December 13, 2010

Analog: Airport Security


Tammi and I landed back home in New York yesterday from Hong Kong. I've got plenty to post about and hope to get them flowing out of there next week or two.

Over the last couple weeks, we've been on 10 flights through six countries and dealt with countless different stages of airport security. Ever since I started shooting film, one of the biggest potential hassles has been dealing with airport security.

X Rays can severely damage the emulsion on film in a way that can totally screw your images. Now, the first thing any screener will say is that it'll only affect film that's faster than ISO 800 or even 1600. What none of them understands is that slower film isn't invulnerable to X Rays, it's just that it takes more passes to do the same damage because it's less sensitive.

I've read that it takes five passes to damage 100 speed film the way one pass damages a faster roll. Given that we've passed through maybe a dozen security checkpoints on this trip, the hazard is still there.

In one of the few compliments I've ever really considered about the TSA, I will say that they invariably will do a proper manual swab of my film without giving me a hard time.

Less so in Japan, above, where the security guy at Narita insisted on opening up and visually inspecting each of my 20+ rolls. In the end, it's better than the Cambodian guard who insisted that I put my one roll of 1600 speed film in the x-ray because the sign said it was 'film-safe.' I haven't shot it yet, so we'll have to see how it comes out when I get home.

Hong Kong: 13 Hours


When Tammi and I went to Japan three years ago, the huge time difference was significant. It took us a few days of waking up at 3am before we finally adjusted. This time around in Hong Kong, it's been more challenging.

I think what's made it harder this time around is social media. Back in 2007, we'd check email once or twice a day but otherwise be pretty disconnected from the world at home. Now, we're so wired to Twitter, Facebook, tumblr and everything else that make us constantly aware that we're not on our usual schedule. Every evening we'd get back to our room and as we were winding down, a slew of posts and tweets and updates would start flowing in. It could be a little disorienting.

I also put together a couple Midtown Lunch posts while away and had to keep in mind what time it was at home - and when communicating with Zach, what time it is in California as well. That's not including the changes between Hong Kong and our stops in Vietnam and Cambodia to the west and The Philippines to the east.

I'm not complaining or lamenting, I think it's been really interesting to have to juggle multiple time zones like this. Now that I'm back on EST, I'm of course jetlagged and sitting here writing this at 4am and getting updates in the middle of the night when you can't sleep suddenly seems much more appealing.

October 8, 2008

Souvenirs: Transformers

IMG_9502, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Here's a bit of geekiness for the fanboys out there.

Last year in Tokyo, Tammi and I passed through the Anime Museum, which was more like an anime store in Akihabara and I found these awesome Transformers toys.

The Transformers were pretty much the coolest thing around when I was a kid, so I snatched them both up.

The coolest aspect to me are the little differences. Optimus Prime is called Convoy, a much more descriptive name, when you think about it. He's also listed at "Cybertron Commander," while Megatron is the "Destron Leader." There's no mention of the Autobots and Decepticons that every boy knew in 1984.

The Revoltech series also includes figures from other famous animated series, including Evangelion and other robot-focused titles. It's cool stuff.

September 13, 2008

Photo of the Day: Octopi

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

August 14, 2008

Photo of the Day: Tsukiji Scallops

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

July 2, 2008

Food Finds: Vacu-Fish

IMG_2190, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Naka-Meguro, Tokyo. 2007.

June 17, 2008

Photo of the Day: Raw

IMG_1606, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Imahan Restaurant. Shinjuku, Tokyo. 2007.

The restaurant is also known for its beef sashimi, but this plate of beef was bound for the Shabu Shabu pot. I did try beef sashimi while in Japan and loved it. I have no expectations of converting anyone, so I'll leave it at that. If you are prone to consider trying such things, go for it, you'll probably enjoy it or at least find it really interesting. If not, no amount of description is going to help.

June 11, 2008

Birthday Dinner at Yoshi's

IMG_3004, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

On Sunday, I turned 31. Like my previous birthday, much of it was spent in the air. Last year we spent most of the day flying to Japan, a trip I blogged pretty extensively.

To celebrate the big day, Tammi and I had dinner at Yoshi's on Fillmore. We had a fantastic meal there, possibly the best I've had all year. After days of delicious, heavy southern foods, we both welcomed a lighter fare.

That said, the dish that sticks with me the most was still fried: Unagi Tempura, a whole eel fillet fried in tempura batter. It was a little difficult to handle with my poor chopstick skills, but it was fantastic.

I also had some uni that had an incredibly complex flavor. I love uni. Your mileage may vary, depending on your tolerance for odd textures. I've lovingly compared it to a wad of snot in the past. it doesn't slide down your throat like an oyster, it sticks to the roof of your mouth, lingering long enough to release every bit of flavor it's got. Tammi's not fond of the stuff, but I love it.

As we shared a selection of fish from Tsukiji Fish Market, I realized that it was already Monday in Tokyo, exactly a year since we blindly wandered the aisles at Tsukiji, trying to avoid being hit by the 'careening' turrets.

After dinner we saw Ahmad Jamal and his band perform at Yoshi's Jazz club. It was a great show.

Supermarket Finds: Japanese Watermelons

IMG_2184, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Naka-Meguro, Tokyo. 2007.

I'm not sure what the big deal is about watermelons in Japan, but last week all the blogs were atwitter about the sale of a black watermelon for $6000. I'm pretty sure these weren't quite so expensive...

June 6, 2008

Photo of the Day: Geisha on the Move

Geisha on the Move, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Ponto Cho, Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

May 21, 2008

Supermarket Finds: Marbled Beef

IMG_2185, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Naka-Meguro, Tokyo. 2007.

May 19, 2008

Graffiti of the Day: Flying Fortress

IMG_4110, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Shibuya, Tokyo. 2007.

Artist: Flying Fortress

Update: I got everything a little mixed up today, so this is a bonus GOTD. Enjoy.

May 2, 2008

Photo of the Day: Owls

IMG_3029, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

February 8, 2008

Photo of the Day: Preoccupied

IMG_3114, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

December 22, 2007

Ornaments: Japanese Koi

IMG_1377.JPG, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Even though it's not technically an ornament, we use it that way. It's actually a little pouch. I'm not sure the intended contents. It's scented with incense, which may or may not be relevant.

Purchased in Gion, Kyoto, Japan. Summer 2007.

Photo of the Day: Japanese Koi

IMG_3483, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. June 2007.

November 13, 2007

Photo of the Day: What's Beef?

What's Beef?, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

November 11, 2007

Graffiti of the Day: Shibuya Diamond

IMG_4170, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

November 1, 2007

Graffiti of the Day: Kyoto Gangster

IMG_3065, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

Photo of the Day: Wishes

IMG_1732, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

This would be a lot more solemn if one of those boards didn't say:

"We wish for a safe journey with lots of Great sex.
May we return to find our loving Friends + Family healthy and happy."


June 28, 2007

Tagger Bag

IMG_4769, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

For my birthday, Tammi got me this this totally kick-ass bag we found at Tokyu Hands on our last day in Japan.

Tagger Bags are sold in pieces, with the straps, the bags and the flaps completely interchangeable.

Besides the preset designs, like the stylized Imperial flag design, they also have plain flaps open to be tagged up as much as you want.

A few years ago Tammi managed to get one of my graffiti pics put on a messenger bag she gave me for Christmas. It was brilliant and I'm psyched that someone else had a similar idea. I may have to order some more flaps at some point.

June 27, 2007

Photo of the Day: Dragon Handle

IMG_3444, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Ceremonial bell, Nijo-jo, Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I've been busy drinking beer and enjoying the sun.

All for research purposes, I assure you.

June 23, 2007

Japanese Ear Cleaner

Japanese Ear Cleaner, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Did you know there are two types of earwax?

From Wikipedia:
"There are two distinct genetically determined types of earwax: the wet type, which is dominant, and the dry type, which is recessive. Asians and Native Americans are more likely to have the dry type of cerumen (grey and flaky), whereas Caucasians and Africans are more likely to have the wet type (honey-brown to dark-brown and moist). Cerumen type has been used by anthropologists to track human migratory patterns, such as those of the Inuit."

I heard about this on The World a while back and was fascinated by the concept.

I had no idea that there was more than one type of earwax before hearing that story. It's one of those things I think most people presume is the same in everyone else.

The reporter talks about a childhood ritual common in Chinese families at least, where her mother scraped the hard, crunchy earwax out of her ear with a tiny spoon.

I decided I had to track down one of these ear cleaners myself while we were in Japan. I got this from a rather large selection in the hygiene section at Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I didn't see any shaped like a spoon, but there was a pretty large variety, many much more ornate than this little one.

Japanese Toilets

IMG_3613, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I've been trying to figure out how to describe the toilets since we got there and found one of these hi-tech potties in our room.

The most basic ones 'only' have bidet features, controlled by the console on the side. Using the buttons, you can have it spray the front or the back and determine the water pressure. More advanced toilets have heated seats, deodorizers and running water sounds to mask any offending noises.

It was incredibly weird at first, now I wonder how I can get one at home...

Ramen Shop Vending Machines

IMG_3630, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Another rather cool thing we happened upon were these vending machines in front of a number of small ramen shops in Tokyo. Before you walk into the shop, you decide which dish you want, buy a ticket from this machine and hand it to the person behind the counter.

Again, brilliant!

This was incredibly helpful to us, since it meant avoiding most of the language difficulty involved with ordering food. All we had to do was look at the pictures and press a button.

Besides being a convenience for tourists, it's a great business idea. It frees up space inside the tiny shops and time for the workers. They don't have to waste half the staff taking orders because it's dealt with already. Every place we went to with this system had only two people running the show.

The corollary, of course, is that it's just replacing workers with machines, passing the work on to the customers, something I'm usually firmly against. In this case though, the places are so small that I can't imagine where a cashier would even go.

June 22, 2007

Graffiti of the Day: Sert

IMG_4129, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

Photo of the Day: Tokyo Taxi

IMG_4393, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

June 21, 2007

Photo of the Day: Tokyo Firefighters

IMG_1992, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Access Cover. Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

Graffiti of the Day: Obey HiFi

IMG_4364, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Omonte Sando, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

Artist: Shepard Fairey.

The man behind "Obey Giant", Shepard Fairey is having a gallery show at Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea and DUMBO. The show opens tonight in DUMBO and Saturday in Chelsea. It's too late to RSVP for the opening, but I definitely want to check it out before it closes.


June 20, 2007

Graffiti of the Day: Pez

IMG_4128, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Pez, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.



Going to Shibuya after a few days in Kyoto was a shock.

The only way I can think of to describe the area would be to combine the lights and crowds of Times Square, the stores (and crowds) of Herald Square and the bars and vibe of the East Village. Except more so. More lights, more people, more stores, more noise, more everything. It was the most overwhelming experience we had in Japan.

The plan was to walk around and get an idea of the area, find a bar, have a couple drinks and take in everything. That's not quite how it happened...
As soon as we hit Shibuya crossing, the famous intersection where hundreds cross every few minutes, we were swept away.

Continue reading "Shibuya" »

Photo of the Day: Mount Fuji

IMG_4335, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

June 18, 2007

Graffiti of the Day: Cheer Up

Cheer Up, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Tokyo, Japan

Random Observations: Keep to the Left


You'd think the hardest part about visiting a place like Japan where they drive on the left would be trying to avoid getting hit by a car. It turns out that that part is relatively easy.

What I've found to be more difficult is getting used to walking on the left. Over and over again, I've found myself walking against traffic after I've veered right without noticing.

Photo of the Day: Shiodome Clock

IMG_2077, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Shiodome, Tokyo

Shiodome is a mall/office tower complex not far from where we stayed in Ginza. This clock was on the side of the media building. I don't know where it's from, but a dozen kids and their parents stood out in front of it for half an hour waiting to see it go off at noon. On the hour, an animatronic display went off for a couple minutes, everyone was rapt.

Random Observations: Brilliant!


Everyone talks about the big technological differences that are vastly superior in Japan. What struck me were these random little things I saw there that I loved:

*When you hit the elevator call button, the light goes off on the elevator that is going to come. I don't know how common it is, but we saw this in a few places.

*In our last hotel, the Cerulean in Shibuya, Tokyo, the center of the bathroom mirror is heated. After taking a shower, everything is steamed up except for that.

*Next to the bed a couple of the hotels had controls to open and close the drapes and curtains.

Kyoto Hotel Okura


I raved about it in passing earlier, but I think our incredible hotel deserves a bit more detail.

