Monday, July 17, 2006

Japan Journal

Scott is spending the summer in Japan, participating in NanoJapan , a ten week research program in nanotechnology sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Rice University.

After working in the lab at the Institute for Solid State Physics at the University of Tokyo, Scott remembered a video he had once found on the Internet. Sure enough. Same lab. Looks like a fun project! (Video version 210T is the best version.)

The following journal records his experiences...

26 May 2006, 11:00 AM CDT

I'm sitting in Chicago O'Hare airport with several hours before we leave for Tokyo. We haven't gotten much sleep, but that's nothing compared to what we're going to experience later "today." Everyone is very excited, and a little nervous as well. Only three people in the group (Tian, Aydin and Carlos) know any reasonable amount of Japanese, but we will be met by a Rice student and a former Rice professor at the airport. We should be able to manage. We've got several hours to kill, so everyone is sitting around reading, working or sleeping. I think everyone is ready to be there.

Last night in Houston, everyone sat around resting and meeting each other. I saw Master Kathryn one last time, so that was nice.

27 May 2006, 10:00 PM Japan Time

Today was an incredibly long day. We arrived in Japan safely after the twelve-hour flight sitting near the young kids and Richard Simmons. After completing all the formalities at the airport, we took a bus into Tokyo and the Sanuki Club. It's a very nice hotel, even though the rooms are quite small. The other half of our group arrived much earlier than we did and had already taken a quick tour and eaten by the time we got there. We put our stuff in our rooms and then headed out on a tour of our own, with several advisors. We had a Chinese dinner that was very good if a little expensive for my sixth meal without having slept. Now, we are headed to bed at a time that will hopefully get us adjusted to Japan time quickly. I'll write more tomorrow when I'm not quite as exhausted.

28 May 2006, 10:00 PM

We had another great day today. I woke up at 5:30, but was able to fall asleep again until 9:30 or so. We took the subway out to Tokyo Tech and found where our classroom is going to be tomorrow. Then, we headed back and found the Temple campus. After a quick introduction to Japan, we headed over to the Tokyo City View, an observation deck near the top of one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. The view was incredible. We finished the day with a traditional Japanese dinner at a local restaurant. I need to get some good sleep because classes last for a long time tomorrow.

29 May 2006, 10:15 PM

Today was the first day of class here in Japan. We started with an intensive Japanese language class (4 hours), and it was very useful. I learned a lot of useful phrases and was actually able to converse somewhat with the hotel and restaurant staff. I will need to learn quite a bit more, though, to actually seem like I'm good at it. We also had our first Nanotech class with Jonah Shaver, and I really enjoyed that too. I couldn't help but feel like we were being very rude to the three Ph.D. students from Tokyo Tech in the room. Oh, well. They're supposed to be learning American culture somewhat too. For dinner, we walked for quite a ways following the flip of a coin and found a very nice restaurant to eat in. Too bad they served pizza and pasta (I had a beef curry dish). It's getting pretty late for how early we have to get up in the morning, so I think I'm going to get to bed soon. After all, I somehow missed my alarm this morning and only woke up when the backup hotel alarm went off.

30 May 2006, 11:45 PM

I began the day very early again with a quick shower and the Udon noodle breakfast. It's way too much for me to eat, especially in the short amount of time we have. Breakfast begins at 7:00 in the morning and we leave at 7:30 or so to catch the subway. This gives us ample time to get to Tokyo Tech for our language classes at 8:30. Luckily, we are traveling away from the center of the city in the morning, so our subway train is not very crowded. However, we see the trains headed into Tokyo and they are crammed full of people. Today, I saw a "pusher" for the first time. He had to make sure one man was completely in the car before it could go, by literally pushing him and his bag inside the car. We had lunch at a different cafeteria today, with better results. It was more cafeteria-style than the yetserday's restaurant, meaning that we could pick items at our leisure rather than ordering with a whole meal ticket from the vending machine labeled only in Japanese (We matched characters from the plastic displays with surprising accuracy). In the afternoon, we had our first class with Jane Bachnick. None of us thought we would like her based on the uchi/soto readings she gave us before we arrived in Japan (they were very repetitive); however, her class was actually very interesting. After a break for dinner, we headed over to Temple University for Jonah's class on nanotechnology. Now, I'm back in my room ready for bed and another early day tomorrow.

31 May 2006, 10:00 PM

Today was another amazing day. I am really starting to love Japan. Since it was a Wednesday, we only had our language class in the morning. The entire afternoon and night were free. The language class is going well. This third day, I learned a lot more than the previous days and was able to retain more of the previous information. I am starting to be able to communicate very basic things to people and I imagine that they can sorta understand me. That makes me feel really good.

Since we had the afternoon off and it was Tiffany's birthday, we took a group trip to Sensoji temple in Asakusa. We got lunch from the basement of a department store, which is actually pretty common. They had many different stalls set up with many kinds of food. We ate on the temple grounds, but just like everywhere else in Japan, there are no trash cans around anywhere. When you do find one, you also have to sort your trash into four or five different trash bins depending on how it can be recycled. It's a bit of a pain, but it's worth it in the end. The Buddhist temple is pretty nice and it is dedicated to merchants, so there are many little shops set up in a row in front of the temple. I got a ninja-dongle for my phone that's really neat.

Afterwards, we went to Akihabara, the electronics district. This place was simply amazing. There were electronics shops everywhere you could see. Imagine Fry's, seven stories tall and in every building for many, many blocks. There were many small shops and arcades as well. The Japanese are insanely good at video games, and it showed in the arcades. There was also some game that you play with cards that have little chips inside of them. You lay them on a reader table and move them about in order to control the game being played. In one instance, the cards served as armies and moving them around on the table moved armies on a big screen in front of the game. In a different game, the cards positioned soccer players on a field in order to play against another person and his team. We eventually headed back because our legs were just killing us after a long day's walk. The subway only took us to Roppongi Hills instead of Azabu-juban, so we had a bit more walking in store for us. We met Jason Altobelli and had a very late dinner at the Wendy's near the Sanuki Club. Around this time, I finally found a trash can to throw away my trash from lunchtime. I had carried it around in my pocket for well over four hours before I found a place to throw it away. It's a wonder that Japan is a very clean city. Anyways, I have homework to do for Japanese class tomorrow and it's getting to be pretty late. I will write again tomorrow.

1 June 2006, 11:30 PM

Today started bright and early like every other day here. After a quick breakfast we headed out to Japanese class at Tokyo Tech. I hope to learn katakana or hiragana (the phonetic alphabets) as soon as I can because it should help me with my pronunciation of Japanese words. All of the letters are pronounced the same as they are in Spanish, but the way syllables are broken up and accented is much different. Also, when we first got here, all of the people speaking seemed like incomprehensible gibberish. After only four days of language, I am able to pick out many words and determine the structure of many sentences that people are saying. The babble has been transformed into a language with some structure to it. I am still a very long way from being even functional here, but the area we are in accommodates English-speakers fairly well. There are many countries' embassies around the Sanuki Club, including the US Embassy, so the Azabu-Juban region obviously caters to a foreign crowd. There are many other foreigners walking around on the streets with us as well as many foreign cars, which I understand are fairly rare in Japan. It seems that two out of every three cars in Azabu-Juban are either Mercedes or BMW. We have also seen several Ferraris and other similarly nice cars. Yesterday, I had to buy a new subway card because my 3,000 yen card that I had bought five days earlier had run out already. That made me realize just how much money I'm hemorrhaging everywhere in Tokyo, especially the subways. It sure is worth it, though, for now.

2 June 2006, 11:45 PM

Today started out rather uneventful. We attended language and culture class as normal. After that, nearing dinnertime, we all sat around the lobby of the Sanuki Club with our laptops talking with friends back home and sending emails to parents and such. At 8:00 PM, we met three of the hotel staff who had just gotten off work to go with us to Shinjuku to a restaurant that they had recommended. Shinjuku is amazing. It looks like Times Square (there's even a building with a giant neon "Times Square" sign), but it goes on for blocks upon blocks and more people that I think I have ever seen before. The most amazing thing is that everyone obeys the walk signals. Six streets came together, and the entire intersection is striped off for a crosswalk, but nobody ever jaywalks. Even at Tokyo Tech, where the street is only about eight feet wide and there are no cars in sight, people still stand on the curb obediently waiting for the signal. The restaurant was a lot of fun and we got some practice speaking Japanese with the hotel staff. I actually think I learned a lot from this experience; though, I need to get to bed soon for the Yokohama trip tomorrow.

3 June 2006, 11:45 PM

Today was our trip to Yokohama. The subway was able to get us the entire way there for a few hundred yen. When we first got there, we went to the Ramen museum and ate lunch from several different ramen places that serve ramen from different parts of Japan. After that, we visited a theme park place near the harbor and rode a Ferris wheel to get a view of the area. There is city everywhere you can see. We then took a ferry to another area of Yokohama near Chinatown for dinner. When we got off the ferry, there was a park which consisted of the largest open expanse of land that I've seen in a week (about 50m x 200m). That's when it hit me that there are really no parks or anything nearby here. There's a few small green areas, but that's about it. We walked around Chinatown for an hour and then met for a buffet dinner at one of the Chinese restaurants nearby. We talked to our two tour guides from Temple quite a bit during dinner and found out some really cool things about Japan from someone our age and in a similar situation. We returned to the Sanuki club late after a full day in Yokohama and I am about to go get some sleep for another long day tomorrow.

4 June 2006, 11:00 PM

I got to sleep in until 9:00 today, when we woke up to go to Harajuku. Christine, Ryan, Aydin and I took the subway to Harajuku, where high school aged girls dress up in strange (punk) costumes and take pictures with tourists every Sunday. There were a few people there when we were, and we got our pictures taken, but apparently it really gets crazy later in the day. Then, we went to the Meiji Jingu shrine nearby where we met four Japanese college students who took us on a free tour so they could practice their English. The tour was very nice and the students were very interesting people. Afterwards, we walked down the main shopping street in Harajuku where there were many shops where these girls could buy their clothes. We all bought crepes at a vendor along this street and were very glad to have a significant amount of fruit for the first time in a week.

We then walked to Shibuya, a large shopping district in Tokyo. There were many, many upscale stores and shopping places. There is also a crosswalk that dwarfs the ones in Shinjuku with thousands of people crossing each time the signal turns green. We went into Tower Records and looked around a bit. I liked the Japanese instrumental music a lot and spent quite a bit of time listening to samples in the store. Most of the store, though, was foreign music. We left Shibuya and headed to Shinjuku where Christine bought a nice camera for cheaper than in Akihabara. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant next to the camera store for really cheap (A fairly large plate of spaghetti was Y400). It was a sit-down place, but with a fast food vibe. All of the waiters carried around wireless handheld tablets that they took orders on and we found that really neat. There were also buttons at each of the seats that would alert the waiters to come to the tables. We had a very hard time finding the right subway back to the Sanuki Club in Shinjuku station, but we eventually found it and returned back. I spent time surfing the internet and practicing Hiragana, and now I'm ready for bed. It seems that I did not get any rest this weekend, though.

5 June 2006, 10:00 PM

Today was a very relaxed day. Being Monday, we woke up very early again to go to language class at Tokyo Tech. Cheryl Matherly is gone now, and Sarah Phillips arrived in yesterday afternoon. Language class was mostly uneventful. I am learning hiragana fairly well, and we are starting to read things in hiragana instead of romaji. Also, the basic phrases are becoming more natural which is a very good thing. We still have a week and a half of language class to perfect our elementary vocabulary. After lunch, we attended Jonah's nanotechnology class and learned about various ways to create and remove materials on top of substrates. I took a nap after that, waking up around 6:00 for dinner. A few of us walked around Azabu-juban for a while looking for a ramen place that Baba, who works at the hotel, recommended without any luck. We eventually found a Korean barbecue place that was just excellent. They bring the meat and you cook it on a little charcoal grill at your table. I can't believe that these places haven't caught on in the states yet because the food was amazing. It was fairly cheap too, under Y1000 for a very filling meal. The head of the restaurant came to our table with a bottle filled with different colored marbles. He told us that if we flip it upside down and a white marble comes out first, we win a gift certificate worth half of our check tonight. Ryan turned the bottle over and two white marbles wound up in the cup! The chances of that happening had to be astronomically small. Being American, we started thinking that it might be rigged, but we watched several other people attempt the stunt without any luck at all. In the end, we won a Y3135 gift certificate that should make up most of a meal sometime next week. We were very happy with our luck. Now, I am sitting in the lobby of the Sanuki Club doing my homework and studying hiragana yet again and am about to go to bed.

6 June 2006, 10:40 PM

Today was brutal. Tuesday classes last from 8:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night with language, culture and nanotechnology. Language and nanotech were both very interesting today, but the culture class is really lacking. Jane Bachnick is only reviewing her website in class, and it seems to have been designed for junior high and high school students. She also repeats her one basic point (uchi/soto) in each class. Oh well, this will only last for another week and a half. Other than that, the day went fairly well even if it was long and uneventful.

7 June 2006, 7:30 PM

Today went much better than yesterday. Everybody seems to be learning hiragana well, so language class is going very well. Culture class is boring as usual, but the experience in Japan is still lots of fun. I got some resting in today and was able to contact Takeyama-sensei, my research host at the University of Tokyo's ISSP about what I will be doing in his lab. I am looking forward to it very much. I am writing this early because we leave for a weekend trip to Kyoto tomorrow and I need to pack up tonight so we can check out in the morning. I will not have my computer with me, but I will write more journal entries by hand and transfer them to here when I am done. This trip is going to be amazing.

11 June, 8:00 PM

Our trip to Kyoto was definitely one of the best "vacations" I've ever been on. On Thursday, 8 June, we went to language class in the morning and culture class after lunch, as usual. We had checked out of our rooms at the Sanuki Club and put our bags into one room, but they still let us gather in the lobby until we left in the evening. For dinner, we went to the grocery store and bought some obento (boxed dinners). In the store, someone bumped into me and I was about to say "sumimasen" ("Excuse me, I'm sorry") when he turned to me and said "Oh, I'm sorry, dude." I realized that it's going to be weird going back to English in the states. Before we left for Tokyo Station and the bus, I walked around Azabu-juban by myself for a little in an attempt to kill some time. I walked back into some residential neighborhoods and saw some pretty neat places. We eventually left as a group for the overnight bus to Kyoto. It was a pretty nice bus, but it wasn't exactly easy getting sleep on it. I got to ride on the top of the double-decker bus, but the curtains were closed the entire time so I didn't get to really experience it. We arrived at Kyoto station at about 6:00 AM Friday morning after an eight hour bus ride. The station was deserted this early in the morning. After walking around for a while, I finally found the bathrooms tucked away in a corner of the station. There were no maps of how to get to the bathroom anywhere, but there were maps of the bathroom itself near the door that clearly showed the positions of all the stalls, sinks and storage closets. I thought that was pretty funny.

We eventually met up with the people who traveled on the second bus and arrived a couple minutes after we did and we took taxis to our guest house. It's designed to resemble a soybean merchant's house from a much earlier time. It might just be the best place I have ever stayed in. Words cannot do justice to how nice this place was. It was three floors with plenty of room. The house was divided into many different areas, including two bathrooms (with the nicest shower I've ever taken), a kitchen, several living areas, several bedrooms and other miscellaneous rooms. There are many pictures of the house that do a better job of describing it. Since we couldn't technically check in until after noon, we left our bags in the entryway and took a tour of Kyoto that lasted all day.

We first visited Heian Shrine, a recreation of the ancient imperial palace with a very nice garden that we walked through for about an hour. We then walked through the Yasaka Shrine on our way to lunch and a quick visit to the Kodaiji Temple. After lunch, we walked to the Kiyomizu temple, the most famous temple in Japan. While on the steps leading up to the temple, Ryan met someone that went to his high school. We then went inside the grounds to find a fabulous view of the city. The temple is located on one of the hills that surround Kyoto. On a lower level of the temple, there are three waterfalls where visitors can drink the water for various blessings. We also found a place that sold yatsuhashi, a famous dessert from Kyoto that Jonah recommended. They are some sort of dough that is either cooked with cinnamon or left raw and filled with bean paste. They are delicious. We finished the tour with a stop at Kenninji Temple, a Zen monastery with a famous picture of two dragons on the ceiling of the shrine room.

We walked back to the hotel via a traditional marketplace where merchants were selling anything a resident of Kyoto could need. For dinner, we decided to order pizza with the girls who were staying at the other guest house. Even though we got Dominos, there was a Japanese twist on the pizza. We watched some sort of pageantry for the beginning of the World Cup. Unfortunately, we went to bed before the kickoff for the first game at 1:00 in the morning, Japan time.

Early Saturday morning, we woke up for the Origins Workshop, put on by the people who run the guesthouse. Laura Bush did this program when she was in Japan. We experienced four traditional Japanese arts throughout the day, starting with Noh theater. Two Noh performers gave our group a demonstration and then showed us some of the basic techniques. We then went to the second story of the house and participated in a little bit of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We spent a while, but some ceremonies can last up to five hours. There are many necessary rituals that everyone, including us, goes through in the ceremony. Then we had lunch and continued on to a martial arts demonstration and participation class. We learned some basic meditation associated with the vowels in Japanese. Last, we participated in a calligraphy class and we all made some nice papers to take home with us. The entire program was excellent and everyone learned much more about Japanese culture than we do in Jane's class.

Throughout the day, several photographers took pictures of our group doing everything. One person was with the Origins Workshop taking promotional pictures. Another one was apparently from some Japanese magazine, taking pictures for a story he was writing. It certainly made things interesting. We went down the street to Mos Burger for dinner and had a very Japanese burger and fries. The burger was a standard beef patty on a rice bun topped with some sort of meat sauce, onions and a giant tomato slice. We went back to the guesthouse and were so exhausted that we went to bed fairly early.

Sunday morning, everyone slept in due to a late night last night and from being exhausted from the past two weeks. Around noon, Chris and I left to go to the handicraft building, where several merchants sell stereotypical Japanese things. I was able to get several souvenirs and gifts there. We met several people at the store and went with them to the ancient imperial palace grounds. Unfortunately, we could not get into the palace itself, but we were able to walk around the enormous grounds and take some great pictures of the group. The walk back to the guesthouse was very long, but we made it just in time to leave for the shinkansen (bullet train) trip back. In the middle of the afternoon, Kyoto station is incredibly busy, a huge change from when we arrived and it was nearly empty. We bought lunch and immediately headed to the shinkansen platform. To our surprise, a shinkansen departs for Tokyo every five minutes or so. We got on the next one, found a seat and finally began to relax.

The trip was simply incredible. We practically flew past the Japanese countryside and actually got to see glimpses of what life is like in rural Japan. The mountains provided a great backdrop, but we did not get to see Fuji-san well because it was way too cloudy. I think I may have seen it, but there was no way to tell because most of it was obscured by the rain. When we finally got back to Azabu-juban on the subay and found out how drizzly it had been all day, we realized that we had made it all the way from Kyoto without going outside. The public transportation in Japan is incredible. We checked back into the Sanuki Club and are now studying and catching up on what we missed over the weekend. All in all, this vacation has been one of my all-time favorite trips.

12 June 2006, 11:00 PM

Everyone woke up exhausted this morning because of our trip to Kyoto. Most of us (not Tiffany or Zak) made it to language class on time and had another very useful session with our sensei. I am getting used to carrying around a lot of change in my pocket and at one point today I had Y1407 from 37 coins. I am not accustomed to carrying around any significant amount of money in coins and I think that may be making me think that coins are not really worth as much as they are. I try to pay for everything I can with my change, but the small ones still seem to accumulate. Nanotechnology class in the afternoon was similar to past classes. Students started to give presentations over papers that their hosts have published in order to get a feel for the lab that they will be working in. I did not get a copy of the paper I was supposed to read until after class, so I will present tomorrow. We found dinner at the supermarket up the street for fairly cheap. They discount obento boxes after 7:00 so we were able to pick up some good food for less than Y500, which is a great deal. After dinner, everyone wrote presentations and studied Japanese in preparation for tomorrow.

