Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"New documentary on Tsukiji fish market captures essence of nation’s ‘lively kitchen’"

Text from The Japan Times, 7/23/16.

Ever since he visited Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market for the first time in 2012, movie director Naotaro Endo has been intrigued by the place often called “the world’s largest fish market.”

“I was amazed by the spectacular taste of the fish that was recommended by an intermediate wholesaler, and that experience made me interested in Japan’s fish-eating culture as I became a frequent visitor,” Endo says.

Endo has turned his passion for the market into “Tsukiji Wonderland,” a documentary film that he has made with foreign audiences in mind.

“I hope this film will trigger people’s interest in Tsukiji and the essence of Japanese food culture,” he says, while also trusting it will serve as an opportunity for Japanese viewers “to think about passing on our food culture to future generations in the best possible way.”

“Tsukiji Wonderland” will be shown at a Tsukiji cinema on Oct. 1 and released nationwide on Oct. 15. It is also scheduled to be screened elsewhere in Asia, including Hong Kong in August and September, Thailand in September and Singapore in October.

Filming of the 110-minute documentary began in March 2014. For about 16 months, it goes behind the scenes at the market, records the distinct tenor of the four seasons and follows the daily routine of industrious professionals as they go about their work.

The Tsukiji fish market opened in its current location in 1935 after the market moved from the Nihonbashi area in the wake of the devastating 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

Since then, the market dubbed “Japan’s lively kitchen” has been feeding people both at home and — in recent years — abroad, contributing to sustaining the quality of washoku Japanese cuisine, which has been designated by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

According to the website of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, nearly 1,700 tons of fishery products were handled in the Tsukiji wholesale market per day in 2014, and some 480 kinds of fish are traded throughout the year. The wholesale market also sells other fresh goods such as vegetables, fruit, meat and flowers.

In November, the Tsukiji market will shift to Toyosu, about 2.3 kilometers to the southeast, and the documentary aims to capture the last images of Tsukiji before its relocation.

Earlier this year, a version of the film with English subtitles was screened at packed cinemas in the state of Washington during the Seattle International Film Festival and Endo sensed the strength of the film through the audience’s strong reaction.

“Images of food can be understood non-verbally across cultural boundaries and beyond language barriers,” Endo says. “Since food is related to principles of culture and forms part of our basic needs — food, clothing and shelter — I think washoku can be a very effective representation of Japanese culture overseas.”

The filming of the documentary was the first occasion in which cameras were allowed to follow people working at the fish market for such an extended period and in areas normally out of bounds to the general public.

Endo was particularly interested in featuring the professional lives of the intermediate wholesalers as opposed to focusing on chefs or restaurateurs. There was something appealing to him about their lively behavior, their ability to select quality fish, and the pride they put into their work.

Intermediate wholesalers buy tuna and other produce at auction and sell them to retailers, restaurants and other shops. They must be licensed professionals approved by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to conduct business at Tsukiji.

“They are not just getting paid for moving goods in the middle of the distribution system,” Endo says.

“Today’s food professionals have very demanding needs and produce from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south is delivered to Tsukiji thanks to the advanced distribution system,” Endo says. “But it is almost impossible to control the harvest of fish because this largely depends on conditions in the natural environment.”

The role of the intermediate wholesalers is to find a way to satisfy the needs of food professionals come what may by sourcing and recommending produce, he says.

“They have sustained Japan’s fish-eating culture since the Edo period, making Tsukiji the capital of fish-eating culture,” he says.

Shrines and monuments dedicated to fish and seafood at Tsukiji are another distinctive trait associated with Japanese food culture, Endo says.

Next to the market stands Namiyoke Shrine, where many pay their respects on arriving for work in the early hours.

“It’s a very beautiful, picturesque scene especially on cold winter mornings when people, whose breath is visible, bow in front of the shrine in the light of Japanese lanterns before they go to work. So I put a scene of that in the film,” he says.

There are various monuments dedicated to eggs, fish, sushi and other products at the shrine as a mark of respect and appreciation for the lives taken to become food. Elsewhere in the market, there is even an annual memorial service for blowfish, presided over by a Buddhist monk.

As he prepared for shooting the documentary and conducted research on Tsukiji, Endo came to know Theodore Bestor, a professor of anthropology and director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, after reading his book “Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World.” He asked him to appear in the documentary.

