Japan 2017 – Day 14 – March 31

We were sad to leave Kyoto. So much to see and do there and lots more restaurants to check out! It was raining and chilly so we left our luggage at the hotel to do one last touristy thing before we headed for Okayama.
We visited Sanju Sangendo, a huge Buddhist Temple that houses 1001 statues made of Japanese Cypress and clad in gold leaf. I think it’s the longest temple in Japan but don’t quote me on that. Another of it’s claims to fame is the archery contest that has been held here every year since the Edo period. Pretty impressive.

We snagged our luggage from the hotel and dragged it all off to catch a train to Okayama. Squi made the mistake, again, of going to sleep, so our tradition of stacking stuff on his forehead while he naps, continues.

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A los angeles headshot photographer Michael Helms

Poor Squi fell asleep while we were checking in

At the hotel in Okayama we got picked up by the President of the Muromachi Sake Company, Mitsuru Hanafusa and his son, Masataka  . Kaz is almost like family to the owners, so we got the royal treatment. First thing on the list was to tour the Muromachi Sake factory, which of course, includes sampling just about everything!

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Muromachi Shuzo continues to win awards all around the world.

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More sampling!!!

The Japanese government gave Muromachi a grant to come up with different kinds of sake, so we sampled Tomato, White Peach, Golden Peach, Red Pepper, Plum, Grape, Ginger, and Yuzu sake! All crazy good but the White Peach was my favorite.

So, of course, what better endeavor to embark on than to take a family portrait of your host after drinking about 87 gallons of sake!? This was an evening I was happy to have an autofocus camera. The last time I tried to pull this trick off in Japan, I tripped over my tripod and crashed my camera through my hosts’ brand new shoji screen! Somehow I pulled it off this time without embarrassing myself too much. It was, of course, tricky to put the camera on a timer, push the button, then stagger over to get in the photo with them!

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They then took us to dinner which was nothing short of spectacular…course after course of crazy wonderful Japanese cuisine and beer and more sake!

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A los angeles headshot photographer Michael HelmsWe slept well that night and because there are not preservatives in the sake – no hang over!!

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Japan 2017 – Day 9 – March 26

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Asakusa Senso Temple

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Rainy Day in Harajuku

One of the things about being in Tokyo, is getting used to spending a lot of time on trains. The thing about the subway system in Tokyo is that it is incredibly efficient. The trains are always on time and you can pretty much get anywhere in this huge city…that’s the good news. The bad news is most of the maps and legends are written in Japanese with occasional English. There are FOUR levels of subway underground and to get from point A to point B, you may have to go down to level 1, take a train for a couple stops, get off, go down to level 4 and take another train for 10 stops, then go back up to level 2 and take another train for 5 stops, then go down to level 3 and take a final train to your destination THEN try to find your way out. Each stop means you have to find the next train and when you come into an intersection, there may be 6 ways you can go….all of this underground.  Not to mention there are entire shopping malls, sometimes 6-8 floors worth, all underground.

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Kaz’s Favorite cookie Ginbisu Animal cookies!

So Kaz went to see her Dad and took Squi along to hang out with Grandpa while Carol, Russell, and I explored. Our first goal was Harajuku. Part of being in Tokyo is just being OK with getting lost in the subway but after a relatively small amount of wandering, we made our way to Harajuku. Known for all things “Kawai” (cute), Harajuku is home to “Harajuku Girls” who dress up like dolls with a LOT of makeup and frilly dresses. Many of them are anime inspired costumes and are quite ornate.
Harajuku is pretty much one long street that is super crowded even on a rainy day like it was when we were there. Lots of touristy shops and places to eat and people watch. I have to say, one of the things I enjoy most in Japan is just sitting and people watching…but I can do that pretty much anywhere I go.
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After her visit with her Dad, Kaz took Squi to Sanrio Land – home of “Hello Kitty” (which, by the way, did you know, is NOT a cat!?) Squi lost his mind there. It’s a HUGE facility with rides and entertainment for days. Even the cheeseburgers are “Hello Kitty”.

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Squi’s grandparents

 

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Hello kitty cheeseburger. Kaz said everything was PINK at the Puroland!

IMG_6478We all met up again in Shinjuku and got more of our shopping, exploring, and sightseeing mojo going.
The top two floors of Shinjuku Station are a food court. Maybe because of the rain, but the restaurants were packed and we ended up waiting a while to have some really delicious Thai food!
We wandered around a bit more then headed back underground to catch a couple of trains back to our rooms.
It was a long day with LOTS of walking so we were glad to sit on the train for a bit, then have a beer, relax, and have a little toast to my birthday.Los Angeles Photographer Actors Headshot  IMG_6454

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Japan 2017 – Day 7 – March 24

Although it was two days before, we  continue to celebrate my birthday. We had a crazy wonderful breakfast including tamago (egg) and lobster miso soup! There was also fish, rice, and different kinds of pickles – NOT your typical American food but sooo delicious.

