August 21, 2013 by IPAlchemist
This is my sixth post on my trip to Japan, so I think that the time has come to write a final post, and then declare the subject closed for this time.
My previous posts give a rather distorted view of my trip, focusing as they do on only three days out of the week that I was there. Moreover, I realise that they in fact miss out what was the main reason for my trip in the first place (which was in fact my only trip to Japan ever where the primary purpose has not been work).
The motivation for going to Japan was the 60th birthday of my former professor when I was a post doc at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Prof Koichi Mikami. The 60th birthday is a big deal in Japan, called Kanreki, because it represents five cycles of the 12-year Chinese astrological year cycle. So when I heard that the event was taking place, I really wanted to attend, both to present Prof Mikami with all my best wishes, and also to see some of my former colleagues, most of whom I had not seen since I left Japan in 1998.
I have never been to such a party before, and it was a fascinating experience. In format it follows the usual Japanese course of speeches, toasts, and food. I was asked (without a great deal of notice) to make a short speech, which I tried to do in Japanese – I hope that I did not make too bad a job of it. The venue was the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa, near Shinagawa station (Shinagawa now becoming a rather popular and lively entertainment destination). It was great to see Prof Mikami again, together with his lovely wife and and daughter, and it was also wonderful to both catch up with some old colleagues and meet some new former students. I was very interested to find out what everyone is doing now, and was most happy that another former lab member is also a patent attorney (in Japan). I am not the only one!
I caught up with a few other people during my visit. I went to visit my former colleague Prof Yajima, who is now a professor at Ochanomizu Women’s University (yes, the institution of the Women’s University is alive and well in Japan). Together with some of her research students, we had a lovely tour around Tokyo, and went to see a really rather wonderful exhibition of goldfish. No, really. I never knew that the Japanese had such a liking for goldfish but it turns out that they have featured in Japanese art for many years. We saw all different kinds presented in an astonishing assortment of aquaria.
With my former research student Dr Ohmura, I went to the relatively new Edo Tokyo Museum, which is a fantastic museum of the history of Tokyo (located in Ryogoku, next to the Sumo stadium) from the Edo period up until the late 20th century. We spent a good two hours there and really felt that we could have spent a lot more: there is so much fascinating material, and most of it is accompanied by excellent and detailed explanations in English (as well as the Japanese). It really greatly surpassed my expectations. After a brief detour to Asakusa to buy a replacement yukata, we ended up having a shabu-shabu dinner at the excellent Imahan Bekkan (annex) restaurant, where we were seated in wonderful cherry-themed private room.
I also caught up with an old Oxford friend who now lives in Tokyo, and together we went for an excellent fugu dinner. Continuing the stream of food photos, here is the sashimi course.
Finally, I had always regretted that in my two years living in Japan, and in all my visits since, I have never managed to get to the English-language Anglican church in Tokyo, St Alban’s. During my normal business trips, I’m practically never in Tokyo on a Sunday morning, so this seemed like a great opportunity. So off I toddled and it was really wonderful. The clergy and congregation were so friendly and welcoming, and it seemed like half of the attendees were in fact visitors like me. Most astonishingly, I ran into somebody that I follow on Twitter, and that I had half hoped to look up when I was in Tokyo, but did not expect to find there of all places. That was a wonderful happenstance that really made my day.
I should end with a comment about that most English and Japanese topic of conversation, the weather. I must have edited my memory bank, because from the two years that I lived in Japan I have no recollection of the weather ever being quite as unbearably hot and sticky as it was on this trip. Moreover, it is now fashionable in Japan to save electricity by setting the air conditioning to between 26 and 28 degrees centigrade. As I pointed out to my friends, this to me is an external air temperature requiring air conditioning, not a target indoor temperature. As a result, the only place in Tokyo where the ambient temperature was to my liking was my hotel room. Nevertheless, as I was sweltering in rooms with temperatures in the high 20s, not a few Japanese ladies in those same rooms were seeking out their cardigans to ward off the perceived chill. Temperature perception is clearly a relative matter!