Saturday, August 29, 2015

"Japan to introduce video visitation system for parents in cross-border custody disputes"

From The Japan Times, 8/28/15:

The Foreign Ministry will in September introduce a virtual visitation system to enable parents to meet children who have been abducted by their estranged partners under the Hague convention on cross-border custody disputes.

Set to be the first of the convention’s 93 signatory countries to introduce such a system, the videoconferencing facility will be offered for parents seeking child visitation rights, a ministry official said on Friday.

“We thought meeting through the Internet is a practical means, given that children and separated partners are living far from each other in other countries,” the official said.

With the approval of both parents, the system will allow either the mother or the father to converse with their children via video link while a third-party professional observes the exchanges on a screen at a separate location and has the authority to intervene if necessary.

For example, if one of the parents makes inappropriate remarks, such as verbally abusing the child or criticizing the other parent, the independent monitor will send a warning text to the screen telling the person to stop. If the behavior persists, the observer will be able to set audio on mute or turn off the video.

The ministry official noted the presence of the observer is especially important as they are there to protect the children, whose welfare is at the forefront of the treaty, from being mentally abused by one of the parents.

The system of taking part in a meeting with an observer over the Internet is also intended to soften the resistance of the other parent living with the child or children, who might otherwise fear their offspring could be hurt by careless remarks by the separated partner, the official said.

The observer’s role will be performed by personnel authorized by the Japanese branch of the International Social Service. The Geneva-based nongovernmental organization assists children and families faced with social problems due to migration.

Since the pact took effect in Japan in April last year, the ministry has so far received 86 requests from parents seeking to “visit” their separated children.

Of those requests, 67 were cases in which one parent was living overseas and sought to talk with a child forcibly taken to Japan.

A further 19 cases involved a parent living in Japan who was seeking access to their child overseas, the official said.


Friday, August 28, 2015

"Photo exhibition focuses on faces, lives of Tokyo’s homeless"

Photo and text from The Japan Times, 8/27/15.

An ongoing photo exhibition in Tokyo illustrates a burning desire of people living on the streets: to simply build normal relationships with the rest of society.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Promotion Center currently displays 42 photos of the homeless, taken by freelance photographer Hideaki Takamatsu, who began the project out of curiosity about how the homeless live.

Takamatsu started shooting photos of the homeless in 1994, when he attended a photography school after graduating from college with aspirations of becoming a photojournalist.

He said he was shocked to see a line of cardboard boxes where homeless people lived at the busy Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. “To my surprise, people with business suits walked on by without paying attention to the homeless.

“I tried to take their photos as part of a school assignment, but I realized they would never allow me to do so unless we reached a mutual understanding,” he said.

They wanted to know who he was and also wished him to know who they were before getting in front of his camera.

Since then, Takamatsu has met many people who live on the streets, eaten with them and photographed them. One such homeless person came close to committing suicide and another ran away several times from a hospital where he had been put under protection.

Of the photos on display, half are black-and-white images taken up to 2000. They depict the harsh living conditions of the homeless, with one photo showing a man rummaging through leftovers outside a restaurant.

Takamatsu said he accompanied the man to the restaurant several times before he took photos of him.

“While these photos reflect the general and conventional public image of the homeless, I tried later to use a different method to bring out their individuality,” Takamatsu said.

He had them strike various poses to make them aware that their photos would be seen by other people and to shoot color photos to attract more attention.

Hence, the other half of the photos on display are in color. He calls it a “collaborative work” between himself and the homeless.

Takamatsu said that some of the homeless people he photographs are paid to be vendors for Big Issue, a magazine established in 2003 in Japan to provide homeless people with work.

“As they stand on the same corner of a street regularly, they get acquainted with passers-by who also regularly walk the street,” Takamatsu said.

“One (homeless man) married one of his frequent customers, while others have become involved in counseling young people,” he added.

For the human rights promotion center, meanwhile, the homeless problem is a regional challenge. Takamatsu’s photos, it said, give the public a glimpse into the lives of people they otherwise seldom would have contact with.

The facility is located near the Sanya district, known as a source of manpower for civil engineering and construction projects where there was a lot of cheap accommodation during Japan’s postwar high economic growth period. Many day laborers there saw their jobs dry up following the burst of the “bubble economy” in the early 1990s, and they ended up homeless.

There have been recent reports of local young people harassing those living in parks or riverside areas.

“We expect the photo exhibition to make the public more aware of the homeless and promote social inclusion,” a center official said, referring also to a new type of homeless who spend their nights at Internet cafes or fast-food shops.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government indicates the number of homeless in Tokyo’s 23 wards gradually declined to around 780 as of January since peaking at 5,800 in August 1999. But the entire picture remains unclear.

