Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Plus and Minus #2

Foreign residents in Japan have oft bemoaned the quality of Japanese television. The never ending stream of 'Gourmet' programmes (not a spelling mistake, I'm from The U.K), the always energetic 'Talents' who appear on the quiz and gourmet shows; the list goes on.

A lot of it is bad, but of course there are good programmes too, and I do try not to forget some of the utter cr*p that get's aired back in Blighty.


One of the best shows on T.V in Japan at the moment is "Pitagora Switch" (from Pythagoras). This is an NHK classic that presents childen with ideas of interconnectivity and synchronicity in involving and creative ways. (why am I watching kids T.V? If you want to learn to play with a language....)

The show is aired at the same time as "Nihongo de asobo" (Let's play with the Japanese language") which features the Hawaiian sumo wrestler 'konishiki' (long retired). This programme really does play with the language and is a must for any Japanese language learner who wants to get a grip with the (seemingly) thousands of onomatpoeia used in every day conversation.

Both shows being kids shows and well produced ones at that use action, dance and rhythm to put their points accross. Here is a link to one of the most famous skits in the show "Pitagora Switch":

"Algorithm Taisou"
(I don't know how to get a screen shot on here or I would)

Now the minus point:
Rhythm and dance have been used in horrendous ways in the past. One mail from a friend in the U.K contained the link below. It was a seemingly short lived English study programme from the 80's or early 90's. I have asked many people but nobody remembers it. My friend thought that the tall mugger with glasses looked like me. Sadly, he was right.

"Japanese English learning from days gone by"

Monday, June 25, 2007

Looking ahead to the summer

Plus & Minus

Summer is in the process of making itself felt. "We are entering the time when all will turn against us" said Leto to his son in Frank Herbert's Dune. A little extreme perhaps but there is a lot to fear about the Japanese summer, even if you are used to it.

I was trying to think of some plus points to balance out the minus points but fear I have failed miserably. Any suggestions welcome.

Minus points top 3:

1) Humidity - especially in Nagoya which rivals Kyoto for air-borne moisture.

2) Insects - The war against mosquitos and cockroaches begins (though the mosquito problem here is nothing compared to Alaska I hear).

3) Air conditioning that could freeze hell - Walk out the door dressed for summer and find yourself catching a cold because you spent 5 minutes on a train.

Plus points top 3:

1) Cold beer - this is the season that Japanese beer is made for.

2) Summer festivals - many and varied, always good and free to attend.

3) Summer fashion - euphemistically speaking.

The last one is where my attempt to find goodness in the Japanese summer fall flat on it's face. I couldn't find anything else particularly good about the summer, save for that it is not winter. There are plenty more minus points I could add, but I don't want to portray myself as a negative moaner as well as a letch.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


I was in the studio yesterday helping to prepare for the move to the new studion on Wednesday. During a break the subject of the Rotographers (rojin = old folk) and their amazing collections of high priced cameras. He told me a story about meeting a group of Rotographers in the foyer of a developing lab.

While checking the slides from that days commercial shoot, he said he could hear a conversation in the background between 3 or 4 older men about the next days proposed photo-outing that went something like this:

What film should we use?

Well it looks like it's going to be cloudy so it should be a 400 iso film.

Hmmm, I like using 100.

Yes, but if it's cloudy we should use 400.

Is it really going to be cloudy though?

That's what he says. And it looks a bit overcast now.

Like I said, a 400 film.

Yes, a 400 hundered film.

Yes, right. If it's cloudy, we need a 400 film....

At which point after concluding the conversation one of the speakers came and leant over the cameraman's shoulder and said:

So how's it going then? Any good?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sake - O

Walking into the convenience store at 8am to buy breakfast, I passed an OAP cracking open a cup sake outside.

I wandered reeking in a cloud
That stank on high o’er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd
A gross of golden bottled pils
Beside the shochu, beneath processed cheese
Glinting and sparkling at my dis-ease

Continuous as the Toyota’s that shine
And sparkle on the raised highway
They stretched in a never ending line
Along the aisle to the doorway
Ten bottles saw I at a glance
As I tossed my head in a sprightly dance

The one-cups beside them danced, but they
Out – did the one cups in quality
A drunkard could not but be gay
In such a well brewed company
I gazed, and gazed, but little thought
Of the wealth with which such brews be bought

For oft, when on my futon I lie
In vacant or insensitive mood
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of drunken – hood
But then my heart with terror fills
I chose the one cup, not the pils

(apologies to Wordsworth)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Port photos (shoot and learn)

We cycled down to the port of Nagoya into the industrial and dock area. Alex brought his speedlights with a stand an an umbrella, and we played around with various settings and angles against the backdrop of a warehouse door.

The three versions of the same photo below were a great lesson in use of flash with available light and the problem of flash appearing in sunglasses. Not sure which I like best. They are so similar and each looks great to me (they would do I suppose, subject being my wife and all), even though the lighting in the background is uneven. Would have been good to have used either a second light on the left side or a reflective panel.

Shoot and learn.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

T-Shirt English

Spend a holiday by the seaside
wonderful views whereby
I look down at the sea
the scenery is a magnet
to many tourists


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Goddess of Trading

Manga Hanger

The 'Dolled Up' clothes stands, The Models with The Goggles...
Following on from a post on the 'Sungypsy' blog entitled 'Pink', about Tokyo's Akihabara district: I walked into the shopping center in Mitz's home town on Saturday and saw these two mannequin in the ladies & girls shopping area (just next to the men's section and on the way to the food court!)
It's not the first time I have seen mannequin like these, but the similarity to those in Damon's photo made me wonder if I hadn't stepped through a 'Doko-demo-door' (a go anywhere door) into Akihabara itself. Still, one cutesy anime character looks the same as another. 'Candy Candy' from the 1970's (Manga) and 1980's (anime) displays the same facial characteristics as the 'Bimbou shimai monogatari' girls out on DVD now. Cute & Generic.

It seems that the particular attraction of a female anime/manga character for the male audience such as those in Damon's post is to be able to see a flash of pants every so often. This is not such a recent thing or restricted to purely male audience manga (cartoon porn) either, with classic childrens anime characters such as Sailor Moon or Merumo Chan both flashing undies at some point.

A friend of mine gave a presentation during her university lesson on the subject of why men like skirts. She concluded that it is the slightest suggestion of the meerest possibility of seeing pants that keeps us interested and excited, and not what is beneath. And if you remember anybody, the disappointment you felt as a child when you went beyond the simple flight of imagination and actualy lifted up your sister's or your own Barbie's skirt when she wasn't wearing undies, you might be inclined to agree.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Matsuri snacks

At the Atsuta matsuri in Nagoya last night. There was the usual range of matsuri snacks being sold from the pavement stalls (yatai). The coated bananas seem to be very popular, but the one that got the crowds ooh-ing and ah-ing were the salted Ayu.
Heavily salted Ayu skewered on sticks and slow cooked over hot charcoal embers are a favourite summer snack, and this was the first time I and most of the crowd had seen them on sale this year.
The garish colours of the bananas was one thing, but the effect of fish shoaling even in death was just too bizarre. I tried to show this in a photograph but failed miserably. Still, you get the idea.
More matsuri snacks to follow.


"I met this monk last weekend" sounds like the beginning of a joke, but I did, honest. He is not the first person I have seen dressed this way, ringing a small bell and holding a small bowl for collecting alms, but he was the first I had talked to. Turned out that he was Brazilian, and has been here in Japan for 15 years.

He is a Komuso, a mendicant priest. (see Medicant, Rinzai school andTakuhatsu ) I didn't know that at the time. I didn't want to ask him directly, even though he was more than willing to talk. Instead we chatted about the Arimatsu Festival taking place around us and his bell that kept breaking.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


... in Japan stands for Old Age Photographers (made up name). At the Arimatsu festival on Saturday the amount of 'Senior Snappers' was amazing. These retired 'rice winners' are now in the fortunate position of having both time and money to spend on their chosen passtime.

More power to them! Their desire for the new and expensive means a constant flow of high quality used cameras and equipment into the second hand market. Each time a new digital camera is released, the flood of previous models is absorbed by the younger generation of hobbyists and photographers. The condition is usualy very good, and I picked up my D70 last year in mint condition for half it's retail price.
These Rotographers (Rojin = old person) are also a steady source of income for rental studios. Groups or clubs will often rent the space, an assistant and a model for a 'Satsuei-kai' (photography meeting). A friend of mine who manages one local studio says that sadly, these are the most boring events she has ever had to assist, with 6 to 8 men photographing one nubile in a bikini.
Check out any matsuri or other event for local Rotographer action.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Study aid

For anybody learning the Japanese readings of chinese Kanji, SpeedAnki is for you!
Anki means 'rote learning'. SpeedAnki is designed for people learning Japanese with a view to taking the Nihongo Nouryoku Kentei Shiken (test) in December.

Registration is free. The site allows you to study at the level of your choice and registered users can catagorize the kanji to allow easy review of familiar, not so familiar and 'What the hell?' characters.

As the test does not require any writing ability (or speaking ability!!!) the simple flashcard system is a perfect way of practicing for the test. Get to it!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Arimatsu Dashi

This is one of the Arimatsu Dashi. Dashi are wheeled, movable shrines. The Arimatsu Dashi are only actualy moved during the autumn festival. Yesterday they were on stationary display.

The Dashi have wooden manequins on their top two levels. The manequins head and limbs are moved by manipulating the atatched ropes, creating sometimes earily lifelike actions. The manequins must be dressed before each performance.

More places in the light

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert in Tokyo(land) sent me this link to an exhibition by Kenyan Photographer Jehad Nga. His work is made perhaps more beautiful by the many coloured clothes that his subjects are wearing. I should like it very much if the people in my photographs were all wearing kimono, but then that wouldn't be very realistic or true to everyday Japan. I shall have to wait untill the matsuri (festival) season really kicks in and the the girls go out wearing their coloured Yukata (lightweight kimono).

Until that time....

Friday, June 01, 2007

Matsuri season

The Matsuri (festival) season is upon us. There is one going on in the shrine in the park next door to me as I write, and tomorrow is the Arimatsu Matsuri which I would not have known about if the manager of my regular camera shop hadn't spotted me taking wall photos and given me a lift home.

The festival dates back about 400 years it seems, and the manager assured me that it's a national level festival... well, perhaps a little local pride there. The photos on the home page certainly don't give it the feel of anything that Tokyo seems capable of producing (though what does?) . The matsuri is based around its 'Shibori' (Tie-dyeing) industry, and should feature shows and demonstrations by their craftspeople. Should be colourful if not colourful.

Ah! Japanese sake in the open air! Mmmmatsuri!

The Granite wall and the sun (cont.)

As with so many things, the first shots were first time lucky. Yesterday in the same spot, no kids carrying rabbits, no kids leaping out from behind walls and no old men walking well groomed dogs.

This photo was taken this morning, hence the change in the background light. Shooting at a higher F stop gave me some leeway in terms of the subjects position.

Shooting with a wide lens yesterday gave much better results which included the blue sky and electricity cables above, but I shot those in the Nikon NEF format, and I don't have the software to convert them to JPEG yet so I can't show them here.

The lighting on the face continues to be a problem. It is a case of waiting for the subject to be in the right place, and in this sense it differs completely from studio photography (for one shoot we rigged up a brace for the models head to ensure no movement and the exact same lighting on the face for each cut).

It's like fishing or waiting for a London bus. You can be in the right place for hours but nothing comes along. After all the waiting and snapping, it may be that this is not a worthwhile series afterall, but exploring the options is an education.