Category Archives: Sights & Sounds

Experiences Sights & Sounds

Futagotamagawa Fireworks – August 2010

JIH mailed me last week about a fireworks display at Futagotamagawa – though S and I weren’t able to meet up with the rest of the group (we got there a little later than expected) we managed to snag a decent spot and I shot a “few” (more like 200) pictures of the show.  I’ve whittled the number down to a more manageable 87 pictures, which I’ve uploaded to (I’ve decided to have a separate section of the site specifically for photos from now on).

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The show was spectacular – I think it’s the best I’ve ever seen!   I especially liked that they included music at the end, which really added to the overall “wonder” of everything.  I don’t know how many people were at the show, but I think it’s safe to say we numbered in the multiple thousands.  Surprisingly enough (or not, as this is Japan after all), everything was very organized despite the huge crowds, with police “herding” groups of people in alternating batches at the end to avoid a massive crowd crushing stampede to the trains.

The weather also cooperated perfectly, with just enough of a slight breeze to take the edge off the humidity.

Overall, it was a great show/evening. 🙂

Again, for more pictures of the show, please go to !

Experiences Sights & Sounds

Updated Gallery with Hustai pictures

I’ll have 2 sets of pictures from my trip to Mongolia – one from the trip to Hustai National Park and some from around the city of Ulaanbaatar.  First up are the pictures from Hustai, below is a sample, and clicking HERE will take you to the full gallery.

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The trip to Hustai is not one I recommend for people who get carsick easily.  I’ve been on rollercoasters that bounced less than we did on the drive from Ulaanbaatar!  Thankfully I have a (relatively) strong stomach and I had a fun time bouncing all over the place. 😛

After arriving at Hustai, we opted to stay at the more distant lodging (about 11km away from the main entrance area).  I think it was a great idea since we were able to get a much better “feel” of just how expansive and beautiful the park was.  We also got more peace and quiet since there were quite a few tourists at the main area.  I stayed in a little ger on my own and I had the best/most peaceful sleep I’ve had in a long time (as opposed to the rest of my family who chose to stay in a more western-type cabin, and were kept away all night be the creaking and banging of the doors!).

The only thing that bugged me (pun intended) about Hustai was the overwhelming amount of insects.  We didn’t bring any insect repellent (not sure if that would have helped though) and were just bombarded with midges and gnats flying around, literally in clouds around us.  The only time we had any respite from them was during the early morning and late evening/night.

Despite the bugs, it was a great trip.  Mongolian nature is really amazing; sometimes a bit stark, and I can’t even begin to imagine how frigid it must get in the dead of winter, but it’s beautiful in many ways nonetheless.

Experiences Sights & Sounds

Messing around in Photoshop

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’d been to visit my family in Mongolia last month.  It was great to spend time with them and catch up (though I did come down with a stomach bug of some sort while I was there), and while we didn’t go out too much, I had a very relaxing time.  I’ll write a bit more about what we did in a later post.

One of the things I did while I was there was mess around with my youngest brother’s camera, a Nikon D40.  It was the first time I’d ever really used a DSLR and… I can’t see myself ever being content with a regular point and shoot any more.  I’m actually looking around now to see what’s available in the DSLR market, including the used/refurbished stores, but more on that later.  I personally took probably over 500-600 pictures over a period of 2-3 days (days that we went out), and though they’re not all post-worthy, I felt some were interesting enough to put up.

I’ve never been a hardcore Photoshop user, I’ve just dabbled with it in uni for an “elements of webdesign” course I once took, and for batch resizing.  But tonight, I thought I’d see what I could do to “spruce” up a few of my pictures – and I have to say I had fun with that too!  It’s amazing how one can make colors pop out and seem more vibrant.  I know that digital manipulation is no replacement for quality photography, but used in conjunction, I now feel that certainly has its benefits.  Below is what I came up with in the course of 2 hours (the one of the lavender mountain range took me almost an hour as I was figuring out what I could do with PS)

Post edit: I’ve updated the Hustai pictures and put them in a gallery HERE.

Sights & Sounds

With the wind on my face…

I recently bought a bicycle online from Rakuten. It’s an inexpensive mama-chari type, but should suit me well enough for the simple things like grocery shopping, taking clothes to cleaners, etc.  (image of bike below is taken from Rakuten, not my actual bike)

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Last Tuesday (being on early shift) I finally managed to get home while there was still a decent amount of daylight outside, and since it wasn’t raining (as it has been for the last few days) I decided to try my bicycle for the first time.

I decided that I’d try to make my way over to the still-under-contruction Tokyo Skytree. I’ve seen it off in the distance almost every day on my way to work, and it didn’t look that far off. A quick check on Google maps confirmed it, showing it to be only about 2.3 miles away from my apartment so I hopped on my bicycle and set out.

It was really quite close!  Though I did make a couple of wrong starts, once I figured out the right direction, it was pretty much a straight shot/20 min. bike ride.

The Tokyo Sky Tree is already impressively tall.  There is (obviously) still alot of construction before it’s completed, and from what I can see, it’s not open to the public yet.  It’s already taller than the Tokyo Tower though, and up close it becomes this impressively massive structure.  (sorry for the blurry pics – only had my blackberry with me)

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It’s really been a while (over a year!) since I’ve been on a bicycle and I’d forgotten how enjoyable it is.  I see it being as more for fun and convenience than serving any exercise function, but it should help me get to know my own area a little better.

I’ll hopefully be doing much more biking in the coming days!

Sights & Sounds

Psychic takoyaki!

Filing this under the “odd things in Japan”, but apparently this cook claims he can change the flavor of his takoyaki at the snap of his fingers.

Personally I think that either the TV show commentators are in on the joke, or else they’re extremely impressionable young guys.  The funny thing though… is that I passed them during the filming of this segment!  This takoyaki store is about a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and I pass there whenever I want to go to the larger supermarket nearby.  I remember one day passing by there after coming home from an early shift and seeing a small crowd of people outside the shop, together with a camera crew.  I didn’t stay and gawk, but went on to the store, and saw them again (including the 2 young men) as I was returning home.

I may not believe in his “psychic” powers, but he does make some pretty tasty takoyaki. 🙂

Sights & Sounds


Shortly before Josh left Tokyo to head back to Philly, he and I headed over to Odaiba to check out the new Gundam statue they’d recently erected in order to promote both ecology and raise awareness of Tokyo’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics.  It was a ridiculously sunny day and I got nicely sunburned, but the statue of Gundam itself was very impressive.  For anyone intending to see it, best head over to Odaiba before the end of August since I believe it all comes down after August 31st.

We wandered a bit more around Odaiba after checking out the Gundam statue, to places like the mini Statue of Liberty, and Tokyo Big Site (though no exhibitions were taking place on that day).  There was also an absurd homage to Obama nearby – in one of the pictures below you’ll see a cutout of Obama, and people were encouraged to stand beside it and scream “Yes, we CAN” as one of the staff took their picture.  Obama-mania has even reached the shores of Japan.  Far be it for me to speculate on politics, but I have heard that people are so enamored of Obama because of both his charisma/clean image and his positive message of hope, which apparently is sadly lacking in Japanese politics (at least since Koizumi stepped down).

Enjoy the pictures of Odabai below – ALL courtesy of Josh, so please ignore the “copyright N.J. Matusya” text that was auto inserted – ALL images are his. (he also took pictures of people taking pictures, quite interesting)

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Sights & Sounds

Rice field art

I came across this a few days back and thought it was incredibly neat.  There are already a number of articles around the web on this though, so I’ll keep it brief.

The images below are what happens when rice farmers get creative.  By mixing various types of rice (depending on their color) and laying it out in a pattern of their own design, they are able to create “living art”; a field of rice that gradually forms itself into a beautifully precise image as the plants grow.

I find it amazing that, despite the back-breaking work involved in simply sowing, maintaining, and harvesting acres and acres of land, farmers still find in themselves the creativity to do something like this.

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For more images, click HERE.

Experiences Sights & Sounds

Family experiences – A visit to Tsukiji Fish Market

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Another little adventure I had with my family during their time here was a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market.  It’s  someplace I’d always heard about during my 7+ years in Japan but never visited.  Like Kobe, Kyoto, Nikko, Osaka, etc., it’s one of those kind of places that all tourists seem to know about and make it a point to visit when they come to Japan.  I however, much like my embarrassing lack of Japanese, don’t know much about them. 🙁

At least I can now scratch off Tsukiji Fish Market off my list of places to see!  (still have a lot more places on that list though…)

You might wonder why a fish market, of all places, is such a popular tourist attraction.  Who would want to come to Japan just to go visit a smelly old fish market?  Not only that, but most people choose to wake up early (think 0500 in the morning) to come here!  You might think that only die hard fish aficionados make this trip – but you’d be wrong.  When we came (we also got up at the crack of dawn to make it to the market by 0600) there were all sorts of people there, including a couple of tourists who were even lugging their suitcases along with them (BAD idea by the way – you do NOT want to be bringing suitcases into the craziness that is the Tsukiji fish market).

