Japan 2017 – Day 15 – April 1

The next day Mitsuru and Masataka picked us up again and took us to see a magnificent piece of engineering – a bridge in Sakaide. One strand of the cables that support the bridge could encircle the Earth 4 times! We were able to go up to a lookout point on a local hill and get a photo of the bridge.

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The Hanafusa Family is our 2nd family! Thank you so much for taking good care of us always.

From there, they took us to Kurahiki, which is a adorable town with a river running through the middle of it. On each side of the river are shops and if you feel compelled, there is a gondola in the river you can ride. Actors Headshot Photographer It was interesting to me that the river going through the middle of town had no barriers along it’s edge and it’s about a 6 foot drop to the water. I wondered how many people had accidentally fallen in and also how different the Japanese culture is. In the USA, there would be barriers and people would STILL fall in and the sue the city. That doesn’t happen in Japan. I guess they have a concept of personal responsibility…what a great idea! We shopped and checked out yet another temple that was really lovely. Squi and Mitsuru enjoyed the koi ponds while we wandered the grounds.

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When Mitsuru dropped us off at our hotel, he presented us with a bunch of sake that I was told I had ordered the evening before. Well, in spite of not remembering much about that – I’m glad I did….it’s delicious. There is a Muscat sake that takes 3 bunches of grapes to make ONE bottle…it’s astonishingly delicious!

That evening we “white trashed it”. We went to a HUGE mall, Aeon, and we ate at a food court!
We discussed all the food we had eaten in Japan and decided the best was in Okayama. But to quote Carol,”I wanna just eat my way through Japan!”
Next time!

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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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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 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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Japan 2017 – Day 1 – March 18

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Boarding a plane bound for Japan is an exercise in mixed feelings. We’re SO HAPPY to be going but dreading being trapped in an aluminum tube at 37 thousand feet for 12 hours.
I’m jealous of those who can sleep on planes…I can’t. So, I have found the best way for me to pass time is to catch up on all the movies I haven’t seen. “LA LA LAND” was first on my list. What a horrid film…slow paced, predictable, schmaltzy, and I’m sorry but Emma and Ryan are neither singers or dancers. Watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire…listen to Julie Andrews or Judy Garland sing.
On the other hand, I LOVED “Moonlight” and feel it deserved to win. Well shot, directed, acted, and a wonderful story that walked a tough line concerning a sensitive and current topic. Sadly, the people who SHOULD see it, probably won’t.
I saw “Doctor Strange” – liked it a lot and recommend it. I’d watch Benedict Cumberbatch read a phone book.

We arrived at Narita Airport and on our way to pick up our baggage, Squi was running through the airport, tripped, fell, smacked his face on the floor and got a black eye. Great….we hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come.

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We got to AirBnB rented house in Shinjuku around 3 in the afternoon and Kaz had to leave soon after to go teach an acting class. Squi and I decided to have a treasure hunt, so we went out on our own and wondered around. The “treasure hunt” consisted of taking photos as we went so we could find our way back home. I think it worked better than bread crumbs. But ultimately we were too tired to walk very far, so we found our way back home, put our feet up, and watched Sumo Wrestling!
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John Jack, the head honcho at The Stella Adler Acting Academy arrived that evening.
So when Kaz got back, we started our first food search.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
We knew of a teeny hole in the wall restaurant in an alley in Shinjuku called Shinagawa Tei. The restaurant has room for about 8-10 guests and is owned and operated by a little old lady and her son. It’s a VERY popular local eatery and is practically impossible to get reservations but the last time we were there we just walked in at the right time and got seats! So we thought we’d go by and just say hello. As fate would have it, we got there just as they were opening and we got to eat there again!!! When we walked in the little old lady looked at Kaz and said, “OH….Matamura-san!!” We were stunned that she remembered us but so happy to get to have more of their wonderful food.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer

We love Japan and I’m pretty sure living there part time will be in our future. Also – MANY of these blogs will mention food! Food you can’t get in the US, food that you can get in the US but is WAAAYYY better over there, and food served in a way (both in terms of service and presentation) that you can’t find here in the US.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer Los Angeles Headshot Photographer

After our meal, we wondered around a bit in Shinjuku before we met up with Rick, an instructor  from Stella Adler, who was also coming in to join the teaching forces.
We’d been up for a LONG time, so after a snack and too many Asahi beers, we crashed  at our house, happy, full, and excited about the days to come!

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Photography Workshop – Weekend intensive – July 2016

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RESERVE YOUR SPOT – EventBrite   STUDIO vs. NATURAL LIGHT SPECIAL WEEKEND SEMINAR: Saturday 10 AM to 4 PM Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM $375.00 – Two Day Intensive Saturday – Arts of Photography Basic of Photography – Natural Light vs. Studio Light How to work with Lighting equipments Glamour – Old Hollywood Look […]

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This year’s Labor Day weekend ….

Nope.  I didn’t got to the Burning Man.

I had four days off !   I laid one more row of cement block on my front retaining wall (125 feet long!) then stucco on the whole thing, then brick cap on top.
Too old for this shit!

I love doing projects like this.

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