Our Humble Collection of Japanese Cups and Bowls (Podcast 739)

Our Humble Collection of Japanese Cups and Bowls (Podcast 739)


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A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had plans to at some point photograph some of the cups and bowls that my wife and I have collected over the years. A number of you mentioned that you’d like to see them, so yesterday afternoon I took my camera, a few lenses, and my tripod downstairs, along with a medium-sized collapsable reflector, and spent a few hours making those photographs. I used only ambient light and occasionally popped in a little bit of golden light from a gold reflector, but at ISO 100 most of the exposures were between half a second to just over a second. It was late afternoon on an overcast day, and we had our lace curtains drawn. As I think you’ll see from the photographs though, this does produce quite a soft light that I’m quite happy with.

I didn’t go over the top on positioning the pieces. I will talk about my thought process as we go through these but keep in mind that my main goal was to show the pieces beautifully, but I didn’t run off to get a bottle of sake to pour into them or anything like that. That would have resulted in my drinking the sake and the rest of my working day would have gone down the toilet.

I experimented with both my RF mount 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens and the EF mount 100mm Macro lens. I ended up though using only the Macro lens because of the narrower angle of view. I wanted to use shallow depth of field so that you could see the color of the wood on our dining table and the wood on our kitchen cabinet which houses most of the crockery we own. Some of it is boxed up and stored away, and occasionally gets rotated, but the majority of what we use regularly in the cabinet next to our dining table.

Anyway, I have selected 15 images, though not all of them will have anything special to add, so I’ll break my usual 10 photos per episode rule and we’ll blast through all fifteen today. Here is the first photo that I shot of three of my favorite sake cups, otherwise known as “Guinomi”. Guinomi is usually used to describe a slightly larger sake cup, and the name is related to a hearty drinking style. “Ochoko” is another word for a sake cup that you may have heard, but they are usually slightly smaller, and used to drink sake in a more refined and gentle manner. It’s kind of like the difference between guzzling and sipping the drink. Personally, I prefer the former drinking style, and that’s why I have these Guinomi.

Three "Guinomi" Sake Cups
Three “Guinomi” Sake Cups

You’ll notice that there is a slightly lighter area in the wood that forms a kind of halo around the top of the center and left cups. That’s actually the back of my chair just visible over the surface of the table. I left it there to provide a little variation, and although it’s very blurred, I think it adds to the domestic situation slightly. This is the only shot in which I included that base from what I think is the “Tokoname” kilns which we bought from the Tokyo Tableware Festival at Tokyo Dome a number of years ago.

After that, I switched between three placemats that I bought from a department store here in Tokyo, purely for photography purposes. We’ve never actually used these when setting the table. Here is the almost black one with the same three cups. I’m afraid we can’t remember where the center Guinomi was made. We bought it at the Tableware Festival too, but the name escapes us. The black cup on the left is Kuro-Oribe. Oribe is a famous group of kilns and the vessels from there are usually the signature green of the Oribe cup on the right. Kuro just means black and added to the name when the Oribe is not green.

Three "Guinomi" Sake Cups
Three “Guinomi” Sake Cups

I should also mention the concept of Wabi-Sabi, which is what put me on to the topic of shooting these cups and bowls in the first place. In Japanese aesthetics Wabi-Sabi basically means beauty in imperfection. These cups are intentionally rough, not straight, and as you see, in this case downright gnarly, but that, right there, is what makes them so beautiful. You’ll notice this in pretty much all of the pieces that I’ll share with you today.

I won’t mention the shooting data for all of these images, as you can see that by clicking or tapping on the images and opening them up in the Lightbox, but just to get us started, I was using my 100mm Macro lens at ƒ/2.8 with a 0.8-second shutter speed, so you can tell there was very little light. With a well-chosen shutter speed though, essentially just exposing to the right of the histogram as I always do, it is nice soft light, which I enjoy shooting in. Note too that while using these mats with lines on them I was relatively careful to ensure that they were in line with the lens axis so that the whole thing didn’t look skewed.

