Japanese Cuisine

IMG_1406One could easily visit Japan, do nothing but eat, and still have an amazing trip. During our stay we managed to not only see some incredible places, but also experience some of the most unique and flavorful cuisine that we have ever had. Trying out all of the food, both familiar and new, was truly an adventure in itself.

IMG_9888The first thing any visitor will notice when searching for food options in Japan is the consistent use of realistic plastic food samples at just about every establishment. We had heard of the concept before, but did not realize how universal it was until we were there. It was not only fascinating to see the attention to detail in each plate, but also very helpful when it came time to order food, since we could point to our exact desired dish when making selections.

IMG_9541IMG_1407Perhaps our favorite meal of the trip was at Manzaratei Pontochoten, where we enjoyed a traditional Kyōto style meal at a small restaurant with prime seating at the counter. From our seats we could see the chefs putting together lovely little dishes, often ladling in broths and sauces from the various large bowls resting on the counter in front of us. Already one of his favorite foods in general, James proclaimed this was the best unagi he has ever had after his very first bite.

IMG_9315IMG_1042We had several bentō boxes while on the trip. They were pretty and convenient to grab while on the go, and also fun to explore what each one had inside.

IMG_9970Rāmen in Tōkyō is of course an absolute must, and we tried out a few different ones while on the trip. Ichiran was our favorite one of all, since not only do they have fantastic rāmen, but the experience of dining at one of the their restaurants was completely new to us. The first step is buying a ticket at a machine at the entrance. Then, each patron is seated in their own individual booth and given a sheet to fill out denoting their preferences on things like noodle firmness, spice level, aromatics, and richness. A small curtain separates the booths from the kitchen, and only the hands of the servers are visible as they place your order in front of you once it’s ready.

sushiNaturally, we were very much looking forward to eating plenty of raw seafood on the trip, and a simple conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Kyōto Station was one of the most satisfying experiences. For around one hundred yen per plate, guests simply pick up what they’d like from the belt, and stack up their dishes for a tally at the end. The fish was incredibly fresh, and we tried a few that we had never eaten before.

IMG_9694IMG_9688Another must for the trip was trying out all of the street food. For this we headed to Nishiki Market in Kyōto – a long strip of vendors selling goods such as fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, and just about any ingredients that a local resident may need for cooking. Among the produce shops there are also several vendors selling hot food ready for eating on the spot. We walked through the entire market starting at one end, and made sure to get a wide variety as we made our way through. The tako tamago (candied baby octopus stuffed with quail egg) was James’ favorite, while the cup of fried chicken was some of the best I’ve ever had.

IMG_9919IMG_1510One of our most memorable meals was at what is locally referred to as Piss Alley in Shinjuku. Contrary to what the name suggests, Piss Alley is a fun narrow street where you can sit in a tiny restaurant and enjoy delicious yakitori under the glow of hanging lanterns. After cramming into one of the restaurants, we ordered a great variety of meats and vegetables that were all lightly seasoned before being grilled to perfection over binchotan (Japanese white coals) right in front of us. We had friends who had just arrived in Japan, and we met up with them to share the experience.

IMG_9820Tonkatsu is a traditional Japanese comfort food. Panko crusted pork cutlets and cabbage salad are served with a small bowl of sesame seeds on the side. We ground up the sesame seeds ourselves, and added our choice of sauce from little pots placed in front of us. The experience was fun and unique, and I brought home a little grinding bowl and sauce pot from a local market to recreate the meal someday.

IMG_7138IMG_6524The variety of snacks found all throughout our trip was insanely impressive. From cat shaped chocolate popsicles, to obscure flavors of Pocky, and the best gummy candies I’ve ever had – there was no shortage of opportunity to try new things.

IMG_7348Overall it’s safe to say that the cuisine in Japan is an adventurous experience. Almost every time we saw something interesting to try, we went for it, and were never disappointed. We were consistently intrigued with how most of the foods used the same types of ingredients that we are accustomed to eating in North America, but used in ways that transformed their flavor profiles.


Tōkyō-to

IMG_0946We recently returned from a wonderful two-week long vacation in Japan. Although we have taken a number of international trips, this was our first time visiting a country where the culture and language were unfamiliar to us. Fortunately, everyone that we interacted with was extremely accommodating, and we were able to get by just learning a few Japanese phrases. During our time in Tōkyō, we stayed at the Park Hotel Tokyo in the Shiodome Sio Site in Minato-ku. Above you can see the spectacular view from our room that welcomed us on our very first night.

IMG_6532IMG_0989Most of our trip was spent in the central parts of Tōkyō-to, and even though we were in the metropolis for many days, we still only explored a small amount of its numerous wards. There is much to discover in the area around Shinjuku Station, which has a number of interesting skyscrapers. Our favorite is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

IMG_1016A full size head of Godzilla stands over Toho Cinemas Shinjuku.