Bestor received the Commissioner’s Award for the Promotion of Japanese Culture, from Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs in 2013.

“In many cases, people cannot objectively see their own culture so seeing it through the eyes of foreigners is an effective way to do it,” Endo says. “(Bestor) is a leading expert on Tsukiji.”

“I think the film is really remarkable in the way you have a gentle approach to people of interest,” Bestor tells an audience during a lecture and dialogue session with the filmmakers at the International House of Japan.

While Bestor expects a number of things will change or be lost with the relocation, he believes core elements of Tsukiji culture, such as various kinds of kinship among professionals including a genealogical one and senpai-kohai (senior-junior) relationships, will remain as a microcosm of Japanese society at large.

“It’s not a sentimental goodbye to Tsukiji. It’s looking at people and their working lives. Their working lives continue whether, as you say, they are in this box or another box,” Bestor says.

Source: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2016/07/23/films/new-documentary-tsukiji-fish-market-captures-essence-nations-lively-kitchen/

Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Tadaima Nippon (I’m Home, Japan) - A Study Abroad Video"

Tadaima Nippon (I'm Home, Japan) - A Study Abroad Video from Kyle Kien on Vimeo.

My student from last year put together this film after he returned to the United States. I was happy to hear from him and very happy to see his film.

Kyle's description of his film (from his Vimeo page):

"Tadaima Nippon/ただいま日本" or "I'm Home, Japan" is a narrative about peace-building. Just over a year ago, I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and listened to an atomic bomb survivor ghastly describing her experience that paralyzed the whole lecture room. It was a field trip provided by my school and I returned home wanting to release a video that I had captured during my study abroad in Spring of 2015: a video concerning the importance of how studying abroad enhances our understanding of one another on a global scale--and I hope for the future, we could prevent such disastrous events like that of the atomic bomb simply due to misunderstandings oceans away. Now in this new globalized world, these oceans are slowly becoming ponds but its still not enough to break the walls of ignorance. Japan was my home for those 5 months and I tried my best to capture it, as well as condensing months of footage down to this mere 20 minutes, along with interviews of fellow students recalling how the experience has affected them.

Environments brings about different mindsets in people, different languages have speakers of those languages view concepts differently (like the difference of Green and Blue or Pink and Red as a small example). I think many societies around the world are stuck in their own bias where there is no vital feedback to clear the walls of ignorance when viewing other cultures/societies but if one could go abroad with an open mind for just a few months, a simple transaction of laughs, hugs, and joy, can move us forward in the right direction.

Check it out!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

“Natural History on Film – Constituting Universal Knowledge Through Images”

Announcement via Visual Anthropology Forum:

Discussion & Screening “Natural History on Film – Constituting Universal Knowledge Through Images”

To record all the events occurring in the world, and to possess it: such a thought is no more a scientific fantasy. With the spread of video sharing on the internet, a participative constitution of knowledge has become possible on an international scale.

As early as 1951, such a venture was already undertaken in Germany. Under the name of Encylopedia Cinematographica, the Research Institute on Scientific Film in Göttingen started a project consisting of the recording on 16-mm film of every possible movement in the world, ranging from nature to human society, with the aim of widely sharing the collected data.

The archive comprising more than 2000 volumes is divided into three categories (Biology, Ethnology and Science & Technology), and reflects the state of the world half a century ago. By resorting to specific film techniques, it makes visible phenomena such as microbes’ reactions that are invisible to the naked eye; by recording social habits and techniques on the verge of disappearance, it plays a significant role in visual anthropology. The reproducibility of film allowed for its wide distribution throughout the world. In Japan, the whole archive is held by the Shimonaka Memorial Foundation, established to honor the contributions of Yasaburo Shimonaka, father of the Encyclopedia in Japan.

The IMT College will welcome Natural History scholar Hiroshi Aramata for a discussion accompanying the screening of this precious collection of scientific film. While enjoying the projection of original 16-mm film, we will debate on the possibility of construing the world through images.