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We headed out from our ryokan (old style hotel) in Yugawara to catch a bus to Hakone. I wanted to visit this teeny town because of the astonishing woodwork they do there. You can read about it and check out a cool video here:

The bus ride to get to Hakone took us up and over the local mountains and as we crossed over the top, it began to snow! I wish I had been able to get out and take some photos because it was stunningly beautiful. Hakone is a tiny little town located on the shores of Lake Asahi. The lake is tucked into the Southeast corner of a huge volcanic caldera and on a clear day you can see Mt Fuji. Although we didn’t have time to go there, Hakone Shrine is also located on the lake and is indicated by a beautiful large red Tori Gate.
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In Hakone we visited the wood working shops and all the tourist spots where you can buy lovely gifts that are unique to this area.
We boarded a large “ship” and toured around the lake and enjoyed being able to sit down for a little while and get out of the cold, the wind, and the snow.

There is a cable car called the “Ropeway”, that goes to the top of the mountain. It is sporadically open because the volcano frequently belches out poisonous fumes that stop the cable car operations. When we got there, it was closed. We were buying gifts in a local shot when all of a sudden they announced the Ropeway was open! We dashed to the station and hopped on and rode to the top of the mountain to where the volcano was still spewing out sulfur clouds. There are hot springs all over this area and one tradition is to put eggs in the sulfurous springs to hard boil them. This process turns the egg shells black and eating one is supposed to add 7 years to your life! So I had about a dozen.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer Michael HelmsIMG_6337

A slight bit of the snow had begun to stick to the ground so I showed Squi how to make a snowball! He, unfortunately, picked Mommy as his first target. She was lucky he didn’t have gloves, so after three snowballs he was done making them. Los Angeles Photographer Actors headshot

From the top of the mountain, we took a bus down to Sounzan and and from there a small train to Gora. We were having a nice lunch in Gora and waiting to board yet another train, when I realized I had left my cell phone on the bus! In any other country, kiss it goodbye, but in Japan it is a matter of just going back to get it. No one steals in this country and everyone makes their best effort to get whatever you lost, back to you. We were running out of time, but managed to dash back up the mountain and retrieve my phone.
Back down the mountain we boarded a quaint old train and rode slowly to Odawara, then back “home” to Yugawara station. From there a short taxi ride back to our ryokan Kamata.

We were fairly tired from being out in the cold, wind, and snow but it was all so fun, except for losing my phone, and we came back with gifts for friends and great memories.

That evening, after yet another fabulous meal, Squi helped me blow out the one candle on my surprise birthday cake.
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A nice way to end a day and relax in comfort.
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Japan 2017 – Day 5 – March 22

Another full day in Japan. It was the day John Jack (by now, better known as “Jesus Jack”) had to head back to Los Angeles. We sooo enjoyed his company that we hated to see him leave. We have a tradition when we are in Japan that we go to Dennys for breakfast. Yep – I said “Dennys”. It’s a funny aberration of what we have here but is none the less a Dennys – logo and all. There are lots of things you can get at Dennys in Japan that just aren’t available at the Dennys here, so it makes it an adventure. Salmon and rice with natto (fermented soybeans – yum) is on the menu and quite delicious in my opinion. Google “natty” – it’ll bring a smile to your face.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer los angeles photographer
The Japanese never seem to offer decaf coffee in their restaurants, so those of us who drink it end up having to drink the regular “high test” and get a caffeine rush to start the day. So after breakfast, I was ready to run a marathon but it was time to take Jesus Jack to the hotel so he could hop a bus to Haneda airport.
We were about a week early for the cherry blossoms but we found one tree that was blooming and did a selfie with JJ in front of it for a good memory.  We got JJ on the bus at the Shinjuku Hilton and Squi did his now famous “Goodbye Dance” that he had invented especially for this trip. As bad as we felt seeing our dear friend leave, I think JJ felt even worse knowing there are so many adventures to be had in Japan and he didn’t have enough time to explore. Next time, JJ.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer One of the top things on our “To Do” list in Japan was to take Squi to the Doraemon Museum. Doraemon is a Japanese animated figure that has been around a long time. It was Kaz’s favorite character when she was a kid and now it is one of Squi’s favorites. The museum, I am sorry to say, was a HUGE disappointment. It WAS more of a historical museum than a place for children. Oddly there were large fiberglass castings of the characters in the Doraemon cartoons but they had signs on them not to touch them or climb on them. Some were available to touch and take photos with but most of them were off limits. It was like having kids in a candy shop and not letting them have most of it. While I did enjoy reading about the history of it, it was disappointing from the standpoint of a good time for Squi. He got bored and was wanting to touch all the “untouchable” so we cut our visit down a bit.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer Los Angeles Headshot Photographer Michael Helms Los Angeles Headshot Photographer

