Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Wells Fargo Commercial: Learning Sign Language" and once again I'm not sure how to feel about this...

There's so much going on in this commercial I can't seem to get my head around it. The buzz seems to be centered on the portrayal of lesbian moms as ordinary and not so much about the use of sign language.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Two deaf women win seats in local assemblies in Sunday's elections

Photo borrowed from Mainichi on-line, 4/28/15.

This is great news, especially within the bleak world of Japanese politics. It is also very good that this news is being widely reported in Japan's newspapers. Here's a sampling:

With local government elections overwhelmingly remaining a man's domain, numerous women took on the challenge of declaring their candidacy for the second half of the nationwide race on April 26. One victory in this regard was Atsuko Yanetani, 55, from the city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture -- an independent newcomer who is also completely deaf.

Yanetani, formerly a company employee, began working as a volunteer following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake -- at which time she realized that the level of support offered to people who are vulnerable in times of disaster was insufficient.

Working through the office of an association for the deaf in Akashi, Yanetani began getting involved in initiatives to support disabled persons -- becoming a consultation officer for the Akashi Municipal Government in 2007 to work on their behalf.

Yanetani began to be drawn closer toward politics in October 2013, when Tottori Prefecture passed an ordinance recognizing sign language as an official language, and guaranteeing opportunities for learning it. A committee was convened last autumn to discuss the passage of a similar ordinance in the city of Akashi -- for which Yanetani worked tirelessly to promote, while outlining the existing needs therein. The ordinance was subsequently put into force this year in April.

Deaf since birth, Yanetani decided to enter the recent election race under the slogan of promoting similar recognition of sign language within the political sphere. Erecting a sign that read "speach presently being conducted in sign language," she began speaking in places such as in front of train stations and supermarkets.

Her younger daughters Tomomi, 28, and Akemi , 20, stood at the microphone interpreting their mother's sign language into spoken word, including messages calling for a framework wherein disabled children can study in local schools, as well as Yanetani's desire to enhance the system for providing information to disabled individuals during times of disaster.

Yanetani said that she was extremely disheartened when some of her constituents said things to her such as, "Are you sure you'll be able to work as an assembly member?"

"I decided to enter the election in order to help people understand that disabilities do not prevent people from engaging in activities (such as working as assembly members)," Yanetani commented. She added, "Sign language is also a proper language."

Support for Yanetani's campaign began growing -- and she reports being gratified when a woman came up to her and said "good luck" in sign language -- a phrase that she had just learned how to sign.

Recalling how such instances helped her to keep going on the campaign trail, Yanetani mused, "I hope that my efforts now will provide hope for those who come after me."

After hearing the late-night news of the election results at her campaign office, Yanetani hugged her supporters and signed numerous times, "This victory is due to the support of many individuals. I extend to you my greatest thanks."

Yanetani also expressed her determination as she signed through tears, "I know that there will be obstacles lying ahead, but I want to do my best to overcome them."

According to the Tokyo-based Japanese Federation of the Deaf, a woman who is hard-of-hearing, and able to speak, was elected in 2001 to the local assembly in the village of Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, before going on to serve for four years. Yanetani is the first completely deaf and non verbally-speaking assembly member to be elected anywhere in the country, the federation said.

Since there is no precedent for deaf assembly members in the city of Akashi, the assembly secretariat is looking into measures such as employing sign language interpreters and summary scribes for its plenary sessions.

Source: "Woman wins local election to become Japan's first deaf assembly member" at Mainichi on-line, 4/28/15.


Photo borrowed from The Japan News, 4/27/15.

The second and final wave of unified local elections Sunday brought mixed results to candidates trumpeting minority issues, while highlighting systemic shortcomings in reflecting the diverse opinions of the nation’s voters.

Rie Saito, a 31-year-old deaf mother of two who ran for Tokyo’s Kita Ward Assembly as a Nippon wo Genki ni Suru Kai (Party to Revitalize Japan) candidate, won with 6,630 votes, the most received by any of the 50 candidates.

Saito, who lost her hearing at age 1, is known for having worked as a hitsudan hostess, using writing to communicate with her customers.

“I still cannot fully believe (my victory), but I’m appreciative of everyone’s support,” she told The Japan Times by email Monday.

