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A year in Japan

Why This

An adventure in a foreign land deserves constant updates for friends and family back home (Sweden and Europe).

Fossil hunting

Travels Posted on Tue, March 31, 2015 08:31:36

Probably the coolest thing that Marco and I did before we started a shift one day was going fossil hunting. And to quote an old MASH episode “and I didn’t even know they were in season“.

We decided one morning, on the way back from the observatory, that we should try to get up early and head out into the mountains. We had checked the internet and found three different potential sites, one being an BLM quarry. BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management and this quarry was supposed to be free to use.

Later that day, after having slept for a few hours, we got the GPS coordinates and left the motel. The fist stop was a hardware store to pick up a couple of hammers and some other supplies and then we headed out.

First we drove along I50 for about 30-40 minutes at, well let’s just say that my crazy Italian Mario Andretti wannabe boss almost kept the speed limit. Almost being the operative word. Then we left the nicely paved road and started driving on dirt roads. This went on for another 40-50 minutes, again when distance driven is estimated the crazy Italian Mario Andretti factor should be taken into account.

After about an hour and a half into our adventure we had missed the final right turn. Fortunately we’d only missed it by half a kilometre so it was no big loss doubling back. However, when we saw the (now left turn) we realised why we missed it… To begin with it was a very small road and secondly it was going down a slope into a ravine. To add to the unease I was starting to feel about taking this road we not only had do drive down into the ravine but shortly thereafter we would need to climb out of it, yes I use the word climb even if it needed to be done with a car. Now this would not have been an issue if we’d had a real car, like a Land Rover, but our rental was a Chrysler 200 or something… Definitely not an all terrain vehicle…

We were still about 1.4 km from the BLM quarry and I was thinking maybe we should walk, but Marco insisted on trying to drive up the mountainous slope. Now in my mind there were two issues with this. The first being that the car would roll over and I would have to drag Marco out of a burning wreck. Yes, I got out of the car for his cross country experience. The second thing, setting aside the explosion risk since we had an American car, was that IF something happened to the car we would be without means of transportation or communication (no mobile phone coverage) and literally in middle of nowhere. Luckily luck was on our side, so far, and Marco managed to drive up the slope of the ravine and we could continue our journey towards the quarry.

After a very bumpy ride the GPS finally told us that we were in the right place. Unfortunately there was no quarry at the coordinates… However across another ravine we saw some potential places where we surely would find some rocks. If they contained any fossil was a later problem.
So we got our hammers and started walking. It was easy to get there and we started surveying the area. This was also the time that we realised that non of us actually had any idea of what we were searching for. I only knew that the rocks we were supposed to look for were black.

So for about 20 minutes we often called out saying that there might be one in this stone. However, we were probably just going slightly crazy and seeing patterns where there were non. But then, suddenly, I found the first jack-pot! In one small stone you could clearly see the remains of three different Trilobites (see three red arrows in the picture below).
After that find more fossils started to make them selves known and we found many more. The best find of the day was mine.
The fossils we searched for and found are in the vicinity of 521 000 000 years old.

After having spent about 1.5 hours searching for fossils we decided it was time to head back. Especially if we wanted to have time to visit a fossil store in Delta before we were to meet our colleagues. The drive back from the site was not as eventful as the trig getting there. Although, it might have been but I was so used to Marcos driving by then.

The fossil shop in Delta was very nice. Lots of cool fossils and a very nice owner of the shop. We spent some time looking around and talking but finally we had to go back to the motel to start the working day.


Travels Posted on Mon, March 30, 2015 10:32:03

Last week I offered a physics lesson talking about air showers and cosmic rays. Today I thought I’d talk a bit about history.

On December 7 1941 the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the US Navy at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. Up until then the US had been very hesitant towards joining the war (World War 2), claiming it was an European problem. However, after Pearl Harbour America joined the fight against the Axis (Germany, Japan and Italy).

The west coast of the US had a significant population of Japanese and/or American citizens with Japanese ancestry. Now being in war with the Japanese, this gave rise to a fear of acts of terrorism and or espionage on American soil. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order
9066 sanctioned the evacuation and internment of more than 112,000
people of Japanese ancestry.

On July 4th (“independence day”), 1942 the following information was posted
explaining that “[…] all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the area […]”. The “evacuees” were not allowed to bring much of their property, basically only what they could carry them selves.

The people were evacuated to different camps inland called internment camps. In total there were 10 of these camps. One of the camps, called Topaz, was located just outside the town of Delta, Utah. Between August 1942 and October 1945 over 10 000 people lived in Topaz.
During the war, the Topaz internment camp was the 5th largest city in Utah.

One might think that being incarcerated like this would make you angry at your country. But the fact is that during the war the 442nd Infantry Regiment was comprised nearly entirely of volunteers from the internment camps. Not only did they volunteer to fight, this regiment became the most decorated unit, taking its size and length of service, in the history of the American warfare, including almost 9500 Purple Heart, 8 Presidential Unit Citations, and an amazing 21 Medals of Honour.

By the end of the war the camp was closed and the evacuees were sent “home”. The reality was that even though the evacuees might have had homes and lives before the war, non of that was left and they all had to start over from scratch.

What remains of the camp today is mostly the roads and a large number of artefacts spread all over the site. The roads are clearly visible on google maps: Topaz. The camp was divided into “Blocks”, each block with a number. The numbering started (as seen on google maps) with Block 1 in the top left. The four blocks in the centre were recreational areas with a temple and a base ball field.

Above: One of the roads in the camp.
Above: Remaining artefacts.
Above: What remains of the Baseball field (Block 24)
Above: Where the camp “church” was located (Block 17)
Above: Block 17.

Currently a new museum is being finalised in the town of Delta. This is a very nice museum and I can strongly recommend a visit if you (for some strange reason) find yourself in the vicinity of Delta.
Above(2 pictures): Topaz Museum in Delta, recreation of one of the barracks where the internees were living.
Above: Topaz Museum in Delta, original barrack, this housed a gym.

As can be seen in the pictures there is not much left of the camp site. However, there is a clear historical presence when visiting the site. You can really feel it when you’re walking around the site. The site is open and you are free to walk around. However, you may not remove any artefacts from the camp site.

Japanese people living on the east coast were not sent to the camps.

Probably the most famous internee during the war was George Takei, famous for his role as Lt Sulu of original Star Trek cast. However, he and his family did not stay at Topaz but at Rohwer War Relocation Centre in Arkansas.

For more information I refer you to the following sites
Topaz Museum
Topaz on Wikipedia
Famous people interned at Topaz
Internment project

Classy living

Travels Posted on Fri, March 27, 2015 10:45:51

Having arrived in Delta in the afternoon of Tuesday the 3 of March we basically just had time to check in to the Budget Motel where we had been recommended to stay by our polish colleague. This, and the fact that it was about 30 dollars cheaper per night than the other hotel I had been told we would be staying at (when applying for the visa waiver) should have given some indication as to the quality to expect…
However, surprisingly enough, the rooms were more than ok. I only have two bad things to say about the place. First, but I think this is common all over America, is the overuse of synthetic smells. Entering the lobby I was almost worried I would pass out from the intense artificial smell. Although, it was not as bad in the room. The second thing was the breakfast, or rather “breakfast”. It was served between 6:30 and 9. Which was convenient for us since we came back from a nights work at about 6:30-7. So we could have breakfast and then go to bed. However… I am not a big drinker of coffee and unless I have lots of milk in it I think it tastes very bitter. Although I can drink it black. Again, however… The black gooey substance which they tried to pass off for coffee was totally and utterly vial. Completely undrinkable. Matter of fact, I’m not sure that it actually was coffee, needless to say, I didn’t drink more than that first zip during the first breakfast.

After having stayed at the motel for a few days I realise I have something which looks like a bullet hole in my outer (plastic) window. The hole is funnel shaped with the small opening on the outer side and the large opening on the inside.
Now, to be clear, between me and the plastic plate with the bullet(?) hole in it, there was a glass window which did not have a hole in it. So this was not new since I arrived at least. I mean, you never know what some religious zealots can do to scientists (being in Mormon country)…

Assault, why??

Travels Posted on Thu, March 26, 2015 10:54:08

I travelled from Tokyo to Salt Lake City via Denver. After arriving in Salt Lake City, I was magically able to meet Marco at the airport. Marco had arrived about an hour earlier. The reason for this was that we belong to different frequent flier programs, so unlike me he had flown from Narita via Seattle to Salt Lake City.

In any case, after meeting, we got the rental car and started driving towards Delta. We had booked a hotel in the outskirts of Salt Lake City and with the help of the GPS we were able to find it.

After having checked in we went out to get something to eat. We found a small place just across the highway and I could order a steak. Now to be honest, as Marco pointed out afterwards, it wasn’t the best steak ever. But it was a steak… After being in japan for about 4.5 months I was so pleased to be able to sink my teeth into a real steak, and not having to pay half a months salary to do so… that I at the time, didn’t really care that much that the steak was a bit charred.

The following day the plan was to first make a stop at a Walmart to buy proper clothes for spending nights in the desert. However, when we got out of the hotel this is what we saw.
Being a Swedish viking I, obviously, had to play it cool and say “I’ve seen worse”. In any case, the closest Walmart was only a few miles away so we could hide out there until the worst of the weather had passed.

Walmart is more or less like your average large scale supermarket store where you can buy anything you need. And I really mean ANYTHING…

We spent quit a lot of time getting warm boots and clothes but eventually we were done and started to check out what else they offered. After having worked our way through the DVD/BlueRay and the Toys sections we arrived at the Fish and Wildlife part. Here’s where it get interesting…

First it’s a normal Fish and Wildlife section where you can get fish tackle, camping gear etc.. But the suddenly I turned a corner and was standing face to face with this cabinet
At first I thought they were toys, like soft airguns or such. But then I realised that they were actual assault rifles… Suddenly the following dialogue does not seem so far fetched:

– Honey, I’m just going to Walmart to pick up some milk and some candy for the kids. Do you need anything?
– I’m good. No! Wait, can you pick up a AR-15 assault rifle for me. I’ve been meaning to get one but haven’t had the time. I need it for the squirrel hunt this week end.

Or something like like that. I’m sure that you’re not allowed to hunt squirrels with an assault rifle, not even in the US… Her’s Jim Jefferies giving his take on guns and gun control. Definitely worth 16 minutes of your time, for two reasons: 1) He’s funny and 2) he makes good points.

In any case. We didn’t get any assault rifles. But we did lots of other stuff and by the time we had worked our way through the entire store the snowstorm had dissipated and we could more safely continue our journey towards Delta.

Going to Space

Travels Posted on Thu, December 04, 2014 11:13:25

At the moment I’m waiting to go to space! In about 10 h the Orion space craft will make its first test flight in space, launched from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on board a Delta IV Heavy. And I’ve go a ticket!

Well, at least my name is going to space. My name is one of about 1.4 million names that will fly in the Orion space craft. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that all goes well.

The flight will take about 5 h and the height and orbital profiles look like this
If the flight is a success, then the US is one large step closer to being able to send people into space once again.

For more information about the Orion space project you should check out this page:

Field Trip

Travels Posted on Tue, November 04, 2014 10:13:33

This past weekend a few colleagues of mine and I went to Fukushima perfecture to meet with a company that produces the radiation detector for consumables which has been developed in cooperation with our group. In addition Marco, my boss, wanted to get some soil samples from the region to check the radiation levels.

On Friday we left the office and went by train to Fukushima, actually by Shinkansen. Not sure, but I think I had expected more. Nice and spacious but not so much more. Nevertheless, I have now travelled in one.
Once we arrived it turned out we were staying in a traditional Japanese type hotel, all five of us in one room all sleeping on the floor.

When we had settled in dinner awaited, a typical Japanese dinner with sashimi, and small dishes served in a bento box.

On Saturday we headed out for a farmers market in a town called Minamisoma. On the way there we passed over a forest covered mountain. Currently it’s autumn in Japan and therefore the forest was a fantastic mixture of colours. On the way back to the hotel in the afternoon we stopped to collect soil samples and in the process found a nicely situated shrine next to a waterfall (pictures if this will hopefully soon be posted in a gallery on the main page).

On our final day (Sunday) we first went back to the farmers market at Minamisoma and then went further east to the beach and continued south to look at the region hit hard by the tsunami. The feeling I got was similar as to the one I got when I was at the Normandy landing beaches in France. Lots of broken concrete structures and the constant awareness of the countless lives lost. The picture below shows what remains of a block of houses which were located about 200 meters from the shoreline.
We continued further south looking for the road block for the exclusion zone. But we suddenly realised that the main road had been opened but we were not allowed to leave it. All crossing roads had been blocked and guards were placed at most of them. Suddenly we see this road sign
Not sure if the text will be readable but it says “Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station” and if we looked to our left we could see the power station and the cranes around it. We did a quick stop at an open access road and took some radiation readings and collected some samples. We only stayed for a few minutes before we got back in the car and headed back north towards Fukushima and the train back home.

Going home was relatively event less and I was back home in my apartment at Riken around 10 in the evening on Sunday. Luckily Monday was a day off, being a national holiday, so I still had some time to rest.

The Japanese countryside is very beautiful and I am now more inclined to try to go away for a weekend to hike in some mountain and forest region. But I think this will have to wait until spring since winter is coming and the temperature is rapidly dropping.

My first trip

Travels Posted on Tue, October 28, 2014 21:33:43

So it’s been decided. I will be accompanying people from the lab on a field trip to Fukushima. This is a research trip so we will among other tasks, collect soil samples for measuring the radioactivity.

We will depart around lunch time on Friday, so this is just a teaser. Hopefully, after this trip I’ll be able to add my first gallery to my web page.

Let’s see if I come back as the Hulk…

Going To Japan

Travels Posted on Wed, October 22, 2014 21:45:16

So a year in the land of the rising sun has begun.

It was a rather gloomy day at Arlanda airport in Stockholm when I was waiting to start my long journey to a country, 7 time-zones away. It was not just the weather that was gloomy, also having to say good bye for now to my girl set the mood a few notches lower than one could expect for a person in my shoes. But I will not despair, cause she will soon come to Tokyo to visit me for Christmas and new years.

The journey to Tokyo Haneda airport went via Frankfurt. While at Frankfurt and eating a relatively late lunch or possibly a rather early dinner at the luxurious Golden Arch Restaurant in terminal B, I look out the window and see an ANA flight taxing by. Cool I thought, that could possibly be the plane I’ll fly with later. This also turned out to be the case, a Boeing 777-300ER. A very nice ride!

I arrived in Tokyo without any problems. Once out of the plane I passed the Ebola check point, immigration, got my luggage, and passed through the customs check point, all in roughly 30 minutes. I’ve been in Japan many times before, but I had assumed that when staying longer than what’s covered by a regular tourist visa, things would probably not go as smooth. I was obviously wrong…

Tokyo, here I am.