This next cup is for drinking Shochu, which is a clear alcohol that comes in various grades from pain-stripper cheap to incredibly expensive. Shochu can be made from just about anything, though wheat and rice based Shochu is common, and I’ve also seen it made with corn, potatoes and many other ingredients. My favorite, and a drink that I easily drink more than Sake is called Imo-jochu. Imo means potato but in this instance it’s actually sweat potato, and creates a type of Shochu that is much more of an acquired taste. When I first tried Imo-jochu around 17 or 18 years ago, the first glass I tried was horrible. Fortunately the alcoholic content kicked in, and the second glass was much better. By the time I’d finished my third glass that evening I was a convert.

Taisetsugama (Kiln) Shochu Cup
Taisetsugama (Kiln) Shochu Cup

I bought this cup directly from the person that made it at a department store here in Tokyo. I fell in love with this instantly, and although it was a little over $50 I couldn’t prevent myself from buying it. One of the setting points was that single red dot that you see in this photo, but I like the overall design, and when I peered into the cup, I found the white base mesmerizing. I was both surprised and completely not surprised when the person that made it told me that his kiln was Taisetsugama, right by the Taisetsu mountain range in Hokkaido.

Taisetsugama (Kiln) Shochu Cup
Taisetsugama (Kiln) Shochu Cup

This next cup is made of a section of bamboo, treated with the lacquer also used for lacquerware, but here they’ve left the organic feel of the bamboo, and the lacquer almost has almost a matte feel to it. I use this one more often than not when I want to drink Sake, as in Japanese rice wine, from a larger cup than my Guinomi that we looked at earlier. I generally use the Guinomi when I sit with the bottle so that I can fill it up more often, but when I’m drinking something chilled or maybe relatively cheap sake from a carton, I will just pour it into this larger cup, and then I don’t have to sit with the bottle or carton.

Bamboo Cup
Bamboo Cup

This cup is very light, and you have to wash and dry it after use. You can’t, for example, as we often do with the cups used at the end of the day, just fill this with water and leave it to soak, then wash it in the morning. When I use this cup I have to wash it as soon as I’ve finished using it, then I dry it with a paper towel and put it back into our cabinet. One of things that I fell in love with with this cup is the base, which I included in this photo.

Bamboo Cup
Bamboo Cup

As you can see, the craftsman that makes these simply leaves the natural segments that form inside the bamboo to form the base of the cup. You can generally see where these sections are from the lines seen from the outside, so they must be cutting them at just the right point to make use of this base and leave the top open.

Very long time listeners might recall a commercial shoot that I did around 12 years ago when I drove all the way up to one of the northern-most prefectures of Japan and spent two days photographing a man that farmed trees to scrape lines in their bark and collect the sap, which was then used to make the traditional Japanese lacquerware. The town was called “Joboji” and is famous for high-quality lacquer and lacquerware. While on that job I visited one of the craftsman workshops where the lacquerware is made and spent over $200 on these two lacquerware bowls. Luckily my wife loves these as much as I do, so I got away with the hefty purchase, but these have become one of our household treasures.

Joubouji Lacquerware Bowls
Joubouji Lacquerware Bowls

I love how there is a little bit of black lacquer showing through in areas in the red bowl, but that deep rich black and the texture of the black bowl is simply beautiful to me. In English when we want to describe very deep black, we might say pitch black, or black and pitch. In Japan, the word for very dark black is “Shikkoku” which literally means this very dark lacquerware black that you see here. I should also note that although the red bowl might be considered slightly Wabi-Sabi, with the black showing through, the black bowl is perfect in every way. To get that dark black the bowl would have been carefully milled, then sanded smooth, then the lacquer applied then allowed to dry, then polished and lacquered again up to 30 times to get it that perfect.

By contrast, these three bowls that you see in this next photograph were bought by my wife and are relatively inexpensive, but also some of our favorite pieces. They’re just fun to use for small items that we put on the table, such as for example, a bowl of sugared black beans that might end up as our dessert after a meal.

Three Bowls
Three Bowls

So that I could shoot these from above, I put the placemat on the floor and just pointed my camera down at them. This is one of the shots where I used the gold reflector to the right to bounce a little bit of warm light back in to what would have otherwise been pretty dark shadows.

Here also is the same three bowls but back up on the table, so that you can see their shape from the side, and that they are actually tripods. They have three little feet, which I think is quite cute. Thinking about it, these are from Okinawa, when we visited around ten years ago now to do a workshop. My wife went out with a friend’s wife and picked these up while I was teaching my Pixels to Pigment workshop. A good find that we both enjoy a lot.

Three Bowls
Three Bowls

These next two bowls are also lacquerware, from the city of Aizu in Fukushima. These were about half the price as the Joboji bowls, and have a more down-to-earth feel about them. You might not be surprised to hear that we have actually never eaten from the Joboji bowls, but we use these two pretty regularly. After cooking most of our meals for the last 25 years my wife is frankly tired of cooking. She also doesn’t really like me to get into the kitchen, so I don’t get permission to cook for us very often either, which means that we sometimes rely on take-outs and convenience store bentos, but it’s a good way to keep stress levels down. When she does cook though, she always does a really good job of selecting the best bowls to serve each dish in, and it’s always a pleasure to see what she’s selected.

Aizunuri Lacquerware Bowls
Aizunuri Lacquerware Bowls

The three little bowls that you see in this next image are inexpensive again, but we really like the simple design, and how the smaller bowls fit away nicely, nested inside the larger ones. These are often used to serve some “Shichimi” or seven spices to put into noodles, another favorite dish.

Nested Bowls
Nested Bowls

You’ll notice that the painted lines aren’t perfect, but again, even in these regular kitchen bowls, we get a sense of the Japanese Wabi-Sabi that I mentioned earlier. It’s that beauty in imperfection that we enjoy so much.

I also shot my three Guinomi individually, but as I’ve already talked about these, I’ll just drop them in here in a gallery for you to look at.

To finish with, here are two Soba-Choko, again, from the Oribe kiln, hence that signature green color. You’ll see that they’ve broken up the monotony a little with those amoeba-like forms in the design, which we found quite appealing. The word Soba means buckwheat noodles, and Choko is the cup, the same as “Ochoko” which is just adding the honorific “O” to the word for a small cup. These are what you put the dip for the noodles into, often with some thinly sliced onions and broken up nori, the dried seaweed that you often see wrapped around rice balls, or Onigiri.

Oribe Soba-Choko
Oribe Soba-Choko

OK, so we’ll wrap it up there. We have heaps more crockery, and we only concentrated on Japanese vessels. If I start on our western-style crockery I’d need another few episodes, but it’s not as interesting as this Japanese stuff, which I hope you enjoyed seeing. I think I’ve captured the warmth of our home in these images to a degree too, so I hope that comes across. I’m incredibly thankful for the life we have, and my wife makes it all so very special. I’m lucky to have her in my life to make it richer and so much more fun!


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


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Tsukiji Fish Market (Podcast 331)

Tsukiji Fish Market (Podcast 331)

Last week, I visited the Tsukiji Fish Market here in Tokyo with Scott Jarvie, and had a wonderful morning shooting around the market, and so today I’m going to share some of my experiences and photos with you, with some advice for shooting there yourself interwoven, including a bit of a Japanese lesson to help you make the most of your visit.

Use this audio player if you’d prefer to listen and there are other formats at the bottom of the post:

Over the last twelve years since I moved to Tokyo, I’ve certainly not made the most of the fact that I live in one of the largest cities in the world with regards to my photography. I’m not much of a street photographer, largely because I rarely like my resulting images, but also because I have simply prioritized my time to concentrate on my nature and wildlife work. I have though for a long time wanted to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, so when I was in a Google Plus Hangout with Scott Jarvie who was set to come to Tokyo for a few days last week, I decided to go and check it out with Jarvie, and see what we could make of it.

I ended up with 26  photos that I really quite like, and have posted an album on Google+ if you want to check that out. I’ve selected 12 images from that set to quickly walk you through today though, but I did want to give you a heads-up about an important aspect that we missed because I didn’t know how early we needed to get there.

The Auction – 4am Registration!

On the Tsukiji Fish Market Web site, it says that they start registration for two groups of sixty people to enter and watch the Tuna Auction from 5:25 to 5:50 for the first group, then from 5:50 to 6:15 for the second group. The earliest train I could get wouldn’t have gotten me to the market until around 6:30am, and as Jarvie’s first train wouldn’t get him there until around 5:25, so I drove and parked in a nearby car park, and took a steady walk over to the office by around 5:10, thinking I’d get two spaces for me and Jarvie, and wait for him to arrive. You can imagine how shocked I was to find that by 5:10am, all 120 visitors spaces were already taken.

I asked why they’d all gone in less than 10 minutes, and was told that people start arriving at around 4am to secure their slot. I heard the same thing a number of times through the morning, that people generally arrive and register from 4am, so if you want to visit, and actually watch the auction, you’d better get up especially early, not that getting there by 5:10am is exactly what I’d call a lie-in mind.

Market Out of Bounds Until 9am

Hard Nut

Hard Nut

Another thing to note is that the Market is pretty much out of bounds until 9am once the auction is finished, so although you can go a little early, and get some shots from afar, if you don’t intend to get there by 4am to get into the auctions, you might as well take your time. As you can see in this image, there are security guards that will ask you to leave the market if you walk in their before 9am.

Jarvie and I snuck around the car park, shooting images like this one from the outskirts, and I do like the results, so I don’t want to play this down too much, but for the most part, we were killing time, and once we were allowed in to the market from 9am, the pace of shooting changed, and the resulting images where very different as well.

Stay Aware!

Driver

Driver

Another thing to note is that there are electric carts buzzing around the market all the time, usually in convoy, and not really abiding by any rules as far as road markings go. I heard these things bump together a few times, and they are heavy and hard, and would really hurt if you got clipped or even full on bumped into by one, so stay aware.

In fact, you should just always keep in mind that this is a working market, not a theme park or a tourist attraction. Be respectful at all times that you are a visitor and you are being allowed to be there out of kindness, not duty. A few years ago the market was taken totally out of bounds to visitors due to a lack of respect for simple rules and common sense, and it would be a shame if that were to happen again, so don’t touch anything, keep a relatively low profile, and generally just play nicely.

So, as we weren’t able to enter the auctions, where they lay out hundreds of Tuna fish to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, we had a walk around the Sushi shops in the nearby vicinity to the Market, and they in themselves provide some good photo opportunities. Here (below) we can see one of the lines of sushi shops that we walked around. There were a few shops that had a long queue of non-Japanese visitors outside, and I’m guessing that’s because they offered great sushi at very cheap prices. Jarvie and I decided though to go into Sushi Ichiba, the small establishment that you can see on the left of this shot.

Sushi Galore

Sushi Galore

It wasn’t exactly cheap, with what we selected being around ¥2,800, which is around US$34 but we didn’t have to queue up for an hour, and boy was it good.

Sushi Shokunin

Sushi Shokunin

Here’s another shot from behind one of these little restaurants, of a young Sushi Shokunin, cutting up the Tuna, removing the bits that wouldn’t be used, ready to be more thinly sliced and placed on top of the rice to make Sushi.

Cutting the Maguro

Cutting the Maguro

This day to me was very much about textures, with lots of old buildings and fittings like the shelves in this shot, so I decided to process most of the batch in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4. I’ve processed them to the point where they are just starting to look a little like HDR images, but as a complete set, a body of work, I quite like the feel of these.

Quick Japanese Lesson

Note that for just about everyone of these shots, I asked for permission to photograph the subjects. In Japanese, may I take your photograph is “Shashin totte mo ii desu ka?”. If you are going to head into the market, or photograph people anywhere in Japan for that matter, keep hold of this, and listen a few times, repeating after me. 写真撮ってもいいですか?

Then, when you’ve finished, hopefully without taking too long and even if you do, make sure you don’t outstay your welcome, thank the person who’s photo you took with “arigatou gozaimasu” or “arigatou gozaimashita”, which both mean “thank you”, with the latter being past tense, which is sometimes preferred, especially if you were with the subject for a while. There are different ways to say these phrases, but as someone that’s lived here in Japan for 21 years now, you can trust me that this is about the best way to say these simple and yet practical phrases, in everyday use.

Back into the Market

By the time we’d eaten and loitered outside the entrance to the market for a while longer, it was finally 9am, so we headed inside to photograph the people that work here. I’d asked the gentleman on the right in this photo if it was OK to photograph them as they used a variety of what I’d prefer to call swords rather than knives, to cut up a tuna.

Big Knife!

Big Knife!

Tsukiji Fishmonger

Tsukiji Fishmonger

At this point, the guy in this photo came back to his stall, on the opposite side from the stall where they were cutting up the tuna, and had some fun in Japanese, talking about the large group of foreigners that had taken over the front of his work space.

After a minute or so, I decided to politely make him aware that not all of the foreigners he was talking about didn’t understand what he was saying. I turned and apologized for getting in the way, in Japanese of course. This of course was met with laughter from him and a few others on his stall, and a slight amount of embarrassment.

I continued to have a very nice long conversation with this guy, who as you might guess, despite the tough appearance, seemed to have a heart of gold. Part of our conversation was actually about how many people that work in fishing ports or related industries can be quite tough looking and rough, but inside, they are warm and generous people. I also learned that he was a baseball coach for a school baseball team, and we talked about how emotional it can be to watch the high-school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium, that’s just finished here in Japan. We laughed a lot, and then one of the others on his stall came back with a few pieces of tuna on a plastic tray, and proceeded to open a packet of soy source over it, for me to try.

Sashimi Celebration

Sashimi Celebration

Jarvie Eats Tuna Sashimi

Jarvie Eats Tuna Sashimi

The raw tuna, or sashimi, was absolutely beautiful, and of course, I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t let them know that Jarvie was with me, so that he could try it too. This offering of food like this is quite typical of the Japanese once you’ve made a connection as we had, and I was really pleased to have been taken in by them as they did. Jarvie just mentioned on Google +, as I was preparing for this Podcast, that it made a big difference with my understanding Japanese, and helped us to get some photos that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and I totally agree. Being able to speak the language makes such a difference at times like this. If you ever want a personal guide in Japan by the way, I’m not cheap, but I’d be glad to quote a price if I’m available during your visit, so drop me a line if you seriously want to hook up for something like this.

Tuna Freezer

Tuna Freezer

We continued to walk around the market, and was amazed by just how large the place is. Even for someone like me that hasn’t particularly enjoyed this kind of photography so far, there’s just a wealth of opportunities for great images, such as this guy looking for a piece of tuna in his freezer full of the stuff.

By the way, I shot my images mostly with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, my 50mm f/1.4, and my 14mm f/2.8 lens. I also used the 24-70mm f/2.8 a little as well, but these last three shots were all made with the 14mm, which is behind that slightly funky perspective.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

The light in the market can be amazing too, with reflections in the wet cobblestone floor, and in this last shot (below) you can see that we’d found a spot where the light was pouring in through a glass skylight.

Tsukiji Skylight #1

Tsukiji Skylight #1

I found the light, the people and the place to be quite magical, and will certainly be going back again soon, probably by 4am next time, so that I can get into the tuna auctions and see what I can make of that too. I’m actually quite happy to have found at least a bit of a voice in street photography here. I have of course been shooting and posting some street photography for years, but always found Japan frustrating because of the peace signs and cute poses when you try to photograph anyone. On this trip though, there was none of that, and this, along with some of the shots from a recent photowalk that I did too, might just start to turn it around for me with regards to this relatively unexplored, on my part of course, photographic genre.

Tsukiji is Moving to Toyosu

One last thing that I wanted to touch on before we finish is that the Tsukiji Fish Market is moving from it’s current location to a place called Toyosu, about 10 minutes down the road. The actual date is not set yet, but it’s expected to be within the next two to three years. I’ll try to remember to come back and update this post, but do note that if you are listening to this podcast or reading my blog post in or after 2014, the market might have moved, so do check beforehand.

I’ll also put a link to the official Web site in the show notes, and try to update that too, at least on the blog, if it changes in the future. Remember that you can get to the blog posts to check images to accompany the audio at mbp.ac/331, where 331 is the episode number. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the photos from this day on Google+, and I’ll probably drop them on Flickr as well as my own gallery too, whichever suits you, and do let me know what you think.


Show Notes

Tsukiji Fish Market Web site: http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english/market/tsukiji.html [Removed dead link]

My Tsukiji photos on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/photos/102227359845636175866/albums/5731832324940681889

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


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Hiroshi Yokoyama – A Wonderful Photographer and Friend

Hiroshi Yokoyama – A Wonderful Photographer and Friend

When I signed up for my first winter Photography Tour with Yoshiaki Kobayashi (小林 義明) to join him in Eastern Hokkaido in February 2004, there were two things that I was not aware of. The first is that it would change my life. I instantly fell in love with Eastern Hokkaido, especially in the winter, and have since traveled there at least once each winter, and for the last four years have been running my own popular photography tour and workshops there.

The other thing that I was not aware of, is that joining Kobayashi-Sensei, was the distinguished Hiroshi Yokoyama (横山 宏) or Yokoyama-Sensei. Although I had seen Kobayashi-Sensei’s work in many of the Japanese photography magazines, I have to admit that I had not heard of Yokoyama-Sensei, despite him being one of the top nature photographers in Japan today, and his help and advice during that first visit to Hokkaido had a huge effect on my own photography.

Yokoyama-Sensei isn’t online, and it’s hard to find any English information on him and his work, so here’s a brief bio.

Hiroshi Yokoyama (横山 宏) was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1939, he graduated the Tokyo College of Photography (東京綜合写真専門学校) in 1963, and after assisting at the college for two more years, went freelance in 1965. For the majority of his career he was a renowned alpine and ski photographer, which he gave up when he moved to Eastern Hokkaido some 21 years ago, to concentrate on his wonderful nature photography for which is his known today.

Since spending that wonderful week with him back in 2004, we’ve met just a few times. Twice during his exhibitions here in Tokyo, once in 2005 in Canon’s S-Tower gallery at Shinagawa, and then once again yesterday at the Canon Ginza Gallery. His work is beautiful and sensitive, and like Kobayashi-Sensei, they are both incredibly open with their knowledge of photography and the locations they shoot in. Just yesterday during our chat, Yokoyama-Sensei drew me out a map to one of the beautiful trees in his shots, which I’m hoping now to take my group to during next year’s tours, if I can get permission to do so from the local authorities.

Yokoyama-Sensei

Yokoyama-Sensei

In February during my own Eastern Hokkaido Winter Wildlife Wonderland Tour we’d been out for a dawn shoot, and after breakfast, as I waited in the lobby for my group to gather, I asked if it would be OK for me to sit at a table with some Japanese gentlemen that were chatting. I didn’t look at all of their faces as I asked, but sat down with my MacBook Pro to check my email.

Then, the person that was sitting further along from me on my side of the table spoke, with a wonderful soft voice, that I recognized instantly. Yokoyama-Sensei! I exclaimed, and as we turned to each other, he also recognized me and called me by name. It had been six year’s since we’d previously met, so I was filled with pride and happiness that he’d remembered my name, and we chatted about my move to full time photographer, and he was proud to hear that I was accompanying a 14 strong group on my own tour there. I thanked him of course, because he and Kobayashi-Sensei had played such a large part in setting me on this path.

To the right is a photo of Yokoyama-Sensei from yesterday, as he tried to overcome the his nervousness at being in front of the camera, instead of behind it. 🙂

The current exhibition at Canon Ginza runs for just a few more days, until 3pm on Tuesday the 15th of November (2011). I couldn’t find an English page with the details, but here’s the Japanese page from Canon:

http://cweb.canon.jp/gallery/archive/yokoyama-dotou/index.html

Also note that the exhibition will be on display in Sapporo, Hokkaido from Dec 1st -13th, 2011, and in Umeda (Osaka) from Jan 26th to Feb 1st, 2012. Details and maps etc. are also linked to the above page.

If you can make it to any of these exhibitions, I hope you also get a chance to meet Yokoyama-Sensei. You’ll instantly recognize him from his trademark bandana, but even with your eyes closed, you’ll know him from his calm and soothing voice.  His work is of course amazing, and well worth a visit if you get a chance.

Here are a few more photos from my visit yesterday.

Hiroshi Yokoyama Exhibition - Canon Ginza Gallery

Hiroshi Yokoyama Exhibition – Canon Ginza Gallery

Yokoyama-Sensei

Yokoyama-Sensei

Gallery Talk

Gallery Talk