I’m fast settling in to Nagoya, though I don’t have long to explore this interesting city. This weekend I will attempt (probably in vain) to cram as much sightseeing in as possible. I have already been to the area around Nagoya station, but there is plenty more to do. Nagoya isn’t a big destination for tourists, meaning that you can explore most of the attractions in a couple of days. I hope to get visiting Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Jingu shrine, Komehyo (Japan’s largest 2nd hand department store), Osu Kannon Temple and shopping (I just managed to miss the monthly antique market the other day), and a variety of other things. I might even squeeze in a trip to the Asahi Brewery. They do free tours every half hour during the weekends, and at the end you have twenty minutes to drink as much free beer as you can manage. Challenge accepted! It seems as though lots of people I have met here are aware of the drinking Irish stereotype, so I better not disappoint. People are really nice here, and I’ve already had one random old woman say my Batman t-shirt and height were great, and another old woman today told me I looked handsome, first in Japanese then English.
I spent quite a bit of time pursuing a cheap bike online and in a bicycle shop nearby with the help from my boss here, and finally we were successful. The only problem was the flat back tire. I am perfectly capable of fixing a flat tire, though I’m not the fastest at it, but my concern was that the owner before person I bought it from was riding it on a flat. The inner tube could be completely destroyed, and because everything bike related seems to be expensive here (even though bikes are absolutely everywhere!) it wouldn’t be worth my while buying it. I did have an alternate theory for the flat tire after reading online a bit. A lot of Japanese bikes use the mamachari style inner tubes, which have the Woods/Dunlop/English valve type. Now confined to the history books in the UK, the Woods valve is very popular here and a bloody hassle to pump air into. One of the problems with the valve is a small piece of rubber tubing that acts as a one-way valve perishes, allowing air leakage from the tire. Suddenly, the stupid little tube thing that’s included in puncture repair kits finally made sense. It was a stupid little tube thing to fix Woods valves. I never needed it before because most tube/bike manufacturers have moved on to Schrader and Presta valves. Thankfully I had purchased a puncture repair kit from the 100 yen shop the other day (50ish pence shop). This is one of those bizarre things about Japan that remind me of doublethink – we must have technologically advanced homes and super toilets, but we shouldn’t maintain or improve the bicycles we ride on every day. Even oiling chains is a rare occurrence. People would rather sell or abandon their bike and buy a new one, rather than keep the one they own in good working order. It’s almost as if they are seen as a disposable commodity. Maybe it’s because many of the people who ride bikes at home in the UK are enthusiasts and like to look after their machine, compared with Japan and the “means to an end” mentality. It’s just another quirk of this fascinating country.
The other issue was that the longer I leave buying a bike, the less worthwhile it becomes. At a certain point, it’s cheaper to take the subway and buses. Nevertheless, I was determined to have at least one cycling experience in Japan. Professor Aoki was incredibly helpful, driving me out to Kamyashiro station area and decrypting the Japanese bicycle registration documents for me. Getting the bike and inflating the tire enough to get home was one thing. Actually getting home was another. The bike was rusted in all the places that mattered. Pictures taken with a smartphone rarely do justice to the extent of wear and tear, and all the little details. It’s like there is an iPhoto filter called “Used Bike” that glosses over all of the imperfections. The seat post quick release was rusted and the saddle was in the lowest position, which was absolute torture for me. The gears were rather rough too, not helped by the bone dry chain and derailleur. The tires were still too soft, but at least they were heavy duty enough for some of the rougher roads and pavements here. I pointed Google Maps at home, and set off on my journey. About two feet later I regretted the decision to buy a bike. It wasn’t particularly hot that evening, but I had to expend so much energy to get the bike up the hills with the low saddle position, and it started to kill my knees. It was unpleasant, but unpleasantness was only the beginning. There was no cycle option for Google Maps in Japan, so I set it to give me walking directions, figuring that the walking route would be safer for bikes than riding along the main roads. It was definitely safer, mainly because no other humans would choose the route I took. Almost all of the roads I was sent along were one way, so I had to stay to the narrow verge painted in lieu of a pavement, and the roads and paths were near vertical. What goes up must come down, and did so with terrifying speed considering my lack of helmet and poorly adjusted brakes. Eventually I reached a quiet level road and stopped to catch my breath. And to find a big rock. After some searching I found a suitable “hammer”, and took out my rage on the seat post quick release. Success! I managed to loosen it enough that I could work with it, and raise the saddle to the maximum height. After that, the bike rode beautifully. Well, maybe not beautifully, but a hell of a lot better than it did before. It still had issues with brakes and gears, but now I could pedal comfortably and tackle the hills much more easily.
I’ve only been here a short while, but already I’ve had some great food. A ridiculous portion of miso katsu, breaded pork cutlet with miso sauce, and one of Nagoya’s specialties. Cheese hamburg (yes, they call hamburger hamburg) curry from CoCo Curry, one of the biggest curry chains. That one was surprisingly good. And this evening I had sushi in Yagoto with the prof and one other researcher. Sushi, some sort of shellfish, and finished off with deep fried squid. Yes, we meet again, senor ika. It seems like we’re destined to be together, but I might just run off at the altar. I like squid in some forms, but it’s still not my favourite food in the world, and I wouldn’t actively order it myself. On a slight food note, I was asked by one of the researchers to do some translation work. He was watching the MTV clip show “Ridiculous” with his wife, and he couldn’t make out some of the expressions the presenters were using. If you are not familiar with ridiculous (I’m definitely not), it seems to be a clip/YouTube clip show where a few funny guys make fun of people in videos. I’m great at describing television shows, I know. The phrase the researched couldn’t understand? I know you want some of this man meat. It took some explaining to get the concept across – one of the stranger things I’ve had to do during my time on earth.
I haven’t even talked about my work! People work pretty long hours here, like most of Japan, but unlike Tokyo the work is at a more relaxed pace. After pretty much a week, I have a bunch of slides that I can be (semi) proud to call my own. There are a lot of flaws in them, but it was nice to follow the whole process through and be involved in each step. I spent many hours on the microtome, but I expect I need to spend many more before I could consider myself skilled. I can do haematoxylin and eosin staining though, but without Noriko’s trademark “Mmmmm….slightly weak”, I don’t know if I would want to try it myself. Noriko is the technician who was looking after me and teaching me all the techniques, and she is a pro. I had my first exposure to cell work today, too. I got to replate my first cells, which was very exciting. I spent a year working with just DNA, so anything that isn’t DNA amazes me. Don’t get me wrong, DNA is still amazing, but I love learning new techniques and getting exposure to other parts of the lab. Lab work is great, but I haven’t quite got the hang of binocular microscopes. My eyes don’t seem to want to work with both eyepieces at the same time. Weird, but then so am I.