Monday, July 30, 2012


Yesterday and today at Tohoku University, ordered chaos is the rule of the day as hundreds if not thousands of high school students (and some elementary students) have descended upon the campus for what is known as Open Campus.

Open Campus is apparently something that all colleges do around this time of year as a large component of their student recruitment, opening up all labs and classrooms to explanations and demonstrations of the research and learning opportunities available for students.  It sounds like something I think that a lot of colleges do in the US.  And yet...

There are no guided tours with well-dressed representative students explaining impressive facts and figures about the buildings and the university.  There are few (if any) parents asking a million questions about things that students forget to even think about.  In fact, for the large part, administration in general is largely absent.

Instead, it's the graduate students and undergraduate students themselves who largely run the show.  They stand at the bus stops, ready to pass out maps and direct students to the various departments they are interested in looking at and outside their labs, with posters and hands-on demos and even movies and touchable exhibits to explain their research.  In a large sense, it feels like a large job fair where each lab does what they can to entice you to join them.  However, since these students need to pass the college exam to get admitted, all of that job fair pressure to network and make a good impression is gone.  Essentially, it's just a bunch of people investigating the exciting world of learning.

At first I was pretty skeptical.  For the last few days of the previous work week, all the students in my lab were busy with preparations and there just wasn't much I could do to help.  Walking into the office yesterday and feeling the excitement of the lab but knowing there was nothing I could do to contribute, I became discouraged.  

One of the other students asked me, "Are you going to go explore?"  
Me: Explore?
Student: Yes, it's Open Campus.  All of the labs are open.  Just walk around and I'm sure you'll find students who can speak English.

Essentially, it was a free invitation to see exactly what kind of university research Tohoku University had to offer.  These opportunities don't come very often.  I jumped at the chance.  

So, yesterday I spent the entire afternoon wandering around the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department.  I met a few people who were willing to explain their research in English, a few who were willing to explain their research in Japanese, and few people who just let me observe and smiled kindly at me.  It was a ton of fun!  

I highly recommend that the US follow this practice.  I wish I had the chance to see what research was being done at UVa or at BYU.  All those buildings, all those labs - it would have been thrilling to understand the diversity of learning that such universities have to offer.  
Scramjet research

Model A on display

Engine on the Model A

Couldn't resist taking a picture of these
gorgeous flowers outside of the PIV lab

What is a business incubator?  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Alma O. Taylor

This brother was one of the first Mormon missionaries called to Japan in 1901 at the tender young age of 18.  He ended up serving an 8 year mission there which saw only 35 baptisms.

This is what Brother Taylor had to say of his study of the language: “[This] afternoon I spent in study and research after the Japanese language, which seems at present an almost insurmountable task, most discouraging to the mind of its young student.” (source)

I haven't been here two months yet but I already feel pretty discouraged by this almost insurmountable task.  

I am not entirely sure but I didn't understand even a word spoken in church today.

In other news, I got an invitation to dinner from the Sato family which apparently consists of the Bishop, his wife or the woman I met last week who always insists I sit next to her, their son or the engaged man in Sunday school who helps translate for me, and their daughters.  Thanks to one of the daughters who just got back from a year in Romania where she did a study abroad and served as a translator during the third hours, I was able to put all those pieces together.

In other other news, I make a pretty awesome spaghetti sauce from scratch.

In other other other news, I walked home from church a new way today and ran into a lot of street concerts.  One in particular was a not a concert so much as a DJ who played Latin music while couples danced.  It was all very fun.  I wonder if this is a weekly thing or just a this Sunday thing.  The Jozenji Jazz Street festival is coming up.  I'm hoping that today was not it though or I missed it.  I should have paid more attention to those signs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On the Trail

On Sunday, it was announced that there would be a ward activity, participating in a hike.  The ladies in the Relief Society made it sound like a stroll and comparing my hiking experience in Taiwan, I figured that's pretty much what it would be.

Turns out a 'hike' means just that.  It took us about 7 hours to make it up the mountain and down again and you had to spend most of the time hiking up and down boulders in the trail.
The Trail: Izumigatake Mountain
As one of the members asked, "Do you call it trekking?"  I smiled.  "No, it's hiking."  But in many ways, it was a trek.

About 15 years ago, I went on a trek, one of those where all the young men and young women dress up in pioneer dress and push handcarts through the wilderness.  I was the mother of one of the groups (although how that happened is really still a mystery).  Within the first hundred yards, all of the handcarts we had built by hand broke down completely.  My group's handcart was the last one to break down and by then we were determined to see it to the end.  So when the wheels fell off, we pushed them back on and kept going.  When the wheels continued to struggle and finally failed completely, we carried our handcart.

This hike reminded me of that trek.  One of the men who showed up for the hike was confined to a wheelchair.  When we could, we pushed him, and when we ran into boulders, we carried him.  Somehow, though, carrying this man, even though I didn't even know his name, mattered a lot more than carrying a handcart made of wood.

