February 2007


SciFi channel started a new show in January 2007 called The Dresden Files, about a wizard PI in modern day Chicago. This is based on a series of books by Jim Butcher. I don’t know who got me into these books. I remember picking up a copy of the third book Grave Peril when visiting someone and having nothing to read. Despite being the third book in the series and only having time to read a chapter or so I was really impressed so I’ve been buying them since. (more…)

As part of my research in both terrorism issues and Japanese social attitudes, I’m reading “Underground” by Haruki Murakami. He’s a well-regarded Japanese novelist. Underground isn’t a novel, it’s a piece of “witness literature” – edited accounts of the attack from survivors. I’m about a quarter of the way through and it’s getting quite chilling. The account I just read talks about Ochanomizu and Yotsuya stations. When I travel to the Kanda campus of Meiji University I get the Odakyu line to Shinjuku then take the Chuo (Rapid) line past Yotsuya station and get off at Ochanomizu. I’m no more worried by this than the fact that I travel through some of the 7/7 bomb sites when I visit London, but it does make the accounts more immediate for me.

Last year when I was applying for my visa to come to Japan there was a bit of a panic at one point in that I’d sent a bunch of original documents through by airmail (OK, I should have had them couriered) and they hadn’t arrived two weeks later. After couriering a smaller packet of hopefully sufficient replacements – I didn’t have originals of some of the same ones since i only had a single copy) later that day I got word from Japan that the original airmail stuff had arrived, taking 16 days in total.

I recently found that amazon.co.jp have an English language site, so I’m using that to order books I want while I’m here. They processed the first order today and sent it out. The shipping details show:

Items shipped on 2007/2/15:
Delivery estimate: 2007/2/16 – 2007/3/12

Now that’s impressive, giving almost four weeks for possible delivery!

Near to Shinjuku Station, which I’ve mentioned before, is the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. This was originally a garden for the royal family but is now a national park. It includes both Japanese and European style garden/park areas as well as a greenhouse with exotic plants.As usual, there’s a bunch of photographs. I spent about two hours wandering around this tranquil area near the centre of Tokyo. We’ve had some rain the last couple of days. Not enough to be annoying but enough to clear the air somewhat and it was a bright but cool day. I’m not sure if the blossom on the trees is expected to be appearing this early or if it’s a result of the very mild winter, but a number of the trees had already started to bloom. Tree blossom seems to be a big thing in Japan and there were lots of people photographing the blooms. So many, in fact, that it was awkward to get a decent shot of some of the trees in bloom without it being full of photographers and cameras, many with high resolution zoom lenses on them. Still, I did get a couple of nice shots, myself.

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I finally got around to visiting the Edo Tokyo Museum. Pictures of my visit are available.

This is well worth planning a visit to if you come to Tokyo. It covers the  development of Tokyo from its original small fishing village, through the Edo period when it was the headquarters of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and then through its renaming as Tokyo and on into a modern metropolis with occupation and modern technology. It’s a well put together museum that doesn’t overwhelm with too many things. The guide book recommends allowing two hours for a visit. It’s possible to see the whole of the permanent exhibition in that time. There is other space for temporary exhibitions. Unlike museums such as the Victoria and Albert in London, one can review the whole museum in one go and not become burned out. A defined route through the two floors is fairly obvious and  includes a large seating area for a rest about half way through, under the shadow of the spectacular recreation of the Float of the Kanda Myoujin Shrine. There are a number of incredibly detailed 1/30th scale models of street scenes and major buildings from the early period, along with a substantial number of Shogunate artifacts, including of course swords and armour, but also including clothing, children’s toys and many documents. (more…)

The Senior Common Room at the University of Reading sent out an email advertising two events coming up:

  • Therapeutic Massage: explanation and demonstration
  • Organ recital

I think because the first of these put me in mind of bodily function, the second produce the image of a surgeon performing a public autopsy as used to happen in the Victorian Era:

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Kidneys

I bought one of the electronic dictionaries that so many English-speaking Japanese use. (For those interested, the one I bought is the Canon Wordtank V90.) While very useful for many of its features, which include animated stroke order of kanji and handwriting recognition of characters, it’s not as useful to me as to a native Japanese speaker since it’s English-Japanese dictionary has the explanations of English and Japanese words in Japanese, and in full kanji-mode at that. As my Japanese improves (and particularly as my knowledge of kanji gets broader) it will become more useful.

Today I was looking something up and got the “neighbouring word” distraction. The Japanese word “kakuka” was listed with English meanings of “drupe” and “stone fruit”. I’d never come across the word “drupe” before and it wasn’t in the English-English dictionary in the V90. Wikipedia to the rescue, though, and it turns out just to be a technical biology term for a fruit with a stone-like seed at the centre.

I was really glad today that my host, Murata-sensei, had mentioned to me when they provided my visiting professor’s ID tag that I would need it in February. They’ve just finished this year’s exams for current students and have started the entrance examinations for prospective students to enter in April. Japan’s academic year is very different to that of the West.

Japanese schoolchildren who are expected to go to University will typically start extra evening (and weekend) classes to prepare for University entrance exams at around nine or 10. Although things may well be changing due to the over-a-decade-long recession, it is still that case that many aspire to a lifelong job with one of the major companies. The way to get one of these jobs is to graduate from one of the top universities. The way to get into the top universities is to do well in their entrance exam. Since many of the others you’ll be competing against for those places will take extra classes for eight or nine years, you have to do so. Unfortunately, after the effort of getting in, many of the students will coast through their degrees and come out the other side with a reasonable pass (some of the academic writing I’ve seen really shows the frustration of the staff at this attitude and the system that allows it to continue by not placing any significant stress on the students to learn). Once they’ve gained their degrees and their places in the companies, promotion is mostly on a strict seniority basis. Hence the lack of movement between companies.

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I will be presenting a paper at EthiComp 2007 in March. This will be hosted by Meiji University in Tokyo, which will be very convenient for me. My paper, on the need for proper regulation of CCTV in the UK, was covered by online newspaper The Register today.