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Video: ups and downs – How I Joined a Japanese Choir

It’s been many months and summer is almost here. Cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen. During the holidays and into the spring, a few bumps along the way led to headaches and delays. Beneath all that however were the trips, festivals, and most importantly the people there to push you through those times. In Nagasaki, one such group does that through the magic of music.

A special thanks to The Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club. I love you all and couldn’t have done this without you!

Sorry for the delay. Had to borrow a friend’s computer to do this! Thanks so much Matt!

Music:
Hold Me Down – Foreign Fields
いざ起て戦人よ – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club
ふるさと – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club

 

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8 (most used in this video)

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CC 2015

Check out my previous episode on traveling to Yakushima and Tanegashima, and taking video of the stars above Japan.

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Video: under the stars – Filming the Night Skies of Japan

A trip to the islands of Yakushima and Tanegashima at the beginning of fall provided an opportunity to visit one of the most picturesque landscapes Japan has to offer. My favourite photos however whether back home in Canada or in Japan, are taken simply by pointing my camera up into the night sky.

My longest video thus far with over 1500 km driven for footage around Kyushu and about 2 months to film everything, hope you enjoy!

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0 (most used in this video)

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Nagasaki and my summer adventures.

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Video: summer lights – The Highlights of Summer in Japan

Summer is over and school is starting again. Here are a few of the highlights experienced during the last 2 months.

This video definitely took a bit longer to make than I hoped. School starting up and just generally being busy has made it especially difficult to find time to simply sit down and edit. Hopefully it’s entertaining and stay tuned for the next episode which I assure you will be filled with a few surprises 😉

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 (most used in this video)

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Omura and first moving in.

Video: living abroad – The First Week in Japan

Japan begins with a few short days in Tokyo with both old friends and new. The adventure though really begins in a small city nestled within the heart of the Nagasaki Prefecture. (Warning: I’ve been told it MAY not work on mobile. It’s YouTube’s Content ID system)

My first video that I actually spent more than a few days on. If anyone is near Nagasaki and needs a place to stay, send me a message! Thanks to everyone in the video for letting me shamelessly film them! You guys are the best!

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8 (most used in this video)

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CS6

predeparture episode 1 title card

Video: predeparture – A Look at my Final Week before Japan

Departure is in 2 days and this last week has been mostly spending the little time I have left with family and friends. Japan is a journey waiting to unfold and I’m ready to film every moment of it.

My intention during the months leading up to leaving Canada has always been to record the moments that define this upcoming adventure. During a going-away party last week I was given a very special gift from some of my closest friends: a 50mm f1.8 lens for my camera. Their only condition: I create a series of videos, hopefully in vlog format, to help them see not only what Japan is like, but to also document exactly how I myself am experiencing the country and its culture. I hope that this short video is the first of a series for the next little while and that my film and still photography skills improve over the course of the trip.

Expect my next video to be after I’ve arrived and settled into my new home, and to be longer as I only had 5 days to create this video!

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8 (most used in this video)

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CS6

Zao Kitsune Mura

What Does The Fox Say?: Zao Kitsune Mura in Miyagi Prefecture

(This, apparently.)

In an attempt to start knocking some items off my bucket list and travel Japan more, I decided to take advantage of the three day weekend and go up to Miyagi prefecture and stay around Sendai. I Shinkansen-ed up there and it actually didn’t take that long (about a couple hours). Prior to that, I discovered a machine at my station that sells Shinkansen tickets so I don’t actually have to interact with a human and show them how utterly incompetent I am at living in Japan. Knowing that this beautiful machine exists, I will definitely be traveling a lot more. Armed with the tickets and my appropriate shirt, I was off to Miyagi!

I was about to find out!

I was about to find out!