Kyoto Hotel Okura is described in the Lonely Planet as probably the best hotel in Kyoto. I took it as hyperbole and didn't really think about it when booking it. It seemed like a central location and the price, $172 a night was reasonable. It may be the best hotel experience either of us has ever had.

Continue reading "Kyoto Hotel Okura" »

Bars: Rub-A-Dub


We only swung by Rub-a-dub in Ponto Cho, Kyoto to see what a Reggae bar in Japan could possibly be like. It turned out to be a lot of fun. It's a very small place that could probably only fit 20 people. Maybe.

We were there late on our last night. The only ones there were the bartenders, a girl who was friend with them and an old Japanese man who had been sitting next to us at the bar, wearing a cowboy hat.

I yelled out a request for some Bob Marley and they invited me over to pick something out. As we listened to "War/No More Trouble" from of Babylon By Bus, the old man got starting moving to the music. Before the song was over, he was dancing in the middle of the bar.

Kyoto: ATMs

All throughout Japan, we found that there weren't as many banks as we see at home. There certainly are not so many that accept American bank cards.

Well, Kyoto has even fewer. In fact, I only found one. After walking in the rain for nearly an hour. With a bar tab waiting to get paid.

Lesson learned: stock up on your yen.

Kyoto: Ponto Cho


Our hotel in Kyoto was just a block or two from Ponto Cho, an collection of interconnected alleys anchored by a pair of main strips, the main stretch, lit up at night with signs and the narrow parallel alley closer to the river sat in its shadow. The area is full of bars, restaurant and clubs stacked in anonymous buildings and packed into narrow pathways. We wandered through here blindly searching for food and drink, sometimes successful sometimes not. Occasionally, we found ourselves stalking geisha walking out of one of the private clubs on their way back to Gion, just across the river.

Continue reading "Kyoto: Ponto Cho" »

Return of the JetLag

Well, it's 4:30 in the morning and I'm wide awake again. The only difference is that I actually have work this morning. I'm still pretty tired, but my mind is suddenly active and I figured I might as well get up rather than wake Tammi. So, I'll take the opportunity to put up some of the posts I worked on on the plane.

June 17, 2007


IMG_2875, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The first four days in Tokyo were so much fun that neither of us were really excited about going to Kyoto. Everyone we knew who'd been there insisted that we have to go, but we didn't really know much about what was there besides a bunch of temples and shrines. That all sounded well and good, but running around Kyoto, temple-hopping didn't sound so exciting.

We managed to see some culture despite ourselves and we were very glad we did. In particular, Nijo Castle was worth walking through a downpour to see. If nothing else, I had to check out the 'Nightingale floors' with floorboards that chirp when you step on them, just in case there are ninjas about. You can never be too careful.

Beyond that though, we did as we always do: ate well, drank well and enjoyed ourselves to the fullest.

Kyoto was a total change of pace from Tokyo. First of all, it's population is at most an eighth of the size.
Also, English was a lot more common there, enough so that we barely had to deal with language issues while there at all. Other issues, like figuring out where we were and where the banks were turned out to be much more pressing.

Time Warp

We got on the plane at 5:30pm, Sunday afternoon. We've been in the air for five and a half hours and it's 10am, Sunday morning. New York time, that is. We're probably somewhere over Alaska at this point, I expect.

I'm trying to pass the time without sleeping too much, to cut down on my jet lag. In my perpetual effort to squeeze every last minute of my vacation time, I'm working tomorrow, whenever that is.

I've got another seven and a half hours in the air. I think this may be a losing battle. In the meantime, at least I can catch up on my posts...

June 15, 2007

Photo of the Day: Rainy Kyoto

IMG_3356, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

It poured all day yesterday (Thursday), but we managed to be out and about the whole time - I got pretty soaked in the process. I'll get more Kyoto info posted soon, I hope.

Japan Photo Collection

IMG_3004, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I'm putting all of the Japan photos I upload in a Japan 2007 collection on Flickr.

Tammi's been posting her photos, too and writing about what we've seen on her blog. Check it out.


Pork Cheek Ramen

IMG_2757, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

This wonderful vision of deliciousness came from Santouka, a spiffy little ramen shop near Gion in Kyoto.

