March 31, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Four

Like every other Disney park, Mediterranean Harbor really shines at night! Because the dark obscures a lot of detail, it's easier for our minds to accept the illusion constructed by the Imagineers. If you thought this area was impressive during the day, the magic triples once the sun goes down.

As we get further along into my report, you may notice a lesser amount of night images than usual, or that composition/perspective seems a little askew at times. It boils down to no tripods being allowed in the parks. I'm not sure when the ban started, but it was done for safety reasons (I wouldn't be surprised at all if this rule is eventually enforced at the USA parks). Fortunately, the Tokyo parks do have a fair amount of walls and ledges that provide some stability for cameras, along with the usual standby of rubbish cans and dining tables.

The image above, taken a little after sunset, was accomplished by balancing my camera on a narrow ledge. Careful not to shake my Nikon, I kept the strap (attached to the camera) on my neck because the drop below was quite far. I normally like to more panoramas, but without a tripod, the necessity of matching up the individual shots proved difficult to say the least. I did manage to stitch together the image below (comprising of 5 separate shots) thanks to the use of a bean bag (tip courtesy of the awesome Tom Bricker). I found it quite handy for mounting my camera on poles or any support that was not flat or even.

The other method I found useful was a Platypod. It's basically a flat metal plate that mounts a tripod head. Perfect for the top of walls, I was able to do a fair number of long exposure shots using this gizmo.

I remember the first day at the park, wandering around feeling overwhelmed and a bit down as the light faded. Beautiful scenery that I would have gobbled up with a tripod, now seemed to tease me with an elusive demeanor. As time headed towards evening and crowds began to slowly dwindle, I hung out at the Palazzo Canals, an area almost deserted due to the gondola ride closing down for the evening. 

Other than the occasional guest heading to "Ristorante de Canaletto" for late dinner (picture below), I pretty much had the place to myself. I decided to use the Platypod since the walls blocking off the canal were low and wide. Setting the camera for a 30 second exposure, I crossed my fingers, and finally began seeing some decent images of this beautifully lit area!

This location really became my home base of sorts, a place I would retreat to when I needed to get away from the crowds or to decompress. It's the same with Main Street when I'm at Disneyland or WDW. Something about the vibe that makes me feel safe and comfortable.

Remember when I mentioned earlier how gray skies were the norm while I was in Tokyo? Although cloud cover will suck the blues right out of the sky, I tend to view clouds as more of a positive in photography, especially at night. Clouds will automatically increase the dramatic mood of an image . This is especially true at sunset and the blue hour. 

I initially planned not to show any images of Mt. Prometheus until I got to the section covering Mysterious Island, but that icon is visible from nearly every area in the park (Not that it's a bad thing. The mountain integrates itself seamlessly into whatever port you're visiting...enhancing, rather than shattering any Disney designed theme/illusion). 

Another icon that is hard to escape is the Tower of Terror. It is clearly visible from both Mediterranean and American Waterfront. 

Again, the Christmas decorations are done tastefully with some measure of restraint giving this entire port a truly classic feel and look!

A water show titled "Color of Christmas" took place every night on the water with lighted trees covering the water. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to shoot it, so a picture of the general area where the show takes place is all I can provide.

This wraps up my coverage of Mediterranean Harbor. I'll take a short hiatus and return with a report on Tokyo Disneyland (I'm going to hop back and forth between the two parks to keep things fresh).

Until then, wishing everyone a Happy Easter and remember...Christ has risen!

March 30, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Three

The panorama above was taken on one of the rare days the sky was blue (gray seemed to be the color of choice for most of the trip). This picture really illustrates the mind boggling talents of Imagineers when given an ample budget and creative freedom. With Disney buying up every license they can get their hands on, I fear the day will come when original park designs NOT tied into existing properties will be a thing of the past. So feast your eyes on majestic Mount Prometheus as it anchors Fortress Explorations and segues into the Mediterranean Harbor. It would be sad to see this architectural and engineering feat replaced by a hodge podge of Pixar and Marvel lands!

Full disclosure here. I'm a life long collector having started with comic books and branching out into books, toys, movie memorabilia, gum cards, original art, and tons more. As I've advanced in age, I've come to that point where downsizing and getting rid of clutter has moved up on the priority ladder. The photos I take are now my take home "souvenirs" although I still enjoy browsing through the various stores. 

The various shops and restaurants are careful to maintain the Italian theming with "Merchants of Venice" and "Mamma Biscotti's Bakery" being two of my favorites. The window displays and attention to details are top notch, although the merchandise itself is somewhat generic. T-shirts, a popular item in the states, are scare here. Shirts with theme park designs are almost non-existant. I did manage to find one with a Disneysea logo (which I purchased for Mark), but otherwise, nada!

"Omiyage" (gift) is a very important tradition in Japan. The locals purchase multiple items to give as presents to family and friends upon returning home. In Hawaii, sales associates are use to giving Japanese tourists extra packages when ringing up their purchases. Being able to give the gift in a bag with the store logo/name is very prestigious (and sort of proves they were on vacation). I did buy a number of pins and snacks for friends, and the cast members were constantly adding extra bags into my package. I ended up giving quite a bit back as I hate to waste (especially when it comes to plastic).

One of the most popular omiyage is snacks. Besides having colorful outside packaging, a majority of the snacks are individually wrapped. This allows the buyer to divide the snacks between a number of recipients (thus the need for extra bags). Japanese sweets use a lot less sugar than American versions and tend to be a lot lighter. A very popular treat is "arare" or rice crackers. Covered with a shoyu sauce and "nori" (seaweed), its tastes a lot better than how it sounds. If you do visit the parks, try it in addition to the standard cookies & candies. 

Mamma Biscotti's Bakery is right outside Miracosta's park entrance so I found myself having coffee and a delicious danish during much of my hotel stay. I think I've learned to enjoy those moments of soaking in the sights and just living in the moment. It doesn't last long until I'm back out there fighting the crowds and trying to take a decent picture, but hey, you take what you can get!

While in the Mediterranean area, I decided to give the snack cart a try.

It was a toss up between the Tiramisu Ice Cream Sandwich and the Mickey "Tropical Fruit" Ice Bar. Being from Hawaii, where tropical treats are pretty common, I opted for the Tiramisu.

Like the pastries, Japan ice cream tends to be less sweet which makes devouring one of these high calorie delights guilt free (almost). Unfortunately, this was one of the rare times where they actual experience failed to live up to the hype. The cookie layer was frozen so hard that I could barely bite off a piece. The overall flavor tasted very indistinct and somewhat bland. A rare thumbs down for a food item at the Tokyo parks!

To be continued...

Photographs copyright 2018 by Len Yokoyama

Timeless Question

It's Good Friday for we who believe and so commemorate the passion of Jesus of Nazareth. More than a prophet, He is God the Son in the flesh.

Jesus is controversial- and His story timeless. Magazines still devote cover stories to Him, books continue to be written, songs composed, and films made. Each piece brings to the forefront Jesus' own question to his disciple Peter, and it is one we all must answer: "Who do you say I am?"

March 28, 2018

New Carpenters Photos

As I'm working through my look at the music of Richard and Karen Carpenter through fresh eyes, I'm only up to the 1971 Tan album- a landmark disc that includes Superstar, Rainy Days and Monday, and For All We Know. It will be awhile before I reach 1976's disc A Kind of Hush, but someone on the wonderful A&M Corner discussion boards shared a terrific link to some shots of the duo for the album by the famous photographer Ed Caraeff. I just couldn't wait until then to share them.

I had not seen these shots, but they are pretty great. Both Karen and Richard seem rested, relaxed, and healthy, putting off that Southern California vibe. Even after seven albums, sold out tours all over the world, and a grueling schedule.

The photo that made the inside of the disc.

They're pretty young here. Karen's barely 26, and Richard's 29. So young to have reached that pinnacle of international stardom and all the pressure that went with it.

The gorgeous but clearly Middle-of-the-Road song I Need to Be in Love is included on the album. The Herman's Hermits' remake is one of my guilty pleasures, and I still can't get enough of Boat to Sail, a Jackie DeShannon piece of life on the ocean. The sheer elegance and artistry of the previous Horizon album would be tough for anyone to compare to. They didn't even do it. They just wanted to have a bit of fun and lighten the mood. The artwork and photos reflect that attitude.

From this same photo session, Ed Caraeff captured my favorite shot ever of Karen, seen below. I think he captured something in her soul.

Everyone seems to love this sepia toned photo of Karen Carpenter.  It gets downloaded from this blog all the time. It even looks good in black and white.

In just seven more years, and Karen would be gone. Those critics who quickly dismissed the Carpenters as fluff would be forced to freshly reevaluate their art in light of her rich, nuanced voice and the lyrics she sang. There's been nothing like that voice since. 

Like a great photograph, you just keep coming back to their songs and discovering something new.

(Photographs copyright Ed Caraeff.)

March 27, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Two

After a hearty breakfast and a 10 minute wait outside the hotel, I boarded the bus to Disneysea! As mentioned earlier, it's about a 25 minute ride to the park, even with minimal traffic. Like its American counterparts, guests at a Tokyo Disney resort are allowed early entry to the park. But (and it's a big but), Japan's early entry is only 15 minutes prior to regular admission! They call it "Happy 15 Entry". Now if you're anything like me, you're knee jerk reaction was "Only 15 measly minutes???"! I'm paying premium resort prices and would want at least the standard hour we get back at home. But here's the thing - the Japanese are zealous in their love of all things Disney. Whatever you think is extreme in terms of fan dedication, times it by three for Japan. When I arrived two hours prior to park opening, the regular entrance lines stretched to Nova Scotia and back! And even the early entry crowd was already a mile long. After being hit with this sober realization, a 15 minute head start didn't seem so inconsequential anymore. 

Though the Japanese will go through great lengths to assure a good spot or position in line, the crowds are always well behaved, orderly, and conscientious. When early admittance began, the line moved quickly because things here move with precision and speed. In the USA, you always have that one or two persons/family with missing/invalid passes or a ton of questions that holds up everything. In Japan, something like that is almost nonexistent. And since the majority of park goers are locals, the cultural difference makes even security checks amazingly quick. You don't lose much of those valuable minutes from the time the first guest enters the park. Running too is not allowed, but I'll be darn if even senior citizens are walking at a pace that left me eating dust!

Disneysea is laid out with seven themed areas or "port of calls".  You start at Mediterranean Harbor which then branches out to the other six: Arabian Coast, Port Discovery, Mysterious Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Lost River Delta, and American Waterfront. The first thing to catch your eye upon entering is the fountain globe...a spherical marvel to behold. I wouldn't argue that Mount Prometheus in Mysterious Island is the centerpiece of the park (much like the various castles). But, I would not chide anyone for seeing this as the icon of Disneysea either. I've attached several images of the globe taken either at sunset, the blue hour, or night. I have a few day shots, but it's really after sunset that the globe truly astounds!

Mediterranean Harbor is modeled after a traditional Italian city with its Venetian gondolas and canals. It's also home to the Hotel Miracosta...a full service resort that resides within the park. It's Disney theming at its finest, a careful construct of illusion mixed with real tactile experiences. The hotel not only serves to house guests, but it plays a strong role in transporting one to a romanticized European city. 

Hotel Miracosta is my favorite Tokyo resort (and 2nd overall to the Wilderness Lodge), but I will cover that more extensively in another installment. My words could never do justice to the amazing detail and craftsmanship of this area, so hopefully my pictures will help impart some of the area's beauty...

To be honest, I tend to view live shows/parades at Disney as a necessary evil...LOL! Meaning that I will grudgingly do it, but rarely feel its worth the time and energy of waiting in big crowds and long lines. I've been even more reluctant when it comes to the Japanese productions as Mickey and Duffy are often the star attractions. It's true I'm not a fan of the mouse and even less so of the bear. My affinity for Disney stems basically from the animated classics and the parks itself. But I knew going in I needed to sample the shows just to give my reports some balance and variety. 

"A Perfect Christmas" was the first show I attended at TDS. I had noticed guests staking out spots in front of the river as soon as the park opened. I made a mental note and made plans to watch the show on the following morning. Knowing the Japanese culture, I knew I needed to move at top speed in order to secure a good spot for photographing the show. I did a little reconnaissance earlier and found that the prime spots near the gates were reserved for families who booked vacation packages through Tokyo Disney. It's a specially priced package that includes park tickets and stays at the Disney resorts. It's something I had initially wanted to book, but it's only available to parties of two or more so I was out of luck (my wife opted for Alaska with her best friend so I travelled solo).

If you're planning to stay at a Disney resort with family, I would definitely look into this option. After package seating, the next 5 feet or so are reserved for guests who prefer sitting. The Japanese are very conscientious when it comes to ensuring proper views for everyone (video cameras cannot be held above head level and children sitting on parent's shoulders are a no-no), so they allocate seats accordingly. Past that, there is an open walkway followed by an area for standing guests. For photography purposes, I chose the front row of this area for a clear and unobstructed view. 

I ended up standing next to a gentleman from England who got there before me (he too was planning to photograph the show). He was the first person I heard speaking fluent English in a couple of days so of course I stuck up a conversation. He met his Japan wife  in college and ended up moving to Tokyo to raise a family. They were planning to leave for Europe after their park visit, so it was an exciting time for all of them.

After a wait of little over two hours, the show finally began and I must say it was almost worth the wait. Of course Mickey & Minnie were the stars, but what really made it for me was the appearance of Scrooge McDuck! He's an under rated character that I've never seen at the USA parks so this was a treat. The show itself was well choreographed with an extensive use of props and stage scenery. Santa Claus puts in his obligatory appearance at the finale in a huge sleigh. What the storyline or dramatic push was remains a mystery since it was entirely in Japanese, but the visuals are enough that the language barrier never puts a damper on the show. The backdrop of Mount Prometheus gives "Perfect Christmas" a very surreal and cool look, something no other Disney park can offer.

To be continued...

Photographs copyright 2018 Len Yokoyama