Sayonara, and thanks for all the Natto

December 31, 2013 28 comments

This may be the final posting here at Sushicam.  This should not come to a surprise to anyone since the pace of “recent” updates has been about once per year.

When I started this blog way back in the beginning of 2000, (has it really been that long? ) I was updating it about 2-3 times each week.  Updates were that frequent for a variety of reasons:

• I was new here and had just got my hands on a digital camera and was busy exploring Japan

• I was looking for something to keep my time occupied as I was in an unhappy marriage and needed a good reason to spend time away from home (exploring and taking pictures)

• I needed something to occupy my time when I was at home (writing about my exploits and posting my photos)

I decided to start a photo blog, but I could have just as easily taken up a different hobby.  But photography it was, and this quickly evolved into quite a serious pursuit, with Japan being the backdrop for my explorations.

This rapid pace of updates continued until the 2006 timeframe when the site got hacked and was completed deleted.  This kind of took the wind out of my sails, and I never quite recovered.
Another thing that happened at that time was that I got divorced and had better things to do with my time than photo blogging, namely jumping head first into the dating scene.  That was A LOT of fun while it was lasted, a very busy-crazy time.  To be a single male foreigner in Japan can be quite a whirlwind experience.  And to make a long story short, eventually I found a new girlfriend, and then that was what took up all of my time for the next 5-6 years.  Eventually that relationship fell by the wayside, for a variety of reasons.   When it ended I did dabble with dating again, finding a new interest in Osaka, which while extremely fun while it lasted, also turned out to not be right for me.

By that time I was tired of the dating scene, and feeling somewhat disheartened, so I kind of resigned myself to being a permanent bachelor, knowing that it is better to be in no relationship than being in the wrong one.

So, to find an outlet for my energies I decided to start doing more traveling.  However,  having covered Japan pretty extensively for more than a decade I decided to start doing more traveling throughout the Asia/Pacific region .

The first trip on my list was Palau, which was great.  Very different from anywhere else I had been, and just the kind of change of pace that  I needed.
But as great as my Palau trip was, for my next trip I decided to try something new. In order to get a more authentic experience in each place I went, I decided the best approach was to NOT buy a travel guidebook, feeling that I would feel pretty stupid to show up at my destination(s) only to find a bunch of other tourists with their travel guide books seeing and doing the same things as I was.   So I joined a dating website, not with the intention to find a new girlfriend, but rather for the purpose of finding tour guides for each of the destinations I was travelling to.

This approach worked out fabulously for my trip to Cebu .  I ate at some great traditional food restaurants, was introduced to the local nightlife scene, and had some great day trips, the best of which being a privately chartered catamaran that I spent a full day on (sunrise to sunset) shuttling around to various snorkeling spots.  It was the real highlight of the entire trip.
With that success under my belt, I then set my sites on mainland China.

But here is where the story took an interesting turn.

Because I had a profile posted on that dating website I would get a lot of messages from women, most of which were very short like, ”Hi”, or “You look nice”, etc… obvious shotgun approaches which I deleted, not responding.  But one day, shortly after I returned from Cebu I received a very nice message from a girl in Vietnam .   She had obviously read my profile in detail, and she also took the time to ask me some questions, as well as tell me a little about herself.  Since I had not yet travelled to Vietnam, AND because her message was so nice, AND her profile photos were drop dead gorgeous,  I replied to her.   And to make a long story short, I cancelled my plans for a trip to China , and three weeks later I travelled to Vietnam , meeting Phuong in Ho Chi Minh city where she lived.  While I was there we took a trip up to Halong Bay in northern Vietnam , and it was on an overnight boat cruise in Halong Bay (while I was crippled by food poisoning) that I proposed to her.  She said “Yes”, and three short months later were were married, happily ever after.  :)

Jeff and Phuong

It may come as a surprise to some of you, to finally learn the original motivation behind this website.  But even though I initially started this blog as a way to kill time, it did quickly grow into a labor of love for me.  And the best part of all was the people I got to know through this site.  Some I knew for a brief time, quickly losing touch. Others periodically reached out to me to tell me about their own exploits of living in Japan after having been motivated by this blog to take the plunge and move here.  Still yet others have passed on to the great beyond (I still miss you Joe, AKA “Pachipro”), and then there is that handful of others which have become life long friends.  I treasure you all, for you all have played a part in my life, making a much richer experience.

If this blog has taught me one thing, it is that life is really all about the journey.  We have destinations in mind, plans for the future, and dreams we are trying to make come true.  And that is good.  We all should be reaching for something.  But don’t forget that before you get to the end, there is a whole lot of interesting people, places, and things to meet, see, and do along the way.  So keep your eyes and your heart open, never lose that sense of wonder, and the world will show you some wonderful things.

For those that are interested, you can also find me one facebook, flickr, and smugmug.

Thank you all.  I wish you health, happiness, and fulfillment in everything that you do.

Jeff

Categories: Uncategorized

Superstitions

December 29, 2012 13 comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Click the above image to open a set of photos from a  recent trip I took to Kyoto

Supersitions.

Each culture has their own, and you never really notice the ones from your own culture, as thy are almost always so deeply ingrained that you accept them without question.  Earlier this month I had a business trip that took me to San Diego.  This was great, as it gave me a break from the worsening weather here in Japan as winter makes its presence known.  The real bonus of the trip though was the fact that just that week before my trip, Japan Airlines had started non-stop service from Tokyo to San Diego.  And better yet, it was via the new 787 Dreamliner.

I’d never flown this model of aircraft before, so it was a pleasant surprise.  I believe that different carriers have a choice on how many seats they want to try to cram into an airplane, and Japan Airlines must be commended on its move to actually give you a bit more room than in the past.  Just about every feature of the 777 has been thoughtfully upgraded in the new 787: The personal video screens are larger and sharper, the seats and a bit bigger, the windows are larger and have this cool auto-tint feature, so there is no actual slide-down window screen anymore.  The bathrooms seem more spacious, with a better designed door and fixtures.

All of these new upgraded features were nice and made the entire flight more comfortable.  But what really rocked my world was the meals being served.

I’m not sure if it was a promotion due to the addition of this new non-stop flight, but the meal on the way to San Diego was Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the meal on the way back to Japan was a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl.  (See the pics below for proof!)  Most of the pictures I took on this trip were food and drink related, so I will refer you to the photo link above if you need a Japan-Photo fix, as it opens up a gallery of some images I captured while in Kyoto late last month.

But getting back to the superstition part of this update, when I arrived in San Diego, I made a pit stop in the bathroom before heading to Immigration, so I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be at the back of the line and it would take me extra time to pass through.  As I entered the immigration area I was confronted with VERY long lines at all of the immigration counters.   All but one of them.  Number 4 had absolutely NO LINE in front of it.  Not a single person.  At first I thought it was because line 4 was closed, but then I remembered I had just got off of a flight that was was choke full of Japanese people.

Then it hit me, OF COURSE nobody wanted to take line 4!

You see, the number 4 can be pronounced two ways, either Yon, or Shi.  But “Shi” is also the Japanese word for death, and thus thought to bring bad luck.  That is why many supermarkets in Japan have no checkout line number 4, and buildings will sometimes not have a 4th floor.

As I walked up to the counter in line 4, and I could tell that the immigration officer was confused why nobody had chosen his line up to that point.  So I explained it to him and he had a good laugh about it, commenting that it was just like Americans and their superstitions about the number 13.

So wherever you originate from, be it Japan, America, somewhere in Europe etc, we all have our differences based on the culture we were raised in .  But once you peel back the superficiality of it all, we are all pretty much the same too. ;)

IMG_4795

KFC at 37,000 feet

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Under-flight
I was surprised at the volume of airline traffic zipping up and down the California coast.

IMG_4849

Oh how I have missed you old friend

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Since when did most every convenience and grocery store in America start stoking loads of great beer?

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787

IMG_4906Be still my beating heart, honest to goodness Gyudon on an airline flight!

Hello? Anyone still here?

December 19, 2012 20 comments

Hello? Anyone still here?

With the suicide of Instagram due to their new term of use, I’ll once again be more active here on my own blog where I know I own the content.

Sorry for the long absence, I have had a lot going on in my life the past 18 months or so, but now things have settled down again.

I’ll fill you all in on more of the details in future posts.

20121219-094337.jpg

Categories: yokosuka

Rollei 40mm f2.3 XF 35 lens, custom mounted for Leica

December 21, 2011 14 comments

I was in a  small used camera shop in Shinjuku a few weeks ago week when I noticed an odd looking little lens for sale.  It was a 40mm f2.3 lens from a Rollei 35XF that had been modified for use on a Leica l39 screw mount camera.  The modification was done by MS OPtical, the same maker of the famous Perar Super Triplet 35mm f3.5. Having the necessary adapter ring with me that would allow me to mount it to my Leica M9 I decided to spring for it and pay the 50,000 Yen to see what kind of images it would produce.

Here are some images both of the lens, as wella s taken with it on an M9:

From what I can see, this lens is a rather decent performer.  Compact, very well made, and since it is so rare, pretty fun to shoot with.  The 40mm focal length means that accurate framing will take some practice since I don’t have a 40mm viewfinder, but I can live with that.  Quite worth the price of entry. :)

Categories: gear talk Tags: , , , , , ,

Summitar 50mm f2 and Leica M9

November 17, 2011 6 comments

Leica M9 and Summitar 50mm f2 (1949)

Leica M9 and Summitar 50mm f2 (1949)

The beauty of any camera system capable of utilizing an M-mount lens is that you have a nearly endless selection of glass from which to experiment with and explore.  And while you can get M-Mount adapters to use Rangefinder glass on cameras like the Sony NEX-5, or Olympus E-P3, the only way to do it right is to use a full frame camera like the Leica M9.  This is particularly important when one is using one of the “character” lenses.  What I mean by “character” is, in a nutshell, sub-par optical performance.

Modern lens designs such as Lecia’s Aspherical Summilux series are as optically perfect as has ever been achieved.  The images they produce have a richness and pop that is hard to explain, it really must be seen to be understood.  But for all that perfection, there are more than just a few photographers out there that prefer a somewhat more organic experience.  I liken it to those that prefer the crackle, hiss, and pop of vinyl to the crystal clear digital perfection of a compact disk or MP3.

One of the more famous of character lenses is the Summitar 50mm f2.  It is a L39 screw mount collapsable lens design, which is great for saving space in a camera bag.  To use it on the M9 one must get an L to M mount adapter, and for those of you that were wondering, it does safely collapse on the M9.

The basic design dates back to 1939 and it was produced until 1953.  Lenses manufactured after WWII were coated, and the original 10-bladed diaphragm was changed to a 6-bladeed version in 1950.   The version I own is from 1949, which places it right in the sweet spot so it retains the 10-bladed aperture, yet is coated.  The aperture control does not have any click-stops, and the focusing tab has an infinity lock.

Most of the images I will show here weer taken wide open, but I have included one sample image taken wide open and f2, as well as f8, just to give you an idea of how the performance of this lenses changes as you stop it down.  Please note: most of these images have at least a little adjustment to them in LightRoom 3, normally just a quick “Direct Positive” filter application.

Minimum focus distance, F2

Minimum focus distance, F2

Infinity focus distance, f2

Infinity focus distance, f2


f2

f2 - Even wide open, notice the razor sharp center. But it aslo retains that wonderful swirly bokeh that people have come to prize this lens for.

Minimum focus distance, f2, shooting into the sun to get some flare going

Minimum focus distance, f2, shooting into the sun to get some flare going

f2, notice the soft corners

f2, notice the soft corners

f8, notice how much sharper the corners are

f8, notice how much sharper the corners are

The two photos above show just how easy it use to use this lens as a character lens one minute, then as a very respectably sharp normal lems the next.  I apologize for the slight difference in framing, these were all shot hand held.

This image demonstrates what a wonderful combination this lens is with the M9.

This image demonstrates what a wonderful combination this lens is with the M9.

The lower overall contrast of the Summitar compliments the relatively high dynamic range of the M9 sensor to allow one to shoot in challenging light conditions with relative impunity.  Shadow detail is retained, and highlights are well under control.  Note: I did apply some in-camera exposure compensation on this image, but even so, the range of lighting would have sent one of my Cosina Voigtlander lenses to its knees with its high contrast imaging.

Stopped down to f2.8

Stopped down to f2.8

Stopping this down to f2.8 all but eliminates the characteristic swirley bokeh, but it still retains a pleasing 3D rendering.

f2

f2.8

Selfy at f2

Selfy at f2

f2

f2

minimum focus distance f2

minimum focus distance f2.8

f2

f2

f2.8

f3.5

f2

f2

f3.5

f3.5

f2

f2

f2.8

f2.8

f8

f8

f2

f2

So there you have it.

I do have to say that this lens has exceeded my expectations, particularly since I was able to find one in near pristine condition for less than $400.  It is nowhere near as sharp as most modern lenses.  The Cosina Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 Nokton and 50mm f2.5 color skopar blow it out of the water in the sharpness department.  But what it lacks in edge to edge sharpness, it mor than makes up for in character.

I like it so much in fact that on my upcoming trip to Kyoto, the Summitar will be the only 50mm lens that I will take with me.  I’ll be leave the 50mm Summilux pre-Asph at home in favor of it’s much older and slightly slower sibling.  I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the sharp center and swirley edge bokeh for some fall color shots.

I’ve been to Kyoto more times than I can count, but each time I go I bring a different set of gear to shoot with, and I think the Summitar/M9 combo will fit the bill nicely.  To round out my M9 kit I will likely be taking a CV 28mm f1.9 and Leica 90mm f4.  For extreme low-light work I will bring along the the FUJI X100 as it very decidedly blows thew doors off the M9 in the high ISO department.  It also takes care of the 35mm field of view if I happen to need it.

So if you are in Kyoto between 23-28 August, you just may run into me there.  I’ll be easy to find, just look for the guy with the smile on his face. :)

Categories: gear talk Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Gear talk, and trimming down my list of equipment

October 24, 2011 7 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

Todays photo don’t really have any cohesive theme to them, rather they are just a small set of images I happen to like, and I hope you feel the same.

I’ve started to recently think about doing some drastic downsizing of my camera gear.  I’ve accumulated quite a bit of it over the years, and as time goes by I find myself shooting with a smaller and smaller set of gear.  For the photos I posted topday, the cameras used were: Sigma DP2, Leica M9, and Nikon D700.

A camera that has recently become my default carry-with-me-everywhere-I-go camera is the Fuji X100.  It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it is pretty darn close for what I like to shoot.

Probably the two biggest gripes I have with it are the parallax error when using the optical viewfinder and the placement of the exposure compensation dial.  The placement of the exposure compensation dial is a problem because it is too easy to accidentally turn it when holding the camera or taking it out of a bag, resulting in unintentionally over or under exposed shots.  Although I have started to fall into the habit of checking the position of the dial, so this is turning into just a minor nuisance instead of a show stopper.

The bigger problem by far is the parallax error as it results in a rather high percentage of mis-focused images at closer distances when using the center focus point while using the optical viewfinder.  It really is a shame too since otherwise the optical viewfinder is a pure joy to use.  It seems to me that Fuji could rather easily fix his problem in firmware by biassing the focus point down and to the right as you focus closer.  I guess I could also try using the multi-point focus mode, but I’d rather not trust the camera to guess what the subject of my images are.  As a side note, I was really excited about the manual focus capability of the X100, but Fuji really dropped the ball in this department as it is glacially slow, and down right unusable.

If I want to shoot manual focus glass on something other than the M9, the Sony NEX-5 fits the bill nicely since its focus peaking feature is so simple and intuitive to use.  And seeing as I have not even touched the M9 in the past couple of month, it very well may be the first of my cameras that gets put up on the auction block.  It is a superb image making tool, and a real joy to use, but as I was shooting with it I found myself gravitating to shooting with just a 35mm lens.  Weighing the M9 cost and image quality against the Fuji X100, I think I may have to let the M9 go and use the generated funds to take the X100 on a trip or two to Europe.  :)

Categories: gear talk, wanderings

Enoshima, on a clear day.

July 25, 2011 14 comments

Click here for todays images

I spent last Saturday in Enoshima.

I’ve been there many times, but it had been at least 6-7 years since I had actually made the journey to the backside of the island where it directly faces the wide open pacific.   Not a whole lot had changed, save for the much improved pedestrian path up above the sea scoured shelf that fronts the ocean, as well as a few more extra banisters full of locks up at lovers point.

It had not been my idea to spend the day there, but a couple of friends of mine (Ian and Liis) were going to be there and had asked if I was interested in coming.  As a typhoon had just recently ripped past Kanagawa, I knew the weather was going to be good.  But I was not at all prepared for just how clear it was going to be.

Not only could you get a great view of Mt Fuji, but all the coastline between Enoshima and the rolling hills near Odawara were clear and sharp in the relatively dry air.   All the way from Enoshima to Odawara you could see the beach give way to green, city beyond that, and more green hills even further on.

It was also nice to be able to follow Liis as she took us on a round about (long-cut) that bypassed the majority of the crowds and also afforded me to explore a (new-for-me) shrine.

We spent a good hour or so enjoying the view from the back side of the island, remarking on the stupendous number of dragonflies buzzing about.  (I’ve never seen so many in one place in my entire life)  It was an excellent day, spent with excellent friends.

We capped off the day by spending a few hours in one of the varied beach bars strung out along Enoshima beach.  Our entertainment being cold beer, cheap food, girls in skimpy bikinis, and the obligatory passed out young Japanese guy being harassed by his “friends”.

Not a bad day at all.  Definitely one to remember.

My gear for the day:

  • Leica M9
  • Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 ZM
  • Cosina Voigtlander 12mm f5.6 UWH
  • Leica Summitar 50mm f2
Categories: wanderings Tags: ,
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