Chari is the Japanese word for bicycle. A mama-chari is the type of bicycles that mothers use. Do you have an image of that bicycle now?
Bikes parked outside Sapporo Station.
It is the ubiquititous style of bike that I have seen so far in Japan, mothers riding it or no. This bike, with a thick cushy seat, no gears, and slightly curved handle bars (looks like straight ones are optional, but less popular), can be seen ridden by young and old, male and female alike. Baskets are loaded with groceries and school supplies. Elegant women flow past wearing skirts and heels while pedaling effortlessly.
Students biking along the main road though campus.
This got me thinking. Why isn’t the U.S. as caught up in bikes? And why is it so rare to find one of these super cheap, super comfy, super easy to ride bikes? It’s not like the infrastructure here is particularly friendly to bikes. There are bike lanes, but most bikers ride on the sidewalk. Similarly, most riders don’t wear helmets. Riding a bike here feels as natural as walking. It’s also surprising that the level ownership is so high given that biking is only possible during the summer months since Sapporo gets buried in snow virtually all winter long. It becomes less surprising when you consider the price tags - new bikes sell at just over $100.
In the U.S., a bike buying guide will help you decide between a super sleek road bike and a rugged tough mountain bike. This is problematic because most people would rather not bear the discomfort of riding in the aerodynamic position of long distance road biking. Mountain bikes are more comfortable but not very efficient for commuting because of the grippy tires. On the other hand, the bikes here are extremely comfortable, and I would say the next best thing to sitting in a car. The last time I saw a bike like this was at the farmers’ market in Burlingame, CA, and it was an Electra Townie which has a price tag in the $400s (then again, it was Burlingame).
Which city in the U.S. is closest to this type of bike culture? Tell me, because I want to live there. Or maybe I’ll just have to come back to Japan.
I Live in a Mansion
A small point of hilarity is the fact that apartment high rises in Japan are called mansions. My image of mansions, and the Google Images results for mansions, are those wide, spacious, nearing on castles types of houses. Now, compare the results when you search マンション in Japanese - giant, soaring, high rises.
I asked someone for the definition of a mansion, as in how big does a building have to be to be considered one. The answer? If it has two stories and stairs on the outside, it’s pretty much only an apartment (アパート), but if it has three stories and is otherwise a large building, it could go either way. So where I live in the US? Most definitely an apartment.
Nights in Sapporo
I can’t believe this program is already half way over - one month in and one month left to go. Lots of research is being done, I promise, but here is a run down life outside the lab. I haven’t visited nearly all Sapporo has to offer, but even so, there has been plenty to see, and do, and eat.
The view from the TV tower at night, just as lights begin to turn on.
The Panasonic TV tower marks the center of the city quite literally. It sits at the intersection of Odori Park and Canal Road, one which marks the north-south division and the other marks the east-west division. The beautiful grid layout of the city is perfected by its no-nonsense naming system: everything is only so many blocks east, north, south, or west of this center mark. You only need to read the kanji for the cardinal directions to get from any location to any other location. Or remember that the first number on street signs refers to north/south and the second to east/west. However, it takes some getting used to the convention of naming the block, or rather, the area between street lights, rather than roads. While this makes it easy to distinguish which side of the road a shop is on, you might not know which side of the block it is on.
On the night that we visited the TV tower to see the city at sunset, we also chanced to catch several fireworks shows in the distance. Sapporo summer festival has started, coming in with a bang of green and orange fireworks balls, sparklers, and red fireworks forming the shape of a heart.
The center of the Susukino entertainment district reminds me of Times Square in NY.
Just a few blocks from Odori Park is Susukino, the main entertainment district of Sapporo. The center intersection, with its giant neon billboards and advertising, is as impressive, or un-impressive, as Times Square, depending how you look at it. Susukino also gives the impression of the Las Vegas strip with neon lights continuing down the main boulevard. I even saw a large building touting the name “Vegas Vegas,” so perhaps the impression is not so coincidental. Susukino also has a ferris wheel situated on top of one of the buildings. At night, it glows with neon lights and was quite pretty seen from the top of the TV tower. I haven’t tried it yet, but neither am I inclined to do so.
