Thursday, October 31, 2013

Announcement: "How to Play Deaf in Japan"

A recently published article that might be of interest to visual anthropologists...

Abstract: This paper investigates issues of identity, belonging and visual communication among deaf people in Japan. It is influenced by two texts that explore Judith Butler’s work on the relationship between identity and performance. Performativity and Belonging, edited by Vikki Bell (1999), examines how identities are produced, embodied and performed especially through the politics of visuality. Deaf people seem to be an appropriate group to explore the claim that visual performances can be read the same as written texts. Critical Divides: Judith Butler’s Body Theory and the Question of Disability by Ellen Samuels (2002) examines disability as a category of critical analysis and ponders whether the performance of disability can determine identity in ways similar to the performance of gender, sexuality and race elaborated Butler’s work. So-­called clinics designed to teach and propagate “correct” ways of communication and expression in the Deaf World are common in contemporary Japan; deaf students/participants are often chided for signing in a “hearing” manner and encouraged to act “more deaf.” Ethnographic examples of deaf people illustrating both deficit (disability/social welfare) and cultural (bilingual and bicultural minority) models will be utilized to explore these theoretical ideas. In particular, the performance of the visual communication of sign language in everyday life, lectures, workshops and entertainment venues will provide context for the exploration of deaf identities and belonging.

Key words: Deaf, Japanese Sign Language, performance, visual communication, identity, disability

Fedorowicz, Steven C. (2013) How to Play Deaf in Japan, Journal of Intercultural Studies No. 38, Intercultural Research Institute, Kansai Gaidai University, Hirakata, Japan.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Announcement: "Towards Gonzo Anthropology: Ethnography as Cultural Performance"

A recently published article that might be of interest to visual anthropologists...

Abstract: This article provides an “ethnography of ethnography” through exploring the balance between scientific methods and humanistic insights in the process of cultural description. The major argument presented is that anthropological fieldwork (especially participant observation) and discourse (i.e. forms of cultural representation) combine to become a cultural performance where the ethnographer serves as an actor, director, recorder of events, writer, artist and audience all in one. The application of performance theory in all phases of fieldwork along with certain qualities of discourse style are introduced and referred to by the author as “Gonzo Anthropology.” An analysis of the work of Hunter S. Thompson, founder of gonzo methods, will be included along with examples of the author’s cultural descriptions of Hare Krishnas in San Francisco and deaf people in Japan. This essay is a product of twenty years of study, application, consideration and reconsiderations of the ethnographic process and aims to contribute important, relevant and interesting dialogue for multiple and multivocal actors and audiences engaged in anthropological research.

Key Words: ethnography, cultural performance, Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Anthropology

Fedorowicz, Steven C. (2013) Towards Gonzo Anthropology: Ethnography as Cultural performance, Journal of Inquiry and Research No. 98, Kansai Gaidai University, Hirakata, Japan.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ethnographies of Hope in Contemporary Japan

Date: October 19, 2013
Venue: University of Osaka, Graduate School of Human Sciences
Convenors: Iza Kavedžija and Scott North

In recent years, amidst a faltering economy, the Japanese have witnessed a proliferation of narratives of diminishing hope and decline. Social consequences range from withdrawal from the public domain into the private sphere (Zielenziger 2006), to political apathy among the young (McVeigh 1998, 2004), to the strengthening of right wing rhetoric (Japan Times, 23/5/2013; Nakano n.d.). Yet a vague sense of disillusionment or hopelessness would seem to be the most widespread public reaction.

While the situation, both politically and economically undoubtedly warrants concern, such an attitude is far from the only one possible. The cross-cultural perspective afforded by anthropology indicates that people living in much more dire circumstances, in places struck by war or hunger for example, nevertheless hope and strive for better lives (e.g. Vigh 2009), and actively attempt to transform their communities. Other research indicates that positive emotions are contagious within certain limits (Fowler and Christakis 2008), suggesting that hope can be purposely increased.

This workshop seeks to examine ethnographically the feelings, perceptions and narratives of hopelessness in contemporary Japanese society. Furthermore, it seeks to outline some of the cases in which new approaches, organizations, or grassroots efforts have fostered renewed feelings of hope.

One sample paper that might be of interest:

The Hope for Medical Interpretation for Deaf People (and Foreigners)
Steven C. Fedorowicz
Kansai Gaidai University

Abstract: A new city hospital in Hirakata-shi, Osaka is scheduled to open in 2014. In 2011, a small group of deaf citizens decided that the timing was right to request a service to be implemented at the new hospital they lacked and desperately needed – medical interpretation in Japanese Sign Language (JSL). The group figured it could strengthen their position by aligning themselves with foreign residents in the city. By including foreigners, the group’s goals broadened “to change the city to be friendly to every citizen with a secured and comfortable life… [and] to ensure easy access for the hearing impaired and foreign residents to medical care” (The First Forum poster). One of the first strategies to recruit foreigners was to elicit the assistance of an American anthropologist fluent in JSL. Public forums were scheduled featuring doctors, professors, interpreters and other specialists to discuss the need and future prospects of medical interpretation. Initially there were feelings of optimism and great hope that policies and services crafted locally would ultimately serve as a template for medical interpretation in other areas in Japan as well. However, the planning and implementation of the forums proved to be extremely challenging. Personal and political rifts between deaf people, interpreters and others added to the difficulties of increasingly unfocused goals and strategies. This presentation will be an auto-ethnographic account of the highs and lows of the group’s efforts from the perspective of the American anthropologist struggling to balance research and activism.

For previous VAOJ coverage of the Hirakata-shi medical interpretation forums:

For more conference information (schedule, abstracts, etc.):!workshop/cjg9

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Kyoto court bans 'hate speech' around school for ethnic Koreans"

VAOJ has been covering this story since 2009. This court case decision is important and a step in the right direction in fighting against any form of discrimination in Japan. But there is still much to be done. This can be illustrated by the press coverage of the major Japanese newspapers. I am providing the story as covered by the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun not because of their ideology (and perhaps greater sympathy) but because they had the greatest amount of information in their story. This is opposed to the more right-leaning The Japan News (English version of The Yomiuri Shimbun) story consisting of 5 short paragraphs buried deep in its website. Click the link below to see the first VAOJ coverage. More commentary appears after the Asahi story.

Previous coverage from VAOJ (including a YouTube video of one of the hate speech incidents):

From The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2013:

A court here on Oct. 7 banned an anti-Korea organization from demonstrating near a pro-Pyongyang elementary school, ruling that the group’s words blared through sound trucks were “extremely insulting and discriminatory.”

The Kyoto District Court also ordered Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai (Group of citizens who do not tolerate privileges for ethnic Korean residents in Japan) to pay about 12.26 million yen ($126,400) in damages.

“It is defamation of character and amounts to racial discrimination,” Presiding Judge Hitoshi Hashizume said about the use of sound trucks by the group, known more commonly as Zaitokukai.

The lawsuit was filed by Kyoto Chosen Gakuen, an operator of pro-Pyongyang Korean schools, including Kyoto Chosen Elementary School in Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward.

The operator sought a ban on Zaitokukai activities using sound trucks within a radius of 200 meters from the main and east gates of the school building. They also sought 30 million yen in damages from the group and nine members for past protests, saying their activities made it difficult to carry out ethnic education in a quiet environment.

“The ruling recognized the wrongfulness of the hate speech that was directed at the children, guardians and teachers, and it also took into consideration the psychological damage that we suffered,” Son Ji Jong, head of Kyoto Chosen Gakuen, said at a news conference.

Kyoto Chosen Elementary School was created through a merger of two schools, including Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School, in April 2012. It moved to Fushimi Ward in April 2013.

The Zaitokukai has not sent sound trucks to the new school site, but the district court referred to previous acts near the site of Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School in Minami Ward.

According to the plaintiffs, Zaitokukai members on three separate occasions between December 2009 and March 2010 gave speeches near Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School. Their words included: “Children are being educated by criminals” and “Go back to the Korean Peninsula.”

Zaitokukai argued that it had performed a legitimate protest based on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

But the court ruled that “acts to defame the character of the school through demonstrations could not be considered as having a public objective since they involved the use of sound trucks and microphones near the school while classes were being held.”

The ruling also said the Zaitokukai speeches were racially discriminatory in light of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, of which Japan is a signatory.

Article 4 calls on signatory states to legally ban “incitement to racial discrimination.” However, Japan has not passed legislation against hate speech.

A lawyer for the plaintiff said it is extremely rare for a court to order compensation in cases involving hate speech.

The district court said it accepted the injunction because of the danger that the group and its members could demonstrate in front of the new school building.

Yasuhiro Yagi, deputy chairman of Zaitokukai, told reporters that the ruling was unfair.

“It is regrettable that our actions were not recognized,” he said. “While there may have been some inappropriate comments made (during the protest), most were legitimate. We cannot be convinced by the argument that the comments were discriminatory through the focus on less than 10 percent of the comments.”

He added that his group’s activities were gaining the sympathy of society.

Amid strained relations between Japan and South Korea, as well as lingering problems concerning North Korea, incidents of hate speech against ethnic Koreans have become more prevalent this year, especially in the Shin-Okubo district of Tokyo.

The U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has called on Japan to prevent hate speech.

Groups are taking action to counter anti-Korea protesters who have shouted such words as “Kill all Koreans” in the Koreatowns of Tokyo and Osaka.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also expressed disdain toward the actions and words in the anti-Korea rallies.

During the court proceedings, Zaitokukai also argued that the plaintiff had been the one acting illegally.

“The comments were a fair commentary based on facts,” a Zaitokukai official said. “The activities by the sound trucks were in protest of the illegal occupation of a children’s park, and the activities have stopped since the problem was resolved. There is no reason for the court to approve an injunction protecting the vicinity of the new school building.”

In 2010, the Kyoto District Court made a provisional decision banning sound truck activities around Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School.

Subsequently, four Zaitokukai members were indicted on charges of using force to interfere with school operations and insulting the school.

In April 2011, the Kyoto District Court convicted the four on grounds that their actions went beyond the limits of political expression.

In September 2010, the former principal of Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School was fined for violating the law controlling urban parks. The elementary school used a nearby park for some school activities because it did not have its own playground


Coverage from The Japan News:

Coverage from Japan Today:


It is important to note that Japan has no laws of its own that bans discrimination. This case was decided upon the fact that Japan signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Why doesn't Japan has its own anti-discrimination laws?

The Japan News (The Yomiuri Shimbun) despite its brief coverage of the court decision ran a longer editorial two days later. It begins:

The Kyoto District Court’s recent ruling on an ethnic discrimination case stated that a derogatory street campaign aimed at inciting ethnic discrimination constituted an unlawful act. The court decision can be seen as compatible with socially accepted moral norms.

Later it states:

...caution must be exercised in restricting hate speech.

Huh? But wait, there's more: should be noted that when it comes to thinking about discrimination, Japan’s historical background greatly differs from that of Europe, where there still is a clear memory of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.

The Japanese government has been cautious about laying down legal restraints on potentially discriminatory speech and behavior, wary that such legislation might infringe on freedom of expression, a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

If such legal restrictions are in place, it would be difficult to draw a line between what is lawful and what is not. That could prompt public authorities to impose legal restrictions in a manner that would serve their own interests. There also is no denying that such legislation would discourage people from exercising their legitimate right to express their opinions. Given this, the government should adhere to its cautious stance on such legal restrictions.

