4. Checkpoint

As the project passed the halfway point, I was reminded to reflect upon the process thus far. With only 3 posts under my belt, I will sheepishly admit to not keeping to a schedule. But these things happen- whether it’s losing track of time, taking a day off for self-care, or focusing on other obligations. I’m guilty of all three, but it’s the last one on that list that is the focus of today’s post. As I mentioned briefly in my first post, I had planned a trip to Japan mid-February.

So, why was I going to Japan? TLDR answer: I was applying for a PhD program, which required an in-person interview. 

The trip encompassed so much more than a visit to Hokkaido University. Several friends and colleagues offered to help me with my stay. So, this post is one part travelogue, one part archaeology and heritage, and one part introduction to specialists in Japan.

Chiba/Tokyo (Days 1-3)————————————————

Rekihaku Museum Shop. The window was designed to look like a Japanese folding screen.
Tell me your secrets, sketch book!

One of the first people to reach out to me was Ayako, a friend who works at the National Museum of Japanese History, commonly knowns as Rekihaku (国立歴史民俗博物館 Kokuritsu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan). Her research primarily focuses on archaeobotany. I can’t count the number of projects she juggles personally and professionally. She is constantly traveling, so I was lucky to catch her right before she left for a conference overseas.

I arrived around dinnertime, leaving just enough time to check in and grab a bite with my friend. Despite the heavy snow, we met the next day to explore the museum. Unfortunately, the Prehistory wing was closed for updates . We did encounter an Edo period sketch book depicting a Chinese bronze mirror. It has become a personal mission to uncover more on Edo interests in prehistory! Updates to follow.

Hokkaido (Days 4-8)————————————————

Given the weather in Hokkaido around this time of year, I invested in a Japan Rail Pass. It took around 7 hours to travel from Tokyo to Hokkaido by train, and the views were stunning. An interesting sign (see below) greeted travelers at the station when it came time to change trains in Hakodate. These sites were previously nominated, but not inscribed as a World Heritage Site. Within the list of sites, Sannai Maruyama is the most well-known site. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time for a pit stop before heading to Sapporo.

Wishful thinking or preemptive marketing?

A friend and colleague from Hokkaido University, Mayumi, was kind enough to take me around the city after I arrived. It was nice to spend time with her outside of the projects we’ve worked on together. When she’s not working on a collaborative research project/field school, she assists with furthering repatriation efforts within the university system as well as inclusive archaeological projects.

Check out more photos of the festival at the official site!

Coincidentally, my trip overlapped with the annual Sapporo Snow Festival (さっぽろ雪まつり Sapporo Yuki-matsuri). It boasts massive snow sculptures created by the Japan Self-Self-Defense force, a snow sculpture contest, regional food from all over Hokkaido, and live performances. The replica of the Helsinki Cathedral was quite impressive. Overall, the festival provided a distraction from the looming interview. 

The next day I met with a panel of four representative from the Center of Ainu and Indigenous Studies within the Department of Letters. There were a series of questions concerning my previous research, my intended research, and my future goals in Japanese and English. After the interview I discovered the results would only be posted on campus the day after I left Japan. With that knowledge, I celebrated this first step with the two other applicants for the PhD program. 

My last day in Sapporo was spent gathering gifts for friends and family, so I’ll spare you the details.

Kyoto (Days 9-12) ————————————————

After almost 10 hours of travel, I made it to Kyoto quite late. Luckily the buses were still running! Lodgings on the grounds of a temple in northern Kyoto were all thanks to some good friends. Corey Noxon ( good friend, colleague, Japanese government scholarship recipient, Archaeology PhD Student, blogger, and really cool dad) provided a tour of the nearby Ritsumeikan University the next day. Unfortunately, the department was completely empty, most likely because of exams. The Japanese academic year begins in April and ends the following March, which also explains why my interview was in February.

The last few days were dedicated to sightseeing, especially since the cherry blossoms (or sakura) were just starting to bloom. I met another friend for stroll through Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, popular with students praying for success in exams. Afterwards, I visited Ryoan-ji, a temple famous for its kare-sansui(“dry landscape”) garden and its tsukubai(washbasin). The site is included in the list of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My attempt at taking a panoramic shot at Ryoan-ji.

My last day in Kyoto was spent frantically navigating the city during the annual marathon in order to meet a colleague from Kyoto University at an old shopping district along the Kamo River. We discussed her current research and the difficulties of finding work as a physical anthropologist in Archaeology departments in Japan. She is working with a different department now, but told me all about her hopes for the future. We ended our evening with tea along the Pontochō, a district known for maiko and traditional tea houses.


There was a great deal packed into one trip, but I couldn’t be more grateful to those who made it so special. And, in case you were wondering, I did pass my exam! Keep an eye out for more posts from Japan.

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