Monday, June 25, 2018

Jalan Jalan (1): Introducing the Summer Walk Series

Walking with my camera(s) is one of my most favorite activities. It's a form of joyous and holistic meditation - good for the mind (walking out the stress; letting one's mind wander) and body (good exercise; but don't forget the sunscreen...).

During my fieldwork in Bali I found I needed time to myself so I started to take an early evening walk. My Balinese friends called it jalan jalan and jokingly translated it as "walking for nothing."

When walking for nothing one sees things that might be otherwise ignored. It is fun to record such observations with photography.

So here I introduce a new feature on VAOJ, Jalan Jalan: the Summer Walk Series. See (some of) the things I notice and record on my morning walks in my Kansai neighborhood.

Sometimes there might be themes to the photos and sometimes there might be more abstract (weird) photos similar to previously posted ones that have been referred to as untitled, くわしく (details), random and/or accidental. If nothing else it's an excuse to explore my neighborhood again and play with my new cameras... Yoroshiku!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

This is what was waiting for me in my office at school after the recent earthquake in Osaka...

It could have been much worse as seen here. I went around and took photos of the damage in some of my colleagues' offices, especially those who are currently out of the country. Something for them to look forward to when they return (insert sad/sarcastic emoji here).

Link to news about the earthquake (The Japan Times, 6/18/18):

Link to "Osaka earthquake: Useful links and resources (The Japan Times, 6/18/18):

My dissertation was damaged and an important teaching folder has disappeared. The biggest casualty was a souvenir from Germany.

My office now smells like old Hefeweizen...

UPDATE: "Local authorities say more than 6,000 structures were damaged in recent Osaka earthquake" (The Japan Times, 6/25/18):

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda visits the stadium that’s home to all of America"

Photo borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/24/18.

The subject matter of this film is not my favorite since I am a graduate of Michigan State University. But I won't let my bias interfere with the reporting about one of my favorite filmmakers... Go Green! Go White!

From The Japan Times, 6/12/18.

The Japanese media covers American football about as often as it covers American sumo — seldom to never. Few here play the game and not even a recent scandal involving an illegal tackle by a Nihon University player will change that.

So the upcoming release of “The Big House,” Kazuhiro Soda’s incisive, multifaceted documentary on the huge stadium that hosts University of Michigan football games, is something of a surprise. Soda, whose past documentaries have examined the absurdities of the Japanese election system (“Campaign,” 2007) and the struggles of a Japanese fishing community (“Oyster Factory,” 2015), confesses that he “didn’t even know the rules of football” before he started shooting “The Big House” in the fall of 2016.

Soda was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to teach a class on the practice and theory of “direct cinema” at the university with professors Markus Nornes and Terri Sarris. As developed by such pioneers as D.A. Pennebaker and Albert and David Maysles in the late 1950s and ’60s, and since refined by many filmmakers, Soda included, direct cinema says no to narration, background music, interviews and other practices of the conventional documentary.

“The object is to minimize preconceptions — you don’t think a lot about what story you want to tell,” Soda explains. “Instead, you roll the camera and make discoveries.”

The Michigan stadium, nicknamed “The Big House” and officially accommodating 107,601 spectators — just shy of Ann Arbor’s entire population — struck Soda and his collaborators as a rich field for discoveries.

“It’s a microcosm of American society,” he says. From the start of the shoot, which concentrated primarily on the 2016 games Michigan played against Illinois and Wisconsin, “our motto was ‘Everything but the game itself.'”

The cameras of Soda and his credited 16 co-directors — 13 students and three professors — are able to film moments on the playing field, but most of the film deals with the people on the sidelines — from strenuously upbeat cheerleaders to a straight-faced boy selling candy bars outside the stadium. The film even features glimpses of the contentious 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign unfolding at the time, but most fans seem oblivious.

The filmmakers had access to every nook and cranny of the Big House, including the private locker of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the man responsible for getting those 100,000-plus fans the victories they’re rooting for.

