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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).

JSPS Intro Day 2&3

Experiencing Japan Posted on Tue, January 20, 2015 10:39:43

So after the excitement of day one I could hardly brace my self for day two and three.

The second day started with a 2 h Japanese class, literally a crash course in Japanese. Luckily I had attended an introduction course at Riken so this was mostly repetition for me, nevertheless well needed repetition.

After Japanese class another lecture was scheduled. It was yet again a very funny talk, about the cultural differences and how most people assume that what they do is what every one else does as well. From an academic point of view two examples were presented, the firs was how do you count using your fingers. Apparently in India they can count all the way to 19 using just one hand. Suddenly I realised that being able to counting to ten, using two hands, is nothing to be proud of…

The second thing was how are assignments corrected, what indicates a correct answer and what indicates an error. Is the tick-mark/check-mark a sign of right or wrong answer? This presentation also included a introduction to the Japanese double-circle, circle, square, triangle, and cross options of replying to an invitation. Basically it denotes (in descending order) Great/Perfect to Not possible. This is only used in Japan but is something which most Japanese people think is widely used world wide.

Another example of cultural differences was shown by the example of how well educated people in Japan introduces themselves (couple or family) when arriving at a dinner party or such. If you go somewhere and you have to present your husband/wife then the following phrase:

– This is my wonderful husband/wife

is apparently unacceptable. This will give an impression of you as ill-educated.

On the other hand a phrase like this:

– You have a very nice husband/wife”

sounds good and shows you are reasonable well educated.

But phrases that would be somewhat controversial in most countries, such as:

– This is my stupid husband/wife/son/daughter
– This is a miserable gift from us. I doubt you will like it.

would in Japan sound very impressive and imply that you are amazingly well educated.

This, as you might understand, also turned out to be a very funny and interesting lecture. It was also the last lecture of the Orientation. The second half of day 2 and the whole of day 3 was devoted to sight seeing in Tokyo.

We started out by going to the Imperial Palace, well not so much to the palace as to walking around outside the palace. The palace is only open 2 days a year for the general public (23/12 and 2/1). So we were walking and our guide often said “This is a gate to the [insert part of the Imperial Palace]. You can’t go in here.”

After the Palace the tour continued to the Tokyo Edo Museum. Currently it’s being renovated and will reopen in March so we only got to see a temporary exhibit. Now I’ve been at the Edo Museum before and I know it’s a very nice Museum. But unfortunately the temporary exhibit was not very good.

On the third day the rain was pouring down and obviously all the sightseeing activities planed were outside, except for the first one. Actually it hadn’t started raining yet when we were at this stop. The first thing of the day was visiting an earthquake simulator. First we were told about earthquakes, what they are and why the occur, and how often the occur in Japan (about 1000/year ~ 3/day). Frankly the ground is almost always moving slightly. Then they taught us how to respond if a larger earthquake hits.

Then we got to go on the simulator (Picture above). Obviously I volunteered to go in the first group. Now an earthquake has two types of motion, one in the horizontal plane (left/right) and one in the vertical plan (up/down). Unfortunately the simulator is only capable of simulating the horizontal movement. The earthquake they simulated for us was the “Great Earthquake of 2011”, the one which lead to the accident at the Daiichi Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. It was a very cool experience, at least when you knew it only was a simulation. Not sure I’d think so if I’d experience the real thing…

When we were done at the earthquake simulator the rain started, just in time for several hours of being outside. We visited the Shrine and Temple of Asakusa and then went on to walk around in Akihabara or Electric Town. Which I believe now should be Electric/Anime/Manga Town.

The last thing on schedule was a traditional Japanese Tea ceremony. We got to see how such a ceremony is conducted and also take part in it. This was really nice change of pace from the rest of the schedule. Slow movements, quiet atmosphere, VERY green tea, and also very peaceful.
All in all I would say that the Orientation was nice and worth a visit, even if I was somewhat hesitant to begin with.

Tintin in Tokyo

Experiencing Japan Posted on Sat, January 10, 2015 18:08:41

As many of you know I’m an avid Tintin fan. Therefore today I will tell you about my first visit to the Tokyo Tintin Shop.

The address of the shop is 〒150-0001 東京都渋谷区神宮前 5-12-12 (〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae, 5 Chome−12-12) which is about a 5-10 minute walk from Meijijingumae or Harajuki station respectively. Since the shop relatively centrally located there is therefore no excuse not to visit, even is you’re only in Tokyo for a short time.

Since I usually travel from Wakoshi station I have the advantage of taking the Fukutoshin Line directly to Meijijingumae Station.
Once at the station there is, as always, a maze to get to the right exit. Exit 4 and making a u-turn as soon as one gets above ground sets you on the right track towards the Tintin shop.

After a few minutes walk this sign can be easily spotted
Tintin seems a bit surprised to see you Snowy doesn’t seem to approve.
And this is me next to the store. And as all of the other Tintin shops I’ve visited its small and cosy.
The merchandise sold is of course the official Tintin stuff so more or less the same things that you can get any where else. However, there are of course exceptions
So now I have a good reason to start learning to read Japanese.

All in all I think a visit to the Tintin shop is a must of any Tintin fan who comes to Tokyo. I will absolutely be going back.


Experiencing Japan Posted on Fri, January 09, 2015 21:38:01

Ok, so December was a month filled with work, work and again some work. But nevertheless there were happy times as well.

During December we in the office have been working on an application to JAXA (The Japanese Space Exploration Agency) regarding the EUSO project. It was a very important application so we were working into the bitter end.

The deadline for the application was the end of December. The last email I got before the application was submitted was at 23:49 on December 31.

This has been a classic example of the 90-10 rule. As far as I know it states that 90% of the work is done in 10% of the time, and the remaining 10% of the work is done during the last 90% of the time. I was relatively done with my part of the application early, but still on new years eve I got emails asking me to fix small details in the text. Not at 23:49 however. By then I was preparing to open a bottle of bubbles, but that’s for another post.

However, I have been able to not work as well.

On Friday the 12th, after work, a colleague invited me along to go to an Onsen. An Onsen is a traditional Japanese bathhouse. This particular one id different since it’s a communal bath. The first thing that struck me was a sign, this sign
In many places (Onsens, gyms ect.) you are not welcome if you have ink. This is mainly due to the tradition of the members of the Yakuza to be heavily tattooed. There seems to be some lenience these days since I’ve seen people obviously tattooed but have covered them with skin-coloured band-aids.

Anyway, the Onsen was lovely. A large indoor pool (where you’re not allowed to swim, just bathe) and two out-door hot tubs. A lovely place to which I will be going back.

The best thing in December was on the 17th. On this day my girlfriend, Karro, arrived from Sweden. It was a sunny day at Narita and I managed to get some plane spotting done before the early arrival of LH710 from FRA.

Having Karro here has been wonderful. Unfortunately time did pass by quickly, too quickly unfortunately.

I have some more posts coming up soon covering among others new years.

I Need To…

Experiencing Japan Posted on Tue, November 11, 2014 13:01:55

.. Get out of this place. Is a phrase from the song I.K.E.A by a Swedish Ska-band called Lord Eddy and the Thugs. Now I haven’t listen to this song in probably 10 years but on Saturday, as I was going to Ikea in Shinmisato, it suddenly just started playing in my head.

Yes, being Swedish I had to check out the local Ikea store. It is not too far away, about 45 minutes from Wakoshi station by train. When I got there I realised I might as well be at an Ikea in Sweden, except for the Japanese posters in the bottom of the picture, of course…
The building it self is probably an Ikea product, assembled using an Ikea Allen key…

Walking around in the store was a strange feeling. Obviously the place is packed with stuff, and everything has has price and information tags in Japanese, except the name of the product which was in Swedish. And even in the bookshelves there were Swedish books. This I thought was rather un-Ikea-like. Surely it must be cheaper to buy books in Japan for this reason, rather than shipping books from Sweden. This does not sound like something IK (the founder) would do, based on stories I’ve heard about him.
Very happy books, like “The war in Tjetjenie” (Kriget i Tjetjenien), the black horizontal book with yellow/gold text. To be honest, there were some Japanese books aswell.

Obviously shopping is inevitable, so after having walked around for a while I picked up a couple of kitchen towels, 50 yen each. Although when I got to the food store, I did pick up some supplies for upcoming events at the office. The first of which will be on Thursday. But I have to keep this a secrete so that I won’t spoil the surprise.

On my way home a got a second, unexpected dose of Swedishness. At one point I had to change trains and while waiting for the second train, I see someone holding this bag.
The text lacks a bit in Swedish grammar, but basically it says “Today’s homework are you alone?”. I have seen other bags with Swedish text during previous visits but never gotten a good photo, until now.

All in all, it actually ended up being a nice visit to Ikea. I’ll probably go back soon to get some stuff for the apartment.

Can do Kendo

Experiencing Japan Posted on Wed, November 05, 2014 10:06:14

On Monday I had the day off, again. This time it was a national holiday. Apparently Japan ranks among the top when it comes to number of national holidays. I’ve been told it’s a way of forcing people to take time off. Being a lazy European, I would never hesitate to take time off…

This time, though, I felt like I deserved it, given that I just came back from a two and a half day work trip to Fukushima.

I was thinking about doing something touristy, but had not decided exactly what. And, knowing my self, I more or less knew I would end up spending the day in front of the computer watching TV-shows on Netflix, reading all posts on Facebook, and refreshing my inbox every second minute i.e. basically wasting the whole day…

Now, when Lech (a friend from the office whom I got to know during my previous visits), on the train back from Fukushima, asked me if I’d like to join him going to the National Japanese Championship in Kendo I was a bit hesitant. Mainly since I was not too happy about going somewhere since I was tired from the trip and the idea of wasting the whole of Monday on above mentioned “activities” was really appealing. On the other hand, I also knew I would really feel like I’d wasted the day if I did not do anything. So, after getting home and checking the travel plan, realising I didn’t have to leave home until 10:20 am to make it to the meeting place in time, I decided to tag along.

I did not know much about Kendo, still don’t… But I have been practising fencing for several year so I do have some sense of duelling. For those of you who don’t know what kendo is, it’s basically people dressing up in black clothes and hitting each other with swords made of bamboo.

The arena, Nippon Budokan, was built for the 1964 Olympics and is, apparently, to Judo what Wimbledon is to Tennis. I’ve heard the phrase that the Olympic Judo championship “is coming home” in 2020. This place can take over 14 000 spectators and even if it wasn’t full when I had to leave, it probably was filled to the rim when the Kendo final game was fought on Monday. The arena is located just north of the Imperial Palace.

As you can see in the pictures there were a lot of people watching. Until the quarter finals there were two games going on simultaneously, and from the quarter final only one game at the time.

I won’t say that I now have a understanding of Kendo, but luckily Lech had the patience to both explain and answer my questions during the day. I now know much more about Kendo than I did before, though still just scratched the surface.

I’m very happy I decided to go, even though I had to leave just as the good games were about to start. I felt like I’ve experienced something truly Japanese.