Thursday, December 31, 2015

Toshikoshi Soba 2015

As is tradition at VAOJ, here are the new year's noodles shots. Thank you for your kindness and efforts during this last year. Can't wait to eat those noodles!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Court rules ordinance on standing for national anthem constitutional"

VAOJ has been covering this issue for some time since the film, Against Coercion, came out. The latest installment of this social drama, set in Osaka, features a court decision that says the smooth running of a ceremony is more important than basic human rights. This idea of smoothness is not limited to forced patriotism; recently the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that women cannot use their maiden names on official documents after they get married because having different names in the same family would cause confusion and somehow threaten society. (See the opinion piece, The scourge of conformism besetting Japanese society by Jiro Yamaguchi in The Japan Times, 12/25/15.)

But for now, back to the Osaka court ruling on the forced singing of the national anthem...

From Japan Today, 12/22/15:

The Osaka District Court on Monday ruled that a prefectural ordinance obligating teachers to stand up to sing the national anthem during school ceremonies is constitutional, rejecting a lawsuit filed by a teacher saying the rule violates freedom of thought.

It is the first time that the court has handed down a ruling in connection with the 2011 Osaka prefectural ordinance on standing for “Kimigayo,” which carries lines wishing for the eternal reign of the emperor that are seen by some as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Naito said in the ruling that orders from the plaintiff’s superiors to follow the ordinance “indirectly restricted” the constitutional right of freedom of thought and conscience, but they were necessary for “the smooth progress of the ceremonies to an allowable extent.”

He also said the ordinance is in line with Japanese law, including legislation enacted in 1999 that designated the Hinomaru as the national flag and “Kimigayo” as the national anthem.

Yasutaka Okuno, a 58-year-old teacher at a prefectural-run school, filed the lawsuit as he was given an official warning for refusing to follow an order from the school principal to comply with the ordinance regarding a graduation ceremony in March 2012.

Okuno said he refused to comply because “it goes against my Christian faith.”

Okuno was also slapped with a one-month pay cut over his behavior at the graduation ceremony in March 2013. He was assigned to work outside the place where the ceremony was held, but entered the venue and refused to follow the vice principal’s order to leave. He also did not stand up when the anthem was sung.

The court said the pay cut was not illegal because Okuno had “actively” engaged in behavior that “damaged the order and atmosphere of important school events,” such as refusing to exit the venue even though he was told to do so.

In the lawsuit, Okuno sought to invalidate the punishment and requested 2 million yen ($16,500) in compensation from the Osaka prefectural government.

The ordinance was passed in June 2011 when the governor of the western Japan city was Toru Hashimoto, known for his nationalist political views. It obligates teachers and other school staff of public schools in the prefecture to stand up and sing the anthem during school ceremonies.


Click here for previous VAOJ coverage.

See also The scourge of conformism besetting Japanese society.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Japan festival offers Y100 mil to make a short film"

From Japan Today, 12/22/15:

A Japanese festival focused on the art of the short film is offering a new award of 100 million yen to a director from anywhere in the world with a great pitch for a movie.

Organizers say short video is where audiences are going, as entertainment increasingly gets consumed on smartphones and tablets. They also believe the format holds potential for novice filmmakers, bringing fresh insight and energy to the industry.

The deadline for submitting a 500-word pitch on what’s billed as a “thrilling, exciting, moving” storyline is Feb 29. The pitch must be written in either Japanese or English.

Five finalists will be chosen first. Each gets a 500,000 yen cash prize. Then one among the five will be picked, and receive 100 million yen in funding to make his or her movie. That winner will get an additional 1 million yen award.

Rieko Muramoto, executive director for digital business at the Japanese entertainment company Avex Digital, which is providing the contest funds, believes it’s a worthy investment for finding fresh content for online services, pioneering a genre and nurturing talent. She stresses she isn’t out to make a quick buck.

“The short film holds a lot of potential for busy people who are watching video on smartphones, which means a complete story must be told much more quickly,” Muramoto said.

Scoring success can get tougher than for regular movies and TV shows. Switching to another piece is a mere click away — far easier than walking out of a theater where you paid for a ticket, she added.

“Survival is tougher,” she said. “You have to move an audience in 15 minutes.”

The winning work will be shown at the 2017 Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, an annual event devoted to short films in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama which is running the contest.

“Movies aren’t about length,” said Tetsuya Bessho, an actor who founded the festival in 1999, likening the best short films to the minimalist but fine-tuned concentration of haiku poetry.

“There are Hollywood flops with everything thrown in for marketing. You can’t decide if it’s a comedy, a love story or an action film. People are getting bored with that kind of movie,” said Bessho, whose films include “Godzilla vs. Mothra” and “Solar Crisis,” with Charlton Heston.

His festival has showcased the best in short films, such as “Toyland,” which won an Oscar, and the light-hearted comedy “I Hate Musicals.”

It also honors less conventional work from a new breed of creators, including Indonesian auteur Yosep Anggi Noen, who was also featured at the Rotterdam and Busan international film festivals.

His “A Lady Caddy Who Never Saw a Hole in One,” which depicts how farmland in Indonesia is being destroyed by golf courses, won the Grand Prix at Short Shorts last year. It took just a day and a half to shoot, and involved a team of just six people.

“It can be more free, more independent,” Anggi said of the short film format. “Nobody tells me how to make that film.”

For more information:


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"‘An,’ meaning safety, named Japan’s kanji of the year for 2015"

Photo and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 12/15/15.

The kanji an, which denotes safety or peace, best symbolizes the national mood in 2015, a Kyoto-based kanji promotion organization said Tuesday.

The character reflects the claims and counterclaims that rang out nationwide when the Abe administration steamrolled security bills through the Diet this summer. There were major protests over the legislation, which will fundamentally expand the range of missions the Self-Defense Forces can take part in overseas.

The kanji could also be seen as having an international dimension, as terrorist attacks overseas stoked unease.

It was selected based on votes cast by the general public. Of the 129,647 entries received this year, an ranked at the top with 5,632, according to the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation.

At Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, where the result was announced, chief priest Seihan Mori handwrote the winning character using a giant calligraphy brush on a sheet of washi (Japanese paper) 1.5 meters high and 1.3 meters wide.

The kanji that came in second was baku (explosive) and third place went to sen (war). It was the 21st annual poll since the event began in 1995.

Last year, zei (tax) was chosen as the kanji symbolizing the year that people faced greater financial burdens following an increase in the consumption tax.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"JNTO launches video contest for non-Japanese"

From The Japan Times, November 30, 2015.

The Japan National Tourism Organization has announced it will hold a video contest for non-Japanese tourists and residents as part of a campaign to promote the country through foreigners’ eyes.

Those who wish to participate in the”My Japan Story Video Challenge” contest should post a locally shot video to any of the JNTO’s social networking accounts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Weibo and Youku with the hashtag #MyJapanStory.

