Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Music in Tsukuba

Tunes in Tsukuba

I took this shot a day or two after buying my new camera. I also happened to have my tripod with me at the time, so I decided to try and play around with the settings a bit. I wanted to do it without a flash so I could show the ambient lighting in the bar.

The original shot was a bit dark, but I managed to make it much more visible thanks to the brightening function in Picasa. I know this is far from perfect, but considering how new I am at all of this I think it's not all that bad. What do you think?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Another crack at the little shrine in Tsukuba

Little shrine in Tsukuba, Take 2

I took a couple of shots of this little shrine in a previous post. But the more I looked at them, the more I hated them. So I decided to take another crack at it.

While this one's far from perfect, I think it's a big improvement on the other one. Three reasons: I used a 6 Megapixel camera instaed of a 2 Megapixel camera phone, I got a much better angle on this one, and I used the colour saturation feature in Picasa to make it come to life even more.

The special rope tied to the top of the shrine

This time around, I also got a shot of the sacred rope tied to the front of the shrine. I still don't know what this is called, though I'll try and get the name for it when I can.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Rice paddy at dawn

Rice field at dawn

I was driving home from a night out with my buddies when the sun was just staring to come up. I was in the middle of these rice paddies just on the outskirts of the town I live in, and I was so taken aback that I just had to get a shot of it.

The rainy season is just starting up here, bringing life to the young stalks of rice. In a couple of months these tiny little seedlings will grow tall and strong, blanketing the countryside with a rich, lush green. Then they'll turn brown, and the harvest will begin, providing the people with the food that they will all gather around the table to enjoy together.

A little update: I've been posting these pictures from my archives lately, for two reasons. One was that I had so many pictures that didn't really fit together into one particular theme, but I wanted to show them anyway. Two, the weather over here has been downright awful--the rainy season makes it nearly impossible to get out on the bike, to say nothing of not providing particularly good subjects for photos. Maybe I'll get out there anyway and find something worth shooting. Till then, I hope you enjoy the archives!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Junko's Bike

Junko's bike

There's a bar up in Tsukuba called Cork Head's that I like to go to. The owner is a really nice Australian guy named Martin. He's actually the one who got me into motorcycles.

His wife Junko rides too, and her bike is in the bar. A really nice Harley Davidson Sportster.

For this shot, I played around with the exposure time until I got the shot just right. In this case, it was a three second exposure. The ambient lighting in the bar was really nice, so I didn't want to use a flash.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Black and white bar shot

Black and white bar shot

This shot would have been even better if I could somehow have made the smoke from the cigarette show up. Any ideas on why I can't see it? I shot it with I think a 2-3 second exposure.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bike impound

In an earlier post, I showed a picture of a seemingly endless line of motorcycles and scooters lined up by a "no bike parking" sign. Every time I walk by the train station near my house, I see the same kind of thing, only with regular bicycles. I always wondered what happened to those bikes when they were left for too long.

Impounded bikes, black and white

The other day, I found out.

A lot of people who live in the suburbs commute by train. They have two bikes: one at home, and one where they work. And bikes are cheap. So when they get transferred to a new office or graduate from school, they often simply leave the bikes on the work side behind, until it gets picked up and carted off to the bike impound.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Carp Streamers

Carp sreamers

May 5th is Children's day in Japan. Coming at the end of the Golden Week, it's a time to celebrate the blessings of children, particularly boys. There are several traditions that go along with this day. Families with boys display beautifully ornate models of samurai armour. Children eat "Kashiwa Mochi": special rice cakes stuffed with sweet bean paste wrapped in a leaf.

Carp Streamers again

But probably the most fascinating of these traditions is the flying of the carp streamers. Many families in the countryside have large poles erected in their yards to fly the stramers from. If I remember correctly, they fly one large one to represent the father, and smaller ones for each son. The carp is a ceremonial fish, said to represent long life and good health.


Carp sreamers



Many cities also have lines and lines of carp streamers in parks as well. Some of these lines can be up to 50 meters long, with dozens of colourful streamers waving gently in the breeze.

Balcony Carp Streamers

Even families without fields to erect a pole in fly their carp streamers. These ones were hung up on the balcony of an apartment building near my place. Tradition is tradition, after all.

Monday, May 22, 2006

My first foray into the world of black and white

Fountain in black and white

This is a picture of a small fountain at the same park in Mitsukaido. I've always loved these kinds of symmetrical geometric shapes. But when I looked at the picture, I thought the colours were kind of dead. I tried a bunch of things in Picasa, but it still looked really bland.

Then I got the idea to try it in black and white. Boom! Much better. What do you think?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sunlight reflected in a shallow pool

The sun reflected in the shallow pool
I was walking along the footpath by this pool and I saw this shot line up just beautifully. I was kind of going for a zen-like look for this one. What do you think?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A plethora of colour: water pipes

Colourful pipes

The park in Mitsukaido also has a really nice set of water pipes. These acually spray water during the summer for the kids to play in.

Colourful pipes

I definitely want to go back to this park when summer comes around to try and get some shots of kids playing in the water.

I'm not really sure which of these, if any, I like the best. I'm interested in hearing your ideas and opinions.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A really cool slotted roof: two perspecitves

I like living out here. One of the reasons is that it's urban enough to get and do anything I want. The other reason is that it has acutal parks. Not the Tokyo excuse for a park (Yoyogi Koen and Shinjuku Gyoen excluded, of course), with the ground paved and a few trees scattered higgledy-piggledy around. I'm talking a real, open space, with grass and trees.

A very colourful weathervane on a neat roof

This one also has really cool sculptures and structures too. What's more, it has lots of colour to appeal to the kids. Check out the weathervane at the top of this gazebo: the colours are so bright and alive.

A really cool roof, seen from below

I also love looking at things from below. The lines in the gazebo roof are so cool.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A funky, colourful sculpture in a Mitsukaido park, part 2

Here are a couple of different angles of the scuplture featured yesterday.


The sculpture again



Same sculpture, from underneath looking up



Taken from under the sculpture, looking up at the sky.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A sculpture at a park in Mitsukaido

A sculpture in a park in Mitsukaido



I was trying to track down a few friends of mine the other day when I stumbled on this really cool park in Mitsukaido. This is a really funky sculpture they had in the park. I'll be posting more pics from the same park in the coming days.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Engrish

Anyone who's been in Japan for any length of time will no doubt come across a plethora of examples of Engrish: odd renditions of English words. Most of them are no doubt for decoration only, or poor transations of Japanese instructions and signs.

Engrish

This is a sign for a video rental shop near where I live. And yes, they do have porn.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Fuji TV building in Odaiba

A monstrosity of a building in Odaiba

I'm going to take another shot at this one when I get back to Tokyo. I'm not really happy with the angle on this, but at the time this was the best one I could get. It's probably best to think of this as a "before" shot.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Shoutout to Azhar Chougle

I just wanted to give a big shoutout to Azhar Chougle. He maintains The Daily Sunrise photoblog, and he put one of my pics up on the front page. He also edited it a bit to make the red even brighter and the shadows more prominent. I think it looks much better now. Thanks Azhar!

Night traffic in front of my apartment

Night traffic near my apartment

I'd always wanted to take pictures like these. The problem is, I never had a camera that I could adjust the shutter speed on.

Night traffic near my apartment

I took these from the pedestrian overpass in front of my apartment, using various shutter speeds.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A farmer hand-planting rice

Planting rice by hand
Although the bulk of agricultural work in Japan is done by machine these days, some work still has to be done by hand.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Under Construction

I'm going to be tweaking the blog for the next few days, changing image sizes and the template around. So don't be surprised if you visit it one second and something's missing or not looking right--it'll all be fixed within a few days I promise!

The Asahi beer company building in Asakusa, Tokyo

What is THAT?

In the Asakusa section of Tokyo, there's a prime example of the strange ugliness of Japanese architecture. The thing at the top of that building is supposed to be the golden flame of a torch. What does it look like to you? Leave me a comment and tell me!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Golden Week Gridlock

Golden Week Gridlock

Golden Week just came to an end this past Sunday. It's a series of national holdays in Japan. The first day is at the end of April, and then after a short jump, there's a small block of three holidays around the beginning of May.

This is one of the only chances Japanese people get to take a vacation. As such, the roads are so packed with cars that you can't fit any more in with a shoehorn.

Gridlock

I took these pictures from the pedestrian overpass in front of my apartment. The traffic going south to Chiba and Tokyo was snarled up for miles. Going North, it was a different story: smooth sailing.

That's because it was the end of Golden Week. People escape to the country at the beginning, like bees leaving the hive in search of food. At the end, they all come flodding back to the city, clogging the roads as they go.

Pine ball in front of sake shop

Pine ball outside of sake shop
I saw this hanging from the eaves of a sake shop in Narita city. Shops traditionally put these up if they make their own sake. When the ball is first hung, the pine needles are green, showing that the sake is still new. As the sake ages, so do the branches, turning browner and browner to show that the sake is mellowing nicely.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The crowds of Golden Week at Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo

Golden week brings a welcome, albeit short, breath of relief for the working denizens of Tokyo and other places. For an ever-so-short time, they can shed their salaryman prison clothes and escape for a moment.



The only problem is, virtually everyone in the country is doing this at the same time. As such, they have to deal with one of Japan's biggest holiday headaches: crowds.

The shopping area
Here at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, people are packed in like sardines as they shuffle their way along the shop-lined walkway.


OK, this way!
The crowds are so dense that tour leaders often have to put up a flag just so that the group can actually follow the leader.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Japanese food: The first bite is with the eye

The Japanese have a real penchant for turning nearly everything they make into works of art. Give them some silks for a robe, and they'll make a colourful, stunning kimono. Give them steel and laquer for a sword, and they'll make an ornate, yet supersharp katana. And give them a few simple ingredients, and they'll make you a sumptuous feast that looks as good as it tastes, if not better.

Sashimi

At a recent reception for new teachers at my school, we went to a fantastic sushi restaurant. The sashimi plates they brought out were so delicately arranged that it was almost a shame to eat it.

Almost.

Meat and veggies

But the sashimi wasn't all they had. They also brought out a plate of meat, vegetables, and tofu, that we then dropped into a pot of boiling water on our tables, cooking it just enough before diving in with our chopsticks to fish out our favourite tasty morsels. Even though the meat would only sit on the plates for a short moment, that didn't hamper the staff's attention to detail.

Pickled vegetables and beer


Even a simple dish of pickled vegetables is artfully arranged.

Curry and salad

My private student is also a fantastic cook. Even though I've eaten many wonderful meals in her home, she always puts in that little extra bit of detail in the presentation to make sure that it's just right.

Udon

I also went to a great udon shop in Tokyo some time ago. The way the meat and vegetables are displayed in the pot before cooking is intricate to the point of being ornate.

Artful Mocha

This attention to detail doesn't stop at food, either. They even make a mocha into a work of art.

Is that a sign, or just a decoration?

Is that a sign or decoration?

The sign on the left says "No bicycle or motorcycle parking." I guess some people don't know how to read.

Akihabara: Electronics Heaven

Akihabara building


The Yamanote line runs around the city of Tokyo in an endless circle, like the oroboros snake eating its own tail. On the northern rim of this endless wheel is the electronics district of Akihabara, which draws computer freaks and anime geeks like moths to the flame.

And I like the place too.

A shop in Akihabara

The place has dozens of different electronics stores, many of which are seven or eight storeys high. They are crammed wall-to-wall with every kind of electronics equipment under the sun, from computers to cameras to cookware. Most of the major electronics chain stores have stores here, and most of the latest and up-to-date-est equipment makes its debut here.

Portable backdrop

The amount of professional-level equipment available here is mind-boggling. This shop has several portable white backdrops--complete with camera stands and lighting--for shooting things like food or figurines.

Computer parts

Slip around to the backstreets, and you can noodle around the smaller shops. They have the more obscure equipment, like shortwave radios and power converters. They even have enough diodes, capacitors, and resistors to build a computer of your own if you were so inclined.

Akihabara campaign girl

But of course, all of these wonderful electronics don't sell themselves. That's what campaign girls are for. On any given day (or night), you'll find them out in force, handing out pamphlets, toys, or tissue-packs, as they try to entice customers with their charm and smiles, like the Siren of Greek mythology. They're out there, no matter how bitterly cold or swealteringly hot it may be.

A better shot of the maids



In recent years, a paricular fetish called "cosplay," short for "costume play" has become all the rage, especially among the techon-freaks. These girls were just a few of the many campaign girls out in Akihabara on this particular day.

A full-sized schoolgirl model

Speaking of fetishes, another popular one is schoolgirl figurines. They are so popular that many of the electronics stores--once the backbone of Akihabara--are beeing shouldered aside by toy, comic, and even porn shops. This one draws its customers in with a full-sized mannequin of a schoolgirl, complete with the ultra-short skirt and big moony eyes like saucers.

Pedestrian's Paradise

On Sundays and major holidays, the Tokyo Police Department closes off the main strip in Akihabara to vehicle traffic, and turns the whole area into "Hokosha Tengoku," which translates as "Pedestrian's Paradise." The people who flock to the Electronics District can feel free to meander across the streets as well, poking their heads into this store or that without need to worry about getting creamed by crazy Tokyo drivers.

The lights of Akihabara

Come night time, the skyline of Akihabra is lit up with a rainbow of neon signs, dazzling the shoppers with elaborate patterns of light.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Hiking up Mt. Takao

More flowers near the shrine around the top of Mt. Takao



A friend of mine invited me for another hanami party. But this was no ordinary hanami: it was a hanami hiking trip. Most of the blossoms at sea level had fallen, but the tops of the mountains were an explosion of colour.

A river near the mountain

We hiked up to two mountains that day. The first one was more about views from the top than flowers, but they were fantastic. There's a river running next to the mountain, and it's one of the only large ones I've seen that isn't encased in concrete.

Yet another view from Takao-san


We also caught a glimpse of a small bay near the back side of the mountain, with houses clustered around the bayside.


There's a shrine at the top as well. If memory serves me corectly, Shintoism regards mountains as holy places, and as such many of the major ones have shrines on the top

Close-up of the shrine



This one was simple, keeping with the Shintoist value of austerity.

After the trek down to the bottom of the first hill, we began the journey to the second one. It was a much more arduous climb, taking about a good hour, not including the 20 minutes or so we spent looking for the entrance to the roadway.

Cherry blossoms on the top of Mt. Takao



At the top, the cherry blossoms were sill in full bloom, and served as the perfect place to spread out our picnic blankets.

Purple flowers



But cherry blossoms were not the only flowers to see that day. We saw myriad different kinds of flowers, of all shades of purple, red, and pink.

The river from a viewpoint on Mt. Takao

We also saw another view of the river, along with the small footbridge we took across it it to get to the mountain.

Completely zonked from the long climb, and somewhat tipsy from all the beer and sake, we decided not to climb back down, opting for the cable car instead. A great way to end a great day.