Mt. Fuji seen from outside my apartment in Komae.
In the fall of 1998, nearing the end of my graduate school career at the University of Maryland, I arranged (through my advisor, Bill Phillips at NIST) to spend approximately three months in Japan, attempting to carry out an experiment in a lab there, to supplement my thesis. From early October through just before Christmas, I lived in a small apartment in Komae (a suburb of Tokyo), and worked in a lab at the University of Electro-Communications in Chofu (another suburb).
The experiment I went to Japan to do never did work- a crucial bit of equipment broke a few days before I was scheduled to return to the US- but the trip was a great experience. The articles linked to from this page are adapted from email updates I sent to family and friends while I was there. I'm just vain enough to think they're somewhat amusing, and worthy of posting on the Web. These are not, I should stress, detailed travelogues describing the cultural high points of Japan- there are a dozen books out there to provide that information, written by people who do this sort of thing far better than I do. These are more personal anecdotes, describing situations and events which I found significant, enlightening, or just vaguely amusing.
The articles, in roughly chronological order:
This page is now pretty much finished, unless I decide to transcribe some old notes which exist only on paper.
Should you prefer your witty travelogues from people who do this sort of thing for a living, I would recommend reading:
And also anything by Bill Bryson, who hasn't written a book about Japan, but has written some of the funniest travel books ever.
The guidebook which is favorably mentioned on a couple of occasions is Gateway to Japan by June Kinoshita and Nicholas Palevsky. This is the best travel guidebook I've ever used, by a long margin, providing detailed information on restaurants, hotels, shops, and attractions, even for towns which probably haven't seen an English-speaking tourist in years. I also found Tokyo: A Cultural Guide to Japan's Capital City by John and Phyllis Martin to be useful for providing odd bits of trivia, and amusing historical anecdotes about sites within the city.