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December 31 2013

Naked new year in Japan, 1946 - a picture from the past

Horace Bristol's single flashbulb illuminated hundreds of young, near-naked, Japanese men diving upon one another in total darkness as part of the Hadaka Matsuri or 'Naked' festival in at a temple in Okayama

December 21 2013

Does Japanese Shunga turn porn into art? | Katie Engelhart

A British Museum exhibition raises important questions about the juncture between art and free speech, some of which are unique to our digital age

Near the entrance to the exhibition, a medium-sized image depicts a Japanese woman in loose, sensuous clothing that parts to reveal a cheeky flash of pale leg. Other paintings leave less to the imagination; they are replete with pubic hair and sex toys and gravitationally implausible scenes of coitus. One shows a nun with a shaved head having sex with a priest who is hidden in a large bag. Another shows a group of men engaged in a "phallic competition", their gigantic, exaggerated penises resting on tables and kickstands. A third shows a woman being pleasured by two octopuses.

If these were photographs, they would be hidden away on the top shelf at some seedy corner store. Instead, they are paintings – and they are on display at London's esteemed British Museum. Visitors under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult. What's certain is that this ongoing exhibition Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art raises important questions about the juncture between art and free speech, some of which are unique to our digital age.

"Shunga", which translates to "spring pictures," was a popular Japanese painting style for hundreds of years. In the words of the exhibition curator Timothy Clark, Shunga "celebrates the pleasures of lovemaking, in beautiful pictures that present mutual attraction and sexual desire as natural and unaffected." Often, Shunga paintings are humorous; sometimes, they are subversive – gently poking fun at the cultural and aesthetic mores of their time.

Though officially banned by the Japanese government in 1722, Shunga continued to be produced – and was often commissioned by wealthy patrons. Shunga paintings were passed around through lending libraries, or gifted to lovers and spouses. They were also used as sex education for newly married couples. The paintings are certainly explicit. And erotic. But are they also pornography, which might place legal limits on their distribution and audience? If they are pornography, could they be considered obscene – a point of legal importance?

British law is hazy on the question of obscenity; following a landmark judicial ruling, pornographic material is considered "obscene" if it has "a tendency to deprave and corrupt" its audience. Some organisations, like Britain's Campaign Against Censorship, have called for the creation of a statutory defense of "artistic merit", which artists could rely on if accused of obscenity. As to the issue of 'art' versus 'pornography,' one might recall the American Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, in 1964, famously declared, of pornography, "I know it when I see it."

Assuming that we should be able to formulate a more coherent definition, let us break the question down: does it matter that these are paintings – as opposed to photographs? Or: does the fact that these are paintings immediately imply that Shunga is art, rather than pornography? This seems an overly simplified distinction, especially in the digital age: when Photoshop and digital editing can turn once-"real" images into artistic fiction – and graphic design tools can build realistic-looking pictures from digital scratch. Does artist's intent matter? Does provenance? Some who are eager to locate the art/porn fault line stress the importance of artist's intent. If an image is meant to elicit arousal, it's porn; if not, it is art. Others look to provenance. Were the images produced by an artist or an amateur? Were they commissioned by a gallery, or thrown up on Facebook?

This method also seems flawed – not least because we can't always know an artist's intent, and because what is arousing to one person can be horror-inducing to the next. That would, by extension, mean that something can be art when viewed by one person and porn when viewed by another. Furthermore, a focus on provenance and intent leaves the art/porn categorisation up to gallery owners and curators and other institutional "authorities" – who are unlikely to agree anyway. Besides, Shunga was meant both to arouse and to educate. So where would it fall? Is the definition fluid … a product of place and time?

Shunga first made its way to England in the early 1600s, via the English East India Company – but when the photos surfaced in London, outraged company officials set them ablaze. In Europe, explains Shunga curator Clark, "since at least the Renaissance … prevailing religious and social bans have made it well-nigh impossible for leading artists to produce works that are explicitly erotic."

If we allow that morality and aesthetics are both shaped by culture, and not universal and constant, than is it possible that Shunga can be at once art in Japan and porn in England?

I am, oddly enough, reminded of an interview with Cooper Hefner, the 21-year-old son of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Playboy is art, not porn, the younger Hefner recently insisted: "If you consider Playboy pornography, then you consider any photo of a nude woman or man pornography." Is it possible that Hefner Jr hit on a valid point? Playboy was brash and bold and wholly pornographic in its time; but today its still shots of topless blonds seem rather quaint. Is it possible that the same image was porn in the 1950s and is art today? Taken further, could it be that there exists some fuzzy line (say, around "orgy" or "fellatio" or "sex toy") beyond which erotic art becomes porn? And does that line move? Does intensity of the subject matter?

What's notable about Shunga is that all its subjects – men and women (not to mention octopi) – seem to equally enjoy their sexual adventures. In this way, Shunga appears incredibly progressive for its time. Women enjoying sex! And, sometimes, with each other! This progressiveness makes the exhibit all the more palatable to today's audience. But let's imagine a different scenario. What if the drawings depicted children engaged in sexual acts? Or rape? Or subjects expressing pain and fear? Would that change things? Would those images be enough to incite "depravity"? Would and should that lead us to place restrictions on who can view the paintings?

The state of the game seems to be this: producers and curators decide what is art and what is porn, what is erotic, and what is obscene. Unsatisfactorily, it's plausible that Shunga is art precisely because it is displayed on the walls of the British Museum. In general, the very idea that there exists a line between "art" and "porn", between "art" and "obscenity", seems inherently flawed. "In the west, we have created a state of affairs where there has to be a firewall between art and pornography," muses curator Clark. "But Shunga is both sexually explicit and demonstrably art."

• Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art continues at the British Museum, London until 5 January 2014 © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 23 2013

Is Greenpeace facing its Warsawgrad?

Guest opinion by Fred F. Mueller In large-scale wars, there are sometimes prolonged periods of fierce clashes with neither side being able to place the decisive blow that will ultimately tilt the balance in its favor. Then all of a … Continue reading

November 20 2013

United Nations climate conference tells business: support us on climate change

By Steve Goreham Originally published in The Washington Times Business must lobby governments to fight climate change, according to the United Nations. On November 14th as part of the current Warsaw climate conference, the UN issued a new report titled, … Continue reading

November 18 2013

At last, a Plan B to stop global warming

Bjørn Lomborg writes on hisFacebook page about this story on WUWT: Newsbytes: Japan Stuns UN Climate Summit By Ditching CO2 Target The last twenty years of international climate negotiations have achieved almost nothing and have done so at enormous economic … Continue reading

November 15 2013

Newsbytes: Japan Stuns UN Climate Summit By Ditching CO2 Target

From Dr. Benny Peiser of the GWPF Rich Nations Block Push To Count Past CO2 Emissions At UN Climate Summit Japan set a new target for greenhouse gas emissions that critics say will set back United Nations talks for a … Continue reading

October 22 2013

Giuliano Gemma obituary

Handsome star of spaghetti westerns including A Pistol for Ringo

When the spaghetti western was born in the early 1960s, some of the Italian lead actors disguised their names under American-sounding ones (though nobody was fooled). Among those competing successfully with bona fide Yanks such as Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were Terence Hill (born Mario Girotti), Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) and Montgomery Wood, a temporary pseudonym taken by Giuliano Gemma, who has died in a car accident aged 75.

The strikingly handsome Gemma was one of the brightest stars of the once deprecated, now revered, genre. After five years in sword-and-sandal epics (also known as peplum films), usually supporting muscle men, Gemma made a name for himself (even if, initially, it wasn't his own) in two westerns directed by Duccio Tessari: A Pistol for Ringo (1965) and The Return of Ringo (1965). Their big box-office success granted Gemma stardom and a cult following in more than a dozen similar above-average and average western all'italiana (as the Italians prefer to call them).

Gemma was born in Rome but spent part of his youth in Reggio Emilia, in the north of Italy. Sport was his main interest from an early age, and he competed as a gymnast, swimmer and boxer. He also enjoyed the movies, dreaming of emulating his favourite actor Burt Lancaster, whose athletic prowess he admired. (Gemma later got the chance to meet Lancaster when the former was playing Garibaldi's general in Luchino Visconti's The Leopard in 1963.)

On leaving school, Gemma got some bit parts in films at the Cinecittà film studio in Rome, such as Ben-Hur (1959), where he can be spotted as a Roman officer with Stephen Boyd in a bathhouse scene. Gemma's first real role was in Vittorio Cottafavi's Messalina (1960), as a young would-be assassin, lured into the Roman empress's bed only to be beheaded. The following morning, Messalina (Belinda Lee) triumphantly displays his severed head in the palace quarters of the plotters.

Apart from looking fetching in a toga as a friend of the titular heroes of Goliath and the Sins of Babylon (1963) and Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun (1964), both played by the bodybuilder Mark Forest (born Lorenzo Luis Degni), Gemma appeared briefly as an actor playing Hercules on the set of a movie in the Federico Fellini episode of Boccaccio '70 (1962).

The turning point came with A Pistol for Ringo. Gemma as Ringo (the name taken from John Wayne's role in Stagecoach) quickly established his persona, distancing himself from Eastwood's Man With No Name in the Sergio Leone "Dollars" trilogy. Ringo, nicknamed Angel Face, is boyish, neatly dressed, clean-shaven and drinks milk instead of alcohol. But the two anti-heroes share the same ruthlessness and accuracy with a gun. As Ringo says: "You know, we got an old sayin' in Texas – God created all men equal ... but the six-gun made them different."

Gemma played another character with the same name in The Return of Ringo, but the protagonist has little in common with the previous one. Gemma is serious and less flippant as a soldier who returns from the American civil war only to find that a Mexican gang has overrun his town, and his wife has been kidnapped. In order to rescue her and seek revenge, he poses as one of the gang.

This was the first of the so-called "Ulysses type" revenge westerns, set in the aftermath of the civil war, and concerned with the troubles of veterans to build up their lives in a postwar society. Falling into that category is Blood for a Silver Dollar (also known as One Silver Dollar, 1965), with Gemma tracking down a bandit who is wreaking havoc in the community to which he has returned from being a prisoner of war. Another favourite theme had Gemma, wrongly accused of a crime, having to prove his innocence, generally by killing people, as in Long Days of Vengeance and Wanted (both 1967).

While the spaghetti western was in decline, Gemma appeared in several crude buddy comic westerns including Alive or Preferably Dead (1969) and Ben and Charlie (1972). Happily, among the dross, Gemma retained his prestige in a number of mainstream non-westerns, notably Valerio Zurlini's superb colonial adventure The Desert of the Tartars (1976), in which he makes a strong impression in one of his rare villainous roles as a disciplinarian major with a sadistic streak, for which he won the David di Donatello award – Italy's Oscar.

His final screen appearance was in the small part of the hotel manager in Woody Allen's To Rome With Love (2012). He had his largest fanbase in Japan, where a fashion house named a clothing line after him, and the Suzuki company introduced two types of scooters called Suzuki-Gemma. Apart from his acting, Gemma was a talented sculptor, having had several exhibitions of his work.

He is survived by his second wife, Baba Richerme, and two daughters, Vera and Giuliana.

Giuliano Gemma, actor, born 2 September 1938; died 1 October 2013 © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 04 2013

Japanese robo-boot could help stroke victims walk again

Robo-boot … the Ankle Walking Assist Device is designed to help stroke victims regain the confidence to walk. Photograph: Yaskawa Electric

October 01 2013

British Museum dares to bare with adults-only art display

Exhibition of Japanese shunga art, depicting people engaged in a wide range of sex acts, is museum's most explicit ever

A woman is pleasured by an octopus, its tentacles teasing their way into her every orifice. A kitten paws eagerly at a man's testicles while he is locked in an embrace with his lover. Two women dally together, a dildo fastened around a waist; one urges the other: "Hurry up and put it in."

Not for the shy or prudish – nor, indeed, for under-16s unaccompanied by an adult, according to official guidance – this is the British Museum's most sexually explicit exhibition since its foundation in 1753. It is devoted to Japanese shunga, an art that flourished from the 17th to the mid-19th century.

According to Tim Clark, the show's head curator: "We hope that once people have got over the sexually explicit content and the exaggerated depiction of genitals, they will come to enjoy the mutual pleasure depicted, the humour and, ultimately, the humanity of these images."

He said the exhibition – which carries warnings of sexually explicit material at the door and for those booking online – was long overdue. Although shunga, meaning "spring picture" or "pillow picture", was a mainstream artistic genre for several centuries, enjoyed by ordinary townspeople as well as aristocrats, it was suppressed in the 20th century when Japan opened up to the west and the country went through an accelerated "modernisation".

At that point, instead of being regarded as a part of the texture of everyday life, presented to brides upon their marriages for instruction, arousal or amusement, shunga "was treated like pornography", said Clark. Shunga in the British Museum was confined to the "secretum", a secret cabinet of "obscene" artefacts from around the world, which was dismantled and its objects dispersed to the relevant departments in the mid-20th century.

Only since 1990 has there been serious academic study of the genre in Japan, and the exhibition at the British Museum is the most extensive ever to have been held.

Everywhere you look, your gaze is unambiguously directed toward the often oversized, luxuriantly depicted genitalia of both sexes. "It was a pictorial tradition not committed to naturalism, and so that permits selective emphasis," said Clark. "Attention is focused on the sexual bliss on the faces – and the engines of that pleasure, the genitals. Other parts of the body are downplayed and then there are gorgeous textiles, lacquerware, food and drink, so there is a seamless continuum of luxury and pleasure." He added: "Was it a fantasy of sexual wish-fulfilment or the image of an ideal? Probably both."

Women's sexual pleasure is as important in the images as men's. "It is never questioned," said Clark. "Women are expected to be seeking pleasure." Nor is it strictly heteronormative: male couplings are depicted and, very much more rarely, female.

Shunga was often the vehicle for literary parodies; there is playfulness and wit in many of the images and the text that accompanies them, for instance referring to a couple's fear of discovery as they snatch their pleasure, or a macabre joke, such as the ghost of a woman's former lover returning and cutting off her living lover's penis.

The unembarrassed attention on the phallus and vulva relates, said Clark, at least partly to traditional Japanese religious beliefs. "Shinto creation myths stem from an act of sexual congress," he said. "The sexual act is at the heart of the founding myth of the country … within the native religion there was direct veneration of the sexual organs and the procreative process."

Above all, said Clark, shunga is important because of its value as art. The greatest Japanese artists, such as Hokusai and Utamaro, made erotic images. Shunga invites us to question, he said, a western tradition that divided "great art" from "the obscene". "That distinction simply does not exist in Japanese art of the period," he said.

Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art is at the British Museum from 3 October to 5 January © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Lifting the kimono on Japanese erotic art - in pictures

From carnal clinches to filthy fantasies, a new exhibition dedicated to shunga, the sensual art of samurai Japan, opens at the British Museum in London this week

September 20 2013

The Hello Kitty plane - in pictures

Taiwanese airline Eva Air has launched a Hello Kitty jet for passengers flying from Taipei to Los Angeles

September 17 2013

Antony Gormley: UK business could learn from Japan's support for the arts

British sculptor, named sculpture laureate of the Praemium Imperiale awards, praises Japanese corporate philanthropy

British business could learn valuable lessons from Japan, which has a tradition of corporate philanthropy that views spending on creativity and the arts as a duty, according to Antony Gormley.

The sculptor was speaking on Tuesday as he was announced as one of this year's winners of the world's richest arts prize. He was named as the sculpture laureate of the Praemium Imperiale awards, a Japanese prize in its 25th year, which rewards fields of achievement not covered by the Nobel prize.

The other winners were Francis Ford Coppola for film, Placido Domingo for music, Michelangelo Pistoletto for painting, and David Chipperfield (whose recent buildings include Turner Contemporary in Margate and the Hepworth in Wakefield) for architecture.

Gormley said there were a number of foundations in Japan linked to corporations, citing the Inimori Foundation and the Daiwa Foundation as "exemplary institutions", which saw it as their duty to use some of their profits to support creativity in a wider way. "I think they are really inspirational," he said.

In Japan, he added, there was an extraordinary number of foundations where there was "an absolute belief in the duty of corporate money to reinvest in a collective future. There are examples in this country but there could be more".

The UK government regards encouraging more philanthropic giving as one of its key arts policies. The culture secretary has also called on arts organisations to "hammer home" the economic case for funding.

Lord Patten, who is the international adviser to the awards, said the cultural vitality of the UK was immense and doubted whether theatre in Britain had ever been in stronger shape.

"I hope the government and all governments recognise the contribution which that creative vitality makes economically. It's not the main reason for it, my God – to have to argue for the arts in so utilitarian terms is deeply depressing – but there are utilitarian arguments as well as the ones about the human spirit."

Gormley follows previous sculpture laureates who have included Richard Serra and Louise Bourgeois, and from the UK Anish Kapoor, Richard Long, Tony Cragg and Anthony Caro; while Chipperfield follows in the footsteps of Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and James Sterling.

All winners are required to attend a formal ceremony in Japan where they are given their 15m yen prize (£95,000) by Prince Hitachi, the patron of the Japan Art Association.

Gormley said the prize money would go towards the less well-funded public arts projects he works on, including one coming up in Japan. "There are many aspects of my work that really require this kind of extra help." © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 08 2013

Sport picture of the day: Japanese joy

It's hard not to smile at the unbridled joy in this image. The sheer spectrum of facial expressions makes it an amusing snap. The men and women pictured are celebrating the IOC's decision to award the 2020 Olympic Games to Tokyo

August 12 2013

Tokyo, as you've never seen it: the second largest photo ever taken – interactive

To create this 360º 'Gigapixel Panorama' of the world's largest city, photographer Jeffrey Martin took over 10,000 photos from the Tokyo Tower, and combined them digitally to form an interactive image, the second largest photo ever taken

The image shows you a great deal of the Tokyo metropolitan area – you can see about 25km to the horizon, which adds up to about 500 sq km. I was lucky there was a big storm the night before, which cleaned the air, extending the visibility by many miles.

I spent months putting the whole thing together, but still haven't seen every detail in the image. But I've found a few nice highlights, including a guy sleeping on the ground after a rough night out, a Ferrari, a couple of guys practising baseball, and scores of little alleyways and streets where life is unfolding. I shot on a weekend so there are a lot of people simply doing their thing; there is a lot of life in the image.

I shoot almost exclusively 360º images. To me, it is the perfect kind of photography, capturing everything that exists from a single point in space. It is inherently geographic, in describing a single point on the earth, and in far greater detail than anyone could experience with the naked eye. I think it is amazing that I can extend the human senses in this way.

I shot the image using a standard DSLR camera, a Canon 7D, and a 400mm lens. The only special gear used was a robot camera mount connected to a laptop, onto which I bolted the camera and lens. This expensive piece of kit allows you to turn the camera by precise amounts using powerful stepper motors. On this shoot, the camera was moving, and simultaneously focusing and shooting frames, all without stopping, which lets you accomplish something that would otherwise take 10 times longer.

The entire image, taken from the Tokyo Tower, is made from three different sections which were shot pointing out from three different places around the tower. (These sections were joined together at the very end, on the computer.) Each section of images took 30-90 minutes to shoot, depending on the speed that the robot was turning the camera. So, I shot a whole set of images twice, on two different days. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 02 2013

Ryo Takemasa: Im Teich neben dem Haus

(Gefunden bei


Tags: Japan

July 25 2013

July 21 2013

Meiji-Kaiser in traditionellem Habitus

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July 10 2013

In Einkehr

Nobutada (1565-1614)

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Tags: Japan

Ein Regenschauer auf der großen Brücke von Atake

Hiroshige Utagawa (1797-1858)

(Gefunden bei


Tags: Japan
Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

July 09 2013

Japanische Bahngesellschaft verkauft Kundendaten

Die japanische Bahngesellschaft “East Japan Railway Co.” verkauft seit Anfang Juli Kundendaten an Unternehmen. Verkauft werden sollen jene Daten, welche mit der elektronischen Prepaid-Fahrkarte Suica über die Kunden gesammelt werden. Es sollen Daten von zehn Metrostationen gesammelt werden und in monatlichen Paketen an Unternehmen verkauft werden. Den Verkauf übernehmen wird das Unternehmen Hitachi, wie es in einer Pressemitteilung erklärt.

Nach eigenen Angaben sind zur seit rund 42 Millionen Suica-Cards in Gebrauch. Hitachi wird die gesammelten Daten analysieren und in monatliche Pakete schnüren.

The plan is to sell the information in the form of monthly reports to retailers, eating and drinking establishments, and real estate agencies that operate near the train stations.

Zwar sollen einige Merkmale der Suica-Inhaber anonymisiert werden, doch trotzdem sollen Daten wie das Geschlecht, das Alter und die Uhrzeit der Nutzung der Karte erhalten bleiben. Die monatlichen Datenpakete sollen für rund 5 Millionen Yen, umgerechnet etwas mehr als 38.000 Euro, pro Jahr von Unternehmen erworben werden können.

In Japan stößt dieser Vorstoß der Bahngesellschaft auf große Proteste. Ein Grund dafür ist ein Datenschutzskandal bei der Tokioer Metro. Dort wird ein ähnliches System wie Suica eingesetzt welches den Namen Pasmo trägt. Wie Arstechnica berichtet veröffentlichte erst Letztens ein Mitarbeiter von Pasmo sämtliche Daten eines weiblichen Fahrgastes. Sowieso scheint es Pasmo mit Datenschutz aber nicht so zu genau zu nehmen, wie Japan Probe berichtet. Demnach sei der gesamte Reiseverlauf einer Person im Internet einsehbar, indem man lediglich einige persönliche Daten wie das Geburtsdatum der betreffenden Person in ein Onlineformular eintrug.

Wir wollen weiter ausbauen. Dafür brauchen wir finanzielle Unterstützung. Investiere in digitale Bürgerrechte.

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