This half-week or so I went to Osaka. My Japanese teacher is from Osaka, so so many times she would tell me about how great Osaka is and how the people in Osaka are so nice and how it is a great place to visit. So, when my research advisor invited me to visit his lab at Osaka U (Handai) while the rest of my lab was away at a conference in America, I jumped at the chance. What better pretenses for a visit to Osaka than an interest in “touring a lab.”
Sorry for the lack of updates. I’m missing an update on Hakone and on Sendai, but haven’t had the time to write. I have so many pictures, so when I have the time I will at least go through and put some of them up.
As I mentioned, most of the people above me in the lab went to America for a conference, so, though in reality much of my work is unsupervised, I could use their absence to rationalize leaving the lab for half a week. After getting back from Sendai I was in really bad shape. I was very sick, coughing and feeling like I was about to die. I missed work all Monday, barely crawling away from bed to begin an arduous quest for medical attention in town. There is a whole story there, but to make a long story short I got home with pills. I slept most of Tuesday, too, trying in earnest to recover enough to be able to go to Osaka.
Wednesday morning came, and I did feel well enough. All of my various antibiotics and five other pills, plus the orange juice, sleep, and “eiyou” drink that I had been suggested to take. After printing maps at the office, I lugged my huge bag down to the station and started the cascade of transfers that would finally get me on a shinkansen for Kyoto.
The ride was uneventful excepting the difficulty in carrying my bag. At the Kyoto station, I took another train to a station near Handai. I rode the shinkansen to Kyoto because Handai is so far north that it was faster to just take a normal train from Kyoto station.
Here is a quote from my arrival:
I`ve been here for about two hours. The trip over was uneventful, but very tiring. I think I overpacked, I ought to have brought a little bit of clothes and then just washed those clothes instead of bringing fresh clothes for every day. The bag was too large and cumbersome to haul from place to place. Most of the passsage was simple, but the final bus was a complication, as always. I was afraid that I had gotten on the wrong bus and that it was going the wrong direction, but fortunately I was mistaken and the bus was correct. My knowledge of Chinese characters actually helped out a lot. I am able to rapidly determine pneumonics for remembering certain character streams. Also, I actually knew almost all the characters in the name of my bus stop. Who would have known that my Chinese would help so much in Japan? The Handai campus seems very nice. It is hot as hell: I still got really sweaty, even after taking a shower, from the short walk from I-House to the lab. Here is another traveling lesson: wear traveling clothes, pack your day clothes, and plan enough time to take a shower at the destination. No matter how short the trip is, you’ll be so sweaty and miserable when you get there that the clothes will be soaked. I always imagine that I can save packing room by wearing the clothes for the first day on the trip there. I should stop fooling myself.
One part of the Handai campus I spent three days staying at the International House and going to the Handai lab. I met a bunch of interesting people, especially this Australian fellow who is an applied physics PhD student. I toured labs and talked to some people about their research, like a guy doing tip-enhanced raman spectroscopy and a girl doing biological optical applications, basically poking cells with lasers. I also got to watch the fabrication process for the photopolymerization. It was actually pretty interesting, though I think it confirmed my lack of a real interest in doing this style of lab work.
Some members of the group and I went to a ramen house, this picture is a result of the Australian guy taking the challenge and eating their ultra-spicy ramen in 15 minutes. Now this photo will be posted on the wall.
Here’s another picture of the Australian guy doing his labwork.
The typical izakaya scene on Friday, in my honor, of course.
The visit mostly prompted me to have a lot of critical thought about my future and what research I should do if any. Sadly, I came to no conclusions and I don’t know when I will next seriously evaluate this. I did make some good notes, though. With the lab visit over, I started the second leg of my Osaka trip: hiking Yoshino.
I left the I-House at Handai in the morning at about 10:00. It was sweltering heat, but I decided against the taxi because I didn’t really know how to call one. I walked fifteen minutes with my backpack and too large bag, again regretting that I hadn’t packed lighter. After a nice train ride into the city, I met my Japanese teacher. A little backstory is necessary. In fact, I actually planned my Osaka trip such that I would be in town at the same time as her. You can imagine my delight at being guided around Osaka by an Osaka native.
A lizard greeted me on the sidewalk on my walk over, I couldn’t decide if it was a good sign or bad sign.
My giant bag subdued at last, for the time being.
We took a train to Yoshino, it took about an hour through some beautiful scenery. Yoshino is the most famous area for viewing cherry blossoms in the spring, but it is very beautiful all year round. We planned to hike in the afternoon and view the “lantern festival” in the evening.
