Monday, January 15, 2018

Remains of the 2018 Kayashima Shrine Tondo Festival

Kayashima Shrine (萱島神社) conducted its Tondo Festival (とんど祭り) on January 15, to coincide with ko-shogatsu (小正月), or "small new year" - ko-shogatsu is a holdover from the time when Japan used a lunar calendar. This festival has many names (Dondo yaki - どんど焼き - is a common name but there are many others) and local variations. At the Tondo festival, shimekazari (a traditional New Years decoration hanged at the entrance to a house), omamori (good luck charms), ofuda (talisman), ema (votive tablets) as well as other religious or new year's related ornaments are burned. This is in effect a sort of recycling - these various ornaments are returned after a year or so of use and new ones are purchased.

I have previously written about the Tondo festival at the Shinto shrine in my neighborhood. (It is actually one of my favorite VAOJ posts - check it out!)

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Tondo Festival - とんど祭り, posted January 16, 2013.

I missed the actual burning this morning but I was able to see the ashes/remains when I visited the shrine in the afternoon. The religious paraphernalia were burned in the metal barrel and she ashes were occasionally dumped when needed. It seems that from the size of the ash heap many items were burned.

Here is a close-up of the remains in the barrel. A couple items seems to have been deposited after the burning ended.

These boxes placed by the entrance are for non-burnable items.

You can see some of the items deposited in the boxes. The mikan oranges were most likely a part of the shimekazari.

The Kayashima shrine is famous because there is a train station right above it. The kami-deity associated with the shrine resides in a large 700 year old Camphor tree. When the train station was being built, the tree could not simply be cut down. Thus the station was built around it.

The tree/kami is seen as especially powerful. Many people claim their wishes have come true after praying and giving a small cash offering. The shrine is small but contains a lot of interesting sights.

2018 is the Year of the Dog so it seems appropriate that the shrine would have this public service request: Please take your dog's poop home.

Previous VAOJ posts on the summer festival at the Kayashima shrine:

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri I: The Mikoshi, posted July 30, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri II: Evening Activities, posted July 31, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri III: Tamago Senbei, posted August 1, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri IV: People, posted August 2, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri V: くわしく, posted August 3, 2013.

Visual Anthropology of Japan, Local Matsuri, 2014 Edition, posted August 17, 2014.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

2018 New Years Shots at Hozanji: Enjoying Warm Amazake and Takoyaki Behind the Noren

As long term VAOJ readers are well aware, I usually take a New Year's pilgrimage to Hozanji Temple in Nara. This has been well documented (see links at the end of this post). This year was no different. Except that my camera battery and back-up battery failed me. So the few shots I am willing to share with you come from my iPhone... (New batteries purchased upon arrival at home after setting up the new new year's amulets...)

These first few shots illustrate the general atmosphere: people washing their hands before paying, disposing old amulets and buying new ones... Temples and shrines are usually very crowded the first few days of the new year. It slows down a bit after January 4th or 5th when most people return to work after the holiday. There was still a steady stream at Hozanji today.

One difference between the first few days and the days following is the reduction of roten「露店」, temporary outdoor food stalls, at least at Hozanji. But one shop that remains, run by a nice elderly couple that have been there for as long as I can remember, sells sweet, warm amazake and large, tangy takoyaki. This is always a nice treat at the end of the walk through and up to the top of the temple. This year there was a new shelter made of plastic sheeting to help protect from the wind and cold. It also had noren - on each partition was the name of a food or drink the shop sells. I couldn't help myself from playfully shooting through the curtains.

If you are unfamiliar with noren, check out these links:

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

Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Research Method:

See more of Hozanji through the years on VAOJ:

2011 Hozanji shots:

2012 Hozanji shots:

2013 Hozanji shots:

2014 Hozanji shots:

2016 Hiozanji shots:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year 2018 from「Visual Anthropology of Japan」

These first 4 shots are from my local Shinto shrine a few minutes after midnight; it was packed with neighbors ringing in the new year, offering their new year's prayers, discarding old amulets, buying new amulets, getting a sip of sacred sake and exchanging greetings.

This year the omiki was served in paper cups rather than the usual choko - another reminder of how culture and traditions change to make things more convenient...

I visited the shrine again in the afternoon on New Year's Day and the shrine was empty - a solemn quiet very different from the festive midnight mood several hours earlier.

It seems that a visitor was a bit late to discard their old amulet but felt confident enough to discard it in the metal barrel so it would be burned at a later time.


2018 is the Year of the Dog. Perhaps it might be fitting to celebrate with Temple of the Dog. My recommendations are below:

RIP Chris Cornell (July 20, 1964 – May 17, 2017).


VAOJ wishes everyone a happy and healthy 2018. 明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いします。

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fake News, Fake Businesses, Fake Academic Conferences: Real Scams

A recent headline in The Japan News (Dec 21, 2017) reads:

Cybersecurity survey in Japan finds 20,000 fake shopping sites

A cybersecurity survey has found that around 20,000 fake shopping sites were in operation in the second half of this year, Japan’s National Police Agency said Thursday, warning that the sites are designed to swindle money from unsuspecting shoppers.

Most of the websites use a hyperlink with a fake ad to lead victims to a scam site, the NPA said, based on the survey by the Japan Cybercrime Control Center involving information security and online service providers.

Typically, victims are led to the fake sites after using a search engine to look for information about a product they want to buy and then clicking on a hyperlink that includes an enticing phrase, such as “brand wristwatch, high quality.”

Link to article:

I suppose it is not so surprising that bad people are trying to cheat buyers on the internet - it is a part of the times along with computer hacking and so-called fake news. But academics also need to beware. I found myself recently using a search engine and I saw my own name on an unexpected site. I was listed as a member of a review board for a multidisciplinary social science research conference I had never heard of before. Even a casual glance at the website and organization made it obvious it was suspicious. Eventually I contacted my university's Personal Information Protection Committee and they looked into it further by contacting the listed organizing committee chair who also had no idea that his name (and photograph) were being used. Another surprised professor found his name and contacted the suspicious organization directly demanding that his name be removed. He was subsequently attacked with frequent spam mail. So now my university along with 3 others whose faculty members and institutions are victims of identity theft are working together with the authorities to find out who they are and have the website shut down. As of now all of our names and affiliations have been removed from the website and replaced with other professors from outside Japan.

So again, be careful and beware on the internet. We certainly do have much pressure to present and publish papers but need to use good judgement when offering our precious research (and money).

Saturday, December 2, 2017

AJJ Presentation - Tachinomiya: Photo Exhibition as Research Method

I will be presenting about the Tachinomiya photo exhibition at the Anthropology of Japan in Japan (AJJ) 2017 Fall Meeting at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

Abstract: Recently I held a photo exhibition called Tachinomiya: There are Two Sides to Every Noren. It was as a visual ethnography of a local drinking establishment in Japan with prints illustrating the atmosphere of the shop along with portraits of the owner, employees and regular customers. One outstanding feature of this tachinomiya is its long, dark blue noren, a kind of fabric curtain as its entrance that signals that the shop is open for business and provides partial seclusion for the shop and customers. The noren can be seen as a fluid wall; when calm it blocks much of the view from the outside, but when the wind blows its separated partitions offer more glimpses of the inside. The glimpses can be narrow or revealing. One cannot control the wind; this fluid wall illustrates the complexities of personal privacy in public spaces in Japan, especially in the context of taking photographs in public and image rights. Initially I thought the photo exhibition to be the final product of the fieldwork and research. But I found the exhibition and interactions with the gallery audience to reveal important aspects of heuristic processes, meaning-creation, evocation and multivocality. Viewers were doing more than merely looking at my photographs, they were analyzing, scrutinizing, reacting and providing various interpretations and valuable feedback. In this presentation I will discuss the "post-fieldwork encounters" of the photo exhibition as a research method and a collaborative media event along the lines of the relatively new multimodal perspective in visual anthropology.

Date & Time: Saturday, December 9, 2017. 2:00 PM
Place: Doshisha University, Imadegawa Campus, Ryoshinkan

For more information about the AJJ 2017 Fall Meetings:

AJJ Fall Meeting 2017 Schedule:
AJJ Fall Meeting 2017 Abstracts:

More information about the Tachinomiya photo exhibition:

Monday, November 27, 2017

"‘Boys’ for rent in Tokyo: Sex, lies and vulnerable young lives"

Image and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 11/23/17.

There is a story in the November 23, 2017 edition of The Japan Times about new documentary film about urisen (rent boy) in Shinjuku's Ni-chome gay district.

The subject of urisen is at the center of a film titled “Baibai Boizu” (“Boys for Sale”), whose production was led by two foreign Japan residents. Since its release earlier this year, the documentary, directed by the singularly named Itako, has been screened in over 25 film festivals around the globe, including London’s Raindance and Los Angeles’ Outfest.

Many urisen interviewed for the film, whose more intimate on-the-job moments are cleverly represented by often-explicit animation sequences, are uneducated, occasionally homeless young men who cite financial hardships, even crippling debts, for taking on the work. It also highlights how some bar owners and managers willfully conceal crucial information about the nature of the work and potential health risks.

“I think the film tells a lot about the vulnerability of young people, particularly when they are economically disadvantaged and how they can be taken advantage of,” says Ian Thomas Ash, a Tokyo-based filmmaker from New York and executive producer of the film, which will make its Japan premiere on Nov. 26 during Tokyo AIDS Week.

Link to the story:

There is one section of the article called "Film’s disturbing revelations:"

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation in the film is how poorly schooled interviewees are in sexual health matters. Some appear to have no or only a vague notion as to what sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are or how they can be transmitted. Soap, mouthwash and brushing teeth are cited as being effective ways to prevent them. One urisen is unsure if men can even get STDs.

Ash says he is occasionally asked by film viewers if he ever attempted to educate the urisen.

“These are people who don’t even possess the vocab to describe parts of their body or substances that come out of it,” Ash says of the urisen interviewees, whom he and fellow producer and director of photography Adrian Storey put in front of the camera — some with masks to conceal their identities — for one hour each within the confined space of a typical room where they would fornicate with their clients. “So you’re not going to get far trying to make them understand why it’s dangerous to brush your teeth before oral sex.”

Indeed, the same lack of awareness is apparent with regard to HIV/AIDS. First Dash’s Hiroshi admits to sometimes having unprotected sex, both at work and in private life, but is unconcerned about contracting AIDS. “It’s curable now, right?” he says.

Statistics show that this lack of concern about HIV/AIDS among young Japanese is part of a new and worrying trend.


Particularly vulnerable are those in the sex industry, especially those who are in a weak position, financially or physically, such as urisen — who fit the AIDS-unaware age profile almost too well.

“If a bar operator has a strict condom policy, that’s one thing, but … as there is money being exchanged, if the customer wants unprotected sex, I can imagine sex workers might find it difficult to say no. In the case of urisen, the boys are young and customers are invariably gay men, so this is another layer of concern that needs to be addressed,” Ikushima says.

Instilling a sense of responsibility among bar managers and owners is also essential, Ikushima says, although this concern is not confined to the urisen industry. Indeed, a similar lack of instruction on sexual health would seem to exist in host clubs, an industry that traditionally pairs handsome young men with female clientele, though not officially for sex.

“We never mention such matters as sexual health, STDs or HIV to our staff at interviews,” says Ryo Tachibana of Goldman Club in Shinjuku. “I’m sure unprotected sex is also requested. You just assume, for their own sakes, they will be careful.”

One host, who requested anonymity, said to his knowledge unprotected sex was “not unusual” among hosts.


Reflecting Ikushima’s observations about a lack of HIV/AIDS awareness among the under-25s, however, are worrying statistics that show an increase in HIV diagnoses among that age group, from 65 cases in 2002 to 141 last year, according to health ministry data.

While incidences of HIV among Japanese aged 30 and over are still high, they have leveled out over the past decade, Iwahashi says. However, when it comes to the under-25s, surveys have unveiled a steep upward curve “of the kind never seen before,” he says.

“Whichever way you look at it, in Japan HIV/AIDS is a predominantly MSM problem and 73 percent of those who contracted HIV in 2016 were Japanese MSM,” says Iwahashi. “When you look at where the major movements are, it’s among younger MSM. And the background to that is the awareness issue.”

There is a side bar story with the article called "Foreign men defy drop in HIV/AIDS cases."

Numbers of HIV and AIDS cases among foreign residents in Japan continue to rise, according to health ministry statistics.

In 2016, homosexual contact accounted for 72.7 percent (735 cases) of all HIV infection cases (905) in Japan, while heterosexual contact (170) accounted for 16.8 percent, according to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare study. For reported AIDS cases (total 355), homosexual contact accounted for 55.1 percent (241) and heterosexual contact 26.1 percent (114). A further 82 HIV and 65 AIDS cases were listed as status “unknown.”

Yet while the figures for Japanese nationals have remained relatively stable over the past six years, even decreasing since 2012, the same can’t be said of HIV and AIDS cases among foreign residents, particularly men. Between 2005 and 2015, HIV cases among foreign males reached 108, including a more-than-four-fold increase among foreign men who have sex with men (MSM) (from 15 in 2005 to 66 in 2015). In 2016 that shot up further to 126 reported cases, although non-MSM case numbers were virtually unchanged. AIDS cases between 2015 and 2016 increased from 38 to 43.

In the past, women from Southeast Asia involved in the sex industry were thought to make up the bulk of foreign residents with HIV, says Kota Iwahashi, head of the HIV/AIDS awareness NPO akta. “Looking at the data, while those numbers have been decreasing for some time, the number of MSM foreigners who have contracted HIV has been growing.” Indeed, since 2014 there have been more foreign MSM than foreign women living in Japan with HIV, he added.

A major problem is the dearth of places for non-Japanese to get sexual health check-ups with English-language support, says Place Tokyo’s Yuzuru Ikushima, adding that at present the only place providing such a service is the Shinjuku public health center.

The majority (57.7 percent) of Japanese nationals who find out they are HIV-positive discover their status during visits to hospitals for other treatments, he says, which shows just how crucial specific sexual health check-ups are. According to Ikushima’s findings, of that unwitting 57.7 percent, almost 90 percent are found to have full-blown AIDS.

“With the Tokyo Olympics approaching, it has never been more crucial to provide foreign-language testing and support,” he says.

The accumulated total of HIV and AIDS cases in Japan in 2016 was 18,920 and 8,523, respectively — approximately 0.015 percent and 0.007 percent of the population. In contrast, 39,513 people in the U.S. received an HIV diagnosis and 18,303 an AIDS diagnosis in 2015 alone. The overall prevalence of HIV in the U.S. was around 0.3 percent of the population. In Europe, nearly two-thirds of new HIV cases in 2015 were in Russia (98,177).

While I am glad that a major news outlet is covering this issue, it is unfortunate that they continue the trend of the blame game, in particular blaming foreigners. Are foreigners coming to Japan to have sex only with other foreigners? Do foreigners not sleep with Japanese people? And once again we have to be careful with the statistics. Japan's HIV/AIDS stats are sadly under-reported and so it would seem unscientific to compare national rates other than to emphasize once again that HIV/AIDS is a foreign problem. It is not - it is a global problem.