I can't begin to tell you how I love pork cheeks. This restaurant touts the fact that you only get 200 grams of cheek per pig. That's not the point.

The decadence of pork cheeks comes from the meltingly tender texture you feel as it deconstructs in your mouth. It's the waves of richness that overcome you when you taste it.

Bars in Japan

A few things I've learned in the last week about the bars in Japan:

1. Most don't open until 6 or 7. Even the hotel bars and the Irish pubs aren't open until 4-5pm. This makes it difficult when all you want it a beer after schlepping around town lost for a couple hours.

2. There just aren't that many bars, in the sense that I'm used to. Most are at least partially restaurants. Apparently a lot of the drinking here is done in restaurants. It's cool, but can make it a bit more difficult picking a place out.

3. They are often hidden in otherwise anonymous office buildings, making them a lot more difficult to find.

June 14, 2007

Random Observation: Check Please!

IMG_3324, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Apparently, in Japan, the way to signal that you want the check is to make an 'X' with your two index fingers as demonstrated above by my lovely assistant.

Random Observations: Cell Phones

IMG_2559, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

It's no surprise that the cell phones in Japan are more advanced than ours. Or that the Japanese are fixated on their phones, perpetually staring into them on the train, in the street and just about everywhere else.

I was surprised to see how big the phones are here. Nearly every phone I've seen, including the hot new phone pictured above, is huge compared to the phones we carry around at home. I guess when it comes to features versus size, they choose features.

Photo of the Day: The Salaryman

IMG_2086, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The closest we've seen to the notorious salarymen of Japan. This was in Shiodome, Tokyo. He did look pretty torn up though.

Graffiti of the Day: Zeptiror.2006

IMG_1618, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

June 12, 2007

Random Observations: Smoking

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The Japanese smoke a lot. Maybe not as much as the French, but pretty close.

Harajuku Greasers

IMG_1835, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Just around the corner from the cosplay girls, a totally different type of dress-up was going on. These guys were dressed up like 50's greasers, complete with the leather, the motorcycles and the bouffant hair-dos. The women looked like they were going to a sock-hop. The guys mostly hung around in a circle looking cool while a few of them danced in the middle.

Tammi and I had the same idea when we saw this: At home they'd be charging for this. In the states or in Europe all of this would be busking and we'd never think anything about it. Just someone trying to get some money from us. In a culture with no tipping, these folks just do it for fun.

Graffiti of the Day: Sizzle

IMG_2150, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Random Observations: Kids

IMG_2501, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kids are great. They have no superego telling them, "Don't look at the great big dark man who doesn't look like anyone you've ever seen."

I don't really know the proper reaction, but I'm amused nonetheless.


Okonomiyaki, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Monday night was the end of the first leg of our trip. After the baseball game, we headed back to Ginza and looked for some food.

After a mostly embarrassing experience at a small izakaya down a dark alley, we stumbled upon President Chibo, an Okonomiyaki restaurant.

When we got there, they were getting close to closing, but let us in anyway. The staff was super-friendly even though we came in as they were wrapping up the night.

Okonomiyaki is often known as a Japanese pancake, which isn't really as descriptive as you'd want. Since fillings often include squid and cabbage and bonito fish flakes, you should probably know more about it before you order it for breakfast and drown it in maple syrup.

I first heard of it from Lara, who had gone to Japan a few years before we started dating, probably 10 years ago now. The only one I had ever had was the one at the izakaya attached to Angel's Share in the Village (upstairs from Around the Clock). It's thick like a pancake and stuffed with squid and cabbage, topped with fish flakes and japanese mayo.

This was totally different. It was much more like a crepe, the batter was pours onto the skillet in front of us and spread out flat, while our fillings, pork, octopus, noodles and scallions cooked on the grill.

I hear there are a lot of okonomiyaki places in Kyoto, I place to look them up tomorrow.

Hibiya Park

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

On our first day in Tokyo, I wandered around the area while Tammi napped and came across Hibiya Park, just a couple blocks away. Shortly after getting into the park, I started to hear yelling and chanting coming from one corner. I followed it to discover these guys flailing about singing and gesturing to each other. I have no idea what it was.

On the way out, I found another set of guys doing the same thing, this time making stabbing motions towards themselves. It was very strange.

Japanese Baseball


Tammi and I went to see the Tokyo's Yamuiri (sp?) Giants play last night (Monday).

