30 November 2010

Newsletter GO TIME

I've never felt like a very accomplished designer. I blame my four year degree. But really that's a pretty silly attitude. Mostly I thank my four year degree, but sometimes I like to be bitchy about it and tell it that all my shortcomings are its fault. Not true! (But a little? No? I dunno.)

Anyway, I'm working on getting our local newsletter out before I go on holiday. Another one of those things where I suppose I just needed a deadline. Although, students writing tests does help a lot, because I actually have uninterrupted free time. A foreign concept most days.

Here's a sneak preview of completely non-award-winning material, but at least this spread came together very quickly—after I spent what felt like all day yesterday on a single page.

27 November 2010

From Nagahama

I followed the easy return route I had planned, even though some of it had turned out to be the going there route too (doh, again). But hey, I enjoyed using the little roads that run through the rice fields, parallel to the main route, and I got a chance to photograph the things I had seen the previous day but didn’t have the mental capacity to care about just then.

The weather was also amazing. Clear blue skies all the way. Autumn tapestries on the hillsides. Sunshine on my face. And trash by the road. Like it’s some sort of dumping ground that just came about by collective telepathy. Not the first one of its kind I’ve seen, but quite out there in the open. I also liked the pile of bicycles just further up the road.

After that it was a short hill up until I saw the vineyards of Uchiko, then the sports ground, then the gorgeous red leaves by the big pond on the way down, and home (gymnastic V-shape arms).

View Larger Map

Total distance: 23km

P.S. Sleeping late and fantastic breakfast made by fantastic friend, A+.

To Nagahama

So the Friday I took off started out well with the fire & rescue adventure I could witness, as noted in the previous post.

After that I managed very well on route 54 and transferred to the 330 to get to Nagahama via the mountains. Around there I got some shots of keitō flowers 鶏頭 ケイトウ, that my friend and I dubbed “brain flowers” after using them in ikebana (actually just a regular arrangement on left—it had been my first time). There might be a lot of piled rubbish to photograph, but there are also some great gardens!

The roads were very quiet, being the back of beyond, especially once I got on the 330. Just beware of the old man in his Kei truck who seems to be aiming for you, or the Kuroneko driver who is so used to owning the narrow country road that he only notices the cyclist when she is already right next to him about five centimetres from his truck. I’m beginning to think that the single track width of the roads gets the countryside drivers used to driving in the middle of it, even if they can keep a bit to the left. Unless there’s a white line, they drive in the middle, even when it’s wider.

The countryside does however more than make up for it with adorable people. In some part of the vast Yanagisawa 柳沢 I was taking pictures as the postman was making his rounds on his scooter. He stopped to talk, asking either where I was coming from or where I was going—the polite Japanese still comes at me a bit fast sometimes. I told him I was traveling from Uchiko to Nagahama via the mountains. He said oh and take care because it’s steep. He went on his merry way again, only to pop back two minutes later with a chocolate bar for me, for “when I get tired”. That’s the kind of thing I’d like to remember forever.

I was very much enjoying my photographic journey and I was also delighted to find a large area of terraced fields. I’ll definitely go out there in the summer again. It was however in this area where things started to go wrong. As you can see in the pictures, the red arrow route markers are perhaps somewhat aged and not so useful anymore. I did figure out I was way off after a while, and came back down from the mess I was in. Then I was back on the 330, but so desperate to continue that I kept going down when I should’ve taken a right to stay on the route—I figured all this out after the fact with Google maps. So after I had gone very far down I realised I was still in the mountains (not over them at all) and after much head scratching I went a little up the road only to come to a place I had been before. Hours ago. Very bad. By this time I didn’t think that I could regain the lost altitude in time and travel along before it gets dark, as it does, promptly around 5 p.m. so I took an escape route.

I went back to where the 54 and the 330 met up and took the 230 out to Kitayama 喜多山, then continued on to Niiya 新谷 and Ōzu 大洲 and took the 24 out to Nagahama 長浜. The traffic was heavy and the wind from the sea was from the front but I was just happy to make it to my friend’s house before nightfall.

I wasn’t brave enough to spend another whole day in the saddle attempting the route from the Nagahama side, so I’ll have to try it again next year. We’re leaving for our South African home time holiday soon, and when I get back it’ll be too cold and snowy in the mountains for this kind of trip. So maybe come March, I’ll be up there again.

Total distance: Maybe like... more than 45km. Not counting the most lost times.
Lowest point: When I had gone in a circle.
Highest point: When I arrived in Nagahama safe and sound.

P.S. If you want to compare the planned route with the actual one.

Fire & rescue

On Friday morning I head out on my journey to Nagahama via the mountains. More on that later.

But before I even really got out of town, I happened upon this exercise by the fire department. The young men were just lining up as I cycled by and one belted out a loud “GOOD MORNING!”

When I got to the scene, the kind Mr Yamada of the department explained what would happen in the exercise. I was welcome to watch, and he pointed out where I could stand without getting in the way. Someone (a dummy) was trapped in the car, and had to be rescued. They had to use a lot of ropes and climbing equipment. I also saw how they used something (maybe an ultrasonic sound device?) to shatter the window so that the glass could easily be pushed out. They also had to use ropes and pulleys to get the dummy out. They even practiced reassuring “the patient” by asking whether he was okay or telling him to just hold on a bit more.

They had another scenario coming up, but I decided to keep on. Turns out Mr Yamada is from Nagahama. He told me to watch out for the inoshishi on the mountain road.

25 November 2010


Tomorrow I'll take the long way round to my friend's house for a sleepover!

I think this'll be the longest distance I've done so far—not very far at all at just under 40km, but at least there's some decent climbing in there too, similar altitudes to the recent mountain mission. I found at least one spot on the terrain map that looks like about 300m going up over two or three kilometres, so... wish me luck?

Weather is looking good—definitely no rain. But some bum-freezing is definitely guaranteed!

View Larger Map

21 November 2010

I mountain

Weather conditions yesterday couldn’t have been better if I had had them made to order and delivered to my front door. It was in fact just as I opened the curtains on the front door side of the apartment that I saw mist being burnt away in a grey puff by the morning sun.

I was nearing the end of the book Invictus (previously Playing the Enemy) and with Shosholoza in my mind I head out toward Mount Kannan 神南山.

In the beginning it was pretty easy going. I was thinking “wow, either this is easy or I’m getting better at this”. I enjoyed the morning sun breaking through the trees, found a little settlement of houses, and took pictures of the ever-improving view.

Then of course the tarred road promptly ended and it was hiking time again. I fought off my pessimism by enjoying things like the experience of being inside a golden light chamber under a ginkgo tree. The always-present snack pack of dried cranberries, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seed also didn't hurt.

I finally reached the top along with some paragliders. They were discussing the wind and the area they would fly in. I was wondering about the wind as well, but more along the lines of “is anyone downwind from me right now, appreciating how much I smell like a dead animal?”

The view was great; the lighting, not so great. I looked at the assortment of towers and passed the paragliders again just as one person took off.

I made my way back to the sign that showed what was happening on the peak and took the other road from there and then there it was! A well-lit view of the whole town! Uchiko 内子, Ikazaki 五十崎, and even a bit in the direction of Ōzu 大洲.

After that, instead of heading down an unfamiliar track (I had initially thought to find a different way down), I found my way back to the route I had come on. Seeking familiarity was probably motivated by my dislike for walking and my bicycle’s non-off-roadiness. As in: has no shocks, is equipped with thin smooth road tyres. The road down can best be described by Japanese onomatopoeia: ボコボコ bokoboko.

I do however understand the appeal of extreme sports now, especially for people who find it difficult to focus under normal circumstances. If you don’t focus, you fall down pretty hard. Or if you fall down in an unfortunate enough way, you die.

So very exciting, but not quite as exciting as making it back to the tarred road without dying. And then it was more wind in my face and afternoon sunshine all the way home!

Total distance: Not really calculatable—Google maps limitations
Lowest point: 60m
Highest point: 700m

View Uchiko, Ehime, Japan in a larger map

Hazy landscapes

As I'm preparing the pictures for the next post, let me share some Photoshop knowledge with you.

The best day of Photoshop class was when I learnt how to fix a blue colour cast in a picture. That's when the blue sky makes everything in your picture look a bit blue. The same goes for tungsten bulbs making things look yellow, fluorescent lights and sick green, and cloudy weather and washed out grey tones.

So all you have to do is fiddle around with levels. This is very much a trial and error process. Go to Image>Adjustments>Levels... or just hit Ctrl L. If you want to make the adjustment in a separate layer, go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels...

In the Levels Panel you will see a funky graph. The far right slider controls light tones, the middle one mid-tones and the far left one dark tones. If you have a flat area on the left or right of your graph, try moving the slider in towards where the graph starts. This is a great way to improve especially under-exposed pictures.

To remove a blue or other colour cast, look at the dropper buttons on the right side of the panel. Choose the middle one and then click around, aiming for the best neutral grey pixel in your picture. After each click just hit Ctrl Z if it doesn't look good. If you can find a good neutral grey thing, your colours should correct nicely. Shadows on white objects are often good.

My problem lately has been hazy landscapes. No matter how I expose them, they just come out pretty darn hazy. So in the picture below I used the black dropper and went hunting for something that should be black; as opposed to hazy grey. Again I found that neutral colours work best, e.g. the dark part of a building, not the dark part of the forest. In this particular example I had to adjust the far right slider as well, and well, here's the result!

You might notice that the trees in front look a bit upset by the process, seeing as how they were the only thing that looked good in the original. But all for the good of the landscape!

19 November 2010

Blue skies and fingers

Tunnel light.
I am dutifully wearing layers of warm clothes but I’m still freezing. And it’s that time of year where the date isn’t quite right or the temperature hasn’t dropped to the correct decimal point for any heating of the school to start happening just yet.*

But it’s also the driest time of year—driest, not actually full-on dry, because Japan in comparison to South Africa is infinitely wet—so there’s sunshine and blue skies. This morning on the bus ride over here the sun was shining straight into the tunnel and the entrance and the light made a sort of giant sleek bullet shape.

So I’m hoping this weather persists so that even though I will be freezing my over-sized behind off, I can conquer the mountain and get some great pictures tomorrow!

Oh and in other news, check out this talk about mountain biking with juvenile prisoners in Israel. I’ll explore mountain biking in the future, but probably not here. I’ve seen some dirt tracks, but Japan has this knack for having tarred roads that go to pretty remote places. Also, I’m just not that brave yet!

*Turns out the kerosene hadn't arrived or been prepared or something, after it was 4°C this morning. But the homeroom teacher of the class I had lunch with took pity on me and the room was heated!

17 November 2010

Other people unbox tech

I unbox my latest book.
So enjoy Atlas of Remote Islands by by Judith Schalansky (translated from the German by Christine Lo). I haven't read one word and I'm already in love with the cover typeface, the orange and blue—as in the logo on the cover and elsewhere, the way the blue ink has been absorbed by the paper, and the fine detail in the island illustrations. I think it'll even scuff in a charming way. Sublime.

14 November 2010

South African food culture

I’ll write some more about school culture festivals later, but for now let’s go with: my one school had a culture festival and my teacher asked me to make some sort of display about something about my country’s culture.

I decided to use food and work in whatever can be associated—an idea I’ve been playing with to use at an international festival next year in January.

I tried to photograph all the flips so in some future life I might produce an interactive digital version of the whole thing.

Oh so if I didn’t mention it, it was aimed at being an interactive display where people would flip over pictures to read some information about it. Thanks to our CIR Doreen Arndt for all her hard work translating my idea into Japanese!

13 November 2010

Year of the bunny

We made a quick stop with a friend of ours on our way to go shopping this afternoon to have a shoot for our nengajō 年賀状, AKA new year’s postcards. 2011 will be the year of the rabbit, so naturally my husband would refuse to do bunny teeth in any of the pictures. Which one should we use for our actual card?

Hike cycle

Today was another great day to forget the map book at home.

I initially thought to tackle Mount Kannan 神南山, one of the higher peaks in the immediate area at 700 metres. As it turns out I took the correct initial turn off, but then I ended up having a blast in one of the junk sheds, after which I explored a park on the lower slopes, the Kannanyama-furusato-no-mori-kōen.

The junk shed at first seemed another place of previous industry, but at the back I found a smoking drum (no pun intended), so presumably some farmers operate around there, and some selection of the machinery is in fact in operation—perhaps the model semi-protected by a laminated lace table cloth. Anyway, maybe somewhere beyond the junk-strewn pathway something is happening. One wants to ask why these things can't be disposed of, but hey, apparently all junk ends up in landfills in the Philippines or something… but still, really? Old toothbrushes? Discarded sparkplugs? I don’t know the answer. I just take pictures it seems. We'll call it exercises in lighting and composition and hope that purpose is meaningful.

The park provided a lot of hike-not-cycle time. In truth I could probably have stuck to the main pathways, but why go around when you can just go up? Albeit on a pretty overgrown pathway. I could enjoy autumn’s arrival, town views, and some fun discoveries. Like a strange open building with a solitary futon. And a man hanging around a car at another nearby building. I had the distinct feeling he lived there. In the car, I mean.

On the way down I found where I would continue on when approaching the actual mountain again. I’ll hope for an actual clear day, instead of the perpetual haze, but let’s not be unrealistic as winter approaches.

Speaking of winter, you can see some of my new Sugoi gear: leggings and arm warmers. I wanted to crack a grammatically incorrect joke at the shop about it being "sugoi takai", but I didn't. That, by the way, is like saying "real expensive" (if you're American and don't know what's wrong with that... that's okay). The kind of thing people say all the time, including during informal interviews for TV, but you might find that the subtitles read "sugoku takai" instead. Well done to those sticklers out there.

View Uchiko, Ehime, Japan in a larger map

06 November 2010

Nuclear Saturday

We visited the Ikata nuclear facility 伊方発電所 near Yawatahama. This amazing excursion was arranged by an ALT and her supervisor. More on this later.

03 November 2010

The watermill festival

This is easily my favourite festival in Japan, and let me tell you, I’ve been to a few. The greatest irony was that on my third visit I finally had a camera there! Year one I only had my phone, year two I had just bought my Nikon D40 off a friend, remembered to charge the battery, but upon arrival I discovered that I didn’t have a memory card. Genius.

The suisha matsuri 水車祭り is held at the restored watermills of Ishidatami. You might recall I cycled there before. This great setting in combination with the goods and activities offered there is the epitome of quaint. Shoot some targets with a slingshot, make crafts, catch and grill your own fish, buy local produce, and of course—EAT. Eat freshly made soba in bamboo bowls, or eat freshly pounded and filled mochi, or drink some hot sake, or… well, the delicious list goes on. And then if after the high school’s taiko performance and the customary mochi maki (mochi throwing and catching) you haven’t had enough excitement yet, go down the bamboo slide.

Held every year on Japan’s national holiday of Culture Day in November!

02 November 2010

Quick Misogi

I took a quick run at the village of Misogi after work. Failing light obviously limits picture taking, so excuse the low quality quick-snaps. I took the river route there, and the mountain route back. Since I now have a lamp that I believe my favourite cycle shop guy described as “meccha akarui” (seriously bright) returning in the dark was no biggie. I’ll return some time for a more specific investigation of the famous terraced rice fields—apparently only half important as far as satellite imaging is concerned.

View Uchiko, Ehime, Japan in a larger map

Total distance: 19km