February 2005 Archives

Japan: Disability Protest

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I forgot to post this yesterday. It's one of my favorite photographs from the protests last week. This group is from the southernmost island chain of Okinawa / Ryukyus. The straw hats are traditional to the Ryukyu Islands. The group decorated their hats with slogans protesting the government's changes. People with severe disabilities require one or two care attendants ("guide helpers" or "home helpers" in Japanese). The able-bodied people you see in the photoessays are staff or supporters at the various centers for independent living (CILs). As a rule, CILs are run by people with disabilities themselves in both management and board positions.

On February 15 and 16th, a coalition of disability groups including DPI-Japan, the Japan Council on Independent Living Centers (JIL), and People First Japan staged their fourth major protest in front of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare in Tokyo. The coalition was angered by the Ministry's pushing forward of a disability welfare bill (humbly) called the Grand Design that would make major changes to how people with severe disabilities would receive social services such as attendant care. This bill was written without full input from the people that it would affect the most. There were no public hearings, only closed door meetings with select members of the disability community known to be sympathetic to the government position.

This event followed similar protests in June, October, and December (follow links to my earlier articles). The February event was perhaps the largest of all of the protests with around 2,000 people with disabilities and their supporters travelling from all over Japan. Some of the largest groups came the furthest, from Sapporo on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, to a group from Okinawa, the southernmost.

On the first day, about 1200 people crowded the front of the Ministry building. Unlike earlier protests, the Ministry had told the building police not to interfere with the protesters and to allow them to use the Ministry's toilet facilities. This was a major point of contention during the October protest.

One of the hallmarks of this coalition is that it included members with severe physical, psychiatric, and intellectual disabilities as well as people with chronic diseases (nanbyo which are not considered disabilities) and other people who find themselves left out of the disability categorization system. Most disability groups in Japan and elsewhere tend to be single disability or if they are cross-disability, restrict themselves just to physical disabilities or to just intellectual disabilities (mental retardation, etc.), for example. It is rather unique to have a pan-disability movement with such broad reach. This is both a strength and weakness

Even though their impairments made it difficult for some members to speak, a major effort was made in making everyone's voice heard. In some cases, translators were used for speakers with severe cerebral palsy or intellectual disabilities.

Each group designed their own placards and signs that they wore on their chests or backs. This one reads: "The lives of people with disabilities are in danger! We thank you for understanding and supporting this movement of and for disabled people." Some of the other signs were a bit more dramatic, reading: The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is killing disabled people.

The protesters staged an all-night sit-in in front of the Ministry building. The group from Nagoya brought in propane gas stoves, blankets, and enough cardboard boxes to rival the box shantytowns in Ueno Park. Another group even brought in band equipment including drums, an electric guitar, and amplifier system. People were invited up to the mike to sing and for a while, it was karaoke night at the Ministry.

All was fun and games until 3:00am when it started raining and the temperature dropped below zero. At that time, there were about 50 protesters sleeping in front of the Ministry building. The cardboard box shelters became drenched. Large tents were quickly erected and the protesters huddled in them for warmth. To make things worse, at 4:46am, a strong magnitude 5 earthquake struck the Tokyo area. The shaking was apparent even to people on the ground level. Buildings in Tokyo are built to handle a tremor of that size, so there was no property damage, but it shook the spirits of the protesters a bit.

The next morning, the leadership of the protesters met with various political party members. Here, one of the members from the Hyogo area is listening to a lower-house representative from the Japanese Social-Democratic Party. The Social-Democrats are against the Grand Design, but with only 4% in the lower-house, they have no power to block it. The other political parties that the group met with with the Japanese Communist Party (against the Grand Design), the Democratic Party of Japan (wishy-washy) and Komeito (for the government's plan). The opposition parties do not have enough votes to defeat the Grand Design. The protesters are hoping that they might be able to put the brakes on it so that it is not immediately implemented.

After meeting with the party representatives, the protests marched to the main Diet Building and presented their formal complaints to the Diet. This presentation of complaints is a ritualized process in Japanese politics. Unfortunately, I was in the main representatives building and wasn't allowed to take close-up photographs of the formal petition process.

What will happen? The bureaucrats in the MHLW are pushing this bill through, emphasizing that there is not enough money in the government budget to continue expensive attendant care programs. They have the support of the political parties in power (LDP/Komeito). The general trend in Japan (following the USA) is to cut money on social welfare and emphasize "individual responsibility." In this case, individual responsibility means greater co-payments and reductions in social welfare pensions for the elderly and disabled. It's hard to be optimistic about the situation.

Editorial: As with previous protests, there was no major print or television media coverage of this event. According to the protesters, the Ministry has made it known that it will not be tolerant of journalists who cover the issue from the protester's perspective. Indeed, one of the major dailies apparently temporarily lost its seat in the Ministry Press Club for straying beyond the party line in its coverage. That is not likely to ever occur again. There was a news crew from Fukoka covering the protest, but they were apparently doing a documentary on one of the individual protesters from the area and not the larger issue. In general, no one in Japan knows that 2,000 protesters had gathered in front of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare on these two days. Even this small blog will reach more people than all of the nonexistent reportage from the mainstream media. This is not good. Democracy depends on a free and open distribution of information. In this regard, the mass media in Japan are fundamentally failing their job. And unfortunately, this is a worldwide phenomenon.

- Karen Nakamura

Contributor Mehyar writes in with:

here are couple of favorite gadgets i take on trips....fyi.

Delkin usb bridge...eliminates the need for carrying a laptop to the field to store data. good for long trips to the countryside in which one has to be backpack weight conscious.



LaCie Slim Combo CD-RW..light weight and usb bus powered. i back up all my pictures with this. among other things, don't trust the high power x-ray machines of the airports.



together with the Arcdisk hd, they facilitate survival from a computer breakdown when faraway from home.

My friend Juergen Sprecht's collection of Japanese warning signs is making the various blogs:

In another weird twist, Canon Japan has announced the Canon 20Da, a limited edition, limited availability (Japan only) version of the EOS 20D digital SLR. Basically, the 20Da is designed for astrophotography and has the infrared filter removed from the CMOS chip, which allows the camera to peer into the Ha spectrum. The camera can also give you live preview on the rear LCD, which helps when you are trying to focus on some guidestars using your telescope mount. Who needs a Hubble when you have a 20Da?

Astrophotography is currently The Big Thing in Japan among camera geeks. Maybe we'll have some initiatives to reduce light pollution and smog.

Canon has just announced the EOS Digital Rebel XT (aka 350D in Europe and KISS Digital 2E in Japan). It now has 8.0 megapixels in the same 1.6x crop factor. Just to dispel any rumors, the CMOS chip in the Rebel XT is actually a tad smaller (0.2mm) than the one used in the 20D, and is 8.0 megapixels not 8.2.

Shooting speed has been increased to 3fps with a 14 shot burst (JPEG) or 5 shot (RAW). The camera body itself is considerablyl lighter (130g) and smaller in all dimensions.

Interestingly, Canon is not using the same BP-511 batteries that they had in the 10D/20D and original Digital Rebel. You now have to use NB-2LH batteries, which are used in some of their point and shoot digitals. Canon says this was to reduce the size/weight of the 350D. My guess is that they also want to separate the consumer digital SLR line (Rebels) from the prosumer line (20D). Many of my friends have a 10D or 20D as their main camera and a Digital Rebel as a backup. Since they used the same lens, battery, and CF cards, it's a nice system. Having the Rebel XT using different batteries complicates this.

For more info, I updated my Canon Digital page a bit with new info, but the best site right now is DP review:

Benjamin Lauderdale has an extended article on Ars Technica on his recent PowerBook G4 harddrive failure. Interestingly, the failure mode was identical to my own recent crisis - the SMART error message and the ability to copy some but not all files before the drive failed totally. See my own blog entry for info on my case involving the Toshiba 80 gigabyte drive ("TOSHIBA MK8025GAS") in my PowerBook G4 12":


Apple Japan replaced my hard drive under the AppleCare plan for free (including free pickup and dropoff). It only took 3 days for it to leave and come back. Now, Apple Japan said in its repair notes that it "found no problem" but "replaced the hard drive and hard drive cable" anyway. Odd.

In any case, if you have an Apple PowerBook, it really behooves you to have something like S.M.A.R.T. Reporter installed. This is a freeware program that will constantly alert you to your hard drive's health. And yes, make lots of backups constantly! With DVD-R prices now less than a $1/disk for 4.7 gigabytes, you have no excuse!

Wayne Yang (who has a very nice website of his own at http://www.wayneyang.com) let me know about Stacy Oborn's blog title The space in between. The site has in depth discussions of various photographs, some famous, some obscure, some Japanese, most Western.

The space in between (http://punctum.typepad.com/)

Engrossing. A must visit.

Intra-city public transportation In Japan is excellent with extensive subways, buses, and light rail systems. However, you quickly find that while inter-city transportation is very fast using the Shinkansen (bullet-train) which travels at about 300 km/h, it's also very expensive. Here's my guide to getting from Tokyo to Kyoto (400 miles; 600 kilometers) as cheaply as possibly:

  1. Train: Tokaido line with Seishun 18 ticket ¥2,300 each day (9 hours, 1-3 transfers) - warning: Seishun 18 can only be bought/used during particular periods of the year; otherwise it's ¥9000 if you buy the train ticket normally
  2. Bus: City Liner - ¥4,300-¥4,500 each way by overnight bus (7 hrs)
  3. Bus: JR Highway Bus - ¥8,180 each way by "deluxe" overnight bus (7 hrs)
  4. Train: Shinkansen Nozomi - ¥13,990 each way -- that's about US$130, $260 round trip! (2.5 hrs)
  5. Car: If you're driving, tolls will be ¥10,050 (according the JH Navigator) + gas will be about ¥8,000 = ¥18,000. It will take you about 6~7 hours each way, depending on traffic. I've never seen anyone (Japanese/female) hitchhike in Japan, so that's not really an option for me.
  6. Plane: about ¥19,000 each way / Y27,000 round trip. (45 minutes)

Astute people will note that the round-trip plane is slightly cheaper than the train, although getting to the airport adds another Y3000 or so to your bill and isn't any faster. Really astute people will note that it's cheaper to fly to Seoul, Korea from Japan than it is to fly between Kyoto and Tokyo. Go figure!

I'm just about to go to yet another disability protest in Japan, so these were my back of the napkin figures. If you have updated figures or more information, please post them! Well, I'm off to catch the City Liner! :-)

Updated 2005.02.16: Added Seishin 18 information and hitchhiking caveat
Updated 2005.03.16: Added accurate highway tolls (and gasoline guesstimate)

The February issue of Nippon Camera lists the top five cameras in various sales categories as calculated by Bic Camera, one of the largest camera retail chains in Japan, for the period 2004.12.20-2004.12.31:

Digital SLRs

  1. Konica Minolta alpha-7 (aka Maxxum 7D)
  2. Pentax *ist DS
  3. Canon EOS 20D
  4. Nikon D70
  5. Pentax *ist DS lens set

Discussion: This was surprising to me. Among the circles I travel, the Canon EOS digital cameras have been the most popular, but the 20D only ranks third in sales. The Japanese camera press has been giving the new KM alpha-7 very high reviews, especially for its built in body anti-shake feature. The same issue of Nippon Camera shows the KM body's anti-shake is right up there with Nikon's VR and Canon's IS, even besting them in some areas. My guess is that all of the people who had Minolta alpha lenses have gone out and bought the digital alpha-7. Canon's own share of the SLR market is diluted by its D60, 10D, 20D, and Kiss Digital (Digital Rebel) -- which interestingly did not make the top five. Canon may have greater market share as a whole, but the alpha-7 is the best selling camera.

Film SLRs

  1. Nikon F6
  2. Canon EOS Kiss 7 (aka Rebel)
  3. Canon EOS 7 double-zoom kit
  4. Pentax *ist
  5. Konica Minolta alpha-70

Discussion: I was also surprised that the F6 made the top despite my report on it last year. It's an expensive camera ($3000~) and many analysts couldn't figure out why Nikon was putting out another pro-level film camera when Canon has intimated that we won't see any more professional EOS film cameras being developed. But obviously they made the right decision.

Digital Compact Cameras

  1. Canon IXY Digital 50
  2. Pentax Optio S50
  3. Konica Minolta DiMage X50
  4. Sony Cybershot DSC-T3
  5. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7

Discussion: Nothing particularly surprising here. Market analysts are saying in Japan that in two or three years, the number of digital point and shoot manufacturers will be cut in half. There is just no profit in the market, despite good sales (see my earlier CPIA analysis for details).

Medium Format Film Cameras
  1. Mamiya 645 Pro TL
  2. Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID
  3. Mamiya 7 II
  4. Contax 645
  5. Bronica RF645
Discussion: Interestingly, the Pentax 67 did not make the top five. Nor did Hasselblad (which is terribly overpriced in Japan). The new Mamiya RZ is selling well and I think people are excited by their announcement of the Mamiya ZD digital camera as well as the ZD back for the RZ.

As always, comments and feedback always welcome. Images of cameras used here are copyright the respective manufacturers.

Marmotbaby sent me a link to Memoranda, a daily photoblog from Japan. Every day, a different B&W photo (often taken with very classic cameras) is posted to the site. While the explanatory text is all in Japanese, you can use Google's translation tool to hilarious effect. Or you can just enjoy the photos in their own right as very evocative and beautiful.

The World Press Photo organization has announced the winners of its annual contest:

They also have information about entering the 2005 contest. To be honest, I was a bit more impressed with the quality of the 2004 NPPA Photographers.

While we're on the subject of comfort (?) during airline travel, here are two other sites that I've found useful:

Suggestions and comments always welcome.

Equipment: iPod Headphones

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SleepingInAirports.com recommends a big pair of headphones and a walkman to drown out the sound of airport announcements and to make the stay seem shorter. Of course, nowadays, everyone uses an iPod instead (and with the Griffin iTalk microphone, the iPod is a great fieldwork tool). I use it for all of my interviews as well as dictating notes to myself. They sync right back up to my laptop and I put them in the same folder as my written notes (now you can see why losing my laptop was such a big deal).

Rather than big "earmuff" headphones, I might also recommend inner-ear headphones such as the Sony MDR-EX71. I've had these now for about a month. These have silicon earplugs in various sizes that seal out outside sound much better than the open-air phones that come with the iPod. The sound quality is much better and it really quietens the roar of the airplane if you're sitting in the rear seats. I bought mine for just over Y4000 in Japan.

The one downside is that they seal out sound so well that you really have to be careful if you're walking around a busy city while wearing them. You can't hear bicycles or taxis that are bearing down on you with homicidal intent. You can also buy Shure high-end phones that look similar but cost over $200. I'm not that rich so I can't say if the sound is that much better.

Unlike my bug-eating, backpacking brethren, I am known as an anthropologist who likes her creature comforts. Nonetheless, even the most softened anthropologist has had to occasionally spend the night in an airport. I found a fantastically funny and informative website that ranks the various airports for their sleepfulness, gives tips on where to catch some zzzzs and useful hints about what and what not to do in the process.


My own personal favorite, Singapore Changi, is listed there at #3. They have a mini-hotel where you can shower and sleep for the few hours between a layover. And you can literally spend half a day wandering the shopping arcades or catch a bus to town and enjoy the "Night Safari" at the zoo. My second favorite is Amsterdam's Schipol. The best thing is its proximity to the city. This made in simple to dash in, explore a couple of museums, and dash back all in time for your departing flight.

No Japanese airport makes the top ten. It's odd that we -- the creators of the capsule hotel, the "unit bath," and the Washlet -- cannot design an airport that you'd want to spend a few hours -- or build an airport with easy and inexpensive transport access to the city. Although to be fair, I just read a news clipping in Asahi Shimbun yesterday that the new Nagoya International Airport will have an onsen bath with a view of the runway. No mention was made whether departing passengers will be able to catch a final glimpse of naked Japan at its best.

As readers of my blog know, my Powerbook harddrive crashed right on the eve of my trip to the United States -- and right during a backup session. This meant that less than half of my data was properly backed up, including my most recent ethnographic fieldnotes, interview recordings, and digital photographs. Not good.

Apple's DiskUtility warned of a S.M.A.R.T. diagonistic failure indicating a hardware failure and could not repair it. My usual disk utility program, DiskWarrior, could also not scan the disk because of the hardware failure. I thought I was @(*@*@.....

I had thought that my only remaining option was DriveSavers in California. They gave me an online estimate of $2000 to recover the missing data. Yes, two big ones. They'd take the drive into a clean room and read the data off the raw platters just like the latest episode of CSI New York.

I had almost packed the computer away to send to them when I tried an absolutely new program that's on the market called VirtualLab. It's for both the PC and Mac. Unlike Norton or DiskWarrior, the neat thing about it is that it works with a data analysis server over the internet. Also, you don't buy the program but you buy blocks of data recovery. I needed about 8 gigabytes recovered, which cost me about $140.*

* The program does have some negatives. You have to guesstimate ahead of time how much data you want to recover. If you guess wrong, they charge you more if you want to bump it up later. And if I wanted to recover another drive in the future, it'd cost me over a $100 again. This is aggravating. They should charge either a flat rate or a simple scaled rate and not penalize customers who are bad at math.

The program works fantastic. You do need some way to boot it up separate from the broken drive, I bought an external firewire harddrive (300 gigs for Y30,000) which is now serving as my backup drive. I loaded MacOS X 10.3 on it, then launched VirtualLab. Unlike Norton, DiskUtility, or DiskWarrior, the Virtuallab software was able to workaround the hardware failure (somehow, I'm not sure).

I recovered all of my data. Phew.

I can't praise VirtualLab enough. Give it a try. It's expensive, but a great last resort. They note that it can also be used to recover accidentally formatted or repartitioned drives too. I'll give a report on how Apple Japan fixes my PowerBook later on.

Fine print: Like all of the reviews on my site, I of course received nothing from BinaryBiz for recommending them. I am entirely vendor kickback free.

On page one, above the fold, Asahi Shinbun reports that Prime Minister's Jun'ichiro Koizumi's approval rating has dropped to an all-time low of 33%. Disapproval is at 46%. If you recall, when he became prime minister in 2001, his approval was in the mid-80s. This plummetted by the end of the year and never fully recovered.

The only problem is that that, like British PM Tony Blair, there is no one with enough support who could take over the reins if Koizumi were to stand down.

On page two, Asahi notes that approval for the idea of a female emperor is currently at 86%. With no male heir emerging from the line of Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, we could expect the reign of Empress Aiko in several decades.

If you've been puzzling about Japanese toilets and our extremely high-tech bidets (Washlets), get thee to this Wiki entry which explains just about everything you would want to know (and much that you wouldn't) about defecatory cleanliness in our little island nation:


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This page is an archive of entries from February 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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