Japan 2017 – Day 16 – April 2 (B’bye!)

We checked out at 7:30 am in order to catch our train. It was chilly and wet and our mood was a bit somber because it was our last day in Japan.

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In the station we bought our last bento box and took a bullet train to Shinagawa (Tokyo) then the Narita Express to the airport. We had reserved our seats on the train so we were in the “Green Car”. We overheard some idiot Americans complaining about there not being seats available when the truth was, they hadn’t reserved any. They were politely (and I mean VERY politely – almost apologetically – as is customary in Japan) to go to another car that was not reserved seating. Whenever I travel, I am often embarrassed by Americans. The entitlement, rudeness, and lack of respect for other cultures is such a shame.

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I LOVE THESE BLUE ROOFS!

I LOVE how clean Japan is. We traveled many many miles and I never saw as much as a tissue on the railroad tracks.
And while I am at it, the Japanese have a lot of tile roof houses. My favorite are these beautiful blue, almost iridescent, tiles. I want one!

Carol and Russell were on a different plane for the trip back, so we said our goodbyes and waved as they hauled luggage, some of it ours that we had dumped on them – thank you Carol and Russell.

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At the Narita airport we made our final purchase…Royce Chocolate. There are some things the Japanese do better than anyone else. Sushi (obviously), sake (Obviously), beef (Matsusaka not Kobe), and chocolate. If you ever have Royce Chocolate, it will make the best chocolate you have ever had, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 6 or 7. If you ever have it, you will immediately go out and buy a ticket to Japan so you can go get some more.

In the Narita Airport we had our last meal in Japan.
Squi, with his eternally positive nature, had Cherry Blossom Cake!
Kaz had Japanese meatloaf and tempura shrimp.

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I am embarrassed to say, I had a McDonald’s Cheeseburger. I think it was a “I’m unhappy to be leaving, guess I’ll go eat worms and pout” kind of thing.
Kaz just rolled her eyes and told our son, “You can’t take the white trash out of your Daddo!”
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We were lucky and caught a great tailwind, so the flight only took 8 1/2 hours instead of the usual 10. We arrived at LAX and although it felt good to be home, we dreaded coming back to a society that doesn’t have a lot of the things we enjoyed so much in Japan…cleanliness, politeness, and the best food in the world.

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Japan 2017 – Day 11 – March 28

From Tokyo to Kyoto is about 320 miles, which translates to about 2 hours and a half bullet train ride. It’s a beautiful ride with, on a clear day, a lovely view of Mt. Fuji. While it was a wonderful ride, it was too cloudy and overcast to see Fuji.
While Squi took a nap, Carol, Russell, and I went to see the Fushimi Inari Gate.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fushimi_Inari-taisha
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There are supposedly 1000 tori gates here and as much as we’d love to ascribe deep spiritual meaning to them, the truth is they were donated by business men. Of course, there IS a bit of spiritual overtone to all tori gates but “spirituality” in Japan is much more secular than the implications in Western culture.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torii

One very famous temple in Kyoto is Toji Temple. The 5 story (about 150 feet tall) wooden pagoda is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. How a structure like this can be built and continue to stand for HUNDREDS of years in such an earthquake prone country is mystifying.

Settling into our hotel rooms in Kyoto and having another great meal was perfect after a day of sightseeing and LOTS of walking.

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More info on temple meal!

But let me just say a little bit about Japanese toilets. They are…uh…interesting. While I like the nice warm heated seats, from there on, the choices are baffling.

Los Angeles Photographer Actors HeadshotThe bidet…where it points, how strong, what temperature, what the spray looks like, etc etc…baffling. I dreaded going in to poop and having my toilet “crash” and having to reboot it! And of course, all the instructions are written in Japanese, so suffice to to say I got several surprises while in Japanese bathrooms.
Which brings me to one other thing. The Japanese do MOST things better than we do here in the States but one area where they fall behind is paper products. Napkins, paper towels, Kleenex, and the all important toilet paper. IF you get a napkin in a restaurant, it’s usually very thin and fragile as are the kleenex and TP. So I often bought extra thick kleenex to keep with me at all times for various purposes.
One last note to all who are considering a trip to Japan…there are very few public trash cans. You are expected to take your trash with you and dispose of it back at your hotel or home. It makes for a VERY clean society. I’ve looked out the window of many trains there and for miles and miles never seen as much as a kleenex or discarded paper on the railroad tracks! I admire that!

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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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Photography Workshop – Saturday, January 26, 2013

Los Angeles actors headshot photography workshop by michael helms

For one day only – Sign Up today – CLICK HERE

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

 

1) What are the hours of the workshop?

The hours of the workshop will be 9:00 A.M Till Sunset Saturday January 26, 2013 

2) What kind of photography experience should I have before attending?

Intermediate level photographers with a basic understanding of Adobe Lightroom and brief knowledge of Adobe Photoshop

3) What equipment do i need for the workshop?

A digital SLR, wide to medium focal range lenses, shoe mount flash unit i.e Nikon SB-24-Sb-900 or Canon 580ex speedlight, laptop (preferable) with Adobe Lightroom installed, and a willingness to change the way you shoot forever.

4) What clothing should i wear?

Casual

5) Who will benefit most from this workshop?

Persons interested in improving their off camera lighting, composition, and post production skills for Wedding and Portrait Photography

6) How much does the workshop cost?

The Workshop is 475.00 U.S.D, a 150.00 non-refundable deposit will be collected at the time of reserving your spot. The day of the Workshop the rest will be due the morning of.

 7) Where is the Workshop being held?

Michael Helms Photography Studio 10349 Siesta Drive  Shadow Hills, CA 91040

8) How many persons will be attending the Workshop?

We are taking up to 20 students

9) What is planned in the Workshop curriculum?

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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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