Kyoto Weekend

Kyoto Weekend

This morning: The To-ji Temple

This weekend we took a last family trip to Kyoto, Japan. It’s me with my wife and two daughters, since there’s no hope for departing the room before 10am I decided to head out on my own this morning to check out the local area where we are staying with AirBnB. On Billy’s personal agenda was the To-ji Temple and its 180 foot tall pagoda built in 1643, about a 15 minute walk down the road. On the way there, it was pretty chilly and my hands were getting pretty cold, I didn’t bring gloves… But this is Japan and nothing that two hot cans of coffee from one of the many machines I passed couldn’t fix. Instantly, liquid hand warmers for my jacket pockets, a wonderful thing! This morning was exceptionally beautiful and honestly, I couldn’t decide which I liked more, shooting the pagoda and temples or the autumn colors surrounding them!

This is our family’s last trip in Japan, we’re out of here in less than two weeks. In a few days we’ll be home and without a car, so I’ll be on foot capturing as much of Yokosuka as possible with my camera. Leaving Yokosuka is somewhat bittersweet, it’s a very underrated city and great location for sightseeing but at the same time going home to Texas is exciting as well. For much of our time here we couldn’t venture far from Yokosuka because of Covid-19, so most of my photography has taken place very close to home. While I’ve kind of become attached to this city, it’s also time to move on. After three years, there’s still a lot I want to shoot in this amazing place, so I’ll be out on foot once again and getting the last shots in. For now, Kyoto has been amazing in just about every way, including the food! This is also a target rich environment for photographers, just about everything here catches the eye in some way. Yesterday I spent 15 minutes shooting only the neighborhood intersection at the end of our street, yes I’m easily entertained.

All photos on this post are unedited and taken with the iPhone 12 Mini.

The Original Peak Design Everyday Messenger!

The Original Everyday Messenger

I’m in the process of relocating back to the US from Japan, part of that means I mail my camera gear ahead of the move. I do this because I trust the US Postal Service far greater than movers hired by the government. Call me paranoid, but I’ve been transferring like this in the military for almost 40 years. If someone is intent on taking your stuff when you do a military transfer, they’ll get it; that’s been my experience anyway. Mailing most of my camera gear back meant I needed to decide what I wanted with me here from August till November or December when I get home. There was no question I’d be using my old Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag, the 15 inch wonder bag that started the messenger camera bag craze. What I am surprised about is how great of a bag this still is! Having lots of bags, I don’t always grab this one, but now that I’m down to this one, well… it’s working superbly.

Today, I’m using it working out of my car shooting the little fishing village of Arisaki near Yokosuka, Japan on the Miura Peninsula. The lenses I decided to keep with me during this transfer to the US were a 15-35mm and a 24-105mm to give me some versatility but not take up a ton of space. I’ve discovered that carrying one less lens in this bag than I normally carry actually works better and keeps the bag more functional. Working out of a car means I can have the camera on the passenger side for easy access but the magnetic latch makes it super easy to close when not in use and driving. I’ve gotten in the habit of jamming too much stuff in this bag over the years and while it handles it, it’s just so much easier with only two lenses when it comes to access and weight. The bag still looks much like when I bought it a few years ago and I have no problem telling people to get this bag, even this original model! While there is a version 2 of the 13 inch Everyday Messenger (EDM), the original 15 inch EDM only received minor improvements. I would love to see an upgraded 15 inch bag with the improvements put in to the 13 inch bag, but I don’t think that’s likely. While I’ve used backpacks and still have a few, the messenger style bags just seem to work better for me. This is especially true when changing lenses, there’s just better use of workspace that I don’t find in backpacks. Backpacks seem to work better if you plan to lay it on the ground. No matter how ‘easy’ the access is, I always seem to needs something nowhere near the access points.

If you’re looking for a bag that’s going to hold up, inside and out, the Peak Design Everyday Messenger 15 is still an awesome bag that can be found just about anywhere at a great price. Why am I writing about it now? Well, I just got a little giddy using it today realizing it was money well spent a few years ago. When the EDM bag came out it was the head turner, people couldn’t wait to get their hands on it, it was followed by even more great bags. In the process it seems this bag has gotten lost in the mix by some of us. However, it’s still relevant, still working like it was intended, and hopefully I’m in the minority of those letting this thing collect a little dust. When I get home, I see me using this old timer a little more!

Two Months Left in Japan

Two Months Left in Japan

Trying to be better about blog posting has been something I’ve written a gazillion times before. We’ve got two months left in Japan and my photography goals are to get better at street shooting and to attempt to capture Yokosuka as I see it around me! Those two goals go hand in hand and it means lots of people pics, food, transportation, animals/pets, and just plain life. Those are the goals while trying to get out and shoot every remaining day before we leave. Yesterday, the plan was to shoot at Yokosuka’s JR Train Station and on the way to get some shots at Verny Park. While in Verny, I decided to shoot some Japanese naval ships in the harbor followed by the selfie that’s on this post. I sat down on a park bench, a minute or two later an elderly lady sat down next to me. Doing a few things on my phone, I noticed her taking out art supplies and she began sketching the US Navy ships across the harbor at the US Naval Base. Watching her, others also started setting up around us and began sketching various harbor scenes as well. I got the attention of the lady, pointed to my camera, indicated that I’d like to take her photo. She smiled as only Japanese people do and nodded ‘yes’ and I began shooting her. This was so cool and the other artists took notice and began to talk. I pointed to my camera, sort of gesturing for the their collective permission to shoot them. They all smiled nodding ‘yes’ as well. Well, this was making for an interesting morning!

