A typhoon is a tropical cyclone, and is similar to a hurricane except that a typhoon only occurs in the Northwest Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, typhoons are extremely destructive storms, and I was flying right over one on my way to Nagasaki, Japan.
In September, I was on my way to collect data at Nagasaki University with Etienne, who had agreed to help me with organizing and randomizing the skulls so that I could assess them blindly. To get there from Leicester, it took three days of travelling, with one flight per day and layovers in Dubai and Tokyo. By the time we were on my last flight between Tokyo and Nagasaki, I was tired but excited to finally land and unpack my things. It was on this flight, however, that we were flying over a typhoon. Needless to say, it was the worst flight I’ve ever had in my life – the aircraft was tossed about quite violently, and we endured two hours of being thrown around nauseatingly in our seats. Finally, we landed safely and my contact at the University of Nagasaki, Dr. Tsurumoto, kindly met us at the airport and confirmed that my equipment had safely arrived the week prior. We were driven to the guest house on campus where we would stay for the next while. This guest house impressively survived the atomic bombing in World War II almost intact, so after that typhoon experience, I was glad to be in a very sturdy building:
I began my data collection the next day – or at least, I tried to. No matter how prepared you think you might be, something will inevitably go wrong. Despite using the exact same Microsoft Surface tablet/laptop that I’ve always used for scanning, the camera of the SLS wouldn’t work. Updating the camera driver didn’t work. Uninstalling and re-installing the camera driver didn’t work. Uninstalling and re-installing the entire scanning software didn’t work. Checking and re-checking cable connections didn’t work. I borrowed Etienne’s laptop, installed the software, and that didn’t work either.
As fortune would have it, I had brought a second laptop with the intention of using it to work while my tablet was tied up with scanning, and, unfathomably, the camera and software program worked with this one. The major difference between my second laptop, Etienne’s laptop, and my tablet was that I hadn’t updated to the latest version of Windows 10 on my second laptop a few months earlier…this was my saving grace, as I was not able to roll back my tablet to an earlier version since I had updated it so long ago.
So, on my first day of data collection, I spent 9 hours in the lab and scanned 3 crania (which is a skull minus the lower jaw or mandible). Seeing as how I allotted 100 working hours to scan 150 complete skulls, I was far behind. Luckily, the issue with the camera was the only major setback, and I ended up catching up quickly. Thanks to Dr. Tsurumoto and his team (especially Dr. Matsumoto and Dr. Saiki, who continually brought boxes of skulls to us back and forth), as well as Etienne’s efficiency in organizing and randomizing the skulls for me, I finished my data collection after 12 working days. This was despite yet another typhoon, which threatened to keep us all indoors and would prevent us from going to the lab.
After saying goodbye to Dr. Tsurumoto and his team, as well as Dr. Imamura (a former student of Dr. Tsurumoto whom I met in 2013) who came to visit us, Etienne and I left Nagasaki. Since we had finished earlier than expected, we had an extra week and a half to travel around Japan, so we decided to stop by Kyoto and Nara on our way back to Tokyo, where our flight was leaving from. I took this opportunity to meet up with a friend of mine who had moved to Tokyo, and the three of us visited Nikko National Park, which was absolutely gorgeous with the fall colours. We also had the chance to visit a traditional onsen, or bathhouse. Basking in an outdoor hot spring as the stars came out at night was a peaceful and rejuvenating experience.
This brings me to one of the major points of this blog post – it is necessary for everyone to be reminded that we should reward ourselves and take breaks so that we don’t burn out. Despite working super long hours in the lab during the week, we made sure to take the weekends off to explore Nagasaki so that we would have the energy to dive back into our work again. Dr. Tsurumoto and Dr. Imamura also very graciously took us out for meals, and we were introduced to what shabu-shabu is by some of Dr. Tsurumoto’s medical students (the name is an onomatopoeia for the sound that flavoured boiling water makes when you dip meat/vegetables into it).
Here are some amazing places we visited in Nagasaki:
The Atomic Bomb Museum
This was both an informative and deeply moving experience, as it not only included the facts and context surrounding the atomic bombing, but also testimonies from victims’ family members, and survivors who had either succumbed later to the radioactive effects or who were still alive today. Etienne and I folded paper cranes and added them to the museum’s collection.
Peace Park, as its name suggests, is devoted to creating symbols of world peace. The most famous statue in Peace Park is the Peace Statue, shown on the left. Peace Park is situated near the hypocenter, or where the atomic bomb detonated, which is shown on the right by the black obelisk. The steps leading to the obelisk are concentric, symbolizing the movement of the blast.
Dejima Harbour is the south part of Nagasaki, and opens up to the sea. The significance of the harbour is that it was a port for Portuguese trading in the 1500’s, followed later by the Dutch in the 1600’s. Along the boardwalk in the picture to the left, there are numerous restaurants and cafés. Interestingly, the Japanese seem to like Italian food, so we saw an Italian-styled restaurant here. As you can see from the right image, we opted to eat at another restaurant.
Nagasaki Seaside Park
This is a beautiful, spacious, completely green and litter-free park by the water, framed by mountains and hills in the background. Many people were relaxing on the perfectly manicured grass, or playing with their dogs.
The former Glover residence has been turned into a garden and a teahouse, although the original house has been preserved (left). Thomas Glover was a Scottish merchant who contributed heavily to the modernization of Japan, and was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan in 1908 for his service. The grounds are absolutely stunning, and exhibit a blend of both Western and Eastern architecture.
This is a man-made island that was formerly a mining island, as well as a residence for miners and their families. It is named as Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, because it resembles a battleship on the water (left).
The view from Mt. Inasa at nighttime has been consistently ranked one of the top most beautiful views in the world. It definitely did not disappoint! We took the ropeway up the mountain and gazed down at the city lights, which seemed to be like a sea of stars.
Suwa-jinja is a Shinto shrine, and is used to host many annual festivals. While we were in Nagasaki (though not on the day we visited), the coming-of-age festival was taking place, which celebrates those who have reached the age of 20.
Living in Nagasaki for two and a half weeks was an insightful way to experience a culture vastly different than the one I am from. It was a rewarding experience, not only from a research perspective since I was able to successfully collect my data in a short amount of time, but also from a personal perspective. Although we visited many tourist destinations, we were also very immersed in the culture through grocery shopping, exploring neighbourhoods, and otherwise participating in daily-life activities that tourists normally don’t. It was therefore an excellent learning experience and opportunity for personal growth.
I can also now say that I’ve survived three typhoons – two literal and one metaphorical, if you count the panic and chaos that was setting up the scanner’s camera. Just like a typhoon, problems like this have the potential to be completely devastating – I could have been unable to collect data if I hadn’t been lucky enough to bring my second laptop! All you can do is prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.