Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Food Tour Japan

With only days left to the mega tour, we had booked a food tour with the company, Culinary Backstreets. We had used these folks for a tour in Istanbul and had had a marvelous experience with our visiting far more of the city than we would have otherwise and learning much beyond food. We were supposed to take a tour with them last year in Shanghai but we had to cancel because of our Vietnam food poisoning. So we were really looking forward to this one in Tokyo.

Our tour took us to two areas of the Tokyo region - Shibuya, the home of the ultra-hip, ultra-chic and then to Kichijoji, a smaller town in the Tokyo Metro area that represents a more laid back lifestyle. Our leader, Noam, an American from San Diego who is married to a Japanese woman and has lived in Japan for 14 years, wanted to give us a taste of the high end Japan and the Japan of every day. 

We also got a lot of food history in. It turns out that many of the foods we associate with Japan come from elsewhere or are relatively recent inventions.

We started off with sushi
We then went through the basement of a large famous department store
We found out that just about every major department store has a food that provides regular groceries, ready to eat food, and gift food. Who knew? No one told me this before going to Japan. This would have changed our eating in the country substantially. We found that this store had a huge sushi and sashimi selection.
Fresh wasabi root...very hard to find
In addition to the regular food, there was food for gifts
Gift giving is a big thing in Japan and they tend to use food as apartments are small and people don't want more things.
So let's say you have a need to by de-I a gift
How about some beautifully perfect, wonderfully packaged mangoes?
Very nice...only $162
What you say that you want to show de-I respect but has a tad lower sticker price
How about some perfect cherries?
A steal at $97
But no. You want to show de-I the respect he truly deserves
How about some melons?
$233 worth of melons buys you a lot of de-I appreciation.
Want to give some great looking sushi?
This sushi packaging one some kind of award for design

Beautiful cut up fruit cups
And a sponge cake whose roots are Portuguese
Then we took the train to Kichijoji
This mural is in the Shibuya Station. Looks Mexican doesn't it
Turns out that this was done by Japanese artist for a Mexican hotel that went belly up before it could  be installed
In Kichijoji, this sign which means nothing in the context of our story

A key market street in the town
Here our goal is minced meat cutlets
Not croquettes
Not Beef cutlet on a stick or pork cutlet on a stick
No Minced Beef Cutlet
There was a long line
They were making them in droves and we stood in line for a while to get them
The finished product
Need some primo meat while you're waiting?
While our minced beef cutlet costs about $2, the meat above costs between $40 and $100 a pound
Enjoying Minced Beef Cutlet goodness
Then on to the artisanal rice cracker shop
Three generations now in the family
The current matriarch 
The current maestro
At his work
Samples of their wares
A good luck piece over the door to the small workplace in back of the store
They buy this from a local temple each year
Next up 
Takoyaki! Octopus Balls!
Who knew that Japan was a major player in the maintenance of octopus fertility?
Japan makes millions and millions of Takoyaki a year
Many of these never make it to the creatures but are shunted aside for food,
Takoyaki production line
Happy octopus ball making guy
Next it was off to a yakatori place
Food on a stick!
We tried all kinds of things including heart, liver and tongue
Boo no chicken skin available today :(
Our group looking very happy sitting traditionally on the floor
We weren't
Even the younger ones were in agony by the time we were done
Next off to a traditional Japanese drinking establishment
An Izakaya where you drink and eat small bits of food
One happy, one not
Mr. F (an Italian working in London) has taken a food challenge from me 
Wife has not
Mmmmm guts
Stewed offal
It was actually really tasty and not chewy or off flavored
Bitter Melon on a stick
A bit...well bitter
As we were drinking and eating away, some candid shots
A customer across the way giving us a toast
It is so interesting to see the behavior of Japanese when they are letting their hair down whether as tourists on the train as we saw earlier or at an izakaya
The lovely Ms. K, an American from Chicago now working in London

After almost 7 hours of activity we took the train back to Shinjuku


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Photo Workshop Homework

On Sunday evening we took a second workshop with a small photography tour company called Eye Explore. We had also done a workshop with them in Kyoto. Based on that experience we had some idea of what to expect...a lot of intense work packed into two and a half hours and being thrown a lot of new and different concepts. And if Wife found these things we were learning challenging, you can imagine how they were for me who is much, much, much less knowledgeable.

But I give the guys at Eye Explore credit. They really worked with you. They helped you physically with your camera to get the right settings (pretty amazing when you consider the numbers of different types of cameras they are exposed to. They challenged you. And they can you positive feedback. I can honestly say I learned a helluva a lot from both of the workshops we participated in.

At this workshop our leader, Stephane, a Frenchman living in Tokyo, truly came at things from an artistic perspective. This was a big challenge for me because for the most part I take pictures to accentuate the story telling of my blog. So there were a lot of concepts that were very alien to me and his eye...what he thought was artistic looking...was not something that I could relate least when we started.

We essentially worked on these techniques:
  • Taking candid photos of people using various backgrounds
  • Playing around with the speed we were shooting with to cause effects
  • Composing pictures using diagonal angles
  • Changing perspectives based upon where one took a picture from
I took a ton of pictures. Most sucked so you are only going to have to endure a few pounds of my artistic photography learning.  Think of it as your child coming home with that picture that you must put up on the refrigerator. And don't try to not look at them. I've embedded a malware in this post that will eat your hard drive if you don't grit your teeth and look at all these wonderful pictures.

Cast of Characters
Stephane with fellow workshop mate, Dave, a surgeon from Melbourne Australia
The always intense Wife
Candid shots taken against the 'sea of people'

Candid shots making use of different types of backgrounds

Candid shots with subject relatively motionless against and interesting background and shutter speed set to create blur of people moving

Trying to look for the interesting not just the normal
Guy really liking his cotton candy

Girl friend of the guy
Cute baby picture
Not part of the class but a target of opportunity
Making use of reflections
This was a bitch. Vast majority were trashed

Adjusting to low light and making use of diagonal lines