The first thing that happened was we missed our bus to the hiking location. It seems that even Japanese people have difficulty with the buses, sometimes, a reassuring realization. Instead we shared a taxi to a bridge, picked up liters of water and gatorade equivalent from a vending machine (at the taxi drivers suggestion), and started out into the sweltering heat. First we explored near the bridge, as there was a beautiful river there. It was near this river that I saw one of the most seemingly fun activities I can imagine. It was sweltering out, we were sweating and we had a whole day of hiking ahead. These locals, though, they knew the best way to deal with weather like that.
What they did was have barbecues on the beach of the river and go swimming. Pictures describe it best.
People down by the river barbecuing.
Some people swimming on the rocks.
There were people like this down a large portion of the river. It looked so fun, and the water would have been a great cool down. I wanted to do it so much that I suggested we just go buy swimsuits and cancel the hiking.
After the river, we started up part of the mountain on our way to the “Upper Thousand Trees” part. We had a nice, leisurely stroll through idyllic mountain roads, occasionally stopping to look at part of the river.
This beautiful insect is more common in Japan than our type of grasshopper, this is what they usually mean when they say grasshopper.
River with small bridge.
More beautiful mountain.
Asking an old women for directions.
After this stroll we ended up at a part that went off of the road, the trail section of the hike began. It was reasonably steep, in some areas there were wooden shelves to step on. It was really beautiful, with a stream in the middle of the two slopes. As we got further up there was a small but very tall waterfall, but it was too obscured to get a good picture of. We also ran into things like shrines, and strained to imagine the dedication of the people who maintain these shrines up in the mountains.
One of the first shrines.
It started to get darker because the woods were so dense. It was kind of creepy. Also, I started to notice strange wildlife. As we walked past, single cicadas, bothered in their roosts, would burst up into the air with a low frequency hum as their giant wings labored to lift them out of the underbrush. Concerned about time, we were walking briskly. However, if I focused on the ground carefully, I could see that all in front of us these little spidery things would cross the path, moving like barely visible tumbleweed. Upon closer inspection, they looked very much like daddy long legs, except with even smaller bodies and longer legs, but also blue highlights. They were very interesting, but difficult to capture in picture. I have some videos to show if you see me.
Dark and kind of creepy, but cool and mystical.
I cropped a photo of the spider, you can see it in the middle. Look at how long the legs are.
As we got higher, we could see more light. Soon their was light streaming from the trees.
Lighter and lighter, a cool effect.
At one point there was a sofa on the road. I don’t know why. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sittable as the birds had mistaken it for a toilet. Finally we broke free of the trees and could see the sky. I walked up this long pathway that was almost completely overgrown with trees and found a still more remote shrine. Then, standing on top of a log to peer over a fence I had the most magnificent view of the valley.
Climbing still higher, we reached a cemetery. This far up in the mountains, a cemetery. I stumbled on to two people visiting their ancestors graves. I wasn’t expecting anyone this far up and remote.
It was at this point that I discovered that, somewhat disappointingly, although it was very difficult for me to climb that high, on the other side of the mountain there were roads and houses that went up almost as high. We took a hiking trail that followed the road on the other side back into town. It was getting dark and we were worried about missing the train to the festival. There was a very beautiful view of the mountains as the sun went down. When the sun was finally down, the mountains and the horizon were all different beautiful shades of blue, almost like a painting. This image I am only able to hold with my mind, it being too dark for photographic equipment.
We ended up missing the train to the festival, instead just taking a train back into Osaka. It was there that I ate okonomiyaki for the first time. It was quite delicious, though my Japanese teacher said that she made it differently with her own special techniques. (Editing Note: Unbeknownst to me at the time, just a few short weeks later I would experience the enjoyment of her homemade okonomiyaki.)
Oishikatta! Finally we went to stay at her parents home, arriving too late to meet anyone. I showered in their amazing bath, which talks and has automatic sauna jets. After this she took me to my accommodations, apologizing for how old the house was. My bed was a traditional futon style, now used mostly just for guests, replaced by western style beds. It is a collapsible futon and a big sheet that goes over it, similar to what I slept in at the youth hostel in Kusatsu. Because it is so simple and comfortable, for a while I actually wanted to implement this back home in America.
Such an old host with old appliances, look at how old this air conditioner is… Ha! Even this old Japanese air conditioner still has five times the controls and automation of a typical American air conditioner.
I slept very well, looking forward to a traditional home-cooked Japanese breakfast in the morning.
This ends the first part of Osaka, the next part will be about a day in Osaka city visiting many sites and especially the Osaka Aquarium. Get excited!
(Editing Note: This post was backdated to August 2006, but was actually posted on April 18th, 2007. The sequel post is in a very rough state and may never be posted in completion.)