Beep beep beep beep. Beep beep beep beep.

I roll over and pick up my phone off of the hotel nightstand and turn off the alarm. I check the time. It’s 6:30 a.m. It’s early, but not too early. I’m not tired – I barely slept. Excitement will do that to you. Countless people have had this same excitement – it’s my wedding day.

I get up, along with the three others in the room, get dressed then head to a state park in Sonoma County California. When we arrive, we wait a few minutes for the other groomsmen and the wedding planner and get started. It’s a large park, and the area we’ve rented is a beautiful shaded area with a large field to one side and small boulders littered around behind the seating area. We start setting things up, making sure no trash has blown in overnight, putting table cloths down – then it starts raining.

I feel like I should be nervous, but there is nothing but excitement – and then I see the bride.

Rain on your wedding day is supposed to be good luck. But no one wants to see rain on their wedding day when they have an outdoor wedding. The forecast shows that the rain should stop soon. We change the tablecloths to plastic so they’re easier to wipe down later in the day and head back to the hotel for breakfast.

The wedding is at 1:00 p.m. and the forecast was correct – it’s a beautiful day.

We take photos, talk to guests, and at 12:55, we’re all standing in our places. Our officiant is my father-in-law. He’s standing at the end of the aisle waiting for his only daughter – his little girl – so he can walk her down the aisle.

I feel like I should be nervous, but there is nothing but excitement – and then I see the bride.

My wife, Jen, has five older brothers. When she arrived, each brother walks her from the vehicle one-fifth of the way to her dad. Her dad then walks her down the aisle, I walk down and take her hand. We’re both smiling, excited for the start of our journey together.

Her dad takes his spot as the officiant and then sings a short song he wrote called “Daddy’s Little Girl”, embarrassing her along the way. There is laughter, there is fun, she shoves cake in my face – I, of course, reciprocate – we give toasts, take more photos and the day is over.

I still remember his reaction when I said I topped 180 pounds.

Looking back at photos from this day, almost nine years ago, Jen almost always says two things: “We look so young.” and “you were so skinny.”

I was skinny. I am about 5′ 10″ (178 cm) and weighed a whopping 155 pounds (70 kg). In our first 6 years of marriage I went from: being active, playing basketball or biking; to stationary work sitting at a desk all day. It’s easy to make excuses, and I could give some: I was in a car accident, I didn’t have many opportunities to work out as much, etc, etc. But the reality is, I wasn’t trying to say healthy.

I always joked about how much weight I was gaining with a friend. We got married two months apart and were groomsmen in each other’s weddings. I still remember his reaction when I said I topped 180 pounds (~82kg).

But I wish it would have ended there.

In mid-2017, I started going to the gym with another friend. I knew I needed to lose weight. My doctor told me I needed to lose weight. I saw a picture from a baseball game and thought, “Man I’m getting fat.” I stepped on the scale, and I couldn’t believe it. 210 pounds (95 kg).

I’d never dieted before and honestly, I didn’t know what to do. So, predictably, I lost (maybe) five pounds over the next seven months.

I really didn’t believe, so I stepped on a different scale later. Same result. I not only needed to lose weight – I wanted to. From a medical standpoint, I had finally crossed the line from overweight to obese**. Friends and family said I could lose a few pounds, but I didn’t look that bad, “Don’t overreact”, etc. But the problem was, I couldn’t do a single pull up. My heart rate would hit 150 walking at a “brisk” pace on a treadmill. I couldn’t jog a mile downhill without stopping to take a break.

I’d never dieted before and honestly, I didn’t know what to do. So, predictably, I lost (maybe) five pounds over the next seven months.

Nick, a friend/co-worker/ping pong rival, mentioned that he does a diet each year for Lent. I’m not catholic, but I asked if he’d give me the details and I joined him on his diet. He was in much better shape than I and was prepping for a half-marathon as well.

However, it wasn’t just a diet. I started working out more often and got serious about being healthy. That one mile I couldn’t run in 2017 turned into running two miles in 17 minutes, and that one pull up I could not do turned into 10. Nothing to be impressed with, but a huge improvement.

The hardest part was probably friends and family. Hearing things like, “you’re wasting away”, or “you’re losing too much weight”, or “are you eating enough”, etc, are not actually encouraging when someone is trying to make a lifestyle change. I think that people want to be encouraging. People don’t want to make you feel bad. They don’t want to call you fat.

But I’ll be honest, I wish someone would have. I wish someone would have said something.

Yeah, my doctor told me I needed to lose weight, but doctors have to say that if you don’t fall within a certain BMI. So it’s not as impactful as a friend telling me. It’s not as impactful as realizing in a photo of myself how big I’d become.

If the concern was that I would develop an eating disorder, I understand. But please, if you cannot trust me not to diet myself into an eating disorder, at least trust my spouse to go to you for help if she thinks I am.

That was Lent 2018. This week marks the end of the third year of doing this diet. And the third year of a friend’s influence helping change my life for the better.

I’ve now lost more than 40 pounds (18kg). I’m not trying to get back to my wedding weight. But I am trying to be healthy, and trying to be a good example to my children.

The image at the top of this post shows a photo of me before my wedding beside one of me at 210 pounds. The photo below is the same 210 pound me beside the current me at 168 pounds (76 kg). The current photo was taken the same day as this post. I’m even wearing the same shirt to make the difference more obvious.

Odaiba has several interesting things to photograph. Some of which are simple, yet beautiful, and other “Instagram worthy” spots. I had the privilege of shooting with my friend Frank (@francoimaging). Frank showed me some great photo spots, so let’s take a look!

The first spot is more of a tourist attraction – the Unicorn Gundam Statue. If you’re not familiar with the term “Gundam”, they’re essentially giant humanoid robots. They are the subject of many anime and manga. When I was younger, I enjoyed “Gundam Wing” on Cartoon Network’s Toonami after school every day.

Unicorn Gundam Statue at Night

This gundam statue moves and lights up for around 5 minutes twice an hour, so it’s a fun spot and children enjoy watching it.

The next place has a few photo spots – Aqua City. Aqua City is a mall and entertainment area. If you’re visiting with your family, there is a LEGOLAND Discovery Center an indoor amusement park, and more.

As far as photo spots, there is a great spot to take a photo of both Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge in the same shot. This shot is, in my opinion, best taken at night. If you catch it at the right time, you can get a photo of the Rainbow Bridge lit up in multiple colors as well. See Franks Instagram for a nice shot.

Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower at night

There is also an Instagram worthy “LOVE” display that is also great to photograph at night and a Statue of Liberty replica that was initially erected as a tribute to Japan’s ties with France.

Aqua City “LOVE” sign – you’re likely to see many people taking photos with this sign.

The last place that is actually in Odaiba on this list is the Soho Building. The Soho building could be one of the hardest places to photograph in Tokyo. Getting “any” shot isn’t that hard – the courtyard is a publicly accessible space. But, as you can see, it’s not a great photo.

The Soho Doors from the public area

The photo that many want to take is much more difficult due to two reasons.

  • You have to have a key card to get into the building
  • Security will kick you out if they see you trying to take photo

The first hurdle is relatively easy – you can just follow someone in, or go in as someone comes out. The second is more difficult. They always have security on-site, and if they see you – on camera or in person – they will escort you out. If they catch you a second time, they will call the police (which is 100 meters away).

When we visited in January I witnessed two photographers getting kicked out soon after I arrived. Fortunately for us, we were not caught.

The Soho Doors from the 8th floor

The last shot is pretty interesting. It is a somewhat technically difficult rolling shutter shot. This is taken on the Yurikamome Line train going to or from Odaiba. From the front of the train, you can get an interesting motion blur shot around a turn in a “tunnel”. The interesting thing is that you can see the buildings, etc, in the background.

There are other spots to take photos as well – the Fuji TV Building, whose observatory has great views, a ferris wheel close to Aqua City that is lit up at night and a few other places.

Have you had the opportunity to explore Odaiba? Any hidden gems you’d like to share?

As a photographer, I love shooting amazing scenes. I’ll go out of the way to find opportunities to take a photo. Chureito Pagoda definitely meets the criteria of “amazing”. It is one of the best places to view Mt. Fuji and is one of the most iconic places to take a photo in Japan. You’ve probably seen a postcard or photo of the five-storied pagoda with cherry blossoms around it and Mt. Fuji in the background. It truly punctuates Japan’s image. Visiting and photographing Chureito Pagoda with Mt. Fuji was something I wanted to do, so I hopped on the train and went.

I arrived later than desired at Shimoyoshida Station. I walked from the station to the large Tori Gate (~500 meters), then started my trek up the 396 stairs to the top.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the top, clouds were covering most of Mt. Fuji. I settled in and started taking photos for a timelapse – hoping to catch the clouds revealing Japan’s holy mountain at dusk. I wasn’t that lucky – I barely caught a glimpse of the peak, and that was only for 10 seconds. I took a few decent shots of the pagoda, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

It was my first attempt at creating a timelapse, and to be honest, I failed pretty hard. I didn’t account for how drastic the lighting would change. But, I was happy with the result for my first try.

Several months later, I decided to try again. This time I left earlier, and it was a beautiful, clear, day. Here are some of the photos:

For this second trip, my family came with me, and due to my wife not feeling well, we did not stay long. That just means I’ll need to go back again to get a few more photos another time.

One interesting thing that I learned after showing these photos to several Japanese friends was that this place is iconic for foreigners, but not so much for Japanese. Not one of them knew what “Chureito Pagoda” was.

It was in these conversations that I learned “pagoda” was not a Japanese word. I don’t remember when I learned what a pagoda was, but it was at that point that I thought it was a Japanese word.

This pagoda is a 五重塔 (gojuunotou), which literally translates to “five-storied tower”. When other Japanese people have asked where this is I will tell them  五重塔 if they don’t understand “Chureito Pagoda”.