The time has come! I arrived in Tokyo, Japan on June 13th, and went directly to a hotel near the airport to spend the night. All 106 graduate students in the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) summer program arrived that day as well, representing 6 countries: U.S., Canada, England, France, Germany, and Sweden. For context, all students are supported in-country by JSPS, and receive a stipend from their home country sponsorer. In return, we do a piece of our graduate research here and build relationships with Japanese researchers. I like to think of us as science ambassadors :).
The following day, we all moved to our lodging at SOKENDAI, a graduate student university. Our orientation began with welcome addresses from a variety of different people, including members from each country’s agency, JSPS, and the SOKENDAI President. The first night culminated in a beautiful spread of a buffet, and early to bed for those of us not fully adjusted to the time change. During the time there, we each presented our research in poster form, which provided an opportunity to visually see what each other’s research was all about. The topics ranged from sea anemones, birds, heart attacks, music, to cultural perspectives.
At Sokendai, we had cultural experiences organized for us which gave us the opportunity to observe a tea ceremony and have some of the thick matcha tea, and try our hand at origami, calligraphy, and some games. The last day of orientation we had some masters of traditional music come in and give us all a private demonstration and concert of the koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi. At the end they let us try our hand at them. We visited the big Buddha and large temple in Kamakura, led by our fearless (and oh so sweet) tour guide. She went around and shook each of our hands at the culmination of the tour, and really made the experience excellent.
One of the richest experiences during this time was to do a homestay with a volunteer family in the area. For me, I stayed with Isamu and Hiroko Takahashi, a lovely retired couple who have a beautiful home and gardens in Yokosuka. They accepted me into their home, treating me to fantastic food (sashimi, tempura, yakitori, ramen), and taking me to Tokyo to see the Asakusa Kannon Temple from where we took a boat down the Tokyo River to see the Hamarikyu Gardens. This garden was built during the Edo period and originally used by Shoguns for falconry hunting, and is immaculately kept to this day. While there, we visited a traditional tea house inside the garden and had iced tea as it was ridiculously warm out. Once we made our way back out of the city, we had just enough to time to visit an impressive iris farm, before meeting up with one of Hiroko-san’s friends from her community English class for a rousing good time at dinner. The following rainy day I was shown around a little more and saw the old temples in their town. That evening I was sad to have to say goodbye, but I hope to see them again the next time I visit Japan.
Yesterday I flew from Tokyo (Haneda) to Yushiro in Hokkaido, and have since arrived and settled into the Akkeshi Marine Field Station, just over an hour from the airport. I am looking forward to the coming weeks of doing my research here!