IMG_1535Even though we saw Shinjuku during daylight hours, we knew we had to go back at night to see it lit up. The multitude of lightboxes filling the streets would make Las Vegas jealous.

IMG_1523One of the best tucked away spots in the area is Omoide Yokocho, also known as Piss Alley. This tight, atmospheric alley is packed with tiny restaurants and great street food.

IMG_7383Throughout Tōkyō, we saw many ads for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics. We took a walk around Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which will be one of the venues, and was originally built for the 1964 summer games.

IMG_1035IMG_6573There are many buildings throughout Tōkyō that are quite distinctive, such as the Humax Pavillion and the Nakagin Capsule Tower.

IMG_1056Tsukiji Market, known for its tuna auctions and many seafood vendors, is one of many outdoor markets that we walked through during our trip.

IMG_6506IMG_1036There is certainly no shortage of massive shopping districts in Tōkyō, with Ginza being the most upscale.

IMG_1038Traditional structures, like the Kabuki-za are sprinkled throughout even the most modern districts.

IMG_1566The gardens of the Imperial Palace were closed on the day that we visited, but it is still a very pleasant walk around the palace’s moat.

IMG_1580IMG_1588We were in Japan during peak cherry blossom season, which was truly wonderful. Though most of our sakura viewing was done in Kyōtō, we did find great stretches to walk under cherry blossoms around the Imperial Palace.

IMG_1609The Sensō-ji Buddhist temple and the adjacent Asakusa Shinto shrine are part of a large cluster of sacred buildings with a surrounding market in the Asakusa district.

IMG_1047Tsukiji Hongan-ji is another Buddhist temple that was designed to look much more like something you would see in South Asia.

IMG_1620Beautiful houseboats line up at the docks on the Kanda River, waiting to take tourists on excursions.

IMG_1640IMG_1490There are many ‘cafés’ in Shibuya-ku where you can pay to sit with cute animals. We spent some time with some new kitty friends, and we even got to hold owls!

IMG_1549IMG_9281We took so many trains on this trip, which was very easy with our Japan Railways passes. Our most interesting train experience was certainly traveling at 270 km/h on the Shinkansen from Tōkyō Station to Kyōtō.

IMG_1648On our last day in Tōkyō we caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji from our hotel window bidding us farewell. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more photos from our adventures in the land of the rising sun.


Brooklyn

img_0235After having visited Manhattan two years ago during the Christmas season, we decided that this year we would take a trip to Brooklyn. We have some friends who are living in the borough, and it’s one part of New York City that we had never explored before.

img_0229I had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge during school field trips, but James had never had the opportunity. We bundled up and braved the winds to cross over from Manhattan.

img_0230From the Brooklyn Bridge, we had a great view of James’ favorite bridge, the Manhattan Bridge.

img_0237This hilarious sign, which has not quite deterred lovers from vandalizing city property with their padlocks, was a warm welcome to the borough’s personality.

img_0243img_0245We spent the night at a hotel right across the street from Borough Hall (formerly the seat of government for the City of Brooklyn), which we had a great view of from our room window.

img_0274After crossing the bridge and settling into our hotel room we took to the streets for the day. Not far from our hotel was the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which gave us a chance to see other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, locations that we would like to visit on later trips to New York.

img_0272img_0288The highlight of the trip was strolling past all of the 19th century brownstones that line the streets of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. It was very reminiscent of our recent trip to Boston, where we saw an abundance of row houses on Beacon Hill.

img_0279img_0280Many of the residences were tastefully decorated for the season.

img_0299img_0308img_0304Park Slope offered another pleasant residential neighborhood to walk through, right across from Prospect Park.

img_0295We also visited the Brooklyn Central Library, which is part of a completely separate library system serving only that borough, not affiliated with the New York Public Library.

img_0317We then headed towards Green-Wood Cemetery, which feels like a storybook setting. Many of the most famous (or infamous) New Yorkers have been buried here, such as “Boss” Tweed. Here is the gothic gate that serves as the northern entrance.

img_0324img_0328The cemetery is a vast collection of statues and mausoleums, in addition to the expected headstones. Meandering through the curved pathways is a very peaceful experience.

img_0331We had a wonderful stay in Brooklyn, and were so glad to finally explore the area. We will continue to travel to New York City when we can, revisiting the boroughs that we have seen, and exploring new ones as well.


Boston

IMG_5417While visiting family in New England this past Independence Day weekend, we took a day trip to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail, and explore the city. Though we had both been there when we were younger, our experiences until now were very limited. This trip was our first opportunity to check off many Boston locations from our list, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with all that the city had to offer.

IMG_5407Since we typically fly into Boston when visiting the northeast, we usually only view the city from an airport terminal, but on this trip we finally got a view from the middle of Boston Common.

IMG_4885The gleaming gold dome of the Massachusetts State House sits just on the edge of the Common.

IMG_5436Not far from the current State House is the Old State House. This building housed the government of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and was referred to by John Adams as the spot where Independence was born.

IMG_5460Faneuil Hall and the Custom House Tower are two of the most recognizable landmarks in Boston.

IMG_5457The imposing brutalism of Boston City Hall is very much out of place in the heart of the city, but the raw concrete and adjacent brick desert create a fascinating interplay of shapes that has influenced James while developing science fiction projects.

IMG_5427The City Hall that was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is certainly a much more pleasing structure.

IMG_4924If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see a parade of ducklings while visiting the beautiful Public Garden.

IMG_5547IMG_4921_newStrolling the Federal style rowhouses of Beacon Hill is a great way to get out of the sun on a summer day, and it’s charming paths made this my favorite neighborhood in the city.

IMG_5495img_4956 (1)All the vibrancy of an immigrant community can be found in the narrow streets of the North End, a primarily Italian neighborhood.

IMG_5579Once we finished walking the entirety of the Freedom Trail we decided to continue exploring the city. Newbury Street is a wonderful place to shop, dine, or simply walk. I loved that the shops are housed in a variety of 19th century buildings, making it unique from other shopping centers I had ever visited.

IMG_5558IMG_4932While most of the historic sites are Georgian Colonial, the Richardsonian Romanesque Trinity Church stands out as perhaps the most beautiful. This church was not even on our list of locations to visit, but we were thrilled to run into it on our way to the library.

IMG_4953We have yet to see a game at Fenway, but we were able to take part in the atmosphere of Yawkey Way after a Red Sox win. This trip was one of many that we will take to Boston, and we look forward to having new experiences in the city, as well as revisiting our favorites.


Welcome to Glendale: The Jewel City

IMG_9429Now that we’ve been living in Glendale for a few months, we’ve had some time to explore the city. We visited frequently while living in Los Angeles, but there is a big difference between passing through and actively engaging with the environment. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries so far.

IMG_9516Grand Central Air Terminal was very important to the development of aviation not only in Glendale, but throughout the entire western United States. The Walt Disney Company now owns it, and they are doing a wonderful job restoring it to its former glory.

IMG_9520Another historic property that is currently undergoing restoration is the Glendale Masonic Temple. Watching historical preservation efforts unfold, as well as following the construction of new developments, makes us feel a closer connection to the neighborhood.

IMG_9400There’s probably no one who contributed more to the development of Glendale than Leslie Coombs Brand. His former mansion, El Miradero, can now be enjoyed by all residents as the Brand Library & Art Center.

IMG_9436This sleepy little Spanish Colonial Revival train station is the source of the roaring clamor that passes by our house throughout the night.

IMG_9440The Streamline Moderne Seeley’s Furniture building is one of the first buildings that motorists see as they drive into Glendale from Los Angeles onto the Brand Boulevard of Cars.

IMG_9451At night, Brand Blvd is illuminated by the neon of the Alex Theater.

IMG_9401The Americana at Brand may be a shopping mall, but the way that the space flows encourages more interaction with the streets of downtown Glendale, rather than shutting them out like a typical mall. This industrial elevator shaft seen here is the site’s most prominent feature.

IMG_9395In the 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers turned the Verdugo Wash into a concrete flood control channel. They also built some beautiful truss bridges for the roadways that cross it.

IMG_9445Forest Lawn Memorial Park is no ordinary cemetery. Aside from the breathtaking views, it is also home to a number of quaint chapels sprinkled throughout the hillside.

IMG_9402We are so glad to call Glendale our home, and we look forward to watching many, many sunsets over the Verdugos in the coming decades.


Las Vegas

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For James’ 30th birthday, we decided to spend the weekend in Clark County, Nevada and explore the Las Vegas Strip. James had been there before as a teenager, but I had only driven past it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Las Vegas was quite eager to welcome us to their city in this photo, even though they were about four miles premature. Most of the attractions that we visited, such as this sign are located in the unincorporated town of Paradise, NV.

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Mandalay Bay is the best example of one of the hotels that use real gold on their windows. I had only ever seen photos, so seeing them in person was quite interesting.

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We went to a Soviet themed lounge called Red Square inside of Mandalay Bay, and it was one of our favorite lounges on the strip.

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When James visited as a teenager, he stayed inside the pyramid of Luxor.

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10,000 paper cranes hang in the lobby of Aria, adding a bit of fun and color to the ultramodern interior.

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Many parts of the strip feel very cluttered and confined, but that is certainly not the case with the front of Bellagio.

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The interior of Bellagio is beautifully tiled and the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a wonderful place to walk around. After visiting most of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, I can confidently say Bellagio was my favorite one.

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We made sure to see a nighttime performance of the Fountains of Bellagio.

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We didn’t ride the gondolas at the Venetian, but they are such a great addition to see floating by as you are walking through the luxurious interior.

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Parasol Down, like the rest of the interior of Wynn is very whimsical.

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Vegas Vic still welcomes visitors to downtown Las Vegas, but he is barely visible under the visual cacophony of the “Freemont Street Experience.” I would have loved to look down Freemont Street and see the iconic neon signs unobstructed in front of the night sky, but that quintessential view of Las Vegas has been completely destroyed.

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The California Hotel and Casino lies just outside of Freemont Street, and has been spared from redevelopment.

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James’ favorite part of his birthday trip was our visit to the Neon Museum. Their boneyard has tons of old signs, including some of the most recognizable from the mid twentieth century.

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The Stardust sign was once the tallest on the strip.

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This text advertised the Lido de Paris at the Stardust.

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We’re so glad that these pieces of art can still be enjoyed by the public, and hopefully the museum will have the resources to restore more of them in the future.

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Before leaving the area, we visited the Hoover Dam, and walked halfway across so that we could stand in both Nevada and Arizona at once.

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It took five years after moving to California for me to visit Las Vegas, and I’m so glad that we were able to do it together and make new memories.


Industrial Providence

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Providence has an important industrial history that dates back to the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in America. Nineteenth century factories and warehouses can be seen all around where I grew up throughout the Blackstone River Valley. On each visit, James and I make a point to photograph some of the architecture, for we never know how long each structure will be around. Centuries of exposure to the elements have made them into works of natural art, exhibiting rich textures that reel us in with generations of stories.

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The interplay of different materials such as brick, stone, wood, metal, and paint, combine to create such interesting forms.

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Some of the factories incorporate Romanesque elements into their design, making for some very unique buildings.

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On a recent trip, we wandered past a hauntingly beautiful demolition site.

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Many of the historic structures have been adapted into other uses, such as these lofts. It’s wonderful to see them given a new life instead of being destined for the wrecking ball.


Los Feliz

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James’ first apartment in Los Angeles was in the neighborhood of Los Feliz, at the foot of Griffith Park. When we first started dating, he spent a lot of time showing me the area and exploring some of his favorite spots. We love going back to visit some of the restaurants there, or to stroll around nearby Barnsdall Park.

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When James first moved here, he was awe struck by the views of the Griffith Observatory.

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Many local businesses contribute to the area’s charm.

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There are quite a few delightful dingbats with names such as “Los Feliz Capri.”

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Here is James on the street where he first lived in Los Angeles.

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Some of the homes in the neighborhood are quite spectacular, such as this one designed by Lloyd Wright.

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At the foot of the hills is the beautiful Art Deco Los Feliz Manor.

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As you approach Hollywood, you can see another unexpected apartment building, the Trianon.

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John Marshall High School would look right at home on any Ivy League college campus.

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Hidden amongst winding roads, you can walk along the narrow Shakespeare Bridge.

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Even though James hasn’t lived there for years, walking through the hills of Los Feliz and admiring the views will always bring back fond memories and have a special place in our hearts.


The Seafarer and the Moonlight – A Paper Cutout Animation

After months of work, we have completed our newest short film ‘The Seafarer and the Moonlight.’ The film is stop-motion animation done entirely with thousands of paper cutouts.

James first conceived of the idea about a year ago, and initially thought that it might be done with lighting gels and diffusion to create a stained glass look. Eventually we decided upon parchment paper, and he created one digital concept image to get the process started. Here it is on the left next to the final shot in the film:

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All of the elements began with either digital paintings, or 3D animatics. Each color layer was isolated and printed out so that we had a guide of exactly where to cut.

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This is a comparison of one of the digital images and the final shot. In many instances, they are almost exact.

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Although originally a Viking story, we changed it to Norman after visiting Normandie on our honeymoon.

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When we first started cutting, we were using the same knives that we used for our Christmas cards, but it was very strenuous on our hands, and we switched to very fine nail scissors.

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These sheets of paper waiting to be cut are for the tentacles of the Kraken rising out of the water. That shot required over 1,000 individual pieces of paper.

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All of the coloring was done digitally. Some of the backgrounds were glued together as one image like this one, but most of the shots had each piece shot separately on green.

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Here are layers of shipwrecks and underwater rock formations.

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The skeletons had two layers, one for the highlights, and one for the shadows.

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Some animated elements were tiny enough to be shot in the same image. This is a bird flying loop, then a smaller bird doing that same loop, and then a flag flapping in the wind.

This was a completely new filmmaking experience for us. We have done stop-motion animation in the past, but the amount of manual labor involved with this project vastly exceeded that. It was a tremendous amount of work, but we’re very pleased with the end result.

You can watch the film below: