Blog Image

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.

JSPS Intro Day 1

Science stuff Posted on Wed, January 14, 2015 08:50:03

Yesterday was day one of the Orientation for the JSPS Postdoctoral Fellows. JSPS is the abbreviation for Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and can be boiled down to the guys who are paying me to be here.

This is a 3 day event which includes talks, Japanese lessons, dining, sight seeing, and also some fun. Or so they claim.

To start of, we are at a very nice hotel in central Tokyo and since I live about 500 m outside of the Tokyo 23 ward I get a room at the hotel.
We are about 30 fellows attending this meeting and the Nordic countries are well represented by two from Sweden and two from Finland. This is actually the second orientation I get invited to. I was unable to attend the first one which was in the end of November and I was told that I would not get a second chance, but here I am.

The program yesterday was filled with talks. I’ve listen to the history of the society, the JSPS Alumni project, and a talk by a second year JSPS fellow. They were all as one can expect. However, there were two great talks as well.

The fist was by Professor Richard Wilson entitled “Connecting in Japanese Culture, Words and Images”. Now I can admit that the title in combination with an 80 minute time slot for the lecture did not get my hopes up. However, Professor Wilson actually addressed this notion of the Japanese people and culture being very homogeneous society and showed that, both from a biological point and from a cultural point, this is not the case. This did turn out to be a very interesting talk and time flew by.

The second great talk was by a former JSPS fellow, Professor Richard Culleton. His talk was about working opportunities in Japan when the fellowship is over. This topic was perhaps not the most interesting one from my point of view. Although, Professor Cullenton is one of those people who can captivate an audience just by saying “Hello”.

After the talks were over there was a reception with some food and drinks. We had all been divided into different groups and after the dining was over there was a short quiz with ridiculous questions about Japan, but very funny. I now know that there are about 22 000 Onsens in Japan…

Obviously my team won and we even got a price. This nice combined ball point and mechanical pencil with JSPS printed on it
I am just about to head on down to start today’s schedule; Japanese class, group discussions and some touristy things in the afternoon and early evening.

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.

Happy New Year

This is Different Posted on Sat, January 10, 2015 13:46:39

So Christmas passed by very quietly since it’s not that big of a deal here in Japan. Mainly it’s celebrated by eating a strawberry cake. On the other hand back in Sweden Christmas is a very big thing, specially the Christmas dinner.

This Christmas was however very different from what I have been used to. To begin with, due to the proposal to JAXA we were working on at the office, a meeting had been scheduled for the afternoon on Christmas eve. The meeting didn’t go on for too long though so in the early evening Karro and I were able to go to the local supermarket to buy food for our Christmas dinner. Non the wiser we were able to buy such a strawberry cake that is traditional for a Japanese Christmas dinner. This however we didn’t find out until a few days later. To this cake we had a nice bottle of bubbles.

For new years eve we had no idea what to do and we were not in a hurry to make any plans. In the end we decided to invite a colleague of mine who’s plans had fallen through at the last minute. So in a hurry we had to put together a new years eve dinner but we managed. It ended up being a great dinner and evening. So when the stroke of midnight arrived we celebrated and afterwards we went out to a local shrine just across the street from where I live.

At the shrine there was a bonfire and people came there to through stuff on the fire, and pray while the stuff burned. There are more pictures of this in the main gallery.
After having been at this shrine for a while we walked to a temple, also close by. People were burning stuff at this temple as well. But there was also bell-ringing going on. At this place there was a cave/tunnel in which there was a small shrine where one first gives a small money offering, then followed by ringing in a bell and finally clasping with the hands.
Though I have no idea what we made the offerings to or why. I just guess we’ll have to find out during 2015…


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.

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:

Radioactive Rice

Science stuff Posted on Wed, November 26, 2014 11:22:36

So it’s been a while since
I’ve written something, sorry for that. This is mainly due to the fact that nothing of
interest has really happened. So being desperate I’ll tell you about Thursday two weeks ago (the 13th).

We were going to have a party at the department, a combination of
welcome party for me and a few others and a going away party for a guy
starting a new job on the 1st of December.

The idea was to have some food and drinks in the office. However, when
Marco realised that the rice we were going to have for dinner was from
Fukushima he suggested we test the levels of radiation, just for fun.

He prepared a small bag of rice and placed it in the detector we are currently developing here in the department.

After having measured the levels of radiation for a short while we saw
that it was about 150 Bq/kg. What we are measuring is the decay of
Cs-134 (Caesium) which comes from the Fukushima accident. Cs-134 has a
very short half-life, about 2 years (Which is short in comparison with
Cs-135 which has a half-life of about 2.3 million years).

150 Bq/kg is not a high number, the EU limits for consumables for adults
imported from non EU countries (except Japan) is 600 Bq/kg (For Japan
it’s 100 Bq/kg). Still 150 Bq/kg is higher than expected.

However, when we removed the rice from the detector. We realised we had
failed to remove one of the radioactive sources used for testing the
detector response… So when we removed the additional source, we got
much lower measurements, well below the 100 Bq/kg limits. And we could
start the party.

The radiation source which was already in the detector when we put the
rice in is not a dangerous source, unless you eat it or decide to keep
it in you underwear for a prolonged time. In addition the detector is
relatively shielded (to protect the measurement from background
radiation) so keeping the sample in the detector is not as careless as
it might sound. Although, not checking if the detector is empty before
starting a new measurement might whoever be considered sloppy.

There is also a big difference between a material being ‘radioactive’
and it being ‘irradiated’. Like the rice in the detector lots of every
day stuff have been irradiated, i.e. band-aids, and cotton swabs you use
to clean your ear (to name two). Just because something has been
irradiated does not mean it’s now radioactive. For instance, while the
light-bulb, hanging from the sealing in a room, is switched on, the room
is irradiated with light. But as soon as you turn of the light, the
room goes dark. It will not continue to glow by itself. In the same way,
the rice in the detector did not become hazardous due to it being in
the detector next to the radioactive source.

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.

« PreviousNext »