Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lucky Billiken On the Road in Osaka

The Lucky God Billiken, symbol of mercantile Osaka, really gets around. I asked the gentleman pictured above what Billiken was doing in the back of his truck (like a hitch-hiker rather than a god) and he said that the statue was going to be installed with a signboard at a glasses store. Lucky shop!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Picture of the Day: Homeless "Napster"

Image borrowed from Japan Today, 3/25/13. Image quality altered on purpose.

The caption for Japan Today's Picture of the Day (3/25/13) reads "A homeless man takes a nap near JR Omiya Station in Saitama Prefecture." But the purpose of the photo remains a mystery, especially in the context of it being displayed in a news resource. This is a photo I would advise my students not to take and certainly not to post on the internet with such a cutesy title... Unless the photographer actually interacted with the subject, confirmed he was indeed homeless and was indeed taking a nap and received informed permission for the photo to be used (with the subject being aware of his portrait rights and privacy). There is no indication of any such interaction. The problematic representation of the photo plays out in the discussion made up of Japan Today reader comments. I first saw the photo and comments the morning of the 25th. At that time there were 39 comments and some mentioning of others being deleted by the moderator. When I checked later in the evening the Picture of the Day had been changed and the comments had been reduced to 28. There was discussion and bickering about the nature of homelessness and what is appropriate action to help the homeless (and I suspect these type of comments were the ones deleted). Here is a sample of the comments I was most interested in dealing with the methods and ethics of shooting photos in public in Japan. (I reproduce these comments in case they might be deleted in the near or distant future.)

I don't understand why this picture, its title or this sight is trying to making a humorous comment about a homeless man sleeping on the street. Did the person snapping the picture think to ask him why he was there or how they could help?

I saw this many many times when working in Omiya. Never thought of taking his photo and uploading it to Japan Today.

I wouldn't take this photo. But if there is any good that comes of it then so be it.

How could any good possibly come of this? It's callous and tasteless and nothing else.

This seems very unprofessional and callous of a news organization to attach a humorous headline to a picture depicting the obvious plight of a fellow human being. I would expect this sort of content from 2 channel, not from JT.

A homeless person 'takes a nap' is rather making light of the real situation - and more accurately should read 'A homeless person is LIVING...'. Using the photo as part of a piece on homelessness would've been better. Simply using it as 'Picture of the Day' with a pun of a title and a quirky throw away comment is tasteless and quite unnecessary.

He looks pretty happy. not all homeless people are miserable, you know. also the photo is a clever juxtaposition of the relative poverty of this poor guy with the relative wealth of the society in which he lives (as shown by the bicycles behind him and the high qulity security fence). also, Omiya in Saitama is a brilliant place where I am suere this guy gets lots of sympathy and handouts and so on. So stop ripping on JT - plenty else to read into this picture.


It is not only Japan Today that runs these kinds of questionable photos - I have seen similar pictures in various photo blogs about Japan: those taken without consent and based upon assumptions and stereotypes rather than interaction and research. The common sense rule of thumb would be for the photographer to put herself in the place of the subject - would she want to be represented in such a way?

Read more about these issues in Japan:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Visual Documentary Project, "Care" in Southeast Asia

On 15 March 2013, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, hosted a Visual Documentary Project whereby five makers from Southeast Asia were invited to show their works and share ideas on the subject of visually documenting care in Southeast Asia.

Project Synopsis: “Care,” is one of the most important aspects of human life at any time in our life cycle and is a fundamental part of all societies. Yet, the term “care” is western and has no exact corresponding term in Asian languages. This film forum hopes to stimulate, and raise awareness of how Southeast Asian filmmakers consider the relevance and meaning of “care,” and how they visually document it in their own societies.Five documentaries were selected by an international committee from a total of 36 original entries submitted from the region.

The documentaries are now available online for viewing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Man beaten to death by passerby filming fight"

Another reason to be careful filming in public... From The Daily Yomiuri Online, 3/11/13:

A man was beaten to death by a stranger filming a quarrel he was involved in on a street in Konan Ward, Yokohama, at about 4:25 a.m. Sunday, according to police. 

Katsunari Maeda, 25, unemployed, was on his way home with a friend, a 22-year-old man. The police said Maeda's friend got in an argument with the driver of a minivehicle. 

A fourth individual nearby began filming the quarrel with his cell phone and Maeda warned him to stop. The man then suddenly began hitting Maeda, police said, punching him in the face and abdomen. Maeda was taken to a hospital and confirmed dead. 


Monday, March 11, 2013

Teaching 3.11 in 2013

3.11 continues to influence and impact Japanese society and culture. This semester in Contemporary Japanese Culture and Globalization class we spent a whole week (two class sessions) on the subject. The complexity of the subject can be illustrated by the sheer amount of research and articles dealing with the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. Here are a list of sources that we were only able to scratch the surface of:

Visual 3/11 Materials at VAOJ

Teach 3.11

Digital Archives of Japan's 2011 Disasters

Japan Earthquake at Nagasaki Archive 

Beyond 3.11 - Stories of Recovery

Japan's 3.11 Earthquake, Tsunami, Atomic Meltdown at Japan Focus 

In the first class sessions students presented a timeline of the 3.11 events and discussed details of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster from the sources above. One student talked about his friend's experiences during the disasters and another student talked about his volunteer activities in the Tohoku.

The first class session covered a lot of information and set the scene for the second class session featuring a guest lecture from my former student, Ryoko Higashi, who experienced 3.11 in Ibaraki prefecture. Ms. Higashi talked about the earthquake itself and the damage it caused to her work place and home. She talked about her lack of food and water and her eventual evacuation from the area. This was the first time we had an actual 3.11 survivor speak in class and Ms. Higashi's presentation provided a whole new perspective on the subject and was very much appreciated by all. Today for the first time we were able to move beyond questions of how and why to what we can learn from the experiences and how we can live our lives to the fullest from now on. Many thanks to Ms. Higashi and all of my students. 

"Filmmaker captures the 3/11 stress of Tohoku’s deaf"

Image borrowed from Studio Aya.

 Story from Japan Times, 3/10/13, by Tomoko Otake:

Nobuko Kikuchi, a 72-year-old resident of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, couldn’t hear the emergency sirens that followed the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck on March 11, 2011.

Nor could she hear the public announcement urging people to evacuate to higher ground as a massive tsunami approached the coast of northeastern Japan’s Tohoku region.

Kikuchi is deaf. She owes her life to a neighbor who came to alert her. Kikuchi narrowly escaped the monster wave, which uprooted and washed away her house.

In another part of the city, a deaf couple who ran a beauty salon survived — though nobody came knocking on their door. After the quake, they smelled a “strange odor” and ran up to the second floor of their house. But after the tsunami swept through their house, destroying all the equipment in their salon on the first floor, the couple spent a lonely night alone. They had no information about the scale of the disaster or where they could go to get help.

Such horrific experiences of the Great East Japan Earthquake fill “3.11 Without Sound — There Were Deaf People in the Disaster Area, Too,” a 23-minute documentary recently released by deaf filmmaker Ayako Imamura.

Nagoya-based Imamura, 33, has made seven visits to Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures since the disaster, meeting and interviewing victims there.

Her film is a bitter reminder of how people with disabilities are neglected during disasters and denied access to the kind of information that can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Statistics on the number of deaf and hearing-impaired people affected by the disaster are hard to come by. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which has a department serving people with disabilities, will only say that as of May 2011, 14 deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Miyagi Prefecture were killed by the tsunami/quake. A total of 736 others were confirmed to have survived. 

The ministry has no data for such casualties in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.

In the film, Imamura cites a report by public broadcaster NHK that puts the number of fatalities among deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the three prefectures at 75.

Imamura, who has shot numerous documentaries on Japan’s deaf community, met and interviewed several deaf and hearing-impaired people in Tohoku, including Kikuchi, who the film focuses on.

In an interview filmed in an evacuation shelter one month after the disaster, Kikuchi breaks down as she explains she can’t hear any of the announcements on food rationing and other assistance — no one has thought to take her special needs into consideration.

She and her husband, Tokichi (who is also deaf), had no other way of keeping track of new developments than by watching hearing evacuees.

“If they see other people lining up, they would follow suit, assuming some aid item would be handed out,” Imamura says in the film. “It’s a huge form of stress for her, and she has no time to relax all day.”

Kikuchi regains some semblance of normalcy over time. She looks much better in August 2011, when Imamura visits her at an apartment-style temporary housing facility, into which the couple moved that May. Nicely coiffed and made-up, Kikuchi smiles as she teaches her granddaughter how to make key chains with colorful plastic beads. The temporary dwelling has the basic necessities — a TV set, air-conditioning and a yellow light to let the couple know when they have visitors. But then a hearing film crew member notices that a fishmonger has just passed — without bothering to tell the Kikuchis.

Imamura visits her again on Dec. 25, 2011. Kikuchi looks pleasantly surprised, showing off many donated sweaters that she was given at a Christmas charity event. But her expression clouds again — conveying to the filmmaker through sign language her feelings of insecurity about her future. Kikuchi says she doesn’t know how much longer the situation will continue. She tells Imamura she is alone now, because Tokichi was hospitalized the previous month.

Now that she’s finished the movie, which is subtitled in English, Korean and Portuguese, Imamura says everyone living in Japan should have equal access to vital information, regardless of disability or nationality. Tsunami warnings should be sent to all mobile phone users, she says, using handsets’ vibration setting to send emergency alerts to both deaf and blind people. Imamura says all public announcements should be made in simple Japanese and in various languages.

“There are many people in society — hearing people, hard-of-hearing people, blind people, people in wheelchairs and foreigners,” Imamura says in an email. “The message I want to get across in all of my films is that a society where all these people are able to live the life they want to live is a very rich one.”


Imamura Ayako Official Website:

Related VAOJ posts:

"Aichi director records the deaf's stories"

Filmmaker Imamura Lecture in Hirakata-shi 

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Google to photograph street views of evacuated town in Fukushima"

From Japan Today, 3/8/11:

It wasn’t just the earthquake or tsunami of March 11, 2011 that shattered the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture; it was the subsequent radiation. Slowly creeping across the once fertile land, it ripped families from their homes and banished them to evacuation centers elsewhere. Today, nearly two years after the worse nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, the entire 86 square miles of Namie have been declared uninhabitable due to high levels of radioactive cesium. Even if families wanted to return, they can’t.

Amid this tragic loss, Google Street View is giving the people of Namie a chance to visit the town they were forced to flee.

The Street View project was requested by Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie town. Baba explains in the video below, “By photographing the town and making those photographs publicly available, we can show the townspeople the condition of the streets. In addition, I want to show the world the true state of Namie.”

Photographing will take several weeks and Google hopes to make the images available to the public in the coming months. It seems that Namie, formerly described as “the forgotten town” in popular Japanese magazine, Bungei ShunjuI, will no longer be forgotten thanks to the efforts of Google and Mayor Baba.