Tuesday, March 4, 2014

EchinoTravelog: Pt. 2 Living In Japan for SCIENCE! (and Happy Pancake Day)

Konichiwa! Echinoblog is in Tsukuba, Japan (outside of Tokyo) visiting the National Museum of Nature and Science studying the deep-sea starfishes of Japan! How many new species await?

After arriving last week, I've finally gotten settled into my temporary home away from home!

I've gotten the impression from some folks who believe/perceive that scientists who travel abroad (or anywhere really..) are somehow living in the lap of luxury. I've lived across the board when traveling on the "science dime" and at least, for folks like me, fine dining and luxury hotel rooms are for a different class o' people...

so here is a little bit on Japan but also some insight on how I live when I travel. I am not atypical for the kind of science that I do...

1. Living the Scientist's Travel Life. 
By now, I'm kind of a seasoned scientist. I've got a PhD, I'm older and less inclined to sleep on people's floors.  Plus, when I travel, my status as a professional (and my personal preference) leads me to a proper room with a bed and so forth.

But when I was a grad student/younger post-doc I "paid my dues" and ran the gamut:  I shared cheap hotel rooms with two or three others (sometimes I knew them), lived at the YMCA in the bad part of town, slept in Greyhounds, and lived my share of research visits in roach-infested rooms without air-conditioning in the middle of the summer and slept in fishing vessel sleeping quarters with a smell that never goes away....

So, its nice to get a simple, clean dorm room like this one. My thanks to the NMNS for having decent (and affordable) dorms for their visiting researchers! Yes. There's even a washing/drying machine in there! Fancy! (and for those concerned about expense, this room was supported by the NMNS, no US tax dollars are at play...)
Here's one of my rooms when I lived in Paris. Also nice. A bed. A window. Some closet space. Its nice to have a conveniently placed bathroom with toilet AND shower! (not always the case!)
And just for the big compare-my quarters aboard the R/V Laurence M. Gould. Clean, cozy and dry. Given how busy you are on a ship, you're lucky to be in them...
Back to Japan...
Tokyo's living arrangements come with a slightly different set of cultural norms than what we encounter in western societies.

For example, one leaves ones shoes at the door outside the main residence...This typically involves trading out for a pair of slippers, but as an American my feet are pretty big, so I end up walking around with socks!
Slippers are special to special rooms! Here in the restroom, you actually have a pair of special slippers JUST for using in the "water closet" (or W.C.) /toilet room.
These are toilet slippers. For use ONLY in/around the toilet. Its actually considered an awkward faux pas to be wearing these outside of their designated area. 
My room is pretty normal. Nothing fancy. But in the main museum building (and in many restaurants and professional places) you get the famous Japanese electric toilet!
Yes. Everything you've heard about! The seat is heated.  The control panel has standard buttons that basically launch a stream of water out of the bowl to uh... rinse down all of those troublesome bowl-side trouble areas! Low stream! High Stream!   Yes. That means your toilet not only has a control panel, but an electric plug into the wall. WOO!  

Sadly, Echinoblog is not brave enough to try the bidet function on the toilet, so data on that sensation will have to wait!
2. FOOD!! 
So, yes. There is delicious and distinctive cuisine in Japan.. the gyoza ("pot stickers" if you are familiar with the Chinese version) are delicious (and one of my favorite foods)
RAMEN in Japan is simply amazing. This bowl of tonkatsu (pork ramen) was worth every agonizing minute of my 18 hour flight...
But truth be told, the thing that is the MOST curious and interesting is the unusual array of food at your local 7-11!  Yes. On many days, I shop and eat here. Budgets being what they are...

7-11 in Japan is an amazing place that is barely recognizable as the same sort of shop! FRESH food every day. Clean! They leave the booze out in the open! Courteous clerks! Clean stores! Items arranged neatly and with proper rotation! No year old hot dogs! 

Some of the cool candy and foods to be found there? GREEN TEA KIT KAT! (no chocolate Kit Kat to be seen!)

But what's more amazing? These fresh Pancake things that are already FILLED WITH MAPLE-SYRUP like stuff!! (Happy Pancake Day!)

And you know what ELSE you can buy at 7-11??  Little books on DEEP-SEA BIOLOGY!!

And finally... someone at the Museum treated me to this neat, little thing: A Shrimp chip WITH AN ACTUAL SHRIMP!!

Yeah, there wasn't much biology this week. But those pancake things are neat aren't they? 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just discovered this blog and am enjoying reading your posts. I'm a marine invert paleontologist, and it's great to learn more about living counterparts of the animals I study. Looking forward to reading more about your Japan trip!