13 June 2006, 11:00 PM

Once again, the day started with a really early language class. We had a nice lunch break where four of us explored the Tokyo Tech campus, heading south to the dorms and international student housing. It was a pretty nice place, about par for the housing we have seen. We also noticed that every single tree on campus has a metal chain around it with a numbered plate attached. For some reason, they need to know every tree's number. Culture class in the afternoon was boring as usual, but we're almost done with it so there is some consolation. I did my laundry in between culture and nanotechnology classes and just barely had enough time to get to TUJ for the night class. Afterwards, we ate at a nice cheap ramen shop near the subway in Azabu-juban. When we got back from Kyoto, the hotel staff switched my room with Ryan's. I was able to confirm today that my new room has an extra square foot of space because there is no support column in the corner, and that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to storing my things. It's amazing what one square foot can do. Anyways, it's now time for bed. I'll probably watch the early World Cup game tonight. Yesterday was pretty disappointing: Japan lost their 1-0 lead over Australia in the last ten minutes of the game and lost 3-1. The USA lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic. But, Rice beat Oklahoma in game 3 of the NCAA baseball super-regional and advanced to the College World Series again. Good luck to them!

14 June 2006, 10:45 PM

Since today was Wednesday, we had more time to explore Tokyo in the afternoon. The morning was uneventful again and we left Tokyo Tech right after we ate a cheap lunch in the cafeteria. Chris, Tyler, Dvir and I headed to Ueno to visit the Tokyo National Museum, one of the most famous museums in Japan. Ueno Park also houses several other national museums and the national zoo, but we didn't have enough time to visit any of those. Maybe on Saturday. The Tokyo National Museum is great. We got in for only Y130 because of our International Student ID cards and were able to spend two and a half hours exploring the four main buildings they have. The museum keeps artifacts from ancient Japan and East Asia, as well as more modern paintings and sculptures. The most interesting exhibits were the so-called National Treasures that used to be owned by the Imperial Family. These treasures included many gilded statuettes and very ornate decorations for the Royal Family to use on important occasions. We then walked around the park for a while, exploring the area around the rather large pond. It seems that everybody likes to walk their dog here, and since Japanese houses are quite small, the dogs are tiny to match. We ate lunch at a ramen shop in Ueno and then headed back to the Sanuki Club to catch up on homework and sleep. Now, I'm up in my room preparing for bed and watching another World Cup game on TV.

15 June 2006, 11:15 PM

Language class was fun again today, even though it is getting tough to stay up in the morning when everyone is just exhausted. We had a quick meeting with everyone about the procedures for traveling to our internships this weekend. When we left culture class, it was raining so everyone just headed back to the Sanuki Club to relax again. This is really only the second time it's rained enough to use an umbrella, the other time being the very first night we were in Tokyo. Six of us went back to the Korean barbeque place to use the gift certificate we won before we all leave. We wound up eating a very good and filling meal for less than Y500 per person. We were all very happy about that. On our way back, we tried to stop at the French bakery in Azabu-juban, but it had closed already. They make these doughnut-like pastries that are delicious and are only Y73. Thinking about U.S. doughnut prices, it seems expensive, but it is very cheap for any sort of dessert pastry here. After we got back to the Sanuki Club, everyone got back on their computers to finalize information with our research hosts and to surf the internet. Once again, I am now watching a World Cup game just before I get to bed. I actually surprised Suzuki-sensei, one of my language teachers, when I mentioned that I had been watching soccer games while I was here. She had heard, rightly so, that Americans don't watch soccer. Granted, I only watch the World Cup and without as much fervor as most of the world does, but just the fact that I watch it seems to be surprising.

17 June 2006, 1:00 AM (the next day)

Today was the last day of class and it sure ended well. We have learned so much Japanese in just 3 weeks. We are able to translate fairly complex paragraphs into Japanese and read hiragana pretty well. We had lunch with our senseis and were able to talk more natural Japanese during that time. It made me feel that we had really accomplished a lot. In other news, the rainy season has definitely started in Tokyo. It poured for the entire morning, but it let up after 5:00 and turned into a pleasant but humid day. Around dinnertime, the entire group attended an informative panel discussion co-hosted by TUJ and the American Embassy. The speakers discussed how Japan is (not) preserving historic buildings and the mismanagement of government funds for building projects. After that, we headed to Roppongi to go to a Karaoke place to celebrate one of our last days as a group in Tokyo. We stayed for two hours and it was a lot of fun. Now, it's late, but I have no more homework to do, so that makes things easier. I am planning my day tomorrow (the weather report says no rain) and watching the World Cup in the background.

17 June 2006

For our last day in Tokyo, this sure was a good one. We slept in a little until 9:00 or so and then Christine, Aydin and I visited the Imperial East Gardens. Since it was a Saturday, the area was filled with tourists from around the world. It was kind of nice, but not much was blooming at the time. I'd imagine that coming in the spring would be the best, but then you'd have to put up with even more tourists. After being in Japan for three weeks, it's annoying whenever we see gaijin tourists even though we are gaijin ourselves. We walked from the gardens to Ginza and looked at many of the stores. We toured the Sony and Apple showrooms and got to see all of their newest products. We then went back to Ueno looking for a free art museum that was nowhere to be found. Several art museums were charging up to Y1200 for a student ticket. The zoo tickets were also prohibitively expensive, so even though they had pandas at the zoo we decided to just walk around the park instead. I did notice that in Ueno, almost all the signs are in Japanese and English with the Japanese in bigger letters at the top. The interesting thing is that the only sign with English in bigger letters was the sign pointing towards the gift shop. Funny how things work. We visited the shogun cemetery that was closed the other day and then left for Asakusa and the plastic food market. Christine and I walked around Asakusa for an hour or so and never found the plastic food. We did see a lot of neat shops though that were less touristy and that's always a good thing. We eventually made our way back to the Sanuki Club for a late dinner with our language senseis and other people who have helped us while we completed our orientation in Tokyo. The meal was another one where you grill meat and vegetables yourself on a small charcoal grill in front of you. It was very good and a good way to end our time here.

In Conclusion

The orientation was incredibly useful for getting used to Japan. We have learned quite a bit and have been able to find our way around Tokyo with relative ease. I probably won't be updating this as often when I'm at my internship because I don't think I am going to have enough to write about. In any case, these first few weeks were insanely fun and I am very glad that I have had the opportunity to come to Japan. Some things that I have noticed: I will be bowing to everyone when I get back to the states. It will be hard to not use chopsticks for everything. I'm starting to forget some English words because we only use the Japanese words for them (ie: "kombini" = "convenience store")

20 June 2006, 9:00 AM

We made it to the ISSP without any trouble on Sunday. The Tsukuba express is less than a year old and is very nice if a little pricey. Akiyama-sensei (Lily's host) met us at the station and brought us and our bags to the lodge. The lodge is very nice. My room is slightly bigger than my room at Sanuki club and we each have a private bathroom. I think I am going to enjoy living here. The only problem that I foresee with Kashiwa (the city that we are in) is that it is definitely a suburb. It may be tough to walk places. The lodge has two bikes that we can use, but there are three of us. It was pretty rainy on Sunday but we walked a ways to go to a noodle shop for dinner. I then got everything ready for my first day of the internship.

I met Takeyama-sensei at 10:00 AM in his office. He showed me my desk and then we went to a group meeting that is held every Monday. I introduced myself to everyone. Almost everybody speaks good English, but sometimes the right words can be a challenge. I am working on my Japanese, but I have a very limited range of things that I can express. After the meeting, I returned to my desk and began setting it up like I wanted it. We went to find some English textbooks for me to study from in the on-campus library. At lunchtime, everyone went to a restaurant down the street in Takeyama-sensei's car. It was a pretty nice restaurant and I got to practice my Japanese with everyone while I was there. After lunch, I visited the lab where they conduct all of their experiments. They have a huge capacitor bank the size of the lodge that I am staying in. I got to see remnants of previous experiments and exploded coils. I am told that tomorrow, they are going to run another experiment and that I will get to watch. Near the end of the day,

Takeyama-sensei found a bike for me to use around town, so now we have three. This bike belongs to Fritz Herlach, a retired researcher who visits for about a month each year. The paper I read one week ago for Jonah's class was co-authored by Herlach, and now I am riding his bike. It's funny how things work out. Overall, though, I am definitely looking forward to the remainder of the summer.

20 June 2006, 10:45 PM

Today was a lot of fun as well. I arrived at the lab at 9:30 and very few others were there at that time. Apparently, they like to start and end late. I began my new assignment of solving a problem that Takeyama-sensei gave me. I used some basic physics to solve it, but he wanted me to use differential equations to do so. I spent most of the afternoon re-learning how to solve homogeneous differential equations with quite a bit of success. Hopefully, I will be done soon. Rice also won its second College World Series game today, advancing to within one game of the championship series. Furthermore, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers in seven games to win the Stanley Cup.

In the late afternoon, I went with the grad students to the grocery store up the road to get food and snacks for a dinner in the evening. The supermarket is large with lots of great food to choose from and I will have to go back sometime later. The dinner was fun with everyone from Takeyama's group attending (7 people total). It is very interesting to notice which English words everyone uses. Occasionally, somebody will say a word that catches me by surprise at how seemingly advanced it is. For example, after driving over a pretty nasty speed bump, all of the Japanese called the driver "sadistic" and were not familiar with the word "mean." After dinner, we walked across the hall to watch a visitor from Osaka who was using the lab equipment. He made several "shots" of the single-turn coil with his experiment, which I watched with great interest. I left the lab around 9:30 PM. Even though it was a 12 hour day, I still feel like I had a good time. I just hope that the long days don't wind up taking their toll on me in the long run.

21 June 2006, Midnight

Today was mostly the same as yesterday. I was one of the first people to arrive in the lab at 9:45, so I got to work on the problem that Takeyama-sensei assigned to me. It's tough trying to remember all the differential equations, so I went up to the library hoping to find a book on the subject. Unfortunately, none of the books were quite right and I returned to my desk empty-handed. After a little bit of fiddling with the equations, I was able to produce them in a form that was much easier to solve and looked more like what Takeyama-sensei had wanted in the first place. Now, I think that I am done with the problem, but I will have to wait until tomorrow morning to be sure. I also finished making my pickup coil today and it seems that I may get to test it out sometime later in the internship. I began working on translating the instructions on how to make the coil from Japanese to English with little luck. I can read the hiragana with few problems, but parsing it into words can be tough because there are no spaces. I am making some slow progress with help from Miyabe-san, a second-year Master's student. I hope it all turns out well.

I left the lab (early) around 6:30 so I could do laundry in the evening. Actually, Miyabe-san did not get to the lab until around 2:00 in the afternoon because he had been at work until after midnight trying to get the experiment from Osaka working properly. I guess I just need to learn to shift my workday. Anyways, the laundry was interesting in itself. I had no problems with the washer even though its many options were labeled only in Japanese. I was able to figure out how to do the wash and turn on the dryer, but it actually seemed like very little drying was taking place. I cycled through most of the settings, thinking that it must have been on a low heat setting by default, but it still took about two and a half hours to get everything dry. I'll have to figure something out before I try that again. Now, it's time for bed though before another long day tomorrow.

28 June 2006, 4:00 PM

This past week has been a lot of fun. Around the lab, I am helping to set up experiments which is very interesting. Mainly, the samples have been made by different research groups and we just characterize them in magnetic fields. The work mainly consists of aligning lasers and ensuring that the detector and sample have been prepared correctly. It's not too time consuming most of the time, except when the laser is in a fairly unstable configuration. Sometimes we spend hours trying to get the best signal possible from the laser. It is hard because the laser is invisible (far infrared) and we need to aim it down a tube that is about 1 mm in diameter and 30 cm or so long. There is an incredible amount of precision involved in this task. I have been doing a lot of the alignment work, and yesterday I had it set up fairly well before I went to the other side of the containment chamber to adjust a mirror on the other side. Without touching anything, the signal was cut in half by the time I walked to the other side. I was a little annoyed so I walked back and was unable to get it back to the previous height, though I did improve it slightly. I returned to the far side of the chamber only to see that there was now no signal! The laser system is very unstable and the slightest movements (including leaning on various tables and pillars in the room) can throw it all out of alignment. Even so, blowing up the coil at the end is a great therapy for an experiment that just won't cooperate.

There was a senior from a nearby university visiting Takeyama-sensei's lab last Friday. I think he was deciding on a graduate school to attend (as there are no undergrads permanently at the ISSP), but that doesn't seem to follow with how the Japanese education system works. Apparently, there are no entrance exams for graduate school. He spoke English very well and we talked for a little while about what I do and what the US is like, especially the universities. At the end of the work day, around 9:30, we went as a group to a Western-style restaurant nearby. They served steaks, chicken, and hamburger steakes which are very popular in Japan. I had a hamburger steak which was delicious and I realized that this was the first time in about a month that I had eaten with a fork and knife. Chopsticks weren't even available. I can only imagine what it will be like to go back to the states and eat all the foods that I am missing out on (Mexican, steaks, large Italian meals, etc.).

On Saturday, I slept in for the first time since we arrived in Japan. We went to the grocery store to pick up cheaper food that we can cook in the lodge's kitchen and found a good selection of food that is easy to prepare. Later in the afternoon, Jenny and I took the train to Tsukuba in an attempt to climb Tsukuba-san (Mt. Tsukuba). Unfortunately, we arrived just after 4:00 PM and the shuttles were no longer running for the day. I think we would have had enough time, but it does get dark very early around here (around 7:00-7:30). Japan has no equivalent of Daylight Savings and their time zone seems to be more centered around 12:00 being the halfway point of day and night. The sun rises around 5:00 AM, instead of 6:30 or so in the US time zones. In any case, we walked around the main city center in Tsukuba. It was nice, but there wasn't all that much to do. We will definitely return sometime much earlier in the day. Lily spent the weekend with her sister and boyfriend (who are in Japan for two weeks) at the beach near Hakone and Yokohama. They had a great time and told us about some out of the way places that they found in Tokyo. Sunday was spent mainly in the lodge trying to catch up on everything that I've fallen behind in.

My second week of work has started out less exciting than the first. I guess this is to be expected though. I have been doing a lot of reading on their experimental techniques because I found a great English book in the library that is written about the ISSP. Someone picked some potatoes in the field behind the MegaGauss laboratory and put them in the conference room. Takeyama-sensei is going to use those today and cook a meal for the group in the evening.

6 July 2006, Midnight

Another week has passed and, once again, it has been a lot of fun. On Saturday, I biked around for several hours, going to downtown Kashiwa along Highway 16 and looking around there. It's a very interesting ride and the only bad part is all the exhaust from the cars on the highway. I passed about as many foreign car dealerships as I did Japanese ones (and more than half of the foreign ones were GM brands... I can't believe they can sell any cars here), which I found surprising.

On Sunday, Jenny and I went to Asakusa in a second attempt to find the plastic food market. We had better directions this time and found it very quickly. Turns out that Christine and I were only about two blocks from it when we decided that we were going the wrong way and walking away from everything (whoops). Most of the plastic food was quite expensive, but I managed to get some small plastic sushis for me and some for Christine. In one of the restaurant supply stores in the area, I also found an advertisement for Chuy's restaurant, which only has locations inside Texas. Of course, I took a picture and sent it to everyone in the program. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and catching up on emails and things to friends and family.

Tuesday was the Fourth of July, so many of the Tokyo-area and not-quite-Tokyo-area-but-close people decided to meet up that night and have a small celebration. We met at a small ramen shop in Shibuya and then walked to Yoyogi Koen to set off some fireworks. Tiffany brought an American (from Appleton) and a Canadian (?) with her to celebrate with us. The American is spending six months in his internship at NTT and was pretty much in the same situation as we were when he arrived. He was definitely glad to see a large group of Americans after four and a half months of being around very few. It was a bit cloudy that night and the ambient light from the city lit up the clouds brightly enough that we could read the fireworks' packaging without straining. Tokyo really is insane. As we started the fireworks, we were immediately stopped by some police who told us to stop. Luckily Jason ran after them to clarify some things because Japanese people set off fireworks there all the time. It turns out that we had to do everything on the asphalt instead of the grass, and we complied. Also, we were not supposed to shoot off any fireworks that make a loud noise which disappointed most of us. Just before we started, the cops came back by and whispered "sheecret" ("secret") to us, which I thought was hilarious. We still had a good time with sparklers and other small ground fireworks. After deciding to do one very loud firework last, we lit our biggest one with a group of Japanese who were there shooting off their own fireworks for no special reason. It was a good ending to a fun day. We headed back fairly early because of the timing of the Tsukuba Express and went to bed tired.

Tonight, I went bowling with the grad students from the lab. We went to one of the conveyor belt sushi places and ate a surprisingly cheap and good dinner and then headed over to the bowling alley. In the entrance to the second floor (it was upstairs), there were several of the ubiquitous crane games and one of them had a large bag of sweets precariously hanging over the ledge. Miyabe-san spent Y500 in vain trying to knock it over the edge, but it came so close that we were all sure it was somehow rigged. After buying our tickets, Miyabe-san ran back over to look at it, and immediately it fell down. It turned out to be a fairly large bag of red bean paste-filled cookies that we enjoyed throughout the night. After 5 games of bowling (I did an OK job for the first four and had an amazing last round), I really wanted to get a picture of the shoe dispensers. Instead of having an employee hand you your shoes, there were shoe dispensing machines under a giant sign that read "AUTO SHOESER." I convinced Miyabe-san to take a picture of the shoes, and Enya-san and I put on these giant bowling pin costumes and got in the picture. It's going to turn out great! After that, we returned to the ISSP and I am now definitely ready for bed.

9 July 2006, Midnight

This weekend was another fun but really long one. On Saturday, Jenny and I took the Tsukuba Express into Asakusa for the Tanabata Star Festival (the holiday actually fell on Friday, but everyone celebrated on Saturday). One of the roads that we had actually walked down before was now completely decorated with paper lanterns and bamboo trees. During Tanabata, kids write wishes on a sheet of paper and hang it on the bamboo. Afterwards, all of it is burned to carry the messages skyward. The street was also filled with vendors and visitors and was packed all the way from Asakusa to Ueno. We walked up and down several times looking at everything, taking pictures, and eating at the various stalls that were set up. In the early afternoon a parade wound its way through the crowd, so we stuck around to watch. It was mostly kids from area elementary schools performing their extracurricular activity of choice (it's usually required to do one activity on Saturday morning). There were many marching bands, which surprised me quite a bit. Having elementary school kids that were already quite talented on their instruments, but also marching is very different from the way things work in the states. Their choices of songs amused me as well: the first band played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and I initially thought that it was out of place, but it was nothing compared to what we would hear later. Tanabata songs do exist, but they had chosen to play an American song for the festival. The next band was playing "When the Saints Come Marching In." It's also American, but it has a certain festival atmosphere to it and wasn't really all that odd. I was completely caught off guard by the third band, though, which was playing a composition of the US military songs. I was extremely surprised to see a group of ten-year-old Japanese kids playing the Marine Hymn.

After seeing the rest of the parade, Jenny and I went to Ueno Station (at one end of the festival street) to get a JR East rail pass that will let us take any JR East train (including shinkansen) for four nonconsecutive days. After a little hassle of where we could actually buy the pass, I got mine and decided to head North for the rest of the weekend. Jenny went back to Kashiwa because she is going camping with her lab group. I took the shinkansen to Nagano and met Christine there. She showed me around town, which was absolutely gorgeous. Nagano is up in the mountains (which is why they hosted the winter Olympics in 1998) and has remained quite open and not city-like. It has more stuff to do than Kashiwa, which made me really happy. Christine has a double room, so I spent the night there as well. In the morning, we woke up and visited the Zenkoji Temple near downtown Nagano. It's up at the base of one of the hills, so from the temple you can get a fairly good view of the city. Unfortunately, it started raining and we couldn't enjoy the temple as much as we could have. We walked around the city for a while, seeing all of the small shopping areas, before I left for Niigata on the shinkansen.

Niigata is a port town farther north than Nagano, but the route to get there is a little roundabout. I knew there wouldn't be much to do in Niigata, but I wanted to go anyways because I have the JR pass. The city itself is pretty big and I found myself in the middle of the downtown area. I started walking in the direction that I thought the sea would be with no luck. I got some nice pictures, but I think that the actual waterfront was quite a long ways away. The subway didn't go any closer and Japanese buses are notoriously hard to use for people not familiar with the area. After spending a couple hours just walking around, I boarded the shinkansen again and headed back to Tokyo.

When I got back, I decided to go to Ginza at night to see the neon. It wasn't as impressive as I had hoped (especially after seeing Shibuya), but it was still vibrant for a Sunday night. Many of the shops were closed, but the lights were all on. Being exhausted, I wanted to take the JR as close as I could to Kashiwa so that I would have to pay as little as possible for the Tsukuba Express, but I found out how bad the JR subway system actually is. I never had a problem with the Tokyo Subway (a different company), but I still have not had an enjoyable experience on the JR lines in Tokyo (except for the shinkansen). Apparently, there is a three hour window when no local trains run on the line that I wanted to go on, so I wound up going back to Akihabara and taking the Tsukuba Express back from there. I arrived back to the lodge around 10:30, and am now working on all the things that I should have been doing over the weekend. I'm also planning on staying up quite late tonight to watch the World Cup final between Italy and France (go Italy!).

21 July 2006, 3:30 PM

This past week has been incredibly busy, so I haven't had much time to write anything. Last week was kind of slow and nothing notable happened until Friday when we returned to the Sanuki Club in Tokyo for our mid-program meeting. I arrived in Azabu around noon and everyone had left the hotel to find lunch somewhere, so I was on my own. I went to the post office to mail a couple postcards home and then I went to the French bakery nearby that has amazing bread. It's surprising how many patisseries there are in Japan, but of course I'm not complaining. I ate my lunch in the little park nearby that we had eaten at as a group several times before. As I was finishing, Ryan and Zak walked up and we talked about our experiences for a while before heading back towards the Sanuki Club to relax and for me to talk to Patrick Frantz about my internship. Everything went really well and we all had a great time as people trickled back in, usually exhausted from a long commute or simply worn out from Friday's intense heat. It was quite uncomfortable outside, but that was just in comparison to the cloudy and rainy days that we had been having. Houston will be much worse when we return (and Dallas seems to be in a 107-degree heat wave right now). Since it was so hot and everyone had so much to say, we hung out in the lobby until dinnertime talking about anything and everything. The NanoJapan program paid for an all-you-can-eat dinner at a cafe on a Ginza rooftop and we all had a great time there. There were two Rice alums who live in Tokyo at the dinner who enjoyed talking to the younger group of Rice students about what has changed and what traditions have been preserved. After dinner, we found a way to the roof of the Sanuki Club (with help from Baba-san, an employee). From the roof of the 12-story building, we could see a very impressive Tokyo at night. We could see many areas with tall buildings that each look like a small Dallas or Houston. Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Roppongi Hills all stood out from our location and the city seemed to stretch on forever. We got to bed pretty late after more talking.

We woke up around 8:00 Saturday morning and checked out of the Sanuki Club for the last time. We went to TUJ to meet the bus that was going to take us to Hakone and boarded with few problems. The bus just barely had enough seats to hold the students, Jason Altobelli, Patrick and his wife, Jaret's three friends who were visiting from Seoul, and our guide. The bus is a typical Japanese bus with seats that fold out into the aisle in order to accommodate more people. Our trip out to Hakone was fairly long and we got stuck in pretty bad traffic on the highway out of Tokyo. It was a holiday weekend (Marine Day was Monday), so everyone in Tokyo was wanting to leave the city. We had lunch at a rest stop instead of in Hakone as we had planned, but it was an interesting experience too. Japan's highways (most of which are toll roads) all have large rest stops fairly frequently. The rest stops all have large bathrooms, food-court style eateries and many more food stands set up on the sidewalks outside. This one may have been especially crowded due to the holiday weekend and the bad traffic on the road. We finally got to Hakone in the mid-afternoon and dropped off our bags at the ryokan. It looked like a pretty nice place, with two different onsen (two each for men and for women) and several floors devoted to Japanese-style convention rooms. Almost immediately, we got back on the bus and headed to an open-air statue museum that was really interesting. We all got some really good pictures from the place and I wished that we had a little bit more time to explore everywhere. We took the long route back to the hotel, going around one of the large hills and seeing Lake Ashi. At the top of the hill, we could see the sulfurous hot springs spewing out steam into the air. There is a popular onsen up there where people cook eggs in the water that they are bathing in. The eggs turn black due to the sulfur in the water. Once again, it was too cloudy to see Fuji-san and I really wished that we had more time to explore the lakefront. Back at the ryokan, we had about an hour until dinner so most of us went to the onsen in our yukata. A yukata is a type of summer kimono that every hotel in Japan will provide for you and you do everything in the hotel wearing the yukata. People walk around and even go to the fancy dinners at the hotel wearing the yukata, which looks mostly like a bathrobe. Anyways, the onsen was simply amazing. The water was comfortably hot and the view from the hot springs was breathtaking. We were on the side of a hill, looking towards another hill with all the trees and greenery. We got back up to the large Japanese-style room just in time for dinner, which was a very large meal even by American standards. We had a little pot where you boil some meat and vegetables, several kinds of sashimi, tempura, vegetables, miso soup, rice, and a sweet dessert with tea. After we finished, there was a karaoke machine in the room, so we all sang a few songs before leaving. Before bed, we returned to the onsen with even more people and sat around in the bath for a long time talking even more about our experiences. Halfway through, we decided to go to the other onsen where we continued our conversation. Afterwards, we returned to the room where a few people were watching a movie. We joined them and then went to bed around midnight which actually seemed much later for today.

We woke up at around the same time on Sunday and headed downstairs for the buffet breakfast. It reminded me a lot of a hot hotel breakfast in the states: lots of American-style food, but with some classic Japanese elements to it. We ate a lot and then got back on the bus and headed out to Odawara Castle. Originally built around 1500, the castle was an interesting sight. They had built an extensive defensive system with moats, walls and artificial hills everywhere. It was interesting noticing the differences between Japanese castle design and European design, even down to small details like the size and shape of the holes from which the defenders would fire their bows. For some reason, there was a really small zoo on one of the upper levels of the fortress. They had an elephant, some kind of primate, peacocks, and some other assorted animals. Unfortunately, the cages were all really small and I felt kind of bad for the elephant, especially. I went up to the top of the reconstructed castle and museum with a few people and was treated to a nice view of the lake, but it was cloudy again so the tops of the nearby hills were obscured. The other group found a costume place where they dressed up as samurai and took some great pictures. On the way to our last stop of the day, we dropped off Carlos and Zak at the shinkansen station in Hakone so that they could get back to Osaka in time to catch the last subway to their research institutions. The rest of us went up one of the hills to yet another Buddhist temple where we ate a boxed lunch that we brought with us. This one was one of the most interesting yet because there was a whole village related to the temple farther down the hill. We spent a lot of time exploring the various shrines, temples, and buildings in the area before we finally boarded the bus to head back to Tokyo. The trip back was uneventful and a lot less crowded than the trip there. We arrived in Azabu and went to eat a light dinner at a popular taiyaki place near the Sanuki Club that we had passed by many times but never knew that it was famous all across Japan. Taiyaki is a fish-shaped pastry filled with bean paste, served hot off the grill. As with any type of food with "yaki" in the name, it was delicious. After leaving the restaurant, we started splitting up again to go to our various destinations. I went with Aydin to Shinjuku station to help him look for a night bus ticket to Kyoto (Monday is a holiday and the Guion Matsuri festival took place that day in Kyoto). Shinjuku-eki is absolutely huge and we just could not find ticket counters for these small night-bus companies. Oh well. Aydin went to Tokyo-eki where some of the other people hoping to find night bus tickets to Kyoto had better luck while I stayed in Shinjuku. The previous time I had come at night, we were rushed trying to get to the restaurant. This time, I was able to leisurely walk along the many streets with neon lights everywhere. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but many people here have taken lots of pictures (and Google is always a last resort). I went back to Kashiwa on the Tsukuba Express and called my parents using Skype. We talked for about an hour before I went to bed.

Since Monday was a holiday (Marine/Mariners/Ocean Day, depending on how you translate the kanji), I got to sleep in. It was a fairly rainy day and I went to the grocery store during a slight lull in the downpour, getting enough groceries to hopefully last me until I return to the states. Unfortunately, that means that I also need to find an ATM sometime soon. Since the weather was so bad, I worked on some of my assignments back in my room. Kono-sensei (from Rice) is visiting on Thursday and I need to have a presentation ready for him. All in all, the day was pretty uneventful.

When I got back to work on Tuesday, I soon realized that you have to work as hard as you possibly can when you have time on the equipment. I set up the pickup coil that I had made, measuring all of its physical parameters (like coil resistance, and a "coil constant" that measures how sensitive it is). Since this was my first time, I made several mistakes throughout the process; however, I had it all set up by the end of a very long day. Unfortunately, we did not really have time to test it that night. I went to bed exhausted after working for 13 or 14 hours and then finishing my presentation for Kono-sensei. Wednesday was a relatively early day and I arrived in lab around 9:30 AM. After quite a bit of fiddling around with everything and learning exactly how everything works, we finally got a shot off around 4:00 PM. My cryostat had gone down to 7K which is apparently impressive for a first cryostat. Unfortunately, there was a tiny hole somewhere that caused the liquid helium to go supercritical under the extreme conditions of the shot. A supercritical liquid is not a solid, liquid, or a gas; instead, it kind of takes on properties of each phase. Of course, one of those properties happens to be that it is opaque to far-infrared light and we did not get most of the signal from the laser. It was too late to do anything but clean up that afternoon because we were having another dinner party in the breakroom. This time, we had sukiyaki (there's "-yaki" again!) which is served in a tabletop stove where everyone grabs their own from the center pot. It is similar to the Sanuki Club and Ginza dinners, but this time the stove had a shallow pot on top instead of a spherical shell. Once again, the meal here was delicious. Everyone talked for quite a while afterwards, and Takeyama-sensei told me several things that I need to do: find a Japanese girlfriend to improve my Japanese and make a huge poster about Japanese culture for the colloquium that is on a long scroll that covers up everyone else's posters, among others. After the meal, I headed back to the lodge and went to bed. Thursday was an early day once again. I got started about 9:00. I met with Kono-sensei for half an hour in the morning. This time, I was much faster at preparing everything because I had the experience from the day before. We got another shot off around 1:00 which produced a very weak signal for an unknown reason. I was even quicker in preparing the third shot and we finally got some good data around 4:00. As we headed back to the office, I noticed that it was finally sunny out so I grabbed my camera to take some pictures of the ISSP. Soon afterwards, we headed out as a group to the ISSP's annual bowling tournament downtown. We took up all 45 lanes and there must have been well over 200 people attending. I bowled an embarrassing 88/97 this time. Later, we headed to a ramen shop nearby and then the grad students and I went to karaoke. It was interesting being at a karaoke place with only Japanese speakers, though they did know quite a few English songs. Who knew that there was a Japanese-language version of the YMCA? Because there were extra syllables in places, it was kind of hard to sing along, but I did my best. I returned to the lodge late and got some well-deserved rest before Friday.