The baseball ritual in Japan is fascinating. The stadium is split between the two sides and each side has songs and chants and rituals for each player.

The entire experience was fun and culturally very interesting, but the best part has to have been the beer girls. Unlike stadiums in the US where pisswater beer is poured and then carried around until when you finally get it, it's warm and flat, this beer is always fresh. That's because they pour it in front of you... from a keg... on their back! Yeah, really.

I love this place.

Harajuku Girls


On multiple recommendations, Tammi and I headed out to Tokyo's Harajuku on Sunday to see the show at Yoyogi Park. Every weekend teenagers into 'cosplay' show up dressed in elaborate outfits, wearing layers of make up and freaky custom contact lenses. They sit out at the entrance to the Meiji shrine and hang out. This has become a tourist attraction and when we got there, at least half the people out there were taking pictures of these kids.

I was very apprehensive about the whole thing at first. My photos of people tend toward the candid. I feel like there's a sort of purity in catching people unaware. Seeing subjects as they are, without the pretense of a pose or a primp, is equal parts honesty and voyeurism. It's real.

Further, I've known more than a few angsty teens in my time who view their outrageous styles as expressions of their true beings and, regardless of how disingenuous as it may have seemed to everyone else, insisted that they did not want everyone's attention.

So the idea of walking up to someone and sticking a camera in their face seemed inappropriate.

I hung back for a bit, shooting from afar, watching the tourists pose with these kids. Then I noticed that all of the cos-play kids were eager to pose. They held up signs, in English to attract attention, they sat through photo after photo as Americans and Italians and everyone else pointed and shot. They loved it and were actually there for the attention.

Out of everything I saw there, that was probably the weirdest thing about the entire experience for me.

Thank You Orbitz!


Orbitz totally hooked us up with a super-swanky room at a great hotel on the Executive floor. The room is huge and it's got a view of the entire city, including the Buddha statue above.
For that, they get a shout out.

Transport Rant

Forgive the upcoming soapbox tirade. I'm sitting on the bullet train to Kyoto from Tokyo and thinking about some of the inadequacies of home.

While I watch the Japanese countryside zoom by at hundreds of miles per hour, the first thing that comes to mind is 'why can't we do this at home?' I've been avoiding ranting on this subject for a little while now, but those who have known me for a little while have heard me sound off about the concerted effort of various lobbying groups to keep our rail system antiquated. Amtrak should be so much better than it is. When politicians go on about the agency needing to be self-sufficient, I always wonder what they would say about ending subsidies to the interstate system.

Economies run better when people can get around. It's just a fact. That's why we have public transportation. Mayor Bloomberg has said that he wishes the subways could be free because it's such a necessity to us all. The national rail system could be like that, if anyone wanted to do it.

June 11, 2007

Random Observations, Part 2

I can't get to from here, only, which is in Japanese.

Bars: Brick, Ginza

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Brick is a cool little 'American' bar in Ginza, Tokyo. The first time we passed by, it caught my attention with the softly playing jazz wafting out of its dark doorway.

The vibe inside is relaxed and the decor old school. Bartenders dress in vests and bow ties and dim lights reflect off the polished dark wood and the bottles of liquor on the wall.

You can't get sake here, or Tammi's new favorite, Shochu. She had to stick with her usual bourbon. The beer selection is half local, half imports. I've been sticking to the locals for most part, particularly Suntory Premium Malts, one of the best Japanese beers I've had.

Brick also has the distinction of being one of the few places in the neighborhood that stays open late on the weekend, when the after-work crowd isn't around and the shoppers have gone home.

Photo of the Day: Ginza Truck

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Ginza, Tokyo, Japan. 2007.

Random Observations, Part 1

I heard "We are the World" twice in one day. I have no idea why.

June 10, 2007

Tsukiji Fish Market

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

On our first morning here, we got up obscenely early in the morning and headed out to see Tsukiji Fish Market. The cab driver dropped us off in front of a loading area where trucks sped in every few seconds. We had no idea which way we were supposed to go, so we decided to just start walking the direction the trucks were going.

