Miyajima, Yukatas (again!), and Daily Life

Many of you are probably wondering – what is it that I actually do in Japan on a daily basis? If so, then lucky you because you are about to gain access to the goings on of my super cool and interesting work life.

Ha ha. But really though, I do have a pretty cool job.

Every morning, sometime between 7:15 and 8:15, I leave the Ikenoue dormitory and begin my five minute hike to work. Even if the night before was late or stressful, this walk always manages to perk me up. The weather and scenery are just so perfect! Despite the fact that it’s the rainy season, I haven’t actually been caught in a big storm yet. Most of the time the air is just incredibly humid, feeling wonderfully cool and refreshing, and when the sun does come out from behind the canopy of clouds it is always a welcome surprise, feeling warm and welcoming on my skin. No matter what the weather, the mountains around campus never cease to look lush and majestic.

Work technically doesn’t start until 9:00 for me, and since I don’t have internet access in my dorm, I use the extra time in the morning to check e-mails, check Facebook, Skype, upload pictures, or work on my blog. When 9:00 finally hits, I move from the break room to my office space in lab #309 and look over the plan I made the evening before specifying what I need to do that day. Normally, this includes either starting a reaction, purifying a product, or analyzing a “clean” product. I am proud to say that, after only a single semester of organic chemistry and single semester of analytical chemistry, I am able to do most of the work by myself! That is, of course, unless I am working with something that could be hazardous if handled incorrectly. In that case Inagaki-san, a post doc whose carbene chemistry research is pretty similar to mine, either shows me how to handle the chemical or supervises me as I handle it myself.

I really love my work environment. This is the first time that I have had my own project in a research setting, and I am really enjoying the autonomy and freedom to be creative. However, I am also well aware that I have much less experience than everyone else in the lab, so I ask Inagaki-san plenty of questions and never do anything too creative without asking his opinion. Luckily for me, Inagaki-san explains things extremely thoroughly. When I first asked him about the significance of the research I was doing, he went into an hour long lecture about the differences between singlet and triplet carbenes, using plenty of MO theory, and talked about why and how even subtle changes in the heteroatoms and substituents of a carbene can change which state is lowest energy, singlet or triplet. From there, he went on to talk about HOMO/LUMO gaps and the effects of all the above factors on the geometry of the carbene. And to think we couldn’t understand each other’s English at first!

When I am not starting a reaction, performing an extraction, running a column, doing a distillation, recrystallizing, reading an NMR, studying publications and scientific texts, writing a report, or picking Inagaki-san’s brain for information, I am normally either praying that my reaction works and that I don’t have to do the same one again (which, sadly, happens less often than you would think) or taking care of my own education and working through some courses on iTunes U. Quantum Mechanics and Fourier Series are my two favorites right now, but I have a few that I switch back and forth between when I get frustrated with my research. When my brain starts hurting from those, I can normally find enough motivation to get back to work.

I break at 11:30 for lunch with the three other carbene chemists (who all happen to be post-docs and therefore don’t have classes) and sometimes the professor, and that’s when I get to eat yummy Japanese food. I normally break again at 3:00 to go get a banana smoothie or coffee with some of the international students. Each break only lasts about thirty minutes. Finally, although my day typically ends at 6:00 PM (unless it’s a Tuesday evening and it’s my turn to report on my research during seminar), many of the other researchers stay late into the night, sometimes even midnight and beyond. Because I don’t have classes during the day like many of them do, I can get the same amount of work done without having to work so late. However, even though I don’t partake in late night research myself, I must say that I am incredibly impressed by the work ethic such an undertaking requires. On that note, work ethic seems to be a greater driving force here than productivity, which is in direct contrast to what I have seen at my own university and have heard about my European friends’ labs back home. While it has been drilled into me to work quickly and efficiently so that I can get as much work done in as little time as possible so that I can maximize both my results and my free time, here it seems like people work at a comfortable pace and don’t seem to get stressed out at all when working at that pace means that they will have to work longer hours. It seems like both approaches end in the same amount of working getting done, so perhaps personal preference is the only indicator as to which approach is better.

Looking back over this post so far, I now see that it is completely lacking in pictures (so intimidating!), so I believe that means it’s time to switch gears and write about my weekend adventures before I scare all of my readers away!

So let’s start with Miyajima.

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So. Gorgeous. However, instead of going into a long-winded description of how beautiful the island is, I will let my pictures speak for themselves and talk about the events of the day instead.