“It was only possible because we were a university class; outsiders would never be able to do it,” says Soda. “Markus Nornes was able to get us permission from the athletic department, but why they gave us such unlimited access I still don’t know.”

Before deciding who would film what, Soda took his students to an early-season game and let them explore possible ideas.

“Usually I don’t believe in democracy in filmmaking,” he says with a grin, “but I gave them responsibility for shooting their own footage in their own way.”

The students reviewed and critiqued each other’s work regularly, with Soda giving his own comments as well.

“By the end of the semester we had come up with about 60 to 70 scenes,” he explains. “I put them together in one sequence and spent four months editing with three student assistants.”

The two-hour theatrical version of “The Big House” had its international premiere in February at the Berlin Film Festival — one of the world’s “Big Three” film festivals — and Soda was in attendance.

“That was our ambition from the beginning,” he says, “but I was a little skeptical we could do it” due to his student filmmakers’ inexperience. “Some of them had never handled a camera before joining the class.”

It was a pleasant surprise then to see the students slowly gain confidence, their cameras capturing scenes that pointed to larger societal themes, including America’s racial and class divides. In one sequence a young worker pushes a large steel refrigerator from an underground food service area onto an elevator, past milling fans on the ground level and up another elevator to a VIP box. It is, we see, filled with gourmet treats not found at the usual concession stand, but available to those able to afford a VIP box at $61,000 per week. It’s also hard not to notice that most of the food service workers are black, while the VIP section is white.

The Berlin audience, however, focused on something else: masses of fans decked out in blue and gold howling “The Victors,” the University of Michigan’s militaristic fight song, and the school marching band strutting in tight formation across the field.

“They compared (the film) to ‘Triumph of the Will,'” says Soda, referring to Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious documentary of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Some were also reminded, he adds with a smile, of “patriotic rallies in North Korea.”

Michigan football has evolved since this writer was a student at the university from 1967 to 1973. When I was a freshman the team had a 4-6 losing record and even the game with archrival Ohio State played to 40,000 empty seats. Now, Soda says, “the Big House is a magnet to keep the interest of the alumni,” one strong enough to draw them from around the world and keep them writing large checks to the university. Tickets for Michigan-Ohio State games are now gold, with one online site pricing the few remaining for the Nov. 24, 2018, match in Columbus between $400 and $800.

This support from football fans is vital to the economic health of the university.

“When you were a student there in the 1970s, the state of Michigan supplied about 80 percent of the university budget,” Soda tells me. “That’s now down to 16 percent. They have to earn the remainder themselves. The football program makes a big contribution.”


YouTube trailer:

Kazuhiro Soda's web page:

Author bias:

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Contemporary Woodblock Prints Reimagine David Bowie as Mystical Japanese Legends"

Image borrowed from My Modern Met.

When David Bowie died in 2016, fan tributes in all shapes and sizes started appearing in cities across the world to celebrate his music and life. Laid flowers, street art murals, and public installations popped up in London where the artist grew up, as well as in Berlin and New York where he lived during his career. However, although it’s well known that Bowie had a connection with these major European capitals, some might not know that he also had an affinity with Japan. His interest in Japanese culture began in the 1970s when he worked with fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto to create ensembles for his colorful alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust. He also worked with actor Bandō Tamasaburō who taught Bowie how to apply traditional kabuki makeup, which led to the entertainer’s iconic lightning bolt look.

One of the latest Bowie tributes comes in the form of two contemporary woodblock prints created by Masumi Ishikawa—one of the artists behind the Ukiyo-e Project. The first piece is inspired by Brian Duffy’s iconic photograph of Bowie featuring a red lightning bolt painted across his face. The image, originally used for the cover of Aladdin Sane (1973), was transformed by Ishikawa to mimic the woodblock style of the Kamakura period, in which Bowie is imagined as a legendary snake-taming sorcerer.

The second print was inspired by Terry O’Neill’s Diamond Dogs photograph from 1974 in which Bowie poses calmly beside an irate dog. The print sees “The Thin White Duke” reimagined as Takezawa Toji, a popular magician from the Edo period. The dog is stylized in the traditional style, appearing as a dragon-like mythical beast.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tuesdays are for HIV testing...

