Well, in my last post I said that in this one I would talk about procrastination. I imagine that that particular piece will, quite fittingly, be a long time coming!
So I’ve just arrived back from a research trip to Japan. I spent two weeks in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, the most northerly island of the Japanese archipelago. It’s on the same latitude as central France but doesn’t benefit from a warming current like that of the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic. In fact, in winter the fresh waters flowing from the Amur River result in an Okhotsk Sea that is full of ice, and extreme weather conditions lead to (sometimes fatal) snow drifts.
Hokkaido had just woken up from a cold winter when I arrived and the island had clearly been celebrating. The white cherry blossoms littered the ground like confetti, and the dregs of the snow were piled to the sides of walkways here and there, as though the spring clean was under way. People were beginning to abandon the warmth of the wandering subterranean walkways to take in the sun, which beamed down between the many skyscrapers. Between the skyscrapers the still snow-covered mountains were visible and were a reminder of the cold grip of winter which had just been released, but also served as a picturesque backdrop to the city’s springtime happenings.
What, you might ask, is involved in a “research trip”? I know I wondered what I would *actually* spend the whole two weeks doing! I went with only two or three meetings confirmed but one stimulating discussion led to another and, before I knew it, I was flying home again. I could have done with at least another week but I came away with lots to think about and to follow up on over the next couple of months. The trip consisted of meetings, museum and site visits, book-buying, networking and viewing archaeological collections held by the university, from both current and previous excavations. One of the collections, which had an incredible array of material, from a whale skull to a finely decorated needle case, was from the excavations on Rebun Island (NW Hokkaido) which I will be a part of this August. It was so useful to get a head start in understanding the site, its stratigraphy and the kinds of material we will find, including the various types of pottery and stone tools.
I was very lucky to be shown around the National Museum by Prof. Hirofumi Kato (Kato Sensei to me), Professor of Archaeology at the Centre for Ainu and Indigenous Studies, Hokkaido University, and Ren San, another PhD researcher whose extensive knowledge and excellent English (given my negligible level of Japanese) were of great benefit to me during my trip.
My trip also included a landmark moment in my PhD. I was finally in the same room as both of my supervisors! Before he left, my primary supervisor Peter and I met with my second supervisor Prof. Andrzej Weber, the director of the Baikal-Hokkaido Archaeology Project, which jointly funds my PhD, along with the University of Groningen (He is now based in Hokkaido on sabbatical). This meeting, among others, was extremely useful in helping to focus my research questions and settle on viable research strategies to answer them. The same can be said of the many meetings with other Japanese colleagues and I have a lot of follow up work to do between now and when I go back. Sometimes there is no replacement (not even Skype!) for getting round a table and having a good chinwag. And going to Japan is always nice too!
If the productivity of the trip itself wasn’t making me feel more confident in my abilities and optimistic about the next three and a half years, then the post-trip feedback from both my supervisors assured me that I am right on track, which is always nice to hear.
It’s quite easy to look back and pick out a particular point in your life where everything changed, or where something big started. I can definitely pick out a few, but what I’ve never done before is acknowledged one of these transitions in the moment. At the minute I’m looking at the opportunities I’ve been given – to carve out an enjoyable and fruitful career, to travel and learn new languages, the support I’m benefiting from, the people I’m working with…I’m looking at all of this and thinking “F**k me! These will probably be the most formative years of my life.” I’m sure any of you who might be reading this who have been through the PhD process will be laughing at my naïve optimism! Let’s see how long it lasts!