In Japan documents a 10 day trip through parts of Japan including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Koyasan. In all 912 GB of footage was generated – much of it was garbage but there were loads of solid clips that I wanted to include but left out. There is nothing I dislike more than travel films with long and boring introductions, segments with no action, and repeat images of the same scene. I hope I didn’t commit any of those travel film transgressions with In Japan.

To give you an idea of what it takes to make something like this -it takes a lot. Don’t try this if you are traveling with your wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend. I was traveling alone so I had the freedom to shoot all day and sometime into the evening. I could go to places that no reasonable person would go including the Toto show room to shoot some toilets automatically opening, closing, spraying and doing the magical thing Japanese toilets do. Ultimately, the toilet footage didn’t even make the final cut. 

Because I was solo, I could go back and shoot things again if they didn’t turn out as planned. For example, I there was a typhoon that hit while I was in Koyasan so I needed to go back and reshoot the cemetery because all of the original footage had raindrops on the lens and segments of the cemetery were closed because of the typhoon.

Traveling alone also afforded me the opportunity to do stupid things like spend an entire afternoon visiting the Budo in Kyoto to get a single second of Kendo footage. I waited over an hour standing next to the wall to get the shot of the two girls in Harajuku and I chased down numerous young boys who had the look I wanted.

Because I was traveling alone I could also get up at the crack of dawn, stay up late editing, and eat my meals in the hotel room so I didn’t waste time with restaurants Don’t panic and call me a philistine and say I missed out on all of the good Japanese food this isn’t all that weird. In Japan the food at the food courts in the malls is exceptional. Go there. Get take out. Not weird at all. Takeout is exceptional.

Bottom line: These videos don’t just happen. I do not think something like this is possible while traveling with others unless they are fully committed to your project. You also need to roll up your sleeves and get out there.

I also traveled with a stupid amount of gear. Lugging around a 70-200 lens is sheer stupidity but the sumo segment would not have been possible without it. Traveling with two camera bodies is probably excessive but necessary if one broke. Bringing a gimbal is necessary in my opinion. Looking back, at least where I was in Japan, I was never more than an hour away from a camera store that had anything I could ever ask for. If I had done it again, I would travel with a little less equipment knowing that I could replace anything at a moments notice.

A few notes about shooting and travel in Japan

  • Don’t try to take photos in pachinko parlors. I tried twice. Twice I was shut down IN A HURRY. Just don’t. Trust me. You wont be happy if you do. 
  • If you are going to photograph or film sumo get there early. You can sit wherever you want in the stadium. Nobody cares. You can move about freely. Later in the afternoon, however, things fill up and you will be relegated to the upper deck. It is dark in the stadium. 2.8 glass would be beneficial. An a7sii would have been better than the a7rii
  • People on the street are generally OK with you shooting them. If you are anywhere near Harajuku they WANT to be filmed. Just ask. They go all zoolander for you and you dont even need to direct them. They know what they are doing. 
  • Japan is incredibly safe compared to anywhere else I have been. I didn’t feel at all unsafe at any time traveling with a stupid amount of equipment
  • As I mentioned before, if you need cables, batteries, lenses or anything you will find them. Don’t worry about losing or breaking equipment.
  • Japan is extremely accessible. Get a JR pass and a SUICA card and get on the train and go.
  • Your most important piece of equipment will be your cell phone. It is your tour guide. I dont think travel in Japan is possible without it.  Google maps is your friend. Get a mobile wifi unit. I got one from Ninja Wifi and had signal everywhere. You pick it up and drop it off at the airport. Also get the Hyperedia app. Sometimes google maps gives you weird results and it is good to get two opinions.
  • Kimbocho isn’t as scary as they make it out to be online. That said. I am off the street by 9PM. No idea what happens later at night.
  • Traveling at rush hour on the subway with take your breath away the first time you do it. By the end of the trip it is nothing. Dont be afraid of the subway system or Shinjuku station. It really is not confusing at all.
  • If you are looking for manual prime lenses – Tokyo is the place. They have stupid amount of excellent condition vintage glass. Do your research. Know what you want before you get there. The people in the stores are not helpful other than pulling lenses out of cases for you. Japan camera hunter has an excellent guide . THANK YOU JAPAN CAMERA HUNTER!!! Go check him out. I found what I was looking for in a tiny little contax specialty shop.   I probably could have gotten my stuff elsewhere but they were fantastic and I was happy to make the trip out there.

