Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting out

Deborah was in town over the weekend, so I took the excuse to take some time off and see a bit more of Tokyo.

On Sunday we went out to Odaiba island (お台場), which was once the fort protecting Tokyo's harbor and is now a huge man-made island devoted entirely to entertainment and shopping.

It's basically just one massive mall after another with rides, movie theaters and museums scattered in here and there. We went to Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (日本科学未来館) - which had some exhibits on robots and nanotechnology that were pretty cool.

There was also a quintessentially Japanese activity going on at the southern end of the island. There was some kind of organized event for the fans of idol girls to take photo shoots of their favorite girls. There were packs of older men, all in their 50s to 60s, with expensive cameras taking photos of different girls. The men all had little yellow ribbons that marked them as participants in the event and the girls were doing various pin-up like poses for them. There were also organizers walking around with yellow arm bands that marked them variously as organizers, security and such.

On the way back, we saw this man-hole cover in front of the JR Shinbashi Station (新橋). The caption literally says fire extinguisher plug, or cap. I guess it means fire hydrant.

I've finally got my office all set up. I needed a set of file drawers, a little table for my printer and a white board. I talked to various people about this but we ran into a bit of a problem with funding regulations and it was unclear, who, if anyone was responsible for paying for it, and such purchases were clearly ruled out by the stipulations of my research grant.

So me and the general office manager did what one would do in such a circumstance at any university. We went over to the building that the department had just moved out of, talked to the janitorial staff (who, in Japanese, have a much more elevated title), and together rummaged the place for abandoned furniture. The head janitor took us around to various places where he thought he remembered that stuff like that was, but he was pretty old and I guess his memory isn't what it used to be. Eventually, we did find most of what we were looking for and the janitor assured us he would let us know when he found the other stuff. Sure enough, the next day, the moving company brought everything to my office.

In the background of this photo, you can see building 11, which houses our department and the School of Commerce. The faculty offices are on the top floor.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

New Office

The moving company arrived this morning at nine o'clock, exactly as they said they would. After I witnessed the unsealing of the seal, they very quickly put everything in the front room, as I had told them, handed me an official receipt made out to the University and left.

I then made my way back over to the department. When I got there, I saw that the boxes of loaner slippers had disappeared. There were still a lot of slippers lying around, however, so I asked the guys at the front if I could go in with my shoes on. They said that I could either use the slippers or my shoes, as I pleased. I wore my shoes.

At the main office of the department, I introduced myself in rather formal Japanese, saying "Hello, I am S, who has been entrusted into the care of this department" (こんにちは、こちらにお世話になることになりましたSですが). This may sound a bit extreme, but it was regarded as the appropriate sort of thing to say at this juncture by the woman at the desk, who gave a little bow. I then asked if my contact person was in, but he had seen me come in, or something, and was already on his way over.

He welcomed me and took me to a conference room in the back, to sign the contract. While he was getting the contract papers, I took this picture of the main quad of the campus. The statue is of Okuma Shigenobu, the samurai scholar who founded the university in 1882. Somehow, signing the contract in my own shoes felt more dignified to me.

After signing the contract, I was given the key to my new office, which is on the top floor of the building with the other faculty offices. In Japanese, a professor's office is called a research room (研究室), and that is certainly what mine looks like.

I borrowed a moving dolly from the logistics company, and spent the afternoon bringing my research books into my new research room. My teaching books will arrive from Canada in the next few days.

By the time I decided to call it quits, I had everything divided into subject piles, but nothing really put away. I also had a list of things the office needed.

I'm not sure about the logistics, but hopefully I can get back in on Sunday.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Osaka to Tokyo

Well, I moved - and none too soon, because after spending about six months excavating the lot across from my balcony and apparently finding nothing, they decided to put up a new wing of the national hospital. Now, instead of the Naniwa-no-miya park, this is all you can see out of my old window.

I wont miss the sound of the construction, but I will miss the sound of the kids playing after school. Look at how tiny those kids are. I don't really understand how they can make as much noise as a construction site, but they do.

I don't know if there is anyone reading this blog who doesn't already know, but I accepted a tenure track professorship at Waseda University (早稲田大学). So, I'm posting this from a faculty apartment near the Waseda campus in Tokyo's Shinjuku-ku. Actually, this apartment is just a temporary place for a few weeks, before they move me to another faculty apartment that is right in the middle of campus. (If you click on the "view larger map" link below, you can go to street view and see my apartment building. It's the off-white building besides the parking lot and across the street from the construction sight.)

View Larger Map

Needless to say, it has been a busy couple of weeks. I was going to my Japanese classes right up until my last day in Osaka. My teachers wanted me to make a speech in Japanese. I tried to get out of this in various ways, including telling them that I had no time outside of class to prepare the speech - which was true. They were undeterred by this, however, and simply cleared up class time for me to work on it. I wanted to do something kind of original, as opposed to a self-introduction or a trivial cross-cultural comparison, which is the standard fare for such speeches. I ended up doing a simplified version of the story of Fred Marshall's pumpkin harvest. After a few rounds of revisions, my teachers decided the speech was ready, and then told me they were going to make a video of it and play it at the graduation party, which I would, happily, miss.

After a fairly humiliating morning of repeatedly recording the fifteen minute story until my teachers were satisfied that I had made no major pronunciation slips and had expressed what they regarded as fitting sentiment at the appropriate moments, I rushed home to finish packing in time for the moving company, who came that afternoon. The movers themselves were as organized as one can imagine. I had a bunch of extra boxes from a different moving company, and when I was asking my movers if they wanted them, they told me they would take the extra boxes for free, but that they could also take my full garbage bags for ¥300 a bag. Since my trash wasn't properly separated, this seemed like a better idea than facing the wrath of the old lady who was in charge of berating me about constantly failing to follow the many rules of the apartment building - most of which were unwritten, but were somehow understood by her as obvious.

The movers put all my stuff in a my own gated cage inside the moving tuck and then closed the gate and sealed it with a paper seal. They asked me to come down to the truck and witness the sealing of the cage. After I affirmed that I had, indeed, seen the cage so sealed, they told me that could witness the opening of the seal in Tokyo. I told them that I was much obliged, and there was some minor bowing and a number of thanks were said.

I spent the night at Chie's and then returned to the apartment in the morning to clean. The guy who had checked the place for damage a week before had told me just to clean it lightly, since they would clean it anyway after I left, so that's what I did. Then Chie and I had lunch together, she walked me to the station, and I took the bullet train to Tokyo. It rained all day.

The rain was heavy when I arrived in Tokyo. I didn't really know what to do, so I just walked to the address of my new place. It was just an apartment building and there was no one around. I called one of the numbers posted for the management and told them I had a reservation for that day. Then I told them I had just arrived so I had no key. Then they understood that I was a new tenant who had no idea what he was doing and they directed me to a main building where I signed a contract an was given a key.

After I dropped off my bags, I went to the new offices of my department, the School for International Liberal Studies (国際教養学部). Our department has just been moved into a huge, brand new building. Actually, the move is still in progress, so there are protective covers all over the floors and the walls to protect the building from furniture damage. (This is a standard practice in any move in Japan.)

Moreover, for reasons that I do not entirely understand the moving company had provided boxes of slippers, one for public use and one reserved for moving company employees, at the front entrance of the building. Near the boxes many people had left their own shoes. I could read the signs and see all the shoes, but somehow I couldn't really believe it. As I was standing there wondering what to do, however, a woman came out of the building wearing bright blue loaner slippers and carrying her own shoes.

So I took off my shoes, put on a pair of general-use loaner slippers and shuffled in, to see if I could get the key to my new office. Our main office, however, was already closed. I thought they would be, but since Japanese work late anyways, I had decided I would go in and see. Actually, I could see people still working through the curtains but they had posted a sign stating that they were closed and to please come back tomorrow. Anyway, it had been a long day, and now I was wearing bright green loaner slippers, so I decided to just call it a night.