Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Climbing the Mountain

This weekend I did what everybody (at least all the foreigners) do when they come to Japan. I climbed Mt. Fuji. Traditionally, you're supposed to watch the sunrise at the top of the mountain. In Japan during the summer, the sun rises around 5am. Here's an overview of my schedule for the climb.

6:00pm - Depart Tokyo (Shinjuku Station)
8:15pm - Arrive Mt. Fuji (Kawaguchiko 5th Station)
8:30pm - Begin ascent
4:30am - Reach summit
5:00am - View sunrise
5:30am - Begin descent
9:30am - Return to 5th Station

In hindsight, replacing 8 hours of sleep with 12 hours of climbing is not a good idea. But it was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. Emphasis on once. There is a Japanese proverb about climbing Mt. Fuji. "He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool." Wise words.

From Japan - Mt. Fuji

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Electrons are the universal language

Occasionally my coworkers ask me if I have any plans to travel outside of Tokyo. My standard reply is "Not on this trip. There's just so much to see and do in Tokyo. And this way I'll have an excuse to come back later." How have I been able to find all these fun and exciting things to see and do in Tokyo?

Lonely Planet Tokyo Encounter
Lonely Planet Tokyo Encounter

This book is absolutely amazing. It's full of useful ideas and information, but it still fits in my pocket. My friend Gabriel says I treat it like a Talisman. This trip has also encouraged me to explore New York City more, so I'm definitely grabbing a copy of the New York version when I get home.

Anyway, this weekend the book led to me to Ueno, a beautiful neighborhood with numerous gardens and museums. My favorite museum was the National Science Museum. I couldn't understand the signs on the exhibits, but I was very impressed nonetheless. (Now I know how little kids view science museums.) My favorite exhibit was The Natural World, an entire floor (the basement) devoted to physics. They had fundamental constants projected on the floor and models of electron orbits. Now that's speaking my langauge.

From Japan - Ueno

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Adventures on the Chūō-Sōbu Line

Last weekend I visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Tokyo Dome.

From Japan - Edo T...

The Edo-Tokyo Museum has exhibits concerning the history and culture of Tokyo, including many impressive scale models. My favorite exhibit was about the history of books in Tokyo. Illustrators were more famous that authors, and until the late 1800's an author's only compensation was lunch from the publisher. Still, it's more than most aspirings authors get today.

From Japan - Tokyo...

I have decided that I am bad luck for Japanese baseball teams. The home team Tokyo Giants were losing 4-0 after 5 innings. My ticket was standing room only, and I didn't feel like standing around a packed stadium for another 4 innings of disappointing baseball. However, after I left the Giants offense came alive and they ended up winning 12-4. You're welcome Giants fans.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Adventures on the Keiyo Line

Last weekend I visited two exciting places: Tokyo Disneyland and Star Wars Celebration Japan.

From Japan - Tokyo...

My favorite ride at Tokyo Disneyland was Star Tours. It's a classic, but everything was new and exciting because it was in Japanese. And there was no line. My only complaint was the lack of a giant AT-AT and the lack of a giant Star Wars-themed gift shop.

I didn't go on many rides because of the crowds, but I did managed to ride two classics: It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean. While riding It's a Small World I thought, "They really need to upgrade this ride. Make it more modern and relevant." While riding Pirates I thought, "They added Jack Sparrow!? They're destroying my childhood!"

From Japan - Star ...

Star Wars Celebration Japan was full of interesting characters. While I was there I met one of my coworkers, one of my fellow JSPS fellows, and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). I also got to see Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) speak. It was a very entertaining interview. He's very quick and sarcastic, and he liked teasing the translator. Although I can understand why celebrities don't attend more conventions. During the question and answer session, Mark Hamill was asked to comment on Japanese fans, bless a high school student preparing for college entrance exams, and describe his most forgettable convention moment. He handled all these questions very well, but even a Jedi has to run out of patience sooner or later.

Na na na na na na na na Fishing!

Last Friday was the annual Tokyo Research Lab Science and Technology division recreation event. A dozen engineers boarded a boat and headed out to Tokyo bay in search of chicken grunt and horse mackerel. Despite getting sunburned and seasick, I had a great time. I managed to catch six fish, including the first the chicken grunt.

From Japan - Fishing

Later that evening, we went to a restaurant that used our haul to prepare dinner. It was the best seafood I've ever had. Maybe it's because I caught the fish myself. Or maybe it's because I hadn't eaten in 12 hours. Or maybe it's because everybody, myself included, had been enjoying many rounds of Japanese beer and shochu. Still, delicious.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Grand Sumo Tournament

From Japan - Grand...

Two weeks ago I attended the July Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya, Japan. There are six tournaments a year: three in Tokyo, one in Osaka, one in Kyushu, and one in Nagoya. A tournament lasts fifteen days with each wrestler facing one opponent per day. The wrestler with the most wins at the end of the tournament is declared the champion. The official website has an excellent guide. Here's my favorite part.

The rikishi then squat and face each other in the center of the ring, crouch forward in a "get set" position supporting themselves with their fists on the ground and proceed to glare fiercely at each other. This portion of the ritual is called the shikiri. They do not begin the match at once, however, but engage in a kind of "cold warfare". They go back to their corners for more salt, scatter it and return to glare. They repeat the process again and again, usually for the full four minutes allowed by the rules... In early sumo the start of a match could be delayed indefinitely. A ten minute limit was first introduced in 1928, later reduced to seven, then to five down to the present four minutes. The bout, itself, is usually over in a matter of minutes, in less time than it took for warming up, but for the sumo aficionado those brief moments are packed with thrills.

Usually the matches were over in thirty second or less, but the longer matches were very intense. Momentum literally shifted back and forth between the two wrestlers. In the final match of the day, Asashoryu, one of only two Yokozuna and a 22-time champion, lost in an upset. The crowd went wild and threw their purple seat cushions toward the ring. Packed with thrills indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Japanese Baseball

From Japan - Yakul...

This past week I went to a baseball game in Tokyo. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Yokohama BayStars. The atmosphere was very relaxed, yet energetic at the same time. It was cross between a minor league baseball game and a high school football game. The fans were the most interesting part of the experience. When their team is batting, they perform chants, sing songs, and play instruments. I couldn't understand the songs, but they were quite catchy. The second most interesting part of the experience was the beer vendors. Surly beer men were replaced by cute Japanese girls in costumes. It's even better than the maid cafes in Akihabara.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Exploring Tokyo

This weekend was my first free weekend in Japan. I managed to meet up with my friend Gabriel, who has been living in Tokyo for the past year. He knows all the happening spots. Well, all the happening gay spots, but that's a story for another time. Here are some photos.

From Japan - Explo...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Move In

After a week of orientation, JSPS finally released all the students into the wild. I managed to buy a pass card and navigate the Tokyo Metro system. Compared to the New York City subway, the Tokyo subway is cleaner and has more advertisements with scantily-clad women. Still, the New York City subway runs 24 hours a day. New York 1, Tokyo 0.

I also managed to find my apartment. It's very efficient.
From Japan - Move In

Tomorrow is my first day at IBM. Here's how I'm getting to work. In theory.

View Larger Map

For now I'm relaxing and getting ready for work. I found an excellent 24 hour grocery store right by my apartment that has a wide selection of Japanese beer and pre-made meals. Actually, it's very similar to the 24 hour grocery store next to my apartment in New York, but it has cheaper beer and fresher sushi. New York 1, Tokyo 1.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Home Stay

I just returned to Sokendai after an amazing weekend with my host family. I was very nervous about this weekend, but everything went well. I didn't embarrass myself or my country, I learned about Japanese history and culture, and I ate amazing Japanese food. Here is a picture of me and most host parents at Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura.

From Japan - Home ...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poster Session

This afternoon was a poster session that allowed everybody to show off their research. Here is my poster. In hindsight, it was a bit too technical and it could have been organized better. Still, I think it gave people a good taste of my research.

Read this document on Scribd: JSPS Poster

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Flying to Japan

My flight from New York to Tokyo was 13 hours and 40 minutes, but it was surprisingly uneventful and the time passed much quicker than I expected. And apparently I don't even have to feel guilty about my carbon footprint. Unfortunately I was not able to sleep on the plane, but I was able to read three books. I love e-books.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

This was a very enjoyable book. Although there wasn't much new content for me; most of the research discussed had already been covered by various economics blogs that I read. Still, I'm a sucker for pop-econ books.

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

I really enjoyed the brief historical accounts of the lives of famous mathematicians and statisticians. The essence of their lives was distilled into a few choice adjectives and a couple of formative events. Sometimes I wonder what adjectives and events will describe my life.

Starship Troopers
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

I'm currently trying to read all the novels that have won a Hugo or Nebula award. This one won the 1960 Hugo Award. I'm reluctant to say it, but I thought that movie was more entertaining. Detailed descriptions of military chains of command just can't compete with co-ed showering.

Japanese Culture

Part of the orientation program includes a weekend home stay. Tonight I met my host family and we participated in traditional Japanese cultural activities including origami, calligraphy, and a tea ceremony. Here are my attempts at an origami crane and the Japanese character for rain. The small characters on the left are my name.

From Japan - Sokendai

And here is tonight's dinner. The seafood is fresh and delicious, and I really enjoy the modular food concept.

From Japan - Sokendai

I think I'm going to like it here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Greetings From Japan

This summer I am participating in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI) sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). I arrived in Tokyo on June 16th, and I will be here until August 21st. I plan to use this blog to share my thoughts and photos from the trip.

This week I am attending an orientation program at the the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai). I'll post my thoughts on the trip so far later, but for now here are some pictures from Sokendai.

From Japan - Sokendai