This is what living overseas is all about, meeting locals, being part of the scene, and it was just beautiful. This was in line with the new goals, shots of life in Yokosuka with artists no less, and it was a fun experience. This got me out of my comfort zone to say the least. Finally, when done, I sat back down next to the lady, glancing at her progressing sketch, this nice little old lady obviously had skills. Who wouldn’t want a photo to remember this wonderful experience? I waited for her to take a break, politely and quietly got her attention again, indicating with my phone that I wanted to take a selfie with her and, again, she sweetly smiled like sweet grandmother nodding her approval. After the selfie below with her pointing to her sketch, watching her for a bit, I didn’t want to be rude and just walk away. A ‘thank you’ seemed like the proper thing to do at this point. Wanting to get the grandmotherly artist’s attention, I waited for an opening and did the light cough, a-hem, and she glanced up so I gave her my best thank you in Japanese (Arigato gozaimasu) followed by a traditional bow. I needed to get this right. At this point, she angrily waved her hand with an irritated “get the hell of my lawn” look and grumbled something gruff in tone. I had obviously annoyed this crap out of this lady…

About This… Japanese Food?

Japanese Food?

When we arrived in Japan almost three years ago I just knew it would be an amazing experience. After hearing about Japanese food from many friends over the years, my family and I were ready for what was to come… or were we? Sushi and ramen certainly lived up to the hype, so much that we’re already looking for places to hopefully get our favorite dishes after we move to El Paso. While everyone in our family loves ramen, one of our daughters isn’t crazy about sushi, and I’m the only one who likes eel. Other than that, we never have a problem eating Japanese food, it’s always fresh, almost alway healthy, and tastee. However, what we weren’t ready for was the variety of international cuisine that the Japanese embrace. My first outing in Japan on New Years Eve, we went to a little park and there was everything from from curry, hamburgers, German sausages, to Shish kebabs. The Japanese have the ability to cook these foreign dishes to almost perfection, and the SWEET S. Huh? Yup sweets, you read that right! All in all, eating in Japan has been nothing short of amazing.

First, the sweets, and yes the Japanese have a sweet tooth, with a bit of a twist. Upon arriving a friend told us, “you have to try Japanese pastries.” Ok… something you don’t typically think of about the Japanese. But it’s true and you’ll find it all here; cakes, pies, cream puffs, ice cream, sundaes, chocolate, caramel, cookies, you name it and it’s probably a Japanese favorite! Yes, it’s all amazing, and you’ll find Americans really like the Japanese sweets too! So what is the twist or catch to it? Very simply put, they use less sugar and the emphasis (in my opinion) is on the flavor of the food and not the sweetness of it. The first time I ate a cream puff the taste of the cream was out of this world and the pastry itself had, well…. flavor! Sundaes are incredibly tasty too, again, not as sweet but every bit as chocolatey and tastee! Also, the Japanese exercise portion control, something not seen in ‘Merika since the seventies. After my doctor got on my case about not meeting her weight expectations for me, but actually exceeding them, I’ve found it easier to satisfy a sweet tooth and keep it healthier in Japan than anywhere I’ve live in my life. Japanese pastries are a definite treat and the perfect end to an evening or for something worth a family trip. My daughter, not the neatest eater on plante Earth, love ice cream but you’d better have lots of wipes. Here, she eats ice cream served from a foil package similar to a juice pack. It’s delicious ice cream and no mess, something my wife and I love! Japanese chocolate is another area where the Japanese excel, and by the same formula of apparently toning down the sugar a bit. When I write “less sugar” please don’t think it’s not as good. Most people arriving from the US upon trying Japanese chocolates and sweets wonder why we can’t have the same thing at home?

Having Italian food, in Italy, is about as good as it gets! Pizza, something of a work of art there, is amazing every time, and there is also nothing like it the variety of pastas! God knows that I’ve eaten my share of it while living in Naples. I never imagined Italian food would be so authenitic here and much better than most of the Italian food I’ve had in any ‘Little Italy’ across the US. Most of those ‘traditional’ places cater toward American tastes, not so in Japan. I’m not sure where they learned to make pizza but they learned it the right way, and the same for the pasta! Overcooked pasta is something most American-Italian restaurants specialize in, that’s not a good thing. Don’t even get me started on Olive Garden. Focus Bill, focus!! Pasta in Japan is cooked al dente just like Italy and it doesn’t break apart when you try to eat it. While pizza and pasta are done right the flavor is sometimes limited by those ingrediants only available in Italy, such as fresh mozzerella cheese. Again, the only catch with this in Japan is that, once again, portions are smaller. Seeing a theme here? Absolutely delicious but just smaller servings! I haven’t had the Japanese wine yet but the beer is very good. Japan is incredibly strict when it comes to drinking alcohol and driving, 0.03 BAC is considered drunk driving. It’s not worth chancing as one drink could spell disaster, even other adults in the car may be held liable for allowing the person to drive in Japan. When we go out to eat I drink nonalcoholic beer and I have to say that Japanese nonalcoholic beer has more flavor and body than Michelob Untra (again, just my opinion), I know that doesn’t say much… It comes down to this, I’m a pretty happy camper if I can find good Italian food and Japan does not disappoint.

