home, sweet home

… is the name of an art exhibition organized by Karin Pisarikova at Tama Art University. For some odd reason she contacted me and several of my photos will be featured among the art works. My name is even on the invitation cards, albeit in Spanish form. If you’re in the area drop in.

It’s not really a typo, since that’s how it was written on my birth certificate. Decades have passed since I’ve seen it so, but now I think I rather like it again without the extra vowel.


it’s a wrap


There are all sorts of people just outside my windows, waking me up in the mornings and quickly looking away whenever I step out of the shower and into the living room. My building is being “reformed,” you see, and now it’s completely covered by scaffolding, scampering men in helmets and green awning. It’s nosiy, true, but so also makes the outsidel look somehow summery even though we’re in October.

It’s amazing how constructions firms here love to use material. Downstairs there’s an ugly little rock garden, hemmed in by car parking spaces (now temporarily being used by bicycles) and constantly dusty from car exhaust. A team of from the construction firm spent a day “Christo-izing” it, covering it up in plastic to stop any paint or caulk dropping on it. Now the rock garden looks better now than it ever did before.  

another goodbye


Yet another coworker is leaving, which means flowers and cakes in the afternoon and an extended dinner and drinks in the evening. These days I am taking in too many calories. On the right is Momoko, perhaps the only person I know, perhaps maybe the last person in Japan, who still insists on buying a disposable camera week after week.

back in tokyo

I’ve just come back to Tokyo and it’s not the same place I left. I remember warm days and cool nights. Now it’s just hot, hotter than Surabaya or Bali, and muggy to boot. Outside, the late-night whistler has stopped–maybe driven from his balcony by the heat–and a bar has opened a couple of doors down. Meanwhile “Pour Annick,” the pricey furniture shop that set the mood for this neighborhood has closed (there’s a sign announcing it will reopen on the Internet) and I spotted two more buildings on my street with white placards announcing their coming demolition. All that in barely three weeks.

On Java I rode a Vespa and a horse. On Bali I spent a day looking for hula-hoops and another trying to coax two big African dogs on a pair of teak lounge chairs. I also got caught in the crush at the immense royal cremation, that Seth Mydans wrote about it here

I’ll have photos up soon, either here or on flickr. 

ueno no mori

ueno parkUeno park is a great place for families. When I go there it’s usually on a weekday, when most of who you see are scruffy types shuffling along or sitting on benches. Yesterday, Saturday, though, I was surprised by how many families make use of the place. Families in parks is no big deal, because parks are designed for them after all. But a lot of the families here don’t look the way you’d imagine a family to look. They are hip-hoppers and red-light “hosts,” walking beside faux “celebs” and cabaret club “hostesses” pushing prams. There’s an air all around of parenthood reluctant or rushed.
It’s a good thing, because these are the people doing their part to stem Japan’s population slide. Other people, in fact most everyone I know, spend far more time imagining a baby than actually trying to make one. That was brought home to me when I met my colleague, who came to the park with her husband and child to enjoy the zoo. In 10 years of work, she’s the only person I can think of who actually took time to have a kid. More power to them. Downloading Tupac now.

famous. not

I got a shock when I opened up the paper a few days ago and saw this ad from Uniqlo UT . I’m in it.

I’d completely forgotten that a model “scoutman” grabbed me on Omotesando about a month ago. He took a snap, took my number and called later to tell me to show up at a photo studio in Meguro.

I went just to see if he was for real, and maybe get a bento and some cab fare back. It turned out he was, and the shoot was a huge deal. There was loud music and studio staffers and stylists running everywhere, all there to produce these tiny photos of people off the street wearing 1500 yen T-shirts.

It was way out of scale, but then again, Japanese photographers and ad people never do anything small. Even a newly minted photographer shooting an 1/8 page advertorial for Pia or Tokyo Walker will arrive in a bus called a “location van.” Meanwhile, at minor press conferences, photographers will show with enough cameras and kit for a month-long trek through the Congo. Those strange guys in Akihabara snapping photos of self-styled maids too come loaded for bear, and with top-of-the-line equipment. I remember when I used to work at a magazine publisher a few years back: A “famous photographer” walked in with a stylist (herself with a cart) in tow. They came to show his portfolio, so he couldn’t have been that famous.

A lot of it is necessity. Media types in a big, image-saturated city like Tokyo need to feel that what they are doing is important, or at least stands out. Hiring over-the-top professional photographers helps maintain that illusion.

Interestingly, the UT photographer didn’t even look through the viewfinder for these shots, which fed directly into a Mac manned by three assistants. I was there over five hours before I was allowed to leave, and they weren’t half-finished when I stepped out of the studio. I did get a bento out of the deal, but couldn’t eat it there. I stuffed it in my bag it as I rushed off to work.

Actually this isn’t bad, but I prefer the old dancing cow from a few years back.

new technology to take old photos

I just made a break with the past, symbolically speaking. I sold off a couple of clunky Leica lenses I no longer use and bought a Ricoh GRII Digital. It fits in a pocket, consumes immense amounts of battery power and is supposed to deliver photos close in quality to the DSLR I normally use. I am not quite so sure.

To be honest, I never really liked makign the switch to a digital camera, although I’d never go back. I find it more free, sincwe it doesn’t have the built in look that film and film cameras do (think Lomo).  What was hard was giving up the view through a range-finder. A range-finder projects a frame onto the world and you wait for elements to swim into it. In comparison the pentaprism of a DSLR feels like a light-trap filled with floating numbers, letters bars and graphs. I think it’s fundamentally changed my approach to shootin over the past couple of years.

Which is why I got this little point-and-shoot. It has problems: The shutter button is stiff and tiny (but I got that adjusted, this is Japan after all); I’m still not sure when and if it fires; and it needs a second or two between shots, so moments really have to be chosen judiciously. On the other hand there’s a immense lightness to it: It feels more like picking up a pencil than raising a machine to your face. 

Here are the results of my first test drive with the little one:

ricoh tsukiji ricoh akihabara ricoh
tsukiji ricoh