Despite derping a couple times on the Shinkansen (sitting in the reserved section without a reserved ticket and being on the opposite end of the platform for the non-reserved seats), I made it to Sendai and was picked up by a good friend to go to the Zao Kitsune Mura (Zao Fox Village). One of the J-Vloggers I follow (Rachel and Jun) recently went here and upon watching their videos, I was more than excited to be there. I love foxes (they are like dogcats) and going to the fox village was one of the first things on my Japan bucket list.

dogcats

This was not a fox at the village but I seriously wished it was.

We arrived, paid to go in, and was in…paradise? I may have played up the Zao Kitsune Mura in my head a little because I expected it to be roaming with foxes. Instead, the first thing I encounter was foxes in cages, either hoisted up attached to a wall or on the ground, and/or dog collared and chained to a tree or doghouse. I walked around the cages and noticed that some of the foxes were either sleeping or pacing around (or sometimes playing with each other if they had a roommate). Don’t get me wrong; I was still happy to see foxes, but seeing them in cages made me feel sad for them. Plus there were also guinea pigs and rabbits there for some reason…Maybe food? I don’t know.

We walked at one cage and read that you can cuddle with a baby fox for ¥300. ¥300?! Basically stealing the fox! Right when the time slot came up, we immediately got in line and in no time, had a baby fox in our hands. I noticed that the younger or smaller it was, the more relaxed it seemed. I held a black and white fox that was so docile and chill. It rested its wittle head on my arm and almost took a little snooze. It was so cute! I didn’t want to give it back but I had to. Not long after, I had another fox sitting in my lap. Well, “sitting”. It was so restless and just wanted to be put down that it kept moving. It was probably sick of being held by strangers and was just over it. I gave that fox back quickly because I was afraid of dropping it and setting it free (although I am sure it would have loved it).

Just chilling his wittle head for a nap

Just chilling his wittle head for a nap

After the cuddling, we went into the main area where I thought the entire village was made of. It was a large open space where foxes could roam around, sniffing trees, drinking water from the tap, and pray at the mini fox shrine (because of course there is a fox shrine in the fox village). We were told not to approach the foxes and just walk as though we owned the joint so we did. We walked around and snapped some photos of the foxes that were wake. Most of them were asleep or not in the mood to entertain humans. After walking around and taking pictures of either sleeping or diva looking foxes (because trust me, there were some), we entered into this raised platform area to throw some treats to the foxes. Upon entering, you could purchase little fox treats (which was basically dog treats) for ¥100 a bag. Since I am one to try to milk things for all its worth, I doubled the amount of treats in the bag by ripping the pieces in half. For some reason, I was the only one to think of that in our group…

Hide and seek fox

Where’s Waldo fox

 This part was the highlight of the fox village. So many cute foxies running up to get some treats, looking up at your with their big puppydog eyes, and waiting patiently for you to toss them something. There was a chubby one that was my instant favorite (I love chubby fluffy animals) as well as one that looked like it walked through a bad neighborhood and got mugged. At the end of the feeding session, we thought we taught them tricks by making them sit or catching food in their mouths. We tried our best to connect with these foxes.

After depleting my fox treat stash, it was time to head out. We paid a visit to the fox shrine really quick and made our way out of the fox freedom area. We went into the gift shop and proceeded to try to buy everything with a fox on it in sight. Because I didn’t want to carry too much going back home, I didn’t get anything too outrageous (stickers and magnets). After the gift shop, my friend and I head out to explore what Miyagi and Sendai had to offer in the days after.

All in all, the Zao Kitsune Mura was a really cute place…but only because of the foxies. If you are an animal rights activist, you might find this place disturbing or extremely depressing. I am definitely all for animal rights, so I was a little saddened to see many foxes in cages and not roaming around the open area. But for all I know, there is a rotation of what foxes get to go out and which ones must stay in cages. Would I recommend this place to visit? If you like foxes, definitely. But personally, it does not merit another visit (or at least one that I would travel all the way to Miyagi for). I came, I saw, I held and fed foxies.

Hmm...maybe.

Hmm…maybe.

 BONUS FOX GIFS!

love me

Love me?

It is derping so hard.

It is derping so hard.

