Prof Steven Bishop

Past News

4 October 2013

Global System Dynamics and Policies: Best Practice Guidelines. The full report is available on PDF here

23 August 2013

Steven will go to Kenya as part of his Dream Fellowship to see Animesh Kumar, who works for the UN in Nairobi and also visit Maseno University near Kisumu. More >

19 July 2013

Giving a talk at the 3rd European PhD Summer School and workshop on "Mathematical modeling of Complexity", 17-19 July More >

10 July 2013

Steven in Malta till the 13th visiting the Malta Information Technology Agency and holding a UCL Alumni Event. More >

13 June 2013

Steven will participate at the 3rd Technical workshop: Adapting to climate change, in Brussels. You can read the programme here >

10 - 12 June 2013

2nd Open Global Systems Science Conference in Brussels organised by GSDP, the Global Climate Forum, EUNOIA, FOC, INSITE, MULTIPLEX, NESS, HLRS and ECLT. Read the Agenda here >


A view on Japan 2013

Hiroshima Dome, Japan, April 2013

As part of my Dream Fellowship funded by the EPSRC I decided to come to Japan. To relax. No meetings. To expand my understanding of a culture which is far from the one that I know in London. I have taught Japanese students in the past, but you still don't get the full picture - and maybe I never will but I can only but try. I am travelling by train a lot (using the excellent Japan Rail Pass) and so my photographs will often be in or around the stations.

Arrival: Arriving and travelling into Central Tokyo is an interesting experience. I travel regularly through Euston, but since I am a commuter perhaps I don't look at what is going on around me. Tokyo Central Station is pretty big with people criss-crossing a concourse filled with shops and restaurants. There seems to be no clear entrance to the concourse with openings at all points of the compass. Here there are several rail companies (we only hear of the Shinkansen) but each owning their own track, it seems. Was this what it was like in the old days of LNER in the UK? How so many people can move and know where they are going is amazing. Viewed from high up we must all look like ants, scurrying about in different directions with no apparent aim. Did the station design evolve or was there a master plan that created this complex series of pathways to manage the ebb and flow of Tokyo life?

Uniformity: Most of the young men wear the same black suits and white shirt as a uniform for work. Are these just public employees? My first thoughts were that the school kids here are old. I don't know but it is almost bizarre that everyone conforms. So much so that when you see someone that does not conform it sticks out a lot more here.

Comics: Cartoon books seem to be a way of life here with racks and racks of comic like books which are not only read by the young, but are popular with older readers. Bookshops are still flourishing it seems on the back of this trade. I would like to explore more deeply whether these illustrated texts carry complex narratives. Certainly the written language is more artistic than our roman script.

Toyahashi Main Train Station - Japan
Toyahashi Train Station

Toyohashi: I am not sure what the English equivalent of Toyohashi is. Sheffield perhaps? Certainly a working City. Looking out of my hotel window the main station is formed by several rail tracks. Pre-conception sees me thinking that Bullet trains are rare, but in fact they are two a penny (picture to the right) arriving sometimes like London buses, two or three at a time. My view across part of the city towards the sea (movie below) shows very few high-rise buildings here except in the central area. There is quite a bit of farmland on the way in once I had left the industrial coastal heartland on the outer edges of Tokyo. I visited Toyohashi University while I was here, the home of an old friend Seishi Yamada, who sadly died recently. The university is a late 60’s concrete box affair out of town a bit. Seishi did some excellent work on shell buckling following up on work of the civil engineering at UCL, where pioneering work was carried out by Professor Jim Croll. This was also the field that my mentor Michael Thompson worked in before turning to the dynamic equivalent of buckling, that is nonlinear dynamics.

