Friday, August 1, 2014

Life back to normal?

Well, I've been back in the US for two months now. I've gotten back into my "normal" life where it left of last year. I'm working for a company called Software for Good in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. It's interesting work and it's nice to be in a big city with a lot going on. Of course Osaka was 10 times larger, but here its a lot easier to find out about events and meetups here. I'm trying to make a point of attending various get-togethers organized through to meet new people with similar interests.

I'm trying to keep up with my photography, though I'm still adjusting to a full-time work schedule. It turns out I'm only 1.5 miles away from the center of Minneapolis so the other weekend I went for a long walk through the city with no particular destination in mind. I brought my camera along and took a few interesting pictures. 
This scene reminded me of my time in Japan. No doubt these keys haven't been around for as long as the keys in THIS picture, but it's nice to see that at least some people here are considerate of others.

Although, on this same trip I also saw just how far people will go to make a little money at the expense of another. 

I'm sure I'll get a taste of all aspects of American city life as I spend more time here. One thing I'm not sure about though is how I will survive the winter. Only time will tell. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Talent Show

When I went into downtown Osaka I would sometimes hang out at what the locals call Triangle park in Amemura. There are hardly any public benches in Japanese cities so the park is one of the only places downtown where you can sit down. When people meet up in the city, they often meet here. Many performers and skateboarders also gather here to practice their craft. The last time I went to Triangle park, this guy was practicing something though I couldn't figure out what. He was holding a fan and attempting to balance on something wrapped in a plastic bag. I asked a Japanese women sitting next to me watching the man what he was doing and she said she had no idea. 
There are many characters in a big city like Osaka. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Back in the USA

In case you haven't heard, I'm back in the US. Actually I've been back for over a week, but I've been somewhat busy catching up with everyone so I haven't gotten around to telling you guys.
I still have some photos from Japan left to process so I'll have a few more posts about Japan in the future.
The title of this blog translates to "Because I'm a photographer", so I may continue to post here about my adventures in the US, so if you're interested in what I'm up to please check in from time to time.

Thank you for your continued viewership!

In the strangest places

I never know what I'm going to find wandering around town. There are millions of interesting life stories out there and I've been lucky to glimpse a few of them. I suppose this should be obvious, but even now I am struck by the kinds of individuals you run into if you keep your eyes open. I didn't have the chance to meet the owner of this house, but in one way or another, they probably aren't a typical Japanese person, whatever that means. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Conveyor Belt Sushi

Despite the fact that when many people think of Japan, they think of conveyor belt sushi, until recently, I had never gone to one. There are two of these places in my city and walking back from a shopping adventure, my friend and I decided to stop in. The main feature of these restaurants is a long conveyor belt that stretches through the restaurant with plates of sushi riding on the belt. Customers are allowed to take sushi off the belt and the prices of the sushi are determined by the color of the plates they rest on. At the end of your time at the restaurant, a waitress adds up the cost of your plates and gives you your final total. 

Because this is far from a traditional sushi restaurant, they are able to serve many uncommon, non-traditional kinds of sushi. I had corn sushi, hamburger sushi, and duck sushi to name a few.

In addition to the regular track, there is also a special sushi train that can deliver special orders to your table. You can request anything on the menu from the touch screen at your table and it is brought out to you by the train. The train is styled to look like a Japanese shinkansen.

At around $1 a plate you can try a lot of different sushi. In the end I spent around $12 and had a great time. I probably should have gone to one of these places sooner!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Very Controlled Flooding

Somewhat strangely, in the middle of Hirakata, a city with a population density of 16,200 per square mile, there are numerous rice paddies. In this picture, a local middle school is surrounded by various types of farmland. This is not the country, this location is a short walk from the city center. The areas that are underwater are part of an extremely complex system of water channels used to flood specific areas of land to grow rice. When I arrived in Japan, farmers were just harvesting their rice and for most of the year, these fields are empty, but over the course of about a week, most farmers planted their rice plants and flooded their fields making for a stark change of scenery walking around town.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Crows

