Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Newest Member Of Our Family: Maru!


It's been almost a month since we picked her up from the same breeder we got Peko from. The last time we were here in 2011 when we picked Peko out of a liter of 4, being the only boy and the smallest runt,  we decided he needed a friend to run around with while we were at work. People always tell me that for each one, you need another to keep them occupied from chewing up all your shoes. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Maru-chan, Peko's sesame-colored sister! She's barely getting into her 4th month. They grow so fast...

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Sekien Practice@ベータミュシック姫路

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It's been almost 3 years since I was in this ear-wrecking studio with Toshi and his bassist just messing around till their drummer eventually showed up AFTER their session was over. It was more of a photo shoot than anything and I was able to get some great shots of Toshi jamming out. Three years and two band later, his iconic shirtless shots of him and his brand new ink are only a memory of younger days. 

For this session with his new band, Sekien, a far more serious practice session than before, included all three band members and a full on jam session for a few hours. My hearing was muffled for the next few days but I saw and heard a big difference than the last time we were in this studio. 

If these guys sounds this good during practice I can only imagine the feeling of being in their crowds' mosh pit while these dude scream their lungs out on stage. 

If you're in Japan this spring these guys will be at various venues so check them out and show some love for these head bangers. You can follow them on their Facebook as well:

2月8日 東京立川BABEL
2月9日 四日市VORTEX
2月11日 京都GATTACA
3月22日 岡崎BOPPERS
3月23日 横須賀PUMPKIN
3月30日 姫路FAB-SPACE
4月26日 新潟WOODY
5月24日 姫路FAB-SPACE
6月9日 神戸BLUE PORT
7月19日 心斎橋CLAPPER

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Makoto ni-chan & Friends Car Photoshoot


It started in high school when I got my first Super Street magazine and it was then when I got addicted to tearing out pages of my favorite pictures and pasting them in a huge collage on my walls (this was after I got over Britney Spears). Close friends and I also collected car show flyers from Hot Import Nights with the pictures of Natashi Yi and KT So on the foreground with a Bomex fitted Supra in the background. It was an infatuation and a never ending mission to collect every single picture of my favorite cars and models. 

After high school, I was able to get some old Japanese Option magazines which broadened my knowledge of Japanese tuners. It was then when I first saw hints of the VIP, shakotan, drift and wagonist styles in pictures. 

After I got rid of my first few Integras I was determined to build a VIP Aristo (GS300), but reality hit when I saw how much it would've cost to do some of the basic upgrades to even get started to look semi-VIP. Plus gas on that V6 was not helping me get closer to saving any cash I could've spent on fixing the car.

At that point I could only dream of owning a car with stance and enough negative camber to make my car look like a space ship. I only had magazines and I obsessively collected them, barely read them but drooled over the splash pages of these cars in Japanese scenery.  


This time in Japan, I was fortunate to have met a relative of my wife that was just into two of the same things I live for: alcohol and cars. We actually started off getting along because we both were the only ones drinking at dinner and I realized that this guy was not drinking moderately, where I was trying to hold back to be polite to the family. We ended up ordering round after round talking about cars for hours. It was the moment that defined our relationship and I finally felt like family.

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The best part of being related to Makoto ni-chan is that he has connections with other car lovers and they drive cars that they build and tune themselves. I took this opportunity to break in my new camera and to emulate some of the pictures I saw in those Japanese magazines that I obsessed over. I don't discriminate when it comes to what kind of car I shoot, if it's lowered with wheels that fill in the fenders and flush with body lines, you got me. In my opinion, ANY car with the right wheel selection, ride height matched with the right offset and rubber stretch will look awesome. 

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With a broken Speedlite that only fires with Pilot, I managed to pull off some successful night shots with the help of my wife a.k.a. The Assistant, and me the running "strobist," we were able to pull it off in the freezing cold. We found this awesome location at a Mitsubishi factory somewhere in the industrial streets in Himeji. The smoke from the factories and the industrial backgrounds really set the mood I was looking for. 

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It was late at night and it was freezing and we ended up shooting for 3 hours, fine tuning each shot and making sure each shot count. Standing in the middle of the street was not a problem but when a car would pass by we would get some suspicious looks at what we were doing. We used the other passer-byers as an advantage for background lighting. 

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After hours standing in the cold, scraping bottoms trying to get into certain spots, and constantly trying new lighting we wrapped things up a little after midnight. There's only one thing to do after a cold night of shooting and that is getting some hot ramen! Thank you to EVERYONE for putting up with the cold and for being so patient!

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Friday, January 10, 2014

オートオタク日記:Vol.I_1980 Nissan Laurel (C231)_Shakotan

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Being from a country where having a beat up 80's Toyota Corolla is nothing but a street storage for all the hoarded junk you can't get rid of, finding out that in Japan having a car that old actually costs more for registration and insurance just boggles my mind. We take it for granted in America that that old rust bucket sitting on the street curb waiting for you to finally transplant a new heart for it is actually a luxury to have in Japan. The older your car gets the more expensive and stricter registration becomes.

The proud owner of this 1980 Nissan Laurel (C231) is definitely paying more than just registration fees for this bad boy, but paying for time going over speed bumps, tires every few months and maintenance for purple beauty.

In Japan, this style is called shakotan, basically the old bosozoku style of japanese lowriders.

Take it all in, yet unfinished, beautiful in it's present state.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ringing in the New Year in Japan

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New Year's is probably Japan's biggest and most celebrated holiday of the year. Shougatsu is the month when everyone loads up on food and I am one that cannot disrespect that tradition. Every time I go to Japan, there are two things I always look forward to: drinking in public (because it's legal) and shelling out all my yen for delicious food. There's a huge misconception that people think that Japan is "expensive". Let me speculate on that. First of all, you gotta consider how much your money is worth in Japan by checking up on the money exchange rate. Currently, the dollar is pretty even with yen with a few cents over. So the prices you see is pretty much what you're gonna get just subtract the zeros from the yen price accordingly ( $1.00 = 104.4円 ). 

Next thing to think about is what exactly do you want to spend your money on. Are you a traveler who appreciates the sights and the culture? Or are you an avid shopper who finds treasures in shopping malls and such? OR...are you a food connoisseur always following wherever your nose and stomach take you? If you're a mix of everything, I suggest you find a balance and spend frugally on items you can order online and spend money on good times and good food, something you can't find back home. 

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Get cultured. It's priceless. Just because I place doesn't have a sign or a sign you can't read, doesn't mean it's not worth trying, I've gotten away with just pointing at things. It's always fascinating to find which dish a city or region is known for. Finding it may be difficult but with a little research before hand can help give purpose for your travel.  

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Bottom line, Japan is NOT expensive, it CAN be but that depends on your purpose and money exchange rate at the time. Believe me, Japan was expensive in 2011 when the US dollar was worth less than 77 yen. I was constantly missing a quarter of my worth and I barely went out to eat, I stuck to convenience store food (which is actually pretty darn good) and always rode a bike. Food is cheap if you know where to look and know where the cheap food alternatives can be found but generally a reasonable price all around. 

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I've always looked forward to spending one of Japan's biggest holidays with family and this new year has been such a huge experience being totally submerged in their culture's festivities. Their New Year's is celebrated throughout a course of at least 3 days spent visiting temples and shrines paying respects and praying for good fortune. As you can tell by the massive crowds in the streets surrounding the entrance of temples and shrines, it's a big deal. Himeji isn't one of the metropolises like Tokyo or Kobe but it's well known for having the most beautiful castle (which is currently under re-construction for the next few years). Going to the shrine made me realize how many people live or visit Himeji based on it's strong cultural history. 

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Upon entering, after scuffing down two sticks of Kobe beef and downing two cans of Strong Zero (Japan's cocktail in a can), I threw in some yen in the patron box, rang the "bells" and prayed for good fortune and to stay blessed for the new year.

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You can never enough good fortune, so I tried my luck at getting some more. The result? Let's just say there some things I need to be cautious about. Fortune is never certain nor is it accurate when you want it to be. 

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So hats off to the New Year! 

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