That set the tone for the rest of the hike.  We had people of all ages and sizes on this hike and we looked out for each other and helped each other.  We cheered each other on and made sure everyone had food and water (which was nice since I was ill prepared for such a hike).

I also had a chance to talk with various members and find out their stories.  One dear sister told me how she came to join the church.  Apparently, her daughter had met and joined the church 10 years ago and the daughter was so happy from the Gospel that she decided she would look into this church too and ended up joining herself.  Her daughter was actually on the hike with us with her family.  And that family was so cute and wonderful that I spent a lot of the hike just watching them interact and wondering if I could have a family of my own like that one day.

You know all that stuff that Japanese people say all the time to be polite?  Or maybe you don't know.  They are always saying things like, "I'm sorry."  or "Thank you sincerely."  or "Please look kindly on me."  These people say it with real feeling and intent.  It didn't feel like something they were just saying of habit but something that they said to show their respect for the people they met on trail and with each other.  

 By the end of the hike, I was exhausted but grateful to be among such people.  In fact, I aspire to become like them.  Despite our language barrier (which was very very large) I learned a lot about love and friendship and unity.

Near the top of the mountain
It was a good day.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The World is Upside Down

The world used to look like this:

And now it kind of looks a lot like this:
Source: Google Maps, Sendai
Sure, I can find where I am on a map but it looks radically different on the ground.  And then trying to place everything in it's proper relation to where I am can prove to be a challenge too.

It seems I had gotten so used to the fact that I was constantly calculating ahead that now I struggle to calculate back.

This week, I missed Pioneer Day completely.  Not that I usually make it a point to celebrate it but since the talks at church on Sunday were about pioneers (my neighbor told me) I figured it was only fair to remember it.  Too bad I got the date wrong by two whole days which is three in American time.  No wait, I mean, that's only one day in American time?

And then today, one of the kids in the lab pulled up a Samurai Blue game from the Olympics and I was very confused.  It turns out their opening game was yesterday...and we won...against Spain.  And I missed it entirely.

Don't even ask me when the Olympic opening ceremonies are.  I know they are Friday.  But today is Friday and I don't think that this is the day.  Does that mean they are tomorrow?

Hoping to learn my ups from my downs soon.  In the meantime, to those whose birthdays and holidays and victories I am entirely missing, I apologize.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Every time I turn on the TV, I see this man:
He was actually pretty easy to recognize for me because one of my friends is a SMAP fangirl (the music group/comedy group that he is a part of).  And he's a pretty good actor.  I've seen a few of his dramas and one of them still stands as my favorite Japanese drama.  (Bara no nai hanaya in case any of you are looking for a good one - it's a tearjerker though)  

This man is in variety shows, in commercials about beer, banks, etc.  He just seems to show up in everything.  It makes me wonder almost what his day-to-day schedule looks like.  Does he ever sleep?  or live a normal life?  I wonder.  

So, tonight after eating gyutan (cow tongue), I flipped on the TV, realized that nothing worth watching was on and then thought, "I'm ready to turn off the TV now.  I've only been watching for maybe a minute.  I usually see Katori-san but there is no way I'm going to see him tonight."  

While thinking this, a new commercial comes on about a bank and I start laughing because sure enough, there is Katori-san with his bandmates.  

Here is the commercial:

This is what I think the tagline is, "Don't worry - the Sprint bars won't hurt us; they are on our side."  

Now, just watch this every day and you'll understand the exciting life I lead.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

On a Whim

Yesterday, I went on a run but when I spotted a grocery store, I decided to stop running and go grocery shopping instead.

These are the items I bought.
Well, except the milk.  I already had that.

Can you guess what I made?

Now I have to figure out what I'm going to do with it all.  I wasn't really craving them in so much as I was bored (i.e. wanting to do something other than study Japanese or watch TV to learn Japanese) and I remembered that back in the day when I lived in Taiwan, I could easily find the ingredients to make them as well.

And for the record: I did go running later to make up for my non-run earlier.  It was an interesting run that led me over to the Kawauchi tennis courts where the most common sound was that of the huge bug zappers next to the lights to fend off bugs.

Sunday Expedition

Sunday, I went to church, very hopeful that somehow I could find some way to do some service and also make a friend.

When I walked into church, one of the nice ladies who I met in Relief Society came up and told me to sit next to her.  I was thrilled!

In Sunday school, the topic was Alma 32 and I quickly learned that the word for faith was "shinkou" and so I watched the teacher's hand gestures and notes on the board carefully and filled in the blanks.

