Wednesday, May 30

Tokyo wonderland

Well after spending all weekend running around, it's the middle of the week and I'm dead tired and ready to collapse into bed. I have another 8-10 new pictures to scan in and post from last weekend, but that'll be for later...

Sanja Matsuri

I was going to talk about the Sanja Matsuri in detail, but I think you can find a lot more information about just about all of Japan's Matsuris online these days; and the only thing that really stood out about this one was the Matsuri riders. Now just to be clear I'm making up the name "Matsuri riders" right now to describe a group of people who climb up and then ride the omikoshi (portable shrine).

For some quick background, the center piece of any good matsuri is a very heavy omikoshi (portable shrine) which is hauled on the shoulders of lively festival goers around their local town to promote X. The idea is that the heavy shrine would crush any single human being (like much of Japanese society), and so it's a group effort which usually involves lots of alcohol and cheering. These portable shrines are considered holy maybe, and they are owned/stored by the local temples (which typically have some connection to the mob).

Well evidently in this years Sanja Matsuri things went a little too far (Alcohol + "too far", imagine that...), and some people climbed up on the top of the shrine,
that 50+ people were hauling around, and danced the funky dance. The matsuri riders as I like to call them garnered quite a bit of publicity since the local TV crews grabbed some great footage of them acting like asses, and the public outcry began.
Now try and think of Elvis gyrating his pelvis on top of a cross at Easter mass in the 1950's, and you have a pretty good grasp of the situation here now. For more details you can read the heavily sanitized story here in English.

The rest of my weekend I spent walking around Sugamo, the shopping district for ladies age 70 plus. This area is colorfully known as the "Harajuku for old women", and quickly grabbed my interest with the title alone. I mean what could a district for older people look like?

I was imagining,
1. Bingo Halls
2. White slacks on sale everywhere
3. Slow moving polite shoppers, images of Wal-mart greeters come to mind
4. Lots of haggling to save $0.02 on the price of dried squid
5. Complaints about how everything used to be better

What I found,
1. Quick old women fighting to get at items in the discount rack
2. Grandmotherly ladies throwing elbows to make space through the crowd
3. Red ladies panties everywhere, with signs proclaiming excellent prices...
4. Lots of really cheap clothes only your grandmother would be caught wearing.
5. Horrible foot traffic, because 3 old ladies in walkers chatting side by side might as well be a wall.
7. Lots of complaints about how store clerks used to be more helpful
7. Cackling that would make the wicked witch of the west pause in envy

I'll add pictures of the above here shortly, but until then
Continued in Part 2 next week...

Wednesday, May 23

Going film

Well after selling off my Nikon D2x (Digital camera) and a few unused lenses, in exchange for a Nikon F100 (Film camera) and a Leica 50mm lense for my M6; I think I'm becoming a film convert.
Digital is great when you want to shoot 2-400 shots, and then spend the next 2 hours selecting the best 10-20 shots to cleanup and post; but I typically find something lacking in both the images and the workflow. I'm sure if I was shooting professionally digital would be the way to go, but these days I'd rather just toss a camera and two rolls of film in a bag while I'm out and about than haul all the digital gear around with me.

So since it was my birthday, the GF spent one afternoon poking around Shinjuku and got me a Holga toy camera. This is inexpensive toy camera has become all the rage these days because of the unique style of less than perfect pictures it produces, and was recommended to me by my Aunt in Santa Cruz.

The camera has two shutter speeds, 1/100 of a second and bulb; with one working aperture (f8). Unlike most popular camera's from the past 20-30 years, it uses 120 size film (6cm wide spool film, no nice disposable case here) which is still quite popular in asia. You focus a holga by guessing the distance between the subject and yourself, and hence this camera is all about just taking pictures. It's an incredibly light camera, being nearly 100% cheap plastic, and makes it easy to carry where ever you go and take great snapshots. The only drawback being you better hope the light level falls within a couple stops of f8@1/100 (Overcast day with ISO100 film) or you're out of luck getting any useable pictures.

Well after putting my first roll of film through the Holga I was already hooked, and went straight out and picked up a couple extra handfulls of black and white (Kodak T-Max 100) 120 film. 120 film is actually cheaper than normal 35mm film for both the purchasing film and development here in Tokyo ($3 film/$4 dev for 120 versus $5-9 film/$8 dev for 35mm), but you only get 12 square shots per roll.

Now all setup with my new Holga and plenty of film, I made my way to Sugamo, the place they call the "Old Woman's Harajuku"; which is in stark contrast to the famous Harajuku that I've shot many times before. I ran around for an hour or two before the light dwindled, and got a few shots of what a shopping district for ladies age 70 plus looks like. I'll be posting these photos in the next week or so after I've scanned them for everyone to gander at.

Although I loved shooting with the Holga, the one drawback ended up being that I could only take pictures in bright sunlight. So after doing some poking around on the web, I decided to pair the holga up with another 120 film camera that I could use when the light changed, or when I needed to use slide film. So the next day I went out and got myself a cheap chinese copy of the venerable German Rolleiflex, the Seagull. Now paired with both the Holga and the Seagull, and sounding like a storybook with these names; I spent the next morning taking pictures of one of Tokyo's largest festivals, the Sanja Matsuri.

Between using the Holga for action shots around the Omikoshi, and the Seagull for taking candid shots of festival goers, everything worked out really well. I won't go in to any more details about the event here until I get my film back, but this had to be the most crowded place I've ever been in Tokyo (excluding commuter trains).

The Holga is just great to take pictures with, since it makes it easy to take unique interesting pictures, and you really never know what kind of results you're going to get with a toy camera; while the Seagull lets me take the quality shots that want to make sure look good. The other benefit of the Seagull is that because it's a TLR, and you stare down into the view finder from above, I can look down in to the viewfiender and take pictures from a normal Japanese persons eye level without having to stoop down to their eye level myself. The other key advantage is because I'm staring down into the viewfinder of this strange black box to frame and focus, I'm not making eye contact with the subject and hence they ignore me and act more natural.

To be honest I doubt that few people born since the 1950's are even familiar with a TLR camera, and very likely don't even realize I'm holding a camera.

Now as soon as I pick up a cheap flatbed scanner for these big negatives, I'll be adding a new collection or rather unique photos of Japan to Flickr and my website!

Monday, May 21

Breathing new life into my site

Well after not really adding anything new online in the last few months, I've decided to try and do a better job of both updating my website and Flickr.
I'm not sure what'll happen to the website in the next few weeks, but I expect it'll look a little different, and be a lot more interesting soon.

To help kick this off, I've setup my desktop computer to add one new image to my Flickr page daily. That way people can expect to see new pictures appear on Flickr daily, instead of 15 new pictures once a month or more.
  • A new public photo should appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (Japan time)
  • A new friends and family photo should appear every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (again Japan time).