Friday, December 25, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

"AI, drones and 4K cameras: New tech boosts security systems in Japan"

Photo and story from The Japan Times, 12/20/2020.

An increasing variety of technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and high-quality 4K video cameras is being introduced in the field of security amid a serious shortage of personnel in the field.

A virtual “AI guard” developed by major Japanese security firm Secom Co. was tested at Ogikubo Hospital in Tokyo in late October. An animated character displayed on an electric panel at the hospital entrance takes visitors’ temperatures and then welcomes those without fevers into the facility.

The character has been programmed to respond verbally to basic inquiries and can tell visitors where the bathrooms are located and what time their buses will arrive. It is also able to make eye contact with visitors and lean down when approached by children or people in wheelchairs.

A human guard is on standby at a separate location to monitor footage sent by the system’s camera and rush to the scene to respond to any trouble.

The hospital stations two to three employees at the facility’s entrance to conduct mandatory temperature checks and ensure visitors are wearing masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

After observing the system in action, the hospital’s administrative director, Hayato Kawamura, said, “We may be able to move at least one employee to take care of other work.”

Another major security firm, Sohgo Security Services Co., known as Alsok, has been considering adopting an AI system to identify potential shoplifters by analyzing suspicious behavior in security camera footage.

The system can also be used to notify security guards of potential health emergencies by alerting them if someone falls over. Guards can then rush to the scene with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

The security firm has also been setting up high-quality 4K cameras at places including Tokyo Skytree to test their ability to monitor the surrounding environment.

It is hoped the high-tech cameras with AI image recognition technology will be able to detect smoke rising from fires in distant areas as well as reckless drivers on the roads.

Meanwhile, a prison in Yamaguchi Prefecture has been utilizing drones equipped with cameras from Secom to patrol the premises, using GPS to fly designated routes.

Alsok is also testing drones that utilize AI cameras to avoid obstacles when flying in indoor areas that aren’t friendly to the use of GPS.

“4K, AI and 5G will become the three sacred treasures of security from now on,” said an official of Alsok, referring to the three ancient treasures of the Japanese imperial regalia. The official said 4K would serve as the eyes, AI as the brains, and 5G as the nerves.


Another bad idea...

Friday, December 18, 2020

"Wearing someone else's face: Hyper-realistic masks to go on sale in Japan"

Story and photo from Japan Today, 12/18/2020.

A year into the coronavirus epidemic, a Japanese retailer has come up with a new take on the theme of facial camouflage - a hyper-realistic mask that models a stranger's features in three dimensions.

Shuhei Okawara's masks won't protect you or others against the virus. But they will lend you the exact appearance of an unidentified Japanese adult whose features have been printed onto them.

"Mask shops in Venice probably do not buy or sell faces. But that is something that's likely to happen in fantasy stories," Okawara told Reuters. "I thought it would be fun to actually do that."

The masks will go on sale early next year for 98,000 yen apiece at his Tokyo shop, Kamenya Omote, whose products are popular as accessories for parties and theatrical performance.

Okawara chose his model, whom he paid 40,000 yen, from more than 100 applicants who sent him their photos when he launched the project in October. An artisan then reworked the winning image, created on a 3D printer.

Initial inquiries suggest demand for the masks will be strong, Okawara said.

"As is often the case with the customers of my shop, there are not so many people who buy (face masks) for specific purposes. Most see them as art pieces," Okawara said.

He plans to gradually add new faces, including some from overseas, to the lineup.


If this story doesn't creep you out enough, check out this video:

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Really Bad Idea! "Caught on video: Japan emergency callers will be able to send footage to police"

Story and photo from The Japan Times, 12/10/2020.

The National Police Agency will introduce in fiscal 2021 a nationwide system by which callers to the emergency police number 110 can send video of the incidents concerned, such as crimes, accidents and fires, according to informed sources.

People calling to report these incidents will be asked to take videos via their smartphones if needed. The system is expected to help police officers check the situation before arriving at the scenes and take appropriate first steps, the sources said.

A similar system has been used by the police department of Hyogo Prefecture since October.

Under the new system, police officers receiving reports of incidents in the command rooms will ask callers for video of the incidents if deemed necessary. If this is accepted, police will send a URL link for a special website to the callers’ smartphones and ask them to take video from a safe location, the sources said.

