Somewhere between emigration and vacation, there is the three month stay in a foreign country. I’m in Kyoto for long enough to develop routines and become accustomed to my surroundings, but not long enough to truly fit in. This week, week 3 of my stay, has felt like the turning point where everything goes from novel and strange to more or less familiar and routine. Since my every day is in Japan now, I will take it upon myself to write about the every day.
I start most days with a run. Given my lack of a bicycle, I’m definitely seeing an uptick in the number of kilometers I run. The first week I came here, it was unbearably hot and humid, and the best way to avoid the heat was to start early. Now the temperature is more bearable, but I still run early to fit my life around the ‘Japanese work hours’.
Intervals around Nijo Castle. I’ve been doing a lot of pavement pounding, but at least I can run to beautiful, historic places!
The Japanese work a lot, and (at least at the University), they start late and end late. Really late. The PhD students I work with seem to be nocturnal creatures, which I most certainly am not. I’ve been getting to work between 9 and 10 o’clock, but my colleagues think I get to work early. I live downtown, and it takes about 40 minutes to get to work by train and bus. Every time I swipe my commuter pass on the train I feel like a pro, like I blend in and am doing something right.
The bakery on campus. I haven’t gotten through the entire selection. Give me another couple of months.
I’ve developed a bad bakery habit, hopefully offset by my running. There’s a bakery right near my apartment run by a charming elderly Japanese couple, and another on campus. The Japanese have managed to adopted Western baked goods and found a way to make them utterly Japanese. At the bakery, you pick up a tray and a set of tongs, and use the tongs to select baked goods before paying. I recognize very few pastries, so usually I just pick whatever looks good. You have to have a certain willingness to eat mystery food item when you live in Japan.
My desk at the university, complete with the mystery pastry of the day (it was like croissant dough with a vanilla cream fill and cinnamon apple on top!) and iced coffee. Because it’s too hot for hot coffee.
My office is tranquil, and I only share it with one other postdoc despite there being 10 desks. In some ways, these exchange months are starting to feel like a sort of meditation retreat for my PhD. I’ve escaped the hustle and obligations of my ‘real’ life and am able to focus completely on one thing at a time. It’s pretty nice.
I also spend a lot of time in a (windowless) lab. I sometimes wonder at the choices that brought me, an outdoorswoman at heart, to a lab like this. But then I realize that I am using a machine that uses a focused ion beam to do the equivalent of carving my name on a single strand of hair. Science is cool, people!
At the focused ion beam.
Although I don’t work nearly as much as my Japanese colleagues, it’s still usually dark by the time I go home. This week was the harvest moon festival, and the moon has definitely been showing off for the occasion. I’ve missed the bus a couple of times because I start gawking at the beautiful view our out-of-the-way campus affords at Kyoto city.
Kyoto city as seen from Katsura Campus, illuminated by the harvest moon.
Here’s to finding a sense of every day in strange and new places!
- The Wild Bazilchuk