Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Cat, Monkey

Rain-drenched small temple. The cat had found itself a dry spot and wasn't going to move no matter who was taking his picture.

Sendai is a city of just over a million people near the eastern cost of northern Honshu. I was visiting Tohoku university for a conference. The weather was bad when I arrived, with the drab downtown drenched in a depressing drizzle.

The second day cleared up and the city brightened along with my mood. Sendai is sometimes called "the city of trees"; the moniker apparently comes from pre-war Sendai, but the city seems to take the slogan seriously so many major roads are tree-lined and leafy.


The good thing about cheap hotels is that the view is often much more interesting than some bland landscape. This time my room was just meters away from the Shinkansen line to Sendai with a near-perfect view of the first curve.

I stayed at a hotel chain called Toyoko-inn. They're cheap but they're good where it matters. The hotels are fairly central, simple breakfast is included and the rooms have internet access. Other than that, well, you don't spend much time at the hotel anyways.


This is the point of conferences. After all, you can download the presented papers any time you want; to me the talks are just an excuse for gathering people and having them talk to each other.

The conference - the reason for the trip - was fun, and I got to talk to some interesting people. It was all in Japanese - I believe I was the only non-Japanese there - which is good language practice for me if nothing else. It's still very difficult for me to understand presentations given in Japanese. Poster sessions are much easier since you get to talk to people individually, ask questions and get feedback on your own work. I normally prefer poster sessions to talks in English-language conferences too.

For Your Protection

Remember swine flu? I love what this picture tells us about face masks. The mask really is a visible signal that "I do care about your health; trust me, I won't infect you". It doesn't do anything to limit the spread of infection when you wear it under your chin - of course, it doesn't do much worn over your mouth either.

Beef tongue is a Sendai speciality for vague historical reasons, and you can find lots of beef tongue restaurants serving it every way imaginable. It's flavourful, tender meat, and beef tongue stew will just melt in your mouth with savoury goodness. Beef tongue sashimi, however, was a little too bland and chewy for my taste. I got some ready-made beef-tongue stew and beef-tongue curry to take home. There's a really good kind of tofu here too, with grated or crushed green beans mixed into the tofu; unfortunately tofu is not very amenable to transportation so I couldn't take any home.


Tohoku university in Sendai is pretty big, and like any university city there's a fair amount of odd book-stores. This one was odder than most - the picture is taken perhaps one meter in from the front door. The owner has to step out whenever someone comes in to browse. You have no chance to even glimpse 90% of the books here, which of course just makes the place more fascinating.

In all, Sendai was a fairly pleasant experience. A comfortable, convenient city, and I'm sure living there is pretty good. It does however feel a little bland, a little anonymous, a little lacking in color. If cities were clothing, Sendai would be a pair of beige slacks1. Perfectly nice place for a business trip, but not really a first choice for a holiday.

Taxi, anyone?

If you go to Sendai, don't worry - you will find a taxi. They have you covered in the taxi department. Taxi? No problem.

#1 In all fairness Osaka would probably be a strawberry-pink and lime green striped satin jacket with enormous lapels, worn collar, torn lining, with a jaunty water-squirting fake flower in the breast pocket - ugly but fun and not easy to forget.

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