Sunday 23 September 2018


Well, I've been wanting to go to Japan for a long time. So, just to be sure, when GECCO (the top conference in my field) was due to be held there in Kyoto, I got three papers accepted just to be on the safe side.

In the end it was a welcome break from the events of June and early July. It was just difficult being away from home for so long - my Mum came to help / be around the grandchildren while I was away but it's hard to know who benefited most - my Mum, the girls or Jay! Fortunately Skype means we can keep in touch daily with no trouble. Miriam in particular was very taken that I could be going to bed in the dark while she was having lunch though!

The journey there was an epic in its own right: 25 hours end to end, with an early morning taxi to Edinburgh, plane to Paris Charles de Gaulle, plane to Seoul (South Korea), plane to Osaka, then train to Kyoto. The return was a bit simpler as I got a direct flight from Tokyo to Paris, then a hop to Edinburgh before the taxi home: a mere 20 hours, arriving at 9am ready for a new day! My strategy for long trips now is to stay up on arrival until a reasonable bedtime, then usually sleeping extremely well. This worked a treat this time.

Work-wise, this was a very good trip. Some very welcome responses to my work, new contacts made, and extensive progress made with a few of my long-term partners-in-crime (collaborators being the official term). I also took a trip to Tokyo for a couple of days of tourism, which meant a ride on the bullet train! Those who know me know what a big deal this is.

It's a fascinating place and well worth a visit if you ever get the chance. There is a lot that's just different - some that's odd - and the stereotype of politeness is definitely accurate. There is a lot of bowing and it's impossible to get anyone to say "no" - they don't like to let you down - so if a show tells you they'll "look into that for you" or "come back tomorrow" they probably don't have what you're looking for! There are extreme contrasts between ancient and modern and a lot that's just fun.

Sorry in advance - this does go on for a bit - but there is just so much to cover!
The second stopover was at Seoul airport in South Korea.
(that's the friendly one)

Some Korean mountains. This was as close as I got to Korea in any meaningful sense.

There are a few pictures of signs, because I found so many of them interesting, amusing or  wacky in some way. There are many more that I didn't have room for. This was one of the first: I've never tried taking a backflip off a toilet!
Osaka, as we go speeding by on the train. (not a bullet one - but still fast)

Okay, so one very obvious "thing" is that all the toilets I encountered have some kind of technology in them. At a minimum they have a heated seat and a built-in bidet, but there are lots of other options - auto-flush, self-opening lid (when you walk into the room), blow-drier, even sound effects to mask the sound of what you're doing!
A simple visit to the facilities becomes rather more complicated!
Especially after a 25 hour trip.

Kyoto's railway station.
I just liked the sheer scale - it really is huge!

You might have heard, Japan was hot this summer.
It did pass 40 a few times while I was there.

Yes, in many places you should remove your shoes on entry to the premises. These were provided with my hotel room to change into when in my room! In one restaurant it seems the kitchen was viewed as the "indoors" part, and I watched waiters kicking their shoes on/off whenever they went in there.
The slightly terrifying bit of the trip - every hotel room comes with procedures for dealing with earthquakes. I quite enjoy the light hearted approach they've taken to something so serious!

Every room comes with a torch that lights when you take it out of the holder, and most of the public rooms seemed to have ID tags in the corners - presumably to help with sifting through rubble.
This is particularly good advice, though I am puzzled by the "dream" brick falling from the sky.

Less earthquakey, but I'm still intrigued by the "buckwheat chaff-filled pillows" - which may or may not be comfortable....
The conference venue. Not hard to miss!
Apparently this was the biggest GECCO ever - 695 people

Every street had a vending machine like these. Very welcome cold drinks in the hot weather.
Different to the UK, they all worked, and no vandalism or graffiti (in fact I only saw one bit of graffiti during the whole visit, some German written on a bridge in Tokyo).

The opening bash of the conference featured some Japanese stereotypes.

My hotel. A most welcome sight after a long walk in the heat.

My posters - which I'll show you shortly - were printed on cloth so I didn't need to travel with a big poster tube. They did need ironed though, so I got this dainty little iron to do the job.

The conference bag this year was this traditional Japanese sheet which you can fold into various formations. It just occurs to me as I write this that I don't have a photo of my umbrella from this one - it resembles a samurai sword!

The Gion Festival was on during our visit so we got a real cultural treat. As part of it the streets were filled with thousands of people, and lined with these stalls selling food.
More festival crowds.

This drink is meant to restore your minerals after getting dehydrated in the heat. Despite the name it is actually quite good.

More of the festival
Apparently these guys are all descendants of the same family

I love the names of things here! This is the viewing area on top of the station/shopping mall. "Happy Terrace" - and it was.

The business part of the conference. Here's me with my two posters. Sadly no photos of the talk but you're not missing much as my slides didn't work for most of it and I had to do it unaided. This did at least communicate enough to produce on

The cars are an odd mixture of these classic boxy taxis (with proper "wing" mirrors)...
...and these super-compact cars designed for the limited space available.

Some more conference entertainment.
This was essentially a slapstick ninja show.
Yes, really.

A bit of tourism

A Japanese market with a lot of odd foods and some nice silk items on the go.
This is where I got my umbrella.

Green tea ice cream.
Much nicer than it sounds!

Nearly every restaurant - from fast food to the really good stuff - in Japan has a display like this.
Perfect replicas in plastic of the food on offer (and what they server really looks the same) Apparently there is a whole industry of artists who will custom make the displays for each place.


The only reason for this picture is that the sign for bullet train looks rather like a Storm Trooper.

On to Toyko. I and a couple of other workmates took an extra couple of days for some tourism in Tokyo. On the first night we went to Akihabara - the geek district - and one of the many tech stores. How is this for sensory overload?

Just one of the stores.

I thought this looked like a fairly typical Tokyo night scene. Very digital!

The Imperial Palace with a white tourist in front of it.

Obligatory bamboo shot.

Some of the defences in the palace grounds. As you can see, this was a "shoes off" spot (that's Nada, who recently left Stirling for a well-earned lectureship in France)

Obligatory tea shot.

I like the juxtaposition of the ancient palace and the modern skyline.
I had a lot of sushi while there.
It has to be said, the food was, without exception, excellent.


While in Tokyo, there was a massive friendship barbecue for Australians.
After several days in Japan, nothing is bizarre.

We also spent a day at the national museum.
Well worth a visit...
...they have lots of ancient Japanese stuff of course, but also some dinosaurs...

...and some Japanese tech...


This is Shibuya crossing - which appears in many movies featuring Japan.
I couldn't get a photo from on the crossing, it was too mad a rush to do it without walking into someone.
another style of meal - cook your own. These we essentially omelettes, but very good.
That's Nada again, and one of the many Johns that I've worked with, who also once lived in Japan for a few years so was very handy to have around (aside from being good company of course).

Yes, the trains are every bit as efficient as you've heard.
They also have extremely helpful displays like this.
Though the I found the map on this subway train a little confusing.

This queue was for a Pachinko hall, opening early on a Sunday morning.
This is essentially like a pinball arcade.
"Assault on the senses" is a gentle way to put it as it is very loud and bright!
Yet somehow very popular.
One of the top profs in my field is also an expert in Bonsai, and gave a few of us a tour of one of Tokyo's Bonsai museums. Accordingly, here are some tiny trees, apparently hundreds of years old.

Everything is very orderly of course. So here, at the beginning of my epic return journey, is the queueing system for the monorail. Yes, people really do follow the guides precisely.

As a mark of the journey's length, here's Charles de Gaulle airport at something o'clock in the middle of the night. Very eerie.

A couple of wee things to finish. It's rude to just give away flyers on the street, so they all come with a little gift. This one was accompanied by some tissues. I also got a nice fan.

A present for home - some green tea Kit Kats.


I got this present last year - a means by which to keep track of my various travels on display in my office - and now that's Japan checked off!

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