Lastly, walking in to a bakery in Tokyo makes you honestly think you’re somewhere else! France… the US maybe… or even Italy, but not Japan. The scene inside Japanese bakeries is one from a magazine, bread and pastries lined up in a presentation all bakeries should strive for, it makes you wonder again, where did they learn? how did they? Just shutup and eat!! Seriously, Japanese bakeries are up there with the best of them and it may be possible to gain weight from the smell along! We bought some and took it to our hotel room and it didn’t last long at all. It comes down to this, whether you’re eating at a nice Japanese restaurant, Denny’s, or even 7-11 for that matter, the food is high end. Did I just say Denny’s and 7-11 were “high end”? Yup, not a typo. You can always find delicious and healthy food choices at even these establishments. Plus, I can find coffee 24/7 within minutes from my house but that’s a whole nother blog post! When Americans return to the US you’ll always here them talk about Georgia Coffee, and with good reason, it’s very good. But I personally feel there has been some sort of US business or diplomatic failing because it’s made by Coca-Cola, so should be readily avaible in the US too? Not so…

Now I finally see what the talk was about, Japan is a culinary wonder every time we head out the door. While I had been to Japan several times in the 90’s, I had never lived here till 2018 and it’s been eye opening! When the Japanese do something, they do it right. 7-11, Denny’s, Georgia Coffee, Italian food, and bakeries will floor you, they seem to have it all! As our time here winds down, the list of things we’ll miss as a family continues to grow, starting with the food. It’s been the journey of a lifetime.

Osaka

Last week, we spent four days in Osaka, Japan with two of those at Universal Studios Japan. Theme parks wear me down, mostly mentally, and generally I’m good for one day. Don’t get me wrong, Universal Studios is very cool, the kids had a blast, but by the second day it felt like I was Teddy Kennedy’s drinking buddy after a weekend of carousing at Martha’s Vineyard. I was tired… Universal Studios Japan redefined expensive and almost made Disneyland seem cheaper, for the four of us to eat anywhere near Universal Studios or Universal City was about $300 a day. All in all, it was fun, and our kids had the time of their lives, for that alone I’d do it again. The next stop was the Osaka Castle, an iconic piece of Japan and because I’m a history geek who loves photography, locations like the Osaka Castle are usually the perfect storm. However, it would have been better if it had been an original castle, not a reconstruction, but you can’t have everything! Wow, with Hogwarts, that’s makes two fake castles in one week! I forgot to use my inside voice there… This five story castle sits in a large grounds of 15 acres that is mostly the rock foundation for the castle itself. While a reconstruction, it surely gives you the impression of how incredible the original structure must have been! If you’re worried about home invasion, nosey or noisy neighbors, or want to get your local HMO off of your back, I’d highly recommend this type of construction. Lastly, we ended up in Namba, the downtown area of Osaka that had everything from the most expensive shopping on planet Earth to mom-n-pop joints, very cool! Below are some photos from Universal Studios, life wouldn’t be complete without a plastic T-Rex… If we had more time left here in Japan, Osaka would deserve a second trip for sure!

The Last Carrier Departure.

Yesterday I was able to go out and shoot the USS Reagan as she departed for sea, through Tokyo Bay, from her homeport in Yokosuka, Japan. I was sitting at a parking lot on base looking in to the foggy bay, shooting in the rain, when my wife who is active duty Navy came from work. She came to have a glance mentioning this would probably be the last time she’d see an aircraft carrier departing. My wife is retiring at the end of the year and we’re off to Texas and we’ll both be retired, I retired 10 years ago. Until she mentioned this, the last time she’d watch a carrier depart, I hadn’t thought of it that way. It kind of hit home that I’ve been around the US Navy for 40 years now, I realized I need to get out there and shoot plenty of ships before leaving as the chances of finding ships in El Paso, Texas are fairly slim.

The USS Reagan, CVN-76, departed as I was shooting with a handful of families around me having soft conversations. It’s the part of the military most people don’t see, the part families don’t look forward to… Departing ships aren’t as much of a big deal as when they return, there was no band or ceremony, just these few families. There is nothing like the aircraft carrier departing, seeing the harbor tugs out there before waiting and clearing out the boat and ship traffic to be followed by a helicopter flying circles around the mighty ship slowly moving through the water; it’s a big evolution. On this rainy day, the weather was less than desirable as I stood there with the families photographing the Reagan. Now she slipped in to the fog bank quietly, with the loved ones aboard of those few around me.

Behind me is the USS Ronald Reagan departing Japan.

