Saturday, December 15, 2018

Japan and the Solar System: 12 days around Tokyo

Again in Japan, 3 years after the last time, 5th time flying to Tokyo, to attend a symposium at the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). I realized that there are a lot of similarities between Japan and the Solar System: they are minimalist with a lot of “empty” space between a few objects, they are complex, they are old but always up to date and unpredictable, they are often affected by catastrophic events but they recover, adapt, and continue to evolve. Did you ever notice that as we have the Sun in the center of your Solar System Japan has the Sun in the center of its flag?

A kind of philosophical divagation for introducing this journey, which included some vacation, going around with a German colleague from the NHM of Vienna. The direct flight between Vienna and Tokyo is offered by AUA only in summer, so we had to transfer in Munich, a kind of black hole for luggage. This time, it happened to Julia to have her suitcase delivered to the hotel in Tokyo two days after our landing in Haneda. On the way back, we had better luck, the luggage arrived with us. Let’s talk about public transportation in Tokyo. It’s amazingly efficient, but overcrowded. People are pushed in, kindly but firmly. Although there is a continuous flow of people in and off the trains, everything is ordered and quiet. Unbelievable! The only black mark is the poor knowledge of English. I don’t like the language, but it is a necessity, you cannot aim to an international community without speaking a common language, which unfortunately is English. People are overall very friendly, but communication was constantly an issue.

After a couple of day in Asakasa, Tokyo, to overcome the jet lag (there are 8 hrs difference), we went to Sagamihara, where the JAXA is located, for the conference. We were staying at the local guest house, very cheap and convenient, but bureaucratically… “complicated”. It is always an interesting scientific meeting on the topic Antarctic meteorites, asteroids and space exploration. The group of attendees is small but selected. The international guests generally present review work, summarizing thoughts and measurements of years, the Japanese hosts present their high quality research and push the students to go international. This gives always the opportunity to learn a lot and to strengthen collaborations all over the world. The isolated location helps, too.

After the symposium, the colleague and I continued our trip going to Yokohama and returning to Tokyo (this time in Asakusa, in a lovely Japanese apartment booked through airbnb). Yokohama is cute, but disappointed my expectations. I thought of colonial buildings, I saw modern skyscrapers, a chaotic Chinatown, a reproduction of Burano as amusement park and an imitation of German Christmas markets with German and Austrian products. I liked the shore. Finally, I saw the other side of the Pacific Ocean, after the coast near San Francisco. In the remaining days in Tokyo, we saw all, really all what is listed in any touristic guidebook. The landmarks I especially appreciated, as this wasn’t my first time in town, were the cemetery district (Nezu) and the autumn colors in the peaceful parks. We also ate all what the local cuisine could offer, fish, tofu, soy, green tea, row, boiled, fried, paned, etc. We even cooked our own Japanese dinner. Everything is delicious, but I must admit that after almost two weeks I started dreaming of cheese, real bread, our beans, vegetables, and fruits. And cakes, with a crispy consistence, as well!

In about seven months, I’ll fly again to Japan. The next meeting of the Meteoritical Society will be in Sapporo. Finally away from Tokyo, exploring a different part of the country. Hopefully not as hot as Tokyo in summer. I look forward to this experience, because Japan is indeed an amazing country. If only there was a faster way to getting there… Well, the sunlight takes 8 minutes to reach the Earth and we are pretty close in comparison with other bodies in the Solar System.

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