Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art forced to cover up 'obscene' photos following complaint"

Image borrowed from Twitter (@asaitakashi) via Japan Today, 8/27/14.

Story from Japan Today, 8/27/14:

When police arrested Japanese artist Rokudenashiko last month for distributing 3-D printer plans for models of her vagina, the world was at once baffled and outraged. But despite all the fuss that was raised over the artist’s arrest, it looks like the Japanese police are at it again, this time targeting the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art for an exhibition featuring nude photography by the Japanese photographer Ryudai Takano.

Though no one has been arrested, the museum made headlines after it partially covered some of Ryudai’s photographs with cloth after local police deemed the images “obscene.” However, many in Japan are questioning the legitimacy of the police actions.

The exhibit, called “Photography Will Be,” features photos from nine different photographers and is set to run until September 28. According to the museum’s website, the exhibit is intended to “[examine] our relationship to the photograph and the image.” To that end, Takano, who is known for his nude photography, contributed nearly 50 pieces, 12 of which feature male genitalia.

Realizing that not all patrons would be happy about being confronted with uncensored genitalia, the museum consulted with an attorney and decided to put a curtain up separating the photos from the others on display and included a warning explaining that the images may be unpalatable for some. A guard was even posted nearby to watch the entrance of the cordoned-off area. Nevertheless, the police showed up on August 12, almost two weeks after the exhibit opened, demanding that the 12 “obscene” photos be removed following an anonymous complaint about the exhibition.

However, rather than simply getting rid the offending photographs, the museum worked out a sort of deal with the police. Cloth was put up over the photos themselves so as to censor the images and prevent anyone from seeing anything that might be glimpsed in an everyday locker room.

Though the photographs remain, many are still upset by the police’s apparent violation of free speech – including Shuji Takahashi, one of the museum’s curators. Takahashi explained that he did not want to engage in self-censorship, but had little choice since he would otherwise face arrest. For his part, Takano explained that there were basically three ways they could deal with the situation: 1) Continue with the exhibit unchanged, 2) Replace the photos in question with “safe” photos, or 3) Cover up the offending aspects of the photos.

Since letting the museum staff be arrested was out of the question for Takano, he immediately rejected the first option. He also felt that the second option was equally unacceptable as it would imply that they agreed with the police. The third option, though not ideal, would allow Takano to communicate his protest to patrons without anyone ending up in handcuffs.

By partially covering the photos, Takano is signalling to patrons that the police have become involved – though we imagine that most museum-goers have heard about the incident already. However, Takano’s choice to cover up the “obscene” portions of the photos is not without precedent – in an email sent to and posted by webDICE, the photographer references Seiki Kuroda, a Meiji- and Showa-era painter. Kuroda painted in the Western style and spent many years abroad studying a style that was, at the time, quite foreign to Japan. Upon his return from France, the painter opened an exhibit, including a technically excellent female nude which drew outrage. Takano was apparently inspired by Kuroda’s choice to add a “loincloth” to the painting as a way to deal with critics.

While many were displeased with the police deeming works of art in a museum “obscene,” there is another aspect to the case that has people’s ire up: A lack of transparency. In addition to the obscenity charges being a violation of free speech and free expression rights, the anonymous reporting and sudden appearance of the police demanding the photos be removed is troubling for many, including Takahashi. He explained that the anonymous complaint was frustrating–if the patron had reported it to the museum staff, they would have been able to explain the work to the patron.

But even more troubling for Tohoku University professor Tarou Igarashi is how easy it is for anonymous complaints to cause trouble. “If you wanted to make accusations against a work of art, there are a number of easy ways to do so,” he told Yahoo! Japan News.

A Change.Org petition created by fellow photographer Takashi Arai has received over 3,100 signatures since it appeared online. The petition maintains that the police are legally unable to demand the photos be taken down, and dismisses the idea that any of the photos are obscene.


“Photography Will Be” website:

Click here for Change.Org petition.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

“Stop! AIDS” campaign event - Porn queens to take part in 24-hour 'squeeze-a-thon'

From Japan Today, 8/27/14:

A group of Japanese porn actresses are preparing to have their breasts squeezed by fans for 24 hours this weekend for a charity event loosely translated as “Boob Aid”.

The nine adult movie stars told local media on Monday they could barely contain their excitement about the “Stop! AIDS” campaign event—which will be televised live—but asked, perhaps somewhat optimistically: please be gentle.

“I’m really looking forward to lots of people fondling my boobs,” Rina Serina told the Tokyo Sports newspaper. “But I would be very happy if you would please be delicate.”

The event, the 12th since its launch in 2003, will be broadcast on adult cable television, with punters donating to the anti-AIDS campaign in exchange for a feel.

It comes after sexist heckling of a Tokyo assemblywoman hit the headlines, highlighting old-fashioned views toward women that still permeate Japanese society.

“I never thought my boobs could contribute to society,” added the ponytailed Serina, apparently unaware of any contradiction.

Fellow porn actress Iku Sakuragi had no qualms about being groped by hundreds of pairs of hands.

“It’s for charity,” said the 21-year-old. “Squeeze them, donate money—let’s be happy.”

The 24-hour “squeeze-a-thon” begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday and is backed by the Japan Foundation for AIDS Prevention.

It's worth a try, huh? HIV/AIDS continues to rise in Japan.


UPDATE: Porn queens raise over Y2 mil for AIDS...
(Japan Today
, 8/30/14)

A group of Japanese porn actresses raised more than 2 million yen Saturday and Sunday by having their breasts squeezed by fans at a “Boob Aid” charity event for AIDS prevention.

The nine adult movie stars, sporting yellow campaign T-shirts rolled up to reveal their breasts, flashed a big smile as punters came to them at an event that opened Saturday.

Having sprayed their hands with disinfectant, many of them were seen fondling the breasts quite discreetly.

A man was seen pressing his palms together in the style of a Buddhist prayer before and after he softly touched the breasts of each of the nine girls.

Women were occasionally spotted in the mostly male crowd, prompting one of the girls to say in rapture: “Wow, I’m happy. I want her to touch my breasts!”

Boob Aid is part of the 24-hour “Stop! AIDS” campaign event in Tokyo, which is also being televised live on a Japanese adult cable channel.

The breast-squeezing resumed Sunday morning after an overnight break.

More than 2,300 pairs of hands groped for a total of eight hours until early Sunday afternoon, organizers said.

The figure suggests some 2.3 million yen has already been collected as each participant was expected to donate 1,000 yen or more.

The final money count will be announced after the event closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The event is the 12th since its launch in 2003. It is backed by the Japan Foundation for AIDS Prevention.


“I never thought my boobs could contribute to society,” added the ponytailed Serina, apparently unaware of any contradiction.


ANOTHER UPDATE: Make that 5 million yen raised...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Update: "Monkeys, ghosts and gods 'cannot own copyright' says US"

From The Telegraph, 8/21/14:

In the wake of controversy over Wikipedia’s free and worldwide distribution of a monkey ‘selfie’ against the wishes of the man who claims to own copyright, the US has issued new guidance that says monkeys, ghosts and gods are all banned from possessing image rights.

The US Copyright Office has published a draft update to its rules regarding ownership of creative works like photographs, text and art – the first changes in more than two decades – which explicitly state that it will only recognise pieces produced by a human.

Among the 1,222 pages of updated rules and regulations are explicit bans on works produced by “nature, animals, or plants” or “purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings”.

In a list of examples of prohibited applications is “a photograph taken by a monkey” - an apparent nod to the recent Wikipedia case.

Wikimedia, the US-based organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to remove one of his images which it uses online without his permission, claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button there is no copyright on it.

The group has included the image in its database of royalty free images, which it offers for use worldwide, but the photographer claims it is his to sell and licence.

British nature photographer David Slater was in Indonesia in 2011 attempting to get the perfect image of a crested black macaque when one of the animals came up to investigate his equipment, hijacked a camera and took hundreds of selfies.

Slater has since complained that Wikimedia’s distribution of the image is affecting his ability to make a living from his work. He incurred costs of several thousands of pounds to arrange the photo shoot, which required the use of his own expensive equipment.

Also prohibited under the new US copyright rules would be “a mural painted by an elephant” or “a claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin”.

Despite the bans on works created by gods and ghosts, the Office may register a work where the application states that the work was “inspired by a divine spirit”, it says.

The update will “set the stage for a number of long-term improvements in the area of registration” of copyright, claims the Office. It is described as a “comprehensive overhaul that makes the practices and standards of the Office more timely and transparent”.

The draft will remain on review until it takes official effect some time around December 15 this year. The practices within it are not law, but do inform future legislation and set out how the Office makes internal decisions.

In the UK, under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, a photographer can claim rights over an image even if he or she did not press the shutter button if the results are their “intellectual creation” – for example, they came up with the concept of a monkey taking a “selfie”.

However, such a case has never been tried in court and the outcome would be uncertain.


Original story:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Local Matsuri, 2014 Edition

Despite periods of heavy rain and the usual hot/humid weather, the local summer festival was able to take place. Here are this year's offerings...

See last year's festival:

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri I: The Mikoshi, posted July 30, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri II: Evening Activities, posted July 31, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri III: Tamago Senbei, posted August 1, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri IV: People, posted August 2, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri V: くわしく, posted August 3, 2013.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Semi-sounds = Japanese Summer

If you play the above video before reading this text you might wonder what the point is: not much action other than a few bugs (yes, they are bugs, not birds) flying about, an occasional bicyclist passes by... But here the image/visual is not so important - it is the sound. Watch/listen to the video again with the volume turned up to the highest setting and you will begin to get an idea of the summer sounds of cicada (semi, セミ in Japanese). Yes, those large, fluttering creatures in the video are cicadas. The semi-sound is constant and loud of the Japanese summer. Here is a brief description of Japanese cicadas:

In Japan, cicadas start screaming around the middle of July and they disappear around the beginning of September. During this period, you can't really escape from the deafening chorus of their love songs. As long as there are some trees, you can find them on the trunks of the trees.

