Working in Japan

Reflective on time spent doing research in Japan. Actually turned into more of a tourist blog.

One week in

A view of university buildings among treesSo, I’ve been here a week now. I’ve done a lot of settling in, a certain amount of figuring out systems, a decent bit of useful work, and a little tourism.

I’m on a small campus here which consists almost entirely of research institutes – so there’s little or no undergraduate teaching. In that respect it’s a little like home… except that “a small campus” here means around 100-200 academic staff, still an order of magnitude greater than Orkney! The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that the campus is noisy, and not from anything man-made: trees and bushes here are loud, filled with cicadas (or similar. I’m no biologist). In summer in Kyushu, you can hear green space coming! Beyond that it’s fairly ordinary university-campus buildings, although the presence of the QUEST experiment is rather cool.

I was told before I came that “the language of the lab is English”. It’s interesting to see what that means. It means that the staff can speak English, and any foreign students use English as a mutual language. The Japanese masters students understandably avoid it as much as they can, except when forced to use it in occasional meetings and presentations. It’s brought home to me something that I’d thought about before: what an advantage people from English-speaking countries have from the start as they go into academia. For the Japanese students here, use of English is a prerequisite for an academic career, and becoming proficient is an extra burden on top of their subject-related study and their research.

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Tourism count so far

Temples: 3
Castles: 1 (ruined)
Museums: 2


Posted by simon in Working in Japan

Nagasaki Marine Festival

Today I visited the Nagasaki Marine Festival at the invitation of the Nagasaki Marine Industry Cluster Promotion Association*.

This was an event aimed at the public, lasting for the three-day weekend that is in progress here, aiming (I think) to raise the profile of the Nagasaki marine technology industry while entertaining and informing people. There were a host of exhibits on renewable energy, sub-sea survey, seamanship skills, vessels for oil & gas exploration, etc., and plenty of activities for kids.

Japanese teacher helping Japanese school student with soldering.

A teacher helping with soldering. Photo: Author.

I found myself “helping” (so far as one can via Google Translate) a small group of high school students to troubleshoot a home-made ROV that they had built. I felt very pleased when I suggested a bodge to test something, one of them tried it, and suddenly thrusters started turning. That facial expression is priceless, and is a reason that I enjoy the little teaching that I do.


* Japanese organisational names that are directly translated into English often seem to come out a little long, unwieldy, and formal. They are, however, very precise.

Posted by simon in Working in Japan

Return to Nagasaki

An area of fake grass with food stalls and chairs/tables on it, between a railway station and a busy road & bus station

Plaza at Nagasaki railway station. Note the mist spray to keep people cool. Photo: Author.

I arrived in Nagasaki yesterday evening after a journey about as bearable as any of such length can be (not that this stopped me from moaning to social media about it).

I’ve been here once before, back in March of this year, and much is as I remember: the sprawling port city with a very walkable centre, enclosed by mountains; the proximity of shipyards to the centre, so that they are part of conciousness; the politeness, of course, but also the rule-following (I’m not sure whether jaywalking is actually illegal in Japan, but it certainly causes tuts and disapproving looks). The one thing that isn’t the same is the climate: what was pleasant in March is now a temperature in the high 20s of Celcius, 100% humidity leaving a permanent haze in the air. It reminds me a lot of when I used to work in the Carribean, and my attitude to moderate rain is the same as it was there: There’s no danger of getting cold, and it’s nicer to be wet with cool refreshing rain than with sweat. When I was working there I acclimatised, to a limited extent, after a week or two, and I’m sure the same will apply here.


Tug boat with its name "SHUNYOU" painted in large capitals on the front of the superstructure.

This tugboat appears to have attitude, and to announce it in big letters. Photo: Author.

Posted by simon in Working in Japan

Bon voyage.

Image by Pixabay user Skeeze, licensed CC0 public domain.

After a lot of buildup I’m packed, and I leave in the morning for Edinburgh. Which isn’t so exciting, but will be followed the next day by the journey to Japan. I’m very excited, and also nervous; nervous for many reasons, but I think most of all because I’ll be working with new collaborators who I’ve corresponded with by email, but never actually met. I’m sure all will be fine, but the beginning of new relationships is always a nervous time.

By a strange coincidence, today I found myself talking about my work to a group of “Marine Ambassadors”, undergraduates and high school students from Nagasaki who were visiting Orkney. They were amused to hear that I was going to pass through Nagasaki before they got back there!

While packing yesterday, I reflected that there were some things I was doing a little differently to a normal trip:

  • I have a small stock of Orkney whisky and fudge, because it’s customary to give gifts at the start of a visit.
  • For similar cultural reasons, I have twice as many business cards as usual.
  • I’ve sorted through my amusing T-shirts, and avoided taking the ones that rely on language humour. In doing this, I realised that most of my amusing T-shirts rely on language humour.
  • I’ve bought, and packed, some slip-on shoes. They’re not something I usually wear, but Japan is a place that can require taking one’s shoes off a lot, and re-lacing things gets boring fast.

Stay tuned!

Posted by simon in Working in Japan