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Episode 01: Yappari ne!

02: Don Kihoote >>

this episode slowly and painfully clicked and tapped on the fly with my spiffy Palm Vx

Warning: J3J will use a lot more JIS-coded Japanese text than its predecessor, so this would be an excellent time to set up your mail system to handle these gracefully. If not, you'll get to enjoy 8-bit binary garbage at random intervals, but I'll try to provide translations as well...

"Yappari ne!" grinned SAS's go-between and bowed deep to a frequent-flying businessman at Copenhagen airport. One of those wonderfully ambiguous Japanese words, the basic meaning is "again", but the listener has to determine from the context and tone of voice what, exactly, is "again" and whether this is good, bad, funny or exasperating.

Yappari indeed. The last few days in Finland were an endurance test, I was stretched to the breaking point by the combined stress of packing up, moving out and severing all relationships with everyone I know. A year is a short time to live somewhere, but it's a long time to be away...

But now the leaf is turned. After almost a week of sleep deprivation I freshened up with a ludicrously expensive, if wonderfully relaxing, DKK 295 haircut at the airport -- 15 cm chopped off the ponytail and I feel young again! -- and even managed to sleep a few hours on the surprisingly painless flight to Tokyo. The 18500 FIM (over $3000) AIEJ paid for my ticket wasn't enough for business class, but 10 kg of extra luggage was accepted without comment and I ended up in a business class seat (in the tourist section) anyway: miles of legroom and a fancy footrest-cum-bed to boot. So there I was, slurping soba noodles at 35000 feet and painstakingly decoding the 日本経済新聞 (Nihon Keizai Shimbun)... on the road again!

"お足元にご注意下さい", announced the escalator, and I cracked up. Japan remains the only country I know where the powers that be find it necessary to remind you to condescend to watch your honorable leg-sources (aka feet) on every stretch of a moving walkway, even when there are 5 in a row...

And it's all so familiar now, down to the curious stares and the precise wordings of the signs...! Not to mention the wonders of Janglish: I spotted a gaggle of schoolgirls with identical "Sheep Dip" shopping bags and a porn shop called "The Young Nai Club" (sorry, this one's for Finns only).

It's 8 PM local time as I write this and I feel next to no jet lag, despite having spent the day running around filling forms and shopping. (I now have cornflakes, milk and a bowl, but no spoon. Chopstick practice time... and yeah, I'll switch to rice, raw fish and seaweed as soon as I get a rice cooker and a microwave.)

My spacious kitchen

Not my laboratory

View from my apartment
My apartment greatly surpassed my admittedly low expectations: despite a rent of 7100 yen/month (~$70!), it's slightly bigger than my Finnish room and has not only central heating, but air-con as well! An entirely unexpected and highly welcome luxury in the moist tropical heat of a Tokyo summer. The 50x100cm Kitchen Unit packs an electric range, sink and hotel-bar-size fridge, and the similarly sized Bath Unit is downright roomy thanks to a devious movable sink that can be moved atop the toilet or shower when the other is not in use.

I spent my first day dealing with Japanese government bureaucracy, and my second day dealing with Japanese university bureaucracy. I swear that if I have to fill my name and birth date one more time on a form named something like "外国人登録証明書公付予定期間指定書" (Notification of (New) Designated Period for Delivery of Alien Registration Certificate) I'll scream... but I do have to thank the university management for their enlightened policy of keeping the Gotenshita swimming pool closed during -- and I quote -- "Pubic Holidays".

The University of Tokyo is surprisingly small, with only 30,000 students and less than half of those at the main Hongo campus where my lab is. The Hongo campus is built in a rather odd pseudo-English style, heavy tan bricks with Gothic arches, lots of foliage and (by Japanese standards) wide spaces that would look less out of place in Cambridge than in Tokyo. Unfortunately, Engineering Department Building #8 is a creation of the 60's that adds in a heavy dash of concrete and manages to combine the lack of modern comforts of the old buildings with the remarkably ugly appearance of an Eastern European school that has been sweltering in the tropics for the last 40 years. Up on the 8th floor (and note that the elevator only goes to the 7th) hides Sanpo Sekkei Kenkyuushitsu (算法設計研究室), more colloquially known as the Terada-Ward Lab. While the building may be a bit decrepit, the devices inhabiting its 100 Mbit/s network aren't, with everything from Sun enterprise servers to digital videocameras calling it home. Each computer on the net is named after the stuffed animal sitting atop it, I have yet to decide whether mine (ordered but not yet delivered) will be an anglicized ロブスター (Lobster) or an authentic Japanese 伊勢海老 (Ise-ebi).

It took me only a few hours to fall in love and discard my old favorites by the roadside -- forget the Palm Vx, I want a Toshiba Libretto FF to call my own! A notebook computer the size of a notebook, it's a Real Computer with a QWERTY keyboard and everything, even including a funky built-in rotatable digital camera that can be used to spy on people sitting opposite you in the train. The thing even records full motion video, I hope to be able to abuse this to full effect... and since the camera can be rotated to face its user I could even record a snippet of yours truly sitting on the bed in his underwear, typing J3J and moshing to Ron D. Core's "Medical Mayhem". Could, mind you, only could -- for now, I'll spare you the sight...

Odd as it may seem, Japan's continued deflationary spiral has actually lowered some prices since 1998, I still remembered how to think in yen and was actually surprised by how cheap most things were. This was, of course, until I made the mistake of converting back into non-Japanese units. 70,000 yen is not all that much to carry around in your wallet -- 4200 mk ($700) is. Not that I have to worry about that anymore, as I have 3000 left at the moment after paying for a few months' rent and commuter pass... and I now have yet another bank account, this time at Sanwa Ginkou (三和銀行: Triple-Harmony Silver-Movement), which can be oh-so-usefully be used only at the branch nearest to Todai. And I didn't even opt to get the Snoopy card to complement my Mickey Mouse card from Tokyo-Mitsubishi.

So what will J3J be about this time -- just hashing the same old, same old again, with lots of mind-boggling Janglish and bizarre food items? While I certainly can't guarantee that you'll escape those (hey, it's already too late), I have devised a Master Plan to keep me entertained for a while. Like the Chinese, Japanese people fancy keeping lists of things: there are the 3 Famous Gardens, the 50 Views of Fuji, the 88 Temples of Shikoku and so on. Alas, they're all stuck in the 1800s and overfrequented by tourists, so I've designed an itinerary of my own: J3J is off to explore the 52 Nuclear Reactors of Japan, scattered all over the archipelago, with each main island featuring at least one reactor complex. As you might expect, most of them are tucked away in obscure locations, so my mission is to ferret them out with the Way of the Thumb, quite possibly starting this weekend.

But I think that's enough for this week. I wish you all glowing good health and a radiant weekend!

02: Don Kihoote >>