Leaving Tokyo: vegetables, electronics, kimono

May 24, 2012

My last night in Tokyo I wound up at dinner with Yuka, Yuki, Yumi, and Salvador (spot the outlier) at my favorite restaurant that Yuki found: 野菜の王様, King of Vegetables, in Hibiya.  We’d visited the other location in January, and I was so excited to see vegetables that we went again.

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Kappabashi, Kitchen Town (合羽橋)

May 24, 2012

 

My last day in Tokyo dawned hot and dry.  I thanked my generous host Hitomi profusely and headed out for some errands.  I stashed my bags in a coin locker at a central station and headed out for Kappabashi, known as “Kitchen Town” for its profusion of shops for restaurants and kitchens.  I was on a mission for my friend Andy to find him a knife.

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Matsushima: pine-covered islands

May 23, 2012

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Daruma omikuji

I’d spent last spring reading news reports and watching footage of 東日本大震災 (“the big earthquake disaster of Eastern Japan”), especially of the tsunami that traveled six miles inland in areas near the city of Sendai.  Curious to see what had happened in the last 14 months since the earthquake, I boarded a Shinkansen for the relatively short ride up to the Tōhoku region, 東北, “east north”.  My friend Dan-chan, our guide on the Fuji-san climb, recommended visiting Matsushima, 松島, the pine-covered islands near Sendai.

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National Optical Astronomy Observatory of Japan

May 22, 2012

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Just a few kilometers down the road from JAXA where I’d spent the summer of 2011 was 天文台通り, “heaven language hill avenue”.  By some combination of my lack of kanji comprehension and the supreme focus of my colleagues, no one put one and one together and so during my first seven weeks in Japan I managed to be unaware of the proximity of the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan.  I fortunately sat next to Ito-san at the ACM banquet, and he offered to give me a tour of the facilities.  I went back to see my old lab at JAXA, talked about the high quality of rice from Niigata, and was picked up by Ito-san in the midst of a rainstorm to visit NAOJ’s campus.

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The Great Honshu Circumnavigation

May 21, 2012

When I looked at a map of Japan to find Niigata, I noticed that a train line ran all the way from the coastal city hosting our conference to Kyōto, the tracks flirting with the shores of the Sea of Japan (日本海, “Japan Sea”).  I’d been encouraged to visit Kyōto, and as this was my third trip to Japan without yet visiting the ancient capital, I figured now was the time to go.  With a week-long JR rail pass, I decided to take the trains from Niigata to Kyōto, rather than pass back through Tōkyō and down to Kyōto, a route I’d taken eight times in the last ten months.

After the eclipse, I boarded a local train in Niigata.  Past flooded rice fields, mountains flecked with snow, and a placid coastline, the trains rumbled and sped, me as practically the only passenger in most cars as we passed the tail end of springtime on Honshū (本州, “main province”), the main island of Japan.

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Annular Solar Eclipse (金環日食) 2012

May 21, 2012

The moon passed in front of the sun right at the end of Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors.  The forecast was for a perfect annular eclipse as seen from Tōkyō, but the weather forecast for the eastern capital was far from clear.  We elected to spend the night of the 19th in Niigata, and the next morning, Cristina and I set out early to watch the sunrise and hand out glasses to passersby to watch the moon pass in front of our sun.

The kanji for this astronomical event–金環日食–translate quite literally as “a golden ring making a meal of the sun”.  The geometry of our solar system sees our moon dieting on our stellar neighbor.

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Wisteria of the Northern Culture Museum

May 18, 2012

Asteroids, Comets, Meteors in Baltimore in 2008 had a cultural “excursion” to a baseball game; ACM 2012 had one to a well-preserved mansion near Niigata known as the Northern Culture Museum.  Preserved through a partnership with an American donor, this expansive manor and its grounds showcase life in the late 19th century in north-western Japan.

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