Monday, February 27, 2006

I'm sufficiently replete on fine food and marvelous sake that extensive movement is no longer an option. This provides an opportune moment to catch up on the weekend's activities, provided focus remains intact.

Saturday was spent with two of the postdocs, both of whom have been extremely helpful and friendly during my Tokyo stay, which is unfortunately drawing to a close. We started off by heading to the Sensoji temple in the Asakusa district. This is the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and, though crowded with tourists is a stunning building.

Apparently wafting the smoke over your head (rather Bingham style for those who took chemistry class with me all those years ago) is supposed to make you more intelligent.

and it appears that someone has larger feet than me!

I made the mistake of trying my luck with the fortune papers I spoke about before - Not my day it seems. The others had notes saying 'best fortune' and 'good fortune' with tales of joyous happenings ahead. Mine, with the message of 'bad fortune' had less in the way of positive feedback though I shan't comment on my luck in case I become jinxed. Suspicious, me?

After wandering around the streets with shops selling many traditional things including some stunning towels:

and artificial cherry blossom adorning the awnings:

, we had a lunch cooked on a hotplate in front of us in a little restaurant off one of the sidestreets. A rather fine omelet affair with noodles and squid set me up pretty well for the rest of the day.

Those who know me well know that I'm an enthusiastic cook, though my Beijing exploits would have told otherwise. Along with the territory of enthusiastic cook comes knife fetishist and for me, there's no better place than Japan. This shop selling hand crafted works of culinary saberdom was my idea of kitchenalia heaven and only my Beijing wage kept my wallet firmly in its place.

From the Asakusa area we also got a glimpse of the Asahi beer headquarters

After a coffee we headed to the river to go on a boat cruise out into Tokyo harbour to one of the most modern areas. The boat itself was, give or take the comfortable seating area for tourists, straight out of a bond movie and saw us well on our way under the Tokyo bridges and out into the bay.

We then had a short walk around this modern area apparently popular with dating couples. It's also home to a suitably underplayed cat emporium.

After this we headed to the Museum of Tokyo which is a superbly laid out and explained exhibition about Tokyo from the period where it was known as Edo, to the modern day. With excellent reproductions of shogunate villas and the layout of the city, this is one of the best cultural museums I've been to and well worth a visit. It has information about just about every aspect of life in ancient and modern Tokyo from the development of printing and censorship to childbirth and the story of the feudal system.

Models of the ancient streets and city dwellers:

and some impressive shoes used for fishing in shallow waters:

So after that we are up to the kabuke which I've spoken about at length. I haven't mentioned my post kabuke snackette of a curry doughnut, recommended by a friend (many thanks Pamela) and is a rather fine afternoon treat.

I figured last night that I should probably look through my slides again for the talk today so went through and planned roughly what I was going to say. I enjoy giving talks these days but find it frustrating that I'm never going to be able to explain what I do to a large audience and have everyone follow. In order to explain the more advanced areas to those who already know roughly what I do, I'm clearly going to lose a large percentage of the audience. Of course if everyone understands all of what I say, those who know about the area will be frustrated with lack of anything new. Today I gave the talk which was about an hour and three quarters and I hope that most people could follow roughly the first half of the talk. Certainly the intelligent questions at the end were a positive sign to me.

Also today I received a lovely present of an extremely elegant box of sweets from one of the students which, I've been informed goes very well with the green tea used in the traditional tea ceremony and have been told that Kyoto is the place to get that. So, if I haven't gobbled the lot by then, I'll be on the lookout for the specific tea.

This evening I've spent the last three hours in a local restaurant with the two postdocs, two of the students and one of the professors eating a huge feast of foods I've never tried and sampling a selection of sake at a variety of temperatures and of a range of ages. Another stunning meal including toro, the best part of the tuna and bits of a chicken that I've never sampled before (this is saying something having eaten what I have in Beijing!).

Anyway, a lovely treat from everyone has rounded off an excellent first week here. Just a couple of days left in Tokyo and then off to Kyoto where I've been given some good advice on food, temples, and areas to visit. All good fun.

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