Friday, February 12, 2016

"Japan camera makers battle smartphone onslaught"

From Japan Today, 2/12/16.

High schooler Nao Noguchi is a perfect illustration of why Japanese camera sales have plunged the past few years—she uses her smartphone for everything and cannot understand why anyone would bother with a separate device for photos.

“It is easy to take your smartphone out of your pocket if you want to take a picture of someone or something. And you can send the pictures to friends quickly” on social media, said the 17-year-old on a day trip to Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district with her friend Rina.

The selfie-stick toting pair are the camera industry’s worst nightmare.

A rapid shift to picture-taking smartphones has torn into a camera sector dominated by Japanese firms including Canon, Olympus, Sony and Nikon—much like digital cameras all but destroyed the market for photographic film years ago.

And the numbers paint a grim picture: 130 million cameras were sold globally in 2011. Four years later, that figure stood at just 47 million.

The collapse was underscored this month as the firms published their latest financial results, with weak sales threatening a once-vibrant sector.

Now companies are having to scramble for a response, hitting back with upmarket options and offering web-friendly features, or in some cases simply moving away from the hard-hit business.

While Apple and Samsung recently pointed to slowing sales of smartphones, they have proved a mighty rival, offering an all-in-one phone, computer and camera with comparatively high-quality pictures and Internet photo downloading.

The answer, the camera industry says, is to innovate and convince smartphone users to climb up the quality ladder.

“It’s kind of life insurance for the camera industry to always protect this superiority in terms of picture quality,” said Heribert Tippenhauer, an analyst at market research firm GfK.

“The competition from smartphones has almost killed the cheapest cameras, but at the same time so many people are taking photos, as never before in human history.

“The smartphone is the first step into the topic of photography, then people want to upgrade, the potential is there.”

For Canon, whose Sure Shot digital camera has been hit by smartphones, the response is to offer what a phone cannot, such as more powerful zoom options.

“We have been offering cameras that offer features smartphones cannot provide,” said company spokesman Richard Berger.

“People who use smartphones are becoming interested in photography, they want to take better pictures, to be more creative so they are moving up to SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras.”

Another battleground has been in mirror-less cameras, which can be made nearly as small as compact cameras but with picture quality that rivals their bulkier counterparts.

Sony and Panasonic have teamed up with German rivals, including Leica, while Olympus is pushing further into the medical equipment business as a leader in endoscopes, which now eclipse camera sales.

But some like Konica Minolta have thrown in the towel on cameras altogether, opting to go into print and optical devices.

Fujifilm, which was nearly put out of business by the drop in photo film sales, has also shifted focus to other businesses, including the health sector—one of the companies it acquired has developed a drug to combat the deadly Ebola virus.

But Fujifilm has not abandoned the sector that made its name, and scored an unlikely win with the Instax, a nostalgic throwback to the retro Polaroid.

Users can sling the bulky gadget—available in a series of flashy colors—around their neck and print pictures they’ve just taken. The latest versions sell for about $140.

After a slow start, the camera’s appearance on a popular South Korean television series helped jack up Asian sales in recent years, with about five million units moved in the current fiscal year to March.

The appeal of giving friends physical photos sold Calvin Lau on the Instax.

“We never know how photos will come out until they’re fully ready,” said the 31-year-old Hong Konger who now lives in Tokyo.

“It’s fun and exciting for people taking Instax photos and those whose photos are being taken.

“I like the concept that the pictures you take are the one and only ones out there… We can give our friends unique, real pictures.”

Still, Seiko Mikie, who has about 20 years on Lau, thinks the Polaroid throwback is about as lame as it gets.

“I’m not the least bit interested in a Polaroid-style camera—that is something from the Showa era,” said the 50-year-old transportation company employee, referring to the last Japanese emperor’s reign which ended with his death in 1989.

“Back then, the picture quality was good enough for the time, but not any longer.”


Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Government welcomes bid by J-pop idol [Eriko Imai] to run for parliament"

Photo and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/10/16.

Singer Eriko Imai has announced she will run in the Upper House election this summer as a proportional-representation candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The 32-year-old cited her experience raising a son with a hearing disability as a reason for her decision. In a news conference Tuesday at LDP headquarters in Tokyo, she said, using sign language, “I want to create a society in which disabled children can have hopes that are brighter than now.”

Imai’s son is 11 years old. She is a member of Speed, a J-pop girl band that had a string of smash hits in the 1990s.

On the sticky issue of the planned relocation of the Futenma U.S. military base within her home prefecture of Okinawa, Imai said: “Reducing Okinawa’s base burdens is a common wish.

“I will make serious efforts on the issue while listening to the voices of Okinawa residents.”

All four members of Speed are from Okinawa.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed the hope that Imai’s election will help the LDP and its policies.

Noting that she is “influential among young people,” the top government spokesman said her “cooperation with the LDP will be a boost to realize a society with the dynamic engagement of all citizens.” The slogan is one that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently espoused.

Imai said she will remain a singer after the election.


Monday, February 8, 2016

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

The exhibition event finished its first week yesterday. There has been a good turnout everyday. I have found there is a thriving and hip cafe/gallery culture in the Hirakata/Katano area. Thanks to a friend sharing/announcing the exhibition on her Facebook page, I have been able to meet a lot of interesting people who participate in this scene. My friend's announcement got more likes than my own Facebook announcement - I am learning a lot about the power of social media and local networks through this experience.

The Sewing Gallery itself is a vital part of this local network as well. Through their connections a DJ at a local radio station (FM Hirakata) heard about the exhibition and arranged for a live interview. The photo above shows the radio station on-the-scene person interviewing the gallery staff person about the exhibition and gallery.

The Sewing Gallery is part of a sewing school run for several years by an interesting and respected headmaster. On Sunday we had a reception at the gallery with people from the tachinomiya, my university and even deaf people in attendance. The owner of Tenbun donated several bottles of sake and other people brought various snacks. The headmaster commented that perhaps he should make a noren for the exhibition. Before I knew it he did. And all participated in hanging it at the gallery entrance. These kinds of spontaneous happenings as well as feedback from visitors is making the exhibition a rich and valuable experience. You can read more at the Sewing Gallery's Facebook page.

Week Two of the exhibition starts on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, February 14. If you are in the Osaka area, please come. (There is still some sake left...)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Call for Entries: 2016 David Plath Media Award for best film/video/multimedia work on East Asian Anthropology"

Announcement via EASIANTH:

The Society for East Asian Anthropology invites submissions for the David Plath Media Award. Film, video, and multimedia submissions may address any aspect of East Asian anthropology and/or East Asian anthropology’s contribution to the broader field. The 2016 prize will be awarded for material produced in 2014 or 2015.

The prize of $300 is named for David Plath, renowned Japan-scholar and producer of award-winning documentary films. Evaluators of the work will seek to determine the scholarly significance of submissions which contribute to the anthropology of East Asia.Nominations for the prize may be made by producers/authors, distributors, or interested third parties. The award will be announced at the SEAA Business Meeting during the 2016 AAA Annual Meeting (Minneapolis, MN).

Entry deadline: May 1, 2016

Submission Details:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Japan’s picture ID before World War II"

Images and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 2/2/16.

[T]he Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo currently has an exhibition of tourism posters and other promotional material from the 1920s and ’30s. It is a fascinating and at times unusually beautiful glimpse into how different art movements, regional craft practices and the spirit of the times contribute to forming commercial visual culture.

Given that the function of a promotional poster is to seduce you, with perhaps only a few seconds in which to do it, you can expect to feel pandered to — complex history and culture, beautiful landscapes and far-east exoticism have been condensed into powerfully sweet eye-candy. A surprising range of media were employed in this, including traditional woodblock prints, painting and photography. For many of the exhibits, the level of creativity and design is very high, commensurate with the desire to show off Japan at its best.

Apart from this, the exhibition is a great opportunity to consider how Japan’s national identity was constructed in the interwar years. It should be no surprise that the “come hither” message relied heavily on sexuality to catch the viewer’s eye. Many of the posters use images of young women in kimono as a stand in for Japan as a whole.

In a 1911 poster for the South Manchurian Railway by artist Renzo Kita, a demure female companion sits across from us in a railway carriage with the sun setting behind an ancient stupa in the window behind her. The poster is sponsored by Thomas Cook, and is in the style of an Edwardian illustration. The copy tells us that the new rail link brings London “within a fortnight’s journey from Tokyo, Peking and Shanghai, thus saving much time and money, as well as the tedium of a long sea-voyage.”

Our female companion is depicted in a style characteristic of the Gothic period to portray aristocratic or sacred figures; languid, expressionless, elongated and pale. Her blue kimono is decorated with white lilies, symbolic of chastity and purity. On her obi is a butterfly, the symbol of the soul, and perhaps a nod to the opera by Puccini, which had premiered seven years earlier. The undergarment below the kimono is a warm ruddy orange, and using a visual pun common to shunga (erotic prints), appears at the edge of the sleeves as wrinkled slit-shaped orifices. The artist seems to be the same Renzo Kita who later created the solemn historical painting “Last Moments of Admiral Yamaguchi,” which commemorates the admiral’s death in the 1942 Battle of Midway.


“Visit Japan: Tourism Promotion in the 1920s and 1930s” at the The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo runs until Feb. 28; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥430 (includes admission to the “MOMAT Collection”). Closed Mon.


Exhibition website:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Student films documentary about Rohingya [refugees] in Gunma Prefecture"

Image borrowed fromひかり-2/.

Story from The Japan News, 2/2/16.

University student Shiori Suzuki visited Myanmar in 2013 as a tourist. What she did not notice there was the plight of the Muslim minority Rohingya — and only learned about them and their situation from a newspaper article upon her return.

“What did I see in Myanmar?” the 22-year-old Keio University student recalls asking herself after reading the news piece about the persecution of Rohingya and the human trafficking they undergo to seek better conditions in other countries.

Suzuki decided to do something. She bought a secondhand video camera and began chronicling the lives of members of the ethnic group who have sought refuge in Japan.

She and her friends started making frequent visits to a community of Rohingya refugees in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. Over the course of about 18 months they followed the lives of 50 out of some 200 residents there.

Suzuki made a 20-minute film, titled “Hikari” (Light), which focuses on everyday life for the migrants in Japan rather than what they have left behind.

She filmed children playing together as their fathers look on smiling.

“We want the audience to know the true face of those labeled ‘refugees’ in Japan,” she said. Typical scenes include activity in a kitchen at the home of a refugee family and at a school athletic field.

Suzuki made the film as part of her activities with S.A.L. (Send Out, Aid, Learn), a student group that aims to deepen understanding and raise public awareness about international issues.

The film was completed in fall 2014. It began attracting attention and has been screened at a youth event hosted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Suzuki said she is willing to screen the film at other events upon request.

One of the Rohingya she documented said he had been tortured and showed her his scars. He has failed to obtain a work visa in Japan and remains unemployed.

Suzuki expresses frustration at being unable to do anything to help the Rohingya migrants.

They keep smiling and supporting each other,” despite the reality facing them, she said. “I was impressed.”

The student hopes her film will help viewers in Japan feel close to the Rohingya living in the country.


S.A.L. Official website with info on "Hikari" (in Japanese):ひかり-2/

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Prosecutors seek fine for 'vagina kayak' artist at obscenity trial"

From Japan Today, 2/1/16:

Prosecutors sought a fine of 800,000 yen Monday at the Tokyo District Court from an artist charged with obscenity after distributing 3D scans of her own genitals.

Megumi Igarashi, 43, who works under the pseudonym “Rokudenashi-ko” (good-for-nothing girl), maintained her innocence on the charges of distributing obscene objects through the Internet in return for money, arguing that her artwork uses female genitalia as its subject but is not of a salacious nature.

In her final statement, Igarashi called for an impartial judgment by the court. “Having created works that defy the (existing) image associated with genitalia, I cannot agree with my arrest,” she said.

The court is expected to hand down its decision on May 9.

To support her plea of not guilty, Igarashi’s lawyer said in closing arguments that she distributed the data “as part of her creative activities, with the aim that her supporters would use it to create new works.”

A prosecutor said Igarashi “carries great criminal responsibility” as she sent out the data regardless of the possibility that recipients might create obscene objects.

In a past hearing, a university professor specializing in art history testified in Igarashi’s defense that the works “do not appear to be obscene (materials) that cause sexual arousal.”

Igarashi told a press conference after her initial arrest in July 2014 that she sent the data to those who donated more than 3,000 yen to a campaign to fund her creation of a kayak also modeled on the 3D scans.

According to the indictment, Igarashi distributed data over the Internet that could be used to make 3D reproductions of her genitals in October 2013 and March 2014, and in July 2014 exhibited vagina-shaped plaster artwork at an adult shop in Tokyo.

Japan’s Penal Code prescribes a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 2.5 million yen for distributing obscene objects.


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