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.

Los Angeles headshot photographer Michael Helms in Japan

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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 2017 – Day 1 – March 18

Journey to Japan – Day 1

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.Michael Helms Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
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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Japan Trip – Glass Making

A day after the funeral, we decided to do something creative to cheer us up.
My GF’s friend, Seri, set up the glass making class for me.

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Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer My cheek hurt … it’s hard to get the bubble going, but once you do, then it gets easier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLICK HERE for Michael Helms – Glass Making Video
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I decided to make a bowl. I chose a kind of teal color with a red rim. Here we are shaping it a bit before blowing again to enlarge it.

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Here I’m expanding the opening in the bubble to create a bowl. It takes a little pressure at first and getting the bowl perfectly round is tricky.

 

 

 

Still expanding the bubble to form the bowl while the glass is red hot. Then I changed the angle of the tongs to flare the top of the bowl a bit.

 

In these last two photos, you can see the finished bowl. It has a bubble in the glass, a flaw but some glass blowers think of it as character and leave them in. I like the “flaw”.

Also…my bowl isn’t perfectly symmetrical, but

again, I like it. Gives it character.

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Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer

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Repost – Japan Trip 2011 – 11/17 & 18 Sendai-Akita-Minamisanriku

Today we are back on the bullet train heading for Akita. Funny thing about bullet trains…they don’t turn around but rather go to a destination the go backwards over the same tracks. As a result of this, all the seats rotate 180 degrees so passengers can always be facing forward. But it’s odd to look for your seat and notice the numbers going up sometimes and down sometimes depending on which way you are headed.
We had a nice breakfast in Sendai. My girlfriend went ahead to our room to pack while I took a few photos. I went to the restroom in the lobby and as I sat there communing with nature and enjoying the wonderfully heated toilet seat, I noticed a narrow  door in front of me. Out of curiosity, I opened it. A mop with gloves fell out of it and scared the crap out of me! Curiosity will be the death of me.  As I left the restroom, I realized I couldn’t remember what room we were in, I didn’t have the key, and I most assuredly didn’t speak Japanese. Fortunately the charming young ladies at the front desk were helpful and spoke enough English to get me on my way.
Michael Helms Los Angeles Actors Headshot PhotographyWe had purchased a JR (Japan Rail) pass for our trip and it has been wonderfully convenient. So much better than buying tickets every time. It has probably saved us over a thousand dollars in all our travels.
On the way to the airport, our cab driver told us that although he and all his family survived the tsunami, his condo was swept away. I would imagine every person in Sendai has some sort of story about that fateful day.
At the station my girlfriend struck up a conversation with a little old lady who was headed to Akita for a reunion with some of her classmates. She was 86! She was so delightful, cheery, and full of life. She declared,” I will die with my legs and brain working!” So adorable. She gave us 3 heart shaped little felt bags with lavender in them that she had made by hand. Their aroma was yummy.
Out the window of the train we are passing through beautiful autumn colors with snow capped mountains that remind me of my boyhood days in Virginia. The difference is, sticking out of the gently rolling, tree covered mountains, is an occasional steep sided, two times taller, snow covered volcanic peak! Japan is a land of fire and ice, for sure.

Again, it is an odd time displacement, that from the last words I wrote til now has been 18 houMichael Helms Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographyrs. We arrived in Akita and had just enough time to catch a cab, throw our stuff in the hotel, and meet our ride to Akita University where my girlfriend and I are guest speakers. We’re addressing a bunch of students there on the topic ” the conditions of success in Hollywood and effective ways of cross cultural communication, image making, and self advertisement.”
One of my girlfriend’s specialities is corporate training in the area of body language, speech patterns, and intercultural communications. I spoke about corporate image making with, of course, the emphasis on photography and corporate style and marketing imagery. We opened it up after our talks for questions, and had so much fun teasing the students. We got a good laugh by calling their “Drama Club”, the “drunk club”. My girlfriend and I are a good speaking team because we banter a lot. The professor in charge, who was a co-founder of the University, told the student body,”Let’s finish this, so they can continue their argument!” Everyone laughed. It was a lovely evening and charming to see all those young faces with so much of life in front of them. It was so apparent they all had hopes and dreams and I wondered how many of them would realize even a tenth of what they hoped. Most of all, I felt so fortunate to have seen and done all the things I have in my life, including standing where I was at that moment.
Akita International University has, in only 8 years, become the number one foreign language (the students are all required to speak English) school in Japan. An amazing accomplishment.
Professor Katsumata treated us to a wonderful dinner afterwards and again, I got buried in sake. The Japanese can drink and I’m such a lightweight. After ONE day sober, here I was staggering back to my hotel room. My lovely girlfriend can easily put me under the table every time even though she’s a teeny thing. For some reason I don’t get a pounding headache from it though, so that’s good.

Another morning… right now we are on yet another bullet train heading back to Sendai and on to Minamisanriku. While I am looking forward to it, I also have grave feelings of dread. It is a city that was 95 percent destroyed by the tsunami. Fifty percent of the population was washed away. How to shoot it and put a positive spin on that sort of subject matter is clearly impossible but I hope to capture something that speaks of hope. What we are heading for , I am sure will be an immensely moving experience so I will carry a box of kleenex. Strange to be riding the train through beautiful countryside, peaceful farmlands, and lovely homes, knowing I am headed for ground zero of one of Japan’s most horrific natural disasters.

Another time displacement…we spent the night here in Minamisanriku at the gorgeous Kanyo Hotel. It’s unbelievably beautiful. The hotel sits up on a cliff about 150 feet above the ocean. The foundation structures go deep into the rock and all the way to the water. The tsunami tore apart some of the foundation and part of the first floor but the hotel held strong and has been almost completely repaired. It reminds me of Monterey, California. I hope what happened here will never occur there.
We had an amazing dinner. It’s so hard to function normally here knowing what the people in this area have experienced. After we checked in and were headed to our room, we noticed an art show in the lobby. Some wonderful paintings by artist Toshie Hashidate. She was there signing autographs, so we stopped to chat. SEVEN of her family members died in the tsunami. I noticed the head shot on her promo wasn’t very good, so I asked if I could take her photo. She was kind and gracious. I set up some lights and shot her standing next to a row of her paintings. She was gracious and grateful for her new photos. As my girlfriend chatted with her, they discovered they were from the same neighborhood in Chiba, near Tokyo. Small world.
On a side note, it’s so refreshing to be able to shoot most anywhere I want. In Los Angeles, I’d have to get a permit, hire security, and sign all sorts of waivers to shoot in a hotel lobby. Here I didn’t even ask and people were happy to see a photo shoot taking place.
Our room is on the 10th floor facing straight into the Pacific. I can’t begin to imagine the horror they must have seen coming across the water. How do you watch 95 percent of your city wash away knowing many of your friends were taken? This was a resort town but now it is a tragic skeleton. The fishermen who still had boats went right back to work. And oddly, they are building more structures right down near the water’s edge. It seems they HAVE to do this in order to ensure the catch of the day is fresh when they cut it up and prepare it for market and this is Salmon season.
The river that flows through what used to be a town is calm these days except for the fact, it is full of spawning salmon. The salmon have no idea what happened, so they have returned full force with less pressure on their numbers since most of the town has been washed away.It’s odd to see lots and lots of dead Salmon (they swim up the river,spawn, and then die) all over the river banks. It seems strangely metaphorical.. sort of a “cycle of life” kinda thing, I guess. I got very emotional watching the salmon struggle through the shallow parts of the river. I’m sure it is because, just being here, brings everything that is human and compassionate so very close to the surface.

Much of Minamsanriku cannot be rebuilt because the whole area subsided and when the tide comes in, it is now underwater. Some places went down 6 feet or more.

More on all of this when I get home. I have no more time free while we are here…
Off to have more sake! F**K sobriety…I’ll dry out when I get home!   :)

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Repost – Japan Trip 2011 – 11/13/2011

Nov 13, 2011, 8:58:37 AM

A Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to HarajukuGot up early for a short meeting…admittedly a bit hung over. The meeting went well and after a couple cups of coffee, I was fully awake and the aspirin had kicked in. My gf, my friend Jim, and I, LITERALLY went to Denny’s for breakfast. Our curiosity was killing us. We HAD to know what Denny’s in Japan might offer. Well….I can tell you this… you can’t find natto in Denny’s USA but you can here. Although I like natto, I had a more traditional fare.
So what better way to spent a morning then to take a nice walk to Harajuku. It’s about 2 miles or so from where I am staying at the Tokyo Hilton. HOWEVER, the way I went , it was about 4 miles. I literally took photos on my way there so I could find my way back. Tokyo isn’t an easy place to navigate. I FINALLY found it and walked around just loving all the people watching. I gotta say, Harajuku girls are hot. They look like little dolls. I looked all over to find a Tshirt that said Harajuku” on it. I thought it might be a good one to auction off here on DA to support the Japan relief efforts. But all I could find was T shirts with “Los Angeles” or “New York” written on them!! Geeeez.
I bought my gf a cute set of pink “Hello Kitty” chopsticks. While it baffles me why a grown woman would be so enamoured of “Hello Kitty” stuff, I have no idea…but whatever. Back at our room, we were having a drink with friends when I gave them to her. Since I can’t read Kanji, I had no idea they were personalized and had name on them that was NOT hers. It would be kinda like buying your wife a coffee mug with “Mabel” written on it when her name was Fran. NOT good. It was made worse by the fact she knew a girl by that name and DID NOT like her. It was compounded by the fact she didn’t like the color. How was I to know that pink EVERYTHING is FABULOUS….EXCEPT for chopsticks. Needless to say, the teasing I had given Jim the day before about not having enough money to pay for his meal, was returned today.
I strolled around and took a few photos but not everyone likes having their photo taken, so I mostly shot places and crowds.
I had to be back at the Hilton by 3:30 for another meeting. I arrived at EXACTLY 3:30 exhausted and sore.
Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes TokyoThen I had another speaking engagement to dash off to, so there was no rest for my weary legs. Jim and I were the guest speakers and the studio where we were to speak was only about a mile away. We got lost…. again.
We had the foresight to rent cell phones for our stay in Japan, so after 3 phone calls we arrived half hour late. Part of Jim’s talk also involved him doing a monologue from “King Lear”. He played Edmond convincingly. Of course, after the applause died down I had to say,”WOW…that was amazing Jim. I had no idea Edmond was gay!” He did a double take, then burst out laughing.
We had a wonderful sushi dinner after the studio stuff was done. We found a lovely little hole in the wall resteraunt with AMAZING food. We ate til we were about to explode and then toasted Sake. Thankfully, we made our way back to the hotel without getting lost.
a Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to TokyoJim retired for the evening but my gf and and I went to Shinjuku Hanazono to an annual festival held at a huge temple there. It was amazing. We had been there last year and remembered it was being held this time of year. I was amazed at the things you could buy there. When I get back to LA, I might post some of the photos. There was a wall of lanterns about 150 feet long and about 40 feel high and priests performing lots of rituals for luck, for family, for friends…and I think pretty much anything you could imagine.
I bought some spices to bring home. Can’t wait to cook with them. We walked up this BIG staircase, tossed some coins in a fountain, rang a bell, and clapped three times. It was charming.
Tomorrow we are off to Osaka. Sake anyone!????

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Repost – Japan Trip 2011 – Day Two – 11/12/11

Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to JapanYesterday was eventful. I spent pretty much all day at a local studio. My gf, who does a lot of management, PR, scheduling, office duties, and a host of other things for my business, worked out a deal with the 3 owners of an art studio not too far from where we are staying at the Shinjuku Hilton.

We arrived at the studio, and the first thing the head dude said to me was he knew me from DA and was a fan. That seemed to me a good way to start but the next words out of his mouth were asking if I’d shoot some nudes of HIM! OK….awkward moment. I assumed the other two guys knew my work also (figured he told them) so I said,”Sure…no problem”.
I spent the entire day shooting the 3 guys and doing wacky images of them and of course, a nude of the leader of the pack. Part of the deal is, I had to shoot photos of their studio for the web. They moved into this new space just two weeks ago and were pretty excited to get the ball rolling on renting and doing their art thing. I was impressed at some of the paintings and sculpture around. There was a five foot long and 4 foot tall walking fish that was equally amusing and creepy.
Another deal that my lovely gf worked out was for me to shoot a few photos in exchange for my tour guide services and translator. So after spending the entire day shooting, I was ready to take a break.
BUT… a dinner was held here at the Hilton in honor of my friend Jim Beaver who is here with us. I mentioned in my last journal, he is one of the lead actors on “Supernatural”. I have never seen the show, so I had no idea of it’s popularity but I’ve been educated by the people mobbing him. Poor guy. He is ever so gracious to his fans.
Again, my gf did the event planning, so the dinner was wonderful. She had scheduled him time at every table, so not one fan was disappointed. Each fan got to ask him a couple of questions, have a photo op (guess who took those photos?), and be generally in the presence of someone they admired. I DO have to say that I never really understand the whole star struck thing though. Guess I’ve been living in LA and rubbing shoulders with enough celebs that I have a clear idea about them being just ordinary people with extraordinary jobs. Jim however, is an extraordinary guy.
He walked around Tokyo yesterday site seeing by himself. But it seems his iPhone GPS signal was bouncing off the buildings so was horribly inaccurate. He got lost. He was a bit frustrated but decided to sit, have a meal, and figure it out. Thing is, he had bought a rather expensive gift for his daughter and didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch! LOL His Japanese is sparse, so he struggled and struggled to try and tell the poor waitress his issue. He finally returned to his iPhone and a translation app, and was able to tell the story. The waitress was fairly upset because she said the owner would be upset at her. It was a tiny lil hole in the wall place (where the best food is always found), and so they didn’t take credit cards. He wandered around FOREVER (his words) to find an ATM, then went back and paid the balance. The waitress was ASTONISHED Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to Japanthat he returned. I’m not… it’s exactly what I would expect of him, and of course, exactly what I would do.
He got lost on his way back to the hotel, but finally made it in time to shower for dinner.
After dinner, I was surprised to find out one of the fans had GIFTED us all with a “nice” visit to the local KARAOKE bar!!!! Can I just state for the record, how much I detest even the IDEA of karaoke?? OMFG. SO…off we go, and I ordered copious amount of Asahi to survive. Self medication was MY approach to surviving karaoke. I could write 27 entire journals about the evils of karaoke, but the Japanese are freaks for it… well, that and panchinko….but that’s another story. So there we sat, Jim, my gf and I, and a bunch of Japanese fans of Supernatural, in a room with a HUGE video screen, two unfortunate microphones, lots of beer for me, and OMFG… (you really can’t make this stuff up)…TAMBORINES!!! I no longer have any fear of hell because I certainly have been there.
Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to JapanAfterwards, the three of us strolled (well, THEY strolled, I staggered)  back to the hotel, through streets of hookers, temples, BAD American fast food (yes – you CAN get a SPAM burger here at the local Burger King), and shop after shop of souvenirs.
How the tour guide/translator, one of our friends, Jim, my gf, and someone I still don’t know, all ended up back in our room drinking, I have no idea….but I fell asleep…content with another madhouse day in Japan.

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Re-post – Japan Trip 2011 – Day One 11/11/11

Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to JapanTime is certainly displaced. We’re not really suffering jet lag but it’s obvious our bodies are weirded out by being here.
My girlfriend and I traveled today to Atsugi, about an hour train ride from Tokyo. We had some business to take care of there. It was a bit frustrating because we couldn’t get everything done we needed to, but the traveling to and from was delightful.
I was amazed, looking out the train window, there was not ONE piece of litter. I think we traveled 20 miles or more before I saw so much as a tissue paper beside the tracks. The Japanese, even in the less affluent areas, are incredibly tidy.
During the morning commute, the subway trains are packed so full there are literally uniformed individuals called “pushers” whose job it is to shove people into the cars as tightly as possible. As the doors slide shut they get very aggressive and carry out their job of sardine commuter packing very seriously… and they do it with smiles and white gloves and a charm that everyone not only tolerates but respects.
Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms goes to Japan with Kaz and Jim BeaverIt seems there is a favored practice here, especially in Tokyo, if one desires to remove himself from the gene pool, to use a swiftly moving subway train as an exit strategy. Flinging oneself in front of said speeding subway is pretty effective and dependable. It’s also an efficacious way of thumbing one’s nose at those left behind because there is a hefty fine levied on the surviving family of the jumper. Today we sat in the subway for an extra 7 minutes so the cleanup crews could gather parts and pieces of some disgruntled soul. I don’t think “cleanup crew” is a job I would ever apply for. I prefer to interact with human beings with all their parts assembled correctly and firmly attached. What amazes me is we were only delayed 7 minutes…these guys clean up fast! In Japan it is disgraceful to be late, so perhaps this manner of suicide has more implications than the obvious.
We continued our journey and it was amusing to see modern architecture blended in among old old temples. We passes mile after mile of packed high rise apartment buildings. It terrifies me to imagine what a lethal virus could do in Tokyo.
We did have a short bit of entertainment from a psychotic dude on the train. Seems a few of his personalities were along for the ride and they decided it was a good time to announce he was gonna take a singing test. He then became his teacher and said a few corrective words, then went back to being “himself” and proceeded to sing for us all. It was short and ceased to be amusing after the third or fourth time through his recital. But it was a way to pass time as we sat waiting for arms and legs to be tossed into plastic bags somewhere down the tracks.
Then there are all these young Japanese girls in school girl outfits. Perhaps it is the better part of discretion not to comment here.. Geeeeeeez
Los Angeles Photographer Michael Helms at Budokan with Jim Beaver Tonight we went to Budo Kan and saw Def Tech. I had no idea what either of those things were but there I was shooting photos of the whole thing. It was loud, young, and Def Tech certainly seemed well received.  Maybe I’m getting old but I’m truly not impressed by electronics. BUT there were some tunes they played that made it obvious there was talent on stage. Guess I’m an old fart… I just LIKE rock and roll.
After the concert we took a long stroll in the rain and went to a little hole in the wall restraint I love here in Tokyo. If you’ve never had shishito peppers….yum…. get some!
I passed on the horse sashimi.
I am here with my girlfriend and my dear friend, Jim Beaver, who is one of the lead cast members of a TV show called “Supernatural”. I’ve know Jim many years and it’s fun to see his career doing so well. He gets recognized a lot here in Japan and he said there was a “small mob” waiting for him when he got off the plane here. How do people find out these things??
Tomorrow night there is a dinner here for him… a bit of PR for the show.
More later… Asahi  in Japan, mmmm….good beer.

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re-Post – Japan Trip 2011 Part 1 – “Off to Japan”

Nov 6, 2011, 11:44:12 PM

Los Angeles Photographer Michael HelmsWell…My girlfriend and I are off to Japan next Wednesday, the 9th. We’re pretty excited. Although we’re gonna be there for more than two weeks, I think we only have two days off. We have speaking engagements teaching engagements, and I have shooting to do. We arrive in Tokyo and then head West to Osaka and Okayama. We’re gonna speak at the Osaka Mode Institute of Beauty. Then to Okayama to visit a Sake brewery that we are trying to help bring their distributorship to the US. I’ll probably shoot some of the corporate dudes there.
Then we’re off to Nagoya to visit another institute and speak. Back to Tokyo for a second then on to Sendai. We’ll stop by our house there and take a few pix and check the harbor we loved so much. Most of it is probably destroyed but I’m gonna shoot a lot there and try to get some record of the recovery efforts taking place. After that, we head North to Akita International University. My girlfriend and I are both speaking there to students about characteristics of successful international entrepreneurs. Her topics will be “body language, image, and cultural norms in corporate structure. My topics will include image making, demographic identification, and marketing – all of course with emphasis on photography. I’ll also be shooting some actress there who is evidently well known in Japan….geeez…I don’t know.
Then we’re heading back down to Sendai and Minamisanriku, which was pretty much earthquake ground zero. 95% of the town was destroyed and 50% of the population is gone. I’m gonna try to focus on the recovery and not the devastation. If you go to Google Earth and type in Minamisanriku, it is a sad sight to see.
From there we head back to Tokyo where I’ll be teaching a head shot workshop. We head home the next day. Somewhere in there we have a day off I think.If you are in Japan, please stalk us!! :) OK….I mean let’s have some SAKE!!!!
Here’s our itenerary:[link]

Maybe I’ll even get lucky and get a shot of a cute Harajuku girl! I’ll be there too!

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