Link to the whole editorial, "Hate speech ruling laudable, but restrictions must be limited," October 10, 2013:

It seems that there is no clear memory of Japanese imperialism and its colonization of Korea, which can be seen as the cause of this particular court case. How did Koreans get to Japan in the first place?

The Asahi Shimbun in its editorial acknowledged the difficulty in Japan drafting its own anti-discrimination laws:

Imposing any restriction on people’s expression of thought and opinion is tricky because of the difficulty in drawing the line of acceptability.

There are also concerns about the possibility that such legal restrictions can be used arbitrarily. The issue requires careful and cautious debate.

But it concludes:

It is vital for Japanese society as a whole to share the view that discrimination is absolutely unacceptable and take a harsh stance against any words and actions that incite discrimination. By accumulating such efforts, we need to prevent our own society from falling into a vicious cycle of hate begetting hate.

Link to the whole editorial, "Kyoto court ruling a strong warning against hatemongers," October 8, 2013:

In 2006 Chiba was the first prefecture to draft and pass an ordinance to prohibit discrimination against disabled people. The ordinance included examples of what constitutes discrimination, mediation, coordination and corrective orders to remedy the situation. But in the end there were no penalty clauses if the discrimination continued. The Daily Yomiuri ("Chiba finds helping disabled no easy task," 2006) covered this story and quoted one Chiba official:

"No one opposes the elimination of discrimination against handicapped people, but there was no precedent of a public system for procedures to eliminate discriminatory actions, partly because of the difficulty in clearly defining what constitutes discrimination."

Unfortunately I can't find the original story on the internet anymore, but here is a link to general information about the Chiba ordinance:

It seems as if the Japanese  really don't understand what discrimination is, they should study this ordinance, the international treaty they signed and this recent court decision.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Dolphin-killing town to open marine park"

VAOJ has been reporting on The Cove for a while. Here's the latest. From Japan Today, Oct. 8, 2013:

The Japanese town made infamous by the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove”, will open a marine mammal park where visitors can swim with dolphins, but will not end its annual slaughter, an official said Monday.

The town of Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture has begun researching a plan to section off part of a cove and turn it into a place where people can swim and kayak alongside small whales and dolphins, Masaki Wada told AFP.

But, Wada insisted, far from having caved in to pressure from conservationists who want an end to an annual hunt that turns waters red with blood, the project was aimed at helping to sustain the practice.

“We already use dolphins and small whales as a source of tourism in the cove where dolphin-hunting takes place,” he said.

“In summer, swimmers can enjoy watching the mammals that are released from a partitioned-off space,” he said.

“But we plan to do it on a larger scale. This is part of Taiji’s long-term plan of making the whole town a park, where you can enjoy watching marine mammals while tasting various marine products, including whale and dolphin meat,” he said.

The park will be separate from Hatakejiri Bay, the place into which the fishermen of Taiji corral dolphins, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks, and stab the rest to death for meat.

The plan calls for the creation of a whale amusement park stretching roughly 28 hectares by putting up a net at the entrance to Moriura Bay in northwestern Taiji, the official said.

The 2009 film “The Cove” brought Taiji to worldwide attention, winning an Oscar the following year, after graphically showing the killing, including by using underwater cameras. Activists continue to visit the town to protest the hunt.

Taiji is looking to open part of the park within five years, the Wada said.

Black whales and bottlenose dolphins caught in waters near the town would be released into the pool, which would be developed as a nature park that also includes beaches and mudflats, he said.

Wakayama Prefecture said the town caught 1,277 dolphins in 2012 and has license to capture 2,026 this season, which began in September and runs until August next year.

Tokyo-based conservationist group Iruka & Kujira (Dolphin & Whale) Action Network (IKAN) said the plan was “unfortunate” for the town.

“The whole plan is based on the concept that they can exploit dolphins and whales freely as their resource, but the mammals don’t belong to Taiji,” said Nanami Kurasawa, the IKAN secretary general.