It said they spend several years underground as larvae and they pop out from the earth in a relatively dry summer evening. You can find their larvae slowly climbing the trunks of nearby trees. Once they have found a nice and stable position, they start the metamorphosis. Their wings are soft, thick and opaque at first, but becomes harder, thinner and clearer as they are dried overnight. Next morning they fly somewhere. However, they are allowed to live their life as a mature form only for a week or so. Therefore, they shout and scream their love songs as aloud as possible.

Normally, cicadas only sing during daylight. However, these days busy cities are brightly illuminated even at night, so that some confused cicadas scream at night as well.

There are a number of cicada species in Japan. Each has a different song.
(Source: Cicadas in Japan,

Behind my house is a stream lined with cherry trees. The spring brings beautiful sakura (cherry blossoms) while the summer brings the wall of sound of the semi. Until one gets used to it, it could drive one mad. Or inspire poetry, stories, movies and manga as it has done in Japan.

Another point here is the emphasis on sound. A good visual anthropologist/filmmaker knows the importance of a good microphone in the field and the challenge of mixing sound in the editing booth. Sound is especially important in contemporary and experimental visual anthropology. One example of this is the work of Amanda Belantara, 耳がきゅっとなる ("Ears Are Dazzled, Touched by Sound"). She describes the project as follows:

A collective exploration of the sounds that surround us, this film features sounds and images inspired by sound diaries kept by local people in Yamaguchi, Japan. An intriguing portrait of the invisible, the film’s unconventional style attempts to reveal the magical quality of sounds that lies hidden in the everyday.

Of course the semi-sound is not hidden at all. There are a number of interesting websites dealing with semi. Here are a couple:

Japanese Cicadae Homepage:

Singing, ticking timebombs – 5 facts about the special significance of cicadas in Japan:

There was another excellent article about the connection between semi and notions of the Japanese seasons by cultural anthropologist/naturalist Kevin Short; unfortunately the source, The Japan News, has removed it... Anyway, articles, webpages and videos don't do justice to the sound. One must experience the hot, humid and noisy Japanese summer to fully appreciate it. But we visual anthropologists still try to share the experience...

Friday, August 8, 2014

"SDF pilot arrested for taking photos up girl's skirt at train station"

From Japan Today, August 8, 2014:

A 42-year-old Air Self-Defense Force pilot has been arrested after he took photos up a girl’s skirt at a train station in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture.

According to police, the suspect, identified as Shigetaka Katagiri, took photos up a 27-year-old woman’s skirt with his smartphone, while riding an escalator at Nagareyama Otakanomori station at around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, TBS reported.

Police said that while taking the pictures, Katagiri’s phone came into contact with the woman’s buttocks, causing her to notice and cry out. Katagiri attempted to flee the scene, but was chased and caught by the woman and a man who had been nearby at the time.

According to Ministry of Defense officials, in April of this year, Katagiri was transferred from the ASDF to the Ministry of Defense Inspector General Headquarters. As inspector general, Katagiri had been in charge of enforcing sexual harassment prevention protocols.

Sigh... yet another example of what visual anthropologists (or anybody else) should not do. You might want to check out the interesting comments at the source.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Who owns this monkey’s selfie?"

Image and text borrowed from MSN News, August 7, 2014.

When a monkey commandeered a nature photographer’s camera on a small Indonesian island a few years ago, the results were extraordinary. Among the images captured by the crested black macaque were a few amazing images of himself.

Those monkey selfies made headlines back in 2011, and two of the photographs made their way to the Wikipedia page for the monkey’s species, which is endangered. Wikipedia only uses images that are in the public domain, but the feeling was that, since the monkey snapped the photo, no one could claim the copyrights to it.

“This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested,” Wikipedia’s collective band of editors explained.

The nature photographer, David Slater, felt otherwise. He sent a takedown request to the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, claiming that the photographs belong to him because they were taken with his camera.

“We didn’t agree, so we denied the request,” Wikimedia said in a new report about takedown requests it has received. The organization clearly highlighted the monkey selfie dispute in an effort to draw attention to its broader campaign against censorship.

See the whole story and related video:

VAOJ took up similar issues in the Japanese context in 2009 that included information from North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources. In their Image Use Protocol which suggests "Best practices for locating and using Japanese visual images for teaching, research, and publications," the following are rights holders to a particular image: copyright holders, owners of objects (in the image), image owners and subjects in the photos. So for the self portrait (I hate the term "selfie") of the monkey, can we ask permission for image use from the monkey (does the monkey know sign language?)? Does the photographer automatically have copyright because it was his camera and his efforts that brought the photo to the attention to the public? Did the photographer have permission from the Indonesian government or other agencies where the monkey is located? Why didn't Wikipedia ask the photographer in the first place? Does Wikipedia have the right to establish what is public domain on their own?

These are complex questions and issues that illustrate current copyright ideas/practices are no simple monkey business...

North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources:

VAOJ Shooting Culture in Japan project: