Camera shy Japanese (2004-05-29)

Many Japanese are fiercely protective of their privacy and identity to an obsessive and ridiculous level.  One can easily sense that by watching the news.  Whenever a missing person is reported on the news, his/her neighbors are often interviewed to give their opinion of that person.  Their faces are never shown on camera, the picture on the TV screen begins from their necks down.  Viewers only see headless people telling the world what a wonderful person their neighbor is.  It's not like they are making defamatory comment on the missing person, I never understand why the secrecy. 

Often times when the news shows the house, apartment or school which a victim of crime lives or attends, the entire screen is obscured.  The image doesn't return to normal until the structure is no longer shown.  It's like you see a reporter, followed by a full screen of blurred image, and back to the reporter.  What's the point of showing it in the first place?  It contributes nothing to that report. 

A few months ago when Japan was beginning to send troops to Iraq, some of the wives of the armed forces were interviewed on the news.  Every woman's face was blurred by mosaics and her voice altered digitally to hide her identity.  All they had to say was how much they would miss their husbands and hope for their safe return.  Who knows why it's so shameful to stand up and declare support for loved ones who are risking their lives to help rebuild war-ravaged Iraq. 

Yesterday I was shopping in a pet shop and saw a young couple browsing with a tiny raincoat-wearing dachshund in tow ( it was drizzling on and off the whole day).  I thought I'd take a shot of it to post it on my site so I approached the man and asked if I could take a picture of his dog.  He eyed me suspiciously and hesitated.  He then told his female friend my request who gave me the same look and said, "Why? What for?"  I was actually thrown back by their response because I only wanted a picture of their dog and not them.  Gosh forbid I should ask to snap THEIR faces.  I know Japanese people are chary of having their pictures taken, but their pets too?  I didn't realize dogs' privacy was so fiercely guarded by their owners as well.  Anyway I told the couple I just thought the dog was cute and I liked taking pictures of animals.  I think out of politeness, they let me snap a couple of shots half-heartedly at the end.

So next time you wonder why most of my Japanese people shots are taken from behind, you understand the reason.

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