Her campaign, however, was riddled with difficulties. Because the Public Offices Election Law prohibits candidates from distributing fliers or showing placards during campaigns, all Saito could do, apart from blogging her thoughts daily, was approach voters on the streets and appeal for support by shaking their hands and making physical gestures.

“The ban on fliers means people with speech and hearing impediments are excluded right from the very beginning,” she said. “We must come up with new ways to hold elections.”

Source: "Unified elections help diversify representation in Tokyo" at The Japan Times, 4/27/15.


Here's some more from another source:

After her victory became certain just after 2 a.m. Monday, Saito smiled and thanked her supporters using sign language.

Using an electronic tablet to respond to reporters, she wrote, “I still can’t believe it.”

Saito lost her hearing when she was 1 because of a meningitis infection.

Though she couldn’t speak fluently, she found a job at a high-end hostess club in the Ginza district of Tokyo at 23. She quickly became popular for her style of communicating through writing.

After quitting her hostess job, Saito is now a lecturer raising her 4-year-old daughter as a single mother.

She decided to run for a ward assembly seat last winter. The upcoming 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games gave her a strong desire to “create a world where people with disabilities can actively be involved,” she said.

During her campaign, a supporter delivered her stump speeches as she handed out name cards and communicated using body language.

There are some concerns her disability could prevent her from fully participating in the assembly. Analysts said she could take part in assembly deliberations by using speech recognition software.

Saito said she wanted to discuss policy matters with ward residents using social media.

“I’d like to be a voice for minorities and help realize a barrier-free society,” she wrote.

Source: "2 hearing-impaired women win assembly seats in Sunday’s polls" at The Japan News, 4/27/15.


Other resources:

Yanetani's blog (in Japanese):

Saito's blog (in Japanese):

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Documentary on Japanese ‘war brides’ is gaining steam"

Story from The Japan Times On-line, 4/8/15.

Three women (Kathryn Tolbert, Lucy Craft and Karen Kasmauski) — all first-born daughters of Japanese war brides who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s to wed Americans — have gotten together to make “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight,” a 20-minute documentary about an overlooked slice of life in America’s history.

You’d think the existing Japanese communities in the U.S. would have welcomed with open arms the roughly 50,000 Japanese women who immigrated after World War II but, as it turns out, “the exact opposite was true,” says Craft.

“The Japanese in the U.S. had such a horrendous experience in the internment camps that they wanted nothing to do with the Japanese from Japan,” she says. And so the women, such as Craft’s own mother, Atsuko, were ignored by Japanese Americans while at the same time being shunned by their husband’s family and friends in predominantly white rural communities.

“But they wrote glowing letters back to their families in Japan,” says Craft. “The majority of Japanese war brides were too embarrassed to admit their unhappiness, or that they’d made a mistake.” Now their daughters are telling their stories.

The film is currently looking for a distributor and has already attracted the attention of several festivals and museums in the U.S. and Japan.

Film website:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"British filmmaker sounds out Japan"

Sound is becoming more and more important within the realm of visual anthropology. The controlling of sound quality in both recording and editing is important and challenging. But some projects are about sound alone without any visual aspect (except for a black screen and/or one's own imagination). For example in 2009 Filmmaker and Sound & Vision Specialist Amanda Belantara produced "Ears Are Dazzled, Touched by Sound." She describes the project:

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.

For more on this project see

The Japan Times On-line reports of a similar project (4/12/15):

In 1996, the Environment Ministry unveiled a list of designated places and traditions around the country that demanded appreciation not for how they looked, but how they sounded.

The selections in “100 Soundscapes of Japan” may not have been terribly adventurous — bird songs, temple bells, gurgling rivers — but the list’s mere existence was notable. Even now, you’d have to go all the way to Finland to find anything comparable.

Japan’s relationship with sound is certainly unusual. While walking the 88-temple pilgrimage of Shikoku, Neil Cantwell, a British musician, writer and sometime filmmaker, recalls staying with a woman who “just talked for hours about how much she loved the sound of the rain on the leaves.” In Japan, he says, sound “provides this really deep inspiration for a lot of people I’ve met, which I just haven’t encountered anywhere else.”