The crows in Osaka are pretty huge. My friends from different states and countries are surprised by how big they are, but my friends from Minnesota are already used to seeing crows this big. Most of the birds I've seen here are also found in Minnesota, I wonder if they were brought over here or if they just fly wherever they like the weather.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Osaka Castle

I went to a Jazz concert on the grounds of Osaka castle. Before the concert started I had time to wander around the castle grounds which are quite expansive. The castle was first constructed in 1597 and has since been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Most recently it was destroyed at the end of World War II. It's current incarnation was built using more modern concrete building methods and the inside is designed to function as a modern museum. It's somewhat disappointing if you're expecting to walk into a traditional castle. Only the outside is period. The grounds are all original though. The huge stone walls are fit together with remarkable precision.
It's interesting to think that hundreds of years ago, great battles were fought in these winding defensive corridors.

Monday, May 5, 2014

天下一餃子:テクテク (The Best Gyoza Under the Heavens: TekuTeku

I put together a documentary about my all time favorite restaurant in Japan. I put a lot of work into it so please check it out. Also, if you're in Hirakata, definitely stop by this place, the food is seriously good.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A culture of trust

 Here is another great example of how trustworthy Japanese people usually are. At some point in the past, someone dropped their keys in this parking lot. Someone found the keys and placed them on this post at the entrance. This is a fairly common practice for lost important things. It looks like this key has been here for a long time as the keyring has become rusted. Dozens of people walk past this post every day and no one has decided to take these keys.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

From a staple to a special treat.

Despite what you may have heard, meat isn't too terribly expensive here in Japan, with the exception of beef. Two large chicken breasts cost around $3 and this surprisingly thick pork steak only cost $4. Alternatively, a small beef steak costs around $12. I don't really miss beef though. Because beef is so expensive, Japanese supermarkets often carry 30% beef, 70% pork ground meat that tastes almost as good.
In general, Japanese people don't eat meat in steak form so the above pork steak was something of a rarity. Usually meat is ground (including chicken) or divided into very think slices for ShabuShabu. It was nice eating such a big steak for the first time in a while. I'm reminded of how my grandmother used to cook steak, cut it up and keep it in the refrigerator for her grand kids to snack on. That is not something typically done here.
Something else worth noting is the quality of the fresh food here in Japan. While in the US, locally grown, pesticide-free food is sold at a premium, in Japan, this is taken for granted. All the fish is extremely fresh and most of the produce is grown locally. People have tried to market natural foods in Japan, but what we consider "natural" is already the status quo here.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Inescapable Flora and Fauna

Even though I've traveled half way across the world, I still see familiar plants and animals on a daily basis. Of course many people keep dogs and cats as pets, but there are also many wild plants and animal equally at home here and in the US. For example, it's dandelion season right now so you see clusters of them all over the city. There are also many birds that I recognize from Minnesota. Finally, mosquitoes are as ubiquitous here as they are back home. I wonder where these species came from. Maybe they got here by themselves over many years, or maybe they were brought over by westerners. In any case it appears that some things are virtually inescapable if you don't change your latitude.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


While wandering in the mountains I ran across this strange ceramic stone structure. There wasn't anyone around so I wandered around the building for a while. There were a sign that described something called a "Kamaburo"  It turns out Kamaburo translates to "turtle bath" it's design resembles a sauna, though It's not clear to me where the people would go when this was in use. Upon further research I found out that I had stumbled upon the oldest Kamaburo in Japan constructed in 672AD. I'm pretty sure if this was anywhere else in the world it would be heavily guarded.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

At your own risk.

While public safety is huge in the more populated areas of Japan. Out in the mountains, things get a bit more interesting. Getting a drivers license in Japan sounds like a real pain and I think I can imagine why. I don't know how, but Japan has considerably fewer traffic accidents per 1000 cars than the US.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Crumbling Past

I've been taking photography trips with a friend of mine up into the mountains north of Kyoto. While most people are interested in seeing the flashy tourist sites scattered throughout Japan, especially Kyoto, I've been getting a lot more enjoyment out of exploring the remote communities that grew up hundreds of years ago in the tiny river valleys between mountain ranges. I say these locations are remote, but thanks to the Japanese rail system you can get to surprisingly remote areas by riding on progressively older train lines.
These areas are indicative of cultural shifts in Japanese society. These areas are almost entirely home to the elderly. Most young people have likely moved into the city. There are numerous structures that look like they've fallen into disrepair in the last 10 years or so. I would guess that most of these buildings were built or maintained by WWII generation and as they slowly die off, the things they built or maintained start to decay. Despite their appearance, the buildings aren't usually abandoned. Many families in the city own property in the countryside that they inherited from their elders.
I found this shed especially interesting. It's slowly falling off of the roadside, but is being held back by several elastic cables attached to the ground.