We jumped train and headed to Yokohama to nose around and visit, of all places, Chinatown. So weird to me to go to Japan and visit Chinatown but it was interesting and fun. We had some good food and walked our legs off. The ship “Nippon Meru” is in a dock there and is a beautiful old vessel. It was built in 1930 in Kobe and was a training vessel for the Japanese Merchant Marine. I’m not sure if it is the original ship or a replica but it is a lovely old thing if you are into ships.

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Our dear friend, Tamara, is into anything “Panda”, so we sent her a text message with a photo of a shop in Chinatown that is COMPLETELY dedicated to all things Panda! I’m sure she will have to buy a ticket to Japan just to shop in that store. I’m sure she would go crazy buying panda stuff and have to buy another suitcase for her trip home.

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We were exhausted again from a full day of walking, shopping, eating, and riding trains so we headed back to our room and had a nightcap of sake and beer. Nice way to end another terrific day in this gracious wonderful country.

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Japan 2017 – Day 4 – March 21

Day 4 was a long one for poor Squi. Kaz and John Jack were teaching and in meetings a lot of the day and into the evening. Some of the time I was able to take him out and walk around and try not to get lost. We came up with a game where we would walk and every block or so I would take a photo of where we came from so we could find our way back. Much better than bread crumbs. I still am not sure how to do it in a way that shows me where to turn left or right unless I make notes. I’m working on it.
Squi enjoyed this game and wanted to play it everywhere we went in Japan but it doesn’t work so well on a bullet train!

It was mostly a day of sitting and trying to behave while Kaz and John Jack lectured but since Squi is only 4 and I have such a juvenile sense of humor, we are dangerous to have around for any length of time.

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Squi got so bored he fell asleep, which is not a good thing to do around us. We have a tradition of, when he goes to sleep in a public place, we stack things on his forehead and take a photo. We have tons of photos of the poor little guy passed out with various things stacked up. I’m not sure what these things are – maybe mochi or rice cakes or some kind of cookie. The stack fell over twice and hit him in the face before we got it to stand but he never woke up.

Los Angeles headshot photographer Michael Helms in Japan

Kaz and John Jack spoke to some students at Digital Hollywood and it went so well, they were invited back to have a meeting with the head honcho for future projects. I think it will be a great connection and students from there are going to come take some cases at the Stella Adler Acting Academy here in Hollywood. John Jack is quite the statesman. Stella Adler couldn’t ask for a better PR person than him, especially if Kaz is along also…quite the team. Although I will say, John Jack in his tireless ambition is happy to hang out and answer all the myriad questions that actors throw at him. Being from the South, he answers in a way I would call “thorough”. Sometimes this thoroughness goes on for a while, at which point some of us who shall remain unnamed would remark,”Jesus Jack!”. After a few days of teaching and meetings, he became known as “Jesus Jack” and now owns a special pair of chopsticks with his new name on them. Well earned, my dear friend!

The best tour advice always comes from the cab driver.   So after the workshop, we hopped on to a cab, and asked him “Take us to the best steakhouse that is open this late!”

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Back at our Air BnB, we chatted more about future plans and went to bed happy and full of amazing Japanese food and sake!

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Japan 2017 – Day 3 March 20

Today we got up early due to the time difference, even though we are NOT morning people. By 8:30AM, Kaz, Rick, and John Jack had gone off to teach acting class.Actors Headshot Los Angeles Photographer

After poking about and having morning coffee, checking email, and reading a bit of the ever depressing news from the States, our friend, Seri came by and we nosed about Shinjuku a bit before going to hang out with Kaz and gang.

There were a few actors who had signed up to get head shots done, so I was busy doing that while Kaz translated. We were in a hallway of a building and I was checking out the light there but had decided against shooting there. As we were leaving the area, I looked down and there on the floor was a very special necklace that I had given Kaz years ago. Somehow it had simply fallen off and I found it. Weird.