The Greatest Person You’ve Likely Never Heard Of…

While not a fan of Facebook, it’s a good place to post photos of my kids for family to view, a place to keep up on what family and friends are doing, and for getting my photography out there. However, beyond that, I really don’t enjoy it much. I find out about most things there because my wife sees something and tells me. Honestly, I like Instagram where people just seem nicer, that’s a bit strange as well because I don’t know most of the people I follow there. Just post a personal opinion on Facebook and watch how many of your friends suddenly become subject matter experts, Facebook lawyers, Facebook MD’s, and Facebook Political Experts. In less time than you can have a pizza delivered to your front door you’ll see a side of people you didn’t know they had. However, every now and then there’s something incredible like the video of Sir Nicholas Winton being surprised on a BBC Program called That’s Life surrounded by some of the 669 mostly Jewish children now grown up that he’d saved during the Holocaust. If a video like that doesn’t get to you, nothing will. Recently, a Facebook post was forwarded to me by my wife, it was historical and she thought I’d like it. It was about a Japanese man the article claimed was the “Japanese Schindler.” It claimed he saved some 6,000 Jews during the Holocaust, five times more than attributed to Oskar Schindler, the subject of the famous 1993 movie Schindler’s List. If everything in the article were true, it seemed to me that Hollywood had made a movie about the wrong person. Believe me when I say I love history and read about it plenty, but also trust me that you could fill an encyclopedia from A through Z on what I don’t know. It’s a vast subject; however, it seemed that something this big would be more well known.

Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara

The Facebook post, while having a few embellishments, I came to discover was mostly true so I began to read more about this incredible man named Chiune Sugihara. It turns out there had been a movie about Mr. Sugihara entitled, Persona Non Grata in 2015 and a PBS film as well, Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness. Chiune Sugihara “was born to a middle-class family in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture on the main Japanese Island of Honshu on January 1, 1900. Sugihara was also called “Sempo,” which was “an earlier rendition of the Japanese character for part of his formal name.”(1) Chiune, or Sempo, “graduated from high school with top marks.” He later studied English at the Waseda University paying for his “education with part-time work as a longshoreman and tutor.” Chiune spotted a classified ad in which “the Japanese Foreign Ministry was seeking people who wished to study abroad and might be interested in a diplomatic career.” After passing the entrance exam, he went to the Japanese language Institute in Harbin, China where he studied Russian, graduating with honors, and converting to Greek Orthodox Christianity in the process. Harbin, also then called ‘the Oriental Paris,’ opened Chiune’s eyes to the rest of the world. From Harbin he took on a role “with the Japanese-controlled government in Manchuria” and was “promoted to Vice Minister of the Foreign Affairs Department.” This job put him “in line to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Manchuria.” While in this job, Chiune “negotiated the purchase of the Russian-owned Manchurian railroad system by the Japanese” and “saved the Japanese government millions of dollars” but had ” infuriated the Russians.” However, as a sign of things to come, Chiune was “disturbed” by the Japanese government’s policies, the “cruel treatment of the Chinese,” and with that he “resigned his post in protest in 1934.” In 1938 Chiune Sugihara was sent for duty at the Japanese diplomatic office in Helsinki, Finland and by 1939 the Japanese government posted him in Kaunas, Lithuania “to open a one-man consulate” before the opening days of World War Two in September 1939. In late 1939, now the Vice-Consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Chiune had a random meeting with an 11 year old boy named Solly Ganor in a store. During their conversation, young Solly invited Mr. Sugihara to his family’s celebration of the first night of Chanukah. Chiune, and his wife Yukiko, accepted and spent that night with young Solly’s family with Chiune being touched by “the closeness of the Jewish families and how it reminded him of his family, and of similar Japanese festivals.”

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara

While in Kaunas, part of Chiune’s job was to “report on Soviet and German war plans.” Once war broke out “the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania” and “ordered all consulates to be closed. Sugihara was almost immediately flooded “with the requests of thousands of Polish Jews fleeing German-occupied Poland.(1) As Nazi forces invaded Poland, waves of Jewish refugees “streamed into Lithuania,” traveling “without possessions or money” and bringing “with them chilling tales of German atrocities against the Jewish population” in Poland. The Lithuanian Jews “continued living normal lives” until the Soviets invaded Lithuania on June 15, 1940 ” At that point things began to worsen and “it was now too late for the Lithuanian Jews to leave for the East.” However, the Soviets “would allow Polish Jews to continue to emigrate out of Lithuania through the Soviet Union if they could obtain certain travel documents.” Thousands of Jewish refugees headed to Kaunas and began to line up outside the gates of the Japanese Consulate building. On a “summer morning in late July 1940,” Vice-Consul Sugihara and his family were “awakened to a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees” at the Consulate gates who were “desperate to flee the approaching Nazis.” They understood well “that their only path lay to the east” and only “if Consul Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas.” Their lives were literally in his hands as documents from Sugihara meant “they could obtain Soviet exit visas and race to possible freedom.” Sugihara “was moved by their plight, but he did not have the authority to issue hundreds of visas” on his own without permission from his bosses in Tokyo. He “wired his government three times for permission to issue visas to the Jewish refugees” but was denied each time. Finally, Chiune discussed “the situation with his wife and children” because this was “a difficult decision to make.” He had been “brought up in the strict and traditional discipline of the Japanese.” He was conflicted, while he was a career diplomat who “was bound by the traditional obedience he had been taught all his life,” he was also “a samurai who had been told to help those who were in need.” If he signed the visas, Chiune would likely “be fired and disgraced, and would probably never work for the Japanese government again” resulting in “extreme financial hardship for his family in the future.” Everything he had worked for would be gone. In the end, Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara knew what they had to do, while they “feared for their lives and the lives of their children,” they knew they “could only follow their consciences” and that the “visas would be signed.” These visas were called ‘Visas for Life.’