Buddhist Ceremony: I went along with Seishi’s wife, Kumi, to a Buddhist ceremony, which was an interesting experience. Certainly not jolly. I am definitely not religious but having attended boarding school I know many of the usual hymns and find the experience of communal singing quite uplifting. I am reliably informed by Robin Dunbar (of the Dunbar number ‘fame’) that it releases endorphins similar to group laughing or clapping at the theatre. Perhaps the chanting is designed to also release these endorphins but they seemed to me to have the opposite effect to hymns by inducing a trance like state - but I do not want to get into long discussions about the pros and cons of religions, or indeed any discussions really. It was just an observation.

Steven with Yoshi Ueda in Japan
Steven with Yoshi Ueda in Japan

Kyoto: Another day, another town but this one is a very interesting. Kyoto has a high density of temples and lots for the tourists to see (movie below). While I was here I caught up with an old friend - Yoshi Ueda (picture to the right). I first came to see Yoshi in 1986. I had been working with Michael Thompson, trying to understand chaotic dynamics, and came here to see Yoshi’s seminal work in the area. Yoshi had probably discovered chaos before the work of Lorenz but the influence of his mentor (Hayashi) did not allow this to come out. Anyway, we had a nice day looking around a shrine which gave me lots of time to learn about a number of topics. It was about a 3 hour walk, up a countless number of steps, so well done Yoshi, and then we had dinner.

Water Feature: I am sure that it is simple really but there is a water feature in Kyoto station that would be the toast of any that Alan Titchmarsh could produce for the Chelsea Flower Show. Electronically controlled, it can spell out words and more (movie below). Maybe this makes me a fountain anorak but this one was really good and certainly jumps to the top of my list ousting the one in Jeddah that I demonstrated soliton waves - you can see this by putting in Steven Bishop Soliton Experiment into Google or Youtube.

Pachinko: Now is it me or is this bizarre? There are countless halls for playing Pachinko, a mixture between a one arm bandit gambling machine and pinball brought up to 21st century standards by adding video game technology. There are out of town buildings purely devoted to the game. I am told that women play a lot but the evidence that I saw was that it was mainly men winding down after work or mid work, by sitting in front of a machine. There were rows and rows of them. What hits you most is the noise (movie below). It is deafening. Smoking is allowed but no alcohol that I could see. Consequently, as a non-smoker, I just could not see the attraction. Apparently (so Kumi said) the video display that accompanies the game draws people into continuing the game, which consists of lots of small steel balls making lots of noise. As if this was not loud enough they pipe sounds or music at extraordinary levels. Not for me.

Hiroshima: The reasons leading to Japan waging war on the US are probably long and complicated but I thought while I was here that I should at least see the place where the resolution was short, devastating in its effects. On August 6 1945 an atomic bomb was detonated above Hiroshima causing destruction of the city and its inhabitants (picture 8, taken of a plaque in Hiroshima) with a single building with a damaged dome the only identifiable structure remaining. Today, the city has been rebuilt but to remember this previous event the remains of the former Commercial or industrial Hall has been left as a ruin.

Hiroshima Dome, Then and Now
Hiroshima Dome, Then and Now

It made me think about the complex processes that must have gone into the decision making that led to the release of the bomb, and the subsequent one over Nagasaki (movie below). What predictions were made, what outcomes envisaged? And how to re-build

Osaka: Had a pleasant evening with Misato Yamada who works for NHK, which is the national broadcaster and so similar to the BBC. More interestingly she trained as a ballet/comtemporary dancer with the Rambert company but now concentrates in her spare time on Kyohgen. I am told that the strict translation is “mad words”, but this is a form of traditional Japanese Comic Theatre. Perhaps not so dissimilar to the Peking Opera and traditional dances that I have seen in Vietnam and Thailand. Each use stock characters to tell a story, often making it contemporary so as to provide a modern day narrative. I don't know of a UK equivalent unless you count Coronation Street.

