First Matsuri of 2012

I’ll admit that this post is two weeks late. What can I say, I’ve been busy. In my world, ‘busy’ isn’t just the day job, it also covers drinking tea, drinking beer, and sleeping, and I’ll confess to having done all three of these in the last month. Quite often.

So on with the post.

On May 19th., we went to our first matsuri of the year. For those few of you who don’t know what a matsuri is, a matsuri(祭り)is a community festival, and many are held in the Summer around Japan. I like these things.

This one was a little atypical, in that it wasn’t really a community one, but one organised by the local council in a nice stretch of family oriented park down by the river. There were a few game stalls, a few food stalls, some free popcorn, free balloon animals (though I got a balloon katana and tried to claim it was for my kids), some ponies to ride, and inflatable castle, a monkey and some vegetable stands. This is typical faire, even for a small one like this, though I admit, the ponies and monkey are a little out of the norm.

Given the beautiful weather and park locale, it was a really relaxing day, starting around 10.30am, and winding down at 3pm, which again is a little unusual as matsuris tend to be afternoon and even affairs.

I enjoyed all of the bits and pieces, and we did ponder getting a house nameplate carved on the spot by a local joinery company who had a stall, but somehow managed not to. I do like kakigoori (かき氷), which is a bowl of shaved ice – not ice chunks, but very thinly sliced ice, which makes it more like snow – with some syrup added. It’s a staple of the hot summers here at these kind of things, and something to look forward to. There was a stall selling what seemed to be edible gelatinous spheres. More than that I can’t say – I didn’t try them, and though they looked nice, at least candyfloss is straight-up honest sugar.

I have to admit to not have been sure about the monkey – part of me balks at that, and kids love it, but that thick rope didn’t make it look too friendly to me. The ponies looked a little happier, and their owner didn’t pan-handle for tips.

One game involves a small paddling pool filled with water with what are referred to here as balloon yoyos – kind of water filled balloons on long elastic bands if you can visualise that. Each person gets a hook on the end of a length of tissue paper, and has to hook the elastic band and retrieve the yoyo from the water before the paper breaks. In reality the kids all get one to prevent riots.

One energetic tyke was bouncing his balloon up and down and then tried a trick at the precise time the elastic band broke, and the balloon flew off and smacked me in the face. For a second I had a mosh pit flashback for some reason, but calmly picked the balloon up as this clueless kid just stood there with his mouth doing that guppy fish thing whilst his poor grandmother had to apologise. I tossed it back to him and asked him to be more careful in the future.

So this was a gentle introduction to the fervour of the matsuri season in Japan, and I look forward to a lot more in the next few months. Photos likely to follow, unless I’m busy.

New York

Towards the end of November I was lucky enough to be in New York again. It was a packed agenda, so there was no sight seeing, but New York, especially Manhattan, is one of those places where the people just about make the place, so it was good to be spending the week with New Yorkers. I was staying in a small local hotel which didn’t serve any food, so every morning I’d go down to the corner and pick up a large coffee for $2 and an almond croissant from EuroPan, and read in the hotel lobby whilst I drank the coffee, which is not my usual way of starting the day, but which proved surprisingly addictive.

Anyway, I didn’t take a camera, so these are from my mobile phone camera, and aren’t of the usual landmarks.

New York at Night


The Streets

New Header Photo: Feet In the Ocean

After five months with the excellent Alabaster Heads as my header image, I’ve decided to change it. I have to say though, that my photo of Jaume Plensa’s installation at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park got more hits and searches than any other header by a long way. If you haven’t seen them in real life, then seek them out.

The new header image is far less artistic or ambitious – it’s my feet in the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean at Shimoda on a recent visit to Ernest House. I’m wearing my Keen hiking sandals, and it was toward the end of a couple of great days, and it was nice to just stand in the water and watch the waves. I thought it made a nice ‘end of summer’ image, as we go into Autumn 2011.


Photograph Digitising and Preservation

Perhaps as you get older, and certainly when you have children, you start thinking a bit more about preserving family photos. All photos of my kids have always been digital, so for me, preserving and archiving that has been a digital storage and backup dilemma, so have a look down the bottom of this post for my solutions on that.

However, almost all of my own childhood pictures are on single pieces of paper in boxes, some in albums, and some of which we still have the single negatives of. For me, that’s an issue as I live on the other side of the planet from the rest of my family and those photos, and there’s only that single copy, which we’d like to duplicate to have here in Japan as we start our own family, and not just to reduce that single point of disaster. I want to give my kids a giggle when they look at what I did when I was a kid.

Most of my old family photos were shot on cheap 110 film cameras with those stick flashes which melted after one use (my children will laugh at this post when they’re old enough to read it!)

110 film was widely available in the seventies and eighties, and roundly regarded as not very good nowadays. This means many of my childhood photos aren’t great technically, but from going through this process with a hundred or so photos so far, it isn’t the image quality that matters, it’s the memory of the moment, so don’t worry if that awesome memory you have in your head seems to have a coffee ring on the corner of the print and is slightly out of focus on the paper – it doesn’t detract at all.


I have a recent, but not new, Epson GT-X770 scanner – it’s a mid range home scanner, and supports slide and negative scanning via a top lid light, and plastic negative holders. I did though, have to make my own holder for 110 film negative, as virtually no scanners support it natively. It also has some solid scan drivers and hardware elements for colour restoration, scratch removal etc.. I tend to scan two versions of each print; one a straight un-modded one, and one with colour restored because I actually find the scanner seems to do a better job of this that Photoshop for some reason.

The resolution I scan at depends on the source and the photo. There are plenty of guides out there, though I find some to be a bit off to me – a good website for reviewing some of the more technical aspects is ScanTips

Generally I scan colour paper print photos at 300dpi, and a few at 600dpi [dots per inch].

300dpi is easily good enough for most prints, and recently, what most photo print shops printed at anyway. From what I can tell from testing on the 110 prints, 300dpi is already far above what was captured on the paper anyway. I use 600dpi for some black and white prints from good sources, though again, I’m probably going too high and am pretty much capturing high resolution grain some of the time.

For negatives, you’ll use a much higher dpi setting (as the negatives are so small) and you start to see why scanners often have fantastically high scan numbers.

I tend to go for ~2400-3200dpi, but again, you run the risk of purely scanning grain in the negative, rather than capturing any real value, so no need to put the scanner on max, unless you have pristine, well shot slides or negatives. Again, for me, my sources are relatively poor, so I don’t need to go too far – to around 3200dpi for some 35mm negatives I had from early backpacking trips with my old Olympus.

Other Scanner Settings
I tend to just try to capture everything in the scanner, and then ‘fix’ in software on a copy. The only exception is really colour restore as I said, and some hardware features. Unsharp mask etc. I just leave for software adjustments later on.

File Format

When saving anything you’ve digitized from an analogue source, you want it to be in a loss-less format – this means that it’s exactly what you captured. The other system is ‘lossy’ and generally you don’t see the difference, except when you do multilpe generations of saves.

I save the files as loss-less TIFF files. This seems to be the most widely supported format, and holds comments and other things fairly well, it also has some lossless compression options, and handles high colour depth for those with higher end scanners. I’ve saved some of my own scans as PNG format also, as there’s nothing wrong with it, and has some advantages over TIFF in loss-less compression, but lacks support in some applications.

Never, ever, save as JPG – just don’t – always try to save a loss-less version as your ‘gold master’, and take JPGs from that. For any file conversion, I recommend IrfanView for Windows, and GraphicConverter for OS X.


If the thought of getting a scanner and taking the time and effort to do all those photos seems scary or just plain painful, you can pay someone to scan your prints and negatives, and return them to you. This might also be an option if you’re looking at a huge archive.

There was some controversy a few years ago that many of the companies ship your photos to India for scanning and clean up, though there never seemed to be anyone who’d lost photos or had any other issues with any of these services, and as long as the end result is good, I fail to see how it’s an issue.

That Digital Storage
Backups for my computers used to really be about things I’d written and so on, but basically, like this blog – I always have a copy online these days, but I will confess I still backup a WordPress export locally now and then, but I think that’s relatively safe.

Prints are on paper, and you have a negative. There’s no worry about obsolete file formats, or applications, you just look at them in an album – risk of deletion is fairly low.

For any format though, there’s the risk of natural disaster, fires, theft and all manner of things – I tragically saw a lot of this when I went up to Tohoku to help clean up the tsunami damage – we all kept a keen eye out for any photos, CDs, hard drives or negatives which may help someone put their family memories back together.

I see a lot of people saying to keep a USB drive as a backup, but I’m not sure that’s safe enough. I believe in 3 copies – two different media locally, and one off-site copy. For me, most of my photos are on a Mac, that’s backed up sort-of live to a USB drive (not a portable one) on my desk via Time Machine, and then I use CrashPlan to upload another copy to their servers over the internet.

I used to back up to DVDs, but the libraries became just too large to burn, and I can’t trust small hard drives, though for a while i would keep one in my office drawer as a backup.

So that’s my setup for archiving the analogue photographic past. There are cheaper, simpler, or more expensive ways of doing it, but this is working for me. I don’t think you can go too wrong as long as you get a basic loss-less image file at a decent resolution, and back it up – and keep that original print or negative.

The Fuji Photo – Never Gets Old

Fuji-san, just never gets old
Fuji-san, just never gets old

There’s something about Mt. Fuji that makes you want to take a picture. I suppose it’s true especially at sunset. I see people who live around here regularly taking snaps, despite seeing this dominant, and dormant, volcano every day of their lives.

Even though it’s not so beautiful up close, it is somewhat relaxing and timeless at sunset I have to admit.

New Header Photo: Heads

For the first time in about six months I’ve decided to change the header image on the site. The old one was from a photo I took of some ice cubes, this one is from an exhibit at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The photo is from an exhibit by Jaume Plensa, and is part of a much larger exhibit, both in the galleries, and outside with even more sculptures in the park itself.  It shows a collection of eleven alabaster heads, subtly lit. The effect is somewhat unearthly, and face on they look much deeper than their profile suggests, and the alabaster gives them an almost organic appearance under the light.

Jaume Plensa’s alabaster heads
alabaster heads
Front facial of an alabaster head

New Header Photo: Ice

I just swapped theme on this blog from ‘Enterprise’ to ‘Twenty Ten’ which has a banner photo area, so I thought I should at least put one of my own photos up there. After thinking about it for at least thirty seconds as I scrolled through iPhoto, I plumped for a small section of the photo below, which is of a glass of iced water I was served in Tokyo Disneyland. Don’t ask me why – I like photos of iced water. For those who are into these things, it was taken with a cheap Canon IXY 30S.

A Nice Glass of Ice

App notes:

Just a quick post here for an iPhone app I’ve been playing with this week. Up front: this isn’t going to change your life. However, it is a bit of fun – It’s a free app which basically takes photos with the iPhone camera, but allows you to apply to some filters and such to make them look quite interesting, and then to add an extra feature in comparison to the other apps which do that, it allows you to very simply send them to several social networks from within the apps such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. If you set the GPS, you can check in to Foursquare there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support WordPress yet.

It is kind of fun. Here’s a couple I’ve done over the last week, and if you do post from your phone regularly, it might add a bit more atmosphere. Of the currently available filters, I quite like the ‘1977’ one, since of late I’ve been scanning some old family pictures from that time, and they do indeed now look pretty like that, so I took a picture of my battered iPod Classic in that format; I quite like it.


old ipod
An iPod from 1977.
A Coffee at Denny's
A Coffee at Denny’s