One of Mr. Sugihara’s ‘Visas for Life”

The decision made by the Sugihara’s to defy the Japanese government was made with no regard for their personal costs and from July 31 to August 28, 1940, the Sugihara’s “sat for endless hours writing and signing visas by hand. Hour after hour, day after day, for these three weeks, they wrote and signed visas.” They produced “over 300 visas a day, which would normally be one month’s worth of work for the consul. Yukiko also helped him register these visas.” During this time Chiune “did not even stop to eat. His wife supplied him with sandwiches. Sugihara chose not to lose a minute because people were standing in line in front of his consulate day and night for these visas. When some began climbing the compound wall, he came out to calm them down and assure them that he would do is best to help them all.”(2) Over a six week period in the summer of 1940, Sempo “worked 18-hour days, eventually writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas – a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan’s foreign ministry.(3) “Hundreds of applicants became thousands” and Chiune worked hard to “grant as many visas as possible before being forced to close the consulate and leave Lithuania.”(2) Because Sugihara spoke fluent Russian, he was able “to bargain with Moscow to ensure the Jewish refugees had safe passage through the Soviet Union, as well as the right to leave Vladivostok for Japan. The promise of hard currency earned from the sale of refugees’ travel documents helped the Politburo reach its decision in July 1940. Stalin signed the order approving transit for refugees, which the Soviet document said included Jewish religious (yeshiva) teachers and students, salesmen, lawyers and other liberal professions.” And with that, the Sugihara’s had done all they could do.

Sugihara departed for Berlin on September 1, 1940 and later, during “Soviet army’s march though the Balkans in 1944, the Soviets arrested Sugihara together with other diplomats from enemy nations. Soviet authorities held him and his family, under fairly benign conditions, for the next three years. When Sugihara returned to Japan in 1947, the Foreign Ministry retired him with a small pension as part of a large staff reduction enacted under the American occupation.(3) After the war, Chiune Sugihara moved his family to Fujisawa, Japan and “to support his family he took a series of menial jobs, at one point selling light bulbs door to door.” It turned out that the Sugihara’s were correct in their assumptions some seven years earlier as Chiune’s training and promising diplomatic career were gone. In 1947, “his youngest son, Haruki, died at the age of seven, shortly after their return to Japan.” Sugihara “later began to work for an export company as general manager of a U.S. Military Post Exchange. Utilizing his command of the Russian language, Sugihara went on to work and live a low-key existence in the Soviet Union for sixteen years, while his family stayed in Japan.”(4) Today, “beyond the record of 2,139 names Sugihara filed belatedly to Tokyo months after issuing visas, there is no certainty over how many lives were saved.” Estimates of 6,000 people “comes from assuming each holder of a transit visa travelled with two other people, a wife and child. Other researchers have suggested that 10,000 people were saved.” While Sugihara was recognized by Israel during his lifetime, and his fame grew outside of Japan, he remained a humble man with only a few of the refugees finding him in Japan to thank him. “Despite the publicity given him in Israel and other nations, he remained virtually unknown in his home country. Only when a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan, attended his funeral, did his neighbors find out what he had done.”(5) Chiune Sugihara died at a hospital in Kamakura, Japan on July 31, 1986. While there is no possible way to know the exact number of people saved by Vice-Consul Sugihara, it is estimated that 100,000 people are alive today because their descendants were issued his Visa for Life during the summer of 1940. (6)

Researching and writing this was a labor of love. Thanks to whoever got this man on Facebook where my wife spotted it. Mr. Sugihara was a rare human being who did the right thing, which was not easy. Not only did the Sugihara’s perform such a great deed that summer, they told practically nobody in Japan; Chiune and Yukiko were the epitome of humble. Finally, When I saw that Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara were buried at the Kamakura Cemetery near where we live in Japan, I had to pay respects to these incredible human beings. Getting to the cemetery was easy, finding the grave was not. In the end, we walked a few miles and thankfully four cemetery employees helped us find Mr. and Mrs. Sugihara’s grave. One of the men offered to take a photo of us by his grave, something I hadn’t planned on. While I do shoot gravestones, I don’t shoot them as a sort of tourist shot and try to be very respectful of my surroundings with a camera. The Sugihara’s were definitely humble people, humble in death as well. Their gravesite is also humble, ordinary in fact, so ordinary that we walked by it once without noticing. When people used to ask me, “if you could go back in time and meet anyone, who would it be?” I used to say it was Louis Armstrong that intrigued me, now it would definitely be Mr. Chiune Sugihara. He gave up practically everything to help people he didn’t know during the summer of 1940 and remained humble for the rest of his life.

Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge. Do what is right because it is right; and leave it alone. I had to do something.”

– Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara

Works Cited:
1. Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Museum, 1980. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/chiune-sempo-sugihara Accessed January 6, 2021.

2. Jewish Virtual Library: A Project of AICE. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 1997. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/chiune-sugihara Accessed January 6, 2021.

3. Rankin, Jennifer. My father, the quiet hero: how Japan’s Schindler saved 6,000 Jews. London: 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/04/chiune-sugihara-my-father-japanese-schindler-saved-6000-jews-lithuania Accessed January 6, 2021.

4. Sugihara, Seishiro (2001), Chiune Sugihara and Japan’s Foreign Ministry, between Incompetence and Culpability. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

5. Lee, Dom; Mochizuki, Ken (2003). Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 978-1-58430-157-8.

6.  Liphshiz, Cnaan (23 May 2019). “Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara’s son sets record straight on his father’s story”Times of Israel. Retrieved 09 January 2021.

Verny Park Backup Plan

Today was a good day of shooting in Yokosuka, although it meant going with my back up plan of shooting in Verny Park.  I’m very fortunate to live in Japan and especially love shooting the western coast of the Miura Peninsula.  Why? because there are seascape shots, harbors, plus rock formations and on a clear day Mount Fuji is visible.  It’s a good thing any time you can have this snow-capped, iconic, mountain in photos.  The problem is that it’s not always visible, the solution?  Well, about two blocks from my house is a place where, between buildings and hills, is an unobstructed view of Mount Fuji.  On days when I can see Mt. Fuji, I drive to the other coast; however, when it isn’t visible it’s time to go with the backup plan and today that plan was to shoot at Verny Park right here in Yokosuka.  Verny Park is located on Yokosuka’s harbor, across from both a US Navy base and a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force base where ships of both nations can be found.  Not to mention the park itself with people, a fountain, some interesting Japanese architecture, and a host of things to shoot.  These are all iPhone 7+ shots of today, so it was a good day!

 

 

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Tokyo SkyTree

Yesterday we visited the Tokyo SkyTree, the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure on Earth at 2,080 feet tall!  It’s actually for sending radio and television signals but has observation decks for tourists.  Shouting out to Mrs. Madrid’s third graders at Ituarte Elementary School in El Paso, Texas!

 

 

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Tokyo SkyTree Shout Out

Yesterday we visited the Tokyo SkyTree, the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure on Earth at 2,080 feet tall!  It’s actually for sending radio and television signals but has observation decks for tourists.  Shouting out to Mrs. Reynoso’s fourth graders at John Drugan School in El Paso, Texas!

 

 

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Hakone, Japan

This is a shoutout from my daughters to their aunt who teaches at Sgt. Roberto Ituarte Elementary School in El Paso, TX!  This week we are also still on vacation here and went to the Hakone Shrine in Hakone, Japan and were able to see Mount Fuji from here as well.  Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest peak at 12,389 feet high and looks very cool when it’s covered in snow!      

 

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Hakone, Japan

This is a shoutout from my daughters to their aunt who teaches at John Drugan School in El Paso, TX! This week we are also still on vacation here and went to the Hakone Shrine in Hakone, Japan and were able to see Mount Fuji from here as well.  Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest peak at 12,389 feet high and looks very cool when it’s covered in snow!      

 

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My first video

Here’s my first attempt at a video, it combines still and time-lapse images. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did making it!

https://www.billchizekphotography.com/Video/i-LcTDj7D/A

 

 

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Shout Out to Mrs. Reynoso!

It’s that time of the year where we start getting out checking out the sites here in Japan.  Here’s a shoutout from our kids to Mrs. Reynoso’s fourth grade class at John Drugan School in El Paso, TX from Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan near Tokyo.

 

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Shout Out to Mrs. Madrid!

It’s that time of the year where we start getting out checking out the sites here in Japan.  Here’s a shoutout from our kids to Mrs. Madrid’s third grade class at Ituarte Elementary School in El Paso, TX from Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan near Tokyo.

 

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Two pics @ digital expositions!

I found out today that two of my photos are to be shown digitally, it’s always cool when this happens!  Both of these exbitions were possible through Gurushots.com.  I like Gurushots not only for the exposure from these exhibitions but also to see what other photographer’s are doing creatively.  Viewing photos at Gurushots, Flickr, and a few other places only helps me to get better.

This photo was taken recently near where I currently live in Yokosuka, Japan.  I was walking near Verny Park in the morning and able to see the base where the US and Japanese ships are Morning Subsdocked.  The sun was obscured mostly because of the buildings but a little light was hitting these Japanese submarines making for a cool effect.  Really hoping to get some shots of these heading to, or from, the sea.  This shot, Morning Subs, was selected to be digitally shown at the Blank Wall Gallery in Athens, Greece in the Mostly Black Exhibit from December 13-15, 2019.  Living in Japan has been a great experience so far, I’m trying to capture as many ‘daily life’ type shots and while a photo like this might seem to not fit that category, it does.  Yokosuka is a HUGE Navy town, not just for the US but the Japanese as well, something I was unaware of prior to living here.