When the URL link is opened, the callers’ smartphone cameras will automatically turn on, and videos taken on the phones will be sent to the command rooms. Officers in the command rooms will then give information obtained from the videos to officers dispatched to the sites.

The NPA will also consider whether to introduce a system for forwarding such videos to dispatched officers’ devices, according to the sources.

The agency does not plan to request such video in emergency calls seeking rescue, the sources said.

As the videos may include private information of people, such as those wounded in incidents, the agency wants to “operate the system in a way that does not result in invasion of privacy” in matters such as the storage of the videos, an NPA official said.

The NPA launched a website in August for receiving images and videos of damage from natural disasters, such as typhoons and earthquakes, so that the extent of damage to roads, buildings and other properties and infrastructure can be checked.

Fire departments around the country are also introducing video transmission systems for calls to the emergency number 119 for fires and accidents.

The Tokyo Fire Department launched such a system in the capital’s 23 special wards on a trial basis in September, instructing callers on how to give, for example, cardiopulmonary resuscitation to people affected by the incidents based on the videos.

Some fire departments in Aichi and Hyogo prefectures have fully introduced such systems.


Which is worse, encouraging people to violate privacy rights to bust neighbors and strangers alike -or- giving access of your smartphone to the police?

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Behind the Scenes:「Tenbun Closing」Presentation @ Anthropology of Japan in Japan Annual Meeting 2020

A Multimodal Special Bonus

Here's some more information about this post-fieldwork event: behind the scenes secrets, out-takes, bonus photos and dissemination of data.

I. The Performance
I have received some good feedback after the presentation. One colleague wrote, "I enjoyed also the performative moment when you drank "sake"—not sure whether everyone noticed."

Oh that was real sake I tell you. Gonzo Anthropology. I bought a small bottle just for the session. Tasty. I also hung the piece of the noren I received after Tenbun closed behind me but it didn't look so great in the background onscreen. So I used a virtual picture instead. But soon the room smelled like grease and tobacco as the noren hadn't been washed in well over a year. So with those smells, the grease remaining on my fingers and the taste of the sake, it was real sensory ethnography during this post-fieldwork event...

There were also comments about the emotion of the presentation. I am really glad that people felt it. I have presented "The End" segment a few times at conferences and classes and I always get choked up.

II. Cut For Time - Methodology
I usually went to Tenbun without much stuff, just my trusty Nikon D700 and its 24-120 VR lens kit. When I wasn't shooting I left it on the bar. I wanted people to get used to me and the camera. The first night of the final week I brought only my camera but the battery died very quickly. So I had to use my back-up: the camera on my iPhone 7 plus. The next night I decided I needed to be better prepared, so I brought a big bag full of equipment (pictured above). Luckily there was room in my bag for the big bottle of sake and glasses Tencho gave me.

The morning of the last night I tried to replace the SD card in my Nikon. But some of the small pins in the narrow slot were bent and I couldn't fix it. So for the final night I used my new(er) Panosonic Lumix G9 Pro. I am still not so used to using it but it is very light due to being mirrorless and got the job done. Still, I am sad at the passing of my D700...

III. Cut For Time - COVID-19 and Social Distance Concerns
Tenbun's last week was after my university suspended face-to-face classes and went remote but before the Japanese government called for the country-wide state of emergency. You can see from the photos and video that there were few masks at Tenbun and no social distancing. People were shaking hands, putting their arms around one another, hugging... On the last night I was at the crowded bar standing next to a regular customer of over 20 years who is a medical doctor. I commented to him that we were probbaly being very stupid and careless. He agreed, but then said that no matter what, he had to be there. "If I get sick and die, so be it. I have to be here now." He explained when he graduated from medical school he had trouble finding a job and was very depressed. The only support he got was from going to Tenbun and Tencho. He said he would always be grateful to Tencho and referred to him as his onjin (roughly translated, benefactor). I haven't heard this term for a long time. I wonder if people still use the term.

