Spring Fever

Spring has hit Tokyo. Which, if you’re still in Chicago, doesn’t really compute the way it does for those of us here in Tokyo. I couldn’t understand the Japanese love for spring when I first moved to Japan. To me, spring was a stormy, cold, unpleasant time before early summer. To the Japanese, spring is the one time of year where the weather is reliably awesome. And it also comes with flowers. Which, actually, may be the bad thing about it.

Pollen allergies in Japan ain’t no joke. I’m told there’s been some research into a cure, so I may have to do some investigation of my own.

Second to hay fever, Japanese spring is known for sakura, cherry blossoms. Which is unpleasant. Not that the sakura are unpleasant. Japan has gone to great lengths to plant them everywhere, and as Dan Carlin says, sometimes quantity has a quality all it’s own. They’re amazing, if you can see them past the huge crowds of people.

Going to see sakura is a lot like going fishing. Everyone goes out, and it’s all at the same time, and if you have that secret spot that’s awesome, you want desperately to keep it a secret so that it won’t get ruined by the crowds – and it inevitably will. I just don’t have the patience to deal with that, not for something that’s supposed to be natural and relaxing.

But right now, in the slightly cooler early spring, we have the ume, the plum blossoms. And the experience beats the pants off of any sakura viewing you might do. Ume are still popular, but they are the unpleasant, drunken crowds you get during sakura season. You can stop to smell the flowers (and ume smell way better than sakura).

I know, this post is sounding more and more like every old Japanese man ever – Ume are better than sakura, onsens are amazing, pass me my atsukan… But sometimes the prevailing old man logic is the prevailing old man logic for a reason. Get out and see the ume.

This photo is an interesting bit of photo snobbery. The go-to answer for flower photography is a macro lens. Get up close and really see the organic details. The heavy hitter of Nikon’s macro lineup has been the 105mm for decades, and it’s a great lens. But sometimes I feel like Nikon’s major failure as a lens manufacturer is a lack of aperture blades.

You see, we photographers get really snobby about how the blurry parts of our photos look. I’m a huge fan of the smooth, creamy look that you get from lenses that have like a million aperture blades, creating a smooth circle at any aperture. I love my Nikon 50mm f/1.2, but it’s got like 2 aperture blades (Yes, I know that that’s not possible. It’s hyperbole). Once you start stopping it down, the bokeh gets all jagged and unpleasant. The Nikon 105mm isn’t any better.

So, for the flower photos, I’ve been using my 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss, with a Kenko extension tube. It can be at times a limiting setup, but the bokeh is to be admired, and in a shot like this, it’s really what makes it work.