April 17, 2018

Sex Marks The Spot

Sex marks the spot. Shame is gone, so is restraint. Anything goes. We've been reduced to what drives our animal needs even if at expense of others. Another one falls. Pain multiplies as we hurt each other, abuse each other, take advantage of each other. De-evolution at its worst- and it comes back to haunt us. What happened to serving each other? How many do we wound as we choose to do what we want versus what is right? It's time to rethink how we handle ourselves.

April 16, 2018

The Imagineers' Moroccan Surprise

Good design at Disney parks goes beyond the easily seen elements. In fact,what makes Disney parks unique is the Imagineers ability to go beyond the expected, surprising and delighting its guests. Here is a case in point. Standing in Epcot at the edge of the lagoon, I positioned myself for a shot of the beautifully detailed Morocco pavillion. Something in the background caught my eye. It was the Tower of Terror, an entire park away, fully in view and consistent in theme with what I saw in World Showcase. Nice job, Imagineers.  

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 13, 2018

Love the Incredibles?

Love the first movie. Love the poster. Will probably love the second Incredibles movie. Here's the trailer:

Love the Incredicoaster coming to Pixar Pier at California Adventure? Probably, even if it is shoe-horned into the park. At least Mickey is still on the Fun Wheel!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 12, 2018

A Booking Nightmare- What We Gave Up at Walt Disney World

Dinner for six at California Grill? How about an evening at Chef's de France in Epcot for the family? These are just some of the things we had to give up due to the crazy hyper-planning necessary to visit Walt Disney World these days.

Chef's de France 

It shouldn't be this way. At Disneyland, it takes a minimal amount of advance planning, and you can still have a great vacation there with a sense of joyous spontaneity. Not so in Florida.

Morimoto Asia (photo by WDWMagic.)

At Disney World, the overcrowding and delayed but long needed expansions to handle the millions who visit have created a booking nightmare. Now in order to see and do the primary attractions at Magic Kingdom (let alone the other three parks), all this extra work takes the fun out. Pre-choosing Magic Band characters for each person in the party doesn't make up for it. Nor does Magical Express. 

Frankly, it's all just exhausting, and I decided to give up. I cancelled reservations to maintain some sense of freedom from a set agenda, and decided we'd take our chances. Morimoto Asia lost out to Flight of Passage. Chef's de France to Test Track. More examples than I will write about. We will now forgo table service and instead go to late night counter service places in out of the way spots, particularly at Epcot.

The greedy, short-sighted suits have created a mess. Yes, we booked that dinner at Be Our Guest, but we will never eat there again after the price increase coming in July. Fifty-five dollars a head for a theme park dinner? No, thanks. Quick bucks now for less customer loyalty long term. Poor business decision. Never in my life did I think aspects of a trip to Disney World would be "one and done".

I guess one good thing about the last two decades of blatant underdevelopment meant we explored the real world. That has been a delight. But the Walt Disney Company has lost tens of thousands of dollars from just one family. How many more families did what we did and went elsewhere? 

Last trip to Florida, some in our family skipped Disney altogether, preferring Universal. Less hassle, newer attractions, less cost. Could be a trend. This trip, we've even scheduled less days to visit the World than we ever did before. 

Will we have a great time on this upcoming visit? Of course. We're going with family, so how can we not? Will we go back? Yes....eventually.

(Photos copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 10, 2018

Shiny New Metallic Tomorrowland

From the Wally Crump Exhibition and Auction at Van Eaton Galleries: The Story of Aluminum brochure for Kaiser Aluminum, a sponsor in Disneyland's sparkling new Tomorrowland. The image by this renowned Imagineer is just too cool not to keep a copy of!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 9, 2018

Down for the Count

As bad as boxer Ricky Hatton (above) after being knocked out by crazy good opponent Manny Pacquiao, I've been down for the count over a week now. One day, I was up an entire time of about 4 hours. Then back to bed, more meds, and no relief from the headaches, nasal junk, dizziness, and more.  More posts coming later. 

(Photograph copyright Daily Mail.)

April 6, 2018

Parker, Jesus, and That Dirty Tomb

From my daughter regarding Easter:  "Laughable moment: we had the kids clean up so that we could do the egg hunt. Parker threw a fit and said "well Jesus didn't have to clean out the tomb..."

Gotta love that kid! (The one on the right, our miracle boy. Read the story.) He has a very funny way of looking at life without even trying! Happy Birthday, Parker!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 5, 2018

Show Them

This gift from a recent trip has a very special meaning to me. Thank you, friend, for this- and the opportunity to serve with you and your husband.

April 3, 2018

Happy Anniversary to Us!

My wife and her "first husband".  Happy Anniversary to you!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 2, 2018

Indiana Jones Has Nothing on Her

Made famous by Indiana Jones, but known all over by citizens of the Middle East, here's Petra in all its glory. It's just one of many stops from a friend on a worldwide exploration. One that has lasted two years so far.

She says there's something amazing about riding on the back of a camel. This young businessman is learning the trade. Tourists decide to make use of his services for the several mile hike.

Will they ride off into the sunset? Maybe, but it's not the movies.

April 1, 2018

Some Special Gift

Yes, it's true. Just for you and me and the whole earth - from the beginning of time. Jesus chose to lay down his life to redeem us from Hell. The Hell we deserve for our sin. Ever lie? Cheat? Slander? Then, his sacrifice via the cross was just for you. It's a gift that cost him much pain and sorrow. The only perfect gift for the payment of our sin. No one and nothing else. We can't earn it. But if you receive this gift of eternal life by choosing and following Him, believing He is God in the flesh and payment for your sin, rising from death to life, it is yours. Your life it's a gift back to Him that will bless him. Yes, something special.

Easter Sunday morning- the Triumph of Jesus over sin and death- for our benefit! Never a victim- always a champion. Preachers everywhere should remember this! As should the people He gave his life for. There's only ONE way to Heaven, and that's through the sacrificial gift of the life of Jesus. God wasn't being a bigot by making it this way. He was keeping it simple. Now you know- what are you going to do about it?

March 31, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Four

Like every other Disney park, Mediterranean Harbor really shines at night! Because the dark obscures a lot of detail, it's easier for our minds to accept the illusion constructed by the Imagineers. If you thought this area was impressive during the day, the magic triples once the sun goes down.

As we get further along into my report, you may notice a lesser amount of night images than usual, or that composition/perspective seems a little askew at times. It boils down to no tripods being allowed in the parks. I'm not sure when the ban started, but it was done for safety reasons (I wouldn't be surprised at all if this rule is eventually enforced at the USA parks). Fortunately, the Tokyo parks do have a fair amount of walls and ledges that provide some stability for cameras, along with the usual standby of rubbish cans and dining tables.

The image above, taken a little after sunset, was accomplished by balancing my camera on a narrow ledge. Careful not to shake my Nikon, I kept the strap (attached to the camera) on my neck because the drop below was quite far. I normally like to more panoramas, but without a tripod, the necessity of matching up the individual shots proved difficult to say the least. I did manage to stitch together the image below (comprising of 5 separate shots) thanks to the use of a bean bag (tip courtesy of the awesome Tom Bricker). I found it quite handy for mounting my camera on poles or any support that was not flat or even.

The other method I found useful was a Platypod. It's basically a flat metal plate that mounts a tripod head. Perfect for the top of walls, I was able to do a fair number of long exposure shots using this gizmo.

I remember the first day at the park, wandering around feeling overwhelmed and a bit down as the light faded. Beautiful scenery that I would have gobbled up with a tripod, now seemed to tease me with an elusive demeanor. As time headed towards evening and crowds began to slowly dwindle, I hung out at the Palazzo Canals, an area almost deserted due to the gondola ride closing down for the evening. 

Other than the occasional guest heading to "Ristorante de Canaletto" for late dinner (picture below), I pretty much had the place to myself. I decided to use the Platypod since the walls blocking off the canal were low and wide. Setting the camera for a 30 second exposure, I crossed my fingers, and finally began seeing some decent images of this beautifully lit area!

