Archives For Chitose

yodobashi camera

January 1, 2014

Yodobashi CameraAs luck would have it (my kind of luck) the first location I came to just outside of Sapporo train station was Yodobashi Camera. I literally stumbled upon the building, and it took me several moments before the brain realized what it was I was looking at and that I’d been asked to visit there by Matthew Robertson. The irony of finding this place so quickly, if accidentally, was that Matthew said that I should visit the place in an email before my trip started. I looked it up online, but all I found was the Tokyo location. Having found it, I had to take a look inside.

Yodobashi is three jam-packed stories of high technology that just happens to include cameras. Maybe Yodobashi started out years ago just selling cameras, but today it’s camera section only fills part of the second floor. The building itself is at least six stories, with a three story car garage on top of the store proper.
yodobashi technoa lot of technical stuffsamsung gearThe store sells far more than just cameras. It sells just about everything digital from computers to computer supplies to smart phones and their addons and just about every other electronic and/or digital device currently being manufactured. It’s a huge mash-up advertising, a visually loud display of Japanese capitalism and marketing. Everything I’ve ever read about in America and never really seen, I literally saw here all together under one roof. It was overwhelming.

camera sectoinlumix gm endcapolympus e-m1 end capmassive nikonWhen I finally reached the photography section on the second floor I discovered that Yodobashi had displays for every manufacturer and model of camera currently on sale in every store, online and brick and mortar, that I’ve ever read about, and a few I’d never seen before. It was like I’d died and gone to heaven.

I spent far more time looking at cameras than taking photographs of them. What I’ve got here are some grab shots I took when I remembered I’d walked into the shop with a camera of my own. I took the display of the Nikon D4 with the Nikkor 500mm sitting on that Gitzo tripod because of all the money it represented (close to $18,000 based on my calculations and the yen exchange rate the day I shot this). There’s no way a shop in Orlando would have something like this just sitting out in an isle. It would have been locked up in a case somewhere and the only way you would be allowed to see it, let alone handle it, is if you promised to buy one. There were Canon 5DMk3s and 1Dxs on display. Every model of Nikon, including the just-released Df and D5300. Sony α7 and α7r. Pentax K3. Olympus E-M1 and E-P5. Ricohs and Sigmas. Every manufacturer, every model. All prominently displayed and within easy reach. A true camera geeks paradise.

And not only on display, but operational. All of the cameras I managed to handle had cards in them, and I was able to fire off a few samples photos on many of the cameras. I got a chance to physically handle and listen to shutters, as well as to look at the results, at least in review on their back screens. Here’s my impressions of some of the more prominent cameras I laid my hands upon;

  • Nikon Df. I was most disappointed in the Df. The model I handled was an all-black kit. When I picked it up I was immediately struck by how overly light it was, almost hollow-feeling. I was not impressed with its fit-and-finish. As the owner of a Nikon N90 film camera, I’m used to Nikon quality (and paying for it), at least with regards to its film cameras. And just to remind myself of the quality of current Nikon digital cameras, I checked out the D610 and D800 that were on display as well. As far as overall quality and handling are concerned, the Nikon D610 and D800 exceed the Df, the D800 by quite a bit. I don’t care if the Df has a D4 sensor in it; the Df isn’t a quality camera for $2,800. If I were in the market for a Nikon digital camera, I’d buy anything else from Nikon before buying a Df.
  • Sony α7 and α7r. I was most intrigued by the Sony pair. The creation of a camera with a 35mm sized digital sensor in a body the same size and weight of the Olympus E-M1 is a technological tour de force with respect to image quality in such a compact form. The display had the α7 with the 28-70mm kit zoom and the α7r with the 35mm prime. I felt the α7 body was the better of the two, but I fell in love with the 35mm prime, even though it was on the α7r. In my not-so-humble opinion, the combination I would almost purchase would be the 35mm prime on the α7 body. I paid attention to the shutter sounds out of both cameras and found the α7r particularly annoying; it’s just too damn loud. And that was in a store with constant Christmas music (yes, Christmas music) playing in the background. I say almost purchase for several reasons. The first is a lack of native lenses for the cameras. As a user of µFourThirds cameras, I’ve already been through my adapted lens phase. If you want the best from a camera system nothing compares to lenses purpose built for the camera. My second reason for waiting to purchase the α7 is the lack of refinement in the camera’s manufacture. It’s pedestrian and crude, a far cry from the quality you can find on just about every other camera out there, including Sony’s own α99 which was also on display next to it. If I were going to buy an α7, I’d wait for the α7 Mk II and a few more lenses. Until then I’d stick with my E-M5. Which leads me to the:
  • Olympus E-M1. As soon as I picked up the E-M1 with the 12-40mm zoom I thanked my lucky stars I don’t have the budget to buy one. Otherwise I’d have walked out of there with the full kit and never looked back. The E-M1 has more quality/ounce than just about every other camera, and punches far above its “weight class” when it comes to overall handling. Focusing, the extremely quiet shutter, the overall fit-and-finish, the EVF – my E-M5 became quite jealous. It was the last camera I handled, and I paid it more attention than just about every other camera. I left it behind with great reluctance.
  • Pentax K3. I was very pleasantly surprised by the K3. If I were in the market for an APS-C sensor camera, the K3 would beat out the Nikon D7100 and Canon 70D. I loved the handling of the K3 about as much as the E-M1. And matched with some of Sigma’s latest lenses, especially the 18-35mm f/1.8 (which is still on pre-order, unfortunately), I could be quite productive and quite happy with the K3.
  • Everybody Else. In order of preference, they were the Nikon D800, Nikon D610, Canon 5DMk3, Canon 6D, Nikon D7100, Nikon D5300, and the Canon SL1. The Canon SL1 turned into something of a guilty pleasure. I loved the textured surface, and the small size and overall design I found quite pleasing. Many have complained it’s too small, but size wasn’t an issue with me. I would love to see Canon take the SL1 body design and go to a higher overall quality level and capability. I like small cameras like the SL1. The SL1 struck a very positive chord with me. At the right price, I would buy the SL1 with the Canon 40mm pancake and use it. A lot. Note that I am not an ‘L’ lens freak.

After an indeterminate amount of time I finally came up for air and discovered it was lunch and I was hungry. So I left with my business partner and headed back out into Sapporo to find something to eat.

train trip to sapporo

December 31, 2013

waiting for the train to saporoOn Thursday, the day after the exercise ended, the two of us took the train to Sapporo. It was a totally unplanned excursion. Sapporo is the capital of the northern island of Hokkaido and is the fifth largest city in Japan as far as population. It was the host city for the 1972 Winter Olympics. Every February it hosts a snow festival.

I was tired and still suffering some effects of trying to live 14 hours outside my normal circadian rhythm. It was also a cold and partly cloudy day with snow showers, especially in Sapporo. About all I could do was a very simple six-hour visit, walking around, and not even scratching the surface within Sapporo. Yet, from what very little I did see, it was still fascinating. I would love the opportunity to go back for another day or two and really walk about the city and its outer environs.

The trip started with our walking to the local Chitose train station that was about two blocks away from the station. Chitose is full of cars, but it’s also a city built for pedestrian and bicycle use. Japan’s cities are so tightly packed that you need paperwork from the local police department saying you have space to park your car before you buy one. Chitose’s streets are always full of traffic of every variety. Chitose is the first trip I’ve ever taken where I didn’t have a rental car and really didn’t need one. And even if I had a rental, Japan drives on the wrong side of the road anyway.

waiting for the train to saporoThe ticket to Sapporo, one way, was ¥830 (a little over $8 US). There are multiple automatic ticket dispensing machines that can be selected to give you instructions in Japanese or English. As long as you have enough cash on you, you can go anywhere.

The station is a classic urban design, with the walkin entry and exit on the ground and the train platform above. Two tracks service Chitose, with a mix of high-speed trains to the airport and slower, less expensive trains to other cities. We took the less expensive train to Sapporo. The usual wait between trains is around 10-15 minutes depending on destination.

on the train to saporo with friendsThe train was clean, comfortable, and quiet, if utilitarian. It reminded me of Atlanta’s MARTA train system, down to the layout and colors. The trip to Sapporo lasted about twenty minutes.

placing a private callThe train not only traveled quietly, but the passengers were quiet. There were signs posted in English and Japanese for travelers to conduct all cellular calls in between the cars, just like this caller. Over the length of the trip he was joined by four other callers in that small area. Whether coming or going home, not once did I hear anyone break the rules with regards to cellphone use on the train. It was a wonderfully quiet and polite trip.

exiting the train in saporoAs befits its size as a major Japanese city, the train platform in Sapporo was crowded full of active people coming and going. The lower levels of the train station are jam packed with shops and stores. On the way back to Chitose we stopped off at a local Starbucks (yes, they’re here too) and warmed up with a large hot cocoa. And we did a bit of exploring, stopping in on a number of floors to just be tourists and look at the restuarants and major shopping centers. Sapporo’s train station is a big and important shopping district in its own right. I would have taken the express elevator to the observation floor (37th) in the building right next to the station, but by the time I even knew about it it was late in the day, the weather had really clouded up and there was a steady snowfall, all of which was obscuring everything.

saporo train stationoutside the saporo train stationStepping outside of the train station started our very brief, if interesting, walk about around Sapporo. Sapporo is a very young city compared to other Japanese cities such as Tokyo. When it was being planned the original city builders used a western grid system to lay it out. Sapporo reminded me a lot of Boston, especially the newly built up waterfront area where I attended the 2011 SISO conference.

I wish I’d put more time into planning my Sapporo visit, but I was so happy just to walk around and know I wasn’t stuck in the building I’d been in for all those prior twelve-hour days. Planned or not, going to Sapporo and just seeing what little I did see was more than enough. Maybe one year when I have more time I can properly plan and visit Sapporo. It would certainly be worth it.

interlude – aeon food court

December 31, 2013

raman girlsDuring the exercise I was bussed onto the post before sunup, and was bussed back to the hotel well after sundown. The best I could do was to try to make it to the Aeon food court before the food stores closed at around 8:30pm local time. This in spite of the fact that the stores said they stayed open until 9pm.

There were a number of stores in the food court: McDonalds,  Baskin-Robbins, Mr. Donut, Subway, an udon store, a raman store, and at least two sushi stores. I actually went into one of the stores with my traveling companion and watched him (and many others) enjoy eating raw fish. I declined, coward that I am.

table cleanup clothsAll the stores were served by a common eating area. The food court had an interesting requirement, at least to Western eyes like mine. There were signs in the common area that asked you politely to clean up the table you were at when you finished eating. There were several wash cloth stations in the common area that supplied pre-moistened towels for this task. I tried to remember to clean my table after I finished.

I never saw anyone else do this, but the common eating area was always clean and neat, and I never saw staff from any of the food sellers come out and clean up. I got so used to seeing a clean eating area, even the common area, that on the way back home, at a layover in Denver, someone had left a large mess of spilled popcorn and orange soda on a table in another common eating area, and I was truly shocked to see it.

baskin robins japanese styleOf all the American-Japanese cross-cultural food stores, the Baskin-Robbins was the most interesting. Every item in the store had a definite Japanese touch to it, and there were many very Japanese ice cream items. Yet I still recognized ice cream cakes, many of them with American cultural emblems on them. Here are a few that should be instantly recognizable.

snoopy + girlfriendpooh + pigletmonster uFrom top to bottom you should recognize Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh, and Sully and Mike from Monsters University. All of these are the tops of Baskin-Robbins ice cream birthday cakes.

The cultural mixing that has taken/is taking place is absolutely fascinating.

interlude – yama sakura 65

December 30, 2013

YS65 Patch

My trip to Chitose Japan was as technical support to Yamasakura-65 at Camp Higashi-Chitose, just across a local highway from New Chitose Airport. Camp Higashi-Chitose is part of the Northern Army of Japan, one of five active armies in Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force. Yamasakura-65 is an annual, bilateral exercise with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and the U.S. military. This year it was coordinated from Chitose.

From 1 December to Wednesday, 11 December, I was on-site, 12 hours/day, the equivalent of the Maytag repairman for the JLCCTC constructive simulation. The Japanese and American army staffs were there to train at the brigade and higher levels, in a simulated major BLUFOR vs OPFOR wargame. Under these conditions it’s vital to keep the game going 24 hours a day for as long as the exercise is scheduled, as part of the simulation of war. Chitose wasn’t the only participant in the game; other groups from as far away as the US and Korea were also plugged in, providing support and simulating other aspects of warfighting. JLCCTC is about training for and studying major ground combat. For those who think that heavy ground combat is a thing of the past, all you have to do is look at the map of the eastern Pacific and see that Japan sits across from North Korea and China. Korea still thinks ground combat, and China has been building up their forces for quite some time. Considering China’s unilateral declairation of their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea combined with the over-the-top craziness that is currently in charge in North Korea these days, YS-65 and similar training now had a certain “edge” to it.

How I got pulled into this is a long and complex story. The Reader’s Digest version: from 1998 to 2005 I helped design and write software for the core portions of JLCCTC, then went elsewhere until May of 2013 when I essentially came back. I came back to work as a contractor to Lockheed Martin, the prime for JLCCTC. Except this time I was on the “other side” of the wall, providing integration, test, installation, operations support, and training for the software system I helped to create all those years ago.

I much prefer my current position on the program, especially as it involves a lot of travel which I like. My children are grown now and I can go for two or more weeks at a time and not worry. Even long trips to Japan and beyond are no longer an issue. I just go where they tell me and use my experience and judgement along with my general instructions to do my job. And did I mention how I like to travel?

That lovely photo of me, taken by my traveling companion on my Galaxy S4, was snapped at the end of the exercise after they’d started to tear everything down for shipment back to Korea. If you’d like to see what it was like on the inside (and it’s kind of boring actually) there are official photos taken during the exercise (I wasn’t given official permission to use my camera on post during the exercise, but then I didn’t know enough to ask in advance).

Yama Sakura 65 I Corps on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/icorps/sets/72157638301452783/with/11247253206/
DVIDS – http://www.dvidshub.net/video/311169/corps-and-japanese-ground-defense-force-begin-yama-sakura-65#.UsGCD7SGf7k

100 yen shop

December 29, 2013

100 yen store

Chitose isn’t a large city like Saporo or Tokyo. But it’s still a compact city with everything built up, especially as you head towards the train station, which serves as the central transportation hub. While I went to the Aeon mall just about every evening because it was closest to the hotel, there was a five story building that contained a mix of businesses, such as one, the 100 Yen Shop. We stopped there on our way back to the hotel from the udon shop.

The 100 Yen shop is the equivalent of the Dollar Store here in America. All the items in the store are 100 yen or less. The big difference is that every item in the 100 Yen Shop appears to be of excellent quality. The store is bright and clean, and every item is pleasingly presented to the prospective buyer. No item was out of place and there were no broken packages anywhere. Think of a budget version of Target.

japanese candy

One part of the store that almost leaped out as me was this candy section. My photography doesn’t do justice to the electric colors for all the various bags of candy that lined the wall. Marketing competition is fierce in Japan, far more so than it seems here in America.

narrow escalator

All the floors in this department store center were interconnected with elevators and escalators. What I found interesting is that the escalators in this store were only narrow enough for one person to stand. Our American escalators are built to hold at least two abreast, with room to spare. I saw this style of escalator in a number of public buildings. One of the features of many of the escalators (but not here) are photo-detectors that determine when someone walks towards an escalator. To conserve energy, a lot of escalators are simply turned off if no one is around. When someone approaches, they automatically start moving again.

happy christmas snoopy

The department store center was filled with many businesses. One floor seemed to be taken over with a book store. On the way through the book store I came across this Snoopy display. The Japanese seem to love cartoon characters, both their own as well as American. This display combined their deep interest in Snoopy with Christmas. It was oddly touching.

I wish I had had more time to just walk about and observe the intersection and intertwining of Japanese and American pop culture. Perhaps when I go back to Japan next February.