GroceryShoppingin Japan

Grocery Shopping in Japan

Did you ever wonder what a Japanese grocery store may look like on the inside?  Here’s a video that shows you every inch of one from start to finish.  This was filmed at a supermarket called ‘Maruetsu’ in the Saitama region of Japan.  It is quite big and quite popular in the Kanto area.  At this grocery store, you can also use your T-Point card to collect points!

You will see that in this video, this supermarket also gives out free filtered water and ice!  Also, every grocery store always have a bakery section with fresh breads, ready-made bentos, sushi, and salads! If you don’t feel like cooking, then head to the bento section and you are guaranteed to eat a delicious meal every time!

Did you notice anything different from your home country? If so, leave a comment below!

 

 

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Hiroshima-Style Okonomiyaki


“One frypan Okonomiyaki”

Time

30 minutes

Cost

¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ 

Serving Size

1 adult with a LARGE appetite

Notes

  • Can be vegetarian
  • Customizable


Okonomiyaki is a very popular dish that is widely available in different regions of Japan.  Every region prepares their own version that can include various ingredients.  These can include cabbage, squid, pork slices, mochi, cheese, ginger, shrimp, octopus, corn, scallops, onions, bean sprouts, yakisoba, egg, mushrooms, and so on.  The vegetables are grilled on a flat hot plate and layered on top of one another.  This “pancake” is then covered with Okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, aonori (seaweed), and bonito flakes.  Okonomiyaki is believed to have originated from the Hiroshima and Kansai region before the war and was originally called 壹銭洋食 issen yoshoku (cheap western food).  It was considered a snack for the common people that could be eaten anywhere, and that only featured minimal ingredients. After the war,  the ‘snack’ was developed into a meal and they eventually started adding more ingredients to boost nutrition. If you ever visit Hiroshima, there is a famous building called Okonomimura where you can choose to eat at 25 different restaurants on 4 different floors.

As I mentioned earlier, Okonomiyaki is cooked on a hot plate in layers.  Once a layer has been cooked, it is then added on top of the previously cooked layers, and the chef starts to cook another layer.

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Once all of the layers have been cooked, an egg is then cracked open and spread into a circle to cook.

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The chef will then add all of the cooked layers over the cooked egg.

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The okonomiyaki is then smothered with some okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed, and so on.

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Now, a normal household doesn’t usually own a hot plate, and so making a homemade Okonomiyaki may seem daunting to some.  But worry no more! I have made a version of Okonomiyaki that can be made using only 1 frypan!  For this recipe, I used toppings that I like, but feel free to change them with anything you think may taste good!

Okonomiyaki means “what you like” and “grilled” so the ingredients that go in are up to everyone’s own taste.  The one thing that is common in every Okonomiyaki, is the batter.  Every restaurant have their own recipe for it but essentially, an Okonomiyaki will always have batter.

There are essentially two styles of Okonomiyaki.  Kansai style and Hiroshima style.  In Kansai, the Okonomiyaki usually mixes all of the ingredients together in a bowl and cooks it on a hot plate.   IMG_1978

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But in Hiroshima, the Okonomiyaki is cooked in different layers.  In this recipe, I will be showing you how to cook a Hiroshima-style Onomiyaki!

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Ingredients

Batter

  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp of dashi powder
  • 1 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt & pepper
  • egg
  • 1/2 cup of water

Ingredients

  • 4-5 slices of pork belly
  • 4-5 slices of mochi
  • 1/4 head of cabbage
  • 4-5 peeled shrimps
  • 6-8 slices of Tempura Squid (ikaten)
  • 1 pack of yakisoba
  • 1 egg

Sauce Toppings (As Needed)

  • Aonori (Japanese seaweed)
  • Japanese mayonnaise
  • Okonomiyaki sauce*
  • Bonito flakes
  • Sliced green onions

*You can use either yakisoba, takoyaki, or tonkatsu sauce if you can’t find okonomiyaki sauce.