“Marine mammals migrate across oceans, and internationally public opinion is that wildlife should be allowed to live as they are. The plan will only ignite more protests over dolphin-hunting,” she said.

People in Taiji argue that dolphin-hunting is part of a 400-year-old whaling and culinary tradition.

But Kurasawa said demand for dolphin meat is dwindling and only 100 people of the 3,400 population are engaged in dolphin hunting-related businesses.

“If they want to get more tourists, they can for example exhibit the beautiful whale-hunting ships used in ancient days, that would show their tradition without stirring more controversy,” she said.


Previous VAOJ coverage of The Cove:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Tottori Prefecture to promote use of sign language"

From The Japan News, October 6, 2013:

The Tottori prefectural assembly will likely pass an ordinance to promote sign language by, for example, teaching it in schools, with the hope of making the prefecture a place where people who regularly use sign language can communicate with more people.

On Friday, the assembly’s standing committee passed a bill to create the ordinance, and the assembly is expected to pass it at a plenary session Tuesday.

It will be the first time in Japan that a local ordinance seeking efforts by residents and municipal governments to popularize sign language will be made, the prefectural government said.

In the draft of the ordinance, sign language is defined as “a cultural artifact [in the form of] a unique language system,” and requires the prefectural government facilitate the use of sign language.

The prefectural government also earmarked ¥22 million for teaching sign language in schools and will teach sign language to municipal government officials who work at service counters for residents.

Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai was a sign language interpreter when he was a university student.

In his vision for the future of the prefecture presented in 2008, he stipulated that sign language is also “a language.”


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

VAOJ Special Screening: ManDove

Visual Anthropology of Japan presents a screening of ManDove, an experimental documentary film by Jim de Sève and Kian Tjong. The event is free and open to all. It will take place at the International Communication Center at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, Osaka.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013
6:30 PM
Kansai Gaidai University
ICC Building, 4th Floor Grand Hall
Discussion and reception after the film.

ManDove (2012, 65 min.) follows the magical perkutut birds casting spells on men, taking them away from their wives, and pitting them against each other to prove their masculinity.


In a peculiar travelogue, two filmmakers dive into an ancient rite of manhood in Islamic Java – the tender and raucous sport of the singing doves, the Indonesian NASCAR.

When General Zainuri announces the National Perkutut Championship, thousands of Muslim men arrive at the grounds. Seven hundred poles stand in the center. Men hoist their doves – perkutut – seven meters up and dangle them in a sea of colorful cages. A team of judges passes through the forest of tall posts straining to discern the birds’ magical coos. If the judges are impressed they score a bird’s song by tacking a small flag to the pole. After three hours a winner is declared. Winning perkutut sell for tens of millions rupiahs – tens of thousands of dollars.


ManDove, in its subtle and oblique approach, pays homage to Indonesian cinema of social critique. During Suharto’s dictatorship, filmmakers avoided harsh censorship by utilizing subtle and indirect associations. In other words, they “spoke in codes” to their audience. A creative dialog took place beyond what a film was allowed to say explicitly.

ManDove’s top layer is a story of men who play with male birds. Underneath is the story of the “contact zone,” the zone where the filmmakers and the subjects collide in comic struggle to control the camera.

The film plays out as a treasure hunt, leading the audience from clue to clue and issue to issue, from orientalism, masculinity to the power of representation. Underscoring all of this and cleverly hidden is the filmmakers’ role as a gay couple and their wariness of being discovered. This level, when recognized by the audience, reframes the entire film.

ManDove breaks free from the current trends in documentary filmmaking: the prevalence of tell-all documentaries; the hegemony of central-character/central-conflict theory; and the preference of narrative film language achieved by eliminating the camera from audience’s conscience. It’s an experiment to expand documentary as an art form.

Mandove website:

Map of Kansai Gaidai: