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metal session and a new toy

November 22, 2010

Eric and I spent a decent chunk of the day yesterday at a cover session he had been preparing for over the last several months. I have mentioned his sessions before, but for those who don’t know, they are organized events at which amateur musicians and music fans from around Tokyo meet up, rent a studio and spend a few hours playing music together.

The events are organized through groups on the Japanese social networking site mixi (think facebook for Japan, only with a bit more privacy and emphasis on groups and community building through shared interests), and generally themed around a specific band or genre.

Sign-ups are handled though mixi, and are done in one of two ways: either the organizer creates a master list of 15-25 songs and calls for musicians to fill the various band parts from that list until all slots are filled; or the members who are signed up for the event request the songs they would like to play, the list is posted to the group page, and other members fill in the vacant parts until all parts are taken. In both cases songs with vacant parts are either eliminated from the list, or left as possible ‘encore’ songs in the parts can be filled at the event itself.

Pre-session breakfast of fried eggs with sauteed onions, green peppers, cottage cheese, avocado, and a ginger-mango-banana kefir smoothie

Eric has participated regularly as a rhythm guitarist in session groups dedicated to the Japanese bands Luna Sea and Buck-Tick since he first bought himself an electric guitar 1.5 years back, but has been to a couple other band and genre specific sessions as well, such as 80s music, X-Japan, and a Free session.

This Sunday’s event was his second time participating in an annual Metallica and Megadeth joint session that he signed up for over the summer. He played on five songs total (three Metallica and two Megadeth), and sang one (Wake up Dead by Megadeth). Eric is still relatively new to the guitar (though he has about 15 years of piano on him) and metal songs are pretty hard, so as you can probably guess, I have been listening to these five songs -a lot- over the past few months.

The event was scheduled to run from 12 – 6pm at Studio Noah (think of it as an inexpensive karaoke box establishment for musicians) in Yoyogi. The sessions that we’ve been to are usually in Shibuya, Takadanobaba, or Shinjuku, and I did not know that it was in Yoyogi until the day before. Since my yoga studio of choice (Under the Light Yoga School) is also located in Yoyogi, I figured it would be theoretically possible for me to make the 2 pm Charity class and only miss one of Eric’s scheduled songs.

Of course, the session ran behind, and the songs that Eric was scheduled to perform in at 1:20 and 1:33 started 15 minutes late.

I really didn’t want to miss any more of his songs than I had to, so I ended up sticking around the studio until he finished his second song at 1:55 before I took off running through the streets towards the studio, which I estimated was a 10 minute walk away on the other side of the station. I made it there in 4 minutes flat huffing and puffing… only to be told that Charity yoga had been cancelled!

But all was not lost. Since they had neglected to update the website with the scheduling change, I was offered a ticket for participation in one of their regular yoga classes free of charge. Since walk-in are usually ¥3000($30), I think that made it very much worth the mad sprint through Yoyogi in the end. I was also happy to get back to the session in time to watch the rest of Eric’s performances.

After the session finished up Eric and I walked back to Shinjuku, which is just one station away, and headed towards Yodobashi Camera, our favorite of the major electronics, etc. stores in Japan, to buy a power adapter Eric needed to hook up a new media server. Somehow while we were there I ended up in front of the Canon display case staring at the particular 35mm f/2 lens I’ve been lusting after since shortly after inheriting Eric’s old DSLR last June.

I did not actually plan or intend to leave the store with it.. but.. well. You know how it is.

iPhone action: caught in the act of tweeting my new toy with the caption of “Eeeeeeeeek!!! OMG so excited!!”

I was really nervous about buying it, as I am well aware that the next two weeks will be expensive, but it seemed like the best timing, all things considered. In my defense Eric was right there whispering in my ear that if I was going to get it anyway I might as well do so -before- going home to see my brand new and tiny nephew, and if that isn’t a compelling reason then I don’t know what is.

New toy and guitar in tow, we headed towards the east Shinjuku Tenya for dinner, because I’d been struck with a sudden craving partway through the session.

Tenya, for those who have never been to Tokyo, is an inexpensive fast-food chain specializing in tendon (tempura rice bowls) and tenpura teishoku (tempura sets). It is credited for bringing tempura out of the fancy places and into the realm of affordable everyday food, and it is very popular with both the locals and foreign visitors. They offer a variety of tendon options, both standard and seasonal, and are the only tempura place known to me with an entirely vegetarian option. I am pretty sure that I have taken everyone who has ever visited us from overseas to eat at one of these shops during their stay in Tokyo.

I always get one of their yasai tendon (vegetable tempura rice bowl) in the komori size (less rice), which is only ¥500 ($5.00) and comes with a bowl of miso-shiru (miso soup) and as much mugicha (barley tea) as you want. This time they had a seasonal kokusan yasai tendon (a yasai tendon with locally grown vegetables) on the menu, which I ordered with an extra piece of maitake, because honestly, the mushrooms are the best part of Tenya. Eric went for his favorite from the standard menu, the ko-tendon to tsumetai udon set (a set with both a small tendon and cold udon).

It had been hard to contain my excitement for that long, so of course I took the lull between ordering and the arrival of our food as an opportunity to bust out my new lens and test it out with Eric’s Canon Kiss x4. The results were pretty exciting for me, even in the very yellow lighting of our cramped Tenya.

I chose the 35 mm to address the complaints I have with the 50 mm/f1.8 prime lens I have been using most for my shots since joining the DSLR club earlier this year. The 50 mm is an amazing value at only about ¥8000 ($80) and gets very high quality pictures, but the two main complaints I have with it are that it is a telephoto lens with a tight frame, which makes it hard to get the entire subject in my shots without being halfway across the room; and its minimum focal length of 0.5 m prevents me from getting in as close to my subject as I often want to.

The 35 mm helps on both counts. It captures a larger area than the 50 mm when held at the same distance, and has a minimum focal length of just 0.25 m, half that of the 50 mm. As you can probably guess, I spent most of the evening alternately testing out how much I could fit in the frame, and how close I could get to various objects around me.

I did break to eat my yasai tendon, of course, but not before snapping a few pictures of it in all its seasonal mushroom-y goodness.

Kokusan yasai tendon: pieces of eggplant, maitake, shinshuu ougitake (a special type of seasonal mushroom), satsuma-imo, carrot, and green beans, with miso-shiru

I also relinquished my death-grip on the new lens (and, consequently, Eric’s camera) for just long enough to allow him to take this shot of his own dinner set as well.

Kotendon: pieces of ebi (shrimp), ika (squid), satsumaimo, and green beans, with miso-shiru and zaru-udon w/ tsuyu (a soy and dashi based dipping sauce for cold noodles)

Heading back from the station we ran into a Jack Sparrow wannabe handing out promo materials and posing with the passersby out site of Studio Alta. I snapped a quick shot (though I was not able to get one without random people in it), and I am actually pretty amazed at the quality of it, being that it is an outdoor night shot and I was not trying overly hard to hold still.

Here are a few more shots that I took testing out the lens after our return home, starting out with some shots of the lenses in question to demonstrate the difference in frame size and focal length.

The shot on the left was taken of the 35 mm with the 50 mm at its minimum focal length (as close as it would go), and the shot on the right was taken of the 50 mm with the 35 mm at about the same distance.

This one was taken of the 50 mm with the 35 mm at its minimum focal length. Clearly it can get a in a lot tighter than the 50 mm. I am loving having the extra freedom in frame size that the 35 mm allows for.

But that is it for photography and lens talk for now. If you’d like to see more, then check out my future posts, as I’m sure I will be using the 35 mm almost exclusively for blog content now that I have it. Overall I’d say I’m really, really happy that I decided to go for it and get it before my trip home.

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