As I sit down to start writing this, it is 8:40pm in Osaka, which is where I am right now. But it's 7:40am in Waterloo, which is where I was at this time ten years ago. I had just arrived a few days earlier in the city where I planned to live for four years while I did my PhD. I'm not sure where I thought I'd be today. If you told me then that on this day in 2011 I'd be writing this from Osaka, that in itself wouldn't have surprised me - it was certainly my expectation that the kind of work I would do would involve occasional travel of this nature. If you told me I'd have finished my PhD by now, I'd have said, of course, that's the plan. If you told me I'd only be three years out of the PhD, having taken seven instead of four to complete it, and in 2011 I'd still be doing "postdocs," that part would have surprised me; it sure wasn't the plan. And neither was still being alone in 2011. Indeed, very much of my life as of this day ten years ago was carefully planned around the fact that my top priority was to not still be alone after even one more year. My plan for my life had already failed because I was still alone in 2001. And my last chance to salvage it, in the early 2000s, failed too.
But just a couple hours from now my ten-years-younger self will (if I can use the future tense for what happened a decade ago) find something else to think about for a while. I found out about the historic events of September 11 sooner than most people around me did because shortly after the first plane struck I tuned into a "talker" MUD where people were discussing it, including one member who was in downtown New York and actually seeing the events first-hand. At the time I found out, I was in a small computer lab on one of the upper floors of the Math and Computer Science building at Waterloo, because I had only just had my computer account activated, I had no computer in my office yet and I didn't yet have my home computer linked to the Net, and so that was where I had to go to get on the Net at all. I remember turning away from the computer and addressing the only other person in the lab: "Listen, there's something important you should probably know about." I told him what I'd just read, and then I went down to the pay phones in the Davis Centre atrium and phoned my parents on the West Coast, even though it was 6:something am for them.
September 11 photo gallery (photos on first page are actually from the afternoon/evening of September 10).
Now it is ten years later, and as of yesterday about 5pm, I went off-duty. Except for a brief academic meeting while I'm in Tokyo, the rest of this trip is my own time. I begged off on the group dinner some MCFG+2 participants were organizing, because I wanted to do some laundry in the hotel coin-op machines. In fact, I maybe should have waited, because I've got better laundry access here in Osaka, but whatever. It may actually be just as well because being on my own for dinner meant I got to spend some time wandering the shopping area of Nara at night, and I got to pick my own place to go for dinner (which meant I got to go lower-end, as I often prefer - in this case a Japanese curry house - rather than the "fine dining" favoured by most of the people from the conference).
I had budgeted the day, with no other plans, for getting from Nara to Osaka. In fact, it's less than an hour on the train (maybe a little more than an hour when you count the waits for connecting trains), so I had some extra time. I aimed to leave Nara pretty early, on the theory that Osaka would be a more interesting place to spend the majority of the day. Honestly, although I have nothing exactly against Nara, it was only on my itinerary at all because that's where the work that pays the bills sent me. Nara wasn't really on my list of places I wanted to visit in Japan. So, I ended up in Osaka at maybe 9:30am today.
That presented a bit of an issue because I couldn't check into my hotel until 2pm. Fortunately, large luggage lockers were a lot easier to find in the station where I ended up dropping my bag (Tennouji) than they had been in Shinjuku. The first place I went was Abeno Seimei Jinja, which marks the supposed birthplace of Abeno Seimei, a famous practitioner of the ancient mystical system called onmyoudou. I don't know a lot about onmyoudou - it seems that nobody today really does - but what I've read about it sounds a whole lot like Chinese feng shui with more of an emphasis on magical spells and less on interior decorating, crossed with astrology and Ceremonial Magick. So, yeah, I basically went to the shrine of Heien Period Aliester Crowley. Abeno Seimei has been used as a character in several works of pop culture; the one I'm familiar with is Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, in which he is the mystery man pursued through time and space by Miss Mune-Mune.
Pursued through time and space by busty redheaded meganekko is pretty good already, of course, but the fact that people who should know better have chosen to read "occultist" as "early scientist" and have blown up Abeno Seimei into a patron of the sciences, made this an appealing destination for me. To get there I had to take the Abeno Line tramway, which was a little tricky because the tram conductors didn't really speak English and I didn't really understand their Japanese, which made it hard for them to explain to me that I couldn't buy a ticket, the routine was to just get on, and then pay 200円 to the driver when I got off (same fare to anywhere), but I made it to the right station, and found the shrine with only a little bit of random walking. The neighbourhood it was in was very picturesque, too, and the shrine was one of the nicest I've been to so far. It's clearly well-maintained and active, but at the same time it's not all touristed to death like Kasuga Taisha.
On my return from that, it was still well before noon. I spent some time wandering around in the mall near the station, which was kind of fun even though malls are not really my thing. I looked at some very nice art and craft supplies. The Abenobashi Shopping Arcade from the anime does not really exist; but I figure that this mall is its spiritual equivalent. Check my photos for the Million God slot-machine ad.
The Tennouji station has an exciting array of vending machines selling all sorts of things. I ate lunch in a restaurant there, experimented with the machines, sat on a little-used platform listening to my audio player for a while, and spent some time wandering around looking at girls. I'm still trying to pin down the causative factors here, but it's been quite noticeable to me that pretty girls are a lot more plentiful here than in Nara. Maybe it's the big-city factor; maybe it's that most of the girls I saw in Nara were with school groups, and thus both younger than I'd prefer and in uniform (and real school uniforms are not much like the ones in anime); or maybe there's something specific to Osaka in particular. I'll have to look more carefully when I get back to Tokyo, and do a comparison.
Eventually it was late enough that I could check into my hotel, so I went there and did. This is the Fraser Residence Nankai Osaka, and it's quite a posh place. A combination of getting a discount online, wanting to be in an easy-to-find location and in a hotel that could handle English speakers, and eventually saying "Heck with it, I don't want to spend more time looking," meant I reserved a fair bit higher base-price room than I would have otherwise chosen. The facility is a little odd in that it seems to be primarily intended for people staying a longer time - this is really more properly a furnished apartment, not a hotel room as such - but they nonetheless accepted a reservation for three nights, and it was well reviewed in the places I looked, and here I am.
After checking in I spent a fair bit of time on the Net, getting my previous entries synched and photos uploaded and adding comments. After the Sun went down I went out and wandered a bit through the entertainment district near here, taking some more photos; I eventually had dinner at a place that seemed to be the local equivalent of a Williams Coffee Pub. I ordered the spaghetti carbonara, and it was a bit disappointing (looked a fair bit better on the menu than on the plate) but I guess it was another new experience, and I didn't want a more elaborate meal.
Then I came back and spent a lot of time writing this entry. Tomorrow, I have no specific plans.