Pocari Sweat drink
Pocari Sweat drink

Osaka to Tokyo: On my way to Tokyo I got thirsty and went to the vending machine, I particularly liked the name of this drink - Pocari Sweat (picture to the right). Now I have never tasted sweat, but I reckon they probably have it about right. By the way, the thing I note about the trains is not their speed but how jolt free they are. If I happened to have a G&T, the ice would never shoot out of the glass. Which is not true for my omelette. Demonstrating my poor skill of chopstick-ship I looked down to see that I had shot my food a good metre across the floor. Luckily my host chose to ignore this indiscretion.

Nagano: Found myself with time to kill and since Tokyo was busy I decided to visit Nagano up in the hills. How bizarre to find a London Routemaster there acting now as a bar (see picture below). I am not sure if Nagano is prone to earthquakes but I did note that they already have plans in place (picture below).

Pictures from Tokyo
London Routmaster and Earthquake Sign in Negano

Travelling back to Tokyo I tried to capture the hustle of the central station but I must say that my movie clip fails to do it justice (movie below).

Tokyo: Very interesting visit to the Aihara Lab. Top people seem to get their own lab here rather than operating within a Department. What happens if he moves, I wonder? Anyway, Kazu Aihara was, as always, very hospitable. He has a background in nonlinear dynamics and chaos but has carried out a lot of work on neuronal dynamics. Kazu is based at the Institute of Industrial Sciences (IIS), which is part of the University of Tokyo.

Aihara Lab entrance in Tokyo, Japan
Aihara Lab in Tokyo

It is based on a site just west of Shibuya in a fairly leafy suburb of the city (picture to the left). The main university campus (or at least part of it) is just a short walk away, where there appeared to be plenty of students. It was the start of their academic season. I was told this was also the reason why Shibuya was so busy with lots of students and new recruits to the bigger companies all descending on the downtown area to compare notes, as it were.

The IIS was very rather quiet. It was Friday 5pm mind you but UCL is still buzzing at that time. This said, there was a fair number of young researchers around for my talk, all with a tremendous thirst for new research. However this probably flatters me since Kazu had hosted a day meeting and I was tagged on the end. So I was a man between academics and a drink! I gave a talk about my ideas to find new ways for scientists to translate their research into ideas that can help policy decision making (pictures below). It went down very well - although it is not always so easy to confirm this bearing in mind the Japanese culture since they are so polite. In Kazu’s case I have known him for more that 20 years and so when he says it was interesting, then I take this at face value. I say this because on my first visit to Japan, now 27 years ago, I had greater trouble discerning the polite from the appreciative. The culture here IS different. I am not a social scientist but it appears that there are more social norms, that are common to all, than I experience back home. We have our norms too, but here they appear to cover more of the population; the desire to conform; to get a job at a top company, etc.

Steven's talk at Aihara Lab in Tokyo
Steve's talk at Aihara Lab in Tokyo

Trains: I hope that I am not repeating myself (like my mother-in-law, bless her) but the trains are great. I have this Rail Pass that means I can travel as much as I wish for a fixed price. My Japanese friends say that the price is good since intercity travel here is expensive, but they do trains well. Today sees me on a double decker train towards Kanazawa. I noticed that some of the seats swivel, so that at the terminal (my friend Simon Tuff tells me it should it be terminus) workers go on to rotate them around. So far the trains have all been on time and all clean. The same is true for the JR trains I take around Tokyo. There are also announcements not to talk on your mobile phone and, I have to say that I have not heard a single ring-tone to disturb my journey, nor anyone talking loudly into their phone. It is a nice change from the 19.04 from Euston, I can tell you. The other thing to note is no rubbish. No free newspapers strewn around the carriage, no litter. The same is true on the streets and most people do not smoke as they walk along but go to designated spots. The society may be more ‘controlled’ than the one I normally experience but there are some things, like these, that I welcome. The bits that seemed odd to me (although not unpleasant) is the practice of the conductor who bows on entering and exiting the carriage, and the cleaners who line up and do a bowing ceremony on finishing their task and getting off the train. But you get used to it.

