Dec. 12th, 2014

Japan!

Dec. 12th, 2014 01:29 pm
Stephanie and I just got back from Japan a few days ago.  The last time I was in Japan was when I went to visit Stephanie while she was living there 7 years ago, so its been a while.  She was going to the JAXA campus in Sagamihara to present her research on the importance of strength in determining melt and vaporization during impacts of small bodies like asteroids.  I went because it was fun, but also got a chance to meet with some space policy people there.

We left on December 1st, and arrived on December 2nd.  We flew from Boston to DC, and then from there directly to Narita airport.  Now that is a long flight!  In addition, Narita airport is pretty far on the east end of Tokyo, and Sagamihara is pretty far on the west end of Tokyo.  After our nearly 16 hour flight, we had to spend another 2 hours riding the train to get there.  So our first day was pretty much get to hotel then sleep.

Day two was a Ghibli day (one could easily describe the free time portions of our trip as a studio Ghibli pilgrimage).  We went to Sakuragaoka, which is the area that Whisper of the Heart is supposed to take place in.  We got there and just started to walk around, seeing if we could maybe find something that looks familiar from the movie.  We went up a road climbing a large hill, and found some stairs that seemed familiar so we went up those.  After a while of not finding anything, though, we decided to head back to the station.  On our way we saw a woman walking out of a shrine we hadn't noticed on our way up.  So we went to take pictures and when we went back to the stairs to head down, we found a map on the ground.  Now, we were just hoping that it would be a simplified map of the area so that we could manage our search for movie sites better.  But lo and behold, it was a map of the movie sites themselves, complete with stamping stations!  It turns out we were on the right track.  The hill we were climbing was, indeed, the hill from the movie.  So we went back up, found the where the import shop from the movie was supposed to be.  Instead there was a bakery run by a little old couple.  But they had decorations and were playing music from the movie, and the little old lady who was working the register was very excited, and talked to Stephanie about where we were from and why we liked Whisper of the Heart (didn't talk to me because I don't speak Japanese and Steph does).  Then we went to other stamping stations (one of which we passed right by without noticing at the station) and went back to the hotel.

The next two days was the conference for Stephanie.  I stayed in the hotel on December 4th and graded my student's final papers (yuk!).  But I did meet Stephanie at the JAXA campus for a dinner and talked to one of her colleagues from Tokyo University about space policy.  The next day, December 5th, was another day at the conference for Stephanie, but that day, I had a meeting with Professor Aoki at Keio University in Tokyo.  So I took the train, and we talked for an hour about space policy and space law.  She does a lot of work on deweaponization and demilitarization of space, which I find very interesting.  She is also one of the few legal scholars I have found that is explicit about the normative aspects of her work, which I really appreciate.  Today was also Stephanie's birthday, so on the way home I bought her a very tasty Japanese birthday cake at the station.

On December 6th, since the conference was over, we moved to a hotel closer to the center of Tokyo in Kanda.  We dropped our bags off at the hotel, then we went to meet with one of Stephanie's friends who is a graduate student at the University of Tokyo.  We met up in Ueno, and went out to Oyakodon for lunch.  After lunch she showed us around her campus, and we walked through Ueno park.  Then we took the train over to Harajuku for tasty, tasty crepes!  After this we were thoroughly exhausted, so we went to a coffee shop where we just chatted for a while.  After our rest, we walked around in Yoyogi park watched the sunset and talked until it got dark.  Stephanie got to practice a lot of conversational Japanese with her friend, which is very good.  She has been taking classes and knows a lot more Japanese than she did when she lived in Japan, but it isn't quite the same without being able to practice.  After that, we parted ways, and Stephanie and I went back to our hotel for a bit.  Today was a very social day, because at 7pm, we had dinner plans with another one of Stephanie's Japanese friends.  This friend works for a space systems company, and studied space policy.  We had a traditional winter meal, the name of which escapes me now, and talked for a while about Japanese space policy, which was quite fun!  Her and Stephanie also did a lot of catching up.

December 7th, our last full day, was another Ghibli day!  Today was our trip to the Ghibli museum.  We had to go west again, to Mitaka.  The museum is in this beautiful, overgrown building, with architecture that makes it look like it sprang from a child's imagination.  Inside, it was like the whole building was designed for children.  There were spaces that adults couldn't easily fit into, and tons of cool, interactive displays about how animation is made and how it works.  They also play a short film, which changes over time.  They never release any of these films, and when they stop showing it at the museum, they stop showing it for good.  It was also one of the least paternalistic museum visits I've experienced.  There were staff around watching the guests, but they never seemed to scold anyone, but rather encouraged them to touch and interact with the displays.  There was also a roof garden modeled after Laputa:  Castle in the Sky.  Interestingly, they don't allow photography in the museum.  I was initially disappointed, as it was so cool, I wanted to be able to share it with everyone.  But in the end I was glad I didn't take any pictures, because it helped me to focus on what a cool experience I was having.  At the end of our visit, we went to the gift shop for some souvenirs, and then had some green tea ice cream.  We decided that we needed to get more souvenirs for friends and family, so we went to Akihabara for the evening.  This mostly consisted of us walking around shops and in arcades.  But the buildings were so huge, and there were so many lights that it almost looked like daytime.  We had dinner at Yoshinoya then went back to the hotel.

December 8th was our last day.  We started out by going to Tokyo station to buy Tokyo Banana (yum!).  Then we did some shopping at the station.  After we finished, we still had some time before we had to leave for our flight, so we decided to go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.  We went up to the observation tower (there are two, but they open only one per day, trading off which one is open every other day) on the 45th floor.  We had cake at the cafe up there, and enjoyed the views.  But soon, it was time to take the hour and twenty minute long train ride back to Narita and a long flight home.  One last funny observation, our flight out of Narita left at about 4:20pm Tokyo time.  Our flight out of DC boarded at about 4:20pm Eastern time.  Time zones are weird.

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