Sunday, June 15, 2008

Weekend 4: Tokyo & Tsuchiura

Week three / weekend four has come and gone. It’s amazing how fast the summer is whizzing by. Lab-life was a little slower this week, conducting two-synthesis in parallel for the first time, which is fun but confusing. And I have a presentation this coming Wednesday which I need to prepare for; I really don’t think I have anything novel to say, but I guess it’ll help my presentation ability and the labs English listing ability.

Went to Tokyo again this Saturday with two of my fellow NNIN program mates (Arrive Akihabara; metro to Shinjuku; walk to Shibuya; metro to Odaiba; metro to Akihabara). We departed Tsukuba on the express at around 11am and managed to make the second to last train back. Funny story though, after good times at a Japanese bar in Akihabara (conveniently located in the basement of a rather sketchy building a few blocks from the station), we come to discover just how bad alcohol can make bladder control. We had to get off the TX at after a few stops for a bathroom brake. Knowing that the TX we would be getting on at station 5 was the last, we threatened his bladder into submission and made the rest of the trip ex-potty breaks. That said, the moral of the story is that the TX should run until 02:00 instead of 23:30.

Sunday was biking around Tsukuba. We took a really nice scenic route to Tsuchiura, the next town over from Tsukuba. We poked around the city, and visited this windmill water pumping facility on the edge of Lake Kasumigaura, the second largest lake in Japan. Good times overall, but unfortunately I’m the slowest of the bunch. The rest of the guys had to keep waiting for me to catch up. I’m honestly quite surprised that they didn’t just ditch me.

Overall I’m not finding Japanese culture in and around Tsukuba/Tokyo too much outside of the realm of my US experience. I am surprised by how quickly areas evolve to and from rural as one travels – one minute you’re in rice paddies, pass a bridge and you’re at the JR station is Tsuchiura, another bridge and you’re on a pristine lakefront. But other than that relatively trivial feature, life here is about the same as else where – people eating, sleeping, popping and making babies (or not) while simultaneously trying to find a place for themselves and there respective cultures/societies in a steadily more confuzzling world.

Beyond science or adventure, being here is making me challenge my many assumptions about the world, mainly US hegemony and superiority. On a more philosophical note, my experiences here seem to be pushing me more towards support of relativism and an axiomatic approach to worldview.Fundamentally, I have yet to see any large-scale divergence in the axioms of a Japanese “worldview” versus my particular US blend, only very slight, almost imperceptible gradations in derivation and subsequent outcome. I attribute this to my own naivety, lack of faculty with the Japanese language and western upbringing more than anything. To deliberately look for differences in culture is, I think, a distinctly western phenomena; one that I am not proud of, but can nevertheless not cease in doing. I feel as though I am a captive of my own upbringing, language and culture, effectively blinded to facets of life that cannot be definitively compared to western life.

While sitting for a coffee break right off the main intersection in Shibuya, on the second floor sitting area overlooking the pedestrian street below I couldn’t help but wonder how the other half live. There was a group of five advertising girls (for lack of a better word) outside of an electronics store directly across the street – holding up signs advertising a Nintendo DS sale, shouting into the stream of people entering Shibuya Crossing or passing out advertising tissues to the occasional passerbyers that would accept (I noted about 1/5 accepted the tissues if directly solicited; 1/2000 entered the store). Where do the live? Who do they love? What’s there story? How do they possibly make enough money doing this to survive in Tokyo? I’m 3m up and 10m away, yet we are utterly disconnected. I no more important to them than the next gringo John; and they no more important than a passing attraction, eye candy (3 out of 5 were decently attractive) to dull the ache in my feet (walking for several hours straight does have that tendency).

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