The Tsukiji fish market is actually quite unique in its own way.  It happens to be the largest fish/seafood market in the world and Tsukiji alone (there are other, smaller, fish markets in Japan) handles upwards of 2000 metric tons of seafood PER DAY.  Aside from the huge seafood market, there’s also the auction that takes place in the wee hours of the morning – an auction that handles sales of fish that, individually, sell for tens of thousands of dollars.  Again, this is for ONE fish!  Early this year, one tuna weighing in at 128kg (basically that fish weighed about twice as much as I do) sold for a whopping 9+ million yen (so.. just under 100,000 US dollars?).

Tsukiji is quite a sight.  As previously mentioned, we got up early in order to make it to the market by 0600 (much of the activity in the market takes place even earlier simply because stores and restaurants need to buy their fish while it’s still fresh).  There were quite a number of other tourists, all of us with cameras snapping away at bins and tables groaning under the weight of so much seafood.

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The market is laid out such that one first passes the parking/loading area for the trucks of the restaurants and food delivery services.  Next one goes through a small area that sells various utensils and condiments (think knives, pots and pans, wasabi roots, etc.).  Emerging from that brings up the (very big) area where seafood of ALL kinds are sold.  Vendors are clustered so tightly together that it’s hard to navigate between the narrow little spaces available for walking through.

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You’ve got bins of shrimp, shellfish, slug-type creatures (extremely gross IMHO), eels, octopus, and all kinds of fish that I can’t even begin to identify.  You name the seafood, and you can probably find it at Tsukiji.  Finally beyond all that one comes to the auction warehouses.  Tourists are no longer allowed inside the actual auction areas, but you can still stand outside looking in and take pictures of the rows and rows of massive tuna.

Those fish are no lightweights.  They weight at least as much as I do (more often twice that!), and many are as big around as a full grown human.  It takes at least 2 men to roll a fish onto the carts.

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Speaking of carts, one has to keep on their toes when walking around Tsukiji because there are dozens of motor carts zipping from one place to the other, and the drivers aren’t patient!  I guess it’s understandable because they’re just trying to do their work and have to deal with nosy tourists standing around trying to get the perfect picture.  In fact, these tourists (some who do much worse than just taking too many pictures) are the reason the Tsukiji auction was closed off to the public temporarily last year.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like Tsukiji will be “revamped” and possibly relocated within the next few years.  It’s a shame really.  The Tsukiji fish market has been in its current location, operating much the same way now as it has for the past 75 years.  I’m just glad I got a chance to see it before it succumbs to “progress”.

I’m going to wrap this with pictures I took during our visit.  Apologies for any blurryness – I tried not to be too intrusive with my picture taking!  Also, we concluded our visit with a breakfast of awesome sushi…but I forgot to take any pictures. 🙁 So I included some pictures of a recent lunch I had with Tet at what I think is one of the best kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) in Tokyo! (and it’s in Tsukiji of course!)

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Experiences Sights & Sounds

Family experiences – A visit to Togo Shrine


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One of the things mom particularly enjoys is visiting shrine sales, and thus a trip to AT LEAST one shrine during my family’s visit here was a must. 😉

I admit that shrine sales can be fun; the variety of items being sold is amazing.  Anything from old swords, pottery, furniture, kimonos, paintings, ancient cameras, lighters… you can probably find pretty much anything and everything there at some point, though the value of some of the knick-knacks there is debatable (in fact, many would just label it “junk” (^_^;  The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is very applicable in the flea market/shrine sale environment.

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As I said, shrine sales can be alot of fun just because you never know what you’ll come across.  In my case though, visiting a shrine sale always involves a battle with my inherent laziness just because you need to wake up pretty early if you want to get the best deals.  Vendors usually start setting up their displays around dawn so if you want make sure that you get the best of what they have to offer, you typically need to make it there around… say 0700 or 0800 at latest.  

We decided to visit the Togo Shrine since it’s a place that mom has been to before.  Also, it’s not too far from where the family was staying (though only dad, mom, and I actually went), and most importantly – it was open (Togo shrine is only open on the first and fourth Sunday of the month).  We compromised a little on the early wake-up bit and didn’t actually get there till 0900 (^^;

The flea market at Togo shrine seems to have diminished in size from previous years (I’d been there once before, and of course mom has been there quite a few times while my family was still living in Japan).  However, there was still a reasonable number of tables set up and mom ended up getting a nice little… wooden “bucket”(?) that I think was used for holding ikebana flowers before.  I totally forgot to take a picture of it though. 🙁 

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It turned out to be an exceptionally lovely day!  We even had the good fortune to watch a wedding procession that passed us and also came across a photo shoot for a second wedding that was taking place.  The latter was quite a little production with a small camera crew shooting/filming from multiple angles and attendants going back and forth to make the smallest adjustments to the clothes of the bride and groom.  I think the groom in particular was started to get a little irritable, but in the end I’m sure that the camera folks got some excellent pictures of them. 🙂

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