The videos must not exceed 10 minutes in length and must be submitted by Jan. 30, but there is no limit on number of videos.

The submissions can feature scenery, tourist spots, food, traditional culture or anything in Japan the participants feel is appealing.

Any non-Japanese can take part in the contest regardless of age, nationality or level of experience, including professional filmmakers, it said.

The JNTO will announce the winners in February based on criteria including content and number of shares. The prizes may include an airplane ticket to Japan and traditional Japanese crafts.


JNTO website:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

HIV Check-up and Cold/Flu Prevention Posters in the Center for International Education

I was happily surprised to see a poster promoting HIV check-ups on the lonely wall across from the student lounge at the Center for International Education (CIE) at my university yesterday morning. By the end of the day there was a cold/flu prevention poster next to it. Aside from an old and torn poster about sexually transmitted diseases at the university health center (that recommends not having sex or at least not being promiscuous as the best ways to avoid HIV and other STDs - no mention of safe sex or condoms) this was the first HIV-specific poster I have ever seen at my university. I asked a CIE administrator and he told me it was placed there by the university health center.

The timing of the poster coincides with World AIDS Day, which is today, December 1st. Usually this is one of the few occasions in Japan when the problem of HIV/AIDS gets wide coverage in the media. This poster encourages people to get checked for HIV infection. It promises anonymous testing at local health clinics for free. There is no direct mention of prevention or education. (There is a hotline number and website included at the bottom of the poster.) Some might suggest that the "I" in HIV appears to be a condom - a subversive attempt to suggest safe sex?

The second poster, intended as advice for students from the CIE, says that the cold weather ("samui desu ne") season is coming so please don't forget to gargle and wash your hands. So this poster suggests ways to prevent colds and flu. Very nice - I hope the students heed this advice.

It would be nice if the HIV poster had prevention advice as well. Colds and flu can be prevented but HIV can only be tested for? When I asked the CIE administrator about the poster he was helpful and interested. His first question was about so-called HIV "patients" and how to deal with them. This seems to be a common approach rather than thinking about education, prevention, counseling and treatment. I don't mean to be critical of the administrator as he displayed real concern for the issues and the students. Nor do I mean to be critical of the health center - hopefully this is a start on their part in addressing HIV/AIDS at the university. (A colleague told me that he saw HIV information cards during a recent trip to the health center as well.) I should also mention that the Asian Studies Program has had a sexual health component (created primarily by one faculty member) as part of its orientation program for the last several years. But there is no such orientation for the local (and majority of) students on campus. Other faculty members in the ASP bring up these issues in class.

VAOJ has long been interested with the problematic HIV/AIDS situation in Japan, beginning with a research project examining HIV/AIDS in the Japanese Deaf World. HIV/AIDS continues to increase in Japan (along with the spread of other STDs). VAOJ advocates discourse on this subject from multiple and many varied perspectives. Ignorance, stigma and silence do nothing but add to the problem; please participate and contribute to open dialogues.

Click here for previous coverage of HIV/AIDS on VAOJ.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Broadcasting watchdog finds TBS violated scandal-hit composer Samuragochi’s rights"

From The Japan Times, 11/18/15. See the VAOJ commentary at the end of the story.

A Tokyo Broadcasting System Television variety show committed a human rights violation when it aired a segment on allegations surrounding composer Mamoru Samuragochi in March 2014, an independent panel promoting ethical broadcasting has ruled.

In a rare harsh decision against a TV network, the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO) urged TBS to broadcast its decision and prevent similar incidents in the future.

The decision, announced Tuesday, is the toughest penalty the industry watchdog can take against a network. It is the first time in nine years the BPO said a TV program violated human rights.

The segment in question was aired during the program, “Akko ni Omakase,” featuring Akiko Wada, a singer and talk show host known for not mincing words.

Introducing a news conference given by Samuragochi, who apologized for having had another composer ghostwrite his music, the program narrator said “normal conversations took place (between him and the reporters).”

Such narration gave the impression to viewers that he was faking deafness, “without sufficient grounds to assume so,” and damaged his reputation, the BPO said.

“It is a sensitive theme that concerns the human rights of the hearing impaired, and should have been given sufficient consideration from the viewpoint of broadcasting ethics,” the BPO said.

The BPO concluded another variety show aired on the Fuji TV network that also featured the controversy surrounding Samuragochi, which the composer claimed humiliated him, did not violate ethical standards.

TBS released a statement following the BPO decision, saying it will “take the recommendation sincerely.”

“We tried to present the questions raised by (Samuragochi’s) news conference, including views from experts. But we will examine the panel’s decision in detail and will use it in future programming,” TBS said.


I am still trying to get my head around this story. On the one hand it definitely illustrates how the idea of defamation is different in Japan. Samuragochi, once dubbed the Beethoven of Japan, was caught red-handed lying. There is no denying this. But it doesn't matter that he did something wrong. Rather his image and spirit were seen to be damaged through televised narration that might have given the audience a false impression. This is a standard interpretation of defamation laws in Japan.

What I am having difficulties with is the idea of how the "human rights of the hearing impaired" were damaged. The problematic narration was "normal conversations took place (between Samuraguchi and reporters)." Does that not also imply that a deaf or hearing impaired person is unable to have normal conversations with hearing people? And if they do they are somehow faking deafness? As there is a wide variation in levels of deafness and communication styles, some (not all) deaf/hearing impaired people can speak and speechread so as to have so-called normal conversations. Is this decision by the BPO not another example of possibly giving impressions "without sufficient grounds to assume so"?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Oxford chooses emoji as word of the year"

Image and text from The Japan Times, 11/18/15.

Reflecting the increased use of emoticons as a communication method, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen one particular emoji as its word of the year for the first time.

The emoji, officially called the “Face with Tears of Joy,” depicts a half-crying, half-smiling expression. It beat out candidates such as “refugee,” “sharing economy,” “Brexit” and “on fleek,” an informal phrase originating in the U.S. and meaning extremely good, attractive or stylish.

“This year, instead of choosing a traditional word, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen a pictograph . . . to reflect the sharp increase in popularity of emoji across the world in 2015,” Oxford University Press, which oversees Oxford Dictionaries, said in a statement Tuesday.

Oxford University Press and London-based Swiftkey, which develops keyboard apps for smartphones, jointly researched how people were using emoji. They found that the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji was the most popular, totaling 20 percent of all emoji use in the U.K. and 17 percent in the U.S.

They also said the usage of the word “emoji” — which originated from a combination of the Japanese terms “e,” meaning picture, and “moji,” meaning word — has increased threefold this year over last year.

Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, said conventional words have been having a tough time fulfilling the surging needs of visual communication in recent years.

“It’s not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps — it’s flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully,” he said.

