New camera bag

I’m looking at going overseas for travel, so I need a camera that is not a magnet for thieves. So, naturally, I have some requirements for a bag the will hold (and keep) stuff. I need it to lock. It’s easier to steal something from inside a bag, as the owner will believe that since the bag is there, everything is there, and so the alarm won’t be raised for a long time. Also, it is easier to conceal a stolen item as it is usually smaller than a bag, but it is harder to steal the whole bag. It needs to look casual so it doesn’t look like it’s got a camera or other expensive things inside. I do need it to carry an SLR (or two), some lenses and essential accessories, so it’ll be (and look) heavy. Also as carry-on luggage it needs to carry my laptop and so I need to be able to take it out and put it back in easily during airport screening. Finally, as carry-on luggage it’s got to carry a guidebook and novel.

So in this Japanese store there are hundreds of camera bags, but does any of them meet my requirements? No. Don’t be surprised. There’s only a couple of dozen designs, but they display multiple colours and sizes of essentially the same couple-dozen bags. The most common issue where these bags fail is that zips cannot fit a TSA padlock or there is nothing for the padlock to secure to. Or worse, there are no zips, just clips. Eh, it was so tiring looking around! Did I buy a bag today? No. I’ll have to shop another day.

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Typhoon Neoguri

Typhoon Neoguri (Korean for ‘squirrel’), will progress NE along the Pacific side of Southern Japan today. It is expected to reach Nagoya (Central Japan) by 6pm. Yesterday reports were saying that it might be one of the most dangerous squirrels typhoons this season. However, it seems to be speeding up. A faster moving typhoon brings less rain and damage than a slow moving one. Nonetheless, keep safe. 

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5 Great reasons to be in Japan this summer

There’s usually plenty of reasons to be in a major city like London, Melbourne, or New York during summer. Though, I’ve heard Parisians tend to evacuate their city in summer. Anyway, summer seems to be the time when office workers discover a world outside their buildings, uni students discover life after exams, communities look over their garden walls and discover they’ve got neighbours. As you’ll also soon see, Japan is a land of superlatives. Here’s the top 5 reasons why summer in Japan is great.

 

5. Sumo in Nagoya

Nagoya is Japan’s fourth largest city, and is conveniently situated between Tokyo and Osaka. The Nagoya Summer Grand Sumo Tournament is held for the 15 days (from Sunday to Sunday) in the middle of July.

For this sumo photo, and others like it, see the Sumo gallery at my PhotoShelter portfolio. This is the hottest sumo tournament. Really, you’ll be sweating a lot in the stadium. You’ll need to pay inflated prices for cool drinks, but fans are free.

 

4. Festivals

There’s lots of them. Everywhere, almost every weekend from about the end of July to mid to late August. Look up some travel related websites to find out what’s going on, where, and more precisely when. There’s a variety of festivals including sea / marine, fire, community, dance, and more.

The Kuwana Stone-bringing festival is held on the first weekend of August, annually. This is apparently the loudest festival in Japan. See here for the Ishidori / Stone-bringing Festival gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio.

 

3. Tenjin Festival

This festival, yes another festival, is supposedly the biggest in Japan with possibly a million people gathering in the festival vicinity at some point during the day or evening. The Tenjin Festival is held on the 24th and 25th of July each year.

The men's part of the Tenjin procession.

The men’s part of the Tenjin procession.

For this photo, and others like it, see my agent’s website, “Tenjin Matsuri“.

 

2. The World Cosplay Summit

It’s usually held on the first weekend in August in Central Park, Sakae, in the centre of Nagoya. The World Cosplay Summit (WCS) is trying to become the central or focal point of the cosplay culture. However, the main rule is that all costumes must be of a Japanese origin comic, animation, video game etc. So no Star Wars, no Harry Potter, no foreign stuff. In short, it’s a big soft-touch diplomacy thing to centralise and promote Japan. That said, it’s still great. Unfortunately, the actual competition performances are bilingual up until the main TV sponsor, Aichi TV, starts to air the competition later in the evening, then all the announcements are in Japanese only.

The Finnish team parading on the Red Carpet on the day of the World Cosplay Summit competition performances.

The Finnish team parading on the Red Carpet on the day of the World Cosplay Summit competition performances.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Cosplay gallery in my PhotoShelter portfolio and my agent’s website, “Japan Cosplay“. One of the Finnish girls admitted to me that she was warned that it would be hot and humid, and not the choose a costume that is inappropriate for the heat. She admitted they thought they made a good decision, but it seems summer in Nagoya is not like summer in Finland.

 

1. Fireworks

I don’t know why, but Japanese people associate fireworks displays with feeling cooler. Somehow high temperature explosives gives them some relief from the night time heat. Firework displays are held probably every weekend from mid July to late August somewhere in the country. This display in Kuwana city is held on the last Saturday of July. A weekend later Tsu city has it’s display, then a weekend after that is another in Gifu, and it goes on. It’s a time when families bring out the eskies / cooler boxes, with cool drinks, beers, dinner, insect repellent, picnic rug or folding chairs, eat, chat, and wait for the fireworks to begin.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Night in Japan gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio. Note, this photo was taken a some distance, and with my widest angle lens (at 17mm), and it just fits in the frame.

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New #TGIF Photos out now and more coming

New TGIF photos of my favourite models have finally been completed (it’s been a painfully busy time for me). The first batch are already on my PhotoShelter portfolio (Chihiro & Brooke), and more will be soon added to my agent’s website.

A caucasian and Japanese woman in a bar with wine.

A Caucasian and Japanese woman in a bar with wine.

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5 ill-conceived things in Japan

No country is perfect, and certainly, it’s easier to see things when you’re on the outside looking in. However, in the hope of improving life, or making life just that bit easier, here’s five things that weren’t so well thought through, and lessons could be learnt from. In case you don’t like what I say, do remember that last month I did 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock, and that no country is perfect, every country has problems and awesomeness.

1. Free Wifi for Tourists: 3,000 Wifi hotspots for foreign tourists (Sankei). It sounds great, right? You would hope that it would be ‘no strings attached’, but I doubt it. Two of the sponsors are the Osaka tourism bureau and the Kansai business association. In other words, they want to feed you with “information” about where you should spend your money, whilst only providing you with “information” about their club members. I would also be wary, especially when you should consider safeguarding your personal info. “Free” wifi hotspots in Japan are apparently already available in English, but typically there is a sign up page in Japanese, and they are likely to send you spam, in Japanese. The sign up page is likely to ask you for your demographic information, which won’t be related to providing you with free, unbiased information. JR East, the train company that services Tokyo and surrounds, has sold customer Pasmo card information to companies, including age, commuting information, statistics, and so forth without prior consent or such. Apparently, they have not sold customer names, but no word on if they also sold customer contact details or not. So far, no privacy guarantees have been made regarding what they do with the information you provide and your browsing data, and I really doubt they will bother. However, it isn’t such a bad thing. Currently, it’s nearly impossible for a non-resident to get a mobile phone sim card in Japan, even for tourists (see how you can get a sim card at this previous blogpost). Consequently, free internet is better than allowing phone companies charge for phone and internet access (they won’t let you use your overseas model, but force you to buy a two-year contract). Currently, most of the proposed wifi hotspots will be around tourist areas and public transport just in Osaka. Otherwise, Starbucks provides free wifi at the cost of a coffee, and simply only your email address.

A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.

A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.

 

2. English language websites and information

Bouncing straight from internet to Japanese “English language websites”, is the lack of credible English language websites. Many major companies (far bigger, and much richer than JapanesePhotos.Asia), has websites with extensive information in Japanese. Train companies have some good and detailed information on how to get discounts for travel, and earn points on your travel card. However at time of writing nothing in English, or very little or it’s very out of date. Considering that banks and train companies deal with tens of thousands of non-Japanese speaking customers every day, it’s amazing to consider that they think nothing of a sizeable portion of their expat customers. That’s right, banks do not provide any web-based banking services in English (or other major languages in Japan, including Portuguese, Chinese, nor Korean). Banks do have English language websites, but these are only for investors, not customers. Is JapanesePhotos.Asia any different? Well, I wish I had a budget and team of people to write and translate stories. What information I do provide in Japanese is for potential models, though (model call).

 

3. Employment

Japan has a three tiered system. At the top is the full-time tenured employment, with full benefits for health and pension. Second is contract full-time, usually for a maximum of three or five years. At the bottom is the part-time contract, also for only three or five years maximum. The reason for this is that only full-time tenured employees are entitled to health and pension benefits at company expense, but no-one else is. Most companies want to avoid paying health and pension, so they usually employ staff for a limited term. Even if the job is permanently required, the person filling it is not. As a consequence, most workers in Japan are temps. So is it any wonder that over 70% or 90% (depending on source) of people haven’t felt any benefit from an apparently improved economy? (CNN, and Japan Today). Also, some companies apparently have 70% of their staff classified as managers, which is supposedly because companies aren’t legally required to pay their managers overtime, allowing a loophole for cost-cutting. Japanese companies demand undying loyalty of their workers, but don’t seem willing to return in kind.

Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.

Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.

 

4. Software, Internet, and computing

This time it’s not a problem of Japanese people’s making (I think), it’s mainly America’s. If you’ve never lived outside of your own country, you may find it hard to understand, but this is such an important issue for expats in Japan. Companies like Microsoft, Adobe and such are the biggest culprits, and others like hotelclub.com and surveymonkey.com. Websites for these companies detect that you’re trying to access their website from Japan, because the IP address is Japanese. Consequently, the website software is designed to respond to the IP address locality and provide the website for the assumed language of the reader. So, Hotelclub.com points me to their Japanese language version of their website, because the website designers assume that there are no expats or travellers in Japan, only Japanese people live in Japan, and that all people in Japan can read Japanese. Worse still, you can change the language to your preferred language, but you need to read and understand which one of these is yours: 日本語 and 英語 or ドイツ語 or even 韓国語. The solution would be easy, just write the name of the language IN that language (Wikipedia does it); or instead of detecting the IP address location, use the browser’s language detection. Microsoft’s and Adobe’s strategy to prevent software piracy is to make it impossible for expats in Japan to get their products from shops or even download from their websites their software. Microsoft forces you to use their website in Japanese, and prevents you from trying to purchase software from their American (English language) website. And the Japanese MS website will only allow you to download the Japanese language version of their software, anyway. Consequently, years ago many of my expat friends had to share software. Now we don’t try, we just wait until someone does a trip overseas and ask them to purchase it for us. No wonder why people here have changed from Microsoft and PC machines to the multi-lingual Apple software (I even changed to Linux for a while). Such treatment is a constant reminder that expats don’t belong.

Customers in the Apple store in Japan.

 

5. Illegal tracking

It was recently announced that Japan Rail Osaka will allow a company to install cameras and face-recognition software to track customers. It’s actually illegal to do this, but the company will do it anyway. The reason given is that they will use the data for disaster evacuation research. However, in normal conditions people will chose exits they need to use, rather than the closest one available. Besides, why is facial recognition required for disaster evacuation? This was not explained. What will the company do with this information? Again, not explained.

 

6. Customer Service

Yes, I know, “But Japan is renowned for it’s high quality customer service!”. Yes, I have experienced the I-couldn’t-care-if-you-lived-or-died customer service in my own country. Here, when you present yourself to store staff, they go through the robotic motions of pretending to care and go the extra mile for their customers. It’s a quality that Japanese people think is unique to Japan. It’s not. In Korea they say “the customer is king”, meaning treat all customers like royalty. In Taiwan it varies, where there is a desire to please (to have return customers) to having personalised care for the customers they actually do like. In contrast, Japanese store staff avoid me. In the big stores the customer service staff steer clear from me, and it’s only when I catch one in flight between (Japanese) customers can I get my questions answered. Who are the culprits? Well, all of the major companies so far. Bic Camera (see the picture below), Softmap, Yamada Denki, and even when the Starbucks person goes round with free samples, I’m either last or don’t get any. Which, is why I’ve added this number six point in a list of five; I’m writing this in Starbucks, sitting next to a Grande Cappuccino, and contemplating where I’ll have my lunch. Also, if the staff at McDonalds, Starbucks, or a supermarket say something and you either didn’t quite catch it or didn’t understand their Japanese, they may repeat it in well-pronounced competent English. Only to return to Japanese for the rest of the interaction, which is totally bizarre. In Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most European countries, if they suspect that you’re an English speaker, they use English with you from start to finish. Only in my experience in Japan (and Italy) do they use only their first language with you, and only in Japan when they are obviously more competent in English than you are in Japanese, do they insist that you continue to struggle in Japanese. Good luck with that in the 2020 Olympics.

Customer service fail

Customer service fail

Also see 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock.

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5 Things about Japan that totally rock

I try to make these monthly lists unique, and without repeating what others have already said to ad nauseam. So, here are 5 things you might not know already about Japan.

 

1. Trains

There’s lots of them. They’re everywhere. Even if you live here, you don’t really need to own a car at all. I know a family who rents a car two or three times a year, whilst most people don’t bother buying one; otherwise they’re an unnecessary expense. Cities are connected usually by city government-owned subway trains and buses, as well as some private train and bus companies. Then, satellite cities that feed into major metropolitan cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokohama have mainly private train companies and Japan Rail (JR). Then cities are linked mainly by JR East, JR Central, JR West, or JR Hokkaido companies. This includes the infamous bullet train (see 5 Things about Bullet Trains).

A local train that services rural towns and feeds to a satellite city of Nagoya. To see this image, and others like it, see the Transport gallery.

 

2. Unique festivals

How many other countries or communities you know has a penis festival, and can be very open about it? Well, to be more descriptively precise, a fertility festival, the video below shows the male fertility festival, and there’s also a female one held some weeks later (no pun intended). There’s also a Naked Man Festival, a Stone Bringing Festival, Doll Festival, dance festivals, and many other festivals.

A YouTube video of the Tagata Fertility Festival, see here for the Tagata Fertility Festival gallery, and past blog posts.

 

3. Fishing

Yep, how often do you see someone in a wooden boat, with a huge fire, catch fish with birds. Yes, I really do mean they use cormorants tied to rice hemp lines to dive into the river water, catch some fish, and then come up and cough them up into the boat. The lines keep the birds from getting away and from swallowing the fish. After watching the fish catching display, you can retire to a nearby restaurant to sample these fine hacked up aquatic cuisine. Cormorant fishing is done in various places including Inuyama, and is a summer thing that usually runs from May to October. The trip costs about ¥2,500 for basically an hour wait and a 20 minute one-run along the river, and then it’s over.

For this photo of cormorant fishing at Inuyama, and others like it, see the Night in Japan gallery.

 

4. Convenience stores

Convenience stores are everywhere. I heard that at any time (usually) you’re never more than 300 meters from a convenience store. Which is better than what I hear about not being more than 3 meters from a rat in New York. Anyway, in some small towns these small modern general stores serve as pseudo supermarkets, and for everyone a refuge from the winter cold or summer heat. They have a huge selection of drinks, snacks, and even lunch sets, and even hygiene supplies for office staff who were either too busy to go home, or too drunk to catch the last train. Lawsons (pictured) is starting to offer space with tables and chairs, too. Though this is coming 15 years after similar companies were doing the same in South Korea.

For this photo see see it in my PhotoShelter portfolio, and other convenience store photos see my agent’s website via search: “Japanese convenience store”.

 

5. People leave you alone

Basically, you’re left alone and people don’t bother you. The police are hard to find, mainly because they don’t need to come out of their police stations, unless they really have to. I cannot think of a lazier police force. People don’t pass judgements of you, and so you get an illusion of total freedom. Of course, some travellers and expats mistake this as a license to horse around and behave like juveniles, so please don’t. Tourists and expats have been banned from the famous Tokyo fish markets already. If you have tatoos, cover them with plasters or t-shirts. Don’t wear tracks suits or sports suits in public, people usually wear these as pyjamas. When my family came to visit, people somehow sensed they were tourists and were very warm and welcoming, and helpful. For me? Maybe I look like a local now, and so nobody cares.

For this photo of a naked guy giving a pink ribbon to a high school girl, as a policeman watches on, and others like it, see the Naked Man Festival gallery.

 

There’s of course many more things, but this is just a taste. You’ll have to come and see the rest for yourself. There are thousands more photos at my PhotoShelter portfolio, and my agent’s website. Also, 5 Ill Conceived Things in Japan coming next month.

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5 Things about “Hanami” (Cherry Blossom Viewing)

Welcome to Spring. Japanese people go crazy over cherry blossom viewing, I guess because it’s the first sign that the winter cold is breaking, and warmer days are clearly ahead. However, the plum flowers are already blooming, and have been for most species for about a month, but the cherry blossoms (or “sakura”) bloom for a week before the Spring breezes blows the petals away. Also, even though there are hundreds of thousands of these trees across the country in various species and varieties, most of these bear no edible fruit.

A young Japanese lady admiring the cherry blossoms. For this model released photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Seasons gallery.

 

1. Weather and when

The cherry trees blossoming is triggered by warmer weather, beginning in Okinawa in the south in February, to central Japan where they typically blossom in the second week of April, to Hokkaido in June (I think). The trees typically remain in bloom for seven or eight days. If there’s heavy rain, the petals are out for a very short time, but if the weather remains mild, the cherry blossom parties, or “Hanami Matsuri” can go on for nearly two weeks. Japanese Meteorological Agency used to provide blooming forecasts for nearly fifty years, but a few years ago they ended this service. Too many tour companies have tried to sue the JMA for inaccurate forecasting, costing the tour companies lots of money because of their own inflexibility and understanding of weather and nature. Now there are websites that make their own predictions that you can use like JNTO.


For this cherry blossom (sakura) photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

2. Language point

The following contains both Roman, Chinese and Hiragana characters. “Hanami” (花見、はなみ), literally means ‘flower viewing’ (Wikipedia), but what Japanese people really mean is just hanging out and enjoying cherry blossom trees. “Sakura” (桜、さくら) means ‘cherry trees’ and ‘cherry blossoms’, and “ume” (梅、うめ) means ‘plum’, ‘plum tree’, and ‘plum flowers’.

Flowers on a Japanese plum tree. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

3. How it’s celebrated

Usually cherry blossom parties are held by groups of people. Usually work colleagues, community groups (typically neighbourhood groups), university clubs, groups of friends, and some times families get together for this. For evening parties, one or two poor sods have to get a tarp and some basic supplies and stake out a good spot until the evening when the others arrive. Usually its the young office staff or secretaries job to do this. Otherwise, most folks have their party in the day time. I think it’s still quite uncomfortably cool even in the day time, so day time parties are more common. They usually have a small bar-be-cue, have sake and beer, and relax and enjoy themselves without any loud frivolities.

For this Hanami (cherry blossom party) photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

2. Why cherry blossoms and not plum flowers?

Good question. The plum flowers are out much longer, they start earlier, and some species are out in the warmer part of spring, too. Also, plum flowers are usually much nicer or prettier. In fact, in the Nara period (710-794AD), it was the plum flowers that were revered, and to some extent the cherry blossoms and wisteria. Later, because of famous literary works focusing on cherry blossoms, the other options fell to the wayside (Wikipedia/Hanami History). Cherry blossoms are out for only a week typically at the start of April in central Japan. This timing, and brevity, seems to act as a convenient demarcation in time for Japanese people. School and university calendars start in April, companies have their new recruits start in April, companies transfer their staff to start in April, so March-April is also the moving season. The end of March marks the end of storage and tax-thingamy time, so major electronics stores have sales before new models are shipped and put on display. It seems the start of April is the time when Japan hits the reset button and lots of things starts fresh.

For this cherry blossom school sports photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

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1. Legend

Continuing on from point 2 above, it is said by Japanese people that the life of a samurai is short lived, with the sudden start and end as the cherry blossoms themselves. A good for a samurai is to have a quick sudden end, rather than a gradual fade to nothing, much like the sudden fall of petals from a cherry tree.

Nagoya castle in the Spring. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

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#BREAKING Kakuryu wins the Emperor’s Cup

Twenty-eight year old Mongolian Kakuryu (born Mangaljalav Anand; Wikipedia) becomes the fourth Mongolian to win the Emperor’s Cup, after Asashoryu, Hakuho, and Harumafuji. It was also announced that he is to be promoted to be one of three top-ranked wrestlers called “Yokuzuna”. This photo is currently available for immediate purchase or licensing from my Sumo Gallery. It has been an exciting tournament, the two current top-ranked wrestlers, Hakuho and Harumafuji have struggled a little of late, Kotooshu crashed out and retired, and then this upset. It’s been great.

Kakuryu (left) faces Takayasu (unseen) in the Osaka Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

Kakuryu (left) faces Takayasu (unseen) in the Osaka Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Photo taken on Monday 17th March.

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