I lived in northern Virginia in 2017 and loved every minute of it.  I didn’t really know much about Alexandria, VA prior to living at Fort Belvoir, but it quickly came to be one of all-time favorite cities.Plum Crates  This was for a few reasons, first I’m a huge history nerd and Alexandria is history nerd central!  Second, for shooting stock photography it was a target rich environment.  Whether I wanted/needed food shots, generic patriotic material, or flags (literally EVERYWHERE), it was all there in front of me!  This shot, called Plum Crates, was taken at the Old Town Alexandria Farmer’s Market held on Saturday mornings next to City Hall.  It the four corners of wooden plum crates, I shot a few others but this one stuck with me more.  The photo was selected to show at the BBA Circle in the “Artistic Still Life” exhibit from January 31-February 2, 2020.

As always, thank you to all of you for the support I receive and hope you enjoy the blog.  I really am trying to keep it going this time around!

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5 Photos in digital expositions!

Yes, five, pretty happy about that!  From time to time I enter various photo contests in hopes of being published, making the cut for expositions, or to simply get exposure. Many times it’s through Gurushots.com, a great place to find photo inspiration and check out the work of others!  When I do make the cut, it’s usually for a digital exposition; however, it has resulted in being published in a books, twice!  Recently, five of my photos were selected for digital displays at various locations.

Yakitori Stand was selected for digital exhibit in the People in the City exhibition at the Valid World Hall Gallery in Barcelona, Spain on November 1-3, 2019.  ItYakitori Stand was taken at one of my little stops when I’m out shooting here where I currently live.  It’s in an alley just off Blue Street in Yokosuka, Japan at a yakitori stand where they grill meat in front of you and you stand in line and eat.  Each piece of meat is on a kebab stick, eat as much as you want, they count the sticks at the end.  80 Yen per stick or about 75 cents in US Dollars, not bad.  Love eating here!  I chose to shoot this at night because I wanted to capture just a little motion, also it’s just more colorful in the evening with the lights and coffee machine.

Kegon Falls 6 will be digitally shown in the Our Amazing Planet Exhibit at the Annual Photography Conference held by the Galitz Photography School in Tel Aviv, Isreal Kegon Falls 6on November 26, 2019.  This is the amazing Kegon Falls near Nikko, Japan.  To say this place is breath taking is an understatement, it’s incredibly huge and has several smaller falls surrounding it.  Kegon Falls is considered one of “Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls“, according to a listing published by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment in 1990.  I’m already planning return trips in autumn and winter!

This photo, Closing Time, was chosen for digital Exposition for Dramatic Lighting at the Valid World Hall Gallery in Barcelona, Spain on November 2-3, 2019.  It was taken at Closing Timethe Taiko Drum Festival in Narita, Japan.  The festival was over and we were waiting to board our bus to return home when I spotted these guys cleaning and prepping the kitchen for the next day.  I didn’t bring a tripod, so this was shot completely handheld at ISO 3200 while steading myself a telephone pole!  I’ve read all the reviews about how the Canon 6d Markii is totally inadequate in low light situations, I don’t buy it.  I like this camera so much that I purchased a second one as a back up!

Chureito Pagoda 5 was picked for digital display in the Artistic Photography Exposition at the Thessaloniki Art Fair, November 21-24, 2019, Thessaloniki, Greece.  It was taken atChureito Pagoda 5 one of the most iconic Japanese shot locations you can get, the Churieto Pagoda near Fujiyoshida, Japan.  First you have to climb the 400 stairs, but once you’re up there it’s pretty incredible with an unobstructed view of Mount Fuji.  I was really to go for something different in the black and white genre here, I already had a bunch of shots showing how beautiful this place was.  I was trying to give it a mysterious look without being gloomy, because that’s how the Churieto Pagoda feels, beautiful and mysterious.  I’m hoping to get back this year when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom!

This photo, called Skipping, was chosen to be digitally shown at the Blank Wall Gallery in Athens, Greece on December 13-15, 2019 with the At the Beach Exposition.  I had justSkipping received a new lens in the mail (Tamron 150-600 G1) and my girls wanted to go to the beach, so we went and I let them run while trying out the lens – win/win!  This photo, taken at Imperial Beach, CA, kind of describes my daughters personalities. On the left is the older and more grounded one who doesn’t take chances, plays it safe, probably future Jeep owner who won’t leave second gear.  On the right, in the air, is the younger who operates at full speed 24/7, throws caution to the wind, and totally opposite of her sister.

I truly appreciate the support I receive through my website and this blog, thank you all so much as well as Gurushots!

 

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Just another day…

Today I’m shooting the USS Ronald Reagan departing Yokosuka, Japan on a Tiger Cruise this morning. A Tiger Cruise is a one day trip where family and friends come along, very cool.  Living on a naval base has its perks!  Look for pics in the future, meanwhile check out my photos at BillChizekPhotography.com.

 

Waterfalls today

Well, today was spent mostly on buses with a tour, other than my wife not being able to go because of work, it was pretty awesome. First up was the Yudaki Waterfall (below) and second was the 320 foot Kegon Falls (above). Lastly, we ended up at the Toshogu Shrine dating back to the 17th century! While it was amazing, it was hot, we got rained on, and was humid the entire day but I think I got some good shots, we’ll see. It was the first test of my Mindshift Messenger Bag, I’ve had for about four months but this was the first time I lugged it around all day. It worked great! These photos were all taken with the iPhone 7 Plus.

Loving Japan, looking forward to blogging more when out shooting but for now I just need to get off the bus and in bed. Do I sound whiny? Yup! Oh, please check out BillChizekPhotography.com!

Tokyo Disneyland!

Upfront, I had a great time at Tokyo Disneyland, this paragraph might not start like that, but it was very cool.  This week we had a family trip to our local Tōkyō Dizunīrando and as someone who has been to Disneyland or Disneyworld no less than a half-dozen times or so, I’d honestly love to go somewhere else sometimes.  The first couple of visits were cool, but the ever-increasing ticket prices, paying top dollar for cafeteria food, and long lines, seemed to wear me down.  Fortunately for me, my wife is like-minded in that if there’s a long line she’s not likely to stand in it either, there’s lot of other things you can do in that hour besides wear down your iPhone battery.  Two years ago we did a three-day park hopper pass at Disneyland and it was about 2 days too much, she handled it better than me.  This photo at the right shows me on day three and after 72 hours of all things Disney and Mickey the Rat, I was done.  This is the only photo from that fun fulled excursion, the others on this post are from Tokyo Disneyland.  19756701_10155732733276494_7057349512680706714_n I’d like to say that the heat, the crowds, and long lines weren’t so bad and that I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but that’s what I’d like to say…  However, given all these complaints about theme parks, and Disney in general, I have to say Tokyo Disneyland was pretty darn cool!  I don’t know if it was just because we caught a bus there, spent the day, and took the bus home or that it was just different enough to keep me engaged.  I am an oddity when it comes to Disney parks, I actually prefer Disneyland over Disneyworld.  Huh?  Yup, because I love history; Disneyland was historic and the first of the mega theme parks.  I really don’t care about Disney’s new tribute park to Star Wars and Luke SkyVader, it’s the old stuff that I love.  America had nothing like this until Walt Disney came along, sure there was Coney Island and world fairs, but nothing on a scale like what Disney proposed.  By the time Disneyland opened in 1955 the entire world was already in love with the famous Disney cartoon characters!  I also love that Walt Disney actually lived over Disneyland’s firehouse and that they’ve preserved his apartment.  While the park was being built, Disney would often stay above the firehouse with his wife, click [ HERE ] for a video and more info about the apartment.  At Disneyland, I love sitting in the back of a boat on “It’s a Small World” with my young daughters.  Yes, it’s corny but I love it.

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Overall, Tokyo Disneyland feels very much like Disneyland in Anaheim, with a couple of exceptions.  One of the most visible is that the main street is covered, which I actually liked because you can get out of the sun and if it rains, you’ve got somewhere to go.  I’m IMG_2681sure it doesn’t hurt the Disney bank account when thousands of park visitors are trapped in their stores because of the weather.  Also, Tokyo Disneyland is newer than its American counterparts, this means it lacks the tall trees like the older parks that provide much-needed shade.  The place is somewhat deceiving in size, after driving by Tokyo Disneyland a few times it just didn’t look very big.  My family also thought the same after seeing it from a distance, wondering if there was enough there to fill an entire day.  However, Tokyo Disneyland is actuallyIMG_2690 about 30 acres larger than Disneyland in Anaheim!  Is it done with Disney magic?  Not sure, but once we were on foot in the park we realized it was huge.  Many of the rides are very similar to Disneyland as well, outside of the Japanese language, you’d never think you were sitting in Tokyo.  Disney goes very far to make language a non issue, we had no problem getting around, having fun, or felt like we were missing out on the experience because we don’t speak Japanese.  Some places, like the Tiki Room, even provided electronic devices that translated, something we didn’t expect.  There were no major cultural or linguistic stumbling blocks whatsoever, at one point a Disney employee actually came up to us wanting to help after seeing us stare at our unfolded map.  The classic Disney parades that happen in the American parks were no different, my kids enjoyed them just as much.  The parade featured the same familiar Disney characters and music, almost exactly like Disneyland.  The food was very cool too, a mix between American and Asian could be found all over the park.  Again, Disney is trying to please everyone, nobody starved on this trip, although I wasn’t a fan of the butter and soy sauce flavored pop corn…  We did eat dinner at a buffet that was actually pretty decent.  Yes, I just called Disney food “very cool” and “pretty decent” after complaining about their cafeteria food.

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Anaheim, California is home to Disneyland and another park across the street called California Adventure.  Tokyo Disney also has another park nearby called DisneySea which was the fourth most visited theme park in THE WORLD in 2018!  We haven’t gone there yet but it’s on the list.  I have to say that Tokyo Disney was a pretty cool experience and I’d do it again as a day trip.  One last piece of advice, leave your big camera at home and just use your cellphone, you’ll have more fun.  I used to be that guy carrying my camera to Disneyland, getting on rides, lugging my crap around.  Cellphones do a great job for capturing family fun, the below shot, called Castle Garden, was taken with an iPhone 7 Plus as were all the others taken and shown on this post.  All in all, I’m not a three-day park hoppin’ Star Wars lovin’ theme park guy, but I’d go back to Tokyo Disneyland again and definitely planning on visiting DisneySea.  Regardless of what I think of theme parks, it’s not about me, my kids have fun and that’s the most important part.

 

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A flower in front of the castle at Tokyo Disney (iPhone 7 Plus).