Emoji, which first gained popularity among young people, are now spreading among other generations and influential figures.

Oxford University Press mentioned that in a tweet in August, Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her followers to express what they thought about student loans in three emoji or less.

In May, the term “emoji” was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

In April, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned emoji, along with karate, karaoke, manga and anime, as things from Japan that Americans love.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Kyoto International Student Film and Video Festival

Announcement from Visual Anthropology Forum listserv:

Kyoto International Student Film and Video Festival is the largest international student film festival in Japan, all organized and run by university students in Kyoto. We invite student work from all over the world,select provide opportunities for screening and discover new talent.

Kyoto is known as “Cinema City” where there are a lot of heritages that contributed the development of Japanese Cinema. Kyoto is also known as “College City, Student City”, students taking up 10% of the population.

The festival strings these two characteristics together, also offers forum for cultural and international exchange and ultimately vitalizes Kyoto.

18th Annual Kyoto International Student Film and Video Festival
November 21-27, 2015 @ Kyoto Cinema

For more information:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Style complements functionality at Shibuya exhibition of aids for disabled"

Text and photos from The Japan Times, 11/13/15.

Caption: People Design Institute's Shinji Sudo looks at Wheelchair DJ, which has wheels that play music when spun and can be 'scratched' back and forth like a record.

Caption: Shinji Sudo of exhibition organizer People Design Institute shows off a range of prosthetic arms.

A new design exhibition in Tokyo is aiming to give the public perception of disability a makeover by placing style at the top of the agenda.

The exhibition in Shibuya Ward, which runs until Monday and is part of a wider event titled Super Welfare Expo, showcases a range of wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs and other disability aids, with the emphasis as much on fun as functionality.

“When you think about glasses, nowadays they’re fashion items,” Shinji Sudo, of event organizer People Design Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping minority people, told The Japan Times.

“In the past, glasses used to be prescribed to you by doctors. Now, people have no stigma about having bad eyesight. I’d like that to be the case for people who use wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs too.”

Among the products on display at the Shibuya Hikarie venue is an electric wheelchair with a giant back-mounted speaker in the shape of a sail, and wheels that can be pounded like drums.

Another, called Wheelchair DJ, has wheels that play music when spun, and can be “scratched” back and forth like a record.

Elsewhere is a selection of prosthetic legs with a sci-fi flavor, reminiscent of the iconic HR Giger design for the creature in the movie “Alien.”

Sudo, whose son has cerebral palsy, explains that the products are intended to be shown off, not hidden away as a mark of shame.

“I have a disabled son,” he said. “When I use medical welfare services, quite honestly I feel very uncomfortable. One of the reasons for that is the image, which is one of feeling pitied by others. I want to turn that completely around so that the image people have is of it being ‘cool’ and ‘cute.’

“In Japan, when you go to get a wheelchair, your options are limited. You usually get the one that has been recommended to you by the doctor or medical facility. I want to show people that there are lots of different kinds in the world that you can buy.”

Visitors to the exhibition found themselves leaving with a different perspective on the 3.9 million people with a registered physical disability currently living in Japan.

“There is a gloomy and difficult image surrounding disability, so I thought ‘oh, so things have developed as far as this?’ ” said able-bodied 30-year-old Akio Ota. “I think it’s cool.

“From an able-bodied person’s point of view, you have an image of something where design isn’t really taken into consideration and the quality is low. But this is very stylish and cool and something that I would use myself.”

Sudo hopes that the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics can provide further positive inspiration, but cautions that it will take more than just a sporting event to change perceptions.

“I don’t think things will change totally in the space of five years,” he said. “But one characteristic of Japanese people is that once a switch in our feelings flips, we all move on to a new phase pretty quickly.

“Shibuya is a great place for breaking new ground in terms of culture. First I’d like to see handicapped people mixing freely as the norm here.”

According to the 2011 World Report on Disability, compiled by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, Japan has one of the lowest employment rates among working-age people with disabilities. Fewer than 1 in 4 disabled people were working in 2003.

Sudo believes it is up to everyone to help overcome those barriers.

“I’d like to see more disabled people going out and interacting in society,” he said. “In Japan, handicapped people don’t have so many opportunities to mix. They are put in a different class in school. If they find themselves in difficulty, I’d like them to be able to ask people for help.”


Super Welfare Expo webpage (in Japanese):

『超福祉展2014』Super Welfare Expo 2014 Facebook photo album:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Subway worker’s ticket chad masterpiece goes viral"

From The Japan Times, 11/13/15.

Japan’s rail service, known for its punctuality and reliability, has not only been appealing to rail fans but is also the subject of great pride among its employees — so much so that one of them has created an artwork depicting a train with 153,600 fragments from passenger tickets.

The piece was created by a 46-year-old employee of the Osaka Municipal Subway who declined to be named. It shows a New 20 series unit, a rapid train operated by the company, and is now on display in an underground passageway of Nishi-Umeda Station, close to the city’s largest commercial center.

The train has been precisely depicted in black and white shades by using both sides of the waste fragments, which are generated from ticket punching machines installed near the platform gates. Each one was painstakingly pasted on using a pair of tweezers.

The employee thought it would be an appropriate way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the station, said an Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau spokesman on behalf of the employee, who has worked there for 30 years.

The work drew a lot of attention online after a university student from Kyoto uploaded a photograph of the piece to his Twitter account on Tuesday.

The post was believed to have been retweeted more than 30,000 times within the first 24 hours. As of Friday, it had been retweeted by more than 40,000 users, prompting passers-by to start sharing photographs of the piece over the Internet.

The employee also gained acclaim for what he wrote beside the artwork — that he spent some 300 hours between June and September creating it at the station office after work.

According to the spokesman, since early childhood the employee has been very interested in art and often produced drawings or tried his hand at other forms of detailed work, such as building plastic models.

“I would not be able to produce such a work of art,” the spokesman said, praising it as an effective means of attracting commuters to the work of the rail staff.

But the employee said he had to sacrifice his private life to complete it, and in the end the project turned out to be stressful.

“I won’t do it again,” the author wrote.

But according to the spokesman, the artist is delighted his work has gained so much attention and is thinking about producing another one — but not for public viewing.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Man arrested after hiding in drain to peep [and photograph] up skirts"

Here's another one... From Japan Today, 11/12/15:

A man in Kobe who hid in a drain for five hours, allegedly to snap photos up women’s skirts, was given away when passers-by spotted his hair sticking out of a grate, police and reports said.

Yasuomi Hirai, 28, allegedly squeezed himself in a section of a gutter 28 centimeters wide, with his head under a piece of iron grating, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

“His hair got caught at the edge of the grate, which drew the attention of some pedestrians,” the spokesman with the Hyogo prefectural police in Kobe told AFP.

The alleged offense took place in August, but police said that Hirai’s arrest on Monday came after a lengthy investigation.

