Okayama University

We were a bit confused about which Shinkansen to take from central Hiroshima, the 9.48 or 10.10, and decided to follow the written itinerary and take the 10.10. When we saw the 9.48 pull out we realised we should have been on that (it would leave Higashi-Hiroshima at 10.10 and central Hiroshima at 9.48. Luckily that was a slow train and the 10.10 from central Hiroshima was a fast express and so we arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule at Okayama. Sarah and I felt a bit queasy, probably the train but we blamed it on the peach flavoured Kit Kat with the seasonal cherry blossom box.

Peach Kit Kat

We used our early arrival to drop our bags our at Granvia Okayama [Granvia number 2]. Then met Professor Kimura back at the Shinkansen station. Today was a graduation day at Okayama University and so the Department was very quiet, but it was also the one day of the year that we could see the graduands wearing kimono around the campus and even in the labs. Very expensive lab coats! Most of the men were wearing dark suits but there were a couple wearing kimono.

Kimono Graduands

We had a fish bento for lunch, apart from Rob who had exceeded his fish limits and had pork and rice, with some sweetcorn soup.

We gave a good lecture and had a a lot of question afterwards and interest in the journals. Professor Kimura introduced us to the Dean of the Faculty, Professor Adachi, who arranged for us to visit the campus library. Professor Kimura gave us a brief introduction to his research, that was very interesting.

Okayama Lecture

Met Hiroyuki Takeshita at the library and received a tour of the building, including the online system for accessing e-journals.

From there to the ancient and famous Koraku-en gardens. We were lucky to make it in as it closed at 5pm, but we managed a quick 15 stroll around the gardens.

Okayama Castle Koraku-en, Okayama

There were lovely views of Okayama Castle, called the Crow Castle because it is black. Visting this garden made us really feel like we were in Japan! We were too early for the cherry blossom display but currently there is a photo update on the Koraku-en official web site showing the latest ‘bud status’.

We freshened up back at the hotel and then went out to a local restuarant, it seemed to be a favourite of the labs. We had a lovely, varied Japanese meal, including sashimi of a local fish only eaten in Okayama (lovely) and lots of small soft-shelled crayfish tempura (although I had to eat the moby dick of the crayfish which was a crunchy three-bite snack). We had some little kebab skewers that were very tasty and which I forgotten the name for. About 9pm lots of people from the lab arrived as part of their round of bar-crawling after their graduation. The noise and chat went up a step and we had a great evening. Sarah and I left Rob with some of the group seeking out a karaoke bar. Report on this to follow.

Meal, Okayama Graham and Graduand Kampai!

Kyushu and Hiroshima

I had a much better night last night and managed about 5 hours sleep. Sarah survived the night on only one hour though. We were out to Tejin station by 8.10 to meet Professor Nagamura for the commute out to the Ito campus. We immediately set up the room for the talk and put out the journals. We had about 25 people for the presentation. A quick tour of some more labs and of the outside of the new building. The visibility is poor today because of dust from China so we couldn’t see back to Fukuoka. Back on the bus again and on to negotiate the ticket machines for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Hakata staion in Fukuoka to Higashi-Hiroshima. Buying the ticket was fine what was more confusing was why there are two tickets for a single journey? These both had to go through the ticket barrier at the same time to gain entry.

Shinkansen

The bullet train is great: looks very sleek and is 16 carriages long. Lunxh on the train was from a trolly (Y1830), some very white sandwiches with various fillings including potato and pear, potatoes crisps and a packet of dried strips of squid (probably). All washed down with a dark rice drink that didn’t taste as nice as the bottle looked.

We were met at the station by Professor Imae who took us straight to the 3.30 lecture. The projector didn’t work with my laptop nor with his, so a smaller projector was brough this. Same story and we were on out thid projector (this one tiny!) before it worked. We were about 20 mins late by this time and gave our presentation to about 20 people, maybe 1/4 of the faculty.

Chemistry Dept, Hiroshima Rob and Sarah with Prof Imae

We had a tour of a few labs and the Prof Imae drove us back to Hiroshima. This toon an hour as the university campus is way out in the countryside. Sarah and I nodded of a bit in the back, while Rob chatted away up front. Prof Imae stopped briefly for us to look at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, which was the only standing building in the centre of Hiroshima after its nuclear bombardment.

We checked into the first of our Granvia Hotels. Before we left we had been worried that these were very cheap and that it might be the equivalet of a travel lodge: the hotel is great! Free internet, nice bar on the top floor and the obligatory electronic loo. (The seat is hot enough to brand!)