Before Relief Society one sister came up to me to ask me what my hobbies are.  (Hobby by the way is such a funny word - everyone else learns it when learning English but we so rarely use it ourselves) I told her I liked to play the piano and she asked me to play for Relief Society because she indicated that she gets too nervous playing since she taught herself to play.  So I ended up at the piano and played the opening and closing hymns and then some practice hymn afterwards.  (I'm not sure what that was but they asked me to play so I did).  Afterwards, three people asked me to play for all the weeks following. I think they were glad to finally have something I could do to contribute.  I know I was certainly glad to have something to do to contribute.

When I left church, the nice sister from sacrament meeting was walking out when I was and told me that she and another sister were going to a museum to look at an exhibit of Andrew Wyeth.  Hadn't I heard of him?  They asked.  He's American.  Well, I hadn't heard of him.  They shook their heads at my ignorance for an obvious well-known and pretty much told me that I was going to join them on their excursion.  Wanting friends more than food (and since I had forgotten to eat breakfast, I was really wanting food) I decided to go along.

And I'm so glad I did!  It was so much fun.  For one, it was fascinating to view paintings and sketches of America in Japan and realize that everyone around me was looking at it through different eyes.  Second, his artwork is beautiful.  I kept hoping my artist friends had seen his work.  I can't even describe how complex his work was and yet how it still felt very raw and rough overall.  Third, it made me realize how artists work.  I always thought that artists (and authors) just had ideas in their heads and wrote them all out.  Of course, I knew it was work to get it there and it was long arduous process but I still felt that what they saw in their heads was ultimately what they were trying to achieve.  However, through this exhibit, I realized that work really is about learning a new technique, a new point of view.  The artist was learning through a process.  Maybe he had glimpses of what he wanted overall, but I don't think it was all just there waiting to be put down.
Wind from the Sea by Andrew Wyeth
Last of all, I loved having these two sisters in my ward to explain things to me and talk to me.  Even though I could only manage less than broken Japanese and they could only manage broken English, somehow we were able to communicate and to laugh and to enjoy each other's company.  It was a wonderful feeling.  After Andrew Wyeth's exhibit we went to a special collection of artwork from the Louvre.  I managed to get by by looking at all the French titles and translate them into my head.  It was a lot of fun to compare notes with what I thought the art was about with what my new friends would translate into English for me.

When we parted I was sad to see them leave but so so glad that I had somehow, without any effort on my part, made a friend.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

This weekend, I went on a few adventures.

It started with a nice morning jog out to Kleenex Stadium to get my first real look at the stadium for the local professional baseball team, the Rakuten Eagles.  Fortunately, it was a pretty uneventful run and did not involve me getting lost.

In the afternoon, I was determined to study Japanese and clean my apartment before going exploring but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to study or clean and so after fighting with myself for a few hours, I gave up and went out to enjoy the day while sunlight lasted.  (It gets dark here at about 7 pm)

I started out by heading down a small side street and ran into the War Reconstruction Memorial Museum which made me want to stop.  I put it on my list of "Things to Do in Sendai" and kept walking.  Then I walked past the used bookstore that always has me craning my neck as I walk past to get a glimpse of what is inside.  But I kept walking.  Well, by the time I saw a funny little staircase leading to a random road that seemed to go to nowhere, I couldn't resist.  I walked down the stairs and found myself in a random field that had little paved roads running through it.  It was a very surreal experience to have nothing but tall grasses and wild flowers and bushes around and these straight little paved roads running through it.

Also, curiously enough, the longer I walked on one of these little abandoned roads, the louder some yelling grew in the distance.  I walked towards the sound, up for some good people watching and found hundreds of high school students in the middle of a tennis competition at these tennis courts that seemed very much out of the way.

I wanted to take pictures of these hundreds of students in their colorful school uniforms all playing tennis and being typical teenagers who find themselves in a new situation.  Instead, I kept walking on one of those little paths right past the tennis courts into the great unknown.  Once I got there, I found that I was still within earshot of all the high schoolers and so I had the surreal experience of looking at this:

While not feeling out of society at all.

The road led back to the tennis courts so I stayed around and watched a match or two, fascinated by how loud tennis was.  I feel like tennis in the West is silent.  I had a friend who played tennis in high school and she said that people would glare at others who happened to let their wine corks pop with too loud of a noise.  But instead, these kids had a cheer for everything - a good serve, a good shot, a winning point, a lost point.  You name it - there was something the entire team yelled in unison.

