Saturday, March 28, 2015

Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection at the Japan Society - And Cats Understanding Sign Language!

Image and text borrowed from Japan Society.

Announcement: Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection

Friday, March 13 – Sunday, June 7, 2015

Since arriving in Japan aboard Japanese ships transporting sacred Buddhist scriptures from China in the mid-sixth century, cats have proceeded to purr and paw their way into the heart of Japanese life, folklore, and art. Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection illustrates the depth of this mutual attraction by mining the wealth of bravura depictions of cats to be found in ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Edo Period (1615-1868).

Ninety ukiyo-e prints in the exhibition are on loan from the esteemed Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation whose holdings are revered in Japan. Select prints, paintings, sculptures, and other works borrowed from U.S. collections complement these prints, making the exhibition over 120 artworks. With cross-cultural and multi-generational appeal, Life of Cats takes viewers on a wild ride through Japan’s love affair with our feline friends.

Lots of great images on the website, by all means check it out!


Woman With A Hearing Loss Taught Her Deaf Cat Sign Language, Including The Word 'Dance'

Story borrowed from The Huffington Post, 3/26/15.

When Kim Silva retired from teaching at the American School for the Deaf, she decided to start teaching sign language to her cats.

"Guess I missed the kiddies so I began teaching the kitties!" Silva says.

It all started after setting sights on a deaf cat named Bambi.


Silva's previous teaching experience was pretty much limited to humans, but she was optimistic that American Sign Language would help Bambi live most fully -- and that the cat would be a perfectly good student.

"Since my daughters learned signs from infancy, I had ideas how to introduce sign," she says.

Bambi was at a rescue shelter in Texas, though, and it would take a while before she could be brought to Connecticut, where Silva lives. In the meantime, she figured, she might as well get started with the cats she already had, even though both of them could hear.

A lot of deaf dogs have learned ASL. Groups like the ASPCA say training cats in general is possible (always using positive reinforcement, of course). Still, Silva says even "some deaf people have questioned if cats could learn sign."

"Bobcat immediately understood," she says. "My other cat, Bear, was very old and was not interested."

Bobcat learned one sign after another "until he learned the new vocabulary," Silva says. "Bobcat was a sponge for sign language! He showed off. He was fabulous."

Bambi picked up the signs even more easily, since, Silva explains, she had "peer reinforcement and copied Bobcat."


The cats have a delightfully expansive vocabulary. Among the words they now know are: "come," "more," "sit," "stay," "shake," "high five," "sleep," "circle," "shrimp,' "play," "canned food," "finish" and "dance" (though sometimes they don't feel like doing that one). They also know "off," which Silva must spell out, letter by letter.


While the talented cats respond to Silva's commands, they don't actually sign themselves -- at least not a whole lot.

Read the whole story:

My cat, Mugi-chan, in addition to her own native language, understands English, Japanese and Japanese Sign Language. She just ignores them all...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tashiro Furukawa’s 170th Birthday Google Doodle

Text borrowed from Olivia Huynh at Google Doodle.

To celebrate Tashiro Furukawa’s 170th birthday, students sign “Google” in both his original sign language, and the modern fingerspelling it evolved into.

Tashiro Furukawa was a pioneer in blind and deaf education in Japan. He was a schoolteacher whose many contributions to education included opening the Blind and Deaf School in 1878, which is still opened to students to this day.

For this doodle I wanted to focus on his accomplishments in educational field. I explored the idea of showing him in the classroom teaching or interacting with students.

One of my first thoughts was that it could be fun and engaging to animate hands signing. There were very few references online for the original sign language, but we were lucky to receive a lot of help and information from researcher Kishi Hiromi at the Kyoto Prefectural School for the Visually Impaired.

To help differentiate them, the hands showing the original signs are wearing kimonos as students originally did, and the modern signs are wearing modern uniforms. Also included are the wooden plates Furukawa created, as a tool for educating the blind.

We decided on this idea not only because it was more engaging, but because it references the history of deaf and blind education, which started about 170 years ago.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2015 Deaflympics

Text and images borrowed from 18th Winter Deaflympics webpage.

PERFOMANCES WHICH LEAVE YOU SPEECHLESS by Czech Deaf Skier, Tereza Kmochova, who expects to participate for Dealfympics in Khanty-Mansiysk and Magnitogorsk, Russia, from 28 March to 5 April, 2015.


Athletes spread the word about Deaflympics

Story from The Japan News, 3/25/15.

How many people actually know about the Deaflympics?

According to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2007, only 2.8 percent of people in Japan knew that such an event for the hearing-impaired even exists. That pales in comparion with the 94 percent figure for the Paralympics, which is held in conjunction with the Olympics.

Organized by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, the Deaflympics dates back to 1924. Sports events are conducted using the same rules as in the Olympics, except for starting signals and judges’ directions, which are conveyed visually. The Paralympics is limited to physically, visually or intellectually impaired athletes and bars those who are hearing impaired.

The 18th Winter Deaflympics will open on Saturday in Russia. At a pre-meet press conference in Tokyo earlier this month, members of the Japanese national team appealed for the nation’s support, which has been a lingering concern for the movement.

The meet is usually held every four years, but this year’s event will be the first in eight years. The reason is that Slovakia was scheduled to host the 2011 Deaflympics, but fell behind in preparations due to financial problems and canceled the event shortly before it opened. This was after many Japanese athletes had already arrived in the country.

The incident motivated the athletes, who were suddenly deprived of performing on the stage of their dreams, to reflect on the situation in their own country. The low recognition of the event has caused funding problems even in Japan. The athletes took action themselves to amend the situation.

“Eight years ago, we were the only ones who joined together on this issue,” said Hiroki Takashima, the Japan team captain who will participate in the men’s alpine snowboarding. “However, our thinking now is that little by little we want to spread the word about the Deaflympics.”

In 2013, the “Deaflympics support project team” was formed and organized promotional events. Athletes had positive exchanges with professional athletes and local teams. In January, they held a joint training camp with Hokkaido-based athletes.

Their voices have started to be heard by local governments. For the first time ever, this fiscal year the Tottori and Tokushima prefectural governments have designated some Deaflympics athletes for special funding. However, such developments are still the exception and are far from solving the financial problems that plague the athletes.

While two-thirds of the costs for the 22 athletes at the Russian meet will be subsidized by the nation, the remaining ¥12 million has to be borne by the athletes themselves. In the case of the Olympics, the Japanese Olympic Committee, sponsors and others pick up all of the costs. Corporate contributions in support of Deaflympians were less than ¥1 million, according to the Japanese Federation of the Deaf.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will provide a good opportunity to put a spotlight on sports for the disabled. However, athletes barred from competing feel they face a huge barrier.

“We’d like to tell everyone that we have the same aspirations [as other athletes] for competing at the world level,” one national team member said.

It was an important message. But the press conference was attended by only six reporters from TV and newspaper organizations.


So why don't people know about the Deaflympics? Perhaps deaf athletes do not inspire people like athletes in the Paralympics and Special Olympics...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Buddhist monk arrested for filming up girl's skirt on escalator"

Businessmen, judges, policemen, teachers... and now a monk? Story from Japan Today, 3/22/15:

Police have arrested a 41-year-old Buddhist monk for using his smartphone to film up the skirt of a 16-year-old girl as she was on an escalator at JR Odawara Station in Kanagawa Prefecture.

According to police, the incident occurred at around 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The monk was identified as Masuhiro Masuda from a temple in Hadano, TBS reported.

The girl was on a long escalator with her father when she suspected that Masuda, who was behind her, was using his smartphone to film up her skirt. Her father grabbed Masuda at the top of the escalator.

Masuda was quoted by police as saying he had filmed up young girls’ skirts many times before because it made him feel horny.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More cool sign language interpretation: "This Cheeky Sign Language Interpreter Totally Stole The Show At A Singing Competition"

Another head's up from Emily... Source is BuzzFeed:

While signing during a performance from Eurovision competitor Magnus Carlsson, Swedish sign artist Tommy Krångh rendered the international heartthrob practically invisible this week with an enthusiastic performance.

The Scandinavian network SVT was airing the signed version of the Scandinavian music competition show “Melodifestivalen.”

Within two days of being posted the video went viral, garnering over 800,000 views and a giant international social media plea to “send Tommy to Vienna” for the Eurovision finals.

“My world has been turned upside down,” Krångh told The Guardian. “I am thrilled and happy; there has been so much love from the internet.”

And it makes sense; Krångh’s performance has everything: Drama. Sex appeal. And just plain fun!

Sign language can make anybody look cool!


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Image of Beauty in Contemporary Japan: "'Haafu' to represent Japan at Miss Universe 2015"

Photo and text borrowed from Japan Today, 3/16/15.

...For the second year in the row, the Japanese representative for the Miss Universe competition hails from Nagasaki, with last year’s crown holder being Keiko Tsuji. As cool as that is, the real story of the year is that the 2015 representative, Ariana Miyamoto, is half-Japanese.

It’s no surprise that Western features are considered beautiful in Japan. Sometimes, due to their alluring features, “haafu” are not always treated the same, or even as Japanese, as their native peers. Miss Nagasaki faced her fair share of race-related challenges too and although some people are against her acting as a representative for Japan due to her mixed heritage, she is also receiving a lot of support.

The final of the 18th Miss Universe Japan contest was held in Tokyo on March 8. As you’d expect, Miss Nagasaki faced some tough competition of equally beautiful and graceful young ladies, but it’d be a stretch to say that she didn’t stick out. However, it really was only her looks that set her apart, being born and raised in Japan, she is not only a Japanese citizen, but she identifies with Japanese culture and considers herself Japanese.

Twenty-year-old Ariana was born to a Japanese mother and an African-American father in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, the location of a major American naval base. After junior high graduation in Sasebo, she spent her high school years studying in the U.S. Upon returning to Japan as a young adult she set her sights on becoming a model.

Working part-time as a bartender, Ariana hesitantly entered the pageant scene, feeling that with her “foreigner look,” she would never make it far. How wrong she was!

But she’s not just a 173-cm bombshell; Ariana is described as a “saishoku kenbi,” “a woman blessed with both intelligence and beauty.” Growing up in Japan, she is no stranger to Japanese culture and even has a 5th degree mastery of Japanese calligraphy. She lists her hobbies as cooking and “touring,” having obtained her motorcycle license, a rare thing for a young woman in Japan.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

"An Entire Town Secretly Learned Sign Language To Surprise Their Deaf Neighbor" // I'm not sure how to feel about this...

A former student (Thanks, Emily!) sent me a link to a BuzzFeed photo story about an ad campaign for a video call center for deaf people in Turkey. They set up a deaf man to encounter various people who would greet him in sign language. At the end he finds out it is all for the purpose of an advertisement. Watch the video and read the text from BuzzFeed below.

Muaharrem is a young deaf man from Istanbul, and his sister, Ozlem, teamed up with a production crew recently to give him one hell of an amazing day.

The Leo Burnett ad firm and Samsung organized the huge stunt for an ad campaign. They spent a month setting up cameras around his neighborhood…

…and teaching his neighbors sign language.

In the ad, Ozlem takes Muaharrem out and about on what he thinks is a normal day. That is, until the guy behind the counter of a local shop greets him with sign language.

Then he goes outside and ANOTHER guy signs at him.

By this point he’s starting to get a little weirded out.

He bumps into a woman who signs an apology at him.

Muaharrem and Ozlem get in a cab. The driver signs "hello."

This is the face of a very, very confused man.

The cab then drops them off in a public square where Muaharrem's neighbors greet him.

And the production crew reveals the whole thing was part of an advertisement for Samsung Turkey's new video call center for the hearing impaired.

And he, obviously, loses it, because advertisement or not, it is one of the sweetest things ever.

A Samsung spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed that everything you see in the ad is genuine. Hooray!


I'm not sure how to feel about this ad campaign. It is good that it will expose sign language to people not familiar with it (but how much does an audience with no experience with sign language learn from the commercial?) and it's good that there is a new video relay service for deaf people in Turkey. Hopefully the new service will help provide more than one "day without barriers" for Muaharrem and other deaf people. I suppose for the service to survive it must advertise like any other business. Here in Japan there have been several businesses for an exclusive deaf clientele that simply were unable to survive. The deaf benefit from the technology and services that hearing people use. For example, remember this Apple iPhone commercial?

And remember this iPod Shuffle commercial (in ASL)?

So maybe I shouldn't be so sensitive. Advertisements use anything and everything to get people to buy their products. Perhaps using sign language is a small step towards language equality? And at least these ads use real deaf people (or a real interpreter in the iPod CM) and real sign language as opposed to other so-called deaf/sign language productions on Japanese TV.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Interesting new content at Japan Focus: "The Making of 'A Body in Fukushima': A Journey through an Ongoing Disaster" by William Johnston with Eiko Otake - and - Some VAOJ Commentary on 3.11

A Body in Fukushima (quick view 5 sec each) 2014 05 30 from Eiko and Koma on Vimeo.

One day in November of 2013 I answered the phone to hear the voice of Eiko Otake saying excitedly, “Bill! What do you think of going to Fukushima to shoot photos of me performing in the stations along the Jōban Line?” For several years Eiko, better known as half of the performance duo Eiko and Koma, and I had collaborated in the classroom and by then knew each other well. We had co‑taught two different courses, Japan and the Atomic Bomb and Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in which we integrated movement exercises with historical and environmental studies. We both have long-standing interests in those and related topics, and had spoken at length about the triple disaster of 3.11 in Japan. Soon after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, we had talked about our concern for the people of Tōhoku and exchanged feelings of dread at the unfolding nuclear disaster in Fukushima. And I knew that she had visited Fukushima with a friend only five months after 3.11. But this new proposal took me by surprise.

“A Body in Fukushima” is an ongoing project that consists of still photographs shot by William Johnston of Eiko Otake performing in the area surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor and of video interpretations of those still photographs made by Eiko. Representative images and videos are embedded in the text...

Read and see more at the source: William Johnston with Eiko Otake, “The Making of ‘A Body in Fukushima’: A Journey through an Ongoing Disaster,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 9, No. 4, March 9, 2015.


Today is the 4th anniversary of the 3.11 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disasters. 15,891 people died and 2,584 people remain missing. 229,000 people are still living as evacuees; 80,000 of those are living in prefabricated temporary housing units. These last two statistics are incredible in that so much time and energy is being devoted to the 2020 Olympics, promotion of traditional Japanese food and idol groups. The priorities of the government are strange and unfortunate to say the least.

There is an article in today's The Japan News about disabled people living in temporary housing. The focus is on a blind woman living in a temporary housing unit that is small and lacking audio assist systems. She has little contact with her neighbors; she talks with a caretaker who visits her three times a week. She has asked the local government to give priority to disabled and elderly people seeking permanent housing. The reply: "We can't build a community with only such people." She can't get an apartment because landlords think blind people might accidentally start a fire. She faces prejudice and discrimination on top of being a 3.11 victim. Why is this happening in a country that is focusing on offering omotenashi and good services to foreign tourists? What about its own citizens in need?

Link to "4 years after quake, 229,000 still evacuees," in The Japan News, 3/11/15:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, families of the victims and those still missing and the evacuees.

