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Shikoku, The Beginning


Shikoku, The Beginning

Tokyo to Tokushima

After editing for nearly five days, I thought it was about time to find my way to Tokushima.  Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku, is where it all begins.  There looked to be several ways to get there, and all of them had one thing in common... It would take a while.

After some research, I settled on an overnight bus from Kawasaki Station to Osaka Station, then a two hour bus ride to Tokushima.  The overnight bus was not as bad as it sounds.  I reserved the first seat behind the driver, and it was really a high class ride.  The seat reclined to nearly horizontal and curtains on every side pulled together tightly enough to block out every bit of light. Combining a night's sleep and travel wasn't a bad deal at all.

Overnight bus.  Yes, it's pink.

Kawasaki Station to Osaka on the Willer Express overnight bus.

I arrived in Osaka in the early morning.  Being a workday, Osaka station was not without its normal congestion.  The station, like most stations in Japan, were bright, clean and just full of life and activity.  I stowed my luggage into a locker and thought I'd explore a little before taking off on a noon bus for Tokushima.  One thing I hadn't found yet was a really good English-Japanese dictionary.  Luckily, a large bookstore in the station carried two perfect travel-sized ones.  I bought both of them since one was geared more towards phrases and just vocabulary.  The two together, along with my very broken Nihongo, should be all the communication tools I need for the walk.

Survival tools.

Freshness Burger.  Trust me, it's good.

I spent a lot of time in Osaka Station, but ventured outside for just one thing.  I needed to find a Freshness Burger.  I love burgers, and I've had them all.  Their burger, to me, puts all others to shame.  Let me put it this way,  I walked nearly 4 miles to get one.  I figured this would be one of my last meals before the walk, and I just really wanted some delicious for lunch.  After the walk-lunch-walk, I got my bus ticket from the JR counter and began plotting my trip to Ryozenji, the first temple.


So Unlike The Big City

Tokushima is not a large city at all.  The train experience alone clearly paints the difference.  Tokushima Station is on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four major islands.  The station requires you to physically hand your boarding ticket to a human being.  That's right, a living, breathing human being with eyes to greet you and a waist from which to bow.  The machines in Tokyo that read and spit out your ticket faster than you can take two steps are no where to be found.

Tokushima Station in the distance.

To add to the small city appeal, the stations along the tracks outside of Tokushima have no attendant at all.  Sitting in a corner of Bando Station, my stop for Ryozen-ji (Temple 1), is an old vending machine.  It sits there quietly, in an open air hut with a few chairs, waiting to trade your money for tickets.  A small bridge over the tracks leads you to an even smaller shelter, where you very patiently wait for your return trip.

View from Bando Station, the stop for Ryozen-ji (the first of 88 temples).

Not your spit-shined walkway you'd typically find in other parts of Japan.  This one at Bando Station has character.

Not a lot of commuters expected at Bando Station.

Let's Get Started

Now, the whole reason I went to Bando Station was to find my way to Ryozen-ji.  The first of the eighty-eight temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage starts at this very temple.  Not more than a 15-minute walk from the station sits a rather unassuming temple.  

My first view of Ryozen-ji, the first of 88 temples along the Shikoku Trail.  The 750-mile pilgrimage around Shikoku starts at Ryozen-ji.

Peering into Ryozen-ji.

My plan was to gather all the requisite gear today and begin my walk the following day.  The temple is geared for pilgrims, as there were three different places to purchase the staff, hat, books, and white jacket.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a jacket large enough for me and I was told that the next temple would have one.  Walking over wouldn't be a problem on this first day, though I also wanted to just sit in the first temple and be a simple observer.

Not being a buddhist, I needed to see how things were done.  I sat for about an hour and watched people and groups of people come in to the temple and worship.  I identified a similar process between all of them, and was happy to see that what I read before coming here was plenty accurate.  After feeling comfortable about carrying myself respectfully and properly in the temple, I started towards the second temple for my larger white jacket.

Walking to the second temple, I smiled nearly the whole way.  I was finally really doing it.  Yes, I would start from the beginning again tomorrow, but I was finally putting one foot in front the other and starting the pilgrimage.  Homes, a few stores, rice paddies and citrus trees.  These passed by me like paintings in a museum.  Knowing that I'd see much more of this, I was overcome with a calming sense of happiness.  I can tell you, it's nothing I've ever felt before.

Hawaii and Japan

Upon reaching the second temple's store, I was greeted by the kindest, sweetest shopkeepers.  Two old women helped me with my purchases and were so patient with my horrible Nihongo.  I'm glad I spent my money here, as the woman as the first temple was kind and helpful, but a little lacking in sweetness.  I imagine they offer a gift to everyone, but the woman who rang up my sale gave me a free lighter for the incense that I'd be burning at each temple.  This little gesture meant a great deal to me, and I thanked her profusely.  One thing I've always noticed about traveling in Japan is that people are so delighted to hear that I'm from Hawaii.  As many Japanese travelers as there are to Hawaii, I am sure that Aloha has somehow touched most people here in one way or another.  Almost as soon as I mention Hawaii, I feel the Aloha returned almost instantly.  Let me tell you, it's such a warm and welcoming feeling, and the shopkeepers were no exception.

Unlocked bicycles outside Bando Station, waiting for their trustworthy owner to return.  Warning: Don't Try This at Home.

Knowing that I should probably head back to the hotel in Tokushima to prepare for the next day, I wrapped up my purchases and headed back to Bando station.  A little anxious?  Maybe.  Terribly excited, yet quietly calm?   Definitely. 


Killing Time in Ikebukuro

Killing Time in Ikebukuro

Explore, Edit, Explore Again

After the photography shoot in Manila, I needed to spend a few days editing hundreds of photos.  It wasn't necessarily tough work, but it was very tedious.  What made it a little tougher was the sheer file size of the photos.  Shooting on a Sony A7R (in RAW) is the perfect way to choke the living daylights out of Lightroom, especially if you've imported a lot of them.  Much of what I needed to do involved gradient exposure adjustments and a lot of simple cropping.  I did what I could in Lightroom, and send the cropping work off to an editor back at home.

I spent a lot of time in a tiny hotel room near Mejiro Station, just north of Shinjuku.  Being away from the busy Shinjuku area, the hotel was very reasonably priced and conveniently placed in a wonderful little middle-class neighborhood.  Being away from Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku, it's quite simply just a lot cheaper.  Traveling isn't cheap, and a good business hotel with WiFi is all I ever really need.  Not wanting to stay cooped up all day, I ventured out at times just to get a bite to eat and to check out the local happenings.  One thing I did find was an excellent apple pastry at a pan-ya across my hotel.  Needless to say, I had a few of them over the next few days.

Most of my outings were in the Ikebukuro area, simply because there was an outdoor equipment store in the area.  If you do any kind of adventuring, you could spend hours wandering the aisles of L. Breath.  With the pilgrimage I planned to do, I did just that.

Trains regularly pass through the Mejiro neighborhood.

Crossed the tracks...

... and on my way to Ikebukuro.

On my way to Ikebukuro, I wandered past a beautiful little garden.  I'm OK with Katakana and Hiragana, but Kanji.... not so much.  The signs were clear (in Japanese), but my illiteracy kept me confused.  Either way, I thought I needed to find out.  I took a few quiet steps under an ornate entryway and into what I later discovered to be Mejiro Garden.  A caretaker looked at me with a pleasant look, so I kept walking in and found just the perfect little escape for the neighborhood residents.  It wasn't a big space at all, but its small wall of trees and still pond of water is meant to calm anyone.

Got lucky!  Just in time for a two-day matsuri (festival) in Ikebukuro!  Food, entertainment, and omikoshi!

When I got to the Ikebukuro, I noticed a row of tents and a stage at the far end.  To my surprise, a two-day festival was about to start and I was just in time!  I shot photos like a tourist with my LX100 that I purchased a few weeks earlier.  This little camera is just awesome, and helped me to capture great still images and wonderful videos.  I'll put together a video soon, and nearly all the footage will be from the 4K-capable LX100.  The rest will be from my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.  That's not too shabby, but nothing when compared to the Panasonic with it's Leica-designed fixed zoom lens.

The Mejiro and Ikebukuro area are two wonderful little gems in the Tokyo area.  For me, there really isn't any where else to stay while I'm working or playing in Tokyo.  The convenience, the food, the people... just perfect.

Manila, A Quick Trip Becomes a Life-long Lesson

Manila, A Quick Trip Becomes a Life-long Lesson

Go Small or Go Home

With my first two nights being in a Narita hotel, there really wasn't time to do much.  I knew that I'd be back here after five nights in Manila,  so I quickly headed into Tokyo to find the perfect point-and-shoot camera.  I wanted something that I could use for documenting my work (and any downtime) in Manila and to use for the pilgrimage afterwards.

My camera bag is already packed full of heavily used photography and videography gear from Sony, Panasonic and Olympus, but I wanted something with a built-in, fast aperture lens and 4K video.  Although the list is growing, there aren't many out there.  Being familiar with Panasonic products, I settled on the Lumix LX100.  Yes, it's a couple years old, but it's hard to beat 4K, an f1.7 lens, and sensible ergonomics.  It's pretty safe to say that everything from here on out (at least for this trip's blog) will be done on the LX100.

A Glimpse of the Philippines with the Panasonic Lumix LX100

Motorbikes may not rule they road, but ain't nothing like feeling you're always in a biker gang.

This docile looking trio must be wondering why this guy isn't taking a seat.  The tricycles (or pedicabs) dart through the narrow streets and alleys of Manila like nothing else.

Busy and humid afternoon in Barangay Pembo, just over the highway from the financial district of Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

SM Aura in BGC.  It's a mall. A big one.  See Ronald McDonald on the right?

My Thoughts on Manila

Ok, so spending just five days in Manila really just means that my opinion may be very nearly worthless.  It's ok, though... it's just an opinion.

Everyone I met and worked with was very friendly and enormously humble.  It didn't matter if it is was during my on-site photography work, at the mall, or even in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Ok, I may have been met with the occasional inquisitive stare, but nothing about Manila made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  

I know there's all this talk in the U.S. and other western countries about President Duterte and his methods, but personally, I'm not one to use my own ignorance to pass judgement on others.  (Remember, this is my worthless opinion.) In an attempt to cure that ignorance, I asked questions to those that appeared to me that they would answer candidly.  In a nutshell, the answers very clearly pointed out that people here feel much safer with their new president.  All of them said how they wouldn't dare go out late at night for fear of being assaulted or violently robbed.  With obviously very little tolerance for criminal activity, Duterte and the police are more than happy to throw anyone in jail.  Not sure if you've seen the news photos recently, but a Filipino jail is not where you want to go.  The people I spoke with now think almost nothing of heading over to the corner convenience store at night, and they all echoed the same basic message; crime, drugs, and corruption now have an enemy.

Most seem to truly believe that there will be prosperous times ahead, and have prayed for this change for a long time.  If my work in Manila is any indication, there may be much more foreign investment in the Philippines in the future, and the people there deserve it.  

If their enormously charismatic leader's methods are questioned, many of them were quick to say that outsiders fail to count the staggering amount of innocent people that have lost their lives to drugs and corruption.  Sounds like they've got a point.

An outdoor food court at Market!Market!  (No, that's not a mistake. It's supposed to be double.) Got my tasty pork adobo plate here.

On the last day in Manila, I realized that what I really gained from my first trip here was a deep and overwhelming sense of humility.

One U.S. dollar is a big deal, and most people here do their very best with every dollar or peso in their pocket.  I'm just as guilty as the next person when it comes to finding the most meaningless things to grumble about, and I promised myself that I would do much less of that nonsense.

Finding contentment and joy in the smallest things won't just be empty words, but words I will do my very best to live by.  Manila has undoubtedly changed me.


One Week, A Dozen Stories

One Week, A Dozen Stories

It's been about ten days since I've left my home in Hawaii and I can surely tell you that I've already enough experiences for a good read.  In a nutshell, I talked politics with the lead singer of a well-known Filipino rock band, I've shared views on the photography and videography industry with an acclaimed Filipino photojournalist, and I met a man who rebuilt his life from nothing, and in a country he doesn't belong.  But, the experience that's impacted me the most was finding friendship in a young, bright photographer and filmmaker from Quezon City.

 If these experiences aren't prime examples of how the enrichment of travel is all too valuable to ignore, I really don't know what is. Hate to say it again folks (actually, I don't hate it), but... stay hungry, stay foolish.

Getting completely lost in Shinjuku, by choice.  Really, just take a few turns and you'll enjoy every step much more.

Oh, here's one story I didn't mention above.  It was such a magical experience that I just had to get it on paper.  I'll get to the rest eventually, but this one's first.

To Heal a Stranger

I spent one full day in Tokyo before my trip to Manila, and I was so quickly reminded of the order of things here.  This city, in many ways, puts many other cities to shame.  Small cities (like my own) struggle with a single little railway year after painful year, while Tokyo and the rest of Japan have an infinitely complex rail system that shuttles everyone with surgical precision and musical perfection.  I've ridden it dozens of time, and it's still mind-blowing.  It was on one of these trains that I met an old woman who learned a little about me with just wave of her hand.

Toyama-san asked to sit near me on the train, and upon looking up, I saw that she really deserved whichever seat she wanted.  She looked to be in her eighties and had a few more bags than she really should be carrying.  I practically jumped up when she motioned to the narrow space beside me, and I surprised her by offering a larger part of the prize than she expected.  Just as soon as she took her seat, she looked right up at me and pointed to the slightly less narrow space beside her.  I politely refused by placing my hips between my open palms and saying, in Japanese, that I was too big.  She motioned her insistence, but I knew I couldn't fit.  At the next stop, a salary-man seated next to her stood up and left the train.  Now with the open space, she wouldn't take no for an answer, and I smiled as I sat next to her.

This is where things get a little bit confusing as I don't remember how we started communicating.  My Japanese is about worthless, and her english was, well, non-existent. There were a few smiles and small nods between us, but not much else.  Despite the clear language barrier, I found a way to summon my high school teachings and tell her my name, where I was from, and that I was going to do the Shikoku pilgrimage.  Her surprised and joyful look was quickly followed with, "o-henro?!" I nodded and smiled, and Toyama-san looked downward, smiled, and just seemed pleased.  About a minute later, Toyama-san angled herself towards me and stretched her right arm near my back and her left arm near my left knee.  With a whole bunch of commuters still on the train, I admit that I felt a bit uncomfortable.  Toyama-san waved her hands over me and in a motion that appeared to be as if she was mystically reading something about me.  I looked across the train car to see if anyone was watching, and of course, there was a middle-aged woman looking right at us.  In Japan, it's not normal for people to stare at others beyond a split second, so this was definitely a mini-event for that woman.  As soon as I caught her looking, she let out a large smile and nodded her head in a way that made me feel like, at that moment, I was very lucky.

Another minute went by and Toyama-san pulled her hands away from me, and while still seated, she began kicking her lower legs back and forth. She pointed at her legs, then pointed at mine.  By this time, I knew she was doing reiki and I told her (again, in my horrible Japanese) that my left knee hurts at times.  She quickly nodded and I somehow gathered that she said she knew.  As I was about to thank her for the reiki, she moved both of her hands toward my knee and continued her healing.  She repeatedly followed the contour of my shin and foot, and obviously was trying to draw the "bad" away from my knee, and down and out of my foot.  By this time, I just wanted to completely confirm that it was reiki, so I very politely asked.  She was surprised that I knew, and quickly followed (in English) with "very powerful."  I nodded and said, "I know."  After another minute or so, she stopped the reiki and pulled a small pouch from a large red backpack.  From the pouch, she removed a single sticker from a sheet of them, and placed one on my knee.  She looked pleased with what she did, and quickly put the pouch back in her bag.  The sheet of stickers; she handed them to me.

By the next minute, Toyama-san pointed to he nose, mentioned her name, and stood up as the train slowed.  As the doors opened to Katsutadai Station, Toyama said bowed and waved with every other step towards the open doors.  I returned each gesture as she walked out, and then one final bow and one last wave through the train car's large window.

I'm fairly certain I will never see her again, but it's quite alright.  I believe she left happy and she knows I did as well.  We exchanged little words, but gained a life-long memory.  As I continued on the train to my hotel, I quietly embraced the happiness of that moment.  Really, the day could not have ended any better.

Next Month, I Walk 700 Miles.  Seriously.

Next Month, I Walk 700 Miles. Seriously.

One quote that's always stuck with me is "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

Years ago, Steve Jobs closed a commencement speech at Stanford with this quote.  It's not his quote, but it is an effective one. Even though he addressed hundreds of newly-minted college graduates, the words are fitting for everyone, from collegiate scholar to skilled worker. In an candid and conversational way, he delivered three short stories that very fittingly define the quote. If you've never heard this speech, please take just fifteen minutes to check it out. It's profound nature lies only in its basic truth.  Seriously, go check it out.  It's garnered 9 million views on just this one YouTube posting. I wish my videos had even a fraction of that impact.

Ok, back to the 700-mile walk. 

As part of staying hungry and foolish, I thought I should do something so out of the ordinary that it'll change who I am. I don't know if I was researching a video gig, checking out someone's blog, or just generally wasting time on the internet. Regardless of how it occurred, I happened upon a site that described a pilgrimage in Japan that was first done by a buddhist monk in the 8th century. The pilgrimage is a circumnavigation of Shikoku Island, with a stop at each of 88 temples along the way. Over the centuries, it has become a popular journey among Japanese and foreigners, alike. Most people complete it using modern transportation methods, and that really seems like the sensible way to do it. But, that just doesn't seem hungry and foolish enough to me.

Running my own business has been the most fool-hearted thing I've done. 

I've never understood the allure of entrepreneurship until I became one.  The things I once took for granted when working in teams of hardworking people became painfully apparent when I went completely on my own.  I've learned so much about myself and my capabilities, and in ways that I would have never realized.  This 700-mile walk, to me, would seem a natural extension of that realization.  I want to know more about who I am and what I can do, and the only way I know how is to put myself through something that would seem, well, crazy. I guess what I really want to know are my limitations.

I shoot video for a living, occasionally photos.

I don't know if I'm a filmmaker or a photographer, but I do both, and I love them equally. My clients need me to be creative, and to continue to see things differently than most. My work with a camera or an editing workstation will (hopefully) be enjoyed by thousands. I want my client's viewers moved, emotionally.  I want them happy, sometimes sad, and other times even angry enough to take action.  I'm paid honest money to do honest work, and this journey will help me build and foster my creativity. It's an investment in me and an investment in my work.  It's an investment in those who trust me and those who have yet to do so.  I take my life's work with so much joy and seriousness that I really see no other way.  (Here's another plug for Steve Jobs speech...  go watch it.)  For all the physical punishment I'll endure, there'll be no greater reward than the fruits of this labor.  What I realize at the end will undoubtedly bring me to my knees... in one way or another. Here's the funny part, though... I don't even know what realizations will come to me.  But, that's what so remarkable about it.

I'll always be hungry, and those who know me well, have called me foolish for years. It's really just fitting.


Oh, one more thing.  I apologize to end this way but if you'd like to help me on this journey, please click the link below.


Either way, I appreciate the time you spent here and I invite you back to this blog over the next two months as I document along the way.



The Customer Service of Craigslist

Photo by LoriTole/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by LoriTole/iStock / Getty Images

I love connecting with my clients. After all, doing video and photography in Hawaii ain't all that bad!  Now, I'm not talking about connecting in your typical customer service kinda way, but in a genuine and authentically kind manner.  We call that Aloha, but everyone has their own way to spell A-L-O-H-A.  If I happen to part ways with a potential client without closing a marketing video or documentary deal, at least I had a chance to meet someone new and build a completely positive relationship.

I recently realized that my desire to do this goes well beyond my photo and video work at Sky Blue Pictures. When I need stuff or gear, I enjoy scouring Craigslist as much as everybody else. Whether it's photography and video equipment, cars, surfboards, motorcycles, I do it all on Craigslist first. Hold on... this isn't a plug for Craigslist.  Give me a few more minutes to get to the point, which was customer service.

What I have noticed is that there are two types of Craigslist responders, and here's your two typical responses to an advertisement for a video item, a Panasonic GH4 mirrorless camera.

Question:  Hi, do you still have the Panasonic GH4?  If so, can you tell me how long you've owned it and how much and the type of use it's seen?  -Aloha, Jon

Answer 1: Hi, Jon!  Yes, I still have it.  I bought it hoping to shoot some weddings, but I found a camcorder works better for me.  It's about 6 months old and I've used it at 3 weddings.

Answer 2: i have it

Pretty clear difference, huh? Well, I run into Answer 2 a lot more than Answer 1.  It really doesn't matter what the item or service is, it just seems to be that most people have no real interest in being genuinely nice at the onset, even if the goal is to make a little money.  Ok, maybe they've been jaded by all the wild scams on Craigslist, but you can usually very clearly identify a scam through the major grammatical holes in the initial contact.  

Getting back to customer service, it seems that we've lost an understanding of the paramount importance of first impressions.  If Answer 2 happened sporadically, it would make sense.  I mean, we can't all be people-people, or people-persons (is that the correct?)... I think you get the idea.  Anyhow, the buffer inherent in Craigslist adds an extra wall between buyer and seller, and it seems to give people the green light to be very impersonal. People seem to hold themselves to slacked rules of behavior, with neither care nor consequence. If I saw it fit to treat the director of a marketing department that way during out first meeting, I'd not only lose the job and her respect, but I'd feel like an A-double-S! Who wants to walk around feeling like an A-double-S?  Not me! I don't know if people feel that way on Craigslist when (or, if) they re-read their responses, but somehow I doubt it.

Bottom line, I suppose, is that the customer service of (not from) Craigslist(ers) seems to be a great indicator of how people treat complete strangers.  It's a gauge of the quality of human interaction at it's most impersonal level.  Craigslist doesn't pride itself as a platform of community and camaraderie, but to lay blame on a platform is nothing but a finger-pointing excuse for less than ideal behavior. Yes, it's the classifieds, but a sweet and genuine response could make you a few bucks, and even a new friend.

My thoughts, yet again.




The Camera Body is not the Prima Donna

I recently responded to a question on Quora where a user asked "Which GoPro Hero 4 stabilizer should I buy without going bankrupt?"  We all know how expensive our equipment is and we shudder every time we realize that we need that one more thing to get that perfect shot.  One thing I learned about choosing equipment is to place less significance on any one item, and realize that the best shot is gathered when all parts are treated equally.  Here's my answer to that question that I posted on Quora:

One thing I learned about cameras as I moved into the professional realm is that the support equipment is as significant to a shot as a camera body.  There are tripod heads (just the head, not the legs) that cost much more than a good camera and lens.

Basically, don't let the camera body be the center of attention.  It really loses value much faster than your other gear.  The quality of your final shot is just as dependent on the stabilizer as it is the lens, camera body, lights, batteries, etc.

Here's my basic rule of thumb on camera equipment importance:
  1. Lens
  2. Lighting
  3. Stabilizing Equipment
  4. Audio (watch a YouTube video with bad audio... you won't for very long
  5. Camera Body (there'll be a new one released just about when you really learn yours)



New Site, New Inspiration

No matter what we do for a living, a lot of what shapes our daily work sprouts from internal influence.  Of course, we may work in teams, and get our direction from the boss, but our hands shape what our minds rouse.

With the unveiling of a new website for Sky Blue Pictures, I thought it best to introduce something that has very recently begun to shape my work and my style.  A group of like-minded peers whose work is expertly captured and unbelievably pieced together in a way that I can only describe as perfect.  Yes, yes... there's no such thing as perfect.  I dare you, though, to watch this and not find your soul moved.  When you do, tell me that's not perfection.

As I move along my path to becoming better at what I do, I can honestly say that the storytellers at Gnarly Bay neither have me jealous nor envious.  They have me ultra-inspired.  I had the immense pleasure of working with two members of the team earlier this year and I almost wanted to return what they paid me in the end.  (Don't tell them I said that.)  Honestly though,  what I gained in knowledge and friendship was truly, truly priceless.

See for yourself...

The Important Places by Gnarly Bay