April 9, 2006: Japan Day in Helsinki, Finland

On April 9, 2006, the Annantalo Arts Center in central Helsinki will be holding its annual Japan Day event featuring various Japan-related events and exhibitions. In one exhibition room, I will be showing 25 pictures of Japanese women in Japanese costumes (kimono, etc.) and a short video of Japanese festival movie clips. This is only a day-long event/exhibition.

I won’t be there, but if you’ll be in Finland, please drop by. I hear that the Japanese ambassador to Finland will attend the event as well.


Update: The Japan Day was a jam-packed success. Photos here:

Buying a hard disk in Japan

So I just bought another external hard drive to store my digital photos. It took about a year to fill up my last hard drive, a Buffalo 250GB drive.

I hated that Buffalo 250GB (HD-HB250U2 to be exact, with a USB 2.0 connection http://buffalo.melcoinc.co.jp/products/catalog/item/h/hd-hbu2/index.html ). It was so slow. But it was cheap, less than 20,000 yen. Unfortunately, it took almost forever to copy or transfer images. Transferring a measly 2 GB from my internal hard disk to the Buffalo took over 45 min. Needless to say, it also took a long time to make backup DVDs from the Buffalo too. It was such a pain.

The main reason why I bought it is that in Japan, Buffalo seems to be the most popular HD brand. At Yodobashi, that’s all you see pretty much. The other HD brands are far less visible compared to the stacks and stacks of red Buffalo boxes in front of your face.

So for my new HD, I was determined to get a faster HD. I did some homework and here’s what I found out.

Most hard drives now spin at 7200 rpm which makes it faster than the 5400 rpm of older drives or portable HD models. The rpm is clearly stated on the packaging. But often times what you don’t see on the package (or specs) is the cache memory size. The larger the cache (or buffer) memory, the faster the HD will be when you transfer data to it. The big problem with Buffalo hard drives is that almost all of them don’t say how large the cache is. There’s only one model that says 8 MB cache (but only 250GB). That’s why Buffalo is cheap it seems. So if it doesn’t say how large the cache is, we have to assume that it’s small (and slow).

If you look around, you’ll find other brands which may say 8MB or 16MB cache. But those models are significantly more expensive (maybe 30,000 yen or so). Except for one: Maxtor

Maxtor has 300GB hard drives with 16MB cache costing less than 25,000 yen, hardly any difference in price with the el cheapo Buffalo. So I bought a Maxtor, and wow, it’s fast. I have it connected to FireWire (IEEE1394) and this probably makes a difference too. On paper, USB 2.0 supposed to be faster than FireWire, but during actual use, I’m told that FireWire is faster. So I bought the HD which includes both USB 2.0 and FireWire ports.

The one I bought was the Maxtor E30G300. They also have a USB-only model (cheaper) and a Macintosh-formatted model which is significantly more expensive. I use a Mac, but I bought the cheaper Windows version and just formatted it with my Mac. They should sell the Mac version at the same price as the Windows version. I think it was 5,000 yen more. Not worth it when you can easily reformat a Windows HD for your Mac.

The only problem with Maxtor in Japan is that it might be difficult to find. I went to Yodobashi, Tokyo’s largest camera/computer shop, and the Akihabara store did not have the one I wanted in stock. The Kinshicho branch also had none. Finally, they told me that the Ueno and Shinjuku branches had it in stock. So I went to Ueno (only two train stops away from Akihabara) and got it.

Yodobashi has a good online inventory system, so they can tell you which branch has what. If your nearest branch doesn’t have what you want, ask if another branch has it. Then go there and get it.

I think from now on, it will be Maxtor HDs for me. As long as their prices are low, the drives are fast, and it doesn’t crash.

Finland in Sept. 2005

As I mentioned elsewhere, I gave slide shows in Finland in Sept. 2005 upon the inivitation of a small town called Kuusamo, northeast of Helsinki.

It was a great trip and meeting so many photographers from Europe was very nice. I spent about 8 days in Kuusamo, and many of the days were spent on day trips to watch bears, rafting, forest hiking, etc. My 200+ pictures would tell a better story so here they are:

These are a few photos in particular that you might find interesting:

Japanese gun in Finland



Canon PowerShot S80 impressions

Here I am still using my 2-year-old, already-ancient, Canon PowerShot S50 compact digital camera with 5 megs. It served well, but I have grown increasingly envious of successor models such as the S60 and S70, especially since they sport a 28mm wide-angle lens. Something I really miss on the S50 with only 35mm wide angle.

So now I’m looking to replace my S50, and I was almost going to buy the S70, but then the S80 (pictured above) was announced. Geez, only 1 year after the S70 and there’s already a new model.

But this new S80 is different in major ways besides the 8 meg sensor. It’s actually a totally new generation of PowerShot digicam. Today I went to the chic Canon showroom in Ginza, Tokyo to see and touch this camera for the first time. I was duly impressed, much more than I was when the S70 came out.

The width of the camera is noticeably shorter than the S70/60/50. But the thickness is slightly larger than the S70. The external, black-and-silver color tone and design definitely looks slicker and classier than the S70 and previous models. The left side of the camera has the lens sticking out almost at the camera edge, so there’s hardly any room for your left hand to hold the camera. I think my fingers are apt to cover the built-in flash. I guess we have to hold it by the top and bottom edges of the camera.

The monitor screen is much bigger. This conforms to an industry-wide trend where the LCD monitor on the back of the camera for image and menu viewing is expanding to around 2.5 inches which is very comfortable for the eyes.

At first, I thought I could live with the smaller and normal-size 1.8-inch monitor on older cameras. But after looking at the larger screen on the S80 and then comparing it with the S70’s screen, I immediately felt like the smaller monitor was forcing me to squint. Yep, a bigger monitor screen is definitely better. No wonder Canon is incorporating a bigger screen on most of its new digital cameras both in the compact and EOS lines. (Too bad the EOS Rebel 350D/Kiss Digital N missed the boat and still has the smaller monitor.) I just hope the camera battery is powerful enough to light up the larger screen without running out of power too soon.

Another impressive development is the camera’s movie mode. It can now record movies up to 1 GB or a whopping 60 minutes maximum. And in the Large mode, no less, for much better picture quality. In fact, the picture quality is so good that Canon says that you can take a still from the movie and print it out. The movie mode in previous models was limited to only 3 minutes of continuous recording time and the resolution was low.

Another thing I noticed was continuous autoexposure in the movie mode. In previous models, the exposure was set automatically only for the initial scene of the movie and then locked for the rest of the movie. So if you started recording a movie on a sunny beach and then panned to a dark shady place, the shady place would look too dark because the camera aperture is locked for the initial bright beach.

But the S80 movie mode will autoexpose the movie scene continuously in real time throughout the movie just like normal video cameras do. This is a real boon. Now you can record movies and not worry about different light levels as you pan or change scenes. (I’m puzzled that Canon’s product literature does not mention this major improvement.)

However, you still cannot zoom in or zoom out during a movie recording. The zoom setting is fixed throughout the movie recording. Hopefully, the next model will enable zooming during movie recording. That would be perfect.

I really love the movie mode even on my old S50. It records sound as well, something which you just cannot capture with just a photograph. When you like to shoot festivals like me, you also want to record the music and motions. And when I give a slide show, mixing my still photos with movie clips really spices up the presentation.

I do have a digital video camera and I’ve been using it a lot more ever since I learned how to transfer the movie to my computer, edit it, and save it to a DVD or for the Web. But still, the S80’s movie mode will be a great.

The S80 also has the new DIGIC II image processor. This is a lot faster than the first-generation DIGIC processor in the S70 and previous models. It makes the camera startup faster, continuous shooting faster, and everything feels faster.

Another thing is the new on-screen user interface. Like wow, very slick. For example, when you turn the Mode Dial to change the mode from P (Program) to Movie mode, the LCD monitor displays a large, rotating, dial-like display on the upper right corner to indicate the changing modes. This is great in dark places too when you want to change modes but cannot see the Mode Dial’s markings. After you select the mode, the dial display shrinks and disappears. Maybe somebody from Apple Computer came and designed the screen interface and even the external design. There are some very nice touches to the screen interface.

The most common complaint about the S80 has been that it does not have the RAW mode. Having RAW mode would be great, but for casual snapshooting, JPEG is fine with me.

Another thing is that the camera now uses SD cards instead of CompactFlash. I thought CF cards were small and easy to lose, but SD cards are even smaller and more easy to lose. I’ll need to buy SD cards. Since memory card prices have come down significantly, I don’t mind so much buying SD cards.

I cannot complain about the quick turnover of digital cameras. It’s still an exciting time to see so many major developments in digital camera technology. The S80 will go on sale in Japan tomorrow, Oct. 20, 2005. I’ll let you know after I buy one.

Camera specs at Canon USA:

Off to Finland in September 2005

I’m happy to announce that I will be in Finland during Sept. 9-18, 2005 as an invited guest at a nature photo festival in a small town called Kuusamo. I am scheduled to give three slide shows on Japanese nature photography. I thank the town of Kuusamo for sponsoring my first trip to Finland.

Also, the Friends of Japanese Culture Society in Helsinki will host a separate slide show that I will give on Sept. 6. I plan to show my pictures and video clips of Japanese festivals. Details below:

A small town called Kuusamo in Finland will be holding its annual nature photo festival during Sept. 9-18, 2005.

They invite a good number of nature photographers to give slide shows and exhibitions. Most are from Europe, and this year many are coming from Germany. They also offer day trips for rafting and bear watching.

This year will be its 10th festival, and they have invited me to give slide shows on nature photography in Japan. My slide shows will be held on Sept. 9, 10, and 11. This is the first time someone from Japan will be giving a slide show at the festival, and I’m honored to participate.

I plan to introduce nature photography in Japan, popular nature spots in Japan, and the works of the following three nature and wildlife Japanese photographers whom I have selected to show at the festival. They have kindly agreed to lend me their photographs and photo books (to be donated to the Kuusamo public library):

Mitsuhiko Imamori (Lake Biwa) http://www.imamori-world.jp/
Satoshi Kuribayashi (insects) http://www5.ocn.ne.jp/~kuriken/
Ikuo Nakamura (marine life) http://www.squall.co.jp/index1.html

Kuusamo is north of Helsinki, about an hour’s flight and almost in the middle of the country slightly below the Artic Circle near the Russian border. It is surrounded by a wonderful natural environment with numerous lakes, rivers, bears, and birds. In winter, it is a popular base for skiiing.

Festival Web site here:

Kuusamo Hall (festival venue):

Also, the “Finland-Nihon Bunka Tomo no Kai” (Friends of Japanese Culture Society) in Helsinki has agreed to host a separate slide show for me in Helsinki on Sept. 6 since I will be in Helsinki for a few days before flying to Kuusamo. I plan to show slides and movies of Japanese festivals.

I look forward to my first trip to Finland. Thanks to the town of Kuusamo for sponsoring my first trip to Finland.

Update: The trip was a great success. See pictures here:

Exhibitions in Italy

Palazzo Ducale, site of the Japan art exhibition in 2005 in Genova, Italy


In early July, I visited Genova, Italy to see a major Japanese art exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale, the city’s grandest exhibition hall being held April to August 2005.

It showed ukiyoe, posters, textiles, and photographs. I was the co-curator of the photography exhibition which showed images of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb aftermath.

See photos of the exhibition here:

I also visited Venice to see the art biennale held every 2 years. The Japan Pavilion featured photographer Miyako Ishiuchi. Mariko Mori was also there with popular UFO exhibit.


I also saw huge photo exhibitions in Milan

and Verona

It was my first trip to Italy, and my Italian friends there made it a wonderful trip. I don’t think I can eat Italian food in Japan any more, not after eating the real thing in the real Italy.

Next month in Sept., I’ll be in Finland to give slide shows at a nature photo festival in a small town called Kuusamo. I’ll be taking a little bit of Japan to that Nordic country.

Completing the film-to-digital transition

If you’ve been keeping up with this BBS, you would know that I’ve switched over from film to digital last year. I don’t use film anymore.

It started with a compact Canon PowerShot camera. That obviously was not enough so several months later I got the Canon Kiss Digital (300D or Digital Rebel). Having a D-SLR made me feel like I really switched over. But not 100% yet. I still have to get a professional D-SLR and a few more Canon lenses (since I’ve been using Nikon film SLRs).

But one major sticking point in the digital equation remained: The thousands of pictures I’ve taken with film. They were still in analog mode. I knew that I would have to eventually make digital versions of all my best film shots. And so about a year ago, I started scanning my best film images during my spare time (or during work).

I am happy to announce that the job has been completed. I now have over 21,500 shots of Japan scanned from film. Of course, they represent only a small fraction of all the pictures I’ve taken during my years in Japan. But they are the best, my all-time favorite shots of all 47 prefectures in Japan.

It’s great to have instant access to 21,500 images stored on a 160 GB hard disk (and backup DVD disks) at my beck and call. If you’re a Web-oriented person like me, having a large stock of photos is a real boon.

So now I’m working on a brand new Web site (PHOTOGUIDE.JP) to show thousands of my scrapbook photos of Japan. Through these images, I look forward to sharing my travels, adventures, and experiences in Japan with the world.

Update: From fall 2009, I’ve begun to scan all my film images, even those I scanned before. I’m using a better scanner and taking more time to eliminate dust spots along the way.

My hula article in ANA’s inflight mag

I wrote an article about hula in this month’s March 2004 issue of WINGSPAN magazine which is ANA’s inflight magazine.

It is the magazine’s main article with 10 pages of text and color photos. It is the result of a “hula trip” to Hawaii I made in Nov. 2003. The article includes a personal narrative of my thoughts and experiences with hula, interviews with hula dancers, and practical information such as hula basics, hula history, and hula shows. The photos were taken by a pro photographer.

There were a few editorial disagreements I had with the magazine editor, so there are a few words and expressions that I don’t agree with. Such as the title: “Hawaii: Window to a Culture.” I wanted it to be “Hula: Window to a Culture.” After all, the article is about hula, not Hawaii. But all in all, it turned out okay.

If you fly on ANA (All Nippon Airways) this month, please look for my article! Otherwise, you can probably pick up a copy at ANA ticket offices.

Have a good trip!

Update: I have reproduced the article online, but without the original photos. The photos in the online version were not in the original article:

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