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.