[Date]Saturday July 23, 2016, 16:00-18:00 (Opens at 15:30)
[Venue]The University Museum, The University of Tokyo, ACADEMIA, Intermediatheque 2nd floor
[Discussants]Hiroshi Aramata (Natural History Scholar) × Yoshiaki Nishino (Director, UMUT)
[Language]Japanese (No interpretation provided)
[Admission] Free. The number of seats is limited to 48. Your understanding is appreciated.
[Organizer] The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT) + Shimonaka Memorial Foundation
[Cooperation] Centre for the Conservation of Documentary Film

Source: http://www.intermediatheque.jp/ja/schedule/view/id/IMT0111

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"New documentary questions Japan's use of nuclear energy"

Image borrowed from http://atomtopeace.com/

Text from Japan Today, 7/18/16.

Documentary filmmaker Yoshitaka Nitta has made a movie based on a question he has asked himself since the nuclear meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011.

The question is “Why does Japan insist on reactivating nuclear power plants despite the worst nuclear accident in its history?”

In the movie titled “Atom and Peace—Ruiko, Nagasaki Prayer,” Ruiko Matsunaga, a 24-year-old elementary school teacher in the city of Nagasaki in southwestern Japan, travels from Aomori to Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan and then back to Nagasaki, visiting places where there is “peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

She hopes to find answers to how the Fukushima Daiichi accident occurred and why Japan, as the world’s only atomic-bombed country, is still eager to continue nuclear power generation.

Matsunaga, whose grandmother is a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, “was the only person” who could play the leading role in the movie, said Nitta.

Through her trip, Matsunaga learns that Japan has plenty of plutonium, a radioactive chemical element used to produce the “Fat Man” atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki.

Nitta, 46, joined public broadcaster NHK in 1992 after graduating from Keio University and was involved in the production of documentary films covering the Middle East and Asia.

He became an independent documentary film director in 2009 and released his first production “Utae Machiguwa” in 2012, showing the struggles of people in the Sakaemachi Market area in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, to revive local economic activities through music.

Okinawa is the foundation of his activities as a freelance film director because people there have “accepted me like a family member,” Nitta said.

“Things unacceptable in Tokyo, such as U.S. military bases and nuclear power plants in Fukushima, are put to the poorest and weakest places,” Nitta said.

Nitta continues to visit Okinawa and plans to produce a film about Mabuni Hill, now the site of a peace park, where the fiercely fought Battle Okinawa in World War II finally came to an end when the Japanese commander committed suicide.

Source: http://www.japantoday.com/category/entertainment/view/new-documentary-questions-japans-use-of-nuclear-energy

Atom and Peace—Ruiko, Nagasaki Prayer Web page (with a trailer) in Japanese: http://atomtopeace.com/

Monday, July 11, 2016

"Relay services give hearing-impaired taste of telephone access"

Text and photo from The Japan Times, 7/10/16.

Kentaro Hayase, who was born with impaired hearing, could not understand what it was like to communicate over the phone.

The Yokohama cram school operator for children with hearing difficulties would have a family member call on his behalf when necessary.

But after learning of sign-language interpreters who offer phone relay services, Hayase, 43, has been making four to five calls per week for business or other purposes, including restaurant reservations.

“I didn’t quite appreciate what it was like to make a phone call,” he said.

But now that he has experienced real-time communications, “My world has expanded.

“When I’m refused something, I can tell whether it’s a one hundred percent ‘no’ or if there is room for negotiation,” he said of the benefits of speaking with someone over the phone.

Using smartphones or computers, Hayase and others like him access sign-language interpreters via video-enabled internet phone or messaging platforms, such as Skype and Line. The interpreters then contact the intended parties, telling them they are calling on behalf of a hearing-impaired person.

Words spoken at the other end of the line are fed back to the caller by way of sign language or text.

Many people with disabilities apparently have not made use of the service yet, saying email and faxes do the job. But Hayase said they are missing out on the benefits of the service.

“People aren’t aware of the necessity of the phone unless they use it,” he said. “I hope it will be made easily accessible to everyone.”

Similar relay services are offered in more than 20 other countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

In Japan, the nonprofit Nippon Foundation is running a free prototype service that has around 3,600 registered users, contracting work to six companies offering telephone operators and sign-language services. Other companies are offering paid services.

The phone relay service makes everyday activities easier, from doctor’s appointments and restaurant reservations to rescheduling parcel deliveries.

Right after powerful earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 and 7.3 struck Kumamoto Prefecture in April, the phone relay service was used to confirm the safety of people with hearing disabilities or to help such people requesting advice.

