A gaijin’s passing glances – Pt 1, Nagoya

September 8, 2010 at 4:23 am (Percy) (, , , , , , , )

Recently, I went to the 10th Representation Theory of Algebraic Groups and Quantum Groups conference, held in Nagoya, Japan. Afterwards, I travelled to Tokyo to meet a friend of mine, who gave me a massive bonus to my Adventuring (Tourist) roll. Here follows my tale of of culture shock (and awe), detailing my delightful discoveries in the strangest land I have ever travelled.

First of all, the mathematics conference was brilliant. So many amazingly smart people, chalking and talking their way to my heart:
Chalky goodness

The critical level representation – efforts in the arena of the Geometric Langlands Program

It was a great way to find out what was important to other people. As a student, I want to know what others find interesting; that way, my own research efforts might stay relevant to others. When I find someone I want to work with in the future (read: apply for a job), I want to have something substantial to offer my collaborators!

The conference was entirely in English, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Also, the air conditioning and free wireless were pretty great! At the conclusion of the conference, the organising professors sang Karaoke for us, which was a pleasant surprise – though slightly alarming. Not to be outdone, the younger attendees all went out to an 8-story karaoke complex, paid ~$23AUD for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink fun. I sang some Silverchair, the smartest guy in the room (not me, btw) mangled Amy Winehouse so badly that I cried with laughter, and the Italians gave a great rendition of Killing Me Softly. We got very drunk, and learnt about how Japanese can make a pretty decent beer. Not wine, though, omg.

A few of us kicked on to a lovely sake bar, where you could get awesome drinks and a little bit of food, all delivered to your table. I really liked what little of the “drinking house” culture in Japan I saw in Nagoya.

Before that, I was mostly on my own, in a strange city where nobody could understand a single word I was saying. I was determined to not eat fast food, so I tried as many restaurants as I could. The Japanese accent is everywhere in their cuisine, and emphasis on non-Japanese authenticity is low – the “Authentic Southern Fired Chicken” I ordered from a fully-decked-out-even-with-cowboy-costumes-and-Cheers-playing-on-the-TV American-themed bar was regular Chicken Karaage with chilli powder. Most of my meals were achieved through pointing and hand gestures, but delicious, cheap food is abundant. I never spent more than ~$9 on any meal, and it was all extremely filling!

But the Internet was very difficult to find. There was a coin-operated internet machine in the hotel lounge:

Usage is easy! If the coin of 100yen is thrown in, it will be OK!!

…but it was terribly old and slow. I decided to go in search of better internet, and experienced racism directed towards me for the first time in my life. I followed signs (in English!) to Internet cafés, and was told on two separate occasions that their establishment was “No gaijin, Japanese only”. The third cafe I went to was reached by lift, and the lift doors opened to reveal… another locked door with an intercom, right up against the lift. I pressed the button and tried to gain access, but lost my nerve when the doors started closing and I still hadn’t heard any English. Eventually I found a place that would take me, but it was just so surreal.

Like this sign:

I understand the first four. But the fifth is… do you sit here if you’re crying?

People were somewhat reluctant to sit next to me on trains Nagoya, and not speaking the language was so, so hard. It was very isolating.

Oh, back to the technology – I think I was expecting Japan to be like Australia, only at a higher technology level; what I found was a higher prevalence of somewhat gimmicky technology:

Happy poopy time

…but overall, technology didn’t seem substantively more advanced. The trains were great, though, once you puzzled out where you were and where you wanted to be and what platform you had to be on to get the right coloured train – they came about once every five minutes, and moved a lot of people.

I also saw a castle that was being rebuilt, having been destroyed in WWI. It was pretty impressive:

There were many (~6?) of these. It’s as steep as it looks!

….and the moat was cool:

Sure, no water, but try getting through that without getting shot at first!

And so my time in Nagoya drew to a close, as does this post. I’ll continue my Japan adventures in the coming weeks, still to come:

  • A dance club catering to the geeks of Japan – they use .gifs to enhance their music, for real.
  • Engrish, oh lol
  • Bullet trains!
  • More of my clashes with the oddities of Japanese culture -“They don’t have street signs? What do you mean, they don’t have street signs?”
  • Maids!
  • Crossbows!
  • Mecha!
  • Mudkips!
  • Pulleys!

Next part will be up soon. Stay tuned!

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