising my students that they got to Japan just in time. Many paranoid articles about the declining birthrate/aging society soon followed and fit nicely with my course intro. Add some natural disasters, hikikomori, suicides, increasing HIV/AIDS rates, the dangers of nuclear power and other social problems and you have a convincing argument. Now I am happy to have this contemporary source to add as well (sorry to give away my secrets to any possible future students...).

Of course, a lot can happen in a thousand years...

Oh no! Osaka garbage collectors with tattoos!

Here's an update on the tattoo situation in Hashimoto's Osaka. Story from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 5/14/12:

50 Osaka City Bureau Officials Sport Tattoos Despite Ethics Code

About 50 employees in the Osaka city government's Environment Bureau said in a survey they have tattoos, despite an ethics code that frowns on such body decorations, according to sources.

The city bureau enacted an internal ethics code in May 2010 stipulating its officials should not have tattoos or similar body decorations.

Last year, however, some Osaka residents reported to the city government that they had seen garbage collectors with tattoos.

In March, the city government conducted the survey on all of about 3,200 officials in the Environment Bureau.

In the survey, the employees were asked if they had tattoos, and, if so, which part of their body was tattooed.

The city bureau said it had instructed all tattooed officials to remove their tattoos if possible.

Separately, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has instructed that a survey be carried out on all 30,000 city government officials, including the Environment Bureau's employees but excluding about 800 city-run schools' teachers and workers, to check which officials have tattoos.

It is expected the number of city government officials sporting tattoos may increase further.


Giving Maneki Neko a Run for Its Money...

Image borrowed from Maneki Neko Luck Cat.

The cat in the story and video below is apparently doing Russian Sign Language. It might look a bit familiar to cat people in Japan... Anyway, seems like a good way to start out the last week of classes here. Story from

Watch a genius kitty ask for food in sign language 

Here's something great: A cat telling its owner in sign language that it would like to eat. This video is from February, but it's still picking up fans just because of its delightful protagonist. 


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"'Cove' town in Wakayama plans to open dolphin park"

What do you do when your fishing practices are wildly unpopular? Open an amusement park... More on The Cove, from Japan Today, 5/2/12:

The dolphin-hunting Japanese town of Taiji, made infamous by the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” plans to open a marine mammal park where visitors can swim with the creatures, a media report said.

The town intends to section off part of the cove and turn it into a place where people can swim and kayak alongside small whales and dolphins, Jiji Press news agency reported, calling it “a marine safari park.”

The cove is the scene of an annual slaughter when the fishermen of Taiji corral dolphins, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks, and stab the rest to death for meat, turning the sea red.
The 2009 film “The Cove” brought Taiji to worldwide attention, winning an Oscar the following year, after showing the bloody slaughter. Activists continue to visit the town to protest the hunt.

Taiji, in western Wakayama Prefecture, aims to officially launch the project within five years after negotiating with the prefectural government, which manages the bay, and with pearl farmers operating there, Jiji reported.

The plan, compiled by a panel of residents, calls for the creation of “a whale park” stretching roughly 28 hectares by putting up a net at the entrance to Moriura Bay in northwestern Taiji, it said.

Black whales and bottlenose dolphins caught in waters near the town would be released into the pool, which would be developed as a nature park that also includes beaches and mudflats, it said.

“We want to send out the message that the town is living together with whales,” Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen, was quoted as saying.

The local government will also study whether it is possible to raise large whales there, the agency said, adding it intends to use the park for therapy and ecological research.

The town caught 928 dolphins in 2011, according to Wakayama Prefecture.

A town official, who declined to be named, told AFP by telephone that the town “is no way going to stop” its annual dolphin hunt, adding local residents see no contradiction in both watching and eating dolphins.