Ramen Alley in Susukino.
I think my favorite place in Susukino is Ramen Alley, a tiny crack between large buildings filled with ramen shops, and only ramen shops. Here, you find specialty combinations, and many shops tout a “Hokkaido Special Ramen.” We ate in the ramen shop that Anthony Bourdain featured in one of his No Boundaries episodes. Perhaps because all ramen is so tasty, I didn’t find this one exceeding good, though the scallops were particularly fresh and the noodles quite delicious.
I have many other stories which are sadly unaccompanied by photos. Probably because I like food to much to be bothered to photograph it before I dig in. One of the specialties in Hokkaido (or just Sapporo?) is a cuisine known as soup curry. This is different from curry rice or any noodle soup. Instead, you receive spiced soup containing your main course ingredients with a side of white rice. There are five steps to ordering soup curry - soup, main course, spiciness, rice quantity, and optional topping - and thus many possible combinations. Additionally, each soup curry restaurant has their own specialties so no two shops are quite alike. I have had three different soup curries so far and each was uniquely amazing and delicious.
Nights in Sapporo would not be complete without mentioning outings with my lab mates. We’ve gone to several izakaya restaurants and they even threw a jimpa welcome party for me, all accompanied by lots of food, Sapporo Classic beer, and a touch of sake. Next time, I’ll be sure to take a picture.
I’m getting set up for the next nine weeks that I will spend in the Environmental Risk Engineering lab at Hokkaido University. My project is to explore membrane fouling as a result of superfine carbon particles and methods for mitigation. I’m continuing my work from my home institution; so many…
My post on the official EAPSI tumblr!
Yuzawaya is a big Japanese craft store chain and today I went to their Kamata location! Their logo is a sheep knitting and the big clock outside plays music and moves on the hour. It was pretty big - two buildings, ten floors!
I spent most of my time in the yarn section…even found some named after me ;) Choosing a pattern book was hard since they were all really nice, but I finally went with the first one in the pictures. Time to learn how to read Japanese knitting charts!
I bought a store membership card for 540 yen, which gets you 20% off for a year, but sadly it didn’t work on all the sale yarn :(
Oh, this sounds awesome. I just checked and my nearest store is an hour and a half away :( I stumbled on the craft section of Bic Camera a few days ago and bought some yarn and a hook. I feel I should be making amigurumi since I’m in Japan…but I don’t know how :P
Doodling the Right Thing
With a few humble doodles, I think Google may have created the most widely-seen, and perhaps the most influential, science communication effort on Earth. Their series of Google search page tributes to female scientists (a few of which I’ve shared above) is a huge win for showcasing the efforts of women in science, which, unless you’ve been living under a very patriarchal rock for the past forever, you know is something the world needs very badly.
It might seem silly to be talking about a picture like this, but we’re dealing with the Times Square billboard of internet graphics here. Every day, 730 million people visit Google.com a total of 17 billion times. Billion. Granted, not all of them see the same Google doodle, as only a small set of them are “global” doodles, but even if just 10% of daily unique visitors see a particular doodle, and just 10% of those people take the time to figure out who/what they’re looking at, that means 7+ million people a day (and that doesn’t even take into account repeated visits). I suspect that’s a low estimate, too, although I base that on nothing except my own optimism.
For comparison, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey drew just over 3 million U.S. viewers for its final episode. I’ll concede that’s not really a fair comparison, since Cosmos is a highly-produced, hour-long scripted TV series with very broad and lofty goals and a Google doodle is, well, a picture on the internet. The point I’m trying to make is not that Cosmos is less influential than a cartoon, because that’s ridiculous (although I must admit the more I think about it, I really don’t know how ridiculous it is). My point is that a Google doodle about science reaches a metric f**kton of people.