On I wandered, up through Sendai Castle (again) and up the road to Yagiyama, which was my real destination.  Yagiyama is a mountain in Sendai and apparently where a lot of college students live because it's cheaper to live on a mountain than near the university.  At the top of the road there is Bennyland on one side which is a run-down amusement park that looked really fun until I read about it later on the internet.  On the other side is the Yagiyama Zoo which - fun fact - was the spot that Babe Ruth hit the first home run in Japan ever back when that spot was a baseball field.  (Who knew Babe Ruth even went to Japan, right?).  On I wandered, hoping to see something interesting.  As I walked I sang, The Bear Went Over the Mountain since that was exactly what I was doing.  I just wanted to see what I could see.  The road led down and around through all of these shops and homes.  Soon I was pretty exhausted from walking so much but my curiosity kept me going on so I wandered on and on, worrying that going down the road meant I would have to go back up it later.  I had already hiked this mountain once.  But on and on my curiosity got the better of me - just around the next curve, I told myself as my altitude dropped lower and lower and then, somehow I realized that the city I had been looking at in those rare glimpses at an overlook was really the same skyline I had come from.  I ended up down the mountain, only a few roads away from my house.  Next time, I think I need to try going the other way so I can actually see the mountain and not just go up it and then down again.  :)

But here is the city of Sendai from one of the overlooks.

And that is the story about how the Bear Went Over the Mountain to see what she could see and ended up just back where she started.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Life in a Lab

I have done little to describe my life in research here.  So let's look at yesterday.

To start off with, I walked in my office at around 9:30 am - I was running late - and greeted the two other guys who were in my lab at the time.  One of them was in a suit and tie ready for his final defense of his dissertation.  I smiled at him, "Are you ready?"  He smiled back.  We both laughed.

Everyone else in the office came in between 9:30 and 10:30 am and I greeted them with just a nod because my headphones were in and I was trying to get through the Japanese lesson I had started the night before.

The printer in front of me ran out of magenta ink.  The other girl in my office pulled out the box with the new ink cartridge and said, "Eigo desu" which means "It's in English."  I jumped up.  "I speak English!"  And ran over to help her.  Between her and another guy and myself, we were able to fix the printer.  About fifteen minutes later the black ink went out.  But this time, the guy in the lab who discovered it was an expert in the process and didn't need anyone's help.

At 10:30, I attended the final defense.  It was in Japanese.  Before it started, though, one of my professors mentioned my name so I looked up to see what he wanted.  One student translated for me: "You need to sign this non-disclosure agreement."  I smiled at him, "Even though I won't understand a word?"  He laughed.  I pulled out my pen and signed the line he told me to.  I was able to fill out my status as a student but the other guy had to take the paper back to write out the name of the lab I was in for me in Japanese.  (Turns out the powerpoint was all in English so I actually could understand a lot.)  I alternated between watching the slides and staring out the window, thinking about my own research.

Overall, it was a very easy defense and the Phd candidate came up to me afterwards to explain that he had already had a pre-defense in which he was grilled for hours by the professors.  Sounds stressful.  In any case, I'm glad he passed.

Then lunch.  I now go to lunch with the other members of my lab.  But since I don't speak Japanese, I just sit and listen.  I try to differentiate between words and sounds (nouns, particles, verbs and its forms) but it usually just means I'm sitting silently while everyone else around me talks.  Slightly tired, I pulled out some quote cards from my wallet about not giving up and having optimism and read them.  Two of the kids in my lab wanted to see what I was reading and so I showed them.

After lunch, I went back to finish my Japanese lesson.  I am a very slow Japanese learner.  (But apparently, it helps because when I went home and flipped on the TV, they made mention of "kyuujuusansai" people and I understood that to be 93 year old people)  One of my professors saw me and came to give me a gift: 
A sticker of the Hayabusa, an unmanned spacecraft from Japan that completed a sample return mission.    Yep, so cool.  AND you may not be able to read the Hiragana but the box says Apollo.  It's a candy that is in the shape of the Apollo module and came out in 1969.  I guess even if America has completely forgotten about how awesome it is to go to space (and doubts that we even got to the moon) it's nice to know Japan still remembers.

After Japanese, I spent my afternoon designing in SolidWorks for one of my lab partners.  By about 5 pm, I was done with that and he asked to see what I had done.  So we sat and discussed our options (the design had some problems) and I went back and fixed it.  Then he said that he might investigate using a different material (which was actually a brilliant idea) so we discussed new design options.  By this time it was about 7 pm and he had shown no signs of leaving but I was fading fast so I promised I would come in on Saturday to finish it.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  "I'm not coming in tomorrow!  Do it Monday."  So we talked a little baseball - he likes baseball - and then I went home.  I was the third person to come to the lab that day and the third to last person to leave.  I'm not sure if that makes me a diligent researcher or an overzealous one.

Research-wise, I really like it.  But now that I'm here and working, I'm realizing I might have made more work for myself.  Rather than have just my own research to work on day in and day out, I now have my personal research, the lab research here and then Japanese to learn.  I went from one daunting task to three.  But switching between three helps keep me motivated rather than slogging through one.

Oh, one short note about some of my office mates.  I have grouped the people in my mind.

There are "the kids" who are the young ones who are really so adorable that the grandma in me wants to pinch their cheeks and pat them on the head.  One of the kids I call mini-Hasebe because he looks kind of how Hasebe looked at 19 or 20 and so it's a fascinating game to watch him and imagine what Hasebe would have been like had he attended college.

