Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Facial ID tech to be set at [Osaka] station"

Image and text borrowed from The Japan News, 1/30/14.

Not only are you being watched and recorded, your behavior is being analyzed as well. So much for the Personal Information Protection Law and privacy in public...

Countless cameras scanning pedestrians’ faces and tracking their behavior—it may sound like a science fiction movie, but this is to be a reality at JR Osaka Station come April.

The station, which serves 820,000 passengers per day, is scheduled to be the stage of an unusually large study on tracking location data using facial-recognition technology.

Although attempts to utilize location data as “big data,” such as in crime prevention, are expected to become more and more common, it remains to be seen how accepting people will be of their behavior being tracked.

The study is being conducted by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), an independent administrative institution based in Tokyo.

About 90 cameras are to be set up on the first to third floors of Osaka Station and the station building, Osaka Station City, around ticket gates, coin lockers, escalators, shops and other areas.

Each camera is to photograph people’s faces within a three-square-meter area, and assign each face an ID based on its characteristics.

When a person is recognized by another camera, the time and location will be recorded. Each person’s behavior will then be tracked for one week.

According to the firm supplying the facial-recognition system, the technology can distinguish an individual with an accuracy of 99.99 percent.

Each day, 820,000 passengers use Osaka Station, and at least 320 million people have entered the shops in the station building since it opened in May 2011, making it one of busiest places in the Kansai region.

An NICT official said the institute wants to better understand the movement of people to help improve evacuation instructions during disasters.

The study is slated to last for two years. Afterward, the data is to be given to West Japan Railway Co. free of charge, after facial images and other information has been scrubbed.

A JR official said the company has not decided how to use the data.

Facial images could be used to determine a person’s identity, which is a form of personal information that falls under the Personal Information Protection Law, which requires people to be notified if they are being photographed.

Independent administrative institutions, however, are exempt from this law. Still, NICT said it plans to notify people they are being photographed through signs inside the buildings and other means, but has not decided how large, where, or how many signs will be posted.

Facial-recognition technology was developed in the 1990s and has been employed to identify people at entrance gates for market research and for other uses.

Beginning around 2011, Facebook and other social media outlets began integrating the technology, but using it to follow people’s behavior with large numbers of cameras is unusual.

Yoichiro Itakura, a lawyer privy with privacy issues, said the location of the study in a busy public space was problematic.

“A station is a public area, so people who don’t want their faces identified can’t really avoid it,” he said. “It’s inappropriate to have selected a place for the study where users have no other choice. At the very least, they should put up a clear notification before one enters the study area.”

Wi-Fi also used

The wireless Internet capabilities of smartphones are also being used to analyze behavior.

Starting in May last year, KDDI Corp. and Mitsui & Co. began installing devices that emit Wi-Fi signals in commercial establishments.

The devices collect an identification number from customers’ smartphones via the devices’ wireless signals, and use these to track people’s movements.

Twenty-two such devices have been installed in Grandberry Mall in Machida, Tokyo, and 25 devices have been placed around Tamaplaza Terrace in Yokohama. Each device can apparently identify customers within 10 square meters.

The stores have a smartphone app that gives out coupons. When a customer downloads the app, the user contract explains that it “is used to survey location data.”

However, even customers who have not downloaded the app will have their ID numbers collected if their smartphone Wi-Fi is on, though most customers are unaware of this.

KDDI and other parties involved said if location information is obtained from a customer who has not downloaded the app, the data is not analyzed and discarded within six months.

However, a similar form of behavior analysis that took place in London came under heavy criticism and was forced to end.

Last August, an advertising company set out garbage cans fitted with Wi-Fi devices, according to Mayumi Tanimoto, a telecommunications consultant who lives in Britain.

The devices were used to collect ID numbers of the smartphones of passersby without their permission. When the practice was discovered, the company was criticized for privacy invasion and eventually had to remove the trash cans.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nippon Connection 2014

14th Nippon Connection – Japanese Film Festival
May 27 – June 1, 2014, Frankfurt am Main/ Germany

Nippon Connection is the largest showcase of Japanese film worldwide and takes place in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. The festival’s aim is to contribute to the development and promotion of Japanese film culture and it presents the whole range of innovative Japanese film art: blockbusters, dramas, animation and experimental films, documentaries as well as short films. Nippon Connection gives special attention to young and innovative talents and independent productions.