Today (Friday) was back to normal. I am done with the lab equipment, so now I just have to analyze the data and get a poster ready for the session in 3 weeks. While taking a break today, I found out the most surprising thing: about ten years ago I saw a video on the internet about a science experiment gone wrong. I only remember watching something explode and then seeing a lot of people run over and check to see if the experiment survived. At the time, I thought that the explosion was accidental and really funny. Ever since I saw the single-turn coil facility, I had a nagging suspicion that it was the location in the video. Of course I couldn't prove it because it had been many years and my mind could have been filling in the missing bits of my memory. During my break, I inadvertently stumbled across a different copy of the video online while searching for something somewhat unrelated, confirming that it was indeed the ISSP facility where it took place. What an amazing coincidence! I am now working at a place that I saw a really cool video from years ago and this week I was able to cause the explosion on purpose!

24 July 2006, 1:30 PM

This past weekend was also quite a bit of fun. I slept in a little on Saturday and then headed into Tokyo after lunch. I met GV, an international student from the Indian Institutes of Technology (probably the best engineering schools in the world), on the way to the subway and we talked about various things on the way into the city. I wound up going to Shibuya to meet Aydin, Jaret, and Jason while GV went nearby to Harajuku. Jaret and Jason are trying to pick up the whole nihonjin style while they are here, so they have been doing a lot of shopping in Shibuya lately. I followed them around pretty much just watching everything because I can't justify spending the equivalent of $100 on a Japanese shirt (that's already 50% off). We eventually gave up on Shibuya and headed to Shimo-kitazawa, a little bit west of Shibuya on the Keio Inokashira line. We went right past Todai's Komaba 1 and 2 campuses. Jason lives at Komaba 1 (but works at Tokodai an hour away... we have no clue how he's living on the Todai campus) and Aydin and Ryan work at Komaba 2 which is set up exactly like the Kashiwa campus. Shimo-kitazawa was less high-class than Shibuya while still being an area where people my age hang out. I found some stuff that I would have bought here, but I have no need for it now and my bag is big enough as it is. Also, I am pretty much a giant in Japan and some of the large sizes were pretty small on me (they usually don't carry anything past "L Size"). After eating at another conveyor-belt sushi place, we found the Army surplus store that we were looking for. Jason wanted to buy a large bag to carry back all of his purchases in, but the store turned out to be more of an Army-themed store instead of Army surplus and had high prices. We were just looking for the standard Army canvas bag where someone had taken a piece of canvas, rolled it into a tube and sealed off one end. Unfortunately, they only had expensive green nylon backpacks. When we left the store, I ran into GV on the street which really surprised me. Shimo-kitazawa was not in either of our plans for the day, but we had joked when parting that we might see each other because gaijin really stand out in Japan. Anyways, Jaret and Jason headed back to Shibuya for some more shopping after that while Aydin and I went off to meet Ryan near his gaijin house (apartment) in Shinjuku. We eventually found him in the extra-crowded Shinjuku-eki and decided that we wanted to try pachinko while we were here. There are plenty of pachinko parlors in Shinjuku, so we just picked one of them, went in, and realized that we had absolutely no clue how to play. We watched several people and eventually figured out how to get the pinballs and how to put them into the machines. Pachinko is kind of like pinball in that there's little steel balls bouncing around metal pins, but there are no paddles and the only skill involved is twisting the release knob to determine how many balls to shoot and how hard to shoot them. Instead of getting points, you win more balls that you can use in the game or eventually redeem for prizes. Since gambling is technically illegal in Japan, to win money you have to exchange your balls for a token which you can take around the corner and exchange for cash. It's a little loophole in the gambling law. I managed to win big on one of the first balls I shot, but even before we started we knew that it would be almost impossible to redeem our balls for any sort of money or prizes due to the language barrier and the complicated layout of the place, so we all kept playing until we ran out of balls. Aydin ran out pretty quickly, but Ryan and I held out for a bit longer before finally losing. It was a pretty fun and interesting way to spend JPY 1000 ($9). (As a side note, the lady sitting next to me started out with a full bucket of balls, probably at least JPY 5000 worth, and was down to half of that by the time we left... I have no idea how you're supposed to come out ahead, but I do know that you can have fun if you take your time with everything). We then went to an arcade that Ryan knew about and we watched him beat a Japanese guy at Soul Calibur III several times. It was quite impressive because most Japanese are incredibly good at video games. After spending a little time there, I had to head back to the other side of Tokyo in order to catch the Tsukuba Express back to Kashiwa.

Sunday was pretty boring and I stayed at the lodge for most of the day doing work on my poster and talking with people back home over the internet. It was drizzling pretty much the whole day, so nobody really wanted to leave the lodge. I got some good work done and caught up on my sleep.

Monday 31 July 2006, 1:30 PM

Last week was a little slow and I spent most of my time at work getting Matlab running and then analyzing data from the previous week. I also completed the first draft of my poster that I will be presenting at the RQI Colloquium in Houston. We had another dinner on Wednesday and we cooked okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese pancake or pizza. It literally translates to "as you like" and you can put any ingredients in. We made two sets of batter, one with seafood and one with beef. The seafood one had shrimp and octopus while the beef one had beef and green onions. They both had lettuce and various spices mixed into the batter. We then cooked them in pancake shapes on the electric griddles. About halfway through the first batch, we managed to blow a fuse in the Megagauss Lab. You'd think that a building where currents up to 3 MA (yes, mega-Amps) are generated would be able to handle a little electric griddle. Everyone spent several minutes running around and opening all of the metal boxes on the walls before a technician showed up and fixed it for us. The rest of the week was fairly uneventful, though. Takeyama-sensei left for Germany on Saturday and he won't be back until this coming Sunday so I probably won't be able to see him again.

On Saturday, I took the shinkansen up to Sendai and then a local train over to Matsushima, one of the "Three Great Views" of Japan as determined by Hayashi Razan in 1643. Matsushima is a bay on the Pacific coast that is dotted with small pine-covered islands and is breathtaking. I initially had a little trouble getting there because the JR line going out there has a segment where there is only one track for trains going both directions. Because of that, the schedule is a little funny and you have to get off the train and get onto a different one from the same line. I screwed that part up and it took me about 45 minutes extra because of it. It turned out not to be so bad because it was raining for the first part of the afternoon anyways and was just letting up as I finally got to Matsushima. About half an hour after I arrived, the sun came out and lit up the bay for a spectacular view. I walked along the shoreline park for a while taking pictures and looking out at the sea. I then crossed a bridge out to Fukuurajima, one of the larger islands, and hiked around it for a while along some dirt trails that they had set up. Returning to the mainland, I decided to visit Zuiganji before it got too dark. Zuiganji is another Zen temple and they had a really neat forest out front with a cliff on one side and many caves carved into the side of it where monks meditate. I then returned to Sendai as it was getting pretty dark and I wanted to see a bit of Sendai before I left. I walked around the area near the station in Sendai and found a very large mall that may be one of the coolest shopping centers I've ever been to. It was an open-air mall with a long cylindrically-domed roof with stores lining the sides. Each store was really its own building, but they were so close to each other that it appeared continuous. The shops were a nice mix of high-class and lower class, mixing Louis Vuitton with an Apple store, McDonalds and Yoshinoya. Seriously, there must have been at least 3 McDonalds in the mall. The mall went on for several blocks with large streets separating each section. I think that each block is actually owned by a different company. At the end, it made a 'T' shape and kept going for another block or so in each direction. After the covered area ended, there were several more blocks of shops and neon lights. In all, I would bet that I walked at least 2 miles in my circuit of the mall. Eventually, I forced myself back to the station and onto a late shinkansen back to Tokyo. I had wanted to stay with Chris, whose internship is in Sendai, but he was camping for the weekend. I got back late enough that I had missed the Sumida hanabi (fireworks) festival in Asakusa, but I saw a lot of high-school aged kids get onto the train dressed in kimono and yukata. I got back to my room around midnight and got to sleep quickly in preparation for another big day on Sunday.