Next, we have "the cool group" who I have so dubbed because that's just what they are and they dress very American so they strike me as the type who would feel right at home in either culture.  They also speak excellent English.  In any case, a lot of people in the lab follow their example.  When these guys work, everyone works.  When these guys talk, everyone talks.  Yesterday, though, three of these guys were dressed alike, with skinny jeans and plaid button-ups rolled up to the elbow and they kept doing things together as a group which was amusing given their matchy-matchy status.  Thanks to one of those cool guys who insists on me calling him "Joe" I have now dubbed the cool group the "JoBros" and, yes, that is a pointed reference.

Then, we have "the diligents".  These are the one who are the first to come in and the last to leave.  They don't speak that great of English but they are sincerely kind and do their best to help.  These are probably the people I spend the most time with and the people that drive me the most to work hard in my research and most of all learn Japanese so I can communicate with them.

Last we have the "outliers" who don't come into lab as regularly.  When they do, they maintain their own individuality and quirks and so even though I know them least, I remember their names most easily.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Dear Kato,

I never thought I'd see you again but it seems you've gotten a new life.  It's quite fitting that you went from being high maintenance to being the one who does the high maintenance.  It was good to see you again and the yellow looks good on you.  I always knew you had the heart of a Japanese vehicle!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Gaijin.  That's me - a foreigner.

(1) The TV shows here at night are rather interesting.  I know, I'm supposed to be out and about and experiencing Japan but until I have friends and people to learn Japanese from, it's a low key way to listen to Japanese.  Every night I turn on the TV, it's a new show that highlights foreigners.  One night it was "So you think you can sing Japanese songs" and one night it was "Let's dress up Japanese men as girls and see if foreigners can tell the difference".  They also have specials about foreigners who get gross flesh-eating bacteria from cuts on their legs with dramatizations.  It makes me wonder about American TV shows.  Too bad I don't have a TV in America so I can't really compare.  

(2) The past few days on the bus, I've had the opportunity to help out some foreigners.  One was a man who was Asian but very obviously dressed like an American (his pants were a little too loose and he was wearing a nice polo tucked in).  Turns out, he was Australian but living in Maryland so close enough.  The other was a girl from Bolivia who is starting her Master's Program here but is nervous about taking classes in Japanese and passing her entrance examination.  Both people, interestingly enough, thought that I looked like I was an old hat at living in Japan and speaking the language and both needed help knowing how to make change.  Thanks to my mishap the first time I rode the bus, I knew exactly what to tell them.  :)  

(3) Since coming to Japan, I've been listening to a lot more American music.  I wondered if that would be the case and indeed, it is.  However, mostly, I listen to William Wei.  It seems I cannot get enough of this kid.  Songs that I didn't really care for before - 慢慢等,好天氣 - I am now in love with.  And today, I just discovered a new song that sounds like it belongs on an EFY CD but somehow since it has nothing to do with being a Mormon or Christ, I have a feeling it wouldn't make the cut.  It's called, "Translation Practice" and I'm putting it here for your listening pleasure.  Weibird is like my little gaijin companion.  I just need a pocket version of him so I can take him everywhere.  

(4) Some of the runners here that I see in the mornings or nights on my runs are becoming like friends to me.  We all nod at each other and I'm starting to recognize certain ones.  They are also in much better shape than I am.  One night, I used one runner as a pace setter heading out and another runner as a pace setter coming back in.  It was a really fast run but it felt so great.  I wished that I could somehow thank them for helping me.

(5) Yesterday, while walking to English class, I saw Dora the Explorer on the door of an elementary school or a cram school or something.  Anyway, it made me smile (and also made me miss Baby) but it got me wondering.  Does Dora teach Spanish in Japan too?

(6) I am realizing something about students here though - a lot of them are not from this area and many of them just started school here themselves in April.  It seems, in some sense, we are all foreigners, and we could all use some friends.  It helps put everything else in perspective.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Getting Lost is Good for One's Heart

Friday, I went running and got lost.  What was supposed to be a thirty minute run turned into an hour.

Today I went running and got lost.  When I finally made it back home, I found I had been running for an hour and a half.

Between my weekend walks to various parts I haven't been to on the map and my morning runs to parts of the map I never intended to go, I think I might get a good portion of this city covered by the end of my three months here.

And get in shape too.

What a deal.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Day of Adventures

Today, I had three things on my To Do list.

1. Sleep in.
2. Go running.
3. Clean my apartment.

All of that was accomplished by about 1 pm.  So I tried to force myself to sit down and study Japanese. I went as far as putting post-it notes on most every appliance in my house.  However, it proved to be less than exciting as the word for 'bed' is 'beddo' and the word for 'door' is 'to' and the word for shower is 'shawa', etc.

