Archive for Nagoya

For the sake of a seminar..

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 17, 2014 by telescoper

Just a quick post while I drink my morning coffee. Yesterday afternoon I gave a seminar here in the Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute at Nagoya University. It was actually at 5pm; I almost made a mistake when I saw it on the the high-tech digital display screen shown here (see top right) because I thought that 16 meant 1600 hours:


Although I’ve got used to the time difference pretty well, I am still struggling to work out what day it is. The 16 stands for 16th January of course…

Anyway, it seemed to go fairly well and was pretty well attended by the students and postdocs as well as faculty. The lecture theatre was extremely well equipped with AV equipment and I got distracted quite often playing with the various gadgets. Also there were two projector screens, side by side, so the audience got my slides in stereo, so to speak.

In case you’re interested, here are the slides from my talk – complete with artistic flourishes:

For the cosmologists among you, the main protagonists here are Naoshi Sugiyama, who has a joint appointment here and at the Kavli Institute in Tokyo, Takahiko Matsubara, and Chiaki Hikage. The latter was a postdoc working with me at Nottingham and Cardiff; he then worked in Princeton before returning to Japan; Chiaki has been my host during my stay here.

After my talk, and a question-and-answer session, the staff treated me to dinner. We had some discussion about where to go during which I mentioned that I’d seen a place called Hamakin, which claimed to be a Japanese-Italian restaurant:


I wasn’t convinced by the concept but it turned out that, although it was a new place, Takahiko had been there before and thought it was very good. We ended up there and, much to my surprise, it was excellent. It was a lot more Japanese than Italian, I have to say, but we did try an interesting take on pizza with cod roe as part of the topping. They had an English menu, with some curious choices of English words. I wasn’t really tempted by “Economic Steak”, and “Cod Ovum” suggested, by use of the Latin singular of “egg”, an extremely small portion. I still don’t know what “pastured chicken” is, either.

As a special treat some sake from a bamboo container was served for me in a bamboo cup; the bamboo is supposed to make it taste nicer but I wasn’t able to discern a difference between the special sake and normal sake. I clearly don’t have a sufficiently cultivated palate. Apologies for the pun in the title of the post too!

Today, Friday, is the last working day of my visit so I’d better get on and finish what I’m here to do because there’s another seminar this afternoon which I’d like to attend. Tomorrow, if I can get myself organized, I might take a trip on the bullet train for a day’s sightseeing in Kyoto, which I am told is a must-see city.



The Flowers of January

Posted in Art, Biographical, History with tags , , , , on January 12, 2014 by telescoper

Today’s tourist itinerary  took me first to the Tokugawa Art Museum, which contains family treasures from the Owari Tokugawa family, one of the families from which the Shogun was chosen during the Edo period (which lasted from 1603 until 1867 and is sometimes called the Tokugawa period). The collection is magnificent, comprising arms and armour of the elite Samurai warriors as well as art, garments, furniture, and household objects of the period, all made to a standard befitting a Japanese noble family. The highlight for me was the wonderful display of maps and books illustrated with exquisite ink drawings. What struck me most is how stable was the general form of artistic expression in the period covered by the museum, in contrast with what you would find in a European collection over a similar timescale. Japan was very much a closed country during the Edo period  and consequently did not experience foreign influences on its culture in the same way as Britain did in the 17th-19th centuries.

The Tokugawa Art Museum is adjacent to the Tokugawaen, a formal Japanese garden originally built in 1695. January is probably not the best time to visit this place – the numerous cherry trees must look beautiful when covered in blossom – but I was quite surprised to see a significant number of flowering plants even at this time of year.

I’m no botanical expert but these look like Camellias to me:



These are Peonies:

Some of the trees are still wrapped in their winter bamboo coats for protection from the frost:

The lake contains an impressive collection of multi-coloured carp


The Tokugawaen is worth a visit even in the off-season, but I really must find an excuse to come back in April or May when the cherry blossom will be out and, according to the literature handed out to visitors, thousands of Peonies will be in bloom all around the lake. That must look amazing!

Anyway, after that I travelled across town to visit the famous Atsuta Shrine, a holy place for the Shinto religion:


Light was fading and I was already feeling a bit tired, but I did the necessary ritual ablutions, and had a quick look around. Visitors are allowed to make a wish after throwing a coin in the appropriate place, then bowing and clapping twice. I wished for a beer, and lo and behold on the way home I found a bar in which my wish was granted!

Out and about in Nagoya

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , on January 11, 2014 by telescoper

I spent an enjoyable morning wandering about Nagoya, so I thought I’d post a few pictures before settling down to do some work (which is, after all, what I’m here for…)

First off, here’s the place I am officially visiting. This is the central building of the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, the top two floors of which comprise the Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute, which covers particle physics and astrophysics.


I’ll be giving a talk there next week, in fact. I’m staying on the campus about 5 minutes’ walk away from this building in a pleasant guest room in the Green Salon Higashiyama which is not green and is not a hairdresser’s shop.

The nearest Metro station is a very short walk from the Department building and the first thing I discovered when I entered was surprising evidence that the Japanese have an interest in cricket:


Given that I posted a picture of the place before embarking on my travels I decided to visit Nagoya Castle. This enormous complex of buildings and fortifications was constructed in the early 17th Century, but a visit by American B29 bombers on 18th May 1945 dropping thousands of incendiary bombs destroyed everything except the massive stone walls; the other buildings were made of wood and would have burned easily in such an attack. At the time the Castle was being used as an army base, so it was inevitable that it would be a target.

The perimeter of the Castle is defined by massive stone walls surround by a wide moat. Similar stone fortifications surround the central buildings and the only approach to the centre of the Castle by water is surrounded on both sides by similarly formidable structures from which missiles would no doubt rain down on unwelcome visitors. The central buildings are also ringed by a deep ditch which was clearly designed to be flooded when necessary; today there are deer grazing at the bottom of it.

The two main keeps or donjons of the castle have been reconstructed and now house very interesting museums containing not only military artefacts but also lovely screen prints and pieces of furniture from the Edo period, during which the castle was constructed.

Here are a few pictures just to prove that I was there!

One of the smaller buildings inside the perimeter of the Castle:


Approaching the main keep:


Entrance to the main keep:


Main keep, with walls and ditch..


This is the view from the gallery at the top…

From Nagoya

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on January 10, 2014 by telescoper

So, my first ever trip to Japan has started pretty well. The flight via Frankfurt arrived on schedule and I arrived with all the luggage I was supposed to have too! I didn’t get any sleep on the long flight from Frankfurt to Nagoya, but then I never seem to manage to drop off on aircraft. I was quite jealous of the lady next to me, actually, as she slept soundly for most of the journey.

Here I am, then. It’s mid-afternoon local time but ridiculously early morning on my body clock. Travelling West to East is always more difficult, I think. Going the other way you can usually sleep off the jet lag pretty quickly, but going East-West and arriving in the morning (local time) means you’ve basically lost a night’s sleep. On a trip to Shanghai years ago I was in a similar situation, arriving at the airport in mid-morning to be met with a welcoming committee and taken to a very big lunch (complete with beer). When this was over, around 3.30 in the afternoon, my hosts suggested that I must be tired and took me to my hotel. No sooner had I unpacked my bags and put my feet up than I fell sound asleep; I didn’t wake up until midnight. So it was that I remained completely out of kilter with the time zones. It took most of my stay in China to get adjusted. I thus learned the hard way that if you want to deal successfully with the problem of jetlag then you have to stay awake as long as possible on the day you arrive…

I must seem like a complete wimp to those observational astronomers who not only go jet-setting around the world but also climb up and down mountains to get to observatories perched on their summit as well as working all night rather than day once they’ve got there.  How they manage to cope with all that and remain (relatively) compos mentis when they arrive back at their day job is beyond me.

Anyway, despite lack of sleep the flight wasn’t too bad. I was impressed by the collection of classical music and jazz available on the in-flight entertainment system offered by Lufthansa, and there were even some decent movies on offer. I managed to see the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, which I quite enjoyed though I found some of the set-pieces far too drawn out. I also watched, for the first time in ages, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

First impression of Nagoya is that it’s basically an industrial city. My hosts tell me that the city was very heavily bombed during WW2 because of the important factories in the area. The campus at Nagoya University where I’m staying is fairly small but facilities seem pretty good. I’m looking forward to doing a bit of exploring at the weekend, when hopefully I’ll find some interesting historical buildings!

I was a bit worried about how well I would manage without being able to speak (or read) any Japanese. There are challenges, but the excellent Metro system is actually quite well signposted in English so I’m not anticipating too many problems sightseeing. Buying food might be another matter!

Better draw this rambling post to a close. Hopefully my brain will be up to writing something more substantial tomorrow..