Summer in Japan (Tentaibutsurigaku): First Impressions

To make a long story short, I’ll be spending almost the entire summer in Japan (minus a short trip to China) to do astronomy research! I’ll be working out of Kashiwa, a “suburb” of Tokyo (with 450,000 people), and’ll be doing stuff related to galaxy formation and evolution at high redshifts. I’m pretty excited to get a chance to immerse myself in Japanese culture, really get down to learning the language (hopefully), and of course continue blogging and watching anime! It’s a great chance to combine both my interests, and I’m looking forward to a wonderful summer. Plus many pilgrimages to Akihabara!

I managed to bring quite a bit of reading along with me as well.

I managed to bring quite a bit of reading along with me as well.

My goal in posting about my time here is twofold. First, since I have an ego, I’d like to think that all you guys would enjoy hearing about my exploits. I always enjoy sharing my own stories and hearing those of others, both personally (since I find people interesting) and academically (since it helps give me perspective on where they’re coming from when they make arguments). Second, I hope to essentially drive home the point that our second-hand knowledge of Japanese culture — gleaned through anime and the like — is actually not too far off. Anime on its own is pretty skewed, but once we know where, how, and why it is skewed (and hopefully supplement it with other sources, e.g. blogs, news, etc.) we can go backwards and get something that’s actually quite a decent “first pass” sort of thing. I know I’ve actually been surprised with how much stuff I actually seemed to have advanced knowledge of. I’d say that it feels pretty similar to when you suddenly realize that you don’t find anything odd about characters in anime going to New Year’s Eve events or cultural festivals and the like. It’s a little bit bizarre. Anyways, this also ties into my argument about why I’m uncomfortable with extrapolating culture from specific media (as Napier does in From Impressionism to Anime), since clearly you can do an “okay” job going from anime to Japanese culture but trying to really get a lot out of it (as many literature scholars do) is pretty difficult without prior knowledge (AKA cheating).

Anyways, this means that I’ll pretty much be posting stuff that’s hopefully decently relevant to you guys while not attempting to draw wide-sweeping cultural connections but rather personal reflection. You can read about what it’s like to live in/near Tokyo in many places, as well as Japan in general. And from people who have more experience and are better bloggers, no less! So I’m not going to pretend I can really contribute much to that. However, I think some short, personal anecdotes and attempting to connect things in some way to anime or something not too far removed should be good enough to keep these interesting! As for the name, “Summer in Japan” is pretty self-explanatory, and I couldn’t really come up with another one. “Tentaibutsurigaku” on the other hand is Japanese for “astrophysics”.

With that said, what have I done so far? Not too much, since I got in only two days ago. I flew in from San Fran after a flight earlier that day (and no sleep the night before, thanks to some Magic tournaments).

While waiting for my connection in San Francisco I actually watched some Space Bros and thought it was oddly fitting.

While waiting for my connection in San Francisco I actually watched some Space Bros and thought it was oddly fitting.

Arriving in Japan was pretty uneventful. I didn’t manage to sleep much during the flight, since the guy next to me really slumped over into my chair while he was dozing. I got a decent amount of reading done though, getting through Ian Condry’s The Soul of Anime as well as a couple astronomy papers. I also watched a movie and managed to catch around 3 hours of sleep in short snatches.

Some "light" reading on the plane.

Some “light” reading on the plane.

Afterwards I met up with my adviser/mentor over the summer, who helped me grab a スイカ (SUICA), which are like the coolest/weirdest things. They function like a public transportation card crossed with a credit card, and can pay for everything from subway/train fares to vending machines to magazines. I even used it to pay for lunch today!

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This vending machine, for example, takes スイカ. Also, the vending machines really are as crazy as you’ve heard. They’re ridiculous and I’m in love with them already.