It was such a nice day out that I was feeling pretty restless so I made a plan to go visit DATE Masamune's grave and set off.

On my way there, I saw a baseball game going on.  So I stopped to watch.  Everyone stared at me as I walked up the bleachers and took a seat.  Once seated, I looked up and realized which team the people on my side were cheering for and followed suit.
I cheered for  the white team
The game was between kids who couldn't have been more than upper elementary school age but it was pitch baseball and everything.  At that age, I was just participating in softball where the coach still pitched to the kids.  It was a very serious game though with ball boys and bat boys and full uniforms.  Kids even tried to steal bases and pitchers would try to catch them in the act.
The ball boys were adorable and couldn't have been older than first grade
I had no idea who was winning or what inning we were on.  I just watched and cheered and got so into it that when my team loaded the bases, I eagerly hoped something would come of it.  And when the other team loaded the bases, I hoped desperately our pitcher would pull through.  (It turns out the outfielders were the heroes of the day)  At the end of a few innings, my team cheered really loudly and everyone packed up to go.  So....we won!  (I think).  In any case, I hope to catch more games like this in the future.

After that I went in search of the mausoleum and ended up running into a temple, a cemetery and a monastery before I found the right buildings.  And those buildings were closed.  So I wandered around on the paths that were open.  The entire area was absolutely beautiful and the woods around the gravesites of Masumune and other leaders of Sendai were aptly named the Resting Peaceful Forest.
The stairs to the mausoleums, named Zuihoden, Kansenden and Zenoden 
An old stone indicating DATE's gravesite
Children's cemetery - really a sad but beautiful place
The Resting Peaceful Forest
Then I wandered far over to the other end of town to find a memorial for a Sumo wrestler.  (It was on the map and it sounded intriguing)

In transit, I saw some soccer players.
I love the juxtaposition of the field and the trees with the skyscraper in the background
And a train

At the park where the memorial was located, a rock concert was happening.  I stopped to listen and watch.  The bands were pretty good but not professional by any means.  Their following seemed to be a lot of energetic college students who were determined to enjoy themselves no matter what.  It was a lot of fun.
I couldn't resist taking a picture of this man wearing ahjumma pants. 
Energetic college kids. 

And finally, the sumo wrestler's memorial.
Sumo wrestler memorial.  Awesome, right?

Friday, July 13, 2012

One Week

Some thoughts.

Things that surprised me: 

1.  Virginia has nothing on Japan when it comes to humidity.  I thought after suffering through the Heat Wave of '12 that I was set and ready for Japan.  But I wasn't;  It's not hot here - just humid.  It took a few days to get used to it but I like it.  I really like the weather here.  

2.  Japan is not Taiwan.  This may seem obvious to everyone else but it continues to surprise me.  For one, I kept expecting people to stare at me because I was a white person and to make little comments about me behind my back about it.  Well, I don't know Japanese so they might be making comments about me behind my back, but, honestly, no one really looks too shocked to see a foreigner.  I also make the realization about the differences because I kept looking for street food and realized that there was none.  "This is not Taiwan," I have to remind myself.  

3.  I somehow stumbled onto a thriving and prestigious lab.  How did I manage that?  In any case, I'm counting my blessings for it.  

4.  Japan feels like a home to me.  The other day, I realized the time for my bus was coming so I scrambled to throw my stuff into my backpack and catch the bus.  It felt so normal to be running for a bus in Japan at 9:30 at night.  And the other day when I went up to the castle and saw Sendai shining out around me, I was just thrilled.  It was the same pride I felt over places I feel I belong to, in America.  

Things that I have realized: 

1.  I do NOT speak Japanese and one cannot just "pick up" the language.  It takes real work; real effort and lots of hours of studying.  

2.  I really genuinely enjoy research.  Being in Japan, working on a new project, makes me even think positively about my research in Virginia.  

3.  I don't actually know how to socially navigate Japanese culture.  I can't tell if I'm on my way to making friends or not.  

Some stories: 

There is one adorable man in my lab who has decided to take me under his wing.  Well, when he remembers.  The other day he came in to invite me to attend Asai Sensei's lecture.  So I packed up my stuff and got ready to go but I had no idea where it was so I ended up staying behind.  After class, he came back, "Why didn't you attend?"  I told him that he had told me when the class was but not where.  He laughed at his mistake.  

I went to dinner the other day with some of the kids in my lab.  During dinner, everyone kept a steady stream of Japanese going and occasionally one kid would speak up, "Oh, they all think that you can really use chopsticks."  I would reply and they'd move on to other conversation.  Then he'd jump in again, "They want you to know that Monday is a holiday.  Do you know what holiday is it?" I'd reply and then someone would say something and he'd translate again.  "It's the Day of Sea."  What does it mean?  His response? "I don't know.  I guess it's just another day to run experiments."  I had to laugh.  Grad students are grad students the world over.  

So it turns out the lab is actually getting a new graduate student who is from Taiwan and in September I'll get to meet him.  Asai Sensei told me about this new kid for my Chinese-speaking benefit: He is a student at Taiwan National University (TaiDa) which is the number one university in Taiwan and this student has personally been spearheading a collaboration between TaiDa and Brigham Young University.  My alma mater!  I started laughing and told Sensei this and we both laughed: It's a small world.   

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sooner or Later

Everyone has bad days.  By the time I showed up to work (1) late, because I had spilled bright pink nail polish on the rug (2) exhausted, because I'm still not on a normal schedule yet and (3) frustrated, because of some early emails regarding my research back in Virginia, I wryly wondered if this was going to be that day.

By lunch time, I was pretty sure of it.  This did not bode well for the interview I had after lunch with the Director of the Global Center of Education who was funding my internship.  Nervously, I reviewed my presentation over and over.

This is how the rest of my day went:

The other girl in the office came up to me and sat down next to me and tried to make conversation with me.  When she failed miserably and I kicked myself again for not speaking Japanese, she begged another student to join in so we could all understand each other.  Yay!

I ate lunch alone.  Not yay.

Koji in my lab gave me a ride to my interview.  It turns out one of his favorite musical groups is the Carpenters which had me laughing to no end.  He also said he likes accordion music which made me skeptical until I listened to it.  His favorite musical genre though is jazz.  Yay!

I had my interview.  It didn't go as bad as I expected.  It turns out the Director has spent considerable time in Newport News, Va.  Yay?

I went to go find Koji and stumbled over my words in asking for him.  Not yay.

When I left the lab today, Koji chased after me to tell me that there would be a lab party on Friday.  Yay?!  (Definitely a Yay!  until I realized I have no idea what Japanese parties consist of)

I went home but got on the wrong bus and so ended up far from home.  Not yay.

I got to walk through a new part of Sendai and through the Castle ruins for the third time in 24 hours.  Yay.

Because of my bus mix-up, I ran out of daylight before I could walk to Sendai station to pick up a map that someone told me about.  Not yay.

I got home, idly flipped on the TV and found that the U-23 Samurai Blue team is playing live against New Zealand.  Yay!

So, not a bad day.  Just a normal one, full of ups and downs.  I'll take it.
An amusement park near where the bus dropped me off

This image is of LuXun's monument.  Last year, while trying to study Radiative Heat Transfer, I picked up his book (in Chinese) and read his personal account of why he decided to become a writer.  Apparently he had been attending medical school in Japan when a war broke out and he decided that what he needed to do was to help the Chinese better understand what it means to be Chinese and so he became an author.  It turns out, the medical school he attended was in Sendai.  Out of all the Chinese books, I read his.  Out of all the places in Japan, we both ended up in Sendai.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There's No Escape

Dear Self,

It was one thing for the kid in the lab from California to have heard of the University of Virginia - and why not, it's a pretty famous school.  It's quite another though when you just happen to glance over at him and find him preparing a presentation on Jeffersonian architecture and looking up the Rotunda on Wikipedia.  Thought you could escape TJ in Japan?  Think again.


A few anecdotes:

(1) Knowing Kanji while speaking no Japanese does have some amusing benefits.  For one, the word for ‘emergency exit' in Japanese is actually the Kanji for 'Extreme door'.  I was staring at the exit yesterday and those characters and trying to figure out what they could mean in the context of Japanese.

(2) Now that my luggage came in, I have clean clothes.  Yay!  So I went running yesterday.  Yay!  And ran/hiked up to the Aoba castle.  It was so beautiful that I wanted to cry.  I went back later and took pictures.
View of Sendai from the top of the Castle

A Gate to the Castle

Gate and the Castle walls (they were about 5 feet thick)

Castle walls

A random building but it looks 'Asian' so snapped a shot
(3) While taking pictures, I started to hear some brass instruments (trumpets mostly) warming up their instruments.  Very curious and very desperate for music, I followed the sounds until I found a marching? band practicing with a cheerleading squad some cheers and dances for what I would assume is an upcoming sporting event.  I pretended it was a free concert and sat down and listened.

(4) One of my lab mates asked me if I had experienced any earthquakes since coming to Japan.  Even though he asked the question in clear English, I was confused.  I'd only been in the country for three days!  Turns out, Sendai experiences earthquakes about three times a week.

(5) In all of my wandering, I still have yet to find a map or a grocery store.  It's a good thing 7-11 sells good food or I'd be starving by now.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Squished on a Bus

I was asked to post more pictures.  Funny thing is, I've posted as many pictures as I've taken.  I also realized that I don't really have a way to transfer my camera card pictures to my computer which leaves me with whatever pictures I can manage on my permanently-in-airplane-mode smartphone.  I will try to be more diligent though.

Yesterday, I made my way to my lab on a bus.  Despite what that may sound like, it was quite the accomplishment.  You get onto the bus, grab your ticket and then shove yourself into an already full bus and try not to overly press against anyone else around you.  When people want to get off, they have to push their way through literally thirty or forty people and saying "I'm sorry; Excuse me" as you do so.  Then you have to pay the driver.  This proved to be difficult the first time I rode the bus as I put the money into the change machine rather than the pay slot and ended up getting my money back in smaller coins while the bus driver just watched me and the twenty people who wanted to get off as well.  I managed much better on the way home.

The bus made me realize though how jealous I am of bikes.  Pretending I didn't have my backpack in some poor person's face and pretending that it didn't bother me that I couldn't move an inch, I watched those bike-riders as I rode on that crowded bus.  The biggest benefit, I think, of a bike though, is that I would be free to sing as I rode.  I realized today that I am pretty cut off from my usual musical outlets.  My apartment walls are too thin to really just sing and I have no access to a musical instrument.  When I got home yesterday, I remedied it as best I could by holding a quiet dance party in my apartment.

I will write more about my lab but here's something first: yesterday we all went to lunch in the cafeteria.  I looked around me and realized there were hundreds if not thousands of men all around me and only about 5 or 8 girls that I could see and about as many foreigners.  I started laughing - so much for pushing for equal numbers of men and women in engineering.  I was an anomaly and the other girl in Nagai's lab even more so.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dawn Chorus

I tried really hard to sleep in today.  When the dawn chorus started in (I'm not entirely sure how Sendai even has a dawn chorus since there are only a few birds) I forced myself to keep my eyes closed and tried to fall back asleep.  I waited for as long as I could stand it before I allowed myself to get out of bed - at a staggering 4:45 am.

It's kind of nice to hear a city wake up.  When my body finally adjusts to the time zone, I think I'll miss these long mornings.
The view from my balcony.
Despite what it make look like, I kind of really love it.  

A Post

I'm here - in Japan.  I'm still getting used to the way the world works.  And I'm still very jet lagged so I'm not entirely sure what is up and what is down.

But a few anecdotes.

I got very very lost on my way to church today.  My body wouldn't let me sleep past 5 am so I got up and studied google maps for 3 hours trying to find a bus route or something to help me find the church. I finally decided upon walking and carefully noted the road names that I would need to turn on.  Then I got ready and left for church in plenty of time to get there (over an hour before the meeting started).  I was making good progress and was feeling pretty confident about where I was going.  But I reached a small one way street and noticed everyone was going the opposite way as I was.  I had just seen a lot of signs about certain directions people should walk so I was confused if I was doing something I wasn't supposed to.  At the next block, I moved over to another street.  It turns out at that point I was only about 1 block away from the church at the point but I didn't notice the church sign or the large church with its large cross across the street from it.  Instead, began the adventure where I wandered around for 2 hours before I finally stumbled upon the church, my feet blistered and bleeding.

So, what else did I find in those two hours?

The Bible Baptist church.  The sign read, "聖書バプテスト教会" was very easy to understand.   Somehow, it was also easy to find because I ran into it twice in my wanderings.

A stream.  I'm not sure I could ever find it again.  I walked down a street that stopped abruptly at a stream.  It was pretty and had a nice grassy bank on both sides.  I was tempted to stop and wander along the banks but thought better of it and moved on.

A park and was reminded that parks are not grassy places like in the US.  However, I want to find a park nearby because they are also great places (except apparently on Sunday mornings) to people watch.

An elementary school where lots of kids practiced soccer, baseball and swimming in full uniform.

JNT.  Well, I didn't really find them but their picture was on various vending machines throughout the area.  These vending machines can be found on practically every street so I got to see mein lieblingsspieler quite often although because I was lost, I could have been passing the same few vending machines repeatedly (but I don't think so)

Kirin Lemon.  Completely lost and thirsty and exhausted, I stopped to get a Kirin Lemon from one of these vending machines.  I debated getting the adult Kirin Lemon (which Hasebe advertised) but decided I would just get the family friendly one.  It was nothing more (or less) than Sprite, just like I had guessed.

At church, I met a really nice girl who is engaged to a man from Sendai, visiting for the weekend.  She served as my translator even though she herself was unfamiliar with anyone in the ward.  It turns out this girl served a mission with one of my good friends in Taiwan.  How I know this friend in Taiwan has always confused me.  When I went back to Taiwan, I ran into her at a Single Adult Conference and we greeted each other like old friends.  In fact, we threw our arms around each other.  We realized at a subsequent meeting that we actually didn't remember how we met or how we knew each other.  But know each other we did, enough so that this girl was impressed and embraced me as friend when she realized our connection.  She even invited me to her wedding reception next month.
Toy Story 3 in Japanese.  
Buzz gets rewired and starts speaking in Spanish
which is the part I understand.