I am a graduate student at UC Berkeley studying the diversity and evolution of whelks. This summer I was sponsored by the NSF (USA) and JSPS (Japan) to work with Dr. Seiji Hayashi at Nagoya University in Japan to collect buccinid gastropod (whelk) tissue samples and examine whelk shell collections at musems throughout Japan. Sugoi! Some of the snails that I study are pictured to the right.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sayonara Nihon!

My time in Japan is just about up. A quick reunion with JSPS/NSF students tomorrow, then a flight home the next day. Living in Japan this summer has been productive, surprising, rewarding, and challenging. I learned about things I didn't even know I didn't know about. That is one of the profound aspects of living in another culture. At least it was for me. Putting this blog together has also been lots of fun. I appreciate that you read it.

Here are last minute miscellaneous thoughts.

I rode the subway very often while in Nagoya. This sign (sorry about the glare, I know is hard to see) indicates the seating available for persons who might need it most. "Priority Seats". Fine so far. Starting from the left of this sign, I identify; old person, pregnant woman, person with a baby, injured person, but the fifth one? Crying person with a broken heart? This has perplexed me for months.Here is the giant green Buddha near Nagoya University. I already posted pictures of it when I first got to Nagoya, but wow. I think it deserves more attention. It is gigantic! If you are ever in Nagoya, it is worth seeing.Here I am (again) next to the also giant Buddha hand that is next to the larger statue.And finally, this sign is posted near the cash register of the cafe where I ordered the green tea/red bean/rice ball drink and the squid sandwich that I mention in a previous post. I think that Natural Selection should have the final word in this blog. It usually does in life.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

American Heritage, 1977

The other night right after dinner I was fresh out of reading material. Any reading material, in English anyway. I was desperate to read something and the only un-read book in my apartment was a dictionary (once belonging to Yamaki, see below) that I found a few weeks ago in pile of books slated for the "combustible" refuse in Science Building C. So I brought this dictionary home and was now flipping through it. I learned some wonderful things.

First, this dictionary was printed in 1977. While flipping through "S" I noticed both San Francisco and San Jose. In 1977, the population of San Francisco was 704,000. In San Jose it was 204,000. Today, S.F. has 744,041 people and San Jose has 929,936. A fascinating beginning!Here are some dictionary entries of note:

casino: a place to gamble. This word, familiar to all of us as ever-growing, perversely indulgent monstrosities, comes from the Italian for "little house." The irony.

macadam: a pavement of layers of compacted stone bonded with tar or asphalt. After J. McAdam, a Scottish engineer (1756-1836). This entry was so notable to me because I grew up calling the "black top" at my elementary school, "the macadam" never knowing why it sounded like an unusual word. I think having a noun derived from your last name must feel pretty great. And speaking of macadams, here it is outside the Toyoda Auditorium on the Nagoya U. campus. Like I did, you might wonder what all those marks and indentations are. Here is a clue: Nagoya is HOT in the summer. Amazing isn't it? And while still on the macadam topic, here is another famous Scottish engineer.

a dirty or unkempt child from the "Ragamoffyn" - a demon in Piers Plowman. I always thought that a ragamuffin was sort of an endearing term for children, certainly without demonic etymology! How wrong I was.

red letter: memorable, happy. This dictionary does not provide an etymology for this word, but Merriam Webster online does. My husband and I will, on occasion, sing parts of A Whole New World from the Disney movie Aladdin. The "every moment red letter" lyric was always totally confusing. Not anymore. Thank you American Heritage.

rosemary: aromatic shrub, from the Latin, "ros marinus" meaning "sea dew.". Sea dew! How spectacular.

Sikkim: Kingdom between India and China. Capital: Gangtok. Population: 162,000. I had never heard of Sikkim! Sikkim? A kingdom? American Heritage is a bit out of date now, Sikkim having become a state of India without a monarchy. Discovering this bit of trivia reminded me of the fun Richard Feynman had with Tuva.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Today is one of the days of the Japanese Buddist holiday of Bon, or Obon. In Japanese, an "o" is often added as a prefix to the name of something venerated. I think that is why this holiday can be called "Obon", though I am not sure. Other Japanese words, for example, "cha", which means tea is so respected that it is most often called "ocha". Or to say "how is it going?" to a person to whom you should show special deference you might say, "O-genki des ka?" Otherwise you would say, "genki des ka?" Anyway, I was looking at the very helpful (to foreigners) website of the Nagoya International Center and noticed that they are sponsoring a photo contest. I am not really interested in the contest, but it made me think about the photos I have taken since I have been in Japan. So I sorted through them and selected my favorites. Here they are.

Damselfly and exuvium at Tokugawaen in Nagoya.
Tokugawaen waterfall.Japanese fishing canoe, Rikuzen-TakataTorii at Suemori shrine, Nagoya.Shimenawa (rope) and gohei (strips of white paper) at the Suemori shrine, Nagoya.Cicada at temple in Joetsu.Takata (rice paddy) beetle, Joetsu.Graves at Zuihoden Masoleum, Sendai.Lily pads, Hagashiyama Botanical Garden, Nagoya.Nagoya CastleDamselfly at Orchid Gardens, Nagoya.Dragonfly at Tokugawaen, Nagoya.Frog in rice paddy, Joetsu.Hemipteran insect, Joetsu.Gohei at Kasugayama shrine, Joetsu.Graves at Ringseni Temple, Joetsu.Shimenawa at Nagoya shrine. Flower, Joetsu.Fish @ fish market, Sendai.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On food

Japanese food, in character and diversity, could constitute a blog all by itself. For this reason I will only superficially deal with it as a topic. That and because I am a vegetarian most of the time (termed by some clever person, "a flexitarian") and try not to eat unsustainable fish (e.g. tuna) I have had little to no exposure to lots of well-known Japanese dishes. In fact, being (an almost) vegetarian in Japan is hard! All that being said, here are some of my experiences of Japanese food.

