Monday, January 12, 2015

Coming of Age Day

Today was Seijin no hi, and I should have been in front of Futaara shrine with my camera trying to sneak a few photos of girls all dolled up in kimonos and wrapped in rabbit fur stoles.
But I wasn't.
It turns out that in our lovely city the day for 20 year olds celebrating their coming of age was held yesterday.
So even though the actual public holiday is today, the fun stuff took place yesterday.
Out of consideration for the freshly minted adults.
If they party hard on Sunday, they have all Monday to recover and can show up for work on Tuesday without raging hangovers.
See? That's how considerate our great city is. No wonder I love living here :-)

As I wasn't able to take any photos today, I found some from two years ago.

That was one coming of age day to remember.
The weather was getting progressively worse and worse. And when it couldn't get any worse, the train service got suspended due to snow.

I was having lunch with friends in Omiya and, along with a couple thousand other people, we got stuck there.

There were shinkansens going south, but nothing going north. Which was where we needed to go in order to get home.

We eventually did get home. It cost a lot of money and took more than 12 hours.
And I've been hating Omiya ever since.

At least today it was sunny. And so far - no snow this winter. Yay!

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Eel be back

Narita city is famous for unagi. That means eel. Freshwater eel, to be exact.
Why eels in Narita? No idea.
Back in the olden days, supposedly, there were eels in Tonegawa (Tone river), but that must have been a long time ago.
These days Narita gets its eels by plane. Having the airport right there is a huge advantage, I'm sure.

On the main drag from the train station to Naritasan temple there are about 60 unagi restaurants. Some are big and famous, some are small, but all of them get their eels fresh.
How fresh?
Live fresh.

During our walk to the temple we passed by many unagi restaurants.
You can watch your fresh eels being turned into eel fillets right in front of your eyes.
Like this:

These guys work with the deadly efficiency of Terminators.
Grab a still moving eel.
Drive a spike through its head to secure it to the table.
Slice, clean, chop.

And the finished product, cooked and served, should look more or less like this:

image: wikipedia

I'm a big fan of grilled unagi. It's delicious. Eating unagi is easy.
What's hard is finding good unagi.
The stores here are flooded with cheap eels from China. And I admit it, I tried it. It tasted like garbage.

Most of the cheap unagi you can find at Japanese fast food joints is Chinese. Good unagi is pricey. And unlike cheap unagi, it actually tastes good.

So next time you have a long layover in Narita, catch the train to the city, and take a walk up the main street to the temple. And try some good unagi while you're there.

This photo was taken during my first visit to Narita city. Not on New Year's Eve. On a normal evening the whole place looked like after a zombie apocalypse.

Yes, eel be back. I can't wait to return to Narita city!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year's Eve at Naritasan Temple

A wise man (though in reality he's more of a wise guy) once said that information is like fresh fish. So with that in mind, I'm going to serve you now stuff that is a week old. Well, better late than never.
(you'll get your fresh fish in the next post, I promise!)

Naritasan temple is a very special temple to me. Sentimental reasons, you might say. And though I'm a fan of Buddhist temples in general, Naritasan will always have a very special place in my heart. It was a place where, once upon a time, one chapter of my life came to an abrupt end, and a new one began.

So when a chance to end the old year and welcome the new one at Naritasan presented itself I couldn't pass it up. I just couldn't. For old times sakes. To remember the good. And to forget the bad and the ugly.
And that's how on December 31st (can't believe it was just last week), I found myself, armed with my camera, walking very purposely (with a brief stop for some very potent Thai food) along the winding streets of Narita city.

This being the last day of the year, the streets were pretty crowded. It seemed the entire town (and parts of the neighboring prefectures) had exactly the same idea. I had not seen that many foreigners in 5 years in Tochigi as during that one evening in Narita. Amazing. Or not.

The temple, its formal name is Naritasan Kongo-o-in Shinshoji (it's the lead temple of the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism) was exactly as I remembered it. But this time it was all dressed up for New Year's Day festivities.

The lower courtyard was filled with stands selling everything from daruma dolls to sheep cell phone straps (yep, you got it, 2015 is the year of the sheep).

Because it was dark, the Nio figures were impossible to photograph. So here's my excuse to visit the temple yet again, this time during daytime. Ha! Crafty me!

I'm not going to bore you with the wiki details, if you're interested you can google them.
I'm just going to show you what it looked like.

The  cops were busy calibrating the spotlights in preparation for the midnight service and actually helped me capture this reflection of the three-storied pagoda.

And this is how it looked like in real life:

The plan was to go back to the hotel, take a rest, and then return for the midnight bell ringing. But as with all best laid plans, it didn't turn out that way. So here, yet another excuse for me to return to Naritasan. Awesome!

And the other side:

It's a quite odd feeling to walk around the temple grounds at night when the place is empty. But it felt even odder when despite the darkness, the temple was full of life.

And everything was brightly lit.

Of course I forgot my goshuin book, stupid me. To be at Naritasan on December 31st and not get a red temple stamp? Sacrilegious! No choice but to buy a brand new goshuin book. And guess what? They had it in pink and it matched my jacket exactly.

And here's the stamp:

I can't wait to return there. Soon I hope.

Happy new Year of the Sheep!!!

May it be a good one!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fireworks in Takasaki

My summer vacation is, for all intents and purposes, already over. On Monday I have to report back to work. I want to puke just thinking about it. And I actually LIKE my job. Can you imagine my misery if I happened to hate what I do for a living? Ouch!

But I'm not ready to let summer go just yet. Though compared to previous years, it was a cold, wet and nasty season this year. Where's this global warming, I want to know?

So let's hold on to the best bits of Japanese summer vacation time! Matsuri, hanabi, kakigori, mikoshi, choco bananas and other street food... Yukatas and fans and elaborate hairdos...

I like almost all of them. Except maybe for yukatas and choco bananas. I can't stand bananas. And I'll pass on elaborate hairdos simply because I have very little hair.

But my favorite, I guess, would be hanabi. Fireworks...

Oddly enough, usually I don't get a chance to watch them... There's always something unexpected and unplanned happening on the same day. Either a thunderstorm, or hail, or a sick friend who needs to be taken to the hospital ASAP...

So this year I was very happy that it didn't rain (well, almost), and that I could be in the right place at the right time.
The place was Takasaki. And the right time? Just take a look at these photos.

and more:

These here looked like sunflowers, right?

There were also thematic visuals as well. I missed Anpanman and a few others. All I managed to shoot was this cute heart:

And a jellyfish!

And just normal, standard issue fireworks, as well...

And more!

And more!

I don't know how to take nice fireworks photos. So I was just doing my best trying to point the camera in the right direction.

Which is not as easy as it sounds.

And considering that I was really, really stupid and didn't use a tripod, just a monopod, I think I did a pretty good job.

But hey, I never claimed I was smart.
Sometimes I just get lucky!
Yay me!!!

Overall, I was very surprised at how friendly, relaxed and laid back the summer festival in Takasaki was. It reminded me a lot of Kanuma Aki Matsuri.

And speaking of Kanuma... that's the next hanabi I am hoping to see later on this year!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Random thoughts (with Yasukuni in the background)

I am so sorry that this blog has been left to rot for another year. I really need to do something about it. Otherwise, it will turn into a once yearly Yasukuni update webpage. And that is not my intention.

Hopefully in the coming months I will have more energy and drive to update it on a more or less regular basis.

In the morning - still not so many people.

But yes, speaking of a Yasukuni update… I have another one for you.
It would not be August 15th without me trying to see what was going on at the most controversial Shinto shrine in all of Japan.

But today, I will not write about the controversies. That you can find in any western media news outlet.
I will not write about what Yasukuni is and why it’s so controversial. That you can find on wikipedia, and I’m too lazy to copy/paste wiki paragraphs here. You can find that on other blogs about Japan.

Paying their respects to the war dead.

I’m not going to describe what was going on at Yasukuni on August 15th in 2014, either. That you can see in the photos I’m going to post.

What I will talk about today is what popped into my head while I was at Yasukuni and watched the press folk at work.

White doves waiting to be released.

You see, I like public events. I like traditional events. I like cultural events. I even like religious events. I like 5-in-1 the most.
I’ve attended a fair share of matsuri (traditional Japanese festivals) and at those matsuri I’ve had a fair share of interactions with the Japanese media. I’m saying “Japanese”, because very few foreign reporters make their way to our provincial events. The only exception is the Toshogu Spring Festival in Nikko. You can see one or two foreign press guys there.

Steady, steady... It's just a bird, not a baby panther.

And it’s interesting to see how unfazed by the hordes of amateur hobby photographers the Japanese pros are. In fact, what you can see, is a very unofficial symbiosis of sorts between the press crowd and the little people shooting for fun and pleasure. I’ve experienced this myself. On numerous occasions the pros let us sit and shoot in their shadow. They let us follow their cameramen. They let us shoot from the same locations. There were even times when they allow us to shadow them all the way to the special press only posts.

It might be just a bird, but dad, it just crapped on my shoes!

In return, they expect the same. And I am happy to oblige. I know that what is fun and games for me, is a day of work for them. I know they need to deliver quality shots and that kindness begets kindness. The pros seem to know it as well. (The old retired grandpas with their fancy cameras fighting to the death for the best shooting position, on the other hand… that’s another story).


The only times when I could witness gaijin photogs at work was at Kanamara festival (the pink penis matsuri in Kawasaki city) and at Yasukuni-jinja. And the difference in general behavior, manners and attitude towards the public at large and the subjects being photographed could not be more stark when compared with their Japanese press colleagues.

And... fruuuu....

Wait silly bird! You're flying the wrong way!

Why is that? Why are the western press guys (they're almost always guys – middle aged, beer-bellied and sweaty from lugging all that equipment around) such rude, entitled asshats? For it seems that only that kind covers the two events in Japan that I also attend.
Are they that unsatisfied with their work? Would they rather be somewhere else? Shooting something else? Are they failed paparazzi who didn't have what it takes to hide in the bushes behind celebrity homes and now must slog as press freelancers? Yet at the same time still showing the oh-so-refined paparazzi attitude and sense of asshattedness?

Oops! Somebody didn't know they were supposed to wrap the tip of the flag pole in black cloth.

I don’t know the answers to those questions. What I do know is that some of the rudest and most ignorant examples of gaijin press photogs flock to Yasukuni every year.

But still, props for being brave enough to carry a flag.

A swine of a man from the European Pressphoto Agency stood out last Friday as a prime example of such behavior.
Sorry, my man, it’s really not my fault that you can’t get a good spot and don’t know how to frame a shot with what you are given. The other 12 guys apparently could, but you couldn’t and you had to take out your anger on me. Not nice. As a Japanese woman standing next to me observed, you acted like that towards me, because, like you, I am also a foreigner. So the societal norms you have to observe while dealing with the Japanese, did not apply. And as other people who witnessed your behavior noticed, you would have never dared to speak to a Japanese person like that.

Right-wingers are always proud enough to carry flags.

I took your photo, but don't worry, I am not going to post it here. Unlike you, I still have some pretense of decency left in me.

But what happened to the handsome uyoku? Every year they are getting uglier and uglier.

And ignorant? Oh yes. While shooting the WW2 cosplayers in uniform, one foreign press guy apparently didn’t realize that it’s a very common sight (the dressed up muppets are there every year), and upon noticing that a gaijin woman was standing next to him, tried to be friendly and asked:
“Your first time in Japan?”

It was getting more and more crowded as the day progressed.

I didn’t know how to answer, because considering my trips to Tonga and Korea this year, it’s technically my second time in Japan. This year. So instead, I answered with a question:
“Your first time at Yasukuni?”

“Yasu…? Oh, you mean this place here? Yeah!”

And then you people wonder where the garbage in the media comes from.
Now you know.

Of course the muppets were there. Since Abe didn't show, these guys were the main attraction.

When I got tired and it was time to visit the nearest Starbucks (that lime cooler was sending secret telepathic messages to me), I started walking towards the subway entrance (Kudanshita).
The crowd was much larger than earlier in the morning and there were more cops in full riot gear (there were none when I arrived in the morning). There were also more foreign press guys documenting the occasion.

Yep, he's there every year too.

And these guys.

One of them took a shot identical to mine. He, with his massive pro gear, me – with my smartphone.
With an air of superiority he looked over my shoulder to see my photo and seeing that I was editing it for social media, he got visibly aggravated;
“You can’t just go ahead and immediately post it on the internet!” he said.

And why not?

Matching white shirts, nice. But couldn't they coordinate the trousers as well? Fail.

This only proves what most people on the planet already know – that the traditional media guys are sooooo out of touch with the social media, they might as well be in a different galaxy. They have no clue where the action’s at. The entire revolutions have been fought on social media, but apparently this pro press guy still thought he should have first rights to the picture.

Nice t-shirt, dude.

I understand he was working. I understand he wanted to sell the photo. But guess what? By the time his photo hits the news outlets, it has been taken a bazillion of times by amateurs and posted a bazillion of times on Facebook, Instagram, and a bazillion of blogs, not to mention Twitter.

First stop for most people - temizuya to ritually purity themselves. Just be glad there's no Ebola in Japan.

One of the news outlets that does understand that is the Tokyo Bureau of Agence France-Press. They were instagramming the events as they happened. But that photog apparently didn't work for them. Oh well…

I finally got me a proper goshuin book. Yay me!

The contrast between the Japanese media guys and the foreign media guys was quite clear. The Japanese press folk seemed a lot more relaxed and chilled. They understood the Japanese obsession with taking photos and were surprisingly accommodating. They didn’t scream at the public or told the public to get lost, because they wanted a clear shot. Somehow they managed to get the photos they wanted without acting like entitled, PMSing primadonnas.

The cops were ready.

The paddy wagons were ready.

I don’t like everything about Japan. I complain plenty. But one thing I do like about this country is the politeness (forced or genuine) that the Japanese society is so famous for. Life is hard as it is. Why make it harder by acting like jerks? Especially in situations where simple “please?” would suffice?

And here's the highlight of my Yasukuni visit. Just look at those cool bikes!


Thank you for reading!!!
See you soon!!!

I'll do my best to post a new entry this week!