After accumulating stress from their prolonged stays at the shelters, some hearing-impaired people even made video calls to the operators just because they wanted to chat in sign language, according to a center that supports the hearing-impaired in the city of Kumamoto.

While the cost of sign-language interpretation abroad is often borne by governments or even phone carriers, Japan needs to address the cost issue as well as other challenges, including how to secure telephone operators and sign-language proponents, to ensure round-the-clock services.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has signaled that it is considering earmarking appropriations to tackle some of these issues in the next fiscal budget. But promoting the relay service does not appear to be a high priority at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which oversees information technology.

Hiroyuki Miura, president of PLUSVoice, a Sendai-based company that has run a phone relay service for more than 10 years, expects demand to rise in the coming years.

He noted increased awareness of the need for society to engage people with disabilities after the April enforcement of a law aimed at eliminating discrimination against the disabled, and in the run-up to the 2020 Paralympics that Tokyo is hosting along with the Summer Games.

Source: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/10/national/social-issues/relay-services-give-hearing-impaired-taste-telephone-access/

Friday, July 8, 2016

New documentary: "‘Kampai!’ raises a glass to sake education"

From The Japan Times, 7/9/16.

For decades, sake (or nihonshu for the majority of Japanese) didn’t really do it for the citizens of this archipelago. Cheap, ubiquitous and made from rice, it seemed too familiar — tacky even. Older people drank it at weddings, or swilled the stuff when they wanted to get uproariously drunk. Young women tended to avoid it (the smell put them off) while young men preferred to dazzle dates with their knowledge of imported wine.

But now sake is about to join the ranks of anime idols, sushi and green tea as a staple of Cool Japan, and the documentary aptly titled “Kampai! For the Love of Sake” (“Kampai!” meaning “Cheers!”) is being released this weekend to tell us all about it.

“I was based in LA and when I went out to dinner, I started getting a lot of questions about sake,” says director Mirai Konishi during a recent interview at the film distributor’s office. “I was often the only Japanese at the table and I felt obliged to deliver this big, knowledgeable speech, but then realized I didn’t know anything. Sake was a mystery to me.”

Konishi, accompanied by the sake brewer Philip Harper, goes on to explain how he ran into Kosuke Kuji, the son and heir to one of Iwate Prefecture’s most respected sake breweries, and one of the three central figures in “Kampai!” Kuji had been traveling overseas with cases of Nanbu Bijin, his signature brand of sake, selling them door to door at restaurants and bars, and his dedication to his brand inspired Konishi to jump-start work on a definitive documentary about nihonshu.

“I was astonished at Kuji’s communication skills. It’s not like he studied abroad and was a fluent English speaker or anything like that,” Konishi says. “None of that mattered to him. He was convinced that if he could get people to taste his sake, they would buy it. His passion and the way he could talk to anyone, in any country, just floored me. It seemed so un-Japanese.”

In “Kampai!” we see Kuji being his full un-Japanese self in London. He has no luggage. He doesn’t wear a suit. He alights from the plane dressed in the classic sakaya (sake shop) style — an indigo happi coat inscribed with the Nanbu Bijin logo. He hand-carries a case of the sake and heads straight to a restaurant in Soho. There, he gives a brief presentation of what Nanbu Bijin is all about and how the sake enhances the flavor of just about every dish imaginable. He goes to a table of diners, pours the Nanbu Bijin in their glasses and a smile beams as everyone savors their sips and starts asking questions.

Kuji exports Nanbu Bijin to 20 countries, and he is personally involved in every step of the sales process.

The other two figures in “Kampai!” are non-Japanese sake experts: American John Gauntner, who used to be a sake columnist for The Japan Times and is now a well-known leading authority and consultant on sake, and the Briton Harper, who hails from Cornwall and works at Kyoto’s Kinoshita Brewery.

Gauntner runs a course for non-Japanese looking to become sake professionals or start their own breweries. Under his tutelage, there’s now a brewery in Ashville, North Carolina, run and operated by American brewers. Harper is Japan’s first (and only) non-Japanese tōji (head brewer), who originally came to Japan, as Gauntner also did, via the JET English-language teaching program. Their paths didn’t cross, but the two men share a deep and abiding love for sake — more precisely for junmaishu and junmaiginjo — which led to very different careers.