Police did not elaborate but the Sports Hochi tabloid reported Tuesday that Hirai kept himself in the small space for about five hours, holding a smartphone to take photos from under the grate.

Local reports said it was not the first time Hirai has been arrested for the same offense, which violated a local ordinance preventing nuisance acts.

He was nabbed two years ago after squeezing himself into a drain allegedly for the same purpose, Sports Hochi said.

Hirai reportedly told police at the time that he wanted to be reborn as “part of pavement in the next life.”


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Tokyo man accused of stealing Facebook underwear photos"

From The Japan Times, 11/10/15:

A Tokyo man accused of accessing a woman’s Facebook account and allegedly downloading pictures of her in her underwear has been arrested.

In what is being reported as Japan’s first such arrest, Ryosuke Koga, 25, allegedly logged into the victim’s Facebook account 17 times between January and March, a Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said.

The police quoted Koga as saying he committed the crime “to fulfill my sexual desire.”

Investigators also found that Koga, an employee of communications and office equipment distributor Hikari Tsushin Inc., allegedly had approximately 770 Facebook and iCloud IDs and passwords. Of these, they have identified users of 140 accounts, all but one of whom are women. They are trying to determine how he obtained the information.

Koga could face up to three years in prison or a fine of up to ¥1 million, the police spokesman said without providing further details.

The police found the collection of ID data and passwords when they raided Koga’s house, the Mainichi Shimbun said.

Why would someone put pictures of themselves in their underwear on Facebook? Another reminder that once it's on the internet, it's out of your control...


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interesting photo story at Japan Focus: "Inside Fukushima's Potemkin Village: Naraha"

Text by David McNeill and Androniki Christodoulou. Photos by Androniki Christodoulou.

Twice a year, journalists are taken on guided tours of the ruined Daiichi nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO). The drive there from the southern outskirts of the 20-kilometer exclusion zone imposed in 2011 took them through the nearly empty towns of Hirono, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba. The state of neglect could be measured by the encroachment of weeds and wild animals, and the slow decrepitude of housing and infrastructure.

Despite the decline and the still urgent beeping of Geiger counters nearer the plant, there has never been any official talk of abandoning the area. Instead, it was divided up into three zones with awkward euphemisms to suggest just the opposite: communities with radiation of 20 millisieverts (mSv) or less (the typical worldwide limit for workers in nuclear plants) are “being prepared for lifting of evacuation order;” 20-50 mSv are “no-residence zones;” the most heavily contaminated (50mSv) are “difficult-to-return.”

A vast public-works project was started three years ago to decontaminate an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island, at an estimated cost of $50 billion. Compensation by TEPCO was explicitly linked to the possibility that many of the 160,000 nuclear refugees would return, and any hint otherwise was controversial: When new trade and industry minister Hachiro Yoshio called the abandoned communities “towns of death” in September 2011, he was forced to quit a week later.

In September 2015, Naraha, 15km south of the plant, became the first town in Fukushima Prefecture to completely lift the evacuation order imposed after the Daiichi plant's triple meltdown. At a ceremony to mark the town’s reopening, Mayor Matsumoto Yukiei declared the nightmare that had descended nearly five years ago officially over. “The clock that stopped has now begun to tick”, he said. Explaining the decision, Takagi Yosuke, state minister of economy, trade and industry, said contamination was “not dangerous enough to continue forcing evacuation on residents who want to return home.”

That explanation somewhat inverts reality. A Reconstruction Agency survey conducted last year of evacuees from Okuma, Tomioka, Futaba and the town of Namie, northwest of the plant, found that just one-fifth wanted to go back to their homes. Thousands of refugees have reluctantly made lives elsewhere and fear that their nuclear compensation, amounting to a monthly stipend of 100,000 yen ($837), will be terminated if they refuse to go back to areas declared safe. Many feel they’re being pushed back, not invited.

Read the whole story and see all the photos.

David McNeill and Androniki Christodoulou, "Inside Fukushima's Potemkin Village: Naraha", The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 41, No. 1, October 19, 2015.


Monday, October 26, 2015

"Hiroji Kubota’s lens is a witness to history"

Text and photos borrowed from The Japan Times, October 24, 2015.

Caption: March on Washington, D.C., 1963. Hiroji Kubota/Magnum Photos

Caption: Mae Hong Son Province, near Burma, Thailand, 1997. Hiroji Kubota/Magnum Photos

Photographer Hiroji Kubota believes that “everyone has a great drama to tell.” With the release of his retrospective photo book, simply titled “Hiroji Kubota Photographer,” now it’s his turn to tell his.

As the sole Japanese member of Magnum Photos, the international collective founded in 1947 to give photographers greater editorial control over their work, his 55-year career has captured America’s civil rights movement, the fall of Saigon and life in China after the Cultural Revolution alongside personal projects with global implications.

Seated at the Tokyo branch of Magnum Photos in Jinbocho, he admits that he’s put off his retrospective for over a decade.

“It’s not the sort of book you can do often. I was approached by a publisher 15 years ago and I turned them down. Why? Because I wasn’t ready to die yet.” The 76-year-old chuckles at his gallows humor, his wit as sharp as his eyes.

Kubota was born in 1939 in Kanda, Tokyo, to a family of freshwater fish wholesalers. His earliest memories are colored by the harsh conditions and senseless destruction of World War II, such as the terrible beauty of napalm bombs burning his neighborhood or the shock of seeing Allied planes gun down fishermen along the coast. He would go on to study political science at Waseda University where he followed the student protest movement with his father’s camera.

In 1961 he assisted a group of Magnum photographers on a trip to Japan and met his mentor, the whimsical and satirical Elliott Erwitt. Erwitt thanked him with a copy of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment,” widely hailed as a photojournalist’s bible. The book inspired Kubota to move to the United States to become a professional photographer with nothing more than a hand-me-down Leica camera and $500 in his pocket — the maximum amount allowed at the time for Japanese nationals traveling abroad.

A tip from Newsweek magazine led Kubota to stumble upon Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his generation-defining “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. Soon after he found himself rubbing shoulders with hippies, Black Panthers and other counterculture forces.

His unique position as a cultural outsider allowed him to blend in with any political or racial demographic.

“In the early ’60s there weren’t many Asians living in America,” he recalls. “I never drew attention to myself. I was welcomed by the Ku Klux Klan, black folks, Native Americans. Being Asian was my great advantage. I’m a person of color, too — yellow!”

Kubota minimizes the distance between himself and his subjects, both emotionally and physically.

“I need to be close. Close enough that they can kick me.” He punctuates this statement, as well as most others, with a toothy grin. His offbeat humor belies the somber, respectful tone of his photos.

His empathy for his subjects comes across strongest in his work across East Asia that culminated in the book “Can We Feed Ourselves?” a project concerned with food shortages and poverty in the developing world.

“It’s an important question, and one that we still haven’t answered. ‘Can we feed ourselves?'” he muses. “Malnutrition includes obesity too, you know. It’s a problem for America as well.”

If photos have the power to raise social awareness, they also have the power to heal. Kubota spent several years in the ’80s photographing two symbols of the ancestral ties between North and South Korea: Mount Kumgang along the Demilitarized Zone and Mount Paektu on the border of North Korea and China. When the exhibition opened in Seoul in 1987, “People were crying. Half a million came to the five-city tour.” His tone turns serious. “At the time I thought Korea would be reunited before Germany. But history is ironic, you know.”

Kubota says he plans to return to Pyongyang in summer to provide photos for an academic text by Bruce Cumings, chairman of the Department of History at the University of Chicago.

Throughout his accomplishments and accolades Kubota has retained a reverence for his mentor, Erwitt.

“I still have much to learn from Elliott,” he says. “If it wasn’t for him I never would have gone to New York, never become a cameraman. I’d have ended up on the board of some company and be long since retired. But my doctor says my body is good for another 20 years. Maybe I can do another retrospective to celebrate my 90th birthday. Motivation keeps you going. The hard part is staying relevant.”


“The world is so interesting. There’s beauty everywhere. You don’t have to go far to shoot something meaningful. I’m lucky to be able to pursue what I enjoy most. What a luxury,” Kubota reflects, content, but still wanting more.

“Hiroji Kubota Photographer” is published by Aperture. For more information, visit


More info at magnum Photos:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Funny/Weird Japan-related Videos

"Can you spot what’s odd about this Japanese classroom?"

From Japan Today, October 23, 2015

So what about this commercial? It looks so normal at first; it’s just a bunch of high school girls hanging out in a classroom, playing a guitar, reading, whatever. But then, right in the middle, something happens. Watch it for yourself and see if you can figure it out before the reveal.


In the end this was a SHISEIDO makeup commercial, and they finish with the tagline “anyone can be cute.” Hear that guys? There’s nothing wrong with a little exfoliation/moisturization in your life.


"Oita lures travelers with wonderful montage of synchronized hot spring bathing"

From Japan Today, October 24, 2015

For prefectures to separate themselves from the rest and showcase what makes them special, they have to do something grand. In Oita Prefecture, this means presenting their world-famous hot springs with a synchronized swimming team in what can only be known as “synchronized bathing”.

Oita is one of the nine prefectures that make up the island of Kyushu and is most famous in Japan for its diversified selection of natural hot springs, or onsen. People around the country travel to Oita and soak in water that is heated by volcanic activity. To show off a number of their its best onsen, Oita recruited the help of a professional synchronized swim team. You’ve definitely never seen hot springs enjoyed quite like this.

The women travel all over the prefecture, stopping at all styles and kinds of hot springs. This includes a visit to Oita’s famous sand baths and mud baths in Beppu.


Friday, October 23, 2015

"Japan to allow hearing aid-dependent persons to drive taxis, buses"

From Japan Today, 10/22/15:

The National Police Agency on Thursday released a plan to allow hearing aid-dependent persons to obtain a license required for driving taxis and buses in Japan.

The agency will revise the ordinance of the road traffic law, which will be open to public comments until Nov 21 before taking effect on April 1.

“We have made a step forward in expanding the occupational field for hearing-impaired people,” said Masashi Matsumoto, director at the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, in welcoming the plan.

“We will tackle an enlightenment campaign to have people understand that there is no problem with hearing-aid users’ driving,” he said. “In the future, we would like to pave the way for anyone to get that kind of license irrespective of hearing-aid use.”

The revision will ease the present requirement for any person to hear a 90-decibel horn 10 meters away without a hearing aid to obtain a second-class license.

The move comes after the agency, in cooperation with groups of hearing-impaired people, conducted experiments since fiscal 2013 and demonstrated that there are no safety problems with driving by such people.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

"More firms offer mail-in HIV tests, but many lack follow-up support"

Graph and text from The Japan News, October 15, 2015.

A record high of 77,588 HIV screening tests were conducted by private firms through the mail last year, but some companies still do not have an adequate support system for users who test positive amid the rising popularity of this inexpensive testing method.

In a survey by a group of researchers led by lecturer and microbiology expert Shingo Kato of Keio University’s School of Medicine, the number of mail-in HIV screening tests conducted by private companies was about 3,600 in 2001, the year the survey began. The figure has increased year by year.

The tests’ growing popularity stems from the advantage of users being able to ask companies for HIV screening tests without having to meet other people face-to-face. They are also free of the time constraints involved in having to visit a medical institution.

Users can purchase test kits for about ¥2,000 to ¥8,000 each. They are asked to draw a blood sample from a fingertip and mail it to an inspection firm, which will confirm the results by mail, e-mail or on their website. The process takes a few days to a week.

The mail-in screening test is only a preliminary examination, however — a blood sample that tests positive could actually be a “false positive,” meaning the individual does not actually have HIV. Users who receive a positive result must follow up by undergoing a more detailed examination at a medical institution.

According to Kato, however, many of the private businesses offering mail-in HIV screening services only inform users of the initial test results and leave follow-up actions entirely in the hands of individuals.

Public institutions, such as public health centers, offer HIV tests free of charge on an anonymous basis. Users can gain a good understanding of their results, since doctors will give a detailed explanation in face-to-face consultations.

However, many of these public institutions only offer screening tests on fixed days of the week or during certain times of the day.

The number of HIV screening tests at public institutions stood at about 177,000 in 2008, but in recent years the figure has decreased to the 130,000-140,000 range.

Private firms offering mail-in HIV screening services started emerging around the year 2000. There are now about 10 such companies across Japan, and their numbers are reportedly on the rise.

“There’s a possibility that users are not getting adequate explanations about their screening results,” Kato said, “since mail-in services don’t offer face-to-face consultations in which proper explanations can be given.”

He also pointed out the need to prepare and improve operational guidelines for the screening system so that proper medical treatment can be offered to those who are in need of it.

Based in Osaka city, ALBA Corporation Co. conducts about 20,000 mail-in HIV tests in a year — with 30 to 40 of the cases testing positive. The company said it offers follow-up services for users who test positive, including introductions to medical institutions that provide detailed confirmatory examinations as well as consultations to support them.

“The industry needs to establish criteria to protect the safety and credibility of HIV examinations,” said Kazushi Manda, the president of ALBA Corporation.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"'No dogs allowed': Why one service dog was refused entrance to these restaurants in Japan"

Photo and text borrowed from Japan Today, October 18, 2015.

