This weekend I went up to Tokyo to interview for a professorship in the history of science at Waseda University.
Now I have interviewed at wealthy private schools in both the US and Japan, and the experiences were very different. At Caltech, everything was paid for by the school, at Waseda, I paid my own travel expenses. At Caltech, the interviewing process lasted from eight in the morning until eight in the evening, at Waseda, it was over in an hour and forty five minutes. At Waseda, I was never told any one's names, at Caltech, I learned the names of over fifteen people and struggled to try to remember them. At Waseda, I wore a tie, at Caltech, I did not.
This picture below kind of sums up my feeling about the whole thing. I went into the front office and bumbled through a conversation in Japanese in which they used various words that I didn't understand, but eventually we got everything straightened out.
Then they took me to a lecture room so that I could set up my laptop for overhead projection. After everything was set up they took me to another classroom to wait by myself while the selection committee went into the first room. They told me it would be about half an hour, but since I forgot my watch in the other room, it felt like an eternity. It was, in fact, as I found out when I was shown back into the original room, exactly half an hour.
Everyone was seated when I went in. I was asked to introduce myself, which I did. Then I gave a 30 minute mock lecture that I had practiced every evening for the preceding week, and which, consequently, went well. This was followed by a fifteen minute question and answer period. There were a few simple questions in Japanese, that I answered in Japanese and one more complicated question in Japanese that I answered in English, but thankfully most of the questions were in English. But the fifteen minutes went by in a blur and then it was over. Everyone filed out. On the way out, one British professor (who had been sure to point out that Eton is spelled Eton, not Eaton), asked me if I was going back to Osaka that night. I said I was, and that was that.
In the main Tokyo station I noticed these annoying benches. They reminded me of some benches that Mike Davis talks about in his social history of Las Angeles, City of Quartz (1990). Apparently, the city of LA was trying to discourage homeless people from sleeping on the benches in certain parts of the city so they designed them with curved seats, so that you could sit on them but you couldn't lay down on them for any length of time.
Well, the Tokyo transportation system has taken it to a new level. Here you see some benches that you can lean on but they're specially designed so that you can't actually sit on them. Tokyoites, however, can sleep standing up on a crowded train so they should actually have no trouble sleeping on these leaner benches.