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Preparation and Method

Tools:

  • 1 frypan
  • 1 knife
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 large spatula
  • 1 plate
  • 1 cabbage shredder or knife
  • measuring spoons
  • 2 mixing bowls

Steps:

  1. In a large bowl, add the flour, the water, the egg, the salt & pepper, the dashi powder, and the soy sauce.  Mix everything really well until there is no more flour bumps.
  2. Shred the cabbage.
  3. In a large frypan, add 1/4 cup of water and the yakisoba noodles.  Cook until the noodles come undone.  Sprinkle half of the packaged powder over the noodles and mix well.  Take off heat and place noodles on the side in one of the bowls.  We will use them later on.
  4. In a large frypan, place the bacon and mochi slices at the bottom.  Let cook for a minute or two, or until the mochi starts to melt.
  5. Put the cabbage over the meat.
  6. Add the peeled shrimps and ikaten over the cabbage and pour 1/3 of the batter over the cabbage.  Cover and let cook until the batter is semi-cooked through.  This is so that when we flip it, the ingredients won’t go flying all over the place.
  7. Flip the Okonomiyaki with or without the help of a spatula.  Cook for a minute.
  8. Take it out of the pan and place it on a plate for a moment.  Be careful not to break it apart.
  9. Add the previously cooked yakisoba to the pan and pour 1/3 of the batter over the noodles.  Cook for a minute. Flip it around.
  10. Pour the last third of the batter over the noodles and place the Okonomiyaki that was sitting on a plate bacon side up over the noodles.  The batter between the layers will cook and make the layers stick together.
  11. Finally, with one hand, lift the Okonomiyaki with a spatula, and with the other, crack an egg open under the pancake. Cook for a minute.
  12. The Okonomiyaki is done.  Transfer it to a large plate.
  13. Pour some Okonomiyaki sauce over, followed with Japanese mayonnaise, aonori, and bonito flakes.  Cover with the sliced green onions.

COOKING VIDEO

I’ve also uploaded a video tutorial on my YouTube channel where I show you step-by-step how to make a Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki!

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Welcome To My Japan

Everyone  takes loads of videos and pictures nowadays—too many, really.  One of two things usually happens with these: they get regurgitated with no apparent effort to sort them all over Facebook and other social media, or they are kept hidden away on someone’s computer along with hundreds of other gigabytes of will-never-be-double-clicked bits of media.

I don’t agree with either of these practices.  On one hand, there is no need to show your friends the result of every single click your camera has made; on the other hand, pictures and videos should be seen by someone.  I tend to take a middle route: make something with your work!

ritsu

At the end of 2013, I made a “Thomas’ Travels 2013” video for my friends and family where I went through all of my videos and made a kind of highlight reel of my year.  The work was exhausting and fulfilling; the result was spectacular.  Everyone who saw it gave me great feedback and got to see a glimpse into the best parts of my life in less than 5 minutes.  A lot of people told me they were able to travel vicariously through the places I went.

This time ’round, I altered the approach slightly.  In 2014, I had only visited one country outside of Japan (Taiwan) but I had managed to get around to 30-odd prefectures within Japan itself.  So instead of a more narrow “Thomas’ Travels 2014” videos, I decided to make it more of a ‘Welcome to Japan’ video (yes, all of the clips come from a single year).  However, I didn’t want to make it a strictly a ‘Japan tourism’ video but one that included myself, my friends and had my own personal touch.  Thus the above ‘Welcome to My Japan’ video was born.

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It took me forever to make (‘forever’ equalling around 40 hours).  Most of the time was spent merely watching and sorting a year’s worth of videos, but the editing process was equally time-consuming (partly due to a using a computer that was not designed for video editing).

The Result  

I was left with a video I was truly proud of that really conveyed my love for this country.  What’s more is that everyone else seemed to like it too, and I excitedly watched the video climb in views (currently at a cool 78,000 as I write this).  Companies started approaching me to license my video and my video was included on a Dutch site, Japanese sites like Temita, Spotlight and Kotaro269, and English sites like RocketNews24 and even News.com.  The support of my friends was overwhelming, and everyone started sharing it with their friends and congratulating me.  It was surreal.

