The other day my friend Jeffrey and I were enlisted by my friend Kouji Kamada, the potter, to take some photos of his work for fliers/invitations to an upcoming exhibit. He knows we are camera buffs (Jeffrey more so than I), so he figured we would enjoy the challenge. And boy, was it a challenge. Product photography is hard, especially when you don’t have a properly equipped studio.
Below are some of my favorite shots from the session. You’ll notice that the backgrounds we were using had quite a bit of dust etc. on them, but Jeffrey managed to remove that in post-processing.
This big pot was the hardest of all, both because it was large enough to require extra background, and because the glaze is so reflective. We had to move things on the far side of the room because they were visible in the reflections.
The next few shots are of an incense burner. The little holes in the lid are for the incense to come out of. Come to think of it, shooting this with incense smoke wafting elegantly out of those holes would make for some awesome images. Too bad we can’t use the products before they’re sold.
Here’s our setup in his workshop. Notice the broom hanging from the ceiling on the left with traditional Japanese paper attached to it to diffuse the light. His potter’s wheel is right under the boards of where the incense burner it.
After we shot it, this last bowl fell over and got a 2 mm or so chip in the lip. Very minor, but obviously it wasn’t showable or sellable any longer. So, Kamada-san gave it to me. Bad luck for K-san, good luck for meeee!
Zoe has only been doing ballet for a few months, but it has already become a huge part of her life. She’s perpetually dancing, it seems, and whenever there’s any music, anywhere, she’ll start. Her ballet school has a big performance of Sleeping Beauty in a couple weeks, and they’ve been having lots of special rehearsals to get ready for it. Today they were practicing in their costumes, so I took the opportunity to snap some shots.
Japanese people call any running over about 30 seconds “marathon,” which is incredibly annoying to someone like me who prefers to assume that words mean actual things. I wouldn’t mind it if “marason” was simply a loanword from English to Japanese that came to mean “running” or something like that. But, Japanese people know that it’s supposed to mean a 42 km race; they just generally feel free to mangle meanings of words that come from English. It’s as though Americans knew the word “sushi” was supposed to mean vinnegared rice with raw fish, but felt perfectly justified using it to refer to hamburgers as well, because hey, that’s meat and starch too, and it’s just a foreign word, so who gives a shit.
Anway, Genbo and his class ran a “marason” the other day. They had been practicing for it for a long time, and he was pretty excited about it, so I went down and snapped some photos. This particular marathon was 1 km, and Genbo came in 14th place out of 59 boys in his class.
OK, I think I pulled a record (for me) of not posting for about 3 months. I have been both busy with work and playing more shakuhachi than usual, which, because these things are largely zero-sum, means less photography. I’ve been wanting to get back into it, however, and recently I’ve been taking long walks through Kyoto, which has been giving me plenty of material. Here is one shot I particularly like from my last outing.
(Update: Funny, but I just noticed that both this post and my last one from three months ago are of birds catching fish. Not that this is a long-running theme of mine…)
This past weekend we went with Maki’s extended family to the Nagara river in Gifu, about 2 hours drive from here, to see u-kai, or cormorant fishing at night. This is an ancient method of fishing in which you have a bunch of cormorants on leashes, and you lead them out at night with giant bonfires on boats to let them see the ayu (“tasty river fish”) you want them to catch. They dive down and catch the fish, but cannot swallow them because of the ropes around their necks. Then you rob the poor bird of its catch and then eat it yourself. Or, give it to your feudal master, as the case may be. I’ll have a more comprehensive post on the whole experience later, but I liked these first three shots enough to post them alone.
We’ve been spending more time at their cousin Linnea’s. Most of these shots are of them playing in her back yard. I’ll leave off the commentary; they’re just doing what kids do when we don’t make ‘em do something else.
Genbo, Zoe and I survived the 24 hour trip from Kyoto to Minneapolis. It was actually not nearly as bad as I had mentally prepared for; the kids are definitely getting easier. There was the hiccup at Osaka International when the check-in agent informed me we three wouldn’t be seated together, but that was resolved after I rationally (didn’t lose my cool at all; nope, not one bit) convinced them that it was in their own best interests not to seat us separately.
We’ve been playing with their cousin Linnea. Here we are at the pool, followed by Linnea’s house.
Genbo doesn’t really know how to swim, but he can snorkel. full exif
I got what I think is some valuable feedback on my previous effort at using shakuhachi music in a slideshow, which was that the images needed to be slower and less attention-grabbing, as they detracted from the music. Since I have a lot more invested (literally and figuratively) in shakuhachi than photography, this was actually a welcome criticism. So, this is my second try.
This song is called Sekibetsu no Uta (惜別の歌), and it was popularized during WWII. The name translated vaguely to “Song of Parting,” and uses words from a Shimazaki Touson (島崎藤村) poem published in 1897. I’ve always thought the melody was beautiful and sad, but haven’t really been happy with my playing of it until now. The flute used is a 2.1 Rampo (蘭畝).
Today was parents’ day at Zoe’s daycare. We got to go and watch them do daycare stuff. Genbo got to go and play with lots of friends he hasn’t seen since starting first grade. I got to go and take lots of photos of blooming wisteria vines with my 85/1.4. Maki got to get peeved at me for spending 90% of my time taking pictures of plants, and not our kids, specifically the one we were there to pay attention to.
