Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Out and about in Matsue

Here we see the Delightful Miss E, on one of her jaunts to her Matsue country retreat, sitting on the couch at a charming little bar by the main river. The bar is called Bar EAD, and is somehow related to a shop from Tokyo. This I don't understand.

It is necessary when one comes to a new town in Japan to immediately find places to cavort and consume small amounts of alcohol. Drinking in Japan is mildly more expensive than in Australia, but Japanese people have a strangely innate sense of style and their bars are often delightfully decorated. Hiroshima, of course, contains the best examples of Japanese bar decoration that I have seen, but we cannot give up all our luxuries now that we have moved to the country, so for now at least we shall be paying occasional visits to EAD. If you look carefully you will see the distant lights of Matsue's nightlife district on the other side of the river; and to the right from the picture (out of view) is the river. This bar has a rooftop, which in summer is going to be a pleasant spot to while away a drunken evening ...

The beast of kawatsu

As is her wont on odd weekends, the Delightful Miss E made a brief trip to Matsue last weekend, and after a suitable interlude to reacquaint ourselves, we decided to take a little bike ride down the river. We had barely set out upon our intrepid rural adventure when we discovered this monumental beast shambling towards bethlehem. Here it is depicted alongside the Delightful Miss E and my bicycle: as you can see it is fully a quarter of a metre tall at the shoulder, with a stench so miasmal it causes the air around it to become blurry. Moments after this photograph was taken I was forced to wrest my bicycle from the vicious claws of the beast. Fortunately for me she (the Beast) was dying in the last of the Autumn heat, and wasn't able to hold fast. Plus, of course, I have a Japanese utility bike, which is aptly named and more than up to the challenge of a few bites from a giant praying Mantis.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


The time has come when it becomes necessary to describe that most essential component of civilisation, pornography. As you will have gathered by now, I consider Japan to have a lot of civilisation. And if pornography is an essential component of civilisation then surely the more civilisation a place has, the more pornography it must also have. By the end of this post I will also show, irrefutably, that it is possible to learn a great deal about a society by examining the nature of its porn.

The first thing one notices about Japanese porn is that the women themselves are strangely ... natural! There is no air-brushing to speak of, poses are not chosen in such a way as to minimise folds of fat, flattening of breasts, or unwomanly wrinkles; so it is just like looking at, well, at... at ... women. Since I came to this country I don't think I have been confronted by a single magazine like FHM, leaping from the newsstand to assault my eyes with flesh so airbrushed it is golden. Rather, I view real women.

It's rather refreshing, actually. The nature of these magazines has led me to ponder the nature of the Western relationship with its media, and to wonder if maybe the more natural state of women in publishing here has some relationship to the much greater thinness of the female population. It is completely contradictory to the standard liberal analysis of the role of women's magazines in constructing body image, but there has to be something in it. After all, I thought it!

But there you go, I have digressed. The flipside of this naturalness is the unnatural posture and slightly amateurish nature of the work, and the ... huge ... ugly ... underwear the women wear, which they often do hideous things with. The bras often have upwards of several feet of lacy padding on the front, and the panties (god I hate that word) are ... huge.

Having purchased my second porn (some of you may recall I bought one last year, and regaled you with the poetry therein), I was led to do a little internet research. I started by looking up the fightin' girls in order to confirm that they are "fighters" (sort of). I then branched out, and found an interesting website devoted to Japanese porn stars (called "AV Idols") which includes interviews with many AV Idols, and reviews of some of their movies. I have learnt much! For example, many have pondered the overabundance of pubic hair in Japanese porn, and in one of the interviews I read, the (female) interviewer said to her AV Idol guest: "you are pretty, responsible, you have big breasts and a big patch of pubic hair - you are the perfect woman." So we see the universal metric for judging womanliness - pretty with tits - expanded to include two ingredients which I think we can all agree are essential for any good porn star.

It is not only what is said in these interviews that is interesting, but what you can infer from what is not said. If I may attempt to put it delicately, I have gleaned a hint that the question asked at college here is not do nice girls swallow but do nice boys give their girlfriends the opportunity to. What a strange difference! Does it not speak volumes of the nature of things in this strange and topsy-turvy land? I have also discovered that the Boldly Inquiring Sgt M was correct in his surmise that many porn movies here involve women recruited straight off the street, so I owe his Sergeantlines a big apology for not believing him (although I still disagree vigourously with his analysis of the social meaning of this). I have provided below some reviews of exemplar porn movies from my helpful website, which I think will verify the good chap's information. I think from this I choose to infer that Japanese women are a) crazy and b) feel very safe with Japanese men. Feel free to differ. I recommend reading the reviews at this site (which I link to below): they are quite honest at times and rather amusing.

Some reviews of the more amusing or interesting movies I encountered trawling through this website are given below. Note that these reviews involve quite explicit pictures, so best not to look at them with your grandmother in the room (unlike Japanese men, who seem to be quite happy reading porn in front of old women on trains), or if your interest in porn is purely academic or doesn't extend to bukkake:

Strange game shows,
Outbid your friend,
What am I meant to do with that?
Just too wrong for comprehension.

All of these reviews give fascinating insights into Japanese culture past and present, I feel. By means of these four reviews alone I prove unerringly my contention that one can understand a great deal about another culture by investigating their pornography (and I have only delved here into the straight porn!)

Another interesting conclusion I have drawn from these reviews is that Japanese porn is little different from the rest of Japanese television entertainment: it involves a lot of talking, interrupted by occasional bursts of squealing, brought about in this case by sex rather than comedy. I imagine if one were to close one's eyes, and didn't understand the language, one would not be able to tell the difference between a Japanese porn movie and a game show. This has led me to conceive of what will one day be a very famous version of the Turing Test, which I choose to call the Tumulus Test. I think this test can be used for telling how depraved a society is (or isn't). If a decent human being with their eyes closed cannot tell the difference between a society's prime time TV and its porn, then that society is depraved. Or not, depending on your perspective. This will in turn spawn what will one day be a famous saying, probably called "Gilmour's Law" (or maybe "Suchuaaato's law" if it never gets past Japan): "One man's game show is another man's bukkake."

Tokyo Graffiti

Yesterday, in between meeting a man who learnt English on a Navajo Indian reservation and finding a role-playing convention, I bought a magazine called Tokyo Graffiti. This magazine is simply a magazine about life in Tokyo, but it is possibly the most fascinating magazine I have ever read. The fourth link down on the website takes you to images of some of their regular features (too small to read properly), and you can see that they consist almost entirely of pictures of people. An example of the sort of people you can find in Tokyo is given in the picture here, which is of a "Yamanba" girl, or "mountain hag". Yamanba girls wear really sunny clothing, high heels, massive fake tans and white eyeshadow. They often have platinum blond big hair, heaps of jewellery and danglies. Their name is a reference to a Japanese legend about the behaviour of old women who had been cast out of their villages (you can read about it on the web if you care to look). This edition of Tokyo Graffiti had a special couple of pages about Yamanba girls.

I shall now present some of the sections from this months Tokyo Graffiti as evidence of how cool it is:

  • Ketai shashin o misete kudasai (please show us your mobile phone pictures): in this section 12 people are asked to show the pictures in their phone, which are displayed on a page or half a page of the magazine. A picture of the person is shown, along with a zoom on their mobile phone, a brief description of them, and a pie chart showing what proportion of the photos are from their work, friends, etc. People selected to do this include a foreign English Teacher, a man who works in costume in the electronics' district, a hostess, a host (!), a diver from a southern Island, a housewife and a professional shoot fighter. The pictures are fascinating, and each comes with a tiny explanation (including the house-wife's ferret)
  • Old days and now: in this section a group of people presents a photo from many years ago, and then recreate the photo with their mobile phone camera in the modern day. In one photo, 3 children sit at a table in 1985; 20 years later they have reproduced the photo with the same adults in similar clothes, and the same arrangement on a table (right down to the tabasco sauce bottle!)
  • Sweet after school: photos and interviews of high school student couples
  • obaachan to isho (me and my grandmother): a 20-something woman and her grandmother are photographed side by side in a Tokyo place, standing with their hands at their sides looking at the camera, and each is asked questions about their relationship
  • kaku no kazoku shashin (portrait of the nuclear family): a family is photographed naked in a bath or onsen (rock spring), with a brief description
  • watashi no heya (my room): photographs of Tokyo residents' tiny rooms with explanations of the room's theme, the most important item, etc. In this month there was also one girl sitting in her room with all her earthquake survival gear and an explanation of its purpose
The magazine also includes a lot of photographs of the ordinary fashions of people in Tokyo, taken on the street with explanations of where their clothes were bought and why they are wearing them. It is simple, yet disarming in the normality, honesty and sincerity of its presentation. It almost seems as if the people are explaining themselves to you in person, their expressions are so open and direct. I cannot find a way to subscribe to this magazine, but from now on I aim to buy it every month. Here in Matsue it is also the only hint I get of life in the big city ...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Kombat Kulcha VI

Today I found a magazine, Venus, which seems to have a special edition consisting of Japanese kickboxing and wrestling women in various states of undress. If the women were dressed, it was usually in order for the reader to look up their dress. Please understand me, dear Reader, when I tell you I bought this magazine: as a 33 year old unmarried atheist I cannot sully myself with the impurities of the flesh, and every now and then I must give in to the relentless pressure society places on young men in my unusual position (you see, it's society's fault).

If it is any consolation to those of my readership with more delicate sensibilities, please be aware that I punished myself while I "read" this volume. Actually, maybe you don't want to hear about my self-flagellation...

Anyhow, it would appear that the Japanese Fighting world has taken a leaf from the Australian Women's Soccer Team's guide to Self promotion, and my, what promotion it is! My first sight of the last fighting woman in the magazine was a photograph of her sitting on a leather couch in her underwear, legs spread wide and a very combative expression on her face. Now that's what I call fightin'!! I have checked on the internet and this girl was in the power-rangers movie, and is a Mixed Martial Art fighter (or was, before her movie career took off).

When a debutante fighter can jump straight to modelling (ahem) via the power-rangers movie, you know you are in a world of Kombat Kulcha...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Of didgeridoo and scissors

It is a little known fact, dear reader, that in Japan the Didgeridoo is a highly popular instrument. It is likely that if one meets a Super-Cool Man (TM) in Japan, he is a) in a band, b) has a crazy nickname (for example, "Bom"), c) DJs at a club and d) plays didgeridoo. In their totality these are Necessary Conditions for Super-Cool Man(TM)-ness, although not sufficient - one must also have Super-Cool Hair, and a completely unmanly job.

As proof of the perfection of Super-Cool Man(TM), and statistical support for my collection of Theorems on Japanese Manliness, I present to you a sample of 1 individual. Hardly a decent survey, I hear you cry - but this one individual is worth 10 ordinary men, and in any case he is so Super-Cool as to form a sample space of his own. Who is this amazing individual, I hear you cry? Why, my hairdresser of course, Mr. Hishii Takashi.

Before I describe the Trademark Coolness of Mr. Hishii, I should mention that he is the best hairdresser I have ever had. I know, I know, I have a dumb hair style that amounts to a few inches of shag perched on an otherwise half-decent crown, which would do perfectly well if it were just shaved; but you would be shocked at how many idiots charge a fortune to screw up this simple line of greying fluff. For example, I once paid a perfumed nancy in Australia $45 to spend 45 minutes failing to shorten my hair, cut it evenly, or even straighten the lines on the sides, all the while waving his scissors in a dangerous manner. Would Magua, the most beautiful man in screen (especially with that beating heart in his hand!) be anywhere near as completely stunning if his haircut was wonky? And would he be half the man he obviously is if he had allowed the nancy who botched the job to live? Whose heart do you think he is carrying? He might as well look like this! (all correspondence regarding the better looking of these two men should be addressed to the Delightful Miss E, who has opinions on these things).

How did I get to that point ... ah, yes, bad hair. So Mr. Hishii has undoubtedly never cut a mohican in his life before, but he took to it like an Apache to Lacrosse and for a mere $20 I got my hair shortened properly, the length evened, the sides straightened, the scalp shaved close, my neck shaved (a common omission amongst mere mortals), my hair washed, a massage, and my ears shaved. Now that's service!! This is why I know his name, because next time I return to that hairdresser I am demanding the services of the same Super Cool Man. (Incidentally he offered me a shave as well - I am taking him up on that next time!)

So what are the traits of Mr. Hishii which make him Super Cool? Well, first and most importantly his hair is Super Cool. On one side of his head it is a little longer and a little quiffed over (not unlike Brett Anderson in the above picture); on the other side the hair is graded in length to just a little longer than if it were shaved (near the ears) and in this spot, very fetching lines have been shaved into it like tiger stripes or something. The whole effect is very punk, yet overwhelmingly Anime. He also has the Super Cool trait of being very thin, essential Japanese Super Coolness; and he wears a friendship band (obligatory). Other neon signs pointing to Super Coolness are: he regularly hangs out in a club called "Hydro Reaction"; he DJs at a club in nearby Yonago; he has an unmanly job (many Westerners consider hairdressing unmanly, I think); he is handsome; and he plays Didgeridoo in a band in Yonago. These traits mark him as Super Cool. Somewhere in Japan a lonely nerdy girl is undoubtedly writing a Manga that will never be read, about a man like Mr. Hishii. I don't have to write a Manga that will never be read, however, for I have a blog. I bet nobody ignores Mr. Hishii ... If only I were Super Cool too...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fugue in Wire

The last two weeks have passed rather slowly for me, since during the day I spend all my time in my office, beavering away at my Graphical Models proofs, and in the evening I exercise or retire to my empty house. I can go whole days without speaking a word to anyone, except the occasional arigatou at a shop. Fortunately this weekend past the Delightful Miss E came to town, ostensibly to see me but really so she could use my phone and christen my new kotatsu; so I finally had someone to talk to. Incidentally this weekend was also the weekend of the University festival (gakuensai), which occurs here once a year. There were many stalls, and many of the rooms in the buildings had exhibitions of artwork, photography, dancing, the bear-watching club (I kid you not), some kind of club for producing large graphs to stick on blackboards, the Ikebana club, etc. While wandering around trying to find some dancing hip-hop chicks, the Delightful Miss E and I stumbled on the end of a hallway in which we found this delightful proto-dalek, hidden away behind a half a screen with its component parts and the tools of its construction still scattered about. There were no signs to explain it, no human sculptors to defend its origin, and no evidence that it was there for the festival. What can it be for? When will it be used? Who designed it? In the absence of concrete knowledge in support of its provenance, I can only assume that its simple but beautiful lines, its mysterious purpose, and its asymmetric perfection, speak to the involvement of a higher being ... a Designer, if you will...

March of the Killer Bunnies

Here we see the guardians of the Shimane Prefectural Art Gallery, moving into attack position on a sunny afternoon after my second visit to that fine establishment. Note the stern expression, the lean features, the killer glint in the eye, and the perfect form of the charging animal. Has anyone ever captured the grace of this deadly beast more accurately?

Kombat Kulcha V

Life has again reached that torturous point where I must discuss my latest excursion into the world of Japanese fightin' sports, or kakutogi as they are called here. This time I am able to describe to you my dangerous journey into the seedy underbelly of Matsue's fightin' world, the Matsue Amature[sic] Boxing Gym, located just around the corner from me in nishi kawa tsu cho heights. I have been sojourning at this gym because there is no kickboxing gym anywhere in Matsue, and rather than do an hour and a quarter, 1000 yen journey to Yonago, I have decided to at least in the short term bite the bullet and stick to boxing. Which, as I'm sure you're all aware, is likely to be a little boring and not so good on the fitness. But when in Rome ... unfortunately, there are some flaws in this gym and I think I can safely say I was dubious about it from the start.

I think even more than its position on a mountain side overlooking nowhere, more than the fact that it is perched on this mountain side right in front of what can only be a prison, the real giveaway to the fact that this gym was going to be a trifle dodgy was the masking tape across the windows. I don't know if this is to prevent the windows shattering from an Earthquake or from someone punching the bags inside; but it probably is the latter, since this building is so fragile that it rocks everytime someone hits the bag. Once I stepped inside I was assaulted by a bevy of things which my accreditation for kickboxing instruction can assure me are only bad signs about a gym. Where to start?

The gym itself is a building made entirely of sheets of wood no thicker than the windows. These sheets are nailed on to metal joists that support the walls and ceiling, and which are in turn held together by thick metal wires criss-crossing the roof. The floor is made of the same sheets of wood nailed onto some wooden cross-beams, the sheets being so old that they produce splinters regularly; and in one corner I was told not to shadow box looking in the window because the floor was dangerous. I had to shadow box looking in the window because there are no mirrors of any sort in this gym. The scales are straight from the Victorian era, via someone's shed; the ring is a kind of fabrication of the same wooden sheets with several layers of canvas over them. The entire room is the size of two boxing rings, with a half an arm length sticking out all sides; and in this space is fitted a huge set of shelves for equipment, a desk, two armchairs, a 'changing room' which consists of curtains around a raised platform in the most inaccessible section of the room (and is presumably for women, who will never come here for reasons I'll describe shortly); a bicycle; three punching bags; some stretching mats; a fridge; and a space for ones shoes. Within this busy space a group of about 5-8 students have to skip, punch, spar and stretch all at once.

The equipment shelves contain everything one needs for boxing skullduggery, up to and including sparring gear and a space for a hair drier; on another wall is a huge collection of skipping ropes. I have noticed everyone uses the equipment in the shelves, which is held in common (it definitely is shared - I saw a set of gloves belonging to a bloke called Pablo being used by a bloke who is definitely not called Pablo). However, on my first night in this Phantasmagoria of Oriental Style I was told I had to buy my own skipping rope. I am, supposedly, not to be using any ropes from the collection of several hundred which hang in the room, although I am allowed to wear a helmet, wrist wraps, gloves, mits and anything else important from amongst the shared equipment. You can rest assured, gentle pugilist, that I am availing myself of the ropes and bringing my own gloves.

The students are all men, for one simple reason - there is no toilet. The 'toilet' is a squat toilet in an outside room just by the main entrance, in which there is no light, no flush device of any sort, no door, and no toilet paper. This toilet has quite a miasmic smell which makes me think the whole place will be off limits in summer. The only tap in the entire building is an outside hose tap maybe a foot off the ground, right in front of the 'toilet' block. Need to wash your mouthguard out? No worries mate, just scrub it off in the back yard near the toilet. Sure thing, Mr. Sensei sir, but what if I drop it? It cost way too much to allow it to accidentally become a radioactive biohazardous threat to humanity, which is what it will be if it hits the ground within 60 m of that 'toilet'.

Ah, I hear you say, the facilities are poor but what of the students? Universally okay, except for the new star student who seems to be a little bit rude - he told me, for example, on my first night, as I was skipping to warm up, that in this gym we skip for 3 minutes, then do a 30 second sprint, and so on, for 3 rounds with no break. No stretching in the 30 second rest period as I was doing! I pointed out to him that I was not yet warm, and to sprint skip in such a time period was dangerous, by which he seemed very confused. He finally assented to my new madcap training regime, provided I agreed to do the skipping his way after I had warmed up, and not to deviate from the plan in front of the teacher (who had not yet arrived). Sure thing, Mr. Boxing Man, sure thing. Also, the students have the fantastic habit of training in full parachute silk tracksuit pants in order to sweat as much as possible (which causes one to lose weight). This is a good idea if you need to make the weight grade for a fight, but not so productive if you're doing it every time you train. Dehydration is not good, and in any case you just put the weight back on when you go home and drink a few extra litres of water. Which is exactly what happens - we chart our weight before and after training on the little clipboard provided, and one can see from others' charts that their weight does not change from one day to the next, but it is often 1-2 kg lighter from one hour to the next ... one guy lost 2.4 kg in fluids while he was busying himself training! Which it is possible to do if one is wearing light clothes, but he was wearing a full suit.

But finally, the clincher for the Dubious Dudes prize goes to the sparring, which is aggressive and poorly controlled. One kid went a little psycho, and by the end of his first round he had blood coming from mouth and nose. No problem, I hear you say, we all have to toughen up somehow; but he probably doesn't remember what he was doing, so how has he learnt anything? Also, during his psycho period he had another student against the ropes, with his back turned, and was punching him in the back of the head repeatedly while the teacher watched, not bothering to interrupt. I'm not sure that I'd be too happy if it was me with my back turned, and I'd have to remember that I'm not allowed to kick in a boxing match. Afterwards both bleeding man and punched-in-the-back-of-the-head man were sitting in separate parts of the room in states of total despondency - the former due to head pain, the latter due to humiliation. Also, of course, bleeding man had to clean his wounds at - you guessed it- the tap in the dirt by the toilet door. Nice. There was no evidence of any ice, band aids, in fact a first aid kit of any sort. And no comfort or interest on the part of the teacher in either of his two charges. I think this counts as bullying - bleeding man was bullied by someone he was sparring who was punching too hard and was too good for him; bleeding man in turn bullied punched-in-the-back-of-the-head-man (who, incidentally, was obviously not ready to be sparring at this pace yet); and I have no doubt that the teacher bullied the man who emerged from all of this unscathed (the star pupil who told me how to skip, incidentally - had you guessed?)

So, the impetus to start my own club grows daily. I either have to do that or start going to Yonago soon, or I may spend months raising nary a leg in anger (except when I have to cock a leg in that godawful toilet). In the meantime I aim to avoid getting into that ring until i am back in top condition (my condition at the moment is shit) or I shall bear the brunt of the star student's bullying as well. But then, what else can one expect from the Gentleman's Sport?

The Queen and the Kotatsu

Here we see the delightful Miss E deep in conversation with an Australian friend while buried deep under the only piece of furniture in my living room - my kotatsu. The kotatsu is the table with the doona sticking out from under it. But don't be fooled my friends! This isn't just any old coffee table with a doona sticking out from under it - it's a heated coffee table with a doona sticking out from under it! This device is a great way of being late for work - once you're under it you just cannot get out. Long winter evenings are going to pass very nicely under this little doozy, I can assure you!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sea Life

As we all know, sea life plays an important role in the Japanese lifestyle, to the point where they can be rather bristly about it - witness that whole business with the Whales, and then there is the Tuna poaching (which I think about when I am eating sushi, but fortunately my favourite sushi is seared salmon...).

So it is only fitting that in my little Museum of Computational Mathematics and Differential Geometry I should have some sterling examples of the kind of conic sections which are thrown up from that stormy foundation of Japanese life. Everything you see here is the remnant of something edible, of all which I have eaten. The first two shells I ate from on my first day in Japan (thanks to the Delightful Miss E) and I must say they are rather tasty; the third is of course a scallop, quite popular here; and the last is a cuttlefish 'bone'. I have eaten raw tiny cuttlefish at a sushi restaurant, their little tentacles still dangling off the edge of the bed of rice. And of course all they leave behind is this quaint little section. I wonder what its equation is? Perhaps if I go on a rampage through my Museum of Differential Geometry I will be able to find an example, and then I can perhaps graph the body of the cuttlefish on my Casio FX-1. Perhaps this is why these strange shapes are sitting on the bookshelf beneath the multi-dimensional Aussie cork hat.

Or maybe they were just the Dean's last lunch in his office. Ah, history and mathematics, the strange questions they throw up when they are combined in dusty brown offices! But now I must return to my study of graphical models, and perhaps a little lunch at one of the University's three cafeterias. We are indeed privileged here in Matsue, City of Museums!


I am told by my supervisor that the previous owner of this room subsequently became the Dean of the University, so I find myself sitting in a leather easy chair of august heritage. I also find myself in something of a little museum of computational mathematics, and in the style of most museums in small towns in Japan it is dusty, presented against a brown lineoleum background, and demanding of considerable personal research from the diligent amateur.

Here I present to you some artifacts from the early history of the computer. Clockwise from top left we have the Casio FX-1 Calculator,which was built in 1971 and is actually powered from the wall socket, not a battery; a box of 5.25" floppy disks (containing the 'system disk' (on one disk!) and a program called pi); an envelope containing magnetic cards for the Canon SX-3110 scientific calculator (so obscure I can't find a picture on the web); examples of the floppy disk and the card; and finally a 'statistics pack' for the SX-3110 calculator, which presumably one plugs in at the back to give it the kind of advanced functionality every 70s statistician needed. It must have been pretty big, because that stats pack is chunky. Unfortunately some looter has made off with the SX-3110; maybe it is of pre-war vintage, and was confiscated by the US for their electronic warfare program.

This isn't the only history available to me in this building. Down the hall is a cabinet in which are stacked two neat rows of magnetic backup tape which must be of 80s vintage at best. Rather a lot of the equipment in this place is rather old, actually, and all encased in brown. Even the LAN cable through which I beam this message to the internet is brown (I challenge you, fellow Australians, to find a brown LAN cable in Australia). It goes fetchingly with the formica table and brown chairs, but is so old that it has no flexibility.

I hope when my Hewlett-Packard PC arrives it is not from the Hewlett Packard Museum of Electronic Calculators, and is a colour other than brown!!!

Differential Geometry

From my office window I can study the lonely geometry of the Falcon's gyre, but were I to turn my attention away from the distractions of Japanese nature for a moment to my work (mathematics) I can find many strange and entertaining objects to distract me within my little study. It would appear that the original owner of this room (before it became the foreign research students' room) was a mathematician who studied Differential Geometry, and here I present to you two of the methods he used to teach his topic. In my next post you will see strong evidence that he was teaching before the advent of the computer, so he had to use models. There is a bookcase full of these models in my room, all packed neatly in wooden boxes with their equations on the lid. There are also two models made of wood and string sitting free on the bookcase, one looking for all the world like a multi-dimensional Aussie cork hat and the other presented here.

The wood and string model here could be a saddle point from dynamics, but I think it is meant to represent one of the conical sections and I'm buggered if I can remember which one. In front of it we have a 3-dimensional ellipse, which was actually still wobbling when I took the photo. We have other conical sections and slices in the boxes, as well as some weird bottles with beads in which are I think for selecting random numbers, the afore-mentioned multi-dimensional aussie cork hat, and some random numbered discs. It reminds me of a mathematical version of those classes you had when you were at high school, sticking together molecules from different coloured polystyrene balls. Thank the Gods of Reason for the invention of computer graphics!!!

My office

Today is my first full day of PhD life, and as one might expect I have been a little distracted from Higher Learning by such things as setting up my computer (for the next week I am using my laptop from home while my PC is on order); working out how to use the obligatory hot water pot (visible at lower left), and exploring my strange little office, with its huge whiteboard and table (never had either of them before!) and its rather excellent view of the University. I am on the 6th floor of 'ichigokan' (building number 1) of the faculty of engineering and science, which sprawls over 3 buildings.

The numbering scheme of these buildings says it all about the Japanese approach to addresses. The faculty has 3 buildings, numbered 1,2 and 3 (ichigokan, nigokan, sangokan). One might expect that they would be numbered in order of their age, but no - ichigokan was built second and sangokan third, and nigokan (building number 2) was built first. Wierd. Also ichigokan has no lifts, so maybe I will lose a kilo or two waddling up and down. In truth since I moved to Tottori I have probably lost 2 kgs of weight, but it was mostly muscle, so a few stairs could do me good.

From my window I can see the hills of North Matsue, and just a moment ago a hawk circling over the parks North of the University. The view is pretty and is going to be quite stunning in winter - a disturbing thought though winter is in this town, given that my office has no air conditioning but has two (!!!!) heaters, a feroicious looking gas heater and a static oil heater at opposite ends of the room. I can't wait!

Anyway, without further ado, some of the stranger things from my room have been collected for your consideration. Because I am crap at putting up photos in one post, they are spread over several posts. I hope they entertain.