Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Artist Aida defiant over latest work"

Photo and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 7/28/15:

Controversial artist Makoto Aida is refusing to bow to demands that he alter a politically sensitive submission to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo after museum chiefs and Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials deemed it unsuitable for children.

Aida, whose previous work includes pictures of naked schoolgirls on leashes and Japanese fighter planes attacking New York, was invited with his family to submit an installation for an exhibition entitled “An Art Exhibition for Children — Whose Place is this?” which runs at MOT from July 18 through Oct. 12.

The museum’s website describes the exhibition as a “summer holiday exhibition for children” that invites visitors to “stand in the spaces and ask ‘whose place is this?’ ” and features the work of four artist groups.

Aida’s installation, created with his junior high school student son Torajiro and wife Hiroko Okada and submitted under the name “The Aida Family,” includes a 6-meter-long scroll of white fabric suspended from the roof, daubed with criticisms of the education ministry in black ink.

The piece, entitled “Manifesto” and explicitly directed at the education ministry, includes phrases slamming Japan’s school system, such as “Increase the number of teachers!”

The installation also includes one of Aida’s prior works featuring the artist satirizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a video entitled “Video of a Man Calling Himself Japan’s Prime Minister Making a Speech at an International Assembly.”

According to a July 25 post made by Aida on the blogging platform Tumblr, museum curators and metropolitan government officials contacted the artist last Thursday and Friday to demand the removal of the two pieces after a complaint was made by a visitor.

Aida states that he believes his work’s “removal is inappropriate,” and ends his blog post by asking: “Do you think I can ‘agree’ with this?”

Aida’s agent told The Japan Times on Tuesday that he had nothing to add to the lengthy post.

Museum spokesman Mitsuaki Kojo, meanwhile, denied that the museum had forced any demands on Aida and hopes to persuade the artist to alter his work.

“Rather than making a demand, we felt that the content was a little difficult given that the exhibition is aimed at children, so we asked him if he would change it,” Kojo told The Japan Times.

“It’s a summer holiday exhibition aimed at junior high school students. We were looking for something a little easier to engage with overall, and that’s what we talked to him about,” Kojo said.

“We asked him if he would change it, but he wasn’t comfortable and both sides remain far apart. He hasn’t changed anything and he still hasn’t found a way that he’s comfortable with, so we’re still looking.

“We’re not going to force him to do anything,” he continued. “We’re still trying to settle things. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that. We won’t force anything unilaterally, but if we can’t reach an agreement, then things could be difficult.”

The metropolitan government’s Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the museum, denied Aida’s claim that a visitor’s complaint was the reason for the museum’s stance.

“The museum and the metropolitan government were thinking the same thing,” said spokesperson Makiko Tomioka. “The exhibition is aimed at children, and we think it would be better to have an atmosphere that is more accommodating for children. This situation has not come about just because of a complaint.”

The MOT also claims that Aida’s work was completed so close to the exhibition’s opening that it left little time to address initial concerns.

“There were questions raised at the time that the work was completed,” said Kojo. “We had a private viewing on July 17, and the work was completed in a matter of days before that.”

Aida claimed on his blog that the installation is “not a political work,” and rejected suggestions it is inappropriate for children.

“The mentality of questioning things is something I believe is of the highest significance in human intelligence,” he wrote. “This is not something which we are given sudden rights to as we become official adults at the age of 20.

“It was with this thought that I began “Manifesto” and the entire layout of the exhibition. This show has not for one moment ignored the fact that it is being presented within the frame of a children’s exhibition, rather it is the result of serious consideration upon that very point.”


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"The Nationalist Assault on Japan’s Local Peace Museums: The Conversion of Peace Osaka"

New content on Japan Focus by Phillip Seaton:

In April 2015, Peace Osaka, a publicly-funded museum famous for its hard-hitting exhibits about Japan’s wars of the 1930s and 1940s, reopened after a “renewal”. In the new exhibits, discussion of Japanese aggression and atrocities has been completely removed and the stance of the museum has changed from progressive to conservative. Based on a photographic record of the pre- and post-“renewal” exhibits, this essay discusses in what ways and why Peace Osaka has changed under three headings: physical conversion, mission conversion and ideological conversion. The process of conversion started with nationalist campaigns to revise and undermine the exhibits during the 1990s and was ultimately realized under conservative local governments in the 2010s. The conversion is not simply a sign of the recent “shift to the right” in Japanese politics under the administration of Abe Shinzō. Instead, it reveals a longer-term issue of nationalist assaults on the narratives in local peace museums and the vulnerabilities of progressive official narratives.

Please do read the whole text:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Ban on possession of child porn takes effect in Japan" // But don't touch our manga and anime! // "In ‘soft power’ terms, Japan ranks eighth out of 30 countries in U.K. consultancy report" // "Gackt lashes out at Cool Japan: 'Almost no results of Japanese culture exported overseas'"

Some recent interesting articles to make one wonder about the priorities (and even common sense) of Japanese lawmakers...

Ban on possession of child porn takes effect in Japan

From The Japan Times, 7/15/15:

Japan finally moved to ban the possession of pornographic photos and videos of children on Wednesday, amid growing international criticism as the only Group of Seven industrialized country that had not passed a law on the matter.

After the Diet amended the law on punishment of activities relating to child prostitution and child pornography, the revised law took effect on July 15 last year. But a one-year moratorium was put in place in order to give individuals who had such images time to dispose of them.

Under the revised law, individuals may face a prison term of up to one year or a fine of up to ¥1 million for possession of pornographic images of children.

The revised law defines child pornographic photos and videos as those that are intended to expose or focus on children’s sexual parts.

However, manga, animation and computer graphics are not subject to punishment under the revised law in light of freedom of expression. There are concerns from legal experts that investigative authorities might abuse the law.

The number of child pornography cases covered by law enforcement by the country’s police stood at 1,828 in 2014, nearly doubling from 2009.

“We would like to continue to gear up for the crackdown,” said an official of the National Police Agency, which conducted a nationwide intensive patrol in cyberspace over the month through Tuesday.

“Requests (from owners) to scrap porn photos and DVDs surged within this one year,” said Toru Okumura, an Osaka-based lawyer who has dealt with a large number of child porn cases.

Noting that individuals might be investigated by police based on purchase history even if they no longer have child porn images, Okumura said the impact of the law revision would be enormous.

Given possible ambiguous cases, including images of individuals’ own children who are naked as part of their growth records, Okumura said it is desirable to consult a lawyer if it would be hard to tell whether such cases could violate the law.


So perverts got a whole year to dispose of their kiddie porn? And while manga and anime are exempt parents might be at risk for having photos of baby's first bath? (Yet another reason to discourage Japanese people from having children?) Manga and anime are popular and powerful - perhaps the very foundations of Japan's soft power. But check out this next article...

In ‘soft power’ terms, Japan ranks eighth out of 30 countries in U.K. consultancy report

From The Japan Times, 7/15/15:

Japan ranked eighth in the world in “soft power,” according to a new annual ranking released by U.K.-based consulting firm Portland.

The Soft Power 30, announced Wednesday, examines the strength of soft power resources in countries around the world, gauging their performance across six categories: government, education, culture, enterprise, engagement and digital. Data were collected on 50 countries, and the rankings were based on the top 30.

The firm defined “soft power,” first coined in 1990 by Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, as the ability of a country to harness attraction and persuasion, as opposed to force or financial payments, to pursue foreign policy objectives.

The report found that the U.K. leads the world in soft power. The country rated high in its culture, education and digital assets. The U.K. was followed by Germany, the U.S., France, Canada and Australia.

Japan came in eighth, ranking high in enterprise (third) and education (fourth). Japan’s ranking was the highest among Asian countries in the report, which also included South Korea, placing 20th and China at 30th.

“Japanese companies are admired around the world for their innovation, precision, and excellence in design,” the report said. “Despite two decades of recession, it remains a major aid donor, and a source of global credit and capital.”

The report rates Japan poorly, however, in adaptability to foreign languages.

“Despite some of the highest literacy rates in the world, even well-educated adults can display poor communication skills in English,” it said. “Perhaps tied to that is the fact that Japanese culture does not cut through to as many audiences as it should.”

The ranking was based on a combination of existing data by international organizations such as the OECD and World Bank with an online poll covering 7,250 people in 20 countries conducted between May 21 and June 8.


Japan is only ranked 8th? And behind Germany? Perhaps Gackt is right:

Gackt lashes out at Cool Japan: 'Almost no results of Japanese culture exported overseas'

From Japan Today, 7/6/15:

While visiting friends who were a part of the recent “Naruto” stage production, Japanese film and music star Gackt was left with a bad feeling. Having watched one of the overseas “Naruto” performances, the singer couldn’t help but notice the lack of people in the audience.

Gackt doesn’t rule out possible flaws with the play such as too much material crammed into a short time. However, as he wrote in a recent impassioned blog post, he thinks the real culprit may be the Japanese government and their Cool Japan promotional program, which he feels is anything but.

“I wonder if anyone in Japan actually understands what Cool Japan does?”

Cool Japan was an initiative set forward by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). Its purpose was to promote Japan’s “creative industries” to foreign countries. To many, including Gackt, this would mean products such as music, film, manga, and anime to name a few. Yet the performer feels that the Cool Japan budget is being sent somewhere else.

“The Japanese government made a new attempt at this in the name of Cool Japan, but while they have set up a huge budget for it, they have no idea where that money should go. It’s no exaggeration to say it has fallen into a downward spiral of wasted tax money flowing into little known companies.

“Let’s assume that it is the right move for the money to go into these obscure companies. There still have been almost no tangible results of Japanese culture being exported into foreign countries. I can’t help but accuse METI of having no idea how to use this huge budget properly.”

Read the whole story:

Problems with priorities, plans, implementations, and of course, results... With so many problems going on here in in Japan, may I propose: Gackt for Prime Minister!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Visual Documentary Project 2015: Human Flows - Movement in Southeast Asia

Call for Documentaries

Deadline for submission: December 20, 2015

About the Project

Southeast Asia is rich in its diversity of ethnic, religious and cultural composition. The region has maintained the coexistence of such diversity while at the same time achieving economic progress and becoming a hub for the flow of people, goods, money and information. Yet at present, the region is also confronted with serious issues such as the decrease of biodiversity and tropical forests, disasters, pandemics, aging population, ethnic and religious conflicts, economic differentiation and poverty.

In the face of this, how is coexistence and sustainability possible despite the diversity that exists? How can we make public resources out of the region’ s social foundations which are the basis of people’ s everyday lives? And, how can we connect these in a complementary way to existing systems of governance towards solving the problems and issues mentioned above?

In order to address these questions in the context of Southeast Asia, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University has initiated this “Visual Documentary project” which explicitly examines the contours of their everyday lives through a visual approach since 2012. This project aims to use visual forms of expression to complement the growing literature that exists on Southeast Asian societies. From This year, the Japan Foundation Asia Center joins this project as co-organizer to help widely promote the richness of Southeast Asian cultures to people in Japan. As of 2015, the project has linked up with numerous film schools in the region to help strengthen the documentary filmmaking network.

Human Flows - Movement in Southeast Asia -

Movement is a fundamental reality of human societies. In Southeast Asia how does it influence individuals, families, communities and nations? What journeys do people take as they move within, across and out of the region? What are their reasons to move and what stories do they have to tell? What experiences define movement in the region? And how will the region’s governments manage flows on the eve of the birth of ASEAN Economic Community?

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) is accepting short documentaries from young filmmakers who are citizens of ASEAN nations and Japan to reflect on Human Flows in Southeast Asia. Submissions of up to 30 minutes can be on any topic that touches upon Southeast Asian’s experiences of human movement in the region. Themes can include economic migration, movement between countries in the region, pilgrimages, migration due to political crisis or environmental degradation, cultural influences and borderless journeys/wanderings.

For more information:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"More security cameras to be installed on shinkansen trains"

From Japan Today, 7/8/15:

Two JR companies plan to install more security cameras on their shinkansen (bullet trains), following the suicide by fire of a 71-year-old man in a bullet train between Shin-Yokohama and Odawara stations on June 30.

A 52-year-old woman also died of smoke asphyxiation in the incident, which was the first time that a fire has occurred on the shinkansen trains since they began running in 1964.

JR Tokai and JR West said they will install two new security cameras inside each car to cover the aisles and interiors, Fuji TV reported. Currently, security cameras are installed at the rear of each car.

The new cameras will be installed on the trains from next fiscal year and will be completed by 2018.

Security cameras have been thus far kept to a minimum due to concerns that the privacy of passengers would be infringed upon.

Moreover, security cameras will be added to both the doors exiting the train car, as well as outside the lavatories where it had been previously near-impossible to see.

Meanwhile, JR officials said it would be difficult to screen all baggage, which was brought up at a meeting last week with Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta. Bullet trains carry between 800 and 1,000 passengers and usually depart an average of every 10 minutes. Baggage screening would cause big delays, JR officials said.


Monday, July 6, 2015

"Filmmaker wants Japan to remember the ‘comfort women’"

Photo borrowed from "Kioku to Ikiru" website.

Excerpts from The Japan Times, 7/4/15.

…[J]ournalist Toshikuni Doi unpacked 100 hours of videotaped interviews he conducted with seven Korean comfort women in the mid-1990s and edited it into a 3½-hour film titled “Kioku to Ikiru” (“To Live With Memories“) that has just been released theatrically. Doi is famous for his reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and nuclear-related issues. In a long post on his blog, he explains that he became aware of Korean comfort women in the early ’90s while corresponding with Hatsuko Tominaga, a hibakusha (atomic bomb victim) whose activism extended beyond anti-nuclear matters to address victims of Japanese aggression, including sex slaves, whom she wanted to meet. However, she was not well enough to travel, and Doi offered to go to South Korea to meet with former comfort women and record their interviews for her.

He started the project in 1994, and ended up devoting three years to it, traveling back-and-forth between Japan and a house in Seoul where the women lived communally, slowly trying to gain their trust so that they would open up about their experiences, which they were reluctant to do, especially in front of a Japanese man. However, Doi’s nationality and gender had one advantage.

While he was conducting the interviews, a Korean filmmaker, Byun Young-joo, was doing the same thing and the women seemed more comfortable with her. Byun’s documentary has since become one of the most famous in the history of Korean film, and Doi admires it but says his is different because, as an interlocutor, “I am a man representing the oppressor country.” He believes Byun, because she is Korean and a woman, drew a line in her interviews over which she would not step, but Doi could get at the core of their pain because their anger was directed at what he represents, and he admits that he exploited this situation.

“Perhaps it was cold of me,” he writes, “but I felt I had to convey their experiences to Japanese people,” and that meant pressing for detail, no matter how uncomfortable it made them feel.

All the subjects are dead now, so no one gleaned any personal justice from their participation in Doi’s film. Some of the footage was shown on NHK in the late ’90s, but Doi says he wasn’t sufficiently motivated to revisit the tapes until Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said that the comfort stations were “necessary” and a gallery in Tokyo cancelled an exhibition by a South Korean photographer about sex slaves left behind in China. Doi’s purpose is to supply “real faces” to the comfort women controversy. Without individual stories the issue remains an abstraction, and thus easier to ignore and deny. Nevertheless, the premiere, held in early June, was covered by only one Japanese national daily, the Asahi Shimbun.

“Kioku to Ikiru” is now playing at Uplink in Tokyo. It will open in various cities nationwhide in coming months. In Korean and Japanese with Japanese subtitles.

Read the whole story:

Film website:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Court in Japan orders Google to delete past reports of man's arrest"

From Japan Today, 7/4/15:

The Saitama District Court has ordered Google to remove news reports from more than three years ago concerning a man who was arrested on charges of molesting a girl under 18.

Last month, the man filed a suit claiming that Google search results pertaining to his arrest older than three years was a violation of his personal rights, Sankei Shimbun reported.

In 2012, the man was arrested for paying a girl under the age of 18 for sexual favors. He was charged with violating child prostitution laws and fined 500,000 yen. However, his name and news reports regarding the arrest still come up in Google searches.

Claiming that this was an infringement upon his personal rights, the man petitioned to have the information deleted from the search engine. His lawyer told the court his client had been rehabilitated and that it was difficult to get on with his life as long as his arrest record remains online.

In handing down the ruling, the presiding judge said such relatively minor crimes do not hold any particular significance to the public and therefore continuing to display such information three years after the incident does not have much merit for society at large.

Google said it will appeal the decision, saying the ruling violates freedom of expression and information.

VAOJ has long been interested in privacy issues on the internet. While this ruling might at first seem ridiculous (molesting a minor as a minor crime?), it does seem to match the Japanese defamation laws (it doesn't matter whether the guy was guilty or not, the reporting of it hurt his spirit...). Check out the reader comments at the source.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Filmmaking for Fieldwork

Image borrowed from All Rites Reversed web site.

Announcement via the Visual Anthropology Forum:

AllRitesReversed are presenting a two week intensive filmmaking course in association with Futureworks School of Media and with teachers resident at The Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester. This highly successful short course, now in its seventh year, has attracted many experts in the field of Visual Anthropology. Filmmaking For Fieldwork runs in central Manchester (UK) each summer and there are exciting plans to take the course on the road to global destinations.

For more information: