February 29, 2004
Homeless and the Masses in Ikebukuro
February 27, 2004
Plumb Blossoms and Jizou
I shot the plumb blossom (plumb=ume) this afternoon in a grove of trees just outside my house. The row of Jizou shot was taken in front of a Buddhist temple near where I meet my Japanese tutor. I think Jizou are supposed to represent people who achieved enlightenment but stay around to help others on the way. Correct me if I'm wrong though.
A couple of weeks ago the news reported the first wind of Spring. All the seasons here begin with changes in the wind, so these reports are always heartening or discouraging, depending on the season. The coming months are a window of cool, colorful days between cold, wet winter and hot, wet summer. The plumb and peach trees are blooming now, and cherry blossoms will follow at the end of March. Then the winds will come and blow the blossoms away in a shower of "blossom snow" (it sounds better in Japanese).
February 24, 2004
Dogs and Starbucks in Japan
All over the world dog lovers hang out with dog lovers, and cat lovers hang out with cat lovers. I hope you enjoy these pictures. They don't say a lot about Japanese culture, but I will say this. When people here take up a hobby/passion/interest/etc they often go all out with it. We used to hang out in Minami Machida, where they had a high end retail shop devoted to dog lovers. You could always find a horde of dogs and owners congregating outside with many of the best dressed dogs in Japan (nicely groomed with little $50 sweaters and $25 bandannas, etc.). In the back of the store, by the way, they have a dog therapy room. For 1000 yen (about $10) a person can spend 30 minutes playing with a super cute little puppy. We thought about sending our 3 year old daughter in their, but they were backed up 2 or 3 time slots.
Enough about dogs. I wondered recently if Starbucks was not giving full refills for coffee anymore. The first time this happened, an employee explained that their "policy" is to give a short refill no matter what size was ordered originally. I figured that store's manager must be mistaken, but then it happened again in my local store. When I asked why, the worker explained this is indeed a policy. I didn't catch everything she said, so I nodded and said something like, "Hai, hai, ah...wakarimashita." I settled down with my short refill and studied Japanese for awhile, but just when I was about to leave, the girl came to my table with a full cup of coffee and a page from the employee manual. It was Section 8, the "Refill Policy," which says that coffee should be refilled fully to the size of the cup. So if you ever get "shorted" at Starbucks, and if you can speak some Japanese, and if you want to risk looking like a fool, remember: Section 8. By the way, refills are only available if you order coffee and cost 100 yen.
February 19, 2004
Nikon D70 Impressions in Shinjuku
To read my first impressions of the camera click here.
You Are Here
February 17, 2004
Frozen Moments and Digital Dreaming
I'm going into Tokyo tomorrow. I've been thinking about upgrading my Canon G-1 to a digital SLR. I'm excited to take my photography more seriously, and I hope this site will soon have the pictures to show for that. I'll have a look at a couple of stores in Shinjuku if I have time. I'm wavering between the Canon D10, 300D and the upcoming Nikon D70. The last two are cheaper, but really good cameras, and with the savings I can buy better and/or more lenses. I'll write more about camera shopping in Tokyo later.
February 10, 2004
Mercury Fish and MeGoogle News it said a Harvard study concluded that damage caused by mercury poisoning is irreversible. Infants in the womb and young children are most at risk. Being a father, I read carefully. A few searches on Google, and I learned that the world's oceans, and thus all the fish, are contaminated with mercury. Factories, apparently, dump lots of mercury in the ocean. What's up with that? In a worst case scenario, Japanese scientists found that one piece of legally "harvested" whale meat potentially contains a shocking 5000 times the legal limit of mercury. But if you can't afford whale sashimi, you can work your way up to it by eating lots of dolphins (not the Flipper kind, though). A single exposure to mercury saturateed whale meat could be hazardous even for an adult, by the way. For the little ones, mercury can (and does) lead to irreversible brain damage among other things.
The good news is that salmon, the fish we eat most in Japan, is generally lower in mercury than other kinds of fish. The bad news, I learned, is that the orange colored water that washes off cheap salmon is dye. Apparently, krill don't naturally swim into the net enclosures where farmed salmon spend their lives, so they eat pellets instead. Salmon that eat krill have nice, pink meat. Salmon that eat pellets have pale meat which consumers don't like. To solve the pale meat problem, dye is added to the pellets. Wellah, oishii pink salmon!
Back to mercury though. I decided it's not worth worrying about whether my kids already have irreversibe brain damage. What good would it do now? I'm convinced that they're all little geniuses anyway. But maybe I'll pay more attention to what they eat from now on. It's like the time when I saw a big pile of sugar in a magazine -- 11 teaspoons -- and learned all that goes into one can of coke. My soda intake dropped about 90 percent after that. Fortunately, coffee filled the gap.
By the way, I'm a purist when it comes to organic food. I don't buy it ever, unless it's on sale. I still have faith that food legally stocked on the shelves at much lower prices shouldn't kill me or my family, either quickly or slowly. Irradiated meat, bring it on. Apparently, radiation kills bad stuff, which is allright with me. Besides, don't I irradiate all my leftovers in the microwave?
But now we have Mad Cow beef and mercury laced fish to go with scads of fatty pork and high cholestorol eggs. I read somewhere that Tofu could be bad for some reason, but I really don't want to know. Tofu, good. Chickens are getting the flu. Chicken, bad? Pizza, good. Er, bad?
Seriously, I like all these things. On top of that, when I moved to Japan I discovered most home cooked Japanese food has been adapted for consumption under liberal amounts of mayonaise. I like that, too, just not on my pizza.
We can give the kids whole wheat toast and tofu, but, in the last analysis, I'm going to eat stuff that tastes good (which, surprisingly, includes a lot of stuff that's good for me). Am I going to drop dead from "food" someday, brought down by one last bucket of movie popcorn? Probably not, because I can't afford to go to movies here. By the way, what's up with movie popcorn in Japan? Did someone forget to import the hot butter machine?
Harajuku Graffiti and Phonediscerning photographer goes to take photos of men and women wearing outfits from stores that people like me walk by but never enter. The sidewalks in Omotesando are wide, the buildings and trees immaculate, and it's all well and good. Then I took a quick turn down an anonymous sidewalk that brought me to Takeshita-dori, a narrow street filled with young teens dressed down in jeans, or sometimes dressed up in Gothic black and other "image wear." Without some well placed graffitti, you might miss the fact that this a place of youthful angst and rebellion. The graffitti in these pictures fit the need nicely. Personally, I didn't see angst so much as design. The first picture reminds me of Kandinsky, or maybe I just framed it that way (if I do say so myself). Truthfully, all I know about Kandisky is from looking at plastic framed posters from Prints Plus. That being said, I like how it captures both a sense of chaos and design that you find there. I won't analyze the phone. Heck, maybe is Warhol-esque. Old; new; edgy; pop. Unlike the phones in inner city LA, it still works, and you'd expect it to. And that's good in case someone wanders out without a cell phone.
February 08, 2004
Looking for Connections in Tokyo
Here's a picture looking through the fence at the Harajuku Station platform. It grows on me as I look at these four people facing in different directions. The windows of a train behind face outward and conceal what's inside. Despite a total lack on connection, these people seem held together between the lines. The numbers on the bottom left add to a sense of mystery, as if someone is engineering this moment (what do all those numbers scrawled in train stations mean anyway?). I want these four to connect and defy the slim chances of relationship starting on a Tokyo train platform. But although these people may be open and vulnerable somewhere, it's not here.
Nearby, a picture of Britney Spears invites attention from the side of a homeless shelter, also seen through a fence. When my Japanese improves, I'd like to talk with some of the homeless in Japan. They have time to talk, and I imagine they have stories to tell. The first time I went to Ueno Park I was surprised to see a virtual city of similar shelters within the trees. Men were sitting around small tables, a few women were there, and I saw children's clothing hanging out to dry on lines.
Lately, I've been arriving at Ikebukuro Station at 7am once a week, and the walls are lined with cardboard boxes just like any skid row. It's really cold outside and sleeping in the train stations makes sense. One morning I was so tired when I there that I was looking at a man's makeshift pillow and trying to gauge the thickness of the cardboard he was sleeping on. For a moment it looked so comfortable, and then I pulled my mind away from the thought. I wonder how many of the salarymen rushing by each morning have the same idea sometimes, or whether they think about those guys at all.
February 05, 2004
Impact of the Camera
Yesterday I met a friend in Tokyo. We had ramen at a "famous" place in Kabukicho, in Shinjuku, that he'd seen on TV. The distinctives were the atmosphere (clean, glass walls, well lit) and lots of green onions (a whole bowl that you add yourself). Unfortunately, the atmosphere (if you like that) was the best part. My friend wasn't too happy with the taste, and he made an urgent visit to the restroom afterwards which he blamed on the meal. I added tons of garlic and some chile sauce to my ramen, and then it tasted pretty good. My wife said the whole house reaked of garlic later than night, and she even professed trouble sleeping, plus it took an effort to get all those green onions out of my teeth. I don't think I'll be going back.
After we ate and my friend relieved himself, we went to Harajuku. It was my first time to really walk around there, and I enjoyed taking pictures. I'll post more of those later. We went into Yoyogi Park and saw a large group of high schoolers doing nothing, looking mildly strange but harmless. On the other side of the path, leaning against a tree, was a man playing a traditional string instrument. I veered over to take his picture as he nodded agreement. As I walked away a group of the high school girls separated and practically rushed over to him. In moments one was seated on his chair plucking away at the instrument, while everyone chatted happily and took pictures with their cell phones. I was happy that my forwardness gave them the opportunity to go and meet him.
Speaking of the camera's impact on people. I took a walk with my daugher to a park and saw this man playing with his daugher. She was trying to vault over some wooden pommel horses and tried gamely to jump over the highest one with no success. I wandered over and took this picture. Then her father started coaching her to jump over the highest pommel (the one she's sitting on here).
After a few attempts, perhaps conscious of my camera, he gave her a push. I was looking down at the LCD to take this picture, so I just heard the thud. I looked up and she was flat on the ground and crying. Her father quickly bent down and tried to cheer her up by laughing happily (mental note: this didn't work). She lifted her face and one whole side was brown with caked on dirt. I think she landed directly on it. I didn't take any more pictures and tried to put my camera away as unobtrusively as possible. The father was laughing steadily, probably embarrassed. Mom came running followed by more "encouraging" laughter and blood ensuing from the nose. Someone produced a wet rag, and peace was restored gradually. Later we crossed paths on the way home. The girl was trying hard to look OK despite her scraped up face. Father was still very "positive" but doing it quietly.
By the way, if you're down on dad, I'm reminding myself that he spends Saturday afternoons with his daughter, rather than playing pachinko or golf or something else. If he's like many fathers, then he may come home very late and not see her much on weekdays. It's tough, and...well, I'd better end this here. More later in time.
February 02, 2004
Welcome to Japan Window
This is my first post in ?Japan Window.? As a beginning point, these pictures illustrate some challenges of trying to figure out what?s going on here. On the one hand, you have a city that?s a jumble of images seemingly in disorder, with lots of big ugly things and small ugly things (most of them concrete), and occasional beauty and design appearing in the middle (some of those are concrete, too). All around are unseen, sometimes visible, hands of corporations controlling giant video screens, directing a flow bodies, and wrapped around entire buildings.
At ground level, you have people living behind virtual walls, compacted within commuter trains in absolute silence, sitting beside each other but worlds apart in coffee shops... Of course, you'll find varieties of these same realities in Los Angeles or New York, and in whatever city comes to your mind, but this is a quick snapshot of one side of life I experience in and around Tokyo (there are other sides/varieties of life here, just to be clear). Anyway, in the coming months I hope to open a window through this blog. The purpose is for me to see Japan more clearly, and I'll be glad to share the process with you. Enjoy!