A few notes on equipment and technique:

  • 90% of this film was made with the Sony A6500
  • I decided to bring the a7r and a6500 and leave the a7sii at home. The A6500 was a requirement for autofocus and because it is faster to balance on the gimbal than either the a7sii or a7rii because it is lighter. Honestly, it is so light sometimes I didn’t even balance it. I brought the a7rii because I also thought I would be taking photos. I didn’t. Looking back, I would have brought the a7sii and the a6500 and left home the fast glass.
  • 90% was made with f4 glass. The A6500 is not great in low light so I also had a few  manual focus primes for the ride. I never used the 35mm prime. If you look closely, some of the clips have significant noise. I figure most of the people will be watching this on their phone or tablet and wont know the difference. Switching lenses was not important enough for me to miss the shot. Most times I just made due with what was on the camera because I was tired and it was easy.
  • 80-85% of this film was made using autofocus. Really. Autofocus for video is real – mostly. As long as the camera is not moving very fast and there are no objects in the foreground, I set the  autofocus zone to wide and crossed my fingers. Although the autofocus is not always perfect there are bunch of shots I would have missed doing the “run and gun on the street” bit if I had tried to focus on those manually. If you use it a while you get to know when it will work and when it wont. 
  • I have been using the EOShd picture profile for a while now. It helps. Alot. I only needed a little tweaking and color matching which was done in my beloved Color Finale Pro. If color grading is an issue for you do this today. NOTE: I have no relationship with either EOShd or Color Finale. 
  • 50% was shot in 4K. 50% is not.
  • They will tell you online that you can’t use the A7rii for video in full frame mode because of pixel binning. Whatever. Nearly all of the footage shot with the A7rii was full frame. I only use the super 35mm setting if I want to zoom. I say ignore that nonsense. If pixel binning is an issue I cant see it.
  • Bring lens hoods and lens cleaning wipes. It rained a bunch. The lens hoods help keep raindrops off the lens. The wipes will be necessary. I also use UV filters on all my lenses.

On the Soundtrack: I do all of the sound design and music for my videos using Garage Band and (mostly) loops from Splice. For In Japan, all of the sounds came from Splice except the deer noise. I had to buy that on Pond5. Splice has a vast library of cinematic effects and transitions. You can get lost there. I suggest checking out the stuff from Audio Imperia (they are on Splice – search for Shredders, Terraform, Hank Drum, etc).  I make this recommendation mostly because I use their stuff all the time and secondly because I know Jan and will do everything to give him a free plug whenever I can.

Here is the full kit:

Camera Bodies:

  • Sony A6500
  • Sony A7rii

Lenses:

  • Sony 18-105 f4
  • Sony 10-18 f4
  • Sony 24-70 f4
  • Sony 70-200 f4
  • Contax 35mm f2.8
  • Contax 50mm f1.7

Gimbal:

Software:

  • Mtransition zoom plugin
  • FCPX
  • Color Finale and Ascend LUTs (although honestly I don’t do too much with the LUT’s.  In this case, however,  I used them to soften the images and match the different clips. The images from the 10-18 and the Contax lenses were so sharp compared to the 18-105 I needed something to balance them out and make things look more seamless. 
  • EOShd color profile 

Camera bag

Tripod:

Other:

  • Battery charger. You will need it for your phone and wifi device. I have been using the Goal Zero Venture 30. I dropped it (hard) twice and it kept running. This thing is rock solid.