I've heard that old properties like these are extremely cheap as most Japanese people aren't interested in them. There are also superstitions surrounding houses in which people have died. Foreigners interested in a traditional Japanese home may be able to pick one up for next to nothing. If people find out you're living in such a home though, the may avoid you because of the supposed bad luck you have incurred. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Because Why Not

You may wonder why there would be basketball hoops with Norwegian and German flags painted on them next to an ostensibly abandoned house in rural Kyoto. I say why not. If you wander around for a while you learn that Japan is full of untold stories.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sakura Everything

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season is just about over now, but McDonalds continues to sell sakura themed foods such as the sakura burger and the sakura float. I haven't tried one, but they seem to be quite popular. This is probably the most stark example of how multinational fast food companies specialize their menu to suit local tastes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Impossible to escape the past

While I was walking through an area of Hirakata I hadn't yet explored, I happened upon this tiny traditional farm nestled between some public utility infrastructure and a large Danchi (government subsidized apartment complex). There were no gates in the tall fence so the land could only be accessed from the side where I was standing. Maybe this plot was once part of a large group of family farms and is the only one that hasn't been sold to developers.
In front of the plot are two discarded Japanese-style bathtubs. It seems like whenever there is a piece of land where junk is kept there are always at least a few old bathtubs. I suppose they're rather versatile.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Doors to nowhere

Every once in a while I stumble upon a Japanese house with an inexplicable door above ground level. I'm not sure if this is a symbol of dreams never realized or an aesthetic choice, but it's not an isolated phenomenon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Coffee of the future

Even in my densely packed suburb of Osaka there are areas that have fallen into disuse and disrepair. This vending machine was setup next to a small cafe that has probably been vacant for a long time. The products on display in the machine have become faded and rusty.
I have never seen another Pokka machine in Japan, but it appears they are still in business. According to wikipedia, in 1973 Pokka invented the hot and cold coffee vending machine paving the way for canned coffee to become wildly popular throughout Japan.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In case of Ninjas?

The side streets of Japan are full of architectural curiosities like this tiny door with a concrete bridge to the street. While I'm sure this serves a plebeian purpose, I would like to imagine it is a secret escape passage in case of Ninjas.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

View from the train

From the train like I take fairly often it is possible to see Osaka castle in the distance. Even at night the castle can be seen as it is strongly illuminated. Though I have ridden this train many times, it still catches me off guard seeing such a supremely traditional building amidst an otherwise thoroughly modern city.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Controlled Entry

When it comes to publicly accessible roads in Japan, instead of using signage to indicate what sort of vehicles are allowed, quite often an array of devices are used to physically block various kinds of traffic. For walking paths, winding metal structures stop bike traffic. Pictured above is a device that lets bikes through while blocking motorized 2-wheeled traffic. There are also structures that block cars while allowing scooters and motorcycles through.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

What it means to be a van

In Japan there are very few minivans as we are used to them in the US. Most vans are larger like the Toyota Vellfire and many families use wagons like the Honda Odyssey. One model that sticks out though is the Mitsubishi Delica. The body is shaped like a traditional minivan, but very often they are sold with modified suspension and tires for off-roading. I suppose that since SUVs are quite rare in Japan, something like this is an attractive option for those who like to drive in the mountains.

Friday, April 4, 2014

In Bloom

Though I can't seem to find the post, I believe I have talked about these decorative cabbage things before. Because it never gets below freezing in Osaka it is possible to have plants outside all year long. At some point in the fall I started seeing what appeared to be decorative cabbages outside many people's homes. They stayed outside all through the winter and now that it is becoming springtime, these cabbages appear to be blooming into a new, less cabbage-like form. Speaking of spring, it appears that Osaka really has a spring season where the weather is warm but not unbearable. This is much preferable to the climate in my home state where it is usually either way too cold or too hot.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Osaka in the morning

After spending the night at an internet cafe, I was awake at 5am in downtown Osaka. This is before the first train starts running, so only locals are walking around. I walked to Nipponbashi, the Otaku center of Osaka. Streets that are usually packed with people were completely deserted.

On some streets there were groups of people camping out for something. I didn't bother to ask what they were waiting for. Eventually I stumbled upon a parking lot full of cars covered in anime characters. There were some guys hanging out at the entrance to the parking lot, but again I didn't bother to ask them what they were doing. Around 7am I returned to my dorm in Hirakata. Later I found out that there was a huge Otaku street party going on that day and I ended up missing it. This just goes to show that it always pays to take a second and talk to Japanese people when I have the chance.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Overnight in an Internet Cafe

The night life in Japan is greatly affected by the fact that most of the train lines stop around midnight. Many bars and clubs that you would expect would be open all night close around this time as most patrons have to leave to catch the last train. Until recently I had never been in downtown Osaka past 11:30 or so. I was meeting with a friend who happened to be coming through Osaka and I decided that I didn't want to cut my night short as this was a rare opportunity to see my friend. After I stayed past the last train, a Japanese friend who was also with us suggested that we spend the night at an internet cafe.
My Japanese friend took me to one such cafe that he frequents. We arrived at around 1am. While the cafe isn't explicitly made for sleeping, it's open 24 hours a day, and at night you can get a special deal, 6 hours in a long cubicle with a padded floor for $17.50. The cubicles are a foot or so off the ground and you take your shoes off before entering. If you stand up you can see over into the cubicle next to you which is rather strange, but in general the atmosphere is very peaceful.

Each floor had a wide selection of manga and magazines to read and had free-to-use soda, coffee, and slushie machines. I made sure to take advantage of this opportunity as this was the only slushie machine I have seen in Japan.

Each cubicle comes with a computer and a second monitor that acts as a television. Both the computer and the TV are filled with porn services. Though I wanted to read some manga and try out a lot of the free drinks, I was actually quite tired and decided to get to bed around 2. The booth was clearly designed to fit an average sized Japanese person. I found that by positioning myself diagonally in the boot I was just barely able to rest comfortably.
Overall I probably didn't get my money's worth, but it was interesting staying the night in Osaka. I'm not sure if I intend to do it again, but it was an experience.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tradition around every corner

Walking through older neighborhoods I often find that just about every building has a traditional Japanese tiled roof. Even this simple shed has such a roof complete with numerous decorative elements also seen on the elaborate shrines that dot these neighborhoods. Despite their complexity, sheds and other small buildings like this are extremely common in Japan. While people are likely interested in preserving such excellent examples of traditionally architecture, many have fallen into states of disrepair as there are simply too many to reasonably maintain.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


A large portion of the deliveries in Japan are done via scooter and while many objects can safely jolted around by the bumps in the road, for more delicate deliveries, an apparatus like this is used. The item is hung from the spring mechanism on top and as the scooter goes down the road, the item is gently kept steady by the springs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Apparently not so uncommon

Though I had previously only seen one Chrysler in all my time in Japan, it turns out there is a dealership right in my town. I decided to walk through the automotive district where most of the dealerships are and I stumbled across this one that sells several American brands. If not for the Japanese writing sprinkled around the complex I could have imagined this was just another dealership in the US. It was especially interesting seeing many ostensibly American cars with right-hand drive.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hot and Cold

Often Japanese coffee drinks are offered hot or cold. Most convenience stores have a section for each, usually with more variety in the cold section. Today I saw for first time, hot and cold drinks offered in the same case. At first I couldn't believe this would work, but sure enough, the cans on the top were warm and the cans on the bottom were cold. I can't imagine this is very efficient or even necessary considering this store had other cold drink spaces, but it certainly is interesting.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ramune in a Can

Fans of Japanese culture in the US are often interested in Ramune, a curiously flavored soft drink known for it's unique bottle design. The drink and it's bottle design were created by an English man for the Japanese market in 1884. The name is actually a Japanization of the word "lemonade." While I've seen some Ramune in the traditional glass bottle, most often I see it in cans featuring a picture of the bottle. In the US, Ramune is all about the novelty, but in Japan I would imagine many people just like the taste and don't want to bother with glass bottles. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

There is crime in Japan

It's mostly in the form of umbrella theft. I've left much more valuable things sitting out in the open and they have never once been stolen, but I've had 5 umbrellas stolen since I got here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Bread in Japan is interesting for a number of reasons:
Bread almost always comes in cubes with the number of slices being determined by how the bread is divided. The brand of bread pictured above comes in 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 slice varieties and they all come from the same sized loaf. I have yet to encounter a long loaf of bread like the ones typically seen in the US.
Loaves of bread rarely come with the butts included. Loaves that do are usually considered specialty breads.
Several brands offer bread where the crust exists, but is not darker than the rest of the bread. The bread pictured above is an example.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

'65 Impala

Walking home from school the other day I happened to see a car that's very near and dear to me. My first cars was a blue 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air. The Impala and the Bel Air were really just different trim levels of the same car. I hadn't seen another Bel Air since I sold mine several years ago and I definitely didn't expect to see one in Japan.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bagging Station

Something that I practically see every day, but didn't think to write a post about  until now are the bagging stations at all of the grocery stores I've visited in Japan. While bagging your own groceries is not something unique to Japan, the way it's done here is slightly different and consistent between store chains.
Grocery stores rarely have carts so you typically use baskets. When the cashier rings up your items, they get transferred from your basket to an empty basket. Your basket will then be used for the next customer. The cashier then estimates how many bags you will need and places that number in your new basket. Once you have completed your transaction you take your basket to the bagging station. The bags can be very difficult to open so the stations have sponges attached to hand pumps that moisten the sponge when pressed down. Using this, you wet your fingers slightly to make opening the bags much easier. When I first saw the sponge machines when I arrived in Japan I was extremely confused, but now I use them without the slightest thought.
I've grown accustomed to many little things like this so it will be interesting to see what it feels like to return to America.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Through some connections I've made in downtown Osaka I was invited to attend one of the only independent game conventions in Japan: BitSummit in Kyoto. I was attending as a visitor, but I suppose if I had my act together I could have reserved a slot to promote my game. It was cool to see that a scene like this even exists in Japan.

Small developers who could enter for free received a small table to promote their game while larger sponsors received large amounts of space along the walls of the room. The atmosphere was rather casual and the developers were very friendly though they weren't too pushy about getting you to try their game. Having presented creative work to large groups of people before I know that even someone simply ignoring your booth can feel like a personal rejection. I made a point of letting the developers know when I really thought their game was interesting.

It was about a 50/50 split between Japanese and foreign developers. Probably the most interesting pieces came from the Japanese developers. There is a trend right now in the Japanese game industry where senior employees quit their jobs at large companies (something typically unheard of in Japan) and starting their own projects. Most notably, the creator of the Megaman series, Kenji Inafune, has left Capcom to produce his own games at his new studio Comcept. Though I can't be sure, I would imagine that the creator of the game pictured above, an older Japanese man, is likely an ex-employee of one of the big Japanese studios of the past. He was promoting a brand new game for the NES. I'm now sure how he obtains the cartridges, but he has taken the current cute anime style and applied it to the very graphically limited NES platform making for an interesting visual effect. This is an excellent example of Japanese dedication and I suppose of the Japanese resistance to change.

One wall of the building was occupied by a stage that hosted several speakers from the industry. The final speaker was the man behind the music for PaRappa the Rapper. 

I had a lot of fun at the convention and saw a lot of cool games I would have probably never heard about otherwise. This has also reinvigorated my interest in my own game. I have always enjoyed creative pursuits and it looks like making games may be the perfect fit for me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Everything you need!

Looking through the produce section I found this adorable vegetable set. It comes with all the vegetables you need to make 1 serving of シチュー(stew). It was $1.50, so I bought it for the novelty. It is common for Japanese people to buy just the ingredients for that evening's meal so for a single person, something like this is perfect.