I plan to write more about how you too can go about making a good compilation video, but the first thing I can say is to always take as many pictures and videos as you can.  Please be clear that this does not mean post every picture and video, but that having an extensive library of footage will be invaluable when you put together a video.  I would say that for every fifty pictures I take, I post one; and the short 4-minute video I discussed here came from well over 4 hours of video.

As a counterpoint to what I just said, I also emphasize putting the camera down as much as your hoist it up so you can actually enjoy the moment. Experiencing something unfiltered through a lens is incomparable, and it is easy to get too caught up in sharing and tagging and posting to enjoy the moment.  It’s a fine balance, but I hope you find it.

Good luck!

bonv

Japaneserockabilly

Rockabillies in Tokyo, Japan aka breakdancing Elvis

Japan has a well deserved reputation for eclectic fashions and subcultures. One of the places where this is most apparent is in Yoyogi Park in Harajuki, Tokyo.  Harajuku is the stomping grounds of many groups such as the Cosplayers, Lolitas, Goths, Goth Lolitas, and Takenoko-zoku, a.k.a. bamboo shoot kids, a.k.a. the Rockabillies.  Today, this last group will be the focus of this post, although rest assured, I will be going back to Tokyo soon to document the other, equally fascinating tribes.

The rockabillies are truly one of the most interesting subcultures that I have ever glimpsed or come across. Dressed like a bunch of extras from a Japanese production of “Grease”, they buck pretty much every norm of mainstream Japanese culture there is. Loud, proud, and completely unconventional, they are decked out in a 50`s style look of leather jackets and pants, dark denim, and massive hair held together by litres of hair gel.

They show up every weekend, usually Sundays at Harajuku park to hang out, drink beer, blast Elvis music and have what can only be described as a Grease Lightning meets breakdancing dance off.

According to my research on the internet, these guys, The takenoko-zoku, ie. The Rockabillies, are a subculture/style that sprung up sometime during the `70s and `80s. By the mid 90`s, for some reason, the local authorities decided that the Takeno-zoku were a menace to Japanese society and started to drive away the rock-n-rollers en masse. Perhaps they were becoming too rowdy?

In any case, in the vacuum that was caused by the near extinction of the Takeno-zoku, many other, equally eclectic but more timid groups such as the goths, lolitas, cosplayers, etc ad infinitum popped up to fill in the void.

However, every Sunday, the last remnants of the Takenoko-zoku, now endearingly referred to as the Rockabillies, and many in their middle age, congregate together on one of the corners of Yoyogi Park to participate in their ritualized traditions of drinking Asahi beer and dancing to 50`s classics.

On a related note, one thing I find fascinating about Japanese subcultures is the paradox that their respective members find themselves in.  As a collectivist society, Japanese culture is all about being part of a group. Naturally, the biggest group is society at large, which is why most people are not big on expressing their individuality and instead prefer to comform to the social norms. As is oft repeated, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. However, many people decide that they have no desire to be a part of mainstream Japanese subculture, and so in the hopes of expressing their own individuality, turn to one of the many subcultures of different prominence in Japan.

The irony ofcourse is that when substituting one group for another, Japanese people fully conform to the norms, standards, and social rules of their new, chosen subcultures. In searching for a new identity to call their own, they instead inadvertently become caricatures of their group.

It could be said that the same is true for subcultures anywhere around the world, and this is true, but it`s just my observation that in Japan particularly, those people that choose to be a part of subcultures outside of mainstream culture tend to conform even more strongly to the norms of their particular group of choice.

Anyways, these guys were quite interesting, and I was lucky to get a chance to film them since apparently, they sometimes don`t take too kindly to obnoxiously persistent amateur filmmakers like myself. I hope you enjoyed the video, dear readers.