Cantwell has spent the past decade approaching this relationship from different angles: via academia, film, music and now virtual reality. His 2011 documentary, “KanZeOn”, co-directed with Tim Grabham, explores what he describes as “the physicality of sound and how it sits in a landscape.” Told across a series of meditative, elliptical sequences, it follows a trio of musicians steeped in Japanese tradition: shō player Eri Fujii; Akihiro Iitomi, an expert in kotsuzumi drumming and noh theater; and Akinobu Tatsumi (aka Ta2mi), a Buddhist monk who moonlights as a beatboxer and hip-hop scratch DJ.

The hip-hop connection makes sense to Cantwell, whose first exposure to traditional Japanese music came via its use in the work of producer DJ Krush.

“It’s not just the harmony and the notes: the range of expression is in the texture of the sound,” he says of gagaku, Japan’s ancient court music. “I think you could say the same for the character of Japanese hip-hop.”

Cantwell originally met the musicians of “KanZeOn” while studying Japanese religion as a university exchange student in Fukuoka, and gigging on the local music scene. This month, he’ll be returning to Kyushu for some belated screenings of the film, which will be followed by an appearance at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

He’ll be using the occasion to launch a new project, devised in collaboration with British radio broadcaster Nick Luscombe, which aims to map Japan’s sound world using an unlikely combination of crowd-sourced field recordings, film, virtual reality and Buddhist mandalas.

For Japan Sound Project, Cantwell and Luscombe will be encouraging members of the public to submit 17-second audio and video clips of their favorite sounds — a reference to the 17 syllables used in haiku poetry. Later on, they’ll be capturing some of the featured locations in 360-degree, 3-D footage, to create immersive environments that can be enjoyed on virtual reality devices like the forthcoming Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus.

And that’s where Cantwell’s background in academia comes in handy.

“Historically, religious mandala diagrams are using symbolism of language, sound and physical space in a way that can be quite transformative on your mind, and make you think about the world differently,” he says. Japan Sound Project may not be the only initiative of its kind, he concedes, but “I can’t imagine there’ll be too many people consulting eighth century esoteric Buddhist mandalas for mapping out their virtual world.”


For more information on this project:

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Facial recognition system sends warning emails to families of pachinko addicts"

Story from Japan Today, 4/3/15:

For a country that doesn’t have any businesses officially classified as “casinos,” Japan has a ton of places to gamble. By far the most common are pachinko parlors, which you can find within a short walk of just about every major train station in Tokyo and Japan’s other large cities.

But with so many places to gamble, and many of them allowing customers to purchase the balls used to play for as little as one yen (less than a penny) each, it’s easy to get sucked into the siren song of the pachinko parlor. Seeking to help gamblers keep their wagers within their limits, one company is now proposing using facial recognition software to inform you, or your family, when you’re gambling too much.

At this year’s Pachinko and Pachislot Innovation Fair, held at Tokyo’s Big Sight convention center, pachinko equipment manufacturers showed off their newest products and ideas. One exhibitor, Omron Amusement, was there to talk about its innovative way of utilizing facial recognition software.

As information technology becomes more precise and cost-effective, many pachinko parlors have been installing facial recognition software and cameras, which serve a two-fold purpose. While most pachinko parlors are respectable, safe centers of entertainment for adults, they do sometimes attract certain seedy elements, and facial recognition systems can be useful in identifying and tracking criminals and unruly visitors. Facial recognition software is also used in business research to help pachinko parlor operators analyze which customer demographics are the most profitable.

But Omron Amusement’s idea isn’t about accelerating the pace in which gamblers leave their cash behind, but instead figuring out when it’d be better to put the brakes on it. The company’s proposal would work with Ma:sus, a facial recognition system already installed in many pachinko parlors. Omron says an individual gambler could register his face with the system, which would recognize him as he enters the parlor. From there, it’s a simple matter to calculate the frequency and length of the gambler’s visits.

The key to the system, though, is also registering the individual’s email address. Once that’s done, the system will automatically send a warning email cautioning against spending too much time at the pachinko parlor if the gambler goes over designated limits. Omron says it could have the system ready for interested businesses within the year.

Of course, many addicts, regardless of what their particular vice is, are under the impression that they could stop any time they want to. As such, it doesn’t seem like sending an email to Mr. Tanaka saying, “You’ve been at the pachinko parlor every day this week,” is going to stop him if he really does have a gambling problem. That’s why Omron says the system could also be configured to send the warning email to the gambler’s family members, instead.


Friday, April 3, 2015

うきうき イースター Happy Excited Easter: Another Western Holiday Gets Glocalized in Japan

You are most likely familiar with the glocalization of Christmas and in recent years Halloween in Japan. Glocalization entails the import of a foreign idea modified through native cultural logic. I have never seen Easter celebrated in Japan (and I tend to forget it most years) until a recent trip to Otsu in Shiga Prefecture last week. At the "all you can eat lunch buffet" at the New York Steak & Seafood Restaurant located on the 37th floor of the Prince Hotel in Otsu an Easter celebration of sorts was taking place. My favorite part of the celebration was the Easter Bunny shaped omuraisu (ketchup flavored rice omelet). You can see what happened to the poor bunny in the photo below.

There were other egg dishes, mostly deviled eggs with various ingredients such as fish, shrimp, cheese and vegetables. The "real" Easter eggs were for decoration only.

Kewpie dolls also served as a decoration. I am not sure what the association with Kewpie and Easter is in Japan. (Kewpie was originally a comic strip character in America in the early 1900s; Kewpie is also the name of a company that sells the most popular brand of mayonnaise in Japan - it uses the doll as its logo.) Children were able to receive a free Kewpie doll and a balloon as well.

I haven't seen any other such celebrations in Japan? Have you?

Happy Easter! I hope the Easter Bunny leaves you many treats.

See more images of Kewpie in Japan:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Work Hard, Play Hard and Relax Hard in Japan

Behind the doors of this simple looking building is pure 
relaxation: an onsen ryokan (hot spring resort).

Once upon a time (actually until last year) at a certain international exchange student program at a certain Japanese university there was a week-long spring break. This break was an integral part of the semester's schedule allowing students and faculty a much needed respite and/or opportunity to travel within Japan or to neighboring parts of Asia. A week off of classes bookended between two weekends allowed for nine days. This year the administration decided to reduce the spring break to two days combined with a weekend. Four days does not constitute a spring break. As a result many students skipped classes before and/or after the official break period missing content and making the normal flow of class difficult. Of course faculty could not skip class and had to make do with the four days.

Japan is famous for its work ethic and thus the first part of this post title is "work hard." Not unrelated is the idea of playing hard to reduce work induced tension. I don't have much opportunity for such hard play these days and so when I had four days off I opted to "relax hard" to reduce stress. An onsen is the perfect place for this hard relaxation.

It's even better when you have your own personal massage chair
 and rotenburo (outside onsen) on the balcony of your room.

We arrived at the onsen in Shiga Prefecture right on Lake Biwa (Japan's largest lake) around 3:00 PM. We were greeted by the proprietor in the lobby and given yuzu tea. Next we were shown to our room on the top floor and given green tea and sweets. I then changed into a yukata and went to the main rotenburo. The weather was beautiful and warm, the scenery stunning and the hot spring water incredibly relieving. Just then a small bird landed on the hand rail and began singing its sweet song. Nirvana. Then it was back to the room for a session in the massage chair. Next, I had an appointment to use the ryokan's ganbanyoku (hot stone spa). The ganbanyoku isn't as hot or humid as a sauna but you still sweat a lot (it's supposed to be good for the skin, blood circulation and serves as a detox). But the sweat mysteriously stops and evaporates after you leave the chamber. After an hour session it was time to go back to the room for dinner. We had a special Shiga beef course that included a beef salad, beef sushi, beef shabu shabu, beef steak and a beef stew. After dinner it was back to the massage chair, back to the rotenburo and finally a dunk in our personal rotenburo before a hard sleep devoid of any stress related dreams. Bliss. After waking up the following morning there was a time for a quick bath before breakfast. After breakfast I had another session in the massage chair followed by a final bath. Check out was 11:00 AM.

I was exhausted after this experience, thus the term "relax hard."

Despite the challenging relaxation-schedule I did have a few moments to capture the scenery that could be seen from our window and balcony. Lake Biwa is beautiful.

I might recommend at least two days at the onsen to take away the "hard" away from the "relax" and not suffer from from post-relax exhaustion...