Bullet Trains in Japan
Bullet Trains in Japan

Dress: You notice the desire, or need, to conform most in the dress of the young people. All the young men appear to wear black suits, with only little exception, all the young women the same. In Tokyo of course people rebel more than elsewhere with lots of the younger women with light brown hair and shorts and the occasionally dilettante boy.

Sendai: On Saturday I really had a day when I could dream with no appointments at all. I could have stayed in my room and worked but decided instead to take a stroll. However, I have seen the temples in Kyoto and so the crowded ones in Tokyo did not attract me. I should have walked the other way because I was too quickly in Shibuya where there were hundreds of people out shopping. It was like Oxford Street, but worse. And since by then it was lunch time I decided to take my lunch on the train to Sendai. The trains are fast, it was only just over an hour and a half to get there and at no extra cost it was not such a strange idea. On the train I had one of those boxed packed lunches (see pictures below) on the train and then was able to stroll up the main shopping streets of Sendai in relative peace.

Lunch Boxes in Japan
Lunch Boxes in Japan

Sendai back street, Japan
Sendai back street

There were still lots of people but not crazy. Sendai looks like a nice town to come back to (picture to the right). On the way, I stopped briefly at Fukishima, the town that gives its name to the area where the 2011 Tsunami struck causing the melt down at the Fukishima nuclear facility. The power station, and coast, is some way from the train and main town but the from the train you can see the lie of the land with flat terrain in between mountains, or hills, which may have funnelled the tsunami flow (I should check this).

Hotel: I stayed in the Toyku Stay hotel, which I must say I found very good. Not 5 star or anything but comfortable. It appears that there are people staying here for weeks rather than the odd day and my room had a washing machine, cooking hot plate, microwave and fridge. It is just west of Shibuya, so within a short walk of all the action but in a street with some smaller restaurants that looked nice. I say looked nice as I only tried one with Kazu since the next day (Saturday night) they were all full. Instead I ate at a tiny cafe called Evans Bar right next to the hotel. I know - Evans - which seemed odd to me too, but apparently the owner likes a jazz pianist called Evans. All in all, a nice place to stay. As I say, not five star and basic breakfast but perfectly adequate. Rather interestingly many of the clientele were models which made people-watching very interesting. I was looking forward to breakfast, but sadly models don't eat (only the one male model made the 9.30 cut-off). And when I say model - this is not a euphemism for something more sleazy (although there is plenty of that in Shibuya) but actual models doing shoots for clothing etc.

Safe Bench at Tokyo Restaurant
Safe seat at a Tokyo restaurant

Odd thought: I was once in a pub in Leicester Square with a girl friend whose bag was stolen from under her seat. How ingenious (or simple) that in a restaurant that I went into in Tokyo the seats were bench seats and you put your bags inside before sitting on them.

On the way and at Kazanawa
On the way and at Kazanawa
Lunch with Takashi in Kanazawa
Lunch with Takashi Hashimoto at Kanazawa

Kanazawa: Travelled to Kanazawa in preparation of a visit to the Japanese Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (JAIST). The visit to JAIST was well handled by Takashi Hashimoto. Despite the fact that it was a national holiday as part of the so-called Golden Holiday Week Takashi rustled up a few people to have, what turned out to be, an interesting discussion (picture below). Some people from JAIST had come to UCL recently to arrange some sort of collaboration in the area of materials. Not my field but I attended and it got my interest. The campus is a bit like Warwick University. We finished with a splendid barbeque fish lunch (picture to the right).

At JAIST in Kanazawa
At JAIST with Takashi's team

More pictures from that day have been uploaded from Aihara's team on Facebook.

Escalators: There is an odd thing about escalator etiquette. If I have it the right way round, in Tokyo they stand on the left, and walk down on the right of escalators. In Osaka it is the other way around. So somewhere in between, around Kyoto, Maibara or Nagoya there must be a bit of confusion.

Signing Off: All in all an excellent visit. Lots of food for thought.

Page last modified on 01 may 13 16:41