If we had taken five steps to the left, we would have seen a sign, with a map of the market and the warning:

"The Market is crowded with lots of trucks and special vehicles and people.
Be careful not to be injured all the time please"

Eric forwarded me an article on the fish market, so I had heard a bit about the 'special vehicles' in question. The writer, Nick Tosches, describes them:

"Old, diesel-fueled turrets; new, battery-powered turrets: every one of them driven by a single standing man who seems invariably to have both hands occupied with lighting up a smoke rather than with steering as he careens round and among the other vehicles that lurch and speed every which way, a surprise at every turn, over the bloody cobblestones amid the pedestrian traffic of the rest of the 60,000 or so people who work at Tsukiji."

'Careen' is the key word. Seemingly oblivious to everything around them, these guys zipped around the market, in and out of the tightest of turns and scaring the hell out of Tammi.

We wandered around the stalls, taking pictures of fish, vaguely feeling as though we didn't belong there. We turned around before finding the tuna auction, which is the big deal of the experience. Giant flash-frozen tuna is auctioned off to restaurants and shipped around the world.

I'm still holding out that we may make another trip there before we head home. We'll see.

Photo of the Day: Tokyo Flower

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Access cover, near Tsuikiji Market.
Tokyo, Japan. 2007

June 9, 2007

Japan: First Photos Posted

The first Japan photos are posting to Flickr right now. I'm going to try to get a little rest now before the day starts.

June 8, 2007

Wow, Jet-Lag

It's around 4am on our second morning here and we're both up and awake. Neither of us can get back to sleep. Yesterday we got up early on purpose to go out to Tsukiji (more on that later) then napped for a bit and spent the rest of the day on our feet. By 9pm I was nodding off at Brick, a bar in Ginza (more on that later too). Yes, I was nodding off - in a bar. Obviously something was wrong.

We were passed out by 10pm. As tired as I was, I knew I'd sleep the night through. So, much for that. I guess I'll take the time to download the photos I've taken so far.


A couple hours ago we crossed the date line, which means I'm officially 30 years old. We've got just over an hour left until we land and I'm a little too excited to sleep. It's a few minutes to midnight at home, but I can't keep my eyes closed.

I've been passing the time with a little immersion. I went through some Japanese lessons, trying to get a handle on grammatical structure and such. I've also been watching a bunch of anime I haven't seen in years to get used to hearing it spoken. Every now and again I'll hear a word I recognize, but mostly it's outside my reach. I'll just have to get by as best I can.

I've come across an interesting obstacle. Whenever I try to put together a sentence, I find myself thinking Spanish words in the place of Japanese words I don't know. It's an odd thing. Spanish is the only language, besides English that I have more than a passing knowledge of. I've studied it on and off for over 15 years, so it's my default 'other' language.

March 9, 2007

Japan Trip's Booked

In order to provide Tammi and myself with a beacon of hope after the chaos of the move, I finally booked our trip to Japan.
We'll land on the afternoon of my 30th birthday and be there for 10 days.

The tentative plan is to spend most of that time in Tokyo, with 2-3 days in Kyoto.

So far I have a list of food I want to eat there. I haven't figured out what else I want to do while we're out there. I'm sort of intimidated by all the options.

More to come.

February 3, 2007

The Birthday Trip: Eating Japan

First and foremost, there's the food. So far, this is what I have my eye on...

Sushi. I used to east sushi a lot. Not so much these days. It's not that I don't like it anymore, it's just that it gets repetitive after a while. Whether it's Nobu or Terriyaki Boy, fish on rice, fish in a roll, or just plain fish starts to bore me. I will of course, be eating sushi while in Japan, but I expect to eat a lot more than that.

Izakaya: I love bar food. Wherever you go, you find some of the tastiest (and most economical) food in casual bar settings. In New York we have some great izakaya around St. Mark's place in the East Village. I'm what you might call an adventurous eater, so anyplace I can get skewers of grilled chicken hearts or raw wasabi octopus appeals to me. I'll be hitting up the local spots a lot in the next few months to start preparing my palate.

Natto: I've heard that in Kyoto I can find Natto, a dish made of fermented soy beans. I don't know why this intrigues me, but I want to try it at least once. Apparently it's very stinky.

I've heard that the Tsukiji Fish Market is a must see. I'm not sure if I can manage to get up quite so early, but we'll see.

Continue reading "The Birthday Trip: Eating Japan" »

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