I woke up around 7:00 on Sunday and headed back towards Ueno to catch another shinkansen north. I tried to stop at a post office in Asakusa to get enough money to pay for my housing, but it was closed. Why ATMs close down is completely beyond me. Anyways, I got on the shinkansen for a short trip to Utsunomiya where I transfered to the JR Nikko line. The Nikko line must be where the JR sends their old trains to die, though it was still better than the L in Chicago. I was going to meet Aydin in Nikko around 11:30, but he got onto a later train and didn't make it there until 11:50 so I walked around town for an hour or so before meeting him at the station. We first headed up the hill to the main temples and shrines, passing Shinkyo bridge which is only about 20 or 30 meters long but goes over a beautiful ravine with a river raging down below. We then made it farther up the hill to the Rinnoji Temple. Each of the temples had a JPY 1300 admission fee, so we decided to forego tours of the insides. A little bit farther is Toshogu Shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu, a famous shogun, is buried. It is probably one of the most famous and lavishly decorated shrines in Japan. We also saw the Futarasan shrine and went inside the Taiyuinbyo mausoleum where Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu, is buried. We then headed back towards the station in order to catch a bus up to Chuzenjiko (Lake Chuzenji) and the waterfalls up there. We got on one bus that we believed was heading that way and the driver pointed us in the direction of Chuzenjiko when we got off at the last stop. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention that it was still 12 km away over mountainous terrain. We figured this out after a short walk and eventually decided to wait at a different bus stop that was literally in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by trees and bushes and a little ways down on the other side was a guy burning trash at his house, complete with a car on cinder blocks in the yard. I have no clue why we didn't take a picture of ourselves out there. Apparently someone driving past was wondering what the two gaijin were doing in the middle of nowhere because a policeman came up to us after twenty minutes of waiting. Luckily, we were able to understand what he was saying and we discovered that the bus was going to be late because it was Sunday! We thanked him and kept waiting. When the bus did come, it was only four minutes behind the posted time; however, it really wouldn't surprise me that the Japanese would dispatch a policeman to tell people that the bus was going to be four minutes late. Everything just runs on time here. We eventually got to Chuzenjiko which is fairly high in the mountains for a lake. I guess that's necessary for waterfalls. It was very foggy near the top of the mountain and sometimes visibility was limited to less than 100 m or so. We walked a short distance to Kegon Falls and were treated to an amazing view through the fog. We caught a short break in the cloud as it passed by and got some good pictures of the waterfall. We then headed in the opposite direction towards the lake and saw some wild monkeys along the way. We walked a bit closer to take a picture and got a few good ones before a monkey started heading straight for us. We noticed that this one was carrying a baby, so we knew that we should probably leave before we caused any problems. The momma monkey chased after us for a little bit but then gave up and walked back. We continued to the lakefront and the docks where there were many boats, but none were in use because it was fairly late Sunday afternoon and very foggy. We walked along a trail that paralleled the shoreline for a long time and also walked along the street. For some reason, the town was almost deserted and we were the only pedestrians for the entire walk. That fact, combined with the fog, gave a very surreal feeling to the entire experience. I really wouldn't have been surprised if we had seen several ghosts along the way. We got some great pictures, but nothing really captured the essence of the experience. We spotted some lanterns hanging along the roadside and found that they led up to Futarasan Chugushi Shrine, which was also completely empty at the time and created a beautiful view. We reluctantly headed back to the bus depot in order to catch one of the last buses back to the station and had an uneventful ride back down the mountain. Since the place was deserted this late, I shared the two-car train with only one other person and we each had a car to ourselves for most of the trip. I got on an almost full Tokyo-bound shinkansen and slept for most of the trip back. My parents called my keitai (cell phone) using Skype's free promotion just as I was opening the door to my room at the ISSP. I talked to them for another hour before putting off my assignments and going to sleep for good that night.

Friday 4 August 2006, 4:00 PM

Well, today is my last day of work and it's pretty slow. I guess that's the way it works most places. Anyways, I finished my poster this week and submitted it last night so I'm done with that. Also, I finally managed to pay for housing today.

Yesterday evening the grad students and I had another little party in the office. Like the first one, this one did not involve cooking; instead, we had sushi and gyoza. I met someone from the Osada lab who had dinner with us for some reason or another. His English is very good and we spent a lot of time talking about various things. Near the end there were two Japanese, one Chinese and me talking about differences between our countries and it was very informative. We also bought some hanabi (fireworks - sparklers in this case) and lit those outside to conclude a very fun day.

Monday 7 August 2006, 9:30 PM CDT

These past few days have been incredibly busy. I finished up any remaining work that I had at the lab on Friday and returned all of the things that I had borrowed throughout the internship. I said goodbye to everyone and gave them their gifts. It's really sad leaving the lab. Hirayama-san and I tried to find another curry place to eat dinner, but it had closed so we went back to the Flying Garden western-style restauruant. Once again, it was very good and we had a good conversation while we were there. He finally asked if I wear cowboy hats and ride horses everywhere and was disappointed when I had to say "no." We returned to the ISSP and played 45 minutes of ping-pong. Hirayama-san is the reigning champion of the Megagauss Laboratory and was very good. I eventually said goodbye and returned to my room to pack everything for Fuji-san. Somewhere along the way I decided that I would check out of my room Saturday and find somewhere to crash Sunday night after hiking. Ryan volunteered his place for storing luggage.

Saturday morning, I returned the lab keys and ID card and took my luggage to the station with the help of Jenny. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to turn in my room key and I had to give that to Tiffany to give to Jenny on Sunday evening. I dragged my bags through the Tokyo subway and eventually got to Ryan's place near Shinjuku. We then got lunch at one of the food stalls in the basement of a department store in Shinjuku-eki and then got tickets on the train for Fuji-san. We only had a minute or so to get to the platform and my ticket wasn't working in the gate so I gaijin-smashed my way through the gate and ran to the platform. We missed the train by only a few seconds and had to go to a different platform in order to wait for the next one. While we were there, we set up gaijin-camp and sat in the middle of the platform during our hourlong wait. We sure turned lots of heads sitting there and one guy even took a picture of us for his blog. After a few train rides and a bus, we made it to the Kawaguchiko Fifth Station (about halfway up Fuji-san) around 7:15 PM, ready to hike. It was dark but the moon was out and we could see the trail without flashlights. Unfortunately, everyone else had headlamps that would shine in our eyes and kept us from adjusting to the darkness. We made it a considerable distance up the mountain with no problems, but we eventually started running into long lines and large tour groups that were all headed in the same direction. Somewhere along the way, Aydin also started feeling sick due to altitude sickness so we took frequent breaks which were helpful to all of us. Looking up or down the trail provided an amazing view at night because you could see headlamps all the way up to the summit, bobbing and weaving as people made their way up. Kawaguchiko also had a hanabi festival going on, so we could see fireworks way off in the distance for an hour or so. We slowly wound our way up the mountain, stopping at the eigth station for some hot chocolate. We did not stop at the hut where we had reservations to sleep because we were too late and we realized that we were not going to make it to the top by sunrise if we stopped. About twenty minutes before the sun came up, as the sky was slowly filling with light, we walked off the trail a few steps and sat down while four columns of people continued behind us. We had been hiking for almost nine hours and hadn't made it to the summit, mainly due to the lines. Luckily, we were very close to the summit where we were. The sunrise was absolutely beautiful and we got to watch it from above the clouds, which was equally amazing. Seeing the sun light up the clouds from underneath and then seeing the sun through the clouds certainly made my day. It was cold and windy, so we continued to the top as quickly as we could. The crater at the summit was huge and since several people were feeling altitude sickness we decided not to hike around the caldera. We got several pictures taken and then headed down on the descending trail. This second trail was slightly steeper and was loose gravel and sand instead of the hard rocks on the ascending trail. We walked down very quickly, slipping and sliding on the tricky trail. We made it down in just over two hours. Everyone was exhausted and very dirty from kicking up the volcanic ash on the way down the mountain. We got several souvenirs at the shop and then slept on the crowded buses and trains back to Shinjuku. Overall, the Fuji-san trip was great even though we were worn out and dirty at the end. I managed to not get very sore but everyone else seemed to be completely dead over the next few hours. We split up, planning to meet up again for a nice dinner during our last night in Japan. Christine and I went to Azabu to take a bath at the public bathouse and we got pretty clean and felt much better afterwards. We dropped off her bags at Tokyo-eki where she could get them the next day and then headed to Shibuya where we planned to meet several people at an okonomiyake (Japanese pancake) restaurant. Christine, Aydin, Dvir and I still needed to find a place to sleep for the night so we eventually found a very classy internet cafe that would let us sleep for the night. The place had internet, TV, games, manga, soft drinks and more for a set price. We became card-carrying members of the cafe and then immediately went to sleep in our little cubicles and comfy chairs.

We had to leave the internet cafe around 7:30 AM Monday which actually fit our plans quite nicely. Aydin, Dvir and I went to the Todai Hongo campus where we shopped at the coop for some Todai (University of Tokyo) souvenirs. Finally we had found a college campus that looks like a (western) college campus. Since it was so nice, we walked around for a little while before heading to Harajuku for some last minute gift shopping. All of us bought some souvenirs and pretty much depleted the yen that we had left. The three of us met Ryan at a ramen shop near his gaijin house that serves delicious ramen. They make everything in-house and are very nice people. We finished our lunch with the Shinjuku businessmen and headed back to Ryan's place to get our stuff and get to the subway station. It was a challenge to carry everything we had brought plus the souvenirs through the intense heat and humidity but we were able to make it after some time. We got on the Narita Express and bid Tokyo goodbye, hopefully only for a little while. The Narita Express is well built to handle people's luggage and Narita is set up conveniently as well. The baggage carts are even specially designed to fit on escalator steps. We were able to check in with no problems and they even ignored my overweight bag and didn't count the Fuji-sticks as extra luggage. The security and immigration lines were also very short and we got to the gate with no hassles. We greeted the people who were already there and waited around for an hour or so for everyone else to straggle in. The plane flight back was much better than the plane ride over - I think it was because the movies were more interesting, we had everyone on the same plane and we now knew each other, and I didn't catch a cold halfway through. A thunderstorm diverted the plane to Oklahoma City for an hour and a half where we couldn't leave the plane because the airport has no customs or immigration. When we finally made it to Dallas, we had missed our connecting flight to Houston and we had to scurry around to find a new flight. Luckily, American had automatically booked all of us onto a later flight to Houston which we found with few problems. Chris, Tyler and Ryan had wanted to go to Chris's house and then drive to Houston when it looked like we were never going to make a connecting flight, but they came back when we told them that they had seats reserved. While waiting in DFW, I had a delicious barbeque sandwich for the first time in a long time. UPDATE: We eventually made it to Houston and took taxis to our hotel. The computer system had a really strange error when giving us our rooms but we eventually got it sorted out and I am now ready to get to bed at almost 3:00 AM. Funny that I have had no real sleep since Friday night in Japan and I have been awake for 34 hours now (with intermittent small naps on trains and planes), but I really feel alert. I guess I am jetlagged after all.

Tuesday 8 August 2006, Midnight

Today was a pretty fun day. I slept in for a while and then moved all my stuff to a storage room until we sorted out the room situation at night. We took cabs to Rice and had some sandwiches in a Duncan Hall conference room. The desserts - some cookies and brownies - were very delicious. We then went over what the conference is going to be like and gave mock presentations of our posters. Mine was unable to print, so I had to go and get it ready to print. After a few small hassles, it came out very well and I gave a slightly nervous presentation. Everyone seemed to like the exploding magnets though so I think I did a pretty good job. While waiting for my poster to print, I took the Japanese students and Ikeda-san to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and they walked around there for a while. We went to Goode Company for dinner and I had some of the most excellent barbeque that I've ever had. After dinner, several of us went swimming in the hotel pool while the rest surfed the internet, checked emails and did various other things. I'm tired pretty early, but not jet-lagged so much. I should be getting tired much later than normal. Maybe the severe lack of sleep before the flight turned out to be a good thing. Tomorrow, we have a big day planned so I need to get ready early.

Wednesday 9 August 2006, 10:40 PM

Today was quite a bit of fun. We started off by going to "Smalleyland" on the top floor of the Space Science building and got a quick tour of the HiPCO room. We also listened to a lecture by Naomi Halas who is studying gold nanoshells. The nanoshells seem to be a potential cure for cancer and I believe that it's the coolest research going on at Rice right now. The nanoshells have a near perfect record in lab mice (23/24 were completely cured and the one that died had a second tumor that the researchers didn't know about and therefore did not treat). I ate lunch at Sammy's for the first time and then we took the light rail downtown to the Houston Technology Center where we heard several people talk about entrepreneurship in nanotechnology. Today has made me very excited about going into nanotech as it will be a great field to study in the coming years. Nanobiology, nanomaterials and nanophotonics will revolutionize the world very soon. We ate dinner at Chipotle and then headed back to Rice for the Rice Alliance kickoff dinner. Dr. Mauro Ferrari, a bioengineer at Rice and several hospitals in the medical center, spoke about the uses for nanotechnology in treating cancer. Afterwards, several of us tried to rent a movie but we came up empty and decided to just rest instead.

Thursday 10 August 2006, 10:00 PM

Today was once again pretty fun. We began a little later, around 9:00, with a debriefing where we talked about our experiences and improvements to be made for next year. We then headed over to the medical center and visited the Baylor College of Medicine's genome sequencing center. It is one of the largest genome sequencing facilities in the world and a large contributor to the human genome project. It was pretty cool seeing all the automated machines they have working on the same things. After lunch, we headed over to Rice where we set up our posters and then listened to a short presentation on nanotubes in medicine. It started raining, so we didn't want to walk to the village for dinner. Instead, we headed just down the street from the hotel to Bennigans and I had an extra-delicious turkey sandwich on a soft pretzel roll. Now, I'm just sitting in the lobby and I'm pretty tired from jetlag.

Friday 11 August 2006, Midnight

We attended the RQI Colloquium for almost all day today. While it was very interesting, it wore all of us out. I started out at 8:00 AM with the Oral Proficiency Interview over the phone so that the NSF has some numbers to justify the money they're spending. It went pretty well and I sorta flashed back to the MLC lessons as the questions and conversation were pretty much the same. I then headed over to Duncan to listen to several of the grad students talk about nanocars, nanoparticles and all things nano. At noon, we had our poster session and I did a great job showing off my poster. I talked to Nick Berndsen about my research and he also noticed that one of my pictures looked a lot like the same video that I mentioned earlier. I attended lots of nanotube talks in the afternoon and then went to the colloquium barbeque where we had Goode Company again. In the evening, we loaded all of our stuff on the bus and headed off to San Antonio for a relaxing day by the river. Our hotel is very close to the Riverwalk so that should be nice for tomorrow. When we arrived, the chaperones told us that all of Saturday would be a day off which was a relief to all of us who were worried that we would have stuff planned all day. We're going to bed early so that we can do more tomorrow.

Saturday 12 August 2006, Midnight

San Antonio! We woke up this morning to a very disappointing breakfast at the hotel. It was billed as being "hot" but they only served a couple muffins and juice. Oh well... it seems to be on par with service in the states since we have returned. We headed off to the Riverwalk pretty early with the intention of seeing Pirates of the Caribbean 2 on the Imax, but they weren't showing it so we had to change plans. I went with several people to get a reservation for dinner while several other people took our Japanese guests around the mall and to the Alamo movie at the Imax. We then quickly saw the Alamo and everyone who hadn't seen it before thought that it was as unimpressive as we all thought. Ripley's was too expensive so our small group split up at the mall with the intention of returning to see Pirates at the AMC. Aydin and I quickly walked by La Villita, a touristy market and crafts area nearby the river. I walked back to the movie and saw it with about half of the group. It was pretty good, but not as good as the first and the dialogue was still terrible. From there, we made a circuit of the river and wound up where the restaurant is. It's official: Mexican food is delicious. I ate way too much though. Afterwards, we took the Japanese students to a cultural dance show featuring Spanish, Argentinian, Mexican and Texan music. All of us were very tired, so we returned to the hotel around 11:00 and are getting to bed for our long day at Schlitterbahn tomorrow.

Sunday 13 August 2006, 9:45 PM

Schlitterbahn is amazing! I now know why everyone says it's such a great waterpark. We spent just over five hours there and I made it on almost every ride. My favorites were the Master Blaster and Dragon Blaster, two waterslides where you actually go uphill several times in the middle. I also enjoyed the many tube rides that were all like river tubing but still within the park. Another fun one was the lazy river that had large waves pass by every few seconds or so. With Chris as our guide, we were able to see most of the park in the little time we had available. I got sunburned because I did not spend very much time outside this summer, but it's really not that bad of a burn. I think it was definitely worth it at any rate. In the late afternoon, we continued on to Austin where we checked into our Hampton Inn rooms. This is by far the nicest hotel we have stayed at yet and it is within walking distance to Sixth Street and the Capitol. Several of us went out to find a place to eat. Incidentally, we happened to choose a Spaghetti Warehouse that I'm pretty sure I've eaten at before. Once again, everyone seems to be heading off to bed pretty early in preparation for another big day tomorrow. We're supposed to be visiting some companies that Patrick has connections to, but Patrick decided to stay in Japan at the last minute and won't be joining us.

Monday 14 August 2006, 11:20 PM

Austin has treated us the best of any city we've been to in the past week. We started off the day with a presentation at National Instruments, the makers of Labview. Unfortunately, it seemed to be mostly a business pitch but I actually enjoyed it because lots of Rice alums work for NI and we had several talk to us today. We then continued on to the University of Texas's Microelectronics Research Center graduate campus where we got a tour of their cleanroom facilities. They have lots of very expensive equipment, including all the basic stuff and a MBE, e-beam and photolithography machines, and several high-resolution AFMs and SEMs. The coolest part of the day was the quick tour of IBM's solutions lab where they have set up a "house of the future" type exhibit. Everything in the display was electronically linked somehow using RFID and 802.11 wireless internet. We returned to the hotel around 4:30, fairly early for what we've been used to. The hotel had free snacks until 6:30, but we did not discover that until around 6:00. This hotel is one of the nicest I've ever stayed in. We ate dinner at an outdoor casual restaurant along Congress Avenue and then went to a movie rental shop that was well on the other side of town for Aydin and Ryan. By this point, everyone is pretty much ready to be back home. It's kind of tough being back in the states while still having things planned out for us to do. Also, all of us are starting to get slightly irritated with each other and it's becoming obvious. I think that's probably because we are not home yet, but it could be due to anything really. I sure hope we can make it one more day without any major incidents.

Wednesday 16 August 2006, 8:45 AM

Well, I'm now waiting at Hobby for my flight back to Dallas. This has sure been one amazing trip. Yesterday, we woke up very early and heard a speaker from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund during breakfast. We then headed out to Freescale Semiconductor and took a quick tour of their fab. We didn't have to dress up in bunnny suits, but we did have to wear a cleanroom frock. The entire process was very interesting. We returned to the hotel for a delicious lunch and a quick talk by a man from Texas Instruments. We then loaded up the bus for the return trip to Houston. It didn't take as long as we had expected, so we ate lunch at a small restaurant downtown before attending the Astros game vs. the Cubs. The Rocket, Roger Clemens, started for the Astros, but he didn't do a very good job. The Astros were ahead in the 9th, but Brad "I give up home runs in the ninth" Lidge gave up a home run to tie the game. We left after 15 innings and the Astros eventually lost in 18 innings. If I had stayed, it would have been the second 18 inning game that I had sat through. At the hotel, we said our goodbyes to people we weren't going to see in the morning and then got to bed late once again. I got up very early this morning because several people had pretty early flights out of Hobby and we wanted to share a cab. Now, I'm definitely ready to get back to Dallas and stop living out of a suitcase. I really can't believe it's halfway through August right now. It seems like it was yesterday that I left Dallas and spent that first night in Japan, rainy and dark. Over the weeks, I learned to find my way around Japan and I really considered it home for that short time. Now, I've only got a week and a half left before I'm back in Houston for the next semester. I've met many new people this summer and I hope to keep in contact with most of them, especially to help next year's NanoJapan participants. I think that this program should become one of the most coveted RUs in the country and I hope that Rice and nanotechnology get great publicity from this. This will probably be my last entry, but I may update the next section as I discover even more habits that I've picked up or any new insights about the states.

Things I have noticed about the USA since I have returned:

  • I like being able to talk to people who are taking my orders or something like that, but I still want to use Japanese verbs when ordering. For example, I said "hai" to a waitress on the Riverwalk five days after returning.
  • American workers in menial service jobs show their discontent and are very rude compared to the Japanese.
  • I still do the head-bow to everyone.
  • I stand on the left side of an escalator, but I notice my mistake about two seconds into the trip.
  • Jason Holden, 6'6" and half black, is hard to pick out in a group here.
  • Trash cans are everywhere, but so is trash. Ikeda-san confirmed that when Japan drastically reduced the number of trash cans, the amount of trash in the streets also decreased because people simply generated less trash.
  • I waved my hand in front of the door of a convenience store hoping to activate the motion sensor (in Japan, all the sensors point straight down in front of the door) six days after getting back.

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