My friend Beppino and I had agreed on Thursday night, after attending our Chinese friend Hong Wei’s birthday party, that since we seemed to be the only two people on the entire campus who hadn’t yet gone to Miyajima, we needed to go as soon as possible. However, when I met Beppino at the bus stop Saturday morning at 8:30, I became a little nervous. Beppino mentioned that he hadn’t slept well the night before due to a terrible stomach ache and that the ache was still lingering that morning. But he appeared unfazed, so although I was unsure whether he ought to go traveling in his condition, I followed his lead and we went on our way to the train station that would take us to the Miyajima ferry.

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To my relief, Beppino declared that he felt much better after he got some breakfast, so we decided to take some time exploring the coast of the island followed by a hike up Mt. Misen, the holy mountain of the island.

Upon our arrival, we were immediately greeted by some very friendly wild deer,

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and although they seemed to have a penchant for getting in the way of my pictures,

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the day wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without their continual interference. On the coast were plenty of sites to see

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and shops to explore.

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There was also this spoon.

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We were finally able to drag ourselves away from the gigantic spoon, however, and became convinced that we were totally ready for a four hour hike up and down Mt. Misen.

In all honesty, the first three/fourths of the hike uphill weren’t bad at all! I was in a very talkative mood (surprise surprise) and had a lot of fun talking about my childhood in America and listening to Beppino talk about his childhood in Austria. Feeling energetic, we even decided to leave the path a few times for some side adventures, like making our way to the top of this waterfall.

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Conversation and fun side trips were rather lacking the last fourth of the uphill hike, though. I’m pretty sure the only thing I talked about was how much I loved water (which I had run out of) and Beppino’s stomach had started to hurt again. Yet whenever one of us would ask the other if they wanted to stop, the response was always, “Nah! I can tough it out!” So we toughed it out, accompanied by some “motivational”, obnoxiously optimistic “Wooh! I bet we’re almost there!”‘s on my part.

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See? Motivational!

You’ll be happy to hear that we did eventually make it to the top, and that it was well worth the hike up there. We found a temple containing the 1200 year old flame that was used to light the Hiroshima Peace Memorial flame

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as well as a place to buy water! Sitting, completely worn out, on the summit,

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our conversations became a bit loftier as we talked about freedom versus intimacy, love versus fear, and all of that other philosophical stuff that no one ever talks about when they’re well rested. A quotations war ensued, which was delightful fun, and I really got to know Beppino a lot better.

On the way down the mountain, we passed lots of smaller temples

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and managed to stumble upon Diasho-in, one of the most fantastic temple sites I’ve seen yet.

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Although I’m almost certain that I completely misinterpreted this, one of my favorite parts of the temple was this apparent stand off between the guardians.

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Probably both sets were protecting the temple together, but letting my mind run wild with stories was much more fun than accepting this probable truth. There were so many nooks and crannies to explore that I probably could have stayed twice as long,

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but Beppino and I were both feeling rather lightheaded, so we decided to return to the shore

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and then home.

Exhausted from the previous day, I was very thankful that I was able to sleep in on Sunday. There was a yukata festival happening on campus, but I wasn’t supposed to be meeting the girls I planned on getting dressed with until 1:00 PM.

Putting on the yukatas took much longer than I had expected. With only seven of us girls, it took two-and-a-half hours to get dressed. Yet again, though, the time spent was worth it! I felt like a princess with my multiple layers of clothing and styled hair,

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and everyone looked so pretty when we were done!

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The boys had it really easy though.

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On my right is Jochen, originally from Russia but a citizen of Germany. His jinbei took all of five minutes to put on. On my left is Will, wearing his “Peruvian” jinbei. Hmm…

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Yeah. They had it really easy.

Overall, though, the festival was super, duper fun. I made a fan with some of my friends,

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and got to watch one of the best one-hour dance shows that I’ve seen in my whole life. I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to dance, having been around the Ballet Memphis company for 8 years and having danced myself for 13 years, but these guys knocked my socks off.

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The night concluded in fireworks and I went home exhausted, again, but the physical exhaustion was accompanied by a state of mental rest. Monday morning I was able to attack my research with new found fervor and have continued to be really motivated this week, despite the fact that my increased effort was met by failure Monday afternoon. I am at a really critical point in my project, and if my current reaction doesn’t work, I am at a loss as to what I should do next. All prayers are much appreciated, for energy and optimism if not for success.

Until next time!

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