More Japan’s 3.11 Earthquake, Tsunami, Atomic Meltdown coverage at Japan Focus:

Previous 3.11 coverage at VAOJ:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Interesting new content at Japan Focus: "Tokyo 1960: Days of Rage & Grief: Hamaya Hiroshi’s Photos of the Anti-Security-Treaty Protests" by Justin Jesty

Image borrowed from Japan Focus.

In May and June of 1960 Japan was rocked by some of the largest protests in its history. They erupted over the passage of a revised security treaty between Japan and the United States, titled the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (Sōgo Kyōryoku Oyobi Anzen Hoshō Jōyaku), and have become known as the “Anpo” protests from the Japanese shorthand for that treaty. Hundreds of thousands of people came onto the streets day after day, ten million signed petitions against the treaty, thousands were injured, and one person was killed. The protests forced cancellation of a planned visit to Japan by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, toppled the conservative prime minister Kishi Nobusuke, and have come to be recognized as the most significant political crisis of the postwar period.

This unit introduces photographs taken at the peak of the Anpo protests by photographer Hamaya Hiroshi. Sympathetic to the protestors, Hamaya’s photographs allow us to see a great deal about the long-simmering tensions the postwar military alliance with the U.S. engendered within Japan. Since 1951, when it was first signed, the security treaty had been harshly criticized by those who saw it as exposing Japan to unnecessary dangers in the cold war while undermining the principles of peace and democracy. The prospect of the treaty’s revision and renewal pitted a conservative government, intent on protecting the alliance, against a loose coalition of opposition forces whose aspiration was that Japan become a neutral and unarmed nation—a decisive break with U.S. cold-war policy, and with its own militarist past.

Hamaya, a well-established freelance photographer, was the author of a number of photo books. Soon after the 1960 protests, he became the first Japanese contributor to the Magnum Photos collective.1 As a subject, the protests are an outlier in his oeuvre, which is otherwise dominated by nature photography and ethnographic studies of life in Japan’s hinterlands. Hamaya’s interest in Anpo was driven primarily by an awareness of the momentousness of the events and a personal sympathy with the aims of the protests. His photographic record begins May 20 and ends on June 22, covering the period when the protests were at their height. It is estimated he took 2,600 photos altogether, which he narrowed down to 203 in preparation for publication as a book. This selection was narrowed further to 138 pictures, and the resulting book—titled Ikari to kanashimi no kiroku (A Record of Rage and Grief)—was published by Kawade Shobō Shinsha in August 1960. Some of Hamaya’s photographs were also published in the French news magazine Paris Match and the Japanese photography journal Camera Mainichi. This unit draws from the pool of 203 photographs.

Read and see more at the source: Justin Jesty, "Tokyo 1960: Days of Rage & Grief: Hamaya Hiroshi’s Photos of the Anti-Security-Treaty Protests", The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 8, No. 3, March 2, 2015.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jacob Aue Sobol Exhibition: "I, Tokyo"

Image borrowed from Polka Galerie website.

Date: March 7 - April 9, 2015
Place: Polka Galerie, Paris, France
Description: “I first arrived in Tokyo in the spring of 2006. My friend Sara had found a job there and I decided to accompany her to discover the city where she grew up – a universe entirely new to me, that I knew nothing of and where nothing really attracted me […]. The photos from this series represent what I’ve seen and those I spent time with during the following eighteen months. The people that I met there allowed me, I think, to better grasp what it means to be part of today’s Tokyo. Some have become friends; while I only shared a few moments with others. My photos are born out of serendipitous encounters, with for only guide my curiosity, my mood of the day and my evolving feelings towards the city as I discovered it. As much as possible, I worked from instinct. Taking photos resembles an improvised game. I feel that the more a photo is spontaneous and unplanned, the more it becomes alive, the more it moves from showing to existing.”

If you can't make it to Paris, check out the photos on the gallery website.