It was Saturday, October 3 when a hearing-impaired woman and her service dog, a hearing dog for the deaf, attended an event promoting the awareness of service dogs at the Hankyu department store at Hankyu-Umeda Station in Osaka. After the event, the unnamed woman, her dog, and a friend went for a bite to eat at one of the restaurants located inside the same department store on the same floor as the event. Ironically enough, and much to the surprise of the woman, a member of staff stopped her from entering the restaurant, stating that animals were not allowed inside.

The woman’s friend pulled out a guidebook about hearing dogs for the deaf, trying to explain that the dog wasn’t a pet but an animal trained to assist its owner. The staff still refused, however, and the pair finally gave up and went elsewhere, thinking that it must have just been an unfortunate misunderstanding. Perhaps this was just one uninformed staff member who didn’t realize service animals are actually allowed in public places, they thought.

But even at the next restaurant they were turned away yet again…

Just like in numerous other countries, Japan has laws which state that individuals with guide, hearing, or mobility dogs may not be denied access to any facility open to the general public such as hotels, public transportation, and yes, even restaurants. The Access Law for Service Dogs was passed in Japan in 2002, just over a decade after the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which included laws protecting access rights for people with assistance dogs.

Still, more than 10 years after the legislation was passed, there are many who are still unaware of the law’s existence (or who possibly deny access to service dogs in spite of the law).

The woman with her hearing dog and friend were finally allowed into the third restaurant they tried. This wasn’t the first occasion she had been turned away from a public establishment because of her service dog, yet it was particularly crushing for her as the service dog awareness event had just been held in the same department store and on the very same floor where the restaurants were located. It seems that maybe a couple of people who didn’t attend the event should have.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing is far more common than it should be. According to an article by ZENOAQ: “The Japan Guide Dog Association conducted a survey in 2004 asking random members of the public about legal access rights for service dog users. Of approximately 500 people who replied, nearly half were unaware of the law passed to protect these rights. Under the current access law, public buildings, public transportation, and facilities open to the general public, such as stores and hotels, may not deny access to people with guide dogs, hearing dogs, and mobility dogs.

“Recently, 100 guide dog users were interviewed to assess the current situation. 52 stated that they had experienced denial of access at some time even after the passing of the aforementioned law. Of those facilities that refused entry, restaurants ranked the highest at 32, followed by taxis, hotels (mainly Japanese-style inns), and privately owned hospitals…”

Yes, the survey was conducted only two years after the law had passed, but the fact that it is still happening more than 10 years later is rather disconcerting.

In addition to apologizing directly to the woman concerned, on October 7, the Hankyu Department Store posted an official apology on their homepage, promising to retrain their staff and take other necessary measures to ensure the same thing does not happen again.

The woman says even though she was hurt by the experience, she will continue to spread the word in order to ensure others with service dogs will not have to go through the same thing.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Deaf student plans thesis in sign language"

Photo, chart and story borrowed from The Japan News, October 15, 2015.

A graduate school student, born without the ability to hear, has become the first person in Japan to undertake the challenge of completing a master’s degree thesis through sign language instead of by means of written Japanese.

Shinya Kawabata, 36, studying at the Japan College of Social Work in Kiyose, western Tokyo, has been video recording the sign-language thesis for presentation in DVD format to the graduate school. He has been receiving sign-language instruction from Prof. Kurumi Saito, a specialist in linguistics.

Mitsuji Hisamatsu, chief of the secretariat of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf (JDF), points out the challenges students with hearing disabilities face. “Because answers to examinations and theses at a great majority of universities in Japan have to be written in Japanese, those deaf-mute students who are good at sign language but not so good at the Japanese language have been greatly disadvantaged,” he said.

Kawabata and Prof. Saito aimed to put sign-language theses on the same level as written ones. In exchanges between the two, Kawabata posed such questions as, “How does one quote part of a thesis written by another researcher?” to which Prof. Saito replied, “When you quote a researcher’s thesis for the first time, you should spell out the person’s full name and make it clear what page of the thesis you have made the quotation from.”

In addition to his hearing disability, Kawabata also identifies as gay. After entering the graduate course of the college in April last year, he has been studying methods of supporting “dual minority” individuals who are both deaf-mute and members of one or more sexual minority groups known collectively as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender).

As the title of his master’s thesis, Kawabata has chosen “Support for the deaf LGBT by means of sign language.”

In addition to describing the current state of the deaf LGBT community, he is incorporating into his thesis key points for social workers to take into account when giving advice to deaf and LGBT persons. These include “being aware of the existence of people who do not belong to the ‘man or woman’ categories” and “refraining from communicating via e-mail at times when face-to-face sign language communication is necessary.”

Because sign language and the Japanese language differ widely in both vocabulary and grammar, many deaf-mute people find it hard to read and write in Japanese. Kawabata is literate in Japanese to some extent, but has found it difficult to write a master’s degree thesis in the language.

Prof. Saito thus came up with a proposal in July that led college authorities to change the rule on graduate school theses and agree to accept “sign-language theses” in addition to ones written in Japanese and English. Prof. Saito noted that Kawabata’s sign-language master’s thesis is the first to be undertaken in Japan.

For the project, Kawabata uses video cameras and other devices to record himself signing the contents of respective chapters. After sending the recorded chapters to Prof. Saito for review, Kawabata rerecords them in response to instructions given by the professor in sign language or through e-mails. His goal is to capture each chapter in a 10-minute video.

“Although I earlier thought that, in spite of the difficulties, there would be no alternative to writing my thesis in Japanese, I now feel relieved that presentation of my thesis in sign language has been approved,” he said with a smile. As Prof. Saito put it, “I earnestly wished to enable Kawabata to produce his thesis in sign language, by which he will be able to express whatever meaning he wishes to convey.”

Kawabata finished recording the thesis in mid-September, with the finished product constituting about two hours of video in total. After undergoing one more round of review by Prof. Saito, the thesis is scheduled to be transferred to DVD format for presentation to the graduate school in January next year. A Japanese translation of the thesis, completed with the help of a sign language interpreter, will be added to the DVD as reference material, the professor said.

“We would like to see this country turn into a society in which everyone is able to express his or her ideas and opinions in either Japanese or sign language and receive appropriate evaluations for each of them,” Hisamitsu said.

Measures for popularizing sign language have been spreading both at home and abroad.

In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the aim of positioning sign language as equal to spoken languages and helping expand the places in which sign language can be used. About 50,000 people use sign language in Japan, according to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducted in 2006.

The number of local governments that have issued “sign language promotion ordinances” to encourage the use of sign language currently stands at 18 across the country, including Tottori and Kanagawa prefectures. Services for helping people use sign language have also been increasing among local municipalities and in the private sector.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

So-called Manga Artist Mocks Syrian Refugee

Photo by Jonathan Hyams 

From The Japan Times, October 8, 2015.

Manga artist removes illustration mocking Syrian refugee

A manga artist behind a Facebook illustration labeling a refugee from Syria a selfish freeloader has taken it down at the request of a photographer who criticized her for distorting his work.

On her Facebook account Thursday, artist Toshiko Hasumi refused to apologize, claiming her illustration, based on a photo of a girl at a refugee settlement in Lebanon taken by Canadian documentary photographer Jonathan Hyams, did not constitute copyright infringement.

Hasumi, however, explained she deleted the illustration at Hyams’ request early Wednesday because “the fact remains I have caused him enormous trouble.”

“But I will not apologize no matter what,” she said. “Because unlike in Japan, you’re destined to lose in a court battle overseas once you’ve admitted to your fault.”

The illustration contains a thought bubble that says: “I want to live a safe and clean life, have a gourmet meal, go out freely, wear pretty things and luxuriate. I want to live my life the way I want without a care in the world — all at the expense of someone else.

“I have an idea. Why don’t I become a refugee?”
it concludes.

Hasumi rejected accusations it was racist, claiming she did not seek to denigrate Syrians, she told The Japan Times.

Instead, she said, it was meant to ridicule economic migrants “pursing a safer, more comfortable life in a foreign land under the guise of pitiable asylum seekers.”

For his part, Hyams was quick to express shock at the illustration on Twitter: “Shocked + deeply saddened anyone would choose to use an image of an innocent child to express such perverse prejudice,” he said.

“What a shameful misrepresentation of the plight of the Syrian people,” he continued, adding the photo was taken for the independent charity organization Save the Children.

An online furor has broken out in response to Hasumi’s illustration, with the number of signatures calling on Facebook to recognize it as racism totaling more than 10,000 as of Thursday.


A BBC report provides more information and context. It reports that Japan has offered to donate $810 million to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees but refuses to take in any of these refugees. Last year Japan accepted only 11 of 5,000 potential asylum seekers.

The so-called manga artist also posts anti-Korean posts on her Facebook page.

While there has been discussion of copyright infringement of the photographer, what about the image rights of the girl? Or better yet, did the so-called manga artist get permission from the girl's parents? Why did this so-called manga artist need "inspiration" from an underage girl? Was there any research done on the actual situation of the girl?

VAOJ will not show the problematic illustration.

Read more at (and see the ugly image if you want...):

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Monkey who took grinning 'selfie' should own copyright: U.S. lawsuit"

A follow-up from a previous VAOJ post. This story borrowed from MSN News.

A rare crested macaque monkey who snapped a well-known, grinning "selfie" should be declared the photo's owner and receive damages for copyright infringement after it was used in a wildlife book, animal rights activists argued in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

Naruto, a six-year-old macaque who lives free in the Tangkoko Reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, took the image and several others about four years ago using a camera left unattended by British photographer David Slater, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in the suit.

The so-called Monkey Selfies that resulted came from "a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Slater," said the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

"Naruto has the right to own and benefit from the copyright ... in the same manner and to the same extent as any other author," the suit said. (Link to 'selfie' published by PETA:

Slater told Reuters he felt "rather bemused" and persecuted by the lawsuit, which he said seemed to be a publicity stunt.

He said he was very disappointed not to have been contacted by PETA in advance, and described himself as a low-paid wildlife photographer who has been struggling to earn a living.

"I am sympathetic in my book for animals having rights to property in some circumstances, but in no way do I mean copyrights," Slater said in an e-mail.

"Their focus seems more aimed at making me out to be a criminal than someone who loves and respects and fights for animals. ... I have to wonder what are the true motives behind this attack on me," he wrote.

The lawsuit names Slater, his UK-based company Wildlife Personalities, and Blurb, Inc., a Delaware-based corporation which beginning last year published and sold for profit in the United States a book containing copies of the photos. Naruto's orange-eyed, beaming selfie is its front cover.

PETA said it was bringing the legal action on the monkey's behalf because he could not, "due to inaccessibility and incapacity," and that the court had jurisdiction because of the book sales made in the United States.

The Copyright Act of 1976 was "sufficiently broad ... to extend to any original work, including those created by Naruto," the group's complaint read.

Sulawesi crested macaques are critically endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Between 4,000 to 6,000 live on the island, and PETA said their numbers have decreased by about 90 percent in the last 25 years, mostly due to human encroachment on their rainforest homes.

PETA asked the court to declare Naruto the author and copyright owner of the photos, and to award the monkey damages.

It also sought a court order letting PETA and a noted primatologist, Dr. Antje Engelhardt of Georg-August University, Gottingen, Germany, administer Naruto's rights on condition that all proceeds be used solely for the benefit of him, his family and community, "including the preservation of their habitat."

A spokesman for Blurb, which describes itself as a self-publishing and marketing platform, said the company did not comment on pending litigation.


I wonder where the name Naruto comes from? And it seems David Slater did much to help the monkey - like supply the camera and make the prints...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Another reminder of when it gets on the internet, it's out of your hands... "On Instagram and Other Social Media, Redefining ‘User Engagement’"

See the whole article at The New York Times, 9/20/15.

Selected quotes:

Shereen Way did not think twice about posting a photo on Instagram of her 4-year-old daughter wearing a green dress and pink Crocs sandals.

Crocs, which Ms. Way had identified with a hashtag, pulled the snapshot from Instagram and featured it in a gallery of user-generated photographs on its website. The company had not asked Ms. Way for permission, and she was not aware that Crocs had used the photo until a reporter contacted her on Instagram.

“No one reached out to me,” Ms. Way, 37, of Pearl River, N.Y., said in a phone interview. “I feel a little weirded out.”

Much later, Crocs sought her permission.


But as the practice of promoting user-generated content has intensified, the intersection between brands trying to capitalize on social media activity and people’s expectations of some privacy (even as they post personal photos on public platforms like Instagram) has grown far more murky.


Clothing and retail brands say that featuring user-generated photos on their websites and in their Instagram feeds is an effective way to connect with consumers, who are increasingly skipping commercials, blocking online ads and generally ignoring anything that resembles traditional advertising. Taking photos from social media accounts is also often cheaper and faster than creating a traditional marketing campaign.


A spokeswoman for Olapic said in an email that brands do not always need to ask for permission to use a photo on their websites because users can give implied consent by tagging a company in their posts.

Privacy experts point to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or Coppa, which requires operators of websites and apps aimed at children to get “verifiable parental consent” before collecting information from children under the age of 13. The F.T.C., which enforces the rules, declined to comment.

“When a company obtains information about a child under the age of 13, however it’s obtained, Coppa kicks in,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Then the question is, ‘Did the parent consent to the use of the information by the company?’ ”

Adults also have rights to their photos. The person featured in a photo may own the publicity rights, which may give the individual control over the commercial use of his or her likeness, legal experts say. Broadly speaking, whoever takes a photo holds the copyright.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

More Images Added to East Asia Image Collection

Image borrowed from East Asia Image Collection.

Announcement from EASIANTH:

The East Asia Image Collection has uploaded 407 new records, bringing its total number of visual records of Imperial Japanese history (and the occupation of Japan) to 5823. This open-access digital archive consists of postcards, photographic negatives, rare books, karuta, and kodachrome slides of Taiwan, Manchukuo, China, Korea, the South Seas Islands, Karafuto and Indonesia.The images are searchable by title, place, name of artist, subject, and other tags. Titles are in Japanese and English, and in Korean or Chinese where appropriate.

Many of these records are commercial reproductions of Japanese paintings and drawings, usually executed in connection with imperial rule or wartime. I have also created a blog with lists of digital repositories, photo collections, bibliographies, and some essays about postcard history.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Abolition of Humanities and Social Sciences at National Universities in Japan

I have been aware of this horrifying development for a while. I recently came across the following post on EASIANTH (and cross-posted in many other sites:) that describes the situation in a clear and concise fashion. I was happy to find out it was written by my colleague, Paul Berry.

The Abe administration is directing the abolition of humanities and social sciences at National Universities in Japan.

Although the new Japanese secrecy laws, encouragement of international arms sales, promotion of international roles for Japanese military, the ianfu problems, and history issues have been getting most of the attention from the international press, equally important moves against aspects of Japanese universities have been little noted. Earlier this year Abe issued a directive that stripped faculty and faculty committees of any decision making powers. By this directive the Presidents of all universities, both public and private, have been given absolute decision making powers with any faculty input being strictly advisory. This was followed on June 8th of 2015 by the minister of education appointed by Abe directing the national university to abolish their undergraduate departments and graduate school programs in the humanities and the social sciences. (See note 1 below). Universities will be reviewed and those that do not comply have been threatened with unspecified cuts to their budgets and other punitive measures. On August 25th the Yomiuri Shinbun published the results of their own survey of Japanese national universities in this regard (see their article in note 2 below). Of the 60 national universities that have humanities and social science programs, 26 responded that they will abolish their programs commencing with not taking any new students in them in the coming year as part of a gradual phase out of the programs. Only 6 universities (including Tokyo Daigaku and Kyoto Daigaku) have openly refused to abolish their programs, while the others are still considering the situation. Art history, will of course, be one of the disciplines being abolished by the universities adopting the government position.

These changes are a part of the Abe administrations efforts to "improve" the state of Japanese education and make it more internationally competitive. These Orwellian measures are chillingly parallel to the relations of the State to the University in the 1930s. Given the massive changes that are being attempted it is almost quibbling to complain about the impact on art history yet this will affect all of us in the field, including our Japanese colleagues. It behooves us as individuals and perhaps in terms of organizations to formulate a response to these draconian changes. (see the editorial form Social Science Space, note 3 below)

I would hope that these events might serve as basis for discussion in JAHF and elsewhere.

Paul Berry, Kyoto


1 Humanities under attack AUG 23, 2015 Japan Times

2 August 25, 2015: 26 natl universities to abolish humanities, social sciences [The Yomiuri Shimbun]

3 Japan’s Education Ministry Says to Axe Social Science and Humanities
By Social Science Space | Published: August 25, 2015

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"京都のあきまへん ~AKIMAHEN of Kyoto~" // Manners for Tourists in Japan

Article from Japan Today, 9/6/15:

Kyoto creates infographic to show tourists how to visit politely

With thousands of temples, beautiful gardens, geisha and maiko (geisha-in-training), and more history than you can shake an encyclopedia at, Kyoto is the place to be when visiting Japan. So with so many tourists from around the world crowding into the city, a few are bound to step out of line.

Thankfully TripAdvisor Japan created a handy infographic showing how to politely visit Kyoto. Kyotoites are understandably protective of their city and its cultural and historical treasures, and some will not hesitate to correct you if you’re doing something rude or wrong. So to be sure that everyone is on the same page, here are a few simple rules to keep in mind when you visit this wonderful city.

A lot of the rules are simply covering the basics, such as no smoking outside designated areas, not bringing your own food or drink into a restaurant, and not taking photos too close to the train tracks.

However there may be some others that surprise you. Each rule has an “akimahen” rating (“akimahen” meaning “don’t!” in Kyoto dialect) which goes on a scale of one disappointed face to three really angry faces. Here we go!

Don’t smoke or litter! The ancient kami (gods) are watching you!

Not smoking or littering is considered a common courtesy around the world, but with so many historical landmarks and UNESCO world heritage sites around, it is especially important to keep the great outdoors of Kyoto as fresh and clean as mother nature made it.

As far as tipping goes, it is usually frowned upon in all parts of Japan. But if you really want to let someone in Kyoto know that you appreciated their service, a simple okini (pronounced like “oaky knee” and meaning thank you in Kyoto dialect) would be a perfectly nice gesture.

Speaking from personal experience, if you are unable to ask an elaborately dressed maiko for a picture, snapping a quick photo in stealth mode from a respectful distance is also an option. But don’t blame us for any finger-wagging that may ensue.

Bicycle laws in Japan have become a lot more strict recently, especially in Kyoto where the streets are very narrow. It’s a very popular city to bicycle in, and they can’t have drunken cyclists leaving their bikes all over the place or there would be chaos.

Not standing in line in an orderly fashion and making chefs sad are problems that are increasingly cropping up in the news in Japan. It takes only a few incidents to ruin things for everybody, and no one likes the taste of chefs’ tears in their food, so let’s be courteous of other people, people.

Many buildings and artifacts in Kyoto are centuries, sometimes thousands of years, old, so it is very important to prolong their life as much as possible. Touching them or taking pictures with the flash on can damage artifacts, so it is essential to pay attention to all signage when sightseeing.

Removing your hat and sunglasses may seem strange at first, but this is one of the etiquette rules that isn’t about preservation, but making sure no one feels uncomfortable. Japan is just coming around on allowing hoodies up during the day, but sunglasses and hats are still signs of shady behavior and can make some people feel uneasy.

So what do you think? Do you agree with Kyoto’s rules of etiquette? Or does it make it seem like too uptight a place that you’d never want to visit?


I would disagree with the article in terms of taking stealth photos of maiko (or anybody/anything else). And removing hats and sunglasses in sacred places and/or when praying isn't so hard to understand (it's not about whether or not Japanese people are uncomfortable about hats and sunglasses!) - would you wear a hat or sunglasses in a church? Looking at the original poster, a lot of the "rules" seem to be "common sense" about being polite in public in Kyoto. I think the photo etiquette warnings are useful. Perhaps tourists without much knowledge of Japanese culture might appreciate such advice, especially regarding broken rules that could end up with fines. But many of the comments by readers at the Japan Today article seemed (overly?) offended by the poster. Check out their comments.

Trip Adviser Japan webpage: