Friday, 29 February 2008

Too Much Thinking On Trains

Usually the time on the trains passes by fairly easily by tuning into my iPod to shut the rest of the alien world out.

Sometimes I find myself thinking WAY too much.

Today I recalled an interesting quote from none other than a few spoken lines from the "Rush Rush" video by Paula Abdul.

"Can I ask you something? Have you ever been in love?"
--"If I was, I didn't know it. And you?"
"No. Isn't that terrible?"
--"Terrible? No, it just reminds you that we're all alone, that's all."

For some reason since what, 1991? I still remember those lines clearly. I actually paraphrased it in one of the songs I wrote way back then.

To make sure, I checked out the clip on youtube. It's not enough to consider it plagiarism, but those lines still affect me.

Hmm.. < insert pregnant pause >

One of the other things that crossed my mind is "What do I want to be when I grow up?"

Seeing that I don't feel like I've grown up yet, I still have some time left to find out.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Yen Back? Cashback!

Today I mailed my 5000 yen cashback from Nikon for my lens purchase.

Let's see how long it takes to get it back into my hot little hands. While not a huge amount, it'll buy a LOT of Crunky.

I checked a previous post to see how long it takes for me to finish a four litre bottle of Shochu. I was shocked and surprised that it has been a month almost to the day. I maybe had a glass or two almost every night, so it sounds about right.

Japan is a great place for vices.

Alcohol and cigarettes are ridiculously cheap. I've lost a lot of weight since coming here, but I feel pretty good. I'm guessing that shochu has less carbs than beer, but it may have something to do with my changed eating habits and more active lifestyle these days.

I've done a massive cleanup of my hard drive and reclaimed over 50 gigs of space. Still, I feel like there's still some more to be had, so I'm going to do some more investigation to get even more if I can.

I bought some That's branded Taiyo Yuden DVDs for 2100 yen today. From what I've read on the internet, they are the best media you can buy.

If I can free up some more space I'm going to install music software. Living in Japan I feel inspired. It's about time to lay down some tracks. I found the chords to Rihanna's, "Umbrella". I must be have bored or something.

Don't get me wrong it's a great song. I've also been listening to some melancholy, folky Nick Drake tracks and "Lost & Safe" by The Books recommended by a friend.

The later is very different. It sounds a bit like a soundtrack with random soundbytes. Not quite songs, but perfect for a slow anesthetic to Tokyo's train trips.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Join Us, Become One Of Us

The Yamanote line was absolutely packed this morning.

I don't know what it is, but lately I've had to really squeeze myself in to catch my train. I guess when in Rome.. There's always room for one more.

There was a strange train changeover at some small station along the way. It looks like there weren't enough passengers on the train I was on, so they made us all get off to catch the next one. Great..

I still had plenty of time to get to Yokohama though. I always give myself a good buffer to get to the office.

With a bit of time to spare I took a few photos with my new lens.

I couldn't resist and took some pics of the Joinus signs, and some places around the more populated side of the station.

The busy street next to the Vivre building.

The weird "Guggenheim"-like Bic Camera store.

The "Smoking Area" box next to the station. Too funny..

I'm really happy with the way the pictures are coming out. The pictures are mostly sharp, with some nice out of focus backgrounds.

The zoom is keeping me lazy and saving me from walking the small extra distances.

I saw this "Chorus Water" in the teacher's staff room. What next? Verse Water?, Middle 8 Water?

Before I left Yokohama I went to Don Quijote for some essentials.

The Shochu is finished so I bought myself another 4 litres (1880 yen, sweet..) It seems to finish so quickly.

I also got some Ghana chocolate for 69 yen, which is a fantastic price. No, I don't say "Ghana money", that's just silly.

Only Crunky can be spoken of in money terms.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Nikon A Lens And A Gundam

I'd thought she'd set her alarm early, but it was myself that made the mistake.

I accidently set my own alarm clock for 6pm instead of 6am. Lucky that. Today was going to be an interesting day.

Yesterday we finally finished the first Di Bella "Mocha and Caramel" coffee blend that my father brought here, what seems like aeons ago.

Now we can finally begin the Merlo Coffee that I brought back in the New Year. First thing tomorrow.

I missed out on my cuppa this morning. Instead I used another of Macca's free coffee coupons that I've managed to get my grubby mits on. They always look on the back now, punching some number into their sophisticated cash registers.

I'm sure they have a "Most Wanted" picture of me on their displays to check for overdue coupons. Foiled again!

After work I did the rounds of the camera stores to try to coerce the staff into giving me the best price for the 18-200mm lens I'm after.

I don't think salespeople here have heard of the concept of "making a sale".

Asking for a discount is akin to telling the person that you kissed their mommies. By the look on their faces it looks like I said the most offensive thing possible. They usually say "Best price!" Oh really..

In english, best price means cheapest in my language.

Another store basically blocked me straight away when I asked "Eigo?" (english), and they flatly said no. This was going to be a struggle.

Yodobashi were the most inclined to discount, but they are usually marked up an extra 10,000 yen anyway to compensate for any perceived sale price.

Feeling a bit down in the dumps, I walked into the UFO catcher closest to Macca's in Shinjuku East and tried my hand at another Gundam figure. It looked pretty easy and 100 yen a pop.

For 300 yen I got it, but I foolishly tried for his "brother" and lost 200 yen in the process. Dammit!

Seeing it was still fairly early, I made the decision to go to Akihabara to get the lens. At the moment there is a Nikon 5000 yen cashback on the one I want.

The cheapest price I could find online was 69,000 yen, but on the warranty card it had the date already filled in from the 17th of February, meaning the cashback wouldn't be valid on my purchase.

So, after trying Yodobashi here as well, I settled on Akihabara Outlet Plaza which had the next best price for 71,500 yen.

A bit more than I hoped for, but with the Nikon offer it's actually quite a bit less than what a lot of stores are selling this lens secondhand. Either way it's still much cheaper than current prices in Australia.

I did a few test shots. The focus hunts around a bit. I'm hoping it's just because of the low light in the apartment, or I'm trying to focus on something too close.

It's great that I can finally use auto focus, but after the cool fisheye perspectives, I feel like this one is a tad bit unsatisfying. I'll give my full judgement once I've had a good go at using it. It makes the camera quite a bit heavier too.

I didn't spend much time looking in Akihabara. The mission was just for the lens. I made my way back home straight after I got it. I was so tired.

All the pics on this post are using the new lens by the way. Hopefully I'll have something a bit more interesting to take pictures of.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The Virtues Of P...ography Have Made Me The Man I Am Today

Hi me again,

Today I'm in the wonderful township of Fujisawa.

Now that I am in Tokyo it takes a bit longer to get here than when I used to live in Tomioka.

Now don't get me wrong, the school is kind of nice and the kids, god bless 'em are great. (I got them eating out of my hand. Oh, the power I have right now). It's just that it takes quite a while to get here, that's all.

The one good advantage, is that I don't have to get out of bed until midday, and that suits me just fine.

Before I made my way into the office I headed into Bic Camera and decided, since I had my camera with me, to try a "normal" lens on the camera that I'd bought. I also wanted to make sure the autofocus would work with a lens that had a motor.

My lens of choice was the Nikkor 18-200mm VR superzoom. The best thing apart from the zoom range is that this baby auto-focuses with my D40x because the motor is built into the lens.

While it's not as impressive as I'd hoped, it looks like a pretty good lens. From the reviews on the internet it's highly regarded. Maybe because of that it still has a bit of a high price tag.

The salespeople were kind enough to let me take a few snaps before my lessons. What do you think?
18mm self portrait. You don't want to get too close. this. 200mm close up.

From far away.. (18mm)

..and close up. (200mm) You can see the same tripods in the 18mm photo above. Impressive. I guess it saves one from walking the same distance.

Decisions, decisions.

Right now I'm punch drunk happy with my fisheye.

As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, the results never fail to stand out (Look at the warped railing huh?) I'm going to try and hold out before forking over more money for stuff I don't absolutely need right now. I think the fisheye produces more than interesting results.

Oh, in the post title the missing word is "photography" Ok!?

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The Killing Spree

The intervention didn't work (ok, there wasn't one), and I still go to the UFO catchers.

I was still hankering for Wonka chocolate after we finished the Valentine's Day one.

I made a bee-line for the same Taito near Minato Mirai, but they weren't there anymore.

To my surprise I saw an ugly Lilo & Stitch doll at the bottom of one of the chutes so I picked it up. Another freebie! It was probably left there because whoever won it decided it was too butt ugly to take home.

I will probably end up donating it to one of the students.

I was a little peeved about the chocolate, so I went into Yokohama's Daiei supermarket and got some Meiji Black for 85 yen but it WASN'T enough. I was still unsatisfied.

I caught the train to Shibuya and proceeded to the Adores UFO catcher. There I saw WONKA chocolate! Again I played for it and I'm sure that I paid more for it than retail. (700-800 yen? *bah!*) The important thing is that it's mine... all mine.

At that point I should have went home but I foolishly went to the other Taito and saw a two cup espresso coffee maker. I spent 1400 yen getting it. Did I need it? No, I have one here at home. Oh boy..

How do you know when you are addicted to UFO catchers/claw machines?

1. You have a 1000 yen note broken up into 100 yen coins (just in case).

2. You play for things you don't need or really want because you are "sure it's easy to get in".

3. You watch other people have a go to make "strategies" for winning.

4. You play for the hentai dolls because they are kind of "sexy".

5. You go to the catchers at every spare opportunity to see if there's anything new in them.

It's ok if you don't think this is funny. I'm being serious! I'm sure there are many more "clues" for catcher addiction but these are all I could think of quickly enough to write this post.

You'd think with the gf away at her mother's, I'd be out partying, but no the UFO catcher monkey is well and truly on my back. I'll leave you with another Shibuya crossing photo with my new camera. Ooh, the pretty lights..
Why is there ALWAYS someone in the photo looking at me taking the picture? Hello, you've never seen anyone do this?

Friday, 15 February 2008

Open Space 2007

After work I took my camera to Miyama Camera to see if they could fix my small problem of a tiny hair and some spots on my viewfinder.

It's not a big thing. The marks don't show on the pictures so it's not on the sensor, but it has been slightly distracting. From forums I have read, it's very common and most people just ignore it.

It's still under its 14 (yes, that's fourteen) day secondhand warranty, so I thought that while I still had the chance, I'd see if they could correct it. I don't want to be doing anything stupid to a just bought camera that is otherwise working fine.

After quite a bit of effort the salesperson managed to get rid of the hair and most of the spots.

I did say that they were still partly there, but to be fair they would only be seen if you were really looking for them. I think I pissed him off a little, so I didn't push the issue too hard.

Later with the gf we made our way to Hatsudai near the Park Hyatt to the NTT Inter Communication Centre (ICC). Mistakenly I thought it was in the actual NTT building, but it's across the road in the Tokyo Opera City building across the road on the fourth floor.

This I found out after the gf got me to ask reception in english where it was. If we go to Italy, I'm going to get the gf to ask people in japanese for directions to see how she feels.

The Open Space 2007 is open until March 9th, 2008.

I really recommend going to this exhibition. It's like the science museum without kids. SUGOI!!

There's plenty of hands-on activities and eye candy.

Highlights were : An ice hockey amusement game where you are actually playing against yourself in a mirror!

Driftnet - create computer lightning with movement, very "sorcerer's apprentice" and..

Juggler, a real life animation done with lots of twisted metal and a strobe light.

It's hard to describe, so just watch the video.

Do yourself a favour and just go if you're in Tokyo. It's very cool.

Walking back (after pigging out on Yoshinoya), we found Yamaya, world foods and wine.

From the outside it looks like any liquor store, but I have now found a great place to get lots of yummy international food and best of all, real mango and peach juice! (and cheap alcohol, cheese etc).

If you go out the south exit of Shinjuku station and keep heading south towards Park Hyatt you'll see it on the right hand side of the road about 1km down the road.

We got three litres of mango juice (and one peach and grape) for 138 yen per litre, and some babybel cheese. Sampleman had some soy milk samples and said "good!"

For good measure we went to Krispy Kreme for doughnuts before heading home.

Along with the free one waiting in line, I bought two. The gf bought three. She said two were for her mother, and just one for herself. Yeah, right.. She makes me laugh.

Oh, by the way I got the "sister" penguin for the gf. Just 500 yen!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentine's Day Is Over

The curious thing about Valentine's Day is that it's the GIRLS who give the sweets to the men! Weird, but we can't complain can we?

Retailers never fail to cash in on yet another excuse to free us of our hard earned yen.

I was in Yokohama today when I saw Pocket Mart's "Valentine's Day" stalls inundated with women buying chocolates.

I'm told that in some cases the girls use it as an excuse to stuff their own mouths full of chocolate goodness, but maybe I'll believe they are DOING THE RIGHT THING and giving us the sweetness lacking in other areas.

At work I got two Lindt balls from a student which was really sweet (literally). Only one student though. When I got home I went halves with the gf.

Speaking of the gf. Even though the men don't give anything to the girls, I thought it strange not to give anything (We are supposed to return the favour on "White Day" in March).

I made my way through the streets and saw some more of the penguins the gf loves in the Club Sega.

It's funny, "Hentai girls" - bad, "Penguins" - GOOD! If I have any support of my habit, it's the pursuit of "happy feet" to keep the gf happy.

I got the staff to move it but the initial position was not that great.

Later he moved it enough to give the claw a little more leverage and tip it in. He advised me to grab it around the neck. I ignored his advice and nudged it in with one of the claw hands. Only two tries and 200 yen *ka ching!*

I wanted to get some Wonka chocolate as a secondary "gift", but they charge a ridiculous, at least 525 yen for a bar of Aussie chocolate.

I thought I'd win in at the Taito near Minato Mirai and save some money. I wasn't doing that great on this one. My mojo sucked and it took 700 yen! That was with the "give away" position from the sympathetic staff on my last try.

The gf was stoked with the penguin, but wanted a "sister" for the other penguin. *sigh* She liked the chocolate though.

OH... She made me some muffins with choco drops on top for my gift. Tasty.

I guess I will get the other sister tomorrow in Shinjuku.

Monday, 11 February 2008

The "Lost In Translation" Hotel

Today is National Foundation Day and therefore yet another japanese public holiday. Yay for me!

After doing some "100 yen day" supermarket shopping, we went to the Chiyoda library.

They had a lot of great CDs (and DVDs too) to borrow.

I thought I could use the library card I already had, but I needed to get a separate card for this library.

Their borrowing card looks a lot cuter with two ducks on the front. kawaii.

I borrowed out a "best of" David Lee Roth, Kelly Clarkson and Jaco Pastorius. David Lee Roth?

Yes, I'm afraid so.

From there we went to the Yotsuya library where I unloaded the John Mayer, Scissor Sisters and a Rolling Stone magazine.

The Scissor Sister's CD really didn't do it for me. I don't know whether it was because the music was gay, or just really samey and well, boring.

We'd planned to go to the NTT building in Hatsudai for an interesting (and free) exhibition, but it looks like they weren't open on this public holiday.

With my "fisheye" camera I took a lot of interesting photos today including this turtle walking up the side of this building.

Until I get a normal lens, expect to see a LOT of fisheye-d pictures.

Instead we made our way to the nearby Park Hyatt and Metropolitan Government Office buildings.

The Hyatt is well known for being the hotel with the great view in "Lost In Translation".

We made our way up to the same floor as in the movie but we didn't go into the same bar. Ordering something would have stretched our budget more than I can afford.

Still, we managed to get a great view out the window on the same floor.

On the way back down we were both feeling really hungry so we stopped into Macca's for Big Macs, chips and drinks. Even with all that our hunger was not satisfied, so we had a choco pie and an apple pie. That didn't really help things. Macdonalds bad!

In the same building we checked out the Conran shop. What was really bizarre was that they were selling Star Wars lightsabers! This is a homewares store. What the..? I couldn't resist and gave them a try. They were about 24,100 yen and yes, I'd love to have one. Sadly, it'd be impossible to bring back to Australia though.

The line for the Government observatory was too long for our liking, so I took some cool photos surrounding the building.

One of the naked lady statues in the circular courtyard area.

THIS is art.

Love that fisheye. You will learn to love it too.

Here are a few more I did in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku.I have no idea what goes on in the establishment behind me.

An atmospheric shot as it's getting dark around Shinjuku.

Here you can see Takashimaya Square and the "Empire State Building", otherwise known as the NTT DoCoMo building.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Yokohama Fisheye

Since I was in Yokohama, I decided to take my new camera combo with me and shoot a few pictures off before (and after) lessons.

As soon as I arrived I headed out the west exit of Yokohama station and took a picture in the west direction facing my school.

You can also see More's building and Tower Records on the right, and the Yodobashi Camera building to the left of the Kirin sign.

From there I headed south to the more interesting main shopping area of Yokohama and took this photo.

It looks like I don't have to mess around with the manual focus much. With the lens so wide I can pretty much leave it at infinity and it has a good focus on everything. I was almost thinking I should have got the more expensive D80, but it looks like I'm getting my head around this camera ok.

I also took a few pics in the teacher's staff room and they turned out alright as well.

To finish off I wanted to do a night shot. So what not better than the Taito UFO catcher near Tokyu Hands?

Lucky I took this picture fairly early on. Not long after it started snowing again.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Jazz Camera

You knew it wouldn't be long before I had to have a camera body to match the lens I bought yesterday.

Today after work I had in mind to go first to Map Camera and then Miyama Syokai. Apart from your Bic and Yodabashi Cameras, these are the two most prominent camera shops in Shinjuku.

Although Map Camera have a sale on at the moment, the prices were still a little high for my liking.

At Miyama I weighed up my options. It took ages to decide. One of the sales people put a secondhand Nikon D40x for 30,000 yen freshly on display. I was a little surprised. This is a great price.

Kakaku show it for about 55,000 yen, and Australia's prices are about $930.

He said it didn't have all the accessories, but the only thing missing is a CD (in japanese) and a USB cable that I already have so it's a great deal.

I tried a D80, but for some reason the view finder looked blurry no matter how much I adjusted it. A D80 has more features, most of all an autofocus driver for the lens I bought.

This may turn out to be it's greatest weakness. But at more than double the price I can't justify it. This camera has the same 10 megapixel quality and it's smaller and lighter.

The fisheye is a cool lens. Check out this picture. The picture cover all FOUR walls of the living area of the apartment!

I will also get a proper lens that autofocuses from the lens sometime. Maybe a nice 18-200mm VR superzoom. I think the manual focusing is going to drive me nuts. Good practise I suppose.

From Shinjuku I hot-stepped it to Ginza for a free jazz show INSIDE the station.

There was quite a big turn out. It would have been better in a larger viewing area, but the singer and guitarist were pretty good to listen to.

We walked around Ginza. We got some Azuki, butter bread and the gf got some expensive tea.

My back was killing me from carrying around my teaching material and camera stuff. I couldn't wait to get home.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Something Fishy

Man, do I have a funny story to tell.. This will crack you up.

Today I bought a fisheye lens. Get it? No?

I actually don't have a camera to connect it yet. Drum roll please and cymbal crash. Funny huh?

I have been thinking for quite a while now to get a SLR camera to document the interesting sights of Tokyo.

Crazy as it might be, I love the fisheye effect on photos and this was my primary motivation. And dang, I need a hobby in this place. Any other excuse to procrastinate, I will find it!

If it keeps me away from the evil UFO catchers it will pay for itself.

Another day off, another day in Akihabara.

I don't know why I gravitate here. I'm eternally in search of my inner geek. I like looking in electronic stores, touching all the shiny toys and yes, the catchers here are always interesting, but I didn't play any of them today.

Google Earth is really coming in handy. It must have been hell to find addresses before internet maps were available. With the help of my GPS phone, I found the places painlessly.

I got the secondhand lens in Sofmap. Yes it's used, but it's in good condition I think. I think I annoyed the salesperson in english a bit, making sure the lens wasn't scratched (it had just a smudge). He must've thought I'd try to bring the price down further. He looked a little surprised when I said I'd take it.

The original price for the lens was 63,800 yen and it had a 10% off sticker bringing it down to 57,420 yen (about $600). I know that's a lot, but in Australia it costs about $1100! So, I suppose if I ever get bored of it, I should be able to sell it for the same price I hope.

I was feeling guilty buying it (That's from my mother by the way. Thanks mama). I still had in mind to buy a memory card mainly for my phone, but it looks like it will be doing double duty for photos as well. I thought to get an 8GB card, but they're 10,500 yen. I settled on a 4GB one for 4000 yen. The bigger card will be half the price in a few months anyway.

So now I'm going to look for a well priced Nikon SLR. Either the D40 or D80 is on the cards. Only the later will auto focus with this lens, but I have to see how much I'm willing to spend. I don't want to spend too much on this new "hobby".

Stay tuned.

Oh. I picked up my watch yesterday by the way. The clerk said a whole lot of words in japanese ("we didn't do anything"?) I just said, "watch ok?" and he said it was. That's good enough for me. So far so good. I'm going to be treating it with kid gloves from now on. I'm sick of bothering them, and I'm sure they are sick of seeing me too.

The cheese is also now finished finally. It was growing an beautiful exotic green mould so I made the decision to make a super size omelette with about 500 grams of cheese. All I can say it was cheesy all right. The salami helped too of course.

The gf isn't back yet. I can't wait to tell her about my new purchase. She will be so happy for me.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Building A Theremin on a Snowy Day

Last night we went to Oh Calcutta, an Indian Curry "all you can eat" restaurant.

And eat I did. For 1050 yen each I got myself stuffed more than a taxidermied animal, feeling like any sudden interruption would invoke a technicolor yawn onto the streets of Shibuya. I couldn't even look at food displays of other eateries.

One of the other teachers told me earlier in the week he had built a theremin from a kit within, Otona No Kagaku ("Science for Adults"), a japanese science magazine.

It was 2300 yen at Book 1st, a bit much but I bought it anyway. For some reason I got an extra 1 yen back in my change. Weird.

Today was snowing A LOT. You have to be careful what you wish for, because I could have made that snowman I wanted to make last time.

Instead, it seemed a good time as any to put together that crazy theremin.

All the pieces were neatly packed in the styrofoam box.

It wasn't too hard to put together. The only thing missing was a screwdriver to put all the bits together. I ended up using my swiss army knife.

The pictures were well detailed, the instructions of course in japanese. It's like putting a PC together, or maybe Lego.

All the pieces could really only go in one way. Some of the screws wouldn't go a deeply in their threads but they held on ok. I couldn't put in the last screw with my knife.

I didn't have any batteries so we scrounged around the apartment, taking them from the aircon and TV remote controls. At first the sound was really quiet until I worked out where the volume was.
It's not the most musical sound. More like what an intoxicated robot would make. As you can see the gf is more wrapped up in her newspaper than my musical masterpiece.

Reluctantly we went out. The gf wanted to go to the Yotsuya library, and I wanted to get some batteries from the 99 yen shop.

Outside the snow was building up. It felt uncomfortable trudging along the iced footpaths. Water was making its way into my obviously not waterproof shoes soaking my socks.

After the library, we went up to the 9th floor concert hall for a good view where we could see the snow falling over Tokyo.

Making our way back we found 198 yen Haagan Daaz cups in the supermarket. That's really cheap so we picked up six of those.

Sampleman tried some mandarin pieces and decided it was good.

From the 99 yen shop having got the batteries, we went home and feeling drained we had a cat nap for a while.

It's so cold. Samui!