We had a great meal with Prof Imae, starting with marinaded octopus and a great wakame and crunchy fish-egg dish. We had a couple of rounds of tempura, with great onion balls and a couple of prawn bodies, battered with the legs sticking out. Crunchy! Rice and soup with pickles and then a lime sorbet that was very refreshing. All washed down with a couple of types of tea and some local Sake from the Higashi, Hiroshima area.

With Prof Imae, Hiroshima

Prof Imae’s wife arrived to drive him home and the four of us went up to the penthouse bar for a drink. The views from the 21st floor were very good and the long gin and tonics were pretty potent!

Kyushu University

I had a pretty pooor sleep, partly because the room was 28 oC during the night and I couldn’t get the aircon to work! I had two breakfasts: one waiting for Sarah and Rob, then one with Sarah and Rob once I’d found them at reception waiting for me for 20 mins (oops!).

We spent the morning polishing our presentation and wrapping gifts for our hosts. To save time, we ate in a nice Chinese restaurant in the hotel. Sarah had a massive mouthful of jellyfish (thinking it was caramalised onion). She had a surprised look on her face to accompany the loud crunching and I waited till she’d (discretely) spat it out before I told her what it was.

Met Professor Nagamura at Teijin underground station and we made the long commute together by train and bus to the Ito campus of Kyushu University. Today was a Buddhist holiday (the equinox) and so the University was closed but we still met with three Professors and had a good tour of their labs.

Applied Chemistry, Kyushu UniversityProfessor Adachi and his UHV equipment

We had to wear slippers in the labs to keep out the dust: Rob looked very dashing in his, but they slowed Sarah down considerably and we got worried when she dissapeared to a different floor for 10 minutes. I didn’t really get the hang of mine and they preceeded me by several feet at times going along corridors.

Rob in his lab slippers Lab slippers

Professor Nagamura had organsied a private room for dinner in Chikae restuarant, which is a famous restaurant in Fukuoka. The room was covered in tatami mats and beautifully decorated. Sarah, Rob and I were invited to sit at the top of the table on the side for honoured guests, beside the wooden trunk set into the room between floor and ceiling.

The meal was excellent;

  • Little dishes for the first course, including small strips of jellyfish which Sarah immediately identified and bravely ate (this time). One of the dishes was salmon and cod roe slices which were lovely and a speciality of the region.

    Sashimi: tuna, red snapper and yellowfin (quite tough and a bit crunchy!) with wasabi.

    Soup with a ball of fish, beautifully covered by a slice of radish.

    A crunchy kelp seaweed boat, filled with fish and prawn and set into a cheesy omelette.

    Soup made on an individual burner, with lots of cod roe in it, which was very tasty.

    A bowl of egg custard with potata and fish (my least favourite dish).

    White miso soup containing some coated green vegetables with a slightly bitter taste

    Beautiful orange sea urchin rice, which was also very rich.

    Pink desert, made pink for today which has been officially announced as the first day of cherry blossom in Fukuoka. There had to be five blossom on a particualr tree in a TV studio grounds (I think) with hourly coverage!

    Green tea.
  • Kyushu Professors at Chikae

We sat sqautted on the lovely and scented tatami mats, backed by comfortable cushions. This was ok for a while, although Rob was distinctly wobbly when he went to the loo half-way through the meal. His knees were popping in protest when sat back down.

It was a lovely meal, containing special dishes. On the way out we had a peek into the main room of the restaurant which has a large pool with tanks and chefs wading in wellington catching the fish, crayfish and squid to cook for the customers. The pool and tanks were big!

Fish tanks in Chikae

After dinner Professor Nagamura walked us back to the hotel and we went out for a stroll to try and buy wrapping paper and perhaps a mobile phone (which we can’t because we don’t live in Japan).

Rob reports that the electronic loos work very well on the turbo,/pressure wash cycle.

Hard at work



Hard at work, originally uploaded by GrahamMcCannCAM.

In my hotel room. Rob is polishing the presentation and we’re debating where to put Prospect. Sarah is applying her origami experience to produce beautifully wrapped gifts: the free paper from the hotel is a bit of a letdown though. We’re off to get some lunch and see if we can get some better paper and maybe a mobile phone that will work here and still take one of our sim cards.

Arrived in Fukuoka

Sarah and Rob agree it was a pretty awful flight. WE gor to the airport an 2.15, for a 6.15 flight, which left at about 7.30 in the end. The flight was ok apart from some very smelly students sitting next to Sarah who made the flight nauseating at times: the plane was also very warm. Just before landing the main screens started to show some famous footage of a plane that did an emergency landing without it’s front wheel extended, which was stange, and not particularly comforting. Osaka airport was increadibly efficient and despit only having an hour to get through immigration and collect our baggage, checking and go through security, we made our connecting flight to Fukuoka.

We were met at the airport by Professor Nagamura, which was very nice. He took us through the subway to Tenjin, where out hotel is: the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel. It’s very good, and my first sprinkle from a high-tech loo!

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We met up in the bar and found Rob having Japanese lessons from the barman. He recommended a place we could go to eat, and this led us up an unpromising flight of stairs to a second floor restauarant that was great. Screened off with bamboo screens and full of noisy groups. The group next to us were very friendly and crawled through to take our photo!

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We ordered some udon to share that looked just like the picture in the menu and which was served with a great attention to presentation and style. The waitress loaded udon, fish, meat and vegetables into our boiling broth, in about htree stages, keeping us well filled up. The slippy noodles were tricky to eat but great fun!

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Got some cash out the bank (20 mins) and enjoyed the walk around and bright lights. Managed to get asleep at 2am (5pm UK time).

The science of sex, drugs and rock and roll

Quick trip to the ADC to see the Science of Sex Drugs and Rock and Roll shown as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.

It was an amusing look at the science of sex (no holds barred), very brief look at viagra and the effect of narcotic drugs,a nd a look at vibration in playing electric guitars which I enjoyed. We ended up on spectroscopy of carbohydrates, and the audience were given glow sticks and we all acted out the various vibrational modes of H–C–H bonds, accompanied by a rock soundtrack, great fun!

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Dim Sum

Christine came over today with Jessica and Lewis. It was a lovelyto see them and the weather was very fresh, cold and windy day. We wandered over to Charlie Chan’s for Dim Sum, forgetting that today is Mothers’ Day. The place was very busy. Jessica and Lewis weren’t too keen on the dim sum, only really eating the rice dish. It was good food though. Lewis wolfed down a pork bun a bit too quickly, then brought it all back up again in his bowl! Jessica made a fair stab with the chopsticks.

Jessica and Lewis at Charlie Chan's in Cambridge

Wandered to Borders to get some books about Japan, and I picked up a copy of Perfume for Christine. We couldn’t find a place to have hot chocolate everywhere was so packed for Mothers’ day, and we ended up in Coeur de France in Burleigh Street.

Jessica on Parker's Piece

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Return to the Forbidden Planet

A fun performance tonight of Return to the Forbidden Planet, at the ADC Theatre. Highlights include the Polarity Reversal Procedure for audience participation, long purple tentacles hanging from the ceiling, a narrator modelled on Rocky Horror (incl. glass of whisky), an android with in revealing boxers under a tight-fitting gold lamee suit (Dan Martin as Ariel). Excellent singing by Holly Morgan (Science Officer), Emily Hardy (Miranda, Dr Prospero’s daughter) and Rob Freeman (Captain Tempest). Misquotes from various sources, including the Tempest. Lots of corny, corny jokes! There are some interesting rehearsal photographs on Flickr.

From the ADC Web site:

‘Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!’

5…4…3…Your chair physically shakes with the bass rumble of massive rocket engines. Smoke pours all over you. Search lights flash past your eyes. The rumble increases to fill your whole head. 2…1…An explosion of light. Out of this sensory overload, the drumming starts. Suddenly there is rhythm running through your body. The journey is underway!

Return to the Forbidden Planet is a joyful mix of genres and ideas. Touted as Shakespeare’s forgotten rock and roll masterpiece, it is based loosely on The Tempest set inside a 1950s B-movie. Bursting with 60s and 70s pop numbers including classics such as ‘Good Vibrations,’ ‘Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire,’ ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ and ‘Born to be Wild’, get ready for the journey as a lifetime as your familiar ADC is transformed into a giant spaceship!

Will you survive the journey into hyperspace? There’s only one way to find out!

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Flying Home from Argentina

The flight from Bariloche to Buenos Aires was a bit late leaving and we didn’t arrive until 2.30 am. There were massive queues for taxis at that time and I had to be at the international airport by 10ish to check in for my Iberia flight to London and I didn’t fancy waiting an hour for a remise or a taxi.

So we reckoned we would walk home, or at least try to flag a taxi en route. We walked for about 15 minutes into increasingly less pleasant areas and finally managed to flag down a taxi (I think no taxis would stop because it was a rough area). This guy did and I gave him a big tip when we reached Michael’s apartment! The taxi was also much cheaper than a remise! We got there about 3.30, in plenty of time for the flight!

We gave Jeanette a jar of rosa mosqueta, which she was pleased with and had a nice breakfast then Michael took me out to the airport and saw me off, which was sad. He has another seven weeks in South America. I bough two boxes of 24 alfajores in duty free: they’re really heavy! The bag scanner at Madrid though the bag had liquid in because it was so heavy.

A lovely trip: you can view the complete Argentinian Photoset and also see this as a map view.

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