The programme is divided into six sections: Nippon Cinema, Nippon Visions, Nippon Animation, Nippon Retro, Nippon Kids and Nippon Culture. All films are selected by the festival programme committee. Not all selected films take part in the competitions. Accepted films are short and long feature films as well as documentaries, experimental films and music videos.

Festival organizers are looking for films that have been made after 2011 and produced or shot in Japan. All lengths and genres will be considered. Submission deadline: March 15, 2014.

For more information:

Entry form:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"The Mysterious [Deaf] ‘Charity’ Linked To Dennis Rodman’s North Korean Basketball Game"

Dennis Rodman is a pretty colorful character in many ways and would be an excellent subject for a visual anthropology project. I was reading the sports pages this morning about Rodman's latest trip to North Korea and it mentioned something about him organizing a basketball game with the proceedings going to a deaf charity. Huh? Deaf charity? I was able to find this very interesting report on

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman told reporters on Monday that all the proceeds from his controversial basketball game in North Korea would go towards a North Korean charity for the deaf, a claim that neither his agent nor the trip’s sponsor knew anything about.

This week’s trip marks Rodman’s fourth journey to North Korea, the latest in a string that has been borne of a surprising relationship between the former Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls player and Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader since 2011. “Just to even have us here, it’s an awesome feeling. I want these guys here to show the world, and speak about North Korea in a great light,” Rodman told the Associated Press upon landing. “I hope people will have a different view about North Korea.”

To that end, Rodman continued, proceeds from the game would go to a charity for the deaf in North Korea. The opacity of both the DPRK and the trip itself makes it difficult to verify the accuracy of that claim. For starters, related to the proceeds themselves, ThinkProgress reached out to Paddy Power, an Ireland-based bookmaking website and the sponsor of Rodman’s trip, to learn more. Paddy Power said that it had scaled back its involvement with the excursion. In a statement regarding that pullback, released in December, the betting site noted the international disdain for the DPRK as why it was ending its association. “It was really a reaction to the worldwide focus and total condemnation of the North Korean regime over recent events,” the statement said. “We don’t want to be associated with that.” According to Sky News, the firm is still paying for the trip, to fulfill contractual obligations.

Paddy Power’s spokesperson instead pointed to Rodman’s representatives at Prince Marketing Group for comment. When reached, a representative initially told ThinkProgress, “I don’t have anything for you” related to Rodman’s claims. A follow-up email with more detailed questions related to the amount of proceeds expected to be donated went unanswered as of press time. Given the state of the DPRK’s economy, it also remains unclear precisely who would be paying for admission to the exhibition basketball game between the American and North Korean players to generate the proceeds Rodman says will be donated.

As for the other part of Rodman’s announcement, it’s difficult to track down just what charity he may have meant. The most likely candidate is the North Korean-based Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD), which has worked with several international NGOs on issues surrounding the deaf. The World Federation for the Deaf in 2011 signed a memorandum of understanding with KFPD to “develop cooperation between the two organisations with the view of further improving the living conditions and equal opportunities of deaf people in all fields including deaf education, deaf culture, arts and deaf sports.”

Handicap International (HI), another organization devoted to improving the lives of the disabled, worked closely with KFPD for a time, but according to its website is still determining their relationship moving forward. This came after the North Korean government in 2005 announced that the country no longer needed international aid in this area. The same site notes that members of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs also serve alongside KFPD staff and HI’s two full-time workers, a testament to the lack of independence KFPD likely has in operating in the Stalinist country.

And while British NGO Action for Deafness hosted a delegation from KFPD in July to help provide training for North Korean doctors to diagnose and treat auditory disabilities, attempts to discern whether other local deafness groups exist came up empty. KFPD also does not provide contact information, making confirmation of whether it is expecting a new windfall all the more difficult.

Rodman has for months billed his trips as an example of “basketball diplomacy,” something that the U.S. government has been quick to explain is not officially sanctioned. This time around, former NBA players and All-Stars including Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker join Rodman in flying to the Hermit Kingdom. ThinkProgress was unable to reach representatives for any of the former ball players for comment about the charitable aspect of the game. Former New York Knicks player Charles D. Smith did tell reporters upon his arrival that he hoped that the game would foment new ties between the U.S. and DPRK. “It’s new being here, but overall the concept is not new,” Smith said. “The team is made up of a lot of guys who really care, that’s the most important, it’s not about bringing dream-teamers. It’s about guys who are coming that want to be a part of this, that care, and really that care about humanity.”

Caring for humanity does not usually come to mind when discussing North Korea, given the widespread human rights violations it is more commonly known for. Its relationship with the disabled is one that has troubled outside observers for years, a stigma they have been attempting to lift in recent years. Pyongyang in 2013 signed — but has not yet ratified – the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and in 2012 for the first time attended the Paralympic Games when they were hosted in London.

But as defector Lee Aeran told Radio Free Asia in 2007, during the rule of Kim’s father Kim Jong Il, life for those born with disabilities is a harsh one. Though those disabled in combat are honored, even the families of disabled children aren’t allowed to live in the capital city, Pyongyang, instead facing expulsion. “Disabled babies are seen as persona non grata in Pyongyang, and their families are banished from the capital city and forced to relocate in rural areas,” she said, a claim backed by the U.S. State Department.

“The disabled are thus forced to live in a difficult environment that does not provide for their special needs, and that makes North Korea a terrible place to live for persons living with a disability,” Lee continued. Whether the proceeds Rodman claims will be donated will help alleviate this climate of intolerance and repression remains to be seen.


USA Today is reporting that Rodman did meet with representatives of KFPD, though with no new information on what sort of proceeds can be expected to be raised nor how the quasi-civil society organisation, as the European Union has termed it, will spend them.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 New Year Hozanji Pilgrimage

The new year brings out several traditional practices at VAOJ. So, of course, that means a visit to my favorite temple in Japan. Last year I wrote "Equally important spiritually and anthropologically is my annual new year's pilgrimage to Hozanji temple in Ikoma, Nara." I cannot state this any differently or better. Every year I experience Hozanji in a different way, and hopefully my photographs, aside from documenting the temple in general, illustrate the different experiences (see 2011, 2012, 2013). In addition to discovering old and new spots and angles to photograph, I had some very nice encounters with people at the temple. Every year I purchase ofuda (talisman) to protect my house and every year it is the same gentleman who sells it to me. He recognized me this year with a hearty greeting of "Long time, no see!" His portrait appears in this post.

One challenging aspect of visiting Hozanji is that it is on a mountain. There are many stairs to climb to get to the temple, and many stairs to climb to make the circuit of various shrines within. At the top of the usual route is a shrine dedicated to Daikokuten, one of the Japanese seven lucky gods associated with wealth, food, agriculture and good fortune (he is also seen as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Shiva; he is but one example of the many interesting Hindu origins of Japanese Buddhist deities at Hozanji). This year when I reached the top I stopped to take a break and to photograph the scene. Usually the shrine is closed and one can only get a glimpse of the deity and religious paraphernalia through a small opening. But this time there were two people inside attending to the shrine and the visitors. A young man opened the door of the shrine and invited me in. I'm not sure if he did this because I was a visual anthropologist (and/or foreigner) or because I looked so exhausted. In any event I was thrilled to go in, see Daikokuten up close, take photographs, talk to the attendants inside (the young man was a molecular biology graduate student working part time at the temple during the holidays and the other attendant was an older woman who was working as a volunteer) and receive a nice, hot cup of tea. Photos from this encounter also appear in this post.

At new year's time, there are several stalls selling various food and drinks at Hozanji (VAOJ recommends the amazake and tako yaki). This makes for a fun and festive atmosphere that is as much a part of the hatsumode (first visit to a shrine or temple of the year) experience as is the wishing-praying activities of the people who visit. The new year of the horse is off to a great start - VAOJ wishes all a happy, healthy and (in the spirit of Daikokuten) prosperous 2014!

See also the official website for Hozanji (宝山寺) in Japanese:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014 from VAOJ!