IV. Project Links - General
Click on the links below for more on the Tachinomiya Project.

Photo Exhibition and Visual Ethnography - "Tachinomiya: There Are Two Sides to Every Noren"

"Tachinomiya" Photo Exhibition and Visual Ethnography: The First Week

"Tachinomiya" - A Successful and Memorable Photo Exhibition/Event/Research Method

Happy Tachinomiya Halloween - and - (Pre-)Announcement: AJJ Presentation in December: "Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Research Method"

AJJ Presentation - Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Research Method

ANNOUNCEMENT:「Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Post-Fieldwork Encounter」- Society for East Asian Anthropology Regional Conference 2019 in Tokyo

Tenbun Closing 「天文のれんを下ろす」Paper/Presentation at 2020 AJJ Annual Meeting

V. Project Links -「Tenbun Closing」
Click on the links below for more on 「Tenbun Closing」.

Sad News for VAOJ and Many Others: Tenbun Closing - Leading to a Week of Intensive Photography and Salvage Ethnography

「Tenbun Closing」- Leading to a Week of Intensive Photography and Salvage Ethnography pt.2 - posing for pictures, sharing drinks with the staff, farewell handshakes and hugs, reminiscing with old photos and having your favorite sake for the last time...

「Tenbun Closing」- Leading to a Week of Intensive Photography and Salvage Ethnography pt.3 - "...and how do you feel about Tenbun closing, Tani-san?"

「Tenbun Closing」- Leading to a Week of Intensive Photography and Salvage Ethnography pt.4 - What's in my bag?

「Tenbun Closing」- Leading to a Week of Intensive Photography and Salvage Ethnography pt.5 - Raw Data of the Last Night

「Tenbun Closing」- Leading to a Week of Intensive Photography and Salvage Ethnography pt.6 - The Shutters Are Drawn And The Noren Is Taken Down

VI. Future Tenbun Projects
Well, I can't give it all away. Stay tuned to VAOJ for more!

Tenbun Lives! Post-Producing Forever!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Tenbun Closing 「天文のれんを下ろす」Paper/Presentation at 2020 AJJ Annual Meeting

「Tenbun Closing」


This visual-ethnography presentation is the latest chapter of the saga of Tenbun, a tachinomiya (“standing bar”) in Osaka, Japan; the focus will be the shop’s final days. Tenbun, with its long counter and blue noren curtains, has a lively atmosphere and plenty of colorful characters, including the owner, employees and regular customers. Based on my years of patronage, nearly two years of dedicated participant-observation and photography, a photo exhibition and other post-fieldwork encounters, the project has examined in the Japanese context the complexities of personal privacy in public spaces, and the intersection of food anthropology, multimodal research methods, recent research on drinking establishments and the plethora of “foodie” media productions.

In March 2020, Tenbun’s noren came down for the final time, after 40 years of business (for reasons unrelated to coronavirus). During Tenbun’s last week, customers rushed to visit the bar, taking a break from earlier attempts at social distancing. For me, it was a period of intense photography and salvage ethnography. I could not unobtrusively capture the natural setting, or rely upon the serendipity of street photography (Luvaas 2017), as I had previously. The owner called me his personal photographer, and he and others wanted posed photos. Margaret Mead wrote about the importance of salvage ethnography through visual anthropology methodology (1967). Out of necessity, eating and drinking behavior has changed and many izakaya, tachinomiya and restaurants have been forced to close. My photographs not only preserve Tenbun but also document the eating, drinking and socializing habits of Japan before the COVID-19 pandemic.

AJJ (Anthropology of Japan in Japan) 2020 Annual Meeting

Sunday, December 6, 2020 @ 10:00 AM (Japan time)

The conference is online and free. Participants must register. For registration, schedule and more information:

See also:

Photo Exhibition and Visual Ethnography - "Tachinomiya: There Are Two Sides to Every Noren"

AJJ Presentation - Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Research Method

「Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Post-Fieldwork Encounter」- Society for East Asian Anthropology Regional Conference 2019 in Tokyo

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

「Anthropology of Japan in Japan」 2020 Annual Meeting (December 5-6)

Sponsored by Temple University. Held on Zoom. Lots of great papers! Free! Registration is required.

Of special interest might be a presentation at 10:00 AM on Sunday, December 6.

For registration, schedule and other information:

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Happy Birthday Dad!

My father would have been 74 today. He passed away 30 years ago. I wonder what kind of old man he would have been. I regret that my daughter couldn't know her Grandpa. My father was a photographer. He shot all kinds of stuff. But his true talent was his photo stories. He took time to build relationships and get to know the people he was photographing. He cared. And this led to the success of his representations. I grew up with with his work, trapped in his darkroom, sometimes being an unwilling model and helping him carry his heavy equipment on assignments. Little did I know then how he would influence my work as anthropologist. I miss him.