My first opportunity to "flex" was with breakfast sandwiches of corned beef at the house of my host family. This is ocha-zuke, basically rice and seasonings in green tea as a kind of broth. Pretty good!This is nabe from my farewell party. Some of the little light-colored bits are pieces of animal fat that render into the bubbling stew to which cabbage, other vegetables, and meat are added. This was another "flexing" opportunity.This is nabe toward the end of the meal when after all the vegetables and meat have been eaten, udon noodles are added.The other most popular noodle variety in Japan is soba. Here is my friend Ai (who I met at Starbucks!) with a beautiful dinner of soba.This is a plate of sashimi, which is raw fish without rice.This is the conveyer belt of the conveyer-belt-sushi restaurant I went to during my first week in Japan.And this is a typical lunch of mine from the Nagoya student cafeteria. Clockwise starting between the teas at 12 o clock, is green tea, a salad of cabbage, seaweed, and Japanese pumpkin called kabocha with sesame dressing, miso soup, spinach prepared as horenso no gomaae, rice with soy sauce, more kabocha, and brown rice tea or genmai cha.This is sweet green tea flavored ice with sweet red bean and chewy rice balls inside. It is gigantic, delicious, and the popular treat to get after visiting Ise-Jingu (see previous post).These are Okinawan doughnuts called sata andagi.This was my lunch last weekend. The drink was a delicious iced green tea (powered matcha style), red bean, and rice ball concoction (see a trend?). The sandwich was sort of a panini with squid. I cant read Japanese and in the picture menu all the sandwiches look pretty much the same, so I take a gamble and just choose one. This time it was squid.At a similar style cafe to one above, this sandwich is an option. I should have ordered it just for its menu description!Finally, one of the things that I almost cannot believe about food in Japan, is the consistently HUGE size of apples. Seriously. I have never seen anything like it.Some more information about Japanese food is here as well as all over the internet. Itadakimas!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shinto and geology

Though Japan is considered by many Westerners as a mostly secular society, about 86% of Japanese people consider themselves followers of Shinto and Buddhism, so says Lonely Planet. And the "and" in that sentence is not a typo. Most Japanese people are religious pluralists. That is, they observe Shinto, Buddhist, and even Christian holidays as well as take part in rituals of all three. One Japanese woman told me that most Japanese go to a shrine (Shinto) to pray and to celebrate births, a Buddhist temple for funerals, and (often) a Christian chapel for weddings. Neither Buddhism nor Shinto conflicts with evolutionary biology, paleontology or geology, so one nice thing about even deeply religious Japanese people is that they don't try to get evolution out-lawed in their school district. Ah, and all of science in Japan breathes a sigh of relief.

This is a torii tunnel at a Shinto shrine in Nagoya.
Near the entrance to a shrine is a a water trough called a chozuya. With the ladles one rinses both hands and rinses their mouth before getting closer to the shrine itself. This is the chozuya from Ise-Jingu in Mie prefecture, the most venerated shrine in Japan.This is one of the torii of the inner shrine of Ise-Jingu. From here it is about a 10 minute walk to the shrine itself.And a walk on clean gray gravel. Why? My Japanese friend told me, "because Japanese people like the way it sounds when you walk on it."So, by the end of all this pleasant-sounding walking to the heart of the famous shrine, you might expect a big "something" to be there. Not really. At Ise-Jingu the closest you can get to the "inner shrine" is a small (maybe 20ft X 15ft) wooden building with little adornment. The simplicity is beautiful as are the huge camphor trees surrounding it. It is a surprise though, coming with the expectation of something like Notre Dame. Also, no picture taking is allowed at the shrine, so for appeasement, here is a beautiful koi!And to give you an idea about how important Shinto is to many Japanese people; the picture below is of a line of cars (only about one third of it) waiting to enter the parking lots of the Atsuta-Jingu in Nagoya on a Saturday morning. Atsuta is one of the three most sacred shrines in Japan. Ise-Jingu (described above) is the most sacred, then Atsuta and the Imperial Palace shrine in Tokyo.The other reason to visit Mie prefecture with the geobiology students at Nagoya University (which is what I was doing) was to explore the Cretaceous outcrops of the Matsuo Group. Here I am looking for fossils. The rock hammer I am swinging is in my right hand and out of the frame.Here is my first Japanese gastropod fossil!These outcrops bordered the Pacific in an embayment once famous for its pearl divers. The dominant intertidal invertebrates (all molluscs) were chitons, neritid gastropods, and limpets. Below is a chiton. And speaking of geology, today I learned of two very noteworthy geology-related things. One is the collapse of one of the sandstone arches in Arches National Park in Utah- a site that was amazing (and full of German tourists) when I saw it as an undergraduate on a summer fieldtrip. The other is a new book about the history of geology and specifically Italian geology written by Walter Alvarez, professor of geology at UC Berkeley. Sugoi!