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After a LONG day of waiting for the teachers to stop chatting with actors, we headed off to the “Robot Restaurant”. It’s a huge production with robots “fighting” dragons, and other robots, and dancing ninjas, and crazy mad costumes of all sorts. It was a formidable costume and light show with lots of loud music. First of all, allow me to clarify…it is NOT a restaurant in any way, shape, or form. It is an amazing, wonderful, colorful, fantastic show….if you are 8-10 years old. Otherwise you will feel completely ripped off. Maybe we’re jaded because we are from LA LA Land, but it takes more that costumes, lasers, and jumping around for me to be drawn in.

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We got a kick out of that and wound our way out of Robot hell to try and find a bar. Dan, Rick’s brother, mentioned there was a fairly famous bar nearby. It’s the Albatros Bar and was visited and recommended by Anthony Bourdain when he was in Tokyo.

When we got there we were informed there wasn’t much room left except a bit in the upstairs loft overlooking a small part of the city. That was great for us, so we headed up the stairs.   The group of Californias asked us “Did you take JAL from LA on Friday?   We were sitting in front of you guys.”   We found out they were at the same show at the Robot Restaurant.  AND one of them were living in SF – where Dan works, and his cousin lives in Little Tokyo in LA.    What are the odds, eh? In all of Tokyo, we ran into them 3 times.

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We had a good laugh, tried to join them for drinks but there wasn’t enough room where they were or where we were the next floor up….so who knows, maybe we’ll run into them again in LA.

When in Tokyo, it’s hard to keep track of time because everything is lit and even at 2 or 3AM people will be scurrying about the city, so at some point we made it back to our house just a little worse for wear.

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Japan Trip 2017 – Day 2 – March 19

Things always start out innocently enough in Japan, maybe even with honorable intentions. But inevitably, there comes food. Small portions, so you think,”Oh isn’t that cute and pretty and delicious!” And then there comes some more food, and more food, and more food, and beer….LOTS of beer…and Sake….LOTS of sake.

You have lots of moments in Japan where, toward the end of the evening as you are staggering home, you are unable to cipher how you got from “innocent tiny food” to full, happy, and barely able to walk. The good news is, the dreaded hangover never comes. I think it may have to do with the lack of preservatives in the booze there, but whatever the magic is, I’m glad for it because there were a LOT of evenings that I went back to our room wobbly and smiling. Since the day we met, I have never attempted to keep up with my lovely wife. Kaz must have a super liver – or maybe doesn’t have one at all – but she is
a force and unerringly led the “fool brigade” back to wherever we had come from. At that point none of us knew in all of Japan where that might be.

The day started with Kaz and Rick teaching an acting class from 9Am- 2PM. John Jack, Squi, and I hung out at the BnB, went for a walk, and waited for Rick’s brother, Dan, to join the gang.
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We were joined by Kaz’s long time friend, Seri, who brought Squi some adorable cookies.

Many things are just SO “Kawai” (cute) in Japan. Cookies, information signs, bathroom logos, and even the street construction barriers are often some sort of adorable little bear or bunny. It’s odd to see a well dressed suited business man on a subway with a cute little charm hanging off his phone. But Japan is that way….Kawai is everywhere.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer IMG_6034

When we all reunited at the house, it was off to the subway to Izakaya to meet up with Kaz’s brother who had invited ALL of us to dinner. THAT’S when it started. Kaz brother ordered food…cute food….awwww…I can eat that. The more food, and beer – LOTS of beer, and Sake….LOTS of sake.
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Here’s John Jack pointing and saying,”Drink THAT!? ALL of THAT!? OK!”

Here’s John Jack a bit later when Squi found some spooky eyeball stickers. Yea – that’s NOT Kawai.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer

There was a family sitting nearby to whom we apologized in advance, during, and after our meal. In typical Japanese fashion, they joined in and people we’d never met before laughed and took photos with us as if we were long lost relatives.

There was singing…a LOT of singing. And there was bonding over some group named “Bauhaus” and bowing and scraping when the name Peter Murphy was mentioned. John Jack, Rick, Dan, and Kaz’s bother became united allies in the name of post punk rock.IMG_0518

Guess I’m too old….never heard of the dude…but I don’t care, I’ll drink to him.

Squi and their children bonded over the absurdity and silliness of adults. IMG_0507

 

And of course, the requisite selfie was taken by our waiter.   Kaz’s brother, Takeshi, picked up the entire tab and we will be forever grateful.IMG_0511

Pretty sure we all slept well that night.IMG_0492

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Instagram!

Here’s Link to my instagram page:

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