Sunday, May 31, 2009

Brooks Brothers

Ken and I have had a wonderfully relaxed time in terms of dressing while here in Tokyo.  In fact, each time we go out walking I always feel as if we are the MOST relaxed looking of anyone in all of Japan.  In other words, we have worn the same jeans and shirts and blouses since we've been here.  Add to that the grass stains on my knees from all the  kneeling to get the bug photos and you can just imagine how relaxed we look especially compared to the impeccably dressed Japanese.  

Now, here's the point of this story.  In late June, just before we come home, Ken's sister will be participating in a very special tea ceremony where she will be host to the top grand master of all the grand masters of the tea ceremony in Japan.  And we Kono's have been invited to come to this event.  Although we didn't bring many good clothes with us, what we did bring, we shipped home a few days ago.  So that means we needed to go shopping for some new duds.

Well, it just so happens that Brooks Brothers is just a few blocks from our apartment.  This morning at 11:00,  Ken and I ventured out for his shopping spree to Brooks Brothers.  We got there in our regular attire, looking rather worn, but happy.  Nobody in the store at first seemed to want to wait on us.  Not sure if they thought we were street people or not.  But finally I flagged down a rather gentle soul who very graciously led us into a private room where he could show us some nice jackets and slacks for Ken.  

Now, dear readers, if you know my Ken, you know that he, at times HATES to part with a dollar, but his loving wife insisted that he be ABUNDANT and he ended up with two beautiful jackets - one sort of a tan cream color and the other a nice light blue.  And a great pair of slate grey slacks and a good button down pin striped shirt.  Oh it was such fun.

Then our good salesman led us to two very cushy stools in front of a high table where we could sit while he totaled up our bill.  He brought us each a bottle of chilled Perrier and wrote up a separate bill for each of our purchases.  We felt like royalty.

Then, Ken got out the United Airlines Visa card to pay for all this stuff.  For every dollar we spend, we get a free mile on our mileage plus account.  Oh those Kono's - we do know how to squeeze the dollar.  Our good salesman smiled and took Ken's visa card and we sipped our Perrier.  He was gone for sometime, and then came back to us rather sheepishly and told us that the visa card would not go through.  

I was horrified, but we both realized the credit card company often puts a stop on large purchases from outside the U.S. because they could be purchases on a stolen card.  We tried to explain this to our good salesman.  He just smiled and said, "Of course."  Then I pulled out my American Express card and suggested he try that.  He was again gone for a long time and Ken and I just huddled together hoping and praying the American Express would go through and Hallelujah, it did.

The good salesman told us that Ken's new clothes would be tailored and ready in about one week, so we got up and we were on our way.  But as we approached the front door, the skies opened and it began to pour.  We did not bring an umbrella.  But again, our good salesman went to the umbrella stand, picked up a brand new umbrella and handed it to us and said it was on the house.

We opened the umbrella and stepped out into the pouring rain.  Oh, life in Tokyo.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Macro Lens is Back!!

The Nikon Service Center called yesterday and said my macro lens was back in business .  Oh how I missed those bugs for too many days.  This morning, although still raining, I got up at 5:00 and stalked a wet fly on a wet leaf and here is what I got.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Group Shot

This week's photo assignment was to take candid group shots.  Our teacher suggested each of us invite a few friends over for a party and take photographs.  Well let me tell you, I really didn't think I would be able to do it.  First, I don't know anyone well enough to invite over for a party and secondly, I would have a little heart attack just getting prepared for such an event.  Well, as my friend Helen says, there are angels everywhere.  My friend Mary had a little party at her house yesterday and asked if I could come take pictures of kids wearing scarves she designed and wants to sell in Tokyo.  The kids included her daughter and Yumiko and some of their friends at school.  I was thrilled.  I didn't do terribly well on the assignment, but it was loads of fun and I got it done.  Here are a few pictures.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Katsuko Nakamoto

Back in December, I had a photo assignment to take pictures of the same subject using a wide angle, regular, and telephoto lens.  I chose to take photos of the white traffic markings on our street. (Don't ask me why.  That's a whole other story for another day.)   In order to get a good shot, I needed to wait until all the traffic was gone, run out into the middle of the street, snap my shutter and run back before I got run over.  As I was doing this crazy feat, an older, elegantly dressed, beautiful Japanese lady walked by and asked me in halting English what I was doing.  I explained about my photo assignment and she told me she was also a photographer.  Her name was Katsuko Nakamato.   She said she taught photography somewhere outside of Tokyo and specialized in taking photographs of Mt. Fuji.  We had a long talk right there on the sidewalk. I found her to be an intriguing, gentle, truly fascinating person.  We exchanged names and addresses and she went on her way.  A few days later I got a little note from her in the mail with a few postcards that included stunning photographs she had taken of Mt. Fuji.  

That was it until last week, when I got a notice in the mail that she was having an exhibit of her photographs in Ginza.  Ginza is the fashion and upscale shopping center of Tokyo.  I mentioned to Ken that I would love to go see her photographs.  Then, on Friday, Ken, Yumiko and I were getting ready to go to lunch when the door bell rang.  I opened the door and there she was.  I remembered her face immediately.  She said she was working with the frame shop downstairs and they were framing her photographs for the exhibit.  She remembered my address and thought she would just come upstairs and see if this was where we lived.  I told her I got her postcard and was planning to come to her exhibit the next day.  She was thrilled and said she would be there.

Then yesterday morning she called and invited Yumiko and me to come have lunch with her before the exhibit.  Well, always up for an adventure, Yumiko and I got dressed up and went to Ginza.  She met us at the metro station and took us to an elegant little Japanese sushi restaurant in the basement of a large department store.  The lunch was exquisite - with many courses - each one more delicious than the last.  She told us a little about her life.  She is 66 years old.  Her husband died when she was just 46 and he was 52.  He was also a photographer.  She never remarried, but took up photography about three years after he died.  She has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia.  Her photographs have been exhibited in Paris and Hungary and Romania.  After lunch we walked down the main street in Ginza which is closed to traffic on Saturday and Sunday.  People were having lunch at little  tables set up right in the middle of the street.  Such a beautiful, festive atmosphere.  The exhibit was small with maybe 30 photographs in total.  Each one of Mt. Fuji.  All of them were just beautiful.  Katsuko San is a member of a group of photographers who specialize in Mt. Fuji and the exhibit included photographs from each of them.  Yumiko and I had fun going through and trying to figure out which were Katsuko's as all the names were printed in Japanese characters.  After a little while, it was time to go home.  We thanked our hostess for a wonderful lunch, a beautiful exhibit and another adventure in Tokyo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nikon Lenses

About a week ago I purchased a new little gizmo for my camera called a 2X extender.  When you attach it to a lens it gives you twice as much focal length as your original lens.  It is not a perfect replacement for buying a longer lens, because you need a lot more light to take a good photograph and your subject must be still enough so you can get the subject in focus.  But if there is enough light and the subject does not move, it is wonderful.  It makes tiny bugs look like giant dinosaurs.  So...., yesterday I attached my new 2X extender to my precious macro lens and Yumiko and I took off just after breakfast.  I was ecstatic.  The day was perfect - a little overcast, but nice and warm.  The bugs, if I could find them, would be plentiful.  I intended to walk Yumiko to school and then double back to the Aoyama Cemetery to find some monster spiders.  My macro lens is heavy and attaching this little extender to it, makes it even heavier.  I also carry a pretty heavy tripod.  I look a little intense with my big camera draped around my neck and tripod under my arm, but who's looking.  We were walking at a fast pace when all of a sudden my macro lens popped off my camera and fell with a slight bounce onto the pavement and then rolled for sometime before Yumiko caught up with it.  Ugh....  I felt sick to my stomach.  These lenses cost more than gold and they are not meant to be dropped from high places onto cement pavements.  I looked it over and nothing was cracked or broken.  I attached it back to the camera and realized I had accidentally pushed the release button on the 2X extender which made it fall.  I told Yumiko we would just continue on to school and then I would go take some pictures and see what happens.

About 30 minutes later I was in the cemetery stalking spiders.  They are not easy to find as they are tiny and very smart.  As soon as they see me coming they hide under leaves.  But to my delight I found a fabulous little brown one with long claws like a crab.  He was turned around and  looking right up at me.  I had already attached my camera to the tripod, but needed to work the legs, so I could get just the right angle for this little monster.  I got everything in place and miraculously the spider was still there looking at me.  I pointed the camera at his face and looked through the view finder - but only saw fuzzy green.  I turned the focus ring, still just fuzzy green.  I put the camera on automatic mode and tried that.  Still fuzzy green.  Oh boy... the perspiration began to form on my brow.  I took the camera off the tripod, sat down on a grave stone and tried everything to see if I could make the camera work.  Nothing....  Oh horror.   I said good bye to my spider and walked on home.  So sad...  

On my way home, I thought about insurance.  Would they pay for a replacement?  When I got home, Ken suggested I go directly to the Nikon service headquarters where they fix cameras.  He gave me the directions and that afternoon I was on my way.  Just before I left for Nikon, I did a Google search to see what others had experienced when they had dropped lenses.  It was not good.  One search resulted in a blog that said once you drop a lens like I did, it is best to run over it with your car to finish the job.  Ugh....