One thing I thought was an interesting connection was anime was trash. Now that can be taken the wrong way, but I mean literally trash. Like, this sort of thing happens all the time in random shows based in school or standard slice-of-life where the MC takes out trash to the furnace or whatnot, and it turns out taking out the trash to do the combustibles is actually pretty intense.

Here's my trash sorting directions. According to my mentor, it seems if you don't follow these pretty closely, the people who do the garbage collection will essentially force you to resort it before they accept it.

Here’s my trash sorting directions. According to my mentor, it seems if you don’t follow these pretty closely, the people who do the garbage collection will essentially force you to resort it before they accept it.

Actually, another thing you don’t really realize is just how prevalent school uniforms actually are. I mean, anime definitely gives the impression that they are pretty common, and you might understand this conceptually, but when I was exploring downtown Kashiwa they were everywhere. It was kind of ridiculous and definitely a mild culture shock. Also, they were in  pretty similar styles to what we see in anime, which is kind of cool!

I find the fact that uniforms are as important as men's fashion to be pretty great.

I find the fact that uniforms are as important as men’s fashion to be pretty great.

While downtown (in Kashiwa) yesterday, I also managed to stop by some sort of anime arcade, which had a bunch of pretty great stuff. Image dump below.

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So that’s pretty exciting. I definitely was really excited at all this stuff, and might have to come back at some point to try my hand at the games. I wouldn’t mind trying to win that Homura figure or a Nyanko-sensei plushie!

I also stumbled across an advertisement for AKB48. I felt pretty accomplished for knowing who they were, and the adorabe picture was pretty cool!

This was the sign in front of a fancy pachinko parlor. I kept looking for the yakuza guy who supposedly lurks around these types of places, but alas I couldn't find him.

This was the sign in front of a fancy pachinko parlor. I kept looking for the yakuza guy who supposedly lurks around these types of places, but alas I couldn’t find him.

After all this, my mentor and I went out to eat at a Hawaiian-themed restaurant and I got a chance to sample Japanese attempts at America cuisine. Or I should say my mentor did, since I just ordered a parfait and pancake (and almost tempted him to join me!).

My parfait had a sparkler in it!!!

My parfait had a sparkler in it!!!

Can't imagine a better dinner for my second night here ;)

Can’t imagine a better dinner for my second night here ;)

Regardless of how filling that was, it looked damn good and tasted amazing. I also visited an Animate store, which was incredible! As I’ll be making a trip to Akihabara this weekend with a couple friends though, I’ll hold off on posting picks and raving until I get some sort of context.

Anyways, tonight I was down in Ginza to meet up with a friend and his family who are on vacation in Japan and had some shabu shabu. It was a lot of fun, with good conversation and great food.

A nighttime view of a portion of the Ginza district.

A nighttime view of a portion of the Ginza district.

It’s been a busy first couple days, and I’m hoping things’ll settle down soon, since I’m itching to go through all those books and really get a chance to try and practice/improve my Japanese. Hopefully I’ll have more pictures and more stuff to say in the coming weeks about living here in Japan and what I’m up to.

Hope everyone is having a great summer! If you have any questions/comments, I would love to hear them! I’d also be interested in hearing what everyone else is doing this summer, if anyone’s comfortable sharing. Also, apologies if this seems a bit messy – writing stuff up past midnight while still jet-lagged tends to do that sometimes…

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9 responses to “Summer in Japan (Tentaibutsurigaku): First Impressions

    • Awesome! And by looking forward to, you mean your own travels to Japan, or these posts? If it’s the former, that’s awesome; if it’s the latter, I’m glad to know there’s an audience, and hopefully my travels can keep you entertained ;).

      • Hah, I wish it was the former…
        Nah, I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences, as I love getting information about Japan, especially since it’s from a blogger I was already following. Makes me want to go there even more, though…:P

  1. As someone who wants to visit Japan someday, I’m really looking forward to your posts. So please keep us updated! Also, enjoy your stay :)

    Anyway, it’s the start of a new semester for me so I’ll be spending my summer at school. Awwww.

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