Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bag Get

On Wednesday I went to the city to send off some gifts to the nieces and pick up a few fleeces for my winter trip. I'm not sure what I was thinking but it didn't occur to me until I arrived back home that I still needed to figure out what bag I would be taking with me. My trusty good ole' Jansport has fulfilled its role for many years. I've put up with its less than desirable capacity only because I could make do with it. Sometimes it has been particularly annoying, however, because when its stuffed full it sticks out a lot. It's like I'm a camel with a lump on my back. You try navigating with something like that on a crowded train and see if people still like you afterwards.

I've looked at bags before but haven't been able to bring myself to purchase one. Mainly the price has bothered me. I'm not sure what is a good price for anything these days. Usually if I'm desperate I suck it up and buy as getting new trumps other options in certain situations. That reminds me of last winter and the bag I bought. It was about 20 dollars and with the purchase I signed up for a bag that would inevitably fail. I could feel the inferiority of the bag. That wasn't enough to make me sink 80 or more dollars on a proper backpack. I made it through most of my trip until a few days before back home one of the plastic strap holders snapped from the tension of the heavy bag. I had to tie the strap into a knot and hope it would hold each day. Okay I'll admit it. I'm a bit of cheap skate. Yes, only a little. That bag was never used again and has sat in the depths of the dusty junk closet ever since. This year I had promised myself I would get a better travel backpack and I nearly forgot.

I went back to the city to check all the main used goods stores on Friday. The first 2 or 3 had a few promising leads but were either too expensive or too small. I was thinking it might end up being a wasted trip. I eventually stopped at the same store where I got my awesome used Columbia coat. Low and behold my eyes fell upon a wonderful sight near the other expensive used brand name bags. It's crazy how North Face, Patagonia, and Mont Bell still fetch ridiculous prices at the used stores. I would eat my money before paying for that though. I quickly shuffled the other bags to the side and instinctively reached for the price tag to see if I would be in luck. Well I was surely blessed because the price read 1,200 yen or about 12 bucks! I felt a great choir singing behind me and the terrible Japanese pop music was no longer heard in the store. Then I came to my senses and realized I had stumbled upon the exact bag I was looking for. I wish there had been a choir. I deserved it for my hard work in looking for that bag.

Backpack Upgrade

I questioned the integrity of the bag before I bought it because the brand was completely unknown to me. However, it appeared of better quality than that failure of a bag last year. For 12 dollars I couldn't go wrong. The same could be said of the coat I magically found. Anyway, I did a search when I got home and found that this was a pretty niche brand that some guy in New York made. He had wanted to be the next North Face but the market was hard. Plus, the Japanese factory that signed on to do his orders only fulfilled the ones for Japanese stores and refused to do the other work. The designer ultimately gave up on his outdoor bags and went back to locally made ones. Needless to say the bag is probably of decent quality.

Ziran Bag

It has a huge inner pocket with another inner zip pocket. The capacity is probably double my little Jansport bag. The straps are hefty, has clips for tying down things on the back, and a belt for distributing the weight of the bag. I can't believe how great of a bag I found and on such short notice. This thing is going to be an awesome travel bag. I feel like I robbed the store with this one. My coworkers said I was really good at shopping so I'll just live with that compliment.

Onward to Hokkaido!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Can Almost Taste It

Unfortunately I can't eat the cupcakes I just made. I would love to steal just one and see how they came out. I must refrain because I want everyone to enjoy them tomorrow, as I will be handing them out at work. They better love me for this... I'm already a little short handed with the amount as it is. I wasn't going to be bothered to make a few extra to accommodate everyone. Knives were invented for a reason, for cutting things in half. Now go get at it.

Coffee Cake Cupcakes

I have a good reason to update my blog more often with photos from my film camera. Instead of dumping them all online at once. It's more enjoyable to let them stream out slowly one at a time. That is how long it takes to get film shot and developed anyway. Shouldn't be anything to it. Here is a picture from last week that looks much better now. I liked how the yellow fit together. Plus, I've always had some undying passion for construction pylons and anything related in that vein.

road block ginko

End of second semester. I won't be sad to see you go.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas to Me

The scanner I purchased on Yahoo auctions came today. I don't think I will regret this purchase at all. I was going to get any old scanner because I was going to build a light box with silver paper and card stock to scan negatives. But I then came across the listing for this Canon 5400F scanner. It had the lamp in the lid and trays for dedicated slide/negative scanning. I made sure I won that auction. There were countless other auctions for scanners. Yet, many were listed as junk or the seller only tested the power supply. That seems far too risky to bid and hope for the best. Anyway, its a 2005 model but does the job perfectly.

Now I can liberally shoot with my Pen D, get any film developed, and digitize with ease. I like the whole process. Another great learning opportunity for me. I'll probably be forever messing with an menagerie of hobbies and interests. All for the best. I'll be getting around to putting up some other pictures from my Pen later on. For now you can take a look at the following, which you probably have seen already anyway. It's just a historical record for the blog.


Might want to drop down to the previous post and laugh at how terrible my other negative capturing system was. You really should do that. Laugh. Next time you should be in love with my pictures. Really, you don't have to though. I'll still love you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Long Way to Go

But even if that's the case, I look forward to it. I ventured into the oh so lovely city to get my roll of film developed from the Pen. I couldn't find the store along the road so I parked at a shopping center at the upper level of the car park. I figured I could walk down and find it from there. Much to my surprise it was right across the street. That worked out much better than I thought it would.

I spent a few minutes discussing with the worker how I could get my film processed. I originally wanted it developed and put on a cd so I could look at the scans but they can't do that for some reason. Might have to do with the format of the film. I know it's possible, however, to get it developed and scanned so it can be dumped on a cd. I'm not sure what their problem was and I didn't want to try to protest in Japanese. I just got the film developed and figured I would wait till I had a scanner.

Well that really wasn't going to cut it because the negatives were burning a hole in my mind. I had to see them in some form of what a picture might look like. I stopped at an electronics store and almost bought a printer/scanner combo just for this. I reeled myself in and decided I would try something else until a proper scanner could be acquired. I had no idea if this would work or not but it seemed worthwhile. Spending a few bucks just to receive a small ounce of gratification was probably worth it I thought. So I went to the dollar store and picked up some photo frames to use the glass. When I got home I sandwiched negatives between the glass panes and set up the most ridiculous looking thing to take pictures of the negatives. I had paper taped over a light and a cardboard box cut into some weird shape to hold the glass. Books were stacked up for my camera to rest on. My living room is a disaster now.

The film I used must have taken a beating over the last few years sitting in that closet. The heat probably ruined it more than anything else. So the images probably aren't a good representation of what is really capable. Plus, taking pictures of the negatives with a camera isn't such a good idea either. I was desperate. So here are a few samples to tide us all over until I shoot a new roll of film and get a scanner.

war memorial half frame

danger icho

red light but no face

I promise I'll stop buying things after this scanner.... oh but I just remembered I need a baking stone for my oven.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rounded Out

Finally got a replacement for my old, non functioning, Canon A620 camera. I loved that camera but broke it trying to clean the lens before coming to Japan. I bought another used one but that was a piece of junk. It has eventually stopped working and I never even used it much. I love my DSLR and never regret buying it. However, sometimes I don't want to take it along if I go shopping or something. In those times I might come across something I want to shoot but won't have my camera. Now I have a camera that can go anywhere with me.

Buying digital cameras is a mind boggling task. If you take time to read reviews you will be swamped with information and differences. Most cameras will do almost everything well. Yet, finding one that hits all the best points without sacrificing other things is always hard. I like to make very informed purchases so buying is an excruciating process.

Canon Powershot S90

The Canon Powershot S90 is a great little camera. Packed full of features. It's newer siblings the S95 and S100 are 150 and 250 dollars more expensive though. I figured that I would get one used and save myself a great deal of money. Took a while and waiting to find the right price. I'm glad it worked out finally. I will take this little thing and the Pen D along with me for my winter trip.

I think I'm set now. Yes, for now...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Out for a Waltz

I wanted to go for a long walk today. So I gathered up all my gear and essentials. I planned to hike over the mountain following an old overgrown forestry road that was not passable by car. The only problem is that by the time I walked up a lengthy portion of the road, I realized I was on the wrong one. Somewhat defeated and not very inclined to walk all the way over to the other one and proceed, I just sauntered on back toward my house. I took quite a few pictures with the Pen D and can't wait to see how those look. I also finally took a picture of the gingko outside the school. It rests up against a sugi tree that is rust colored so the contrast is lovely.

The Lovely Tree

I also learned that from now on it would be wise not to stack a polarizing filter over a UV filter as it will create black vignetting at the corners wide open. Live and learn. I love looking at this tree whenever I go to school. It brightens up my day and quite literally everything around it. Last year across the river at the high school they butchered a gingko and it looks terrible now. I have no idea why did it. It was such a crime. I don't think this one will be touched any time soon except maybe those that want to hug its endearing trunk.

I came across this other photo from a few weeks back and thought it was worthwhile to share. Just a nice carpet of maple leaves.

Leaf Carpet

That should be all for now. I hope to get my Pen D film developed this week and see the atrocities. Always hope for a few gems though!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


What a perfectly lazy day. I didn't go anywhere or do much. I shot a handful of pictures with my new camera acquisition in hopes of figuring out the settings. In due time I can see the results. For now I just imagine. I wasn't going to let the day amount to nothing though so I pulled out my cookbook and set to work.

Following along in my book the next recipe was Casatiello which is an Italian version of brioche with little bits of cheese and meat strewn throughout the bread. Last week I picked up some cheap salami sticks at the dollar store. These actually taste pretty good and I enjoy eating them. I figured they would work well in the bread as opposed to paying for an expensive salami log. I chose mozzarella but provolone might be a good choice because it has a smokey flavor.

The recipe called for buttermilk but supposedly adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to regular milk has the same effect. Buttermilk isn't really thick or creamy. It's acidic. The vinegar helps to make a suitable substitution. There was also a 3/4 cup of butter in this recipe that made it very rich. In the middle of mixing the dough my computer shut off and my kindle battery was dead so I didn't know how to proceed. I had to start my car up and attach the kindle to the car charger adapter with a USB slot. But in the course of doing that my computer finally turned back on and everything went according to plan. After several hours of work, waiting, and more waiting, the bread was finished.

Casatiello Loaf

The little black nodules are cubes of salami. I really should have bought more salami or added some bacon.

Casatiello Slice

Oooh you can see the shiny cheese sleeping in the spongy structure of the slice. The cheese oozed out of the loaf while baking and turned rather dark. This made a slight burnt smell emanate from the oven. However, the end result was fantastic.

Casatiello Closeup

Yeah you wish you could get your mouth on that don't you? Well I'll be all over it. The bread is soft, rich, and flavorful with the cheese and salami. Next time I will try new cheese and maybe two kinds of meat such as bacon and salami. Another success in the bread baking hobby department.

Olympus Pen D

Or you could say ancient arrival. I got my Olympus Pen D half frame camera in the mail today. If you are unsure of what half frame is, here is a picture from the internet to give you an idea.

You get two exposures in the same space you would normally take one picture. I like the possibilities of juxtaposition that this presents.

I was prepared for a slightly beat up camera with more defects than the listing stated. However, I was very surprised by what I got. The camera is in beautiful condition. No mold, the lens is crystal clear, and overall the body looks great.

Olympus Pen D

The only thing that might not work is the EV meter but I expected that more than anything else. The selenium sensor degrades over time and 1962 was a while ago. I can just learn with the camera and this part is not necessary. I'll chart the various EV settings, light conditions, shutter speed and aperture to create a rough outline for settings in different conditions.

There is no battery to this camera so I don't have to worry about that. It's full manual. In fact I read that these 'D' models are some of the best made in the Pen series. The lenses and shooting options stand out according to many things. I found some unopened film in a closet at my home and loaded the camera up. I'll look forward to seeing the first shots from this camera. Time to experiment. It should be fun.

I hope I haven't found a new addiction to old cameras....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter Surreptitiously Approaches

I even managed to spell surreptitiously right on the first go without spell check correcting it. Thanks Mrs. Johnson.

When I don't take pictures of much I don't feel like writing. As you know I baked an entire Thanksgiving dinner 1 week ago. You probably already saw the pictures of that so I didn't feel the need to update. Plus, the bread and whatever else I've made lately you have already seen as well. So what am I left to write about?

The end of this month will be here before I know it. Many things going. Mid year recycling of every year ALT issues conference for several days. English days in Tosa. Slaving through a day of elementary Christmas lessons. It will be a good month.

In the meantime I believe my ski trip preparations are near completion. I managed to track down a nice pair of ski goggles for what I would consider a good price. Also came with a more translucent lens for skiing in darker conditions. I'm looking forward to night skiing. That will be perfect for it. The only thing really left is to arrange ski rental and lift tickets. I believe the rest, by and large, is taken care of. I'm rather happy with how my ski clothing has come together after much consideration. I'll no doubt be able to use it all again in the future. I think of it as an invest of sorts. Just because I have nothing better to be doing tonight. Why don't you take a look at my outfit?


Looks great.


Time to conquer some mountain space. By the way, that coat is really warm and cozy. So happy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Remnants of Fall

Several times today I thought it was Sunday but then reminded myself it was only Wednesday. I wasn't going to let the cloudy weather force me to stay inside though. After consuming a stack of pancakes I jumped into the car yet again to chase down some remaining fall color. It continues to surprise me how varied the progress of the leaves can be depending on the place. I would say it was a successful day. My eyes consumed an abundant amount of reds, yellows, and oranges. If I were to stop for every beautiful tree I saw I might not get anywhere. Sometimes I just have to view and move along. This doesn't detract from the value of fall. I can always dig into my memory banks and replay what I have seen.

The colors were still pretty nice even up in the higher elevations. I was expecting most of the color to be gone. This lowered expectation helps me appreciate things more. But I would still appreciate it anyway so I'm just making ridiculous things up in my head. Along the way to one of my favorite spots I was able to capture some vibrant little maples clinging to rocky hillsides.

Ashitani Maple 1

I think I could look at maple trees everyday and never grow tired of their natural beauty. I like the changing of seasons so it's good that the colors only change once a year. I know southern California is a paradise almost everyday of the year but I don't think I would like having that kind of constant. The change of seasons and weather allows us to remember more fondly the moments of life.

Ashitani Maple 2

I love how the maples change from green to yellow, then to orange, then to red, and finally crinkling up into dull dark reds and browns. Every tree seems to have a biological clock of its own. Not dictated by any other tree around it. Some change fast and others do their own thing.

Ashitani Maple 3

Shortly after taking this I began to feel rain drops gently splattering on my head. I hadn't even considered the possibility of rain. I should have gone back to grab an umbrella but I thought I had taken it out of the car. I continued walking hoping the rain would not fall harder. While it didn't become worse, it was enough to get me damp. Just as I said the cloudy weather wouldn't stop me, no rain was going to make me turn back today.

Lower Ashitani Fall

I scrambled off the road and down through some grass plants taller than me. With every slight shock of their stalks water sprinkled down making me more wet. Plus, this was no time to be careless with my steps. I was a bit disappointed because the trees here had already decided to shed most of their leaves. I hardly felt like taking a picture of this fall again. It was about one month ago that I first shot it. Yet, because I was there and already wet I should take a picture. The only way to get than angle was to cross the stream which was far too wide to hop across. Off the shoes and socks went and I plunged my feet into the frigid mountain water. Staggering for a step on the slimy rock growth I made it across. Clutching my llama parka over my camera to protect it from rain, I snapped this shot and headed back to the dry interior of the car.

Out in Okawa

The Yoshinogawa river is very pretty. It has steep rock faces and giant boulders. The road along it had a nice mixture of color. With the rain, however, I didn't stop to take any pictures. I continued on toward Setogawa in hopes of catching something nice along the way. This was off a tiny bridge between the locations. Not the most interesting I thought. I needed to take anything I could get.

Roadside Maple

Up the road about 300 meters (like I even know how far that is) there were some nice maples hanging along the sides of the stream. The emerald and red join quite nicely I think. As long as I'm not shooting flowers any bit of color is welcome.

Maple Leaf Pot

According to the fall color report online, Setogawa had already gone past its peak time. I took my chances anyway and found some lingering maples that were abstinent to the report. The trees around the famous waterfall here were past their prime. I passed it up and went above the falls and found some pools of water choked with leaves.

Stranded but Still Wet

Another great example of the variety of maple color that I love so much.

Above Amagaeri

Just overhead and up the stream from the pools of leaves was this view. Shooting the tiny leaves of the maples can make for a chaotic and noisy looking photo. It's hard to frame them well. This might prove true for the next one as well.

Setogawa Mosey

By this time I had managed to carry my backpack on the front of my body while holding an umbrella protecting my camera and tripod. The makeshift rain protection worked well. If it had been raining harder I might have just gone home. I worked my way up the small path along the stream and continued shooting anything of worth or that was left.

Bright Delight

I don't think I will be complaining about any of the fall I have seen this year. I'll probably hear people say they wished they had seen more. At least I won't be one of them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Catching Autumn

I lied. You could view all these on flickr already but I made it much easier for you here. Enjoy.

Vertical Leaf

My Eyes and Head Hurt

Horizontal Leaf

Classic Momiji

Blanket of Maple

昇龍 Fall 2

Dull and Vivid

Missed the Canvas Again

昇龍 Fall 1

Maple Blaze

Well there you go. Out with a blaze.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Culture Day, What a Waste

I woke up to clear sunny skies this morning and felt so bitter. I had to spend my entire day inside when I could have been out driving around in the glorious weather. I'll get over it soon enough. It was only a waste because I couldn't get out and enjoy fall. Otherwise I don't necessarily think school activities were a waste. I'm sure nobody at school would have done much anyway but stay at home or go shopping.

I'll share some pictures of the culture day later this week probably. I don't feel like sorting through them all right now. I was thinking of going to work tomorrow even though we get a day off in exchange for today. The weather forecast looks promising so I will just skip that consideration and hit the road in the morning.

The real reason of this short post was to speak of my most recent acquisition that was delivered today. I ordered this Friday night I think and it already came today. Amazon shipping in Japan is lightning fast. I still don't have a credit card so I do cash on delivery which is about 260 yen extra. If I did a bank transfer I would have to pay that amount anyway. It's much easier to get merchandise at home this way. Here is the charcoal chimney in all its wonderful glory.

charcoal chimney

I saw a fancier version for about 4 times the price of this one at a sporting goods store. However, that is the only one I've seen in the wild. It served the exact same purpose as this one, just really expensive for some reason. Most people use fire starter bricks, gels, and blow torches to get coals lit. I have been using tissues coated in oil but it's a little messy and doesn't always work so well. As I have embarked upon some more technically challenging grill escapades, I need to be able to start extra charcoal easily. As you can see from the picture I had raging coals in a few minutes. I didn't even have anything to cook. I was just eager to try it out so I lit it up. 12 pounds of charcoal is cheap so I don't mind at all. I sat outside and warmed myself by it for awhile and stared deeply into the gleaming coals. I'm looking forward to a pleasant partnership with the grill. Hopefully some others can partake as well.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cherry Smoked Chicken Breasts!

It rained far too much over the past night and day. It's very dark when driving at night in the rain. After playing around with some metal cans and failing to build something, I went and ate miso ramen. There wasn't enough to eat at home so I had to go out. That 550 yen bowl of miso ramen is always very satisfying. Not too expensive either. That always leaves the possibility for ice cream which I buy at the only convenience store around for miles. Friday nights are generally ice cream nights.

It was still raining this morning when I left to go buy an assortment of things. The road has tons of puddles because the heavy trucks have pounded down the road. If one is driving fast those could be bad news. I opted to head down south and check out some home centers I hadn't been to before. There are 3 within 500 meters of each other. Two seem to be doing okay and the third was almost too sad to walk around in. Well, one is brand new and has a great selection so it's not a surprise one is suffering. My main purchase today was wood chips for use with the grill. I picked up some cherry and hickory. The wood chips are cut very fine in small pieces but they appeared to be fine. I ended up with a trunk full of food and other random things today. Sometimes that is just the way it goes. Most important were the wood chips and a thermometer for the grill.

As I'm thinking of grilling a turkey for Thanksgiving I wanted to see how feasible it was to smoke meat on the grill. I won't be doing that for the turkey but I wanted a primer with temperature control. I got somewhat of a late start because I was out shopping all morning and into the early afternoon. But I got home and made a brine solution for three chicken breasts. Chicken breast is notoriously dry already so it isn't the best meat to smoke. I wanted something that would be done in 3 hours as opposed to 5 or more.

BBQ Setup

My makeshift smoking setup. I employed the use of an old bulletin board I found in my closet as a table to raise the grill up higher. This made it much easier to work with and manage rather than bending down to the ground. I'll make something more permanent eventually. After I left the breasts soak for 2 hours in the brine solution I fired up the grill (or tried to) and attempted to get the inside to a decent temp. At first it just wasn't hot enough so I had to mess around with it quite a bit. Basically adding more charcoal. My charcoal chimney should arrive tomorrow but in the meantime I got a terracotta saucer to keep a supply of charcoal lit in while I was smoking. I eventually got the temperature worked out mostly and then threw wood chips on top of the coals to get the smoking going. I had soaked some cherry chips in water but the coals weren't hot enough and this caused a massive dip in the temperature. I had to deal as best as I could given my grill.

Smoked Chicken Breastssss

There are the breasts that I wrapped in bacon to help preserve more moisture. The pan of water helps to regulate the temperature more than anything. You can see the coals piled over to the right side. This was at about 2 hours and that is when I cut the smoking. I then finished with just heat for cooking. In 30 more minutes I then applied a BBQ sauce I made earlier in the day. Not too heavy but just enough to give a nice coating that helped bake the outside nicely. At roughly 3 hours the chicken had come to the right temperature so off it came.

The Slaw, Sauce, and Breasts

Looks pretty good right?

I was in a pretty BBQ spirit so I made a vinegar based coleslaw with chopped cabbage and shredded carrot. This is simple to make and very delicious. I like both kinds of coleslaw, creamy and vinegar. For some reason I tend to like vinegar based more so these days with BBQ. Basically I used straight white vinegar and sugar in equal parts. It sat in the frig for a few hours while I was smoking the meat. The BBQ sauce was very delicious too. I could eat that plain. It had molasses, white wine vinegar, ketchup, mustard, and other spices. I'm not sure why I haven't made a sauce before. I'll be sure to play around some more.

Cherry Smoked Breasts

They look so dark because of the BBQ sauce applied toward the end. I didn't overcook them at all. The bacon was very smokey and tasty. The breast was not overly dry and had a lovely smoke flavor through it. When I first took a bite it sent waves of euphoria through my body. I thought to myself, "This might be the best I have made ever. I sure love BBQ and miss it." I also made a side of french fries to compliment the entire experience. Nothing less than an authentic BBQ meal. I bought a hunk of pork today as well. I think I'll try to smoke that next. Perhaps on Wednesday which is a day off.

And dad, thanks for you effort in grilling and BBQ. It really takes some time and love. However, the result is some of the best food ever. Better watch my waist line...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The First Plunders of Fall

And who really knows, it could be the last. The weekend made me fear that most fall colors were coming to an end. Today as I set out, in hopes of any glimpse, I prepared myself not to be too disappointed for having gone out too late in the season. As I found my way into the valley I began talking to myself hoping for the best. It's very hard to gauge the color change due to geographic factors. So by looking at the higher locations with random color dropped throughout, there is no telling what it might look like down in a valley.

Luckily for me I was probably a little too early to enjoy the zenith of the fall colors at this valley. This means I can go back and see even more splendid color. I should take this opportunity to also hit some other spots before everything falls into happy shades of brown and rust. While it isn't the wide swaths of color one might see in deciduous forests back home, it's still a wonderful mingling of greens, reds, oranges, yellows, and neutral earth tones.

I Seem to Have Missed the Canvas

As green is my favorite color, the added bonus of contrast is quite satisfying.


Splendid Blend

This was just as intense as the picture looks. Yeahhh.

Sugi and Maple Love

Divine color. Like, literally.

Devine Color

I wasn't able to get really any close ups of trees in color. They weren't ready yet or were too far away. I'll go back and make the maples wish they never were photographed by me.

Oh let's not forget this little beauty.


I love fall.