Friday, April 30, 2010


I woke up at 4am and started kayaking just before 5am.  I was heading back to Yakabi Island, where I went last Sunday and lost my zorrie in a flipped-kayak melee.  Last night's full moon combined with a rising tide and low wind gave me a lot of hope that I might find a fish to bring home.

[it looks small, but really I'm just big]

But the first three hours of fishing proved fruitless so I went in to a southern beach to begin working my way back northwards in search of the missing zorrie.  No luck on the first beach, but after I successfully escaped its surf I threw a couple casts and nailed a 10lb. rainbow runner (スムブリ) that put up an impressive fight.  I was really psyched as this could very well be the only fish I catch this year (my two-year average is somewhere around 1.5/yr) from a kayak.

There were lots of reasons why my zorrie would not be found - a waxing moon means ever-increasing tides this week so beach trash has trouble staying on beaches, it had been a week since I lost the zorrie, the ocean is big, there are currents in the ocean, the zorrie is black - but I defied all of those and found it resting right-side-up just about 30m from where I lost it.

[back to two Chacos]

[dinner tonight: blackened sashimi (thanks Palau for the recipe!)]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ocean Shots

Some more shots from Sunday's kayak excursion:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tomoko and Iyo

The bride and the groom are from mainland Japan, but they met while working seasonal jobs on Zamami two years ago.  They both stayed longer than a season - maybe a year each - before getting engaged and then going to work in Australia for six months.  They came back recently to fulfill a promise of having a wedding ceremony on Zamami.  I met the girl (Tomoko) through the eisa group.  Her English was decent at the time, now both are much better after their time in Australia.

I had grand notions of rocking the photography for them, but it just didn't pan out.  I will admit to being in a bad mood for the first hour, after taking the advice of 3-4 people to wear a suit, then discovering that I was the ONLY person there in a suit (not even the fathers were wearing them!).  I had the discomfort of the suit compounded by the discomfort of standing out.  And I need to be comfortable to photograph well, I learned.

I wasn't very happy with the photos, but here's the best of them:

I found out after the wedding that they are staying on Zamami.  I really love these two so this makes me very happy.  Also, I found out she's one month pregnant!  Maybe I can have better luck photographing their baby?

Two notable events from the wedding:

*They did a 'game' where everybody who was in attendance had their name in a box.  The bride and groom randomly drew out names and those people had to come give a speech.  Yep, I was one of the four chosen.  This was one of the situations I've learned it is probably better to use my English than practice my Japanese, and I'm glad I did.

*It was a little windy for the bouquet toss so they did something I've never seen before (I'm not exactly a seasoned wedding attendee, however): The bride held 15 long red ribbons in her hand, one of which was tied to the bouquet.  On her count of three everybody pulled their ribbon - and the winner of the next marriage was attached to the bouquet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My First Kayak Trip Abroad

Today was my first kayak venture [this year] outside the main island chain.  We were supposed to go marlin fishing, but stupid customers came to busy the marlin captain so I was on my own.  I was excited to get over to Yakabi because usually the first trip of the year yields some good beach treasure.  As I pulled in to the beach I noted the waves were significant enough to pay attention.  I timed my entry and thought I had done well, but I hadn't.  A wave rolled the kayak and my stuff went everywhere.  Immediately another wave nailed me.  My fishing rod was tied to my kayak so I saved that first, then scavenged the paddle and pushed the cumbersome kayak towards shore to get it going away from the waves.  I lost a flip-flop in the ruckus, but managed to grab my camera bag, food bag, and lures as they were all floating out to sea.  The zorrie and both my water bottles floated away.  :(

I was sorta stuck at this point, with only one piece of footwear, no water to drink, and waves too big to scale to get back to sea easily.  I assessed my situation: I wasn't thirsty and I wanted another zorrie.  So I went about my planned beach scavenging trip and found a replacement zorrie within 3 minutes.  Unfortunately that was the highlight of all the beaches walked today.

Next I attacked the 'getting back to sea' part.  It was too rough where I was so I decided to drag my kayak 200 meters (see above picture - I came from that BIG rock in the center) to a place out of the wind.  When I got there I found both my water bottles!  Obviously a collection point for beach garbage, I stuck around another hour hoping my zorrie would show up.  It didn't.  :(

[my kayak with water bottles (right) where I found them]

[No idea why the one on the right leaked?]

[A China and a Chaco]

I fished another two hours after getting back to sea and had one fish come up and splash around my lure but no solid hookup.  Then I kayaked 2 hours into the wind home and now I'm dead tired.  The blog will be busy this week with more pre-disaster kayak trip photos and Saturday wedding photos.  Come back!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tug of War With a Twist

We have a cool take on Tug of War that we play on the beach for our beach opening ceremony.  There are two teams starting behind a line and five ropes between the two teams.  The first team to get three ropes behind their line wins.  There are all sorts of strategies to win this game and just when I think I've got it figured out I see somebody implement my strategy and lose.

[failing at the white rope]

[not doing so well on red, either]

[they ended up dragging this kid across the line before he let go]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cultural Surprises

I've been here for 2.5 years and I still get the occasional "oh, I didn't know that about Japan.." moment.

So today I went to pay my April gas bill, which was surprisingly 2500 yen (about 1000 more than usual).  I say surprising because my boiler broke during April and I didn't have the use of it for 8 days, so I should have used significantly less gas than usual.  Anyway, the woman conveys to me that there is an additional charge related to the boiler.  I look at the receipt she's pointing at and see "800 yen", which coincides with a charge the village office handyman guy told me about - for a new cap on top of the boiler. So then she adds things up and shows me the calculator and the total is 11,760 yen (about $120).  Wait, what?  It suddenly clicks that I am being charged for the entire boiler repair.

Here is where the cultural surprise fits for me: it is my understanding that a renter in America is usually not held financially liable for wear-and-tear breakdowns with installed appliances, such as a hot water heater, a dishwasher, or central air.  If something breaks you call your landlord and they fix it.  Right?  Well, apparently (!) in Japan (or just here?) I am responsible for these things.  I'm sure the hot water heater has seen many renters, but it just happened to break on my watch.  Which is all sort of ironic since, being conscious of my energy usage, I probably use less hot water than any other person on Zamami.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Every year around this time we have the lowest of the low tides of the year, so we take a half-day off school and all go out in the afternoon to collect all the stranded shellfish.  I don't really know what they look like and I'd feel guilty competing with the old people, so I just take pictures:

[one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, fortunately they only bite if you force them to]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Me and iStockphoto

I heard about iStockphoto a couple years ago while listening to a photography podcast.  I thought 'huh, I've got lots of photos, I should try to get them up there and start making some money!' So in July, 2008, I was rejected as a contributor on my first round of application photos, but accepted on my second.  Judging by the word in the forums, acceptance into iStock has become quite a bit more difficult since then.

The thing with iStock, a site built around user contributions, is that it attracts a lot of amateur and semi-pro photographers (who want to make money on their photos), but it still maintains really high standards.  So it's a steep learning curve for 'beginners' and I have incurred a healthy share of rejections.  I've just crawled my acceptance percentage back up to 39% from below 20%.  I had to learn all about artifacting and noise,, downsizing, why and when I should shoot at different apertures and ISO, why expensive lenses are better, and how to do some basic post-production (think Photoshop) techniques.

I have wanted to make a blog post about my participation in iStock, but I decided to wait until I reached a milestone.  This week, I crossed the $100 mark, which means I can now officially request a check for my earnings.  Yes, it's taken me 1.5 years to earn $100.  My files are downloaded by graphic designers, students, or anybody who needs an image.  They buy my files in different sizes, depending on their needs, and I get about a 20% cut of that.  When I reached my next milestone, 250 downloads (I'm currently at 87) and 50% file acceptance rate,  I can become an "exclusive contributor" and my percentage take will increase.

I joined iStock to make some money, but what I've really gotten out of it is a photography education.  There's no better tool for my learning than somebody telling me my work sucks, and I've gotten plenty of that from iStock.  Fortunately they offer excellent forums where sage contributors offer advice on everything photography.  I can honestly say, thanks to my iStock experience, that I am a much better photographer today than I was 1.5 years ago.

Here is my portfolio.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marlin Fishing Videos

Here are a couple videos from the weekend. It should be evident that I am a photographer and not a videographer.  The third video was shot by a girl on the boat who was simultaneously trying to help us get the fish in the boat, so I apologize if it makes you sick.  Also, the colors are a bit wonky - no idea why.

Naoki has just started in on a 50-minute fight here. The fish is still taking out line.

50 minutes into Tsutomu's marlin fight on Saturday.

Bringing Tsutomu's 100kg marlin into the boat.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 Marlin Season, Trips 1 and 2

I know I've had a good weekend when I've only been at my apartment long enough to take a shower and sleep.

We left yesterday at 7:30am and returned last night at 6pm, one 100kg marlin in the boat and three others that hit but didn't get hooked.  It was a solid first day on the water for the year.  The marlin we caught had been foul-hooked and he jumped quite a bit which created a lot of excitement.  Eventually he died while we were fighting him, so the poor guy who was on the pole had to reel in a sideways dead fish (which is much harder than reeling in a live fish, which will eventually swim with you as you reel him in).  Sort of like tying a 220 lb. rock to your line and dropping it into 300m of water, then reeling it back.  It took 1 hour, 25 minutes to complete the fight.


[the fish was foul-hooked in the back]

[the fish in his insulated blanket filled with ice]

Today we were at it again at 7:30am and we dropped the lines around 8:15am.  We had our first hit - a big jumper - at 9:10am.  Second at 9:40am, Third at 10:40am.  But the third got hooked, so we were on!  It was a good fight, though it seemed like the fish might be small or weak because of the ease of retrieve.  But he turned out to be 130kg, which is respectable (average, really, but better than the 60kg we thought he might be!).  It took 50 minutes to get him in.  We had three more hits today for a total of 5 hits and one fish.  I am next in line for being on the pole for a marlin so it'll have to wait until next weekend.

 [Naoki with his 130kg marlin]

[See how bright blue the marlin's back is?  That happens when these fish die.  It's actually quite pretty, if you can get past the death part.]

[another boat from Naha brought in a 120kg marlin and donated it to our cleaning party]

[it took us about 1.5 hours to process the 350kg (550lbs) of marlin tonight]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tokyo Marathon Certificate

It's all pretty much as expected.  Official time of 3:15.55, chip time (actual time) of 3:14.26.  The interesting part is that I was 194th out of 3674 people in my age group and 1192 out of 30,170 overall.  I think that's a pretty respectable finish, despite my injury.  They also sent along a special edition newspaper with complete results, of which my name shows up on page 1 of 19.  Also, both this year and last year I came in a couple minutes ahead of fast Americans who live in Okinawa (I recognize their names from all the Okinawa marathon results).

It's all very good, except my leg still hurts and I haven't run a step since that marathon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Panama Canal

Somehow I brought up the Panama Canal at an eisa party last night.  Nobody at the table had heard of it, which left me a little dumbfounded.  But it also sparked an interesting discussion about the differences between material taught in our schools.  I mentioned that in my experience Japanese students aren't well-versed in geography or world history.  (Case in point: nobody at the table knew Patagonia was a region in the world and not just a brand name.)  My goal was [absolutely] not to come off as the more educated person at the table, so I offered that I thought Japanese students are better at science and math.

But to tell you the truth, I don't know where Japanese students excel.  They go to school significantly more days (for example, we're wrapping up our 1.5 week break between school years right now) and the days are longer (7:30-4 or 5, plus many mainland students attend night schools) than what we do in the U.S, but I never meet anybody with the book smarts I'd expect from so much education.  I'm by no means an authority on this - I don't speak the language well and I only have a couple friends whom I know well.  And Japan has some pretty big things going for it: Toyota, Sony, Canon and Nikon, and the world's second-largest economy.  Clearly something is working.  But I am repeatedly surprised at the ignorance towards things I consider common sense.  Which makes me wonder, what do they expect me to know that I don't?

The conversation did (thankfully) come back to this interesting observation:  a girl said "I don't understand why Americans eat beef and chicken yet tell the rest of the world that they can't kill whales."  She wasn't advocating for whale harvest, but just pointing out the hypocrisy of arbitrarily choosing which animals are worthy of consumption and which are not.  Conserving bluefin tuna, she understands.  Non-endangered whales? Why can't we take a few?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shooting My Bow

Last year when I returned from America, I brought with me a [new] take-down recurve bow that fits nicely in my backpack.  I spent too much time setting up foam fishing floats on the beach for target practice - and watching them blow away while aiming - before finding two plywood-size sheets of 4" foam (on the beach, of course) and setting up a shooting range in the forest.  Now I have a super setup, hidden and protected from the elements.

[I'm aiming for that 4" black dot out there.  At this distance I usually get 4/5 of my arrows within 3" of it - not as accurate as I want to be but I'm getting better every day]

Why am I practicing with a bow here?  For goats, but also to be prepared to partake in more bow-hunting back in the U.S. someday.  I have hunted with a compound bow before, but am really intrigued by the more traditional (non-mechanical) recurve.  Of the notable differences between the two, the most obvious is that traditionals don't employ mechanics to make the pull-back and holding of the string easier.  Also, traditional bows [usually] don't employ sights - aiming is done by instinct.  My bow is a 60# bow, which is on the upper end of most recurves.

[For three days in a row this past week I took my dinner to the beach for a little target practice and sunset watching while eating.  It was so nice and reminded me I need to eat more meals away from the internet]

So when I taught Mariko to shoot the bow today it was quite amusing.  A strong man will have trouble with a 60# bow until he masters the motion of the pull-back, so a petite girl doesn't stand a chance.  Mariko could only pull the string back far enough that, upon release, the arrow would lob about 4 meters before bouncing on the ground.  If she had target practiced at me I could have caught the arrow before it reached me.  But it was still really fun - for her to learn and me to teach.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


My friend Emina sent me a message yesterday saying she is going to Fukuoka soon and she wanted to know if I wanted to buy a 25kg bag of flour off her (for 6000 yen, or $64).  I quickly did some math and said yes.  And out of curiosity, anybody out there know how much 50lbs. of bread flour would cost in America?

[It was slightly cheaper in the long run to buy the 25kg bag, but much easier than having to order six 1kg bags every couple weeks and listen to the teachers, who pick up my food most weeks, complain about the weight of my order]

When I picked it up I inquired to Emina how came into a 25kg bag of flour.  She said she ordered it off the internet, to which I said, "why are you selling this to me?"  She said "I ordered it for you!"  Huh?  "Yeah," she continued, "I had to order two bags to get free shipping and didn't have time to ask you, but I knew you'd want one."