I got to the Nikon service headquarters.  It is in a beautiful pristine building on the 28th floor.  As I got off the elevator, I walked through a glass windowed hallway with windows looking out over all of Tokyo. It was breathtaking - just how Nikon service headquarters should look.  As I walked into the service center, there was a fabulous display of all the miracle lenses that Nikon has ever built with the price tag on each lens.  There was my macro - $1,200.  I went up to the service counter and explained to the service man what happened.  He didn't speak English, but he got the gist of it.  He asked me to sit down and took my camera and the lens in the back room.  About 20 minutes later he reappeared bringing with him another service man who did speak English.  They told me they could fix it!!!  It would cost about $300 in service and parts and it would take about ten days, but they could do it.  Oh my, oh my.  My heart lifted.  Life was good again.  I would miss the spiders for 10 days, but, that's O.K.  I will survive.  On my way home from Nikon, I celebrated by going to a new wonderful little grocery store and got some great chicken and peas and brussels sprouts and tomatoes and avocado for dinner.

And then after dinner, to my delight, I got Yumiko to pose for me for my portrait homework using my other 18 - 200 mm Nikon lens.  Life is still good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sushi for Dinner Tonight

I went to the Tokyo Fish Market today with my friend Mary.  We had loads of fun with all the fish, all of the fishermen and buying a little sushi for dinner tonight.  Here's a photo of Mary negotiating (with Japanese cheat sheet in hand) just how she wants her salmon filleted.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Swarming Bees

I was walking through the Aoyama Cemetery this morning looking for good bugs, when I saw in the distance a whole bunch of something swarming around a tree trunk.  As I got closer I saw it was a large swarm of honeybees.  I got up close even though they were swarming all around me and got a few pictures of them on a tree.  Then I heard a loud buzzing above me and I looked up and saw thousands of these bees covering a huge branch just above my head.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic Movie.  I braved the bees and got a shot of the whole swarm together.  Hope you can get an idea of how many bees there were.  Click on the bottom photo for a better view.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I've Gone Buggy!

I remember when I was a little girl how much I loved bugs.  I loved picking up rocks in my mother's garden just to see what kind of creatures were hiding underneath.  I captured quite a few of these little critters in glass jars and just loved to see how they were put together.  Well, being here in Tokyo, lo this 50 years later, I feel like a kid all over again every morning when I go out into the cemetery where no one cares if I just take my camera and sit down in the middle of the weeds and wait for all the wonderful little bugs to pose for me.  Here's one I got this morning.  (Click on his little face for the full effect.  Go ahead - be brave.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Portrait Class: Yumiko and Ken

Last night I begged Ken and Yumiko to pose for me for my portrait class.  My homework is due tomorrow and I am still too shy to ask anybody to pose.   Yumiko was happy to comply.  Ken, on the other hand, was not as thrilled.  Here's what I got.  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day and Bee with a Drop of Water

It's Mother's Day and Yumiko and I just got back from seeing a formal dress rehearsal of the Matsuyama Ballet Company's production of Cinderella.  It was so unbelievably good.   The ballet dancers are all professionals and probably (no bias here) the best in Japan.  The woman who played the role of Cinderella was so utterly fabulous.  She was a tiny woman with the greatest expressions and the most beautiful dancing.  And so much stamina.  I cry at everything, but I really cried at the end of this production.  She forgave all her wicked step sisters (played by the funniest men) and they forgave her.  It was just too good to describe.  

On the photo front, here's a little bee taken this morning just about to have a drink of water.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Portrait in the Rain

It rained all day today.  The weatherman says there is a typhoon brewing out in the Pacific Ocean.  Although we could have taken the train, Yumiko and I braved the torrential rain and slogged our way to school.  I veered off and took a million not-so-hot photographs in wet Arisugawa Park.  Nothing great to show for it except soaking feet.  This afternoon, I began a new photo class - this one will concentrate on portraits for the next four weeks.  I have avoided taking people photographs for most of this year because I am too shy to ask anybody to pose for me, especially because I don't know how to ask such a question in Japanese.  But I did get Yumiko to come back out after school during a short break in the rain and took this shot in the little woods behind our apartment.   

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Boy's Day at Sylvia and Norio San's House

We took the train yesterday to the far western part of Tokyo to have lunch and spend a wonderful rainy day with Ken's friends Norio and Sylvia Mihira.  Ken went to Keio University with Norio 40 years ago and they've been good friends all these years.  I've mentioned Sylvia before on this blog.  She is a great, smart, fun woman from Indonesia who knows more about the flowers and birds of Japan than anyone.  She is a painter and folklore researcher as well as having a Ph.D in sociology.  They have a beautiful house and a little bird named Poki who rules the roost.  And a spectacular garden filled with roses, iris, peony, a persimmon tree, and so many wild flowers.  It was boy's day yesterday and very close to their house is a stream and all along the stream, people had hung kites of carp.  Here are two photos from our day.