The admission-free exhibition is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and runs through Nov. 29. For further information, call the human rights promotion center at 03-3876-5372.


Related: "Yokohama Street Life: The Precarious Life of a Japanese Day Laborer" by (anthropologist) Tom Gill. @ The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue. 34, No. 2, August 24, 2015


Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Japan rail firm switches on ‘drunk spotting’ cameras"

From The Japan Times, 8/19/15:

A Japanese railway company is turning to cameras as a way to spot drunken behavior and keep late-boozing patrons from tumbling onto the tracks, a spokesman said Wednesday.

West Japan Railways (JR West) has installed nearly 50 closed-circuit television cameras at its Kyobashi train station in Osaka to stop accidents that frequently involve legions of late-drinking “salarymen.”

The suited city workers are well-served by extensive urban train networks that whisk them back home at the end of the night.

While the worst that happens to most corporate warriors is nodding off and missing their stop, a small number are hurt or killed in stations every year by plunging onto the tracks.

“The cameras are meant to detect passengers behaving abnormally — including those who are feeling ill — as quickly as possible so that plunging accidents can be prevented,” the spokesman said.

The new system would automatically detect odd movements, such as unsteady walking or passengers sitting on a bench for an unusually long time, and set off an alarm to prevent potential trouble.

The cameras mark the latest move taken by JR West — which operates around Osaka, a commercial hub, and the ancient city of Kyoto — after it changed the direction of platform benches in March.

The seats were rotated to face along the platform rather than the tracks in the hopes of stopping drunken passengers from marching headlong into trouble.

Before the cameras were installed last week, station employees were tasked with keeping an eagle eye on at-risk travelers.

JR West said it would consider expanding the pilot project to other stations.

An internal company study found most people who had fallen onto the tracks had done so after waking up from an alcohol-infused slumber on benches and then walking straight over the platform’s edge.

About 60 percent of some 3,000 annual cases involving passengers falling onto train tracks were due to alcohol, according to Japan’s transport ministry.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"No drop in orders for Taiji dolphins despite restriction"

VAOJ grows weary in its continuing reporting of "The Cove" related news. But here's the latest...

From The Japan Times, 8/11/15:

Orders for dolphins caught in drive hunts in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, this fiscal year are coming in at almost the same rate as before even though the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums has banned its members from buying animals caught via such methods.

A local fishermen’s union said Monday that the orders are mostly coming in from facilities that are not members of JAZA and dealers who may be exporting the dolphins.

Feel free to read the whole story at the source:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Film tries to rebut ‘Cove’ documentary on Taiji dolphin hunt"

From The Japan Times, 8/8/15:

A Japanese film is being offered as a rebuttal to the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” which depicted dolphins being slaughtered in the tiny town of Taiji.

“Behind The Cove” has interviews with Japanese whaling officials and footage of a whaling festival and Hiroshima atomic bomb victims to counter what director Keiko Yagi thinks is “Japan-bashing.”

Her film argues that whale meat provided food in the lean years after Japan’s defeat in World War II and was frequently served in school lunches. The practice has been phased out, though, and most Japanese these days have never eaten whale or dolphin meat.

“Unless we can respect each other’s food culture, war will be a never-ending story,” Yagi told reporters after a screening Friday in Tokyo.

She filmed retired whalers reminiscing about the old days, but not today’s dolphin hunters or the people engaged in the lucrative business of selling dolphins to overseas aquariums and marine shows.

“The Cove” was named best documentary at the 2009 Academy Awards. It referred amply to the aquarium industry and contained surreptitiously obtained footage of Taiji fishermen in small boats herding a pod of dolphins into the cove, scaring them with loud clanging noises and then stabbing them to death as the dolphins writhed about and the water turned red.

Yagi, who acknowledged she didn’t even own a tripod until halfway through her first film, was delighted that people had agreed to speak on camera, and her film is largely a stream of interviews.

Among those interviewed are “The Cove” star Ric O’Barry and director Louie Psihoyos, as well as members of Sea Shepherd, an activist group against dolphin and whale hunts.

O’Barry acknowledges he would have included more Japanese people in “The Cove” if he had directed. He trained dolphins for the 1960s “Flipper” TV series, then had a change of heart and has since devoted his life to defending dolphins.

Psihoyos says he does not approve of picking on Japanese people.

The Sea Shepherd activists appear friendly in their interviews.

Both O’Barry and Psihoyos declined comment to The Associated Press, saying they had not yet seen the film.

In previous interviews with AP, both have said they wanted to point out the cruelty of the dolphin killing. They say only a small group of people in Taiji benefit from the slaughter and have suggested other ways to support the local economy, such as tourism.

There are no immediate screening plans for Yagi’s film.