Wisteria 1. I don’t usually go for high-key lighting, but this just happened and it kind of works full exif
Wisteria 2. This low-key is definitely much more my style full exif
This weekend I went with my friends Stephane and Jeffrey to visit my new friend Pierre, a fellow long-time Japan resident who has been studying katana-making for the past five years. He is preparing to become an officially-licensed katana smith in a month or so, and when he passes the test he will be only the second non-Japanese to do so (and the other guy was so long ago he’s already dead).
Pierre lives in the mountains of Wakayama in a very beautiful location; about three hours by car from Kyoto. The people in the little hamlet he lives in were friendly without exception, maybe because each and every single one of them knows Pierre and the details of his life. Such is the fate of a lone gaijin in very remote Japan.
One interesting thing Pierre said was how many crazy people approach him about the Japanese swords; especially foreigners, since he’s one of the few non-Japanese to be traditionally trained in the art. Japanese swords attract a lot of crazy people who are into the more violent aspects, he says, and it’s easy to believe. He, however, is interested in the craft and technology of their making. Apparently the best swords were forged in the 13th century or so, and even though we have a molecule-by-molecule metallurgical understanding of the process now, people still can’t make swords nearly as good as those 13th century ones. (The same is true of shakuhachi, by the way. Some modern shakuhachi are nice, but they just don’t have the character and depth of the old ones.)
He made a quick little demonstration blade for us, although when he does it for real it’s anything but quick. He performs every part of the process, from forging multiple raw lumps of ore into a single bar, to shaping the bar into a katana ready to be polished. He even cuts his own charcoal into five different sizes depending on which stage of the forging it’s used for.
Genbo’s been going to school for a week and a half now. He thinks it’s OK. Kinda fun sometimes, kinda boring sometimes. He recounted a disappointment in which his teacher told him they were going to go on an “adventure” (冒険) to explore the school, but it wasn’t a real adventure, because she just kept on talking the whole time. Get used to it, Genbo.
He and everybody else from the area meet in front of our building at the ungodly hour of 7:30 to walk to school. It’s almost a half-hour trip for them. And, on the way back all the Japanese moms (and I!) stand outside waiting for them. Eventually this will give way to them just coming all the way home on their own, but it’s nice to go and greet them while it’s still OK, savoring the last bits of innocence. Here he is coming walking with his best friend, Nao-kun.
Update: A comment reminded me to mention that, even though the area is safe anyway, there are volunteers (extremely nice elderly folks apparently without much else to do, for the most part) placed every 100-200 yards to make sure the little kiddies are safe.
Cherry blossom season is coming to an end, alas, in Kyoto, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned, for it means an end to tourist-caused traffic jams (not as bad this year as most because of the recent spate of disasters) and the opportunity to take some photos like these.
Couldn’t decide which of the next two I liked more. The first is stopped down for more depth of field, while the second has a much narrower depth of field to give it a dreamier feeling. Hard to tell the difference in the thumbnails anyway, though. Gotta click through.
Today was Genbo’s first day of school. Or, technically, his 入学式, or ceremony to start the beginning of school. First day of classes is on Monday. Everybody around him has been excited about it, but Genbo has not given any indication of caring one way or another. Unfortunately it was a gray day today, and shortly after I took these pictures it started raining.
Here he is at the school gate, wearing his uniform and a randoseru. The school technically has uniforms, but you don’t really have to wear them. Lots of kids do, but anything in relatively subdued colors is fine. Basically, anything that’s not gold lame or sequined is fine. The randoseru (taken from the Dutch, according to that Wikipedia link), is a weird Japanese phenomenon. Genbo’s cost upwards of $500, which is maybe a little pricier than average, but not by much. The cheapest they go for is about $350. It’s a highly-fetishized leather object in the culture that marks a child’s entry into school. They are used for the full six years (which is how long elementary school lasts in Japan), and they are built to last 60 if need be. Does that justify the price? Not in my opinion, but since when is that relevant?
School yard and gym, flanked by Mi’i-dera, a major temple in the area full exif
Checking out the board to see which class he’s in full exif
Notice everybody with their bright, shiny new randoseru, strictly color-coded according to gender, ’cause this is Japan full exif
Another shot of the cherries and the temple up on the hill. Not a bad view for a playground. full exif
I liked this rack of unicycles, which are popular in Japan for young children. full exif
Now we come to his classroom, 一年生2組, or the second class (out of four) of the first-graders. His yellow hat, which only first-graders wear on the way to school, and various text books await him in his assigned seat. (I recently learned that even college students have assigned seats!)
I love this next picture. He’s been in his chair less than 30 seconds and he’s ALREADY BORED! And, in grand Braverman tradition, not bothering to hide it. Notice the hook on the desk so the randoseru doesn’t get sullied by being put on the floor.
I had to leave a little early to do some work, but everyone else went to the gym for a series of long and I’m sure excruciatingly boring speeches. Here are Genbo and his new classmates filing out of their room together for the first time.
They grow a lot of daikon (big ol’ radishes) and hakusai (napa cabbage) near Maki’s parents’ house. These are winter veggies, and some are kept in the ground basically until spring, I think, even after they’re ready for picking. Apparently leaving them in the soil is even better than in the refrigerator, and the longer they stay in there the sweeter they get.