This location really became my home base of sorts, a place I would retreat to when I needed to get away from the crowds or to decompress. It's the same with Main Street when I'm at Disneyland or WDW. Something about the vibe that makes me feel safe and comfortable.

Remember when I mentioned earlier how gray skies were the norm while I was in Tokyo? Although cloud cover will suck the blues right out of the sky, I tend to view clouds as more of a positive in photography, especially at night. Clouds will automatically increase the dramatic mood of an image . This is especially true at sunset and the blue hour. 

I initially planned not to show any images of Mt. Prometheus until I got to the section covering Mysterious Island, but that icon is visible from nearly every area in the park (Not that it's a bad thing. The mountain integrates itself seamlessly into whatever port you're visiting...enhancing, rather than shattering any Disney designed theme/illusion). 

Another icon that is hard to escape is the Tower of Terror. It is clearly visible from both Mediterranean and American Waterfront. 

Again, the Christmas decorations are done tastefully with some measure of restraint giving this entire port a truly classic feel and look!

A water show titled "Color of Christmas" took place every night on the water with lighted trees covering the water. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to shoot it, so a picture of the general area where the show takes place is all I can provide.

This wraps up my coverage of Mediterranean Harbor. I'll take a short hiatus and return with a report on Tokyo Disneyland (I'm going to hop back and forth between the two parks to keep things fresh).

Until then, wishing everyone a Happy Easter and remember...Christ has risen!

March 30, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Three

The panorama above was taken on one of the rare days the sky was blue (gray seemed to be the color of choice for most of the trip). This picture really illustrates the mind boggling talents of Imagineers when given an ample budget and creative freedom. With Disney buying up every license they can get their hands on, I fear the day will come when original park designs NOT tied into existing properties will be a thing of the past. So feast your eyes on majestic Mount Prometheus as it anchors Fortress Explorations and segues into the Mediterranean Harbor. It would be sad to see this architectural and engineering feat replaced by a hodge podge of Pixar and Marvel lands!

Full disclosure here. I'm a life long collector having started with comic books and branching out into books, toys, movie memorabilia, gum cards, original art, and tons more. As I've advanced in age, I've come to that point where downsizing and getting rid of clutter has moved up on the priority ladder. The photos I take are now my take home "souvenirs" although I still enjoy browsing through the various stores. 

The various shops and restaurants are careful to maintain the Italian theming with "Merchants of Venice" and "Mamma Biscotti's Bakery" being two of my favorites. The window displays and attention to details are top notch, although the merchandise itself is somewhat generic. T-shirts, a popular item in the states, are scare here. Shirts with theme park designs are almost non-existant. I did manage to find one with a Disneysea logo (which I purchased for Mark), but otherwise, nada!

"Omiyage" (gift) is a very important tradition in Japan. The locals purchase multiple items to give as presents to family and friends upon returning home. In Hawaii, sales associates are use to giving Japanese tourists extra packages when ringing up their purchases. Being able to give the gift in a bag with the store logo/name is very prestigious (and sort of proves they were on vacation). I did buy a number of pins and snacks for friends, and the cast members were constantly adding extra bags into my package. I ended up giving quite a bit back as I hate to waste (especially when it comes to plastic).

One of the most popular omiyage is snacks. Besides having colorful outside packaging, a majority of the snacks are individually wrapped. This allows the buyer to divide the snacks between a number of recipients (thus the need for extra bags). Japanese sweets use a lot less sugar than American versions and tend to be a lot lighter. A very popular treat is "arare" or rice crackers. Covered with a shoyu sauce and "nori" (seaweed), its tastes a lot better than how it sounds. If you do visit the parks, try it in addition to the standard cookies & candies. 

Mamma Biscotti's Bakery is right outside Miracosta's park entrance so I found myself having coffee and a delicious danish during much of my hotel stay. I think I've learned to enjoy those moments of soaking in the sights and just living in the moment. It doesn't last long until I'm back out there fighting the crowds and trying to take a decent picture, but hey, you take what you can get!

While in the Mediterranean area, I decided to give the snack cart a try.

It was a toss up between the Tiramisu Ice Cream Sandwich and the Mickey "Tropical Fruit" Ice Bar. Being from Hawaii, where tropical treats are pretty common, I opted for the Tiramisu.

Like the pastries, Japan ice cream tends to be less sweet which makes devouring one of these high calorie delights guilt free (almost). Unfortunately, this was one of the rare times where they actual experience failed to live up to the hype. The cookie layer was frozen so hard that I could barely bite off a piece. The overall flavor tasted very indistinct and somewhat bland. A rare thumbs down for a food item at the Tokyo parks!

To be continued...

Photographs copyright 2018 by Len Yokoyama

Timeless Question

It's Good Friday for we who believe and so commemorate the passion of Jesus of Nazareth. More than a prophet, He is God the Son in the flesh.

Jesus is controversial- and His story timeless. Magazines still devote cover stories to Him, books continue to be written, songs composed, and films made. Each piece brings to the forefront Jesus' own question to his disciple Peter, and it is one we all must answer: "Who do you say I am?"

March 28, 2018

New Carpenters Photos

As I'm working through my look at the music of Richard and Karen Carpenter through fresh eyes, I'm only up to the 1971 Tan album- a landmark disc that includes Superstar, Rainy Days and Monday, and For All We Know. It will be awhile before I reach 1976's disc A Kind of Hush, but someone on the wonderful A&M Corner discussion boards shared a terrific link to some shots of the duo for the album by the famous photographer Ed Caraeff. I just couldn't wait until then to share them.

I had not seen these shots, but they are pretty great. Both Karen and Richard seem rested, relaxed, and healthy, putting off that Southern California vibe. Even after seven albums, sold out tours all over the world, and a grueling schedule.

The photo that made the inside of the disc.

They're pretty young here. Karen's barely 26, and Richard's 29. So young to have reached that pinnacle of international stardom and all the pressure that went with it.

The gorgeous but clearly Middle-of-the-Road song I Need to Be in Love is included on the album. The Herman's Hermits' remake is one of my guilty pleasures, and I still can't get enough of Boat to Sail, a Jackie DeShannon piece of life on the ocean. The sheer elegance and artistry of the previous Horizon album would be tough for anyone to compare to. They didn't even do it. They just wanted to have a bit of fun and lighten the mood. The artwork and photos reflect that attitude.

From this same photo session, Ed Caraeff captured my favorite shot ever of Karen, seen below. I think he captured something in her soul.

Everyone seems to love this sepia toned photo of Karen Carpenter.  It gets downloaded from this blog all the time. It even looks good in black and white.

In just seven more years, and Karen would be gone. Those critics who quickly dismissed the Carpenters as fluff would be forced to freshly reevaluate their art in light of her rich, nuanced voice and the lyrics she sang. There's been nothing like that voice since. 

Like a great photograph, you just keep coming back to their songs and discovering something new.

(Photographs copyright Ed Caraeff.)

March 27, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Two

After a hearty breakfast and a 10 minute wait outside the hotel, I boarded the bus to Disneysea! As mentioned earlier, it's about a 25 minute ride to the park, even with minimal traffic. Like its American counterparts, guests at a Tokyo Disney resort are allowed early entry to the park. But (and it's a big but), Japan's early entry is only 15 minutes prior to regular admission! They call it "Happy 15 Entry". Now if you're anything like me, you're knee jerk reaction was "Only 15 measly minutes???"! I'm paying premium resort prices and would want at least the standard hour we get back at home. But here's the thing - the Japanese are zealous in their love of all things Disney. Whatever you think is extreme in terms of fan dedication, times it by three for Japan. When I arrived two hours prior to park opening, the regular entrance lines stretched to Nova Scotia and back! And even the early entry crowd was already a mile long. After being hit with this sober realization, a 15 minute head start didn't seem so inconsequential anymore. 

Though the Japanese will go through great lengths to assure a good spot or position in line, the crowds are always well behaved, orderly, and conscientious. When early admittance began, the line moved quickly because things here move with precision and speed. In the USA, you always have that one or two persons/family with missing/invalid passes or a ton of questions that holds up everything. In Japan, something like that is almost nonexistent. And since the majority of park goers are locals, the cultural difference makes even security checks amazingly quick. You don't lose much of those valuable minutes from the time the first guest enters the park. Running too is not allowed, but I'll be darn if even senior citizens are walking at a pace that left me eating dust!

Disneysea is laid out with seven themed areas or "port of calls".  You start at Mediterranean Harbor which then branches out to the other six: Arabian Coast, Port Discovery, Mysterious Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Lost River Delta, and American Waterfront. The first thing to catch your eye upon entering is the fountain globe...a spherical marvel to behold. I wouldn't argue that Mount Prometheus in Mysterious Island is the centerpiece of the park (much like the various castles). But, I would not chide anyone for seeing this as the icon of Disneysea either. I've attached several images of the globe taken either at sunset, the blue hour, or night. I have a few day shots, but it's really after sunset that the globe truly astounds!

Mediterranean Harbor is modeled after a traditional Italian city with its Venetian gondolas and canals. It's also home to the Hotel Miracosta...a full service resort that resides within the park. It's Disney theming at its finest, a careful construct of illusion mixed with real tactile experiences. The hotel not only serves to house guests, but it plays a strong role in transporting one to a romanticized European city. 

Hotel Miracosta is my favorite Tokyo resort (and 2nd overall to the Wilderness Lodge), but I will cover that more extensively in another installment. My words could never do justice to the amazing detail and craftsmanship of this area, so hopefully my pictures will help impart some of the area's beauty...

To be honest, I tend to view live shows/parades at Disney as a necessary evil...LOL! Meaning that I will grudgingly do it, but rarely feel its worth the time and energy of waiting in big crowds and long lines. I've been even more reluctant when it comes to the Japanese productions as Mickey and Duffy are often the star attractions. It's true I'm not a fan of the mouse and even less so of the bear. My affinity for Disney stems basically from the animated classics and the parks itself. But I knew going in I needed to sample the shows just to give my reports some balance and variety. 

"A Perfect Christmas" was the first show I attended at TDS. I had noticed guests staking out spots in front of the river as soon as the park opened. I made a mental note and made plans to watch the show on the following morning. Knowing the Japanese culture, I knew I needed to move at top speed in order to secure a good spot for photographing the show. I did a little reconnaissance earlier and found that the prime spots near the gates were reserved for families who booked vacation packages through Tokyo Disney. It's a specially priced package that includes park tickets and stays at the Disney resorts. It's something I had initially wanted to book, but it's only available to parties of two or more so I was out of luck (my wife opted for Alaska with her best friend so I travelled solo).

If you're planning to stay at a Disney resort with family, I would definitely look into this option. After package seating, the next 5 feet or so are reserved for guests who prefer sitting. The Japanese are very conscientious when it comes to ensuring proper views for everyone (video cameras cannot be held above head level and children sitting on parent's shoulders are a no-no), so they allocate seats accordingly. Past that, there is an open walkway followed by an area for standing guests. For photography purposes, I chose the front row of this area for a clear and unobstructed view. 

I ended up standing next to a gentleman from England who got there before me (he too was planning to photograph the show). He was the first person I heard speaking fluent English in a couple of days so of course I stuck up a conversation. He met his Japan wife  in college and ended up moving to Tokyo to raise a family. They were planning to leave for Europe after their park visit, so it was an exciting time for all of them.

After a wait of little over two hours, the show finally began and I must say it was almost worth the wait. Of course Mickey & Minnie were the stars, but what really made it for me was the appearance of Scrooge McDuck! He's an under rated character that I've never seen at the USA parks so this was a treat. The show itself was well choreographed with an extensive use of props and stage scenery. Santa Claus puts in his obligatory appearance at the finale in a huge sleigh. What the storyline or dramatic push was remains a mystery since it was entirely in Japanese, but the visuals are enough that the language barrier never puts a damper on the show. The backdrop of Mount Prometheus gives "Perfect Christmas" a very surreal and cool look, something no other Disney park can offer.

To be continued...

Photographs copyright 2018 Len Yokoyama