All cats in the dark

Color vision and society

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    This website is to publish essays and documents written and created by Tokugawa Naohito, a Japanese sociologist, who published Color Vision Discrimination and Difficulty to Talk: A Sociological Inquiry into the Nature of Experience of Epiphany and the Possibility of Responsive Ear to the Voice in 2016. This is the first social science book in Japan that focuses on this topic.

    The following of this page is a brief summary of a part of the book, and a picture of Japanese history of color vision deficiency, stigmatization of it, and protest against it.

    The names of Japanese persons in this page will be refered in the order of family name first.

 image of the cover of the Color Vision Discrimination and the Difficulty to Talk
    Image: Cover of the Color Vision Discrimination and Difficulty to Talk.
    Words on the wraparound band (on the beige ground) says "A Search for the Cause of Inexpressible Suffering of Color Vision Minority!"


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Japanese History of Color Vision Test

Logical Circle and Stigma

   Japan has almost one hundred years of history of color vision test at school.
   This long-term practice constituted a habit of uncertain inference among ordinary people that color blindness must be a serious impairment. It was believed that color blind must cause various calamities like military loss, fatal traffic accident, medical error, and industrial inefficiency.
   There arose a logical circle in which this habit of inference in turn requires and justifies the screening test. This circle presupposed and left in effect the conventional use of color in society as a given and unchangeable condition.
   The color blindness thus appeared as a label of stigma. It signified the inferiority not simply to see the color but also to see one’s own inability to adapt oneself to a lot of tasks in education, to various duties in military service and occupation, to the modern social life in general, and even to marriage.

Modernity and Standardization of Vision

   This phenomenon was, roughly speaking, common in Europe, United States, and Japan after the middle of the 19th century. It was the time when man acquired new technology to manipulate light and color as signals and signs in every sphere of social life, especially in the mass transportation system.
   Rather than the inquiry into the nature of physical color, physiological and subjective sense of color became significant, and therefore discipline of eyes became crucial matters for security, business, and imperialistic interests.
   Then it was more than a mere coincident that it was the dawn of the 20th century and about 50 years after Meiji restoration when Ishihara Shinobu, a professor of ophthalmology at then Tokyo Imperial University and a surgeon major general in the army of Japan Empire, invented the world famous pseudo-isochromatic chart test for color blindness. Being intended and provided originally for the use in the checkup procedure of conscription, the charts were revised and spread widely for school children immediately after the invention.
   Even after the war, in 1958, a law on the school health regulated the mandatory screening test of color deficiency at primary schools. In this context of education in re-industrializing Japan, the revised Ishihara test played the role of an aptitude test to judge one’s fitness to education and future occupation.
   The standardized sense of color was a component of obedient body required in modernity.

   While the color blindness has been thus a medical category as an incurable abnormality, yet it has never been defined as a disability or a disease which should be covered and aided by social welfare system.
   All that was told to the detected child was only the name of the deficiency and the prospective unfitness in various trainings and jobs that treat color. There was not any care, information, nor counseling for the individual.
   Rather, both of practice of the test and the habitual inference rationalized restrictions that had been set in the selection of specialty at higher school and in the selection of job as an inevitable matter to protect society from dangerous and inefficient people.
   There arose again a closed circle in which the existence of these barriers in society in turn gives the screening test a firm ground to maintain itself as a necessary service for Daltonians to let them become aware of the deficiency and avoid these obstacles for themselves.

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 ■ July 10th,2016