I was riding the Keihan bus home one recent evening in Hirakata-shi and saw the ad above. Close-up below.

When I was growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA) the local progressive rock station WLAV-FM had "Two for Tuesdays" which meant they played two songs by the same artist in a row on Tuesdays. In college Tuesdays often became a day for taking a trip to break up the monotony of classes. Now in Hirakata-shi it seems that Tuesdays are the day for getting an HIV test.

VAOJ has long been researching and posting on HIV/AIDS in Japan in general and for Deaf people in particular. To remind, HIV/AIDS continues to increase in Japan. One reason for this is a lack of any real public discourse and education about HIV/AIDS and safe sex. So I am always (pleasantly) surprised when I do see exceptions like the ad on the bus. While it is encouraging to see occasional ads, especially promoting getting tested for HIV (free of charge and anonymous), it is unfortunate that testing is so limiting (Tuesdays from 10:00 - 11:30 AM). I wanted to find out more information about the local situation in Hirakata-shi and found the following information. First, a post on Facebook from a student at my university.

Here is the text if you can't read it above:

HIVやAIDSは無関係と思っていました」~関西外国語大学インターンシップ学生からのメッセージ②】 関西外国語大学3回生の金田良介です。今回私は枚方市保健所でHIV検査をしました。私もHIV検査を受ける前はHIVやAIDSは自分には無関係だと思っていました。しかし、枚方市保健所でHIV検査を受けてからはHIVやAIDSに対する考えが変わりました。今回の検査で今まで関心がなかったHIVについて深く知ることが出来ましたし、検査などを通じて自分自身や大切な人たちをHIVから守っていきたいと思いました。枚方市保健所では、毎週火曜日10時~11時半にHIV検査を実施しています。無料・匿名で検査をしているので、誰でも安心してHIV検査できます。検査内容は保健師による問診の後、採血と尿検査をするだけ。もし、何か不安な事があれば保健師さんがサポートしてくれます。今、若者のHIV患者が増えています。自分は大丈夫だと思う前に、一度枚方市保健所でHIV検査してみてください。
I’m Kanata Ryosuke. I’m a student in KansaiGaidai. I did HIV testing at Hirakata City Public Health Center this time. Before examine HIV testing I thought that I’m nothing to do with HIV and AIDS. However, I change thinking about HIV and AIDS after do HIV testing. I thought I want to protect my body and partner from HIV through HIV testing. At every Tuesday AM10:00~AM11:30, we can do HIV testing at Hirakata City Public Health center. HIV testing is free and anonymous. The content of HIV test is very simple. We do drawing blood and urinalysis interviewed by public health nurse. If you feel anxious about HIV and AIDS, public health nurse will support you. Young HIV patient is increasing. Let's go to Hirakata City Public Health Center!


Again, encouraging stuff. Let's hope his classmates see this post. I also found information on the Hirakata-shi homepage about their HIV examinations.


It also includes this video produced by Hirakata-shi and featuring the city's mascot:

And there's another 30 second video featuring a kokeshi doll encouraging taking the HIV test.

Commentary: Information available - good! Information given by a giant mascot and a kokeshi doll - really? Well.. this is Japan and I suppose information is information. And while HIV/AIDS is serious and scary perhaps cute mascots and dolls might soften fear and encourage testing? Remember, the Japanese government uses Sailor Moon to help fight syphilis... Hirakata-shi is concerned about the increase in syphilis infections as well. Check this out:


In case you are looking for information about HIV examinations and treatment in English, you might want to check out these sources:

HIV Testing and HIV/AIDS Counseling Map in Japan (in English and other languages):

Primary Care Tokyo - STD Testing and Treatment:

If you see ads about HIV/AIDS in Japan, or have any information or good resources, please do share with VAOJ on the blog, Facebook or Twitter. Let the discourse grow and stop HIV/AIDS!