“Kampai” looks into the work of these three men, explaining that their passions, junmai and junmaiginjo, are both made with just three ingredients: rice, kōji (fermented rice bacteria) and water. Junmaiginjo is particularly distinctive in that it’s made with what is known in Japan as “polished rice” that is milled down to 60 percent or less of its original size.

Cheap sake also contains distilled alcohol, and when taken in excess it can trigger all kinds of side effects, from upset stomachs to splitting headaches. In the film, we discover that 80 percent of the sake being manufactured in Japan with added alcohol. Junmai, however, is viewed like a good wine, enhancing rather than obscuring the palate, and it is said to be easier on the body.

Harper and Konishi both hope that, as the popularity of sake grows in Japan and overseas, more people will “get it” and begin to appreciate the virtues of a carefully brewed nihonshu.

“Two main things set sake apart from wine,” says Harper. “One is that temperature is not really an issue. You can drink it at room temperature, or with ice. You can warm it up in cold weather and it will taste just as good. The other is the production process. As a crop, rice is much hardier than the grape, and the process of sake brewing is less reliant on the rice crop.

“With wine, the quality of the grape is the deciding factor. About 80 percent of what makes a good wine is about the grape. With sake, that ratio is reversed. That, and the fact that Japan is rich in clean, clear water makes this country ideal for sake brewing.”

Konishi sums this up with: “If we can get people to want a glass of sake after watching this, mission accomplished. Have a drink, you’ll see what we’re talking about.”

Source: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2016/07/06/films/kampai-raises-a-glass-to-sake-education/

See the trailer below.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Anime film about bullied deaf girl to be shown in theaters with subtitles for hearing-impaired"

From Japan Today, 7/3/16.

Manga creator Yoshitoki Oima’s “A Silent Voice,” titled “Koe no Katachi” (literally “The Shape of Voice”) in Japanese, begins with a new student transferring into elementary school student Shoya’s class. His new classmate is a deaf girl named Shoko, and as is sadly, yet often, the case, that difference makes her the target of bullies, with Shoya acting as the ringleader of her tormenters.

But bullying just leads to more bullying, and eventually the vicious circle comes back around and Shoya finds himself on the receiving end of taunts and jeers. Unable to form a lasting friendship throughout elementary and middle school, upon entering high school Shoya resolves to make amends for mistreating Shoko when they were younger, and the story follows his attempts at redemption and the challenges that arise along the way.

The manga began serialization in 2013, and has attracted enough critical and popular acclaim that it’s being adapted into a theatrical anime by the talented team at Kyoto Animation, with its opening scheduled for September 17. The trailer looks impressive, filled with the sort of careful yet emotional character animation that the studio has become known for.

But while nice visuals are always a plus, it’s the story of “A Silent Voice,” and its willingness to have a deaf character play a key role, that’s won praise for the franchise. As such, it’s only fitting that theaters nationwide will be showing the film with Japanese subtitles, for the benefit of the hearing impaired.

Making this move particularly surprising is the fact that most televised anime in Japan is broadcast without closed captions. Likewise, the majority of anime DVDs lack Japanese subtitling, preventing deaf fans viewers from fully enjoying a huge portion of the country’s animation output.

The decision to accommodate deaf audiences in a film featuring a deaf character is somewhat evocative of 2015 anime Miss Hokusai, in which the protagonist’s younger sister is blind. Japanese home video versions of the film include an audio option in which a narrator describes the on-screen settings and action for those who cannot see.

All theaters scheduled to show “A Silent Voice” will show the subtitled version, which will be screened once a day at each location between September 24 and 30. While making all screenings subtitled, or at least showing the subtitled version on opening day, would have sent a more powerful message, it’s still a largely unprecedented accommodation for hearing-impaired anime fans, and the producers have said they’re considering extending the subtitled theatrical run, depending on reaction to its currently planned one week.

Source: http://www.japantoday.com/category/arts-culture/view/anime-film-about-bullied-deaf-girl-to-be-shown-in-theaters-with-subtitles-for-hearing-impaired

Once again, close but still an example of not understanding the wants and needs of deaf people. Thanks for an at least a partial accommodation. Why can't all showings have captions? You can see the trailer below; notice there are no captions in it...