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Japan 2016: day 1 and previous

Sun 23 Oct 2016 by mskala Tags used:

I'm in Japan to present a talk at SISAP 2016 and do some vacationing. That limits my Net access and time for writing updates here, but it also means I have plenty of stories to tell, so I'm going to try to post more or less regularly (maybe not every day) during my trip. Brief updates and photos, usually more current than the entries posted here, will be on my Twitter stream, which see.

First, a bit of catching up. As of last entry I was in Sweden. I then flew back to Canada and spent close to two weeks at a place I'm going to call the Hamilton Home for Wayward Catboys. I have some friends from the Toronto Greek community and they let me to stay with them in the time between my leaving Scandinavia and my heading off for Japan, the idea being that then I could use that time in the GTA to try to lease a place that I could move into on my return. They have a small apartment building in Hamilton that they are renovating and there's extra space in unused partially completed rooms. There were already two other guys there in situations of their own more or less similar to mine - hence my nickname for the place - as well as various members of the family who own it, so we were never lonely.

I hadn't quite realized when I booked the ticket (because give me a break, I've been living abroad for two years) that I'd arrive in Canada the night before Thanksgiving. So although I might have hesitated to impose if I'd thought of it in time, I ended up being present for a Big Fat Greek Thanksgiving feast of souvlaki, and then a few days later, one of the family members decided she'd missed having turkey, or maybe it was something to do with the Orthodox calendar, because anyway we ended up having Big Fat Greek Thanksgiving a second time, with turkey, and real old-fashioned Thanksgiving political discussions and family crises, and so on.

Apartment hunting went pretty well, considering. I contacted a relocation consultant in Toronto for help with finding a rental, and she put me in touch with a real estate agent, who made inquiries and arranged showings and helped with the paperwork. I ended up leasing a basement suite, for a little more money than I'd hoped to spend but not so much that it'll be a problem, in a very nice location. Arranging accomodation on a long-distance move has always been a serious issue for me. In Winnipeg there was last-minute nonsense over the approval of my rental application; in Copenhagen there was the Wrath of God; and so on. This time around it went better than the last couple, but I still hope it will be a long time before I have to go through such a process again. At least there was no nonsense over the approval, which had been one of my biggest concerns. I think they were very impressed with my credit rating. But I also had excellent credit when I tried to rent in Winnipeg (as well as a job, which this time I don't exactly have), and it didn't help me much in Winnipeg.

Oh, and when I re-entered Canada as a returning former resident, Canada Customs was satisfied with my declaration of the personal effects that will be following me back from Denmark, and that's a relief. The procedure for making this declaration was not clearly described on the Web, and it occurs to me that that's because there's not much opportunity for feedback. Returning with personal effects after having been a temporary but long-term resident abroad is usually a once-in-a-lifetime thing at most. Most Canadians either stay, or leave permanently. Even people like myself who return at least once, usually return exactly once, not more. So there's not much opportunity for anyone to apply what they learn the first time, on subsequent attempts. The knowledge just gets lost, at least on the citizen side. Maybe there's some learning going on on the Customs site.

So. After my stay in Hamilton I got on the plane to Japan (Korean Air, roughly 14 hours from Toronto to Incheon and then 2 more to Tokyo), took the express train from the airport to Nippori, the regular train from there to Sugamo, and then the subway to Jimbocho, nearest station to the SISAP venue and my hotel. Jimbocho is the used books distict of Tokyo. You remember at the start of the Read Or Die OAV where Yomiko is ecstatically spending all her money on books? My hotel is on that street.

I'm staying at the APA Hotel, which - nobody warned me - I've discovered is the Far Right Whackjob Hotel. Where other hotels might have a Bible, my room here contains five volumes of collected essays by "Seiji Fuji," which (per Wikipedia) is the pen name of the President of the hotel chain. These essays explain such things as how the Nanjing Massacre never happened and its official recognition by the UN is an American/Chinese conspiracy. Mostly Japanese-language, but a sufficient number of them are in English to convey the overall impression. This is not unlike a German hotel providing copies of Mein Kampf, except in Germany that would probably be illegal.

Other than the politics, and the Westernized "carry your key with you instead of leaving it at the desk" system, it's a pretty typical Japanese business hotel.

I had a bit of trouble plugging in my computer. I have an old Asus netbook which came with a power supply that had a two-prong "Edison" (US and Canada) style of plug on the removable cable that plugs into the wall. It's flexible-voltage, and I've used it in Japan before with no trouble. In Denmark I was using a two-prong "Europlug" adapter, good throughout continental Europe. I needed a different adapter when I visited Scotland.

Well, shortly before I left Denmark, that power supply became flaky, specifically in the strain relief on the cable from the brick to the computer. So I bought a new one from Amazon Germany, taking great care to get one with a two-wire connection from the mains cable to the brick so that I could still use my USA/Canada mains cable from the old power supply. And Amazon's marketplace participant shipped me a unit that did not match the photo on their Web site, and had a three-wire connection from the mains cable to the brick. I could still use it in Europe because it had a German-style "Schuko" mains cable (compatible with Danish sockets, it just doesn't make the ground connection), but I couldn't use the two-wire USA/Canada mains cable. I was not pleased, but I didn't have time to attempt to return it or anything. And then Steven Baker gave me a three-wire mains cable compatible with the brick (all his North American electrical stuff is surplus because he isn't going back), so I could still use it in Canada, and that was fine.

But on bringing that to Japan... it turns out the Far Right Whackjob Hotel doesn't have any three-wire outlets in the guest rooms at all, and I'm not actually sure it's the hotel's fault. It's possible Japanese mains sockets may all be two-wire everywhere. I never really looked carefully before because on previous trips I only had two-wire plugs I wanted to use. It would not be the strangest thing about the Japanese electrical system. Japan already uses 100V, unlike everywhere else, and both 50Hz and 60Hz in different parts of the country. Maybe the Japanese just don't do grounding! It's stuff like this that makes the "We must reroute the national electrical grid to power the laser cannon" episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion both plausible and exciting.

So, with this surprise, two hours of charge left in my computer's battery, no way to charge it, and a need to do more than two hours of prep work today (Sunday) for the talk I'm giving on Tuesday, I was planning to shop for a hacksaw blade and cut off the ground pin on the three-wire USA/Canada cable. Then I visited a konbini for cash and found they had an adapter I could use. It purports to be for plugging three two-wire plugs into a single socket, but with a bit of winking and nudging it also serves well for plugging a three-wire US/Canada plug into a two-wire Japanese socket.

Thirteen hours time difference from Toronto to here. I was in bed about 23:00, slept to 02:00, worried for a while about what to do about the computer plug and looked up hardware stores on the Net, went back to sleep until 09:00 (which was later than I had planned, but probably a good thing), and rushed down to the hotel breakfast which would close at 10:00. Then I went out planning to go across town to the hardware store, but I found I didn't need to, so I came back, camped out in the hotel room with the Do Not Disturb sign up, and worked on the slides for my talk and did a few other things online. It's now about 23:20, and after wrapping this entry I'll try to get some more sleep before the conference tomorrow. Today and last night my functioning was noticeably impaired by jet lag, which was one reason I stayed in the hotel room instead of trying to be more active. Dinner was a boxed meal from a konbini. I hope to be reasonably well shifted to Japanese time, and more able to do things, before my first academic duties of the conference (session chair, tomorrow afternoon).


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