Tokyo life: first impressions

My first week in Tokyo: a whirlwind of new. A new home, a new lab, new people, and new food.  Although there have been moments of feeling overwhelmed and underprepared, looking back on this past week, I think this is going to be a great summer full of scientific productivity intertwined with cultural exploration both in and out of the lab.

in my neighborhood

After successfully navigating the Tokyo subway system with some help from a friend that arrived early, I found my way from the Hongo-sanchome station to the University Museum at the University of Tokyo.   I arrived a little early, so I was shown where my desk was and waited. My desk is in a room with several other desks and is the room where all the postdocs sit.  There is another room where all the grad students in the museum are.  So, anyway about ten minutes later, Dr. Sasaki came to find me.  He was very friendly and welcoming and took me around the museum to meet his students, other professors, and the museum director and everyone seemed happy to meet me.

Later that afternoon he took me to get set up in my apartment, which is a very short walk from the museum and is in a very convenient location for the subway station too.  The room is a perfect size for me, is very clean, and

my room

I even have my own bathroom, hot water heater, and laundry and a full shared kitchen I can use downstairs.  The lady who gave me keys and showed us around was speaking very fast Japanese to my host (not that I could understand if she was speaking slowly), so I was extremely relieved he was there to tell me when I needed to sign things and interpret important things like which buttons to press on the washer.

So after I lugged my baggage from the museum and up the 4 flights of stairs to my room, the next mission of the day was to acquire a cell phone.  There is a SoftBank cell phone store right by the museum, so I started there, but they were sold out of prepaid phones, so then after a long afternoon of walking into convenience stores and 2 other SoftBank stores in the area and being told they didn’t carry prepaid phones or were also sold out. After this long saga of searching for a “purreipeid ketai” I found out all the stores in that area are sold out and I needed to go to Tokyo Station, and that was another adventure!

near Tokyo Station

So I made plans to meet my two girlfriends that are also in Tokyo this summer, Liz and Sarah, for dinner near Tokyo Station and headed there in search of SoftBank. Wow, this train station is ENORMOUS! and has a huge mall with stores and restaurants of every kind, I swear if you came to Tokyo you would never have to leave the train stations if you didn’t want to!  Eventually I found the SoftBank and they even had someone who spoke English, so after waiting a little bit and using the iPads on display to let Sarah and Liz know I would be there awhile I got a phone, success!  Then we had dinner in one of the restaurants in the station after finding eachother (which is a challenge as you can imagine in such a large station) and strolled around the area and partook in the offerings of 7-eleven for dessert and got onigiri for breakfast the next morning.

conbini! I have actually been eating a lot from convenience stores hmmm
onigiri- rice with various goodies inside wrapped in nori

Ok, so that took a lot more to explain the first day than I thought…

Anyway, after that first day of logistics, I got started on learning some snail morphology! I was given samples of two kinds of coiled gastropods and a limpet to dissect and draw their morphology and extract the radulae (snail teeth) for SEM (scanning electron microscopy). SEM is one of the techniques I will be learning here and it is very useful for imaging small structures and/or small specimens like the ones I am studying for my dissertation.  My labmate here, Kozue, is using this technique to study the shall microstructure of  bivalves that live in different climates and so show different patterns in microstructure. She let me watch her work and was very good at explaining the SEM process and what she was looking at in particular.

Besides getting started on some work (which they do from 10am-10pm and on the weekends too!) I was introduced to the museum

near my neighborhood, on the search for a phone

community by going to the museum seminar, the equivalent of what we call “fossil coffee” at Berkeley. Their seminar os at 5pm on Wednesdays and I met some more of the professors and several students, many that also study molluscs.  Two students gave talks and both were in Japanese, so I got what I could from the pictures and just asked them about their research afterwards at dinner in the campus “cafeteria.”  I put cafeteria in quotes because I don’t really know what to call it, I’ll explain: You go in and the “menu” is a case with food models and numbered labels, once you’ve decided what looks good, you go over to a ticket machine and pay for the numbered meal you want.  You then take your ticket to the appropriate counter for the meal you picked, get your food and sit down. The food is great and very cheap, no wonder Dr. Sasaki said he eats here for almost every lunch and dinner!

So, usually they just have seminar on Wednesdays, but since I had arrived and another student was going to a conference in Spain, they decided we should give talks on Friday. The other student, Kantaro Izumi, talked first on some very interesting research on Jurassic ocean anoxia events. Then, I gave a talk I gave at a conference in London earlier this year and updated it a little bit.  I got some great feedback and questions and discussion from the faculty and students, I am definitely lucky to be part of this community for the summer and also have a chance to build long lasting ties with the people here. Afterwards they had a welcome party for me at an izakaya, where they ordered lots of different small dishes which were all delicious, we drank beer and Awamori (a drink that is a stronger sake-like drink they make in Okinawa) and had a great time getting to know each other.

Looks like it’s going to be a great and very productive summer in Japan, just hope I can survive the long hours!

PS. sorry for the lack of photos with people in them and lack of lab photos, I am going to try and take more of these in the future!

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