I am having a hard time thinking of another single Internet Thing that has the potential to reach so many people in a single day. No meme-filled Facebook page or educational YouTube channel comes close, and I don’t suspect any traditional science news/media sites are even in the ballpark.
Google still has a long way to go to bring their doodle gender representation anywhere close to level. According to SPARK, only 17% of doodles between 2001-2013 were women (and 74% of them were white people). In addition to monitoring women featured in doodles, the blog Speaking Up For Us keeps a running list of doodle-worthy women.Despite that remaining imbalance, I think this is an incredible effort on the part of Google, and we should demand even more doodles of underrepresented groups (both in science and beyond).
Can something so passive make any difference? To be honest, I don’t know, but I suspect that it does. When people only see one type of person recognized for accomplishing the Great Scientific Things of history, they consciously and subconsciously assume that only that type of person actually accomplishes Great Scientific Things. That is how underrepresented people stay underrepresented, which is the opposite thing we want to happen.
Google doodles aren’t going to cure cancer or send a man to Mars, but they just might help inspire the person who does. Not bad for a drawing.
Homestays are the craziest things. At times they’re great, at times they’re super awkward, at times you’re sure you said the entirely wrong thing. However, you learn so much in the process that it’s impossible to say it’s not worth it.
Also, did I mention that I stayed with the most adorable little girl? Who knew all the words to Frozen’s Let it Go in both English and Japanese? Right, so I did. Papa Nonaka is taking the picture so you can’t see him.
During the stay, I sampled takoyaki, had mango and ramune flavored shaved ice (with soft serve on top of course), discovered Perry Park (commemorating the arrival of the American Commodore Perry), hung out with the Hippo Family language club, visited a children’s theme park named Le Soleil where I rode a horse and saw a Chinese acrobatics performance, and picnicked on onigiri and yakisoba. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable and exhausting experience. Exhausting because of the energy of little kids and also from trying to communicate and not do/say anything wrong.
- What I thought was a bible turned out to be a dictionary type of book, but not exactly a dictionary. I couldn’t tell you more.
- Should have brought real pajamas for the night time shower.
- The shower experience. You wash yourself first, and then get into the tub of very hot water. And do you don’t wash in the tub with the clean hot water but rather over the floor of the room, which drains. It’s so different, but I think I could get used to it, except I don’t see the purpose of the bath, though it feels great. Also, the shower controls are awesome because the temperature settings are separate from the flow settings, so you can turn the water off to soap up and pick up right where you left off in terms of temperature.
- Homestays with children are awesome because they’re not shy and they’re willing to teach you language skills - and if you just follow their lead you’re pretty much guaranteed to be doing the right thing, if just more childish than you intend.
- She had a set of trading cards…for clothes. Ingenious.
- I’m not going to understand the priorities of guests over everything else, including crying children. But there it is.
Also, the homestay experience was very useful for understanding the set-up of my room here in Sapporo. I admit that it wasn’t a comfortable experience, but there is so much to learn that it’s completely worth it.
I’ve been in Japan for two days now undergoing the initiation rites of government funded programs. But I’m not complaining. Great food, great views, and on top of that, we got a chance to meet the Emperor and Empress of Japan. I know, right? We were encouraged to introduce ourselves and talk briefly about our research, so, I told the Emperor of Japan about my plans to use ceramic membranes for drinking water treatment. It’s so crazy that you know I’m not making this up, but just in case, see the press pictures of the event here and here. :D
Also, did I mention that we’re staying at the beautiful Sokendai campus in Hayama? It’s a bit surreal. It’s said that on a clear day looking over the courtyard you can see all the way to Mt. Fuji.
Some of the Sokendai buildings.
Can you make out Mt. Fuji in the distance? (Probably not.)
We also started Japanese language training today, so it’s been super exciting. Tomorrow, we’ll get to meet our families for homestay and hopefully use some of the phrases we learned. Stay tuned for my next update after the homestay!