Photo by Tomáš Malík

Representation is important for various reasons. It opens up opportunities for groups of people and their voices heard. Accurate representation could also reduce the number of negative stereotypes about a group of people. 

In Japan, there have been some improvements in the representation of the deaf community in Japanese media, but it still varies. This post explores how things have changed in recent years. 

General Representation of Deaf People in Media

The media often misconstrues the representation of deaf people. In all forms of media, there’s always been a challenge of good intentions that end up offensive. It stems from ignorance or an unwillingness to understand a specific community. 

Deaf people in the media are seen as isolated and lost souls who depend on hearing people to survive in this big world. There is a lack of authenticity in deaf characters in movies, TV shows, and on the news. In all reality, while deaf people come from a minority culture, it’s something that the media should celebrate.

The deaf community is richly diverse in culture and linguistics and is a unique group of people that should be recognized for their diversity rather than their medical characteristics. Another way is the idea of them being a hero because they accomplished something that the hearing community would see as an obstacle for them. Labeling them as heroic or any related term seems like the media is doing justice for the deaf community, but it isn’t. 

In the end, the media shouldn’t emphasize the idea of deaf people needing to be cured or isolated. It should focus on a rich community that is so unique in every way.

The Deaf Community in Japan

There are hundreds of deaf communities worldwide. The deaf communities are a unique culture independent of the majority. For example, Japan is gradually building a deaf community and gaining recognition in mainstream society. 

Japan is a homogenous country. Being different in a homogenous nation isn’t exactly encouraged. In Japan, it can go as far as requiring black hair to attend public school. According to ASL University’s Matthew Wallace, Japan developed isolated in culture and geography. That makes the Japanese shy away from things slightly different from the typical norm. Therefore, Japan is stagnant in providing opportunities for deaf people. It’s also been a challenge for deaf people to coexist in the hearing world with their fellow citizens. 

The two forms of sign language used in Japan are JSL and Signed Japanese, which are also not accessible everywhere. They prefer to use a forced oralism method in places like schools because going to a specialized school for sign language isn’t considering formal education, which is a big deal in Japan, especially for the younger population. 

There has been a lot of collision between conformity and being deaf since childhood or adulthood. It has been a struggle for the Japanese to create a community with people they can relate to and empathize with. Though, not all hope is lost. There are steady improvements for more community building with various deaf organizations in the country, like the JFD (Japanese Federation of the Deaf), a national organization advocating for deaf individuals on social issues. 

The Culture of Japanese Media

Photo by Willian

East Asian media has taken the world by storm. With the popularity of anything from J-Pop (Japanese pop music) to anime shows and dramas, it’s hard to be out of the loop. But why do people find it so addicting that they binge-watch a show on a weekend? Because Asian media has a way of blending tradition with the modern world. That is why it has become a fan favorite.

Deaf People on TV New Broadcasting

The coverage for deaf people can vary in the live media. Some broadcasting stations are inclusive, while others might need more ability or resources. For the most part, translators and interpreters simultaneously relay the message during news broadcasts. A JSL interpreter on the scene makes the news and current events accessible to the deaf community. It also bridges the communication gap between the deaf and hearing community, furthering and advancing toward a more open society. 

Dramas and Films

This area of media has always been the biggest issue with the proper representation of deaf people to the Japanese audience. However, there are a few movies based on deaf people. The first one is an anime movie called “A Silent Voice” (2016) depicts the story of a student who bullies a deaf girl, and she ends up leaving the school. The classmates stood up for the girl and exiled him from the community. From there, he realizes what he has done wrong and goes on a path toward understanding and forgiveness. 

A more recent film, “Until Rainbow Dawn,” is about a same-sex, deaf couple and sheds light on the difficulties of a multi-faceted identity in traditional Japanese countryside life. The movie was filmed entirely in JSL (Japanese Signed Language). Having these worlds come together is groundbreaking for the entertainment industry and the deaf community to have believable representation. 

Deaf Actors and Embracing Diversity 

One way to accurately represent deaf people is to get an actor or actress that identifies with that community. Casting a non-deaf actor for a deaf character role doesn’t make sense. Now, as things change for the deaf community are more opportunities for deaf people to play the characters in shows and movies.

Ryuta Sato is a deaf actor who played a lead role in “The World of Silence.” The drama is about a character who becomes deaf later in life, and it causes a lot of issues with his social circle and community. It portrays a different side of deafness and received so much praise. The most important reaction was the recognition of the deaf actor. Sato represented his community so beautifully that it brought more awareness to the deaf population. He proved the capabilities and talents of deaf actors and actresses. Having an actual deaf person play the role is also more convincing because it shows how deaf people live in a hearing society.

Social Media and the Internet

Social media is a big part of life now, whether it’s a positive or negative thing. People rely on it to connect with friends, learn something new, and keep up with trends, and current events. As with hearing people, deaf people use it for the same reasons. Social media makes us all feel more connected and build online communities with people who might not live in the same country.

Applications like Tiktok, Youtube, Instagram, and others are also tools for revolutionary movements. Users create content and awareness for social issues. Deaf individuals in Japan are utilizing these websites for that exact purpose. They could use Instagram or Tiktok for short-form content that depicts being deaf or other personal stories. There is also YouTube for Japanese Sign Language lessons for anyone interested outside or inside the deaf community.

Content online spreads like wildfire from one community to the next. Using social media to raise awareness can bring change to the deaf community in Japan, even if it isn’t significant. The internet is a great place to start. 

If you made it to the end of this post, you have learned ways that the Japanese media is taking steps for inclusiveness toward the deaf community. While any effort made is valuable, there is still room for improvement. 

“Emilio Insolera, deaf actor. Japan” by INSOLERA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Individuals of the deaf community deserve to see themselves portrayed accurately and their stories heard. Find out more about how deaf people are represented in media by checking out the blog section of