Sunday, June 24, 2007

Life in Tsukuba

Gentle reader,

I am now safely established in my host institution. That would be the research branch of the National Museum of Science and Nature (formerly The National Science Museum or TNS) located in Tsukuba, science city. My host researcher is exceedingly nice, as are most Japanese. He met me at the central train station in Tokyo so that I wouldn't have to try navigating the cavernous expanses of that building. And it is a seriously huge building. It apparently services about 740,000 people a day. Think about that, almost a million people passing through its doors every day. I have more stories about trains in Tokyo, but that will have to wait for another post....

So my room is nice, but pretty small. It has all of the accoutrements one could require: sink, hotplate, microwave, washer/dryer, TV and I even fit on the bed. It doesn't get much sun, and the alarm clock doesn't work, so it is entirely too easy to oversleep. But there is a nice wooded area that my little porch opens out onto, so that is nice.

Here in Tsukuba the dominant industry is, well... science, as the name would imply. There are two major universities, and more research institutions than I could name, some of which other EAPSI fellows are working at, so we have a support group here. I wouldn't say that a support group is needed, but there are definitely some differences between life here and life in the states. There is of course, the language. Although I had an intensive three day training during the orientation, that basically only equips you with enough Japanese to be dangerous. I can ask for directions, but not interpret the results. There is also the issue of footware. They really do take the removal of shoes upon entering a building seriously here. Here is what I do when I leave my room in the morning to go to work: put on the house slippers (which couldn't fit if they had to, way too small!). I walk to the lobby of the building I stay in, put on street shoes, walk across the parking lot to where the lab is, enter the building, put on another pair of slippers (I went out and bought a pair that fits) and then go to the lab. If I need to go to the bathroom, there is a separate pair of slippers for that. If I need to use the clean room (where we deal with materials that need to be kept sterile) there is a separate pair of slippers for that. I probably change footware 15 times a day. No fooling. If I forget something in the room, I do it all again. There is the temptation to just fore go all of this when no one is looking, but when in Rome....

Tsukuba itself is actually kind of dull. So much so that they built an express train line just to haul get people out of here fast and into Tokyo where there is more to do than one human life could ever hope to contain. But the people I am around daily are great and it makes for a nice work environment. Coupled with the lack of other distractions, I should be able to get a lot done. Especially when you consider that the total holdings for Cordyceps and its close relatives number well above seven hundred. I will never get through all of them, but I have made a hit list of the important ones for me.

And that is pretty much it for Tsukuba. There is a mountain (well, a really big hill) nearby that is great for hiking. We went collecting there over the weekend, but that will be another post as well. I know, the suspense is killing you!!!!

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