Saturday, May 24, 2008

New Lens - Sigma 30mm 1.4

Ahhhh... depth of field. So I picked up a new lens for my Nikon D40, a Sigma 30mm 1.4 prime. This is the only fast prime lens that has auto focus that works on the D40. I really love the type of shots that this lens can produce... but it's a challenge. If you shoot something up close, at 1.4, only a few cm of stuff is going to be in focus. This can be great if you manage to get something that is really important in focus. On the other hand, things with a lot of detail won't look to good. Please give me any constructive criticism on using a fast prime lens (directed at Aaron and Todd, apparently the only people with SLR cameras who read my blog).

On the right, the origami rat's hand is in focus, but nothing else really is. Somtimes just some creative cropping can help.

This one didn't look good full size, since only the dragon's wing was in focus. But if I crop it so that the wing takes up a large amount of space, it becomes a good one.

As you can see, not a lot in focus. I know the shot is too busy on the left, but I like the look of the paper cranes.

Because no one has ever taken a depth of field shot of books before.

Graffiti on a tree in English looks like vandalism, but if it's written in Kanji characters, somehow it looks mystical.

I'm loving the 1.4!

My favorite types of shots, and what I'd like to improve, with this lens, are wide-ish portrait shots and "everyday" life shots, like the picture above. The challenge with portrait shots, I think, is to get the eyes in focus. Doesn't matter on the rest, usually it looks good with the neck down blurry. With everyday shots, it's about capturing the moment.

--Note about Origami--

I had been wanting to go to the Origami House Gallery for the past 2 years. Check it out if you are really into origami. The buzz of my visit was kind of killed though, when I asked about a piece I saw. It was a crane with human looking arms and legs, totally something that should be fighting against Power Rangers. The guy working there told me they were sold out of the book that referenced it. I asked if he knew how to make it. He said yes. I asked if he could teach me. He said no. But the way he said it was kind of cocky like. Reminded me of the way comic book shop owners are. Why is my comic book collection from only couple of months in 1990? Cause homey at the local shop yelled at 12 year old me when I couldn't find an issue of Ghost Rider I wanted. True story.

For the record, I gots mad skills at the origami.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Torahora Ramen in Kichijoji


Take the central exit from Kichijoji station. It's not far. There is a lot in the area. Look for the croquette shop with a 2 hour line. I'm serious, just ask where the famous croquettes are and it's right next door.

Translates to "tiger den". Apparently, 虎 also means a drunk guy. A nice thing about this shop is their ever changing menu. A few months ago was a hanami ramen, with shrimp soup, shrimp meatballs, and asparagus. Sorry, no good photos of that awesome ramen. Now that the weather is getting ass hot in Japan, bring out the cold, spicy tsukemen.

The soup was a thick sesame broth, with a couple tablespoons of hot spice mixed in. The kind of spice that hits the sides of your mouth. The kind of spice that begs for cold beer.

(note... American micro brew beer not available at ramen shops)

Paired with thick sticky noodles that grab a lot of flavor. Even though the whole deal is pretty rich, it didn't weigh me down like some thick noodles can (Ramen Jiro, anyone?) I was even able to sprint back to Ogikubo on my bicycle without any side effects.

Like I said, this place is always adding inventive new ramen to their menu. I'll write up their next one when it comes out, since I'm moving to Kichijoji in a couple of weeks! Where am I moving? I'll give you a hint. It's either or 3 bedroom penthouse マンシオン over looking the park, or a 4 tatami mat hole in the wall with 70 other poor people. Stay tuned for the answer!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Odaiba Ramen Stadium

You'll find ramen stadiums in the most random places. The idea is to bring together some top ramen restaurants from around the country, and have them open shops in a central location. So you can have a bowl of authentic Kyushu tonkotsu ramen, or some miso ramen from Hokkaido. You can even get ramen from a famous shop in Tokyo, in a ramen stadium in Tokyo... for some reason. Ramen stadiums always have the obligatory shot of the ramen masters looking all bad ass with their arms folded.

You wanna step up to me? Bring it on. You're about to get served! Yes, sir, served some authentic ramen. Please forgive me for speaking so rudely.

What's with the blurry picture? The excuse is that I only had my telephoto lens with me. The truth is that this ramen was so poor, it was impossible to take a good photo of it.

There was no research here. I just picked a random tonkotsu ramen, cause I'd been eating Tokyo style and miso for a while. I needed a change. Let me break it down.
  1. First, observe the whole bowl. I just paid 980 yen for a bowl of ramen that is half the size of any other place I'd been lately. I like big bowls... of ramen.
  2. The next step is to admire the noodles and eat some. The noodles were blazing hot. Normally this isn't a problem, it's actually a good thing. But read on. Strike one.
  3. Sip some soup by itself. This soup was cold. The contrast of noodles and soup was unpleasant. Strike two.
  4. Step three is to tap a piece of pork against the side of the bowl... just to drain it a little. Well, the pork was ok. Actually, all the toppings were good, especially the eggs.
  5. Lastly, go to town. The soup didn't have much flavor, so I mixed in 2 massive spoonfuls of the shop's garlic hot sauce. Now it was tasting good. But that's like when I cover my greasy breakfast in Tabasco, I'm enjoying the Tabasco, not the food itself. Strike three.

Is this a reflection of the ramen shop? Or a reflection of the Odaiba ramen stadium? Or a reflection of ramen stadiums in general?

I won't mention the shop name, out of respect. If I went to the original shop in Kyushu and it was bad, I'd drop the name.

Part of what I like about ramen in Japan is the journey. Read reviews online or in magazines. Search out an address, which is not an easy task in Japan. You usually have to ask a couple people on the street. Or maybe you just stumble on a shop randomly. Wait in the line. Wait some more. Ask the staff what they recommend. See the other people on the same journey as you.

Just a word of warning when you see a gimmicky food attraction in Japan, cause you will see plenty. Osaka has a fried food stadium I think, Hiroshima has an okonomiyaki stadium, Tokyo has at least 3 ramen stadiums that I know of. Tokyo also has a gyoza park and some sort of "sweets forest" where you walk around with cute bunnies and eat cake. Well that last one might be good.

After I finish my list of ramen shops to eat at, I'll make a list of places to go in Tokyo to sample the different ramen flavors of Japan... without resorting to any sort of stadium.

One last ramen note. I was teaching a class at my adult English conversation school and we started talking about ramen. I whipped out my ramen map and showed my student some places to go. She mentioned one that sounded familiar, and when I did a search on google for "Aoba Ramen" my review was the number one result. Good feeling there.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Walk Across Ranbow Bridge

Somewhere up near the top of 1001 Things To Do Before You Die is to walk across the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo. (not really) Rainbow Bridge connects Tokyo to the man-made Odaiba. Why do I like Odaiba? They have some really good science museums, and a place where you and a date can pay $15 to pet cats.


How much does it cost? Being Tokyo, you could expect to pay maybe 5 bucks for the privilege of walking across a bridge.

It's gonna be a good day. Get ready for the most interesting set of photos to date. Are you ready? You might want to sit down for the sheer awesomeness to come. It's as if they took fresh squeezed awesome juice, spiked it with 鍛高譚, which is the most awesome of all shochu liquors, and put it in a big champagne bottle. Then you somehow get a job as a host at an exclusive Kabukicho host club, and for some reason Aoi Miyazaki just ordered a champagne call from you.

Sorry, it's only noon and I've already been to work at the Junior High already. It's been a long day.

Follow this dapper gent on his magical journey to meet his Japanese friends. **Correction** Your Japanese friends.

Not sure who this kid is. His shirt says 金, money. If I had money, I'd totally pay a raccoon and bear to kick it with me. Kick it old school.

かちかち山 - Kachi kachi mountain? And is the one on the left's wood smoking? The horses look like some of the ancient cave paintings from the Joman period.

There's gotta be an explanation.

A monkey tempting a crab with a rice ball. Symbolism? I'm open to suggestions.

That's it for the story. There was a total of 2 other people walking on the bridge. Both of them were construction workers fixing the bridge. Why aren't there more people? Seems like good family fun, walk across the bridge and learn about guys riding turtles. Why I ask?

Cause it was scary as fuck here. It's a double level bridge. The bottom level, where you can walk, is local traffic and a train. Big heavy trucks. The top level is part of the Tokyo expressway. Big heavy trucks. So the whole thing is shaking the whole time you are walking across. Godzilla could be up there battling King Kong...maybe they were.

But it gets you to Odaiba. So eat up and watch the sunset.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Alcatraz ER in Shibuya

What if Jason from Friday the 13th somehow made his way to San Francisco's Alcatraz island. Of course, this takes place in the past when Alcatraz was a functioning prison. Let's say... 1958. Somehow you, dear reader, have found yourself in the medical facility of this establishment. And for some other reason, the nurses are serving tasty cocktails and snacks.

Welcome to Alcatraz ER.

The food...

The food was pretty tasty. Most of it was normal izakaya type food... with random names. We started with the "sex without a condom spring rolls." Yes, we had a real live Japanese person with us to translate. So these are somewhat accurate. So here ya go, "sex without a condom springrolls."

Oh wait, I forgot to talk about the drinks.

The drinks...

The drinks were either penis or drug related. Oh, and there was also one drink that came in a severed head. I had a スピド (speed) cocktail. It was a Malibu and coke with a bowl of powdered sugar to sprinkle on top. I found out it was sugar the hard way, after snorting a little toot off my pinky nail. We also had an LSD, which came with a couple alcohol pills. I guess the Japanese think LSD comes in easy to swallow pill form. Someone at the table got something with a banana that had been shaped into a penis. Yeah, a "penis colada".

Cause prison is all about drugs and cocks.

Back to the food...

We had some からげ (deep fried chicken pieces). But these were no ordinary chicken nuggets! No, they came in a cage. A prison cage.

There was some pasta called "pedophile pasta" or something like that. We passed and had a nice ethnic salad. After that we had fondue. Just plain, normal fondue. Except I haven't had fondue in years. It was properly delicious.

The show...

One of the reasons to go (and a reason for the 600 yen table charge) is to see the show. Less of a show... and more of some antics.

Firstly, murderous Jason runs around scaring the patrons. The staff come to the rescue with guns. After killing the perp, they drag one random patron out into the hallway and inject him with a giant syringe. In his ass. Yep, they pin him down and shoot drugs I guess up his butt.

Then the lights go on and you order more food.

Oh... highlight of the night! When we were waiting to go in, one of the nurse waitresses came out of the ladies bathroom. 2 minutes latter some random guy in a suit came out. Way to go suit guy!

Alcatraz ER is located in Shibuya. My directions are... go to "Love Hotel Hill". It's there somewhere. Easy to find, just ask in the shops that say "Men's Point" or "Pink Information". Those shops are there for directions to local restaurants... trust me. Price of the meal is about 3000 yen if you don't drink a lot. There are set all-you-can drink menus for around 5000.

Adventures in Low Light Photography

I want a new lens. I enjoy taking low light shots, so of course I want to get a "fast" lens. A fast lens is one that is able to let in a lot more light than a normal one. There are a few choices, but it looks like I can get a Nikkor 50mm 1.8 for pretty cheap. A lens like the Sigma 30mm 1.4 might be more useful, since it can auto focus, but I'd actually have to save for it. The first lens just means that I have to avoid drinking one night next time the opportunity arises.

To the photography people who read my blog: Suggestions? I want a fast prime lens that I can use for low light and daytime stuff when I want a lot of depth of field. I don't mind manual focus, cause then I can go around acting like a camera snob. "Oh, you are still using your 18-55 kit lens? I've got this retro manual lens. I'd totally get a Holga too, but it's so mainstream now."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Boso Hanto


Boso Hanto is a peninsula in Chiba prefecture. It's famous for boiled peanuts and 99 rin (a rin is about 600m) beach. I'd been to Boso Hanto before. This time I found that if you are a surfer, 99 rin beach is where it's at!

房総半島は 千葉の 半島 です。沸騰の ナッツ と 99厘浜が 有名 です。 去年 行きました。  99厘浜の サフィングは すごく すごい だいよ!

Boso hanto wa chiba no hanto desu. Futto no nattsu to 99 rin hama ga yumei desu. Kyonen ikimashita. 99 rin hama no safingu wa sugoku sugoi daiyo!

My motorcycle atlas has a picture of camels walking on a sand dune in the sunset on the east side of the peninsula. I was so god damned excited when I was nearing this spot. Last year, I almost devoted a whole day motorcycle trip to go see the camels.

Sure enough. It's just a statue. Even the "dune" is just concrete.

I honestly thought I was gonna get to ride a camel. Unrealistic, fanciful dreams are good to have though.

Lastly, some animals.

Boso hanto lives in the shadow of the nearby Izu hanto. Izu is one of those resort-y spots in Japan, with lots of hot springs and Japanese inns, views of Mt. Fuji, and unique flora and fauna. Boso is very... Chiba. Like I said, it's famous for boiled peanuts. Izu is famous for unique seafood and yuzu tea, which is like drinking liquid magic. Izu's coastline has views of Mt. Fuji and some small islands south of Tokyo. Boso has a view of the pollution from Tokyo and Yokohama. Izu has hundreds of traditional Japanese inns, with private onsens overlooking the ocean. Boso has Santa Claus themed love hotels.

Wait a minute! I take back everything negative I said about Boso!