Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hot, hot, hot July

July was a much more interesting month for me in comparison to June. In June there is a lot of work to be done(not that July will be easy) but since summer vacation starts at the end of the month, there are more fun activities going on.

To break it down, at the beginning of the month, I had my first scientific conference here in Japan. It was just a double poster-session, so besides creating a poster, it was not difficult. The conference was held in the city of Kitakyushu, which is famous for several things like the manga artist Leiji Matsumoto, Kokura Castle, and more infamously having a large yakuza population. I was unable to experience the latter two, but that may or may not be a good thing.

From my lab only two members and two teachers attended, so it was a rather short day-trip. My only complaint is that we had to leave really early in the morning, and we arrived too early for the conference (maybe this is not bad as as I make it out to be, but the fire alarm in my building went off the night before at 2 a.m. and I couldn't sleep after that so I was TIRED). However, I appreciate being prompt, especially when you take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Fukuoka to Kitakyushu, it only takes about 30 minutes! That may be hard for you to tell how quick it is, but it is normally a 2-hour drive to get to Kitakyushu if there is no traffic problems.

The poster session was 2 hours long, where other students and teachers come to ask you about your research, but as a foreign student, I had to attend two of these sessions. They were also spaced 4-hours apart, so me and the other attending student had some spare time to look around the city. However, the weather was terrible, so we could only attend the nearby indoor places.

We went to a small manga museum during the few hour break and had lunch with our lab PI, so it was actually quite a nice time. However, the main part of the trip was the poster part. I really wish I could have met some other students, but since my poster was in English, too many students were too shy to approach and ask me questions. Maybe next year I will be able to communicate better about scientific terms in Japanese.

Also, during the summertime in Japan there are many festivals in which to attend. Sometimes depending on what the festival is for, you can do quite a lot of different things like games, dancing, enjoying food, watching fireworks, etc. I was lucky enough to meet up with one of my Berea friends, Sachi, and go with her to one of these festivals. Sachi is really a wonderful and generous person, so I was quite surprised that when I finally met with her, we did much more than just attend a festival.

 After meeting, we had plenty of time before the festival started so we did some sight-seeing at a very old shrine near the main campus (Hakozaki) of Kyushu University. The Kashii shrine was built in honor of a emperor which died in that area almost 1000 years ago.

 The shrine was very beautiful and had many nice gardens, but unfortunately also had many mosquitoes. My legs and arms were almost completely devoured, but Sachi remained untouched. After visiting the shrine, we stopped and had a light dinner before finally driving to Gion, the area in which the festival was held.

I only managed to get a few photos (most of them blurry) because there were so many people in one narrow street! Especially after it became dark, there were so many people coming and going, it was almost impossible to stop and take photos. I was lucky I didn't lose Sachi in the crowd, but fortunately for me I am not hard to spot in crowd of Japanese people, especially with my giant red tote-bag. Sachi also sent me some of her photos to share of her and her students (she teaches English) so will upload these next chance I get.

 I ate lots of food at this festival. Some of them exotic (like grilled squid), some of them not so much (candy apples, shaved ice) either way, I ate way too much for my own good. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant time, and most importantly, I got to watch fireworks. I really enjoy fireworks, so I was most disappointed when I missed my favorite holiday, Independence Day, in the United States. However, I have been told by several people fireworks in Japan are considerably cheaper than in the USA, so when you go to see fireworks, an hour-long show is quite normal. It was also very nice to be able to sit in a complete crowd of strangers, and be able to admire at the same level as them. I don't know if you understand what I mean by this statement, but often perspectives on daily life matters in a foreign country are so completely different, it's hard to see the world the same. But with a few things, it seems like no matter the culture, the view or opinion is the same. Here, fireworks seemed to be one of those things, that everyone admires (or is afraid of). While I was unable to film the whole thing I did manage to get a small video of part of the fireworks display:

 So I had a really wonderful time at my first Japanese festival, so I must thank my good friend Sachi for taking me! As any summer festival, it was hot and crowded, but sometimes experiencing that is a good thing. Next time, I would like to go to a larger one, but we will see if I will be able to or not soon.

Hope to post more exciting news for the upcoming summer months!

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