Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The end

I planned to write so much more about my trip. Especially how I stayed in a temple with Buddhist monks and prayed with them in the morning. And about town full of hot springs. And about the capsule hotel. And ... I could just go on and on with my posts. But at the moment I'm trying to live in the present, so I have decided to leave some things only in my memories.

My time in Japan has come to an end. Japan was the nicest gift I could have gotten in this period of my life. I enjoyed the work, the culture, the weirdness, the food, the people. I met some very special people. Parts of my time in Japan were like the nicest dream.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Atomic bomb dome, Hiroshima

Atomic bomb dome has been preserved in the same state as immediately after the bombing, now serving as a bitter reminder about the sadness of war and nuclear devastation. The rest of the city was practically leveled with the ground.

At its peak, the power of the nuclear weapons stored in this world was as much as 1.4 million times the power of Hiroshima's atomic bomb. 90% of which was owned by the United States and Russia.

Book covers

When Japanese buy a book, they always get a book cover together with it. One reason is to keep it clean, and the other, a much more important reason is privacy. If they read a book on a train without a book cover, I think they almost feel like being naked.

Another similar thing they use is black covers for mobile phone screens so that it's impossible to see what's on the screen over somebody's shoulder.

This is my first book with the book cover. "Random walk" is the name of the bookshop where I bought it. And I won't reveal the title of the book :)

Himeji castle

Himeji castle is one of the biggest in Japan and still preserved in its original form from centuries ago. When I saw a photo of it in my guidebook, I was a bit confused. A castle? After that I had the following conversation with my friend from the lab.

I: "Why do they call it a castle, it doesn't look like a castle."

He: "Yes, it does."

I: "No, it doesn't."

He: "Yes, it does."

I: "No, it... OK, I get it now. That's how castles are supposed to look like in Japan."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bullet trains

Japan is easy to travel in. Japanese trains are the fastest in the world. And they are so punctual that you could use them to set your watch. They call them bullet trains or shinkansen.

Kyoto gardens

There are so many gardens in Kyoto that it is impossible to count them. Each one different and each one perfect in its own way.

Kyoto geishas

I never imagined you actually see geishas wandering around the streets of Kyoto.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Kyoto temples

My two-week trip around Japan started in Kyoto, where I ended up spending six nights. Kyoto is an old capital of Japan, and it remains a cultural capital and main touristic attraction in Japan. Temples are one of the main attractions.

Tokyo University main campus

Beautiful December ginko trees.

Japan "became" normal

I worked in the lab in Tokyo for 6 weeks and by the end I started to feel comfortable, the daily life became a routine. Japan became normal. Meeting other travelers during my 2 week trip, I realized I didn't take photos anymore. I didn't find things strange anymore.

Just before I finished working in the lab in Tokyo, they had an academic visitor from the United States. We students took him for lunch. It was a really strange experience. He was like a person from another planet. And the strangest thing was that I belonged together with the Japanese.

After his visit, I got comments from several people from the lab. "How did you know how I felt?" "I can understand you, and you learned to understand what I think. But it's hard to communicate with him." "Tina, you really are much more like Japanese than him." I took the last comment as a compliment. But I'm not sure if I should have.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Offline until 28th Dec

Thanks for reading and have a nice Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Japanese chess

Shogi - Japanese chess. Haven't played, just observed. There is a 9 times 9 grid, while chess has 8 times 8. Probably because Japanese don't like odd numbers. (When you give a money as a gift for the wedding, you should never give an odd multiple of 1000 Yen!)


Gokon is a bit different way of meeting potential partners than we are used to, but very common and popular in Japan. A boy and a girl that know each other organize a meeting and each of them brings 2 or 3 or more friends (girl girls, boy boys) - but always the same number. They go eating and drinking, and socialize. If any two like each other, they exchange telephone numbers and meet again.

Not a bad idea at all.


Onsen is a Japanese word for a "hot spring". Because Japan is covered with volcanoes, there are more hot springs in Japan than anywhere else in the world, more than 3000. My guidebook says Japan is like Iceland on steroids.

The only thing you have to do is take off all your clothes, soak into one of the bubbling hot water baths, enjoy the atmosphere and traditional Japanese environment and relax.

I've only been to one so far. Heavenly experience. Must go to more!

Korean alphabet

Maybe you noticed in the title of the previous post that the characters look a bit different than Japanese characters. (Can you see?)

Koreans have their own alphabet hangul, and (how cool!) it was developed by one person, King Sejong the Great, in the 15th century. If I understood correctly, their "letters" are actually parts of "characters", so they join letters together to form one character, one sound. And then they put characters next to each other to form a word.

According to a Korean friend, the system is almost ingenious, much better than Japanese kanji, katakana or hiragana. Not sure if he thinks like this only because he is Korean! :)

What I can't get out of my head is that a Koran person living and studying in Japan (which is not that rare) knows hangul, katakana and hiragana alphabets, plus let's say 3000 kanji characters.

And what I know is only the latin alphabet plus 3 additional slovenian letters!

윤도현 "잊을께"

I love this Korean song. The singer doesn't look too bad either.

And just today I learned the title of the song is "I will get over you". How appropriate.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Photo shooting in Odaiba

You say you want more photos on which I look happy...

Short term happiness, but I won't complain.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shita Machi tour

Today our secretary dressed up in a kimono and took me for a tour around Shita Machi (old town). Here are some photos (since you insist on seeing me).

Shimao san and me in front of a handkerchief shop. We also went to a traditional Japanese paper shop.

Lunch in a soba restaurant. On the photo you can see the cold one, which looks like noodles, and hot one, which is in a soup. Later on we also went to a cafe for a sweet potato cake.

Toori (door), Nezu-jinja shrine. Of course we also prayed and bought fortune tellers - I got second best out of 5 possible fortunes. I finally also bought "lucky charms" which I was resisting until now.

We went to a cat cafe. Basically a shop where they sell souvenirs with cats in 1001 different forms. You can also have a drink with cats sitting in your lap.

Petrol station

Where petrol hangs from the air.

Has anyone seen this in any other places?


Some time ago I wrote about hearing a really good student band performing at Komaba student festival at University of Tokyo. After that I emailed them, saying how much I liked their music.

I got a reply from the guy on keyboards, and they invited me to their next live concert for free! It happened today in Morph-Tokyo club in Roppongi and it was great.

This is how good they are. Especially piano and violin. Having in mind that all the guys are very young (probably 20), that they write their own music (Ryo Sonoda, the keyboard guy!) and they all are students of University of Tokyo - which here means something - you have to be impressed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who is at work?

In front of the lab there is a sign-in board with little magnets, so that it's clear all the time where everyone is.

The first column is for "in". The second column is for "in, but away" - for example when you go for lunch of to a shop for a longer period. The third column is "out".

The different colours indicate how important the hierarchy is in Japan.

p.s. Everyone else's name is written by their surname, except mine , it's quite funny. They never call each other by first names.

Taking shoes off

Before I left for Japan, I read in my guidebook:

Don't leave home without ...
1) Slip-on shoes - you want shoes that are easy to slip on and off for the frequent occasions where they must be removed.
2) Unholey socks - your socks will be on display a lot of the time.

And I haven't even imagined how true this was!

In Japan you take shoes off at work. When you arrive, you change into slippers. Any visitors to the office should also take their shoes off when entering, even if just for 1 minute. This is in front of the lab, where we put our shoes.

In Japan you take shoes off in restaurants with tatami.

In Japan you take shoes off when visiting temples and shrines.

In Japan you take shoes off even in fitting rooms in shops.

Every time we go for lunch, they have to wait for me because I'm very slow with putting my shoes on!

And no one in Japan wants to stand out of the crowd, so none of my colour socks are in use. I'm strange enough without them. If only I've known this, I would bring more pairs of black socks with me!

Japanese food - outcome

I will not tell you in kilograms, but I have gone up 6.5% of my weight in 1 month! Calculate it for yourself. All my unwashed jeans hardly fit.

Ah, Japanese food. I eat it, I dream it, I feel it, I'm obsessed with it. Definitely the best food in the world. Healthy? I'm not so sure anymore. At least too good to be healthy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Japanese door

I love Japanese interior door. Simple, white and beautiful. They also have similar windows. Funny, why do they need interior windows.

But I see them very rarely. Nothing like these at the university or the place where I'm staying. I even wonder how typical it is to have such rooms at home.

One of the things children here apparently learn the hard way very early on is not to touch the door paper. And of course this is one of their biggest temptations. At the Komaba festival everyone had a chance to have a go at it.

Odaiba and Tokyo bay

The nicest and sunniest possible day. Amazing train ride with the views of the most futuristic city and bay ever. Quite impressive. Sometimes you can hear the expression "architectural zoo". And my camera is out of batteries.

Looking for the photos on the internet it feels like no one went there on a sunny day and has taken photos that I wanted. Such a shame.

Imperial palace gardens

Imperial palace in Tokyo is nothing like Buckingham palace. Actually you can't even see it. You can only have a stroll though Imperial Palace east gardens. I did it in my first weekend in Tokyo, and it was raining, but I though I'd post some photos anyway.

Tokyo vs London metro

I don't know what I was expecting, but Tokyo underground is not bad at all!

Compared to London, I can almost always have a sit here. The trains much broader and cleaner. They are also longer, this is the platform:

And they have special cars only for women. I've heard men like to grab women in a crowd. But it has never happened to me.

One strange thing here is that lines belong to different companies. So when you change them, you sometimes have to swipe out of the gate and then back in. And transfers are long. When you get out of the train, it tells you how many meters you need to walk to change the line. An sometimes it's 500m, 600m!

Another interesting sign: