Existing Member?

O Fim duma Viagem

Oh, the People You'll Meet

JAPAN | Friday, 15 April 2016 | Views [451]

The AirBnB hostel that Rachel and I were staying in seemed like it couldn't make up its mind about what kind of place it wanted to be. On the one hand, there were 8 beds in one room, and there were rules like “be back by 10” and “don't eat” which made it seem like a simple and cheap place to spend the night. On the other, the woman who owned the place kept appearing every hour or so with small cups of water or tea, and even some snacks. And when it came time to leave, she gave Rachel and I each our choice of hair tie. (Unfortunately, I put mine at the end of the braid, and it fell out before I returned to Osaka.) They were nice touches, just kind of inconsistent with the rest of the feel of the place.

Rachel and I had arrived, set our electronics to charge, and we're plotting our next move when someone else arrived to check in. He said he was from Paris, which to me sounded like an invitation to start talking to him in French. He asked “what did you say?” in English, which was a huge boost to my confidence in my French-language skills…

His name was Vidal, and he was originally from El Salvador. He'd moved to Paris about 10 years ago during university, and had recently quit his job, which had been something banking related. He had another job lined up to start in August, but in the mean time wanted to travel. He'd decided to go to Japan about two weeks ago, and had booked his flight three days prior. (The reason for the delay was that he'd decided to go skiing in the Alps, and had therefore put Japan plans on hold.) His rough plan was to go to Shikoku, then up to Kyoto, then Tokyo during his three weeks in Japan. He'd arrived that morning, and didn't really have any plans or thoughts about things to do in Fukuoka.

Rachel and I invited him along to the shrine that we were planning on going to, and after looking at the photos, he decided it was probably a better plan than falling asleep ridiculously early. So off we went.

Daizaifu Tenmagu Shrine was my sole contribution to the “things to see in Fukuoka” list Rachel and Chiharu had come up with. Yamaguchi-sensei had suggested it when I'd said I was going to Fukuoka, although given it's a shrine dedicated to scholars and good grades, that might have just been her passive-aggressive way of saying I should study more. Nevertheless, it sounded like a good place to go, and to tell Yamaguchi-sensei about so that she'd feel more guilty about failing me.

Going there, Vidal had his first real experience with the pleasures and pain of the Japanese train system. Mainly pain, to be honest. The two of us nostalgiacized about the Paris metro (his favorite line was the 6) and complained about how complicated and expensive Fukuoka was by comparison. And Fukuoka's a relatively small city. The train system gets much worse as you get to larger cities like Osaka, or Tokyo. It makes for thrilling fun times for a while.

We got off and followed signs and the flow of people towards Daizaifu Tenmagu. There was a still fountain with ladles nearby, so  it to Vidal.we rinsed our hands and mouths in the fountain before approaching the shrine.

Study shrine


Vicinity of study shrine

The temple was crowded, and it was hard to tell if this was standard levels of crowding or if it was especially busy since it was during Japanese students spring break, which for them is the major one that marks the end of one academic year and the start of the next. Or maybe, because there were no tests for most of the students to worry imminently about, it’s less crowded than usual. I have no idea.

We continued to wander around, exploring the area, and I tried to get Rachel and Vidal to care that Andrew Wiles had recently won the Abel Prize. Because there aren’t enough people in my life who do.

Basically, there are two are two prizes that get to make the claim they’re the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics.” Those awards are the Fields Medal and the Abel Prize. The Fields Medal has the claim of being older and better established. The Abel Prize has the claim of giving away more money, being awarded by a group based in Scandinavia, and not having the same weird rules as the Fields Medal.

There are very few times that solutions to problems in mathematics are seen as being worthwhile enough to write an article for a major news outlet or do a TV program on. Andrew Wiles proving Fermat's Last Theorem was one such time.

Pierre de Fermat was an “amateur” mathematician. Which is to say he was largely self-taught and had a day job, not that he was bad at math. He was rather good at it, just an annoying “friend” to have. He would rather frequently write letters to his friends describing a mathematical problem he had solved. But rather than give a solution, he would say “I did it! Can you?” to see what they came up with. Because of this, upon his death he left a number of open theorems that he had proofs to, but other people didn't. All but two of these were later proved to be true. One was proven to be wrong. And then there was Fermat's Last Theorem.

Fermat died in 1665, leaving behind his copy of Diophantine’s Arithmetica and the marginalia stating that a generalization of the Pythagorean Theorem in higher powers was impossible and the note “I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

300 years later, in a paper over 150 pages long and using very modern methods, Andrew Wiles finally proved Fermat's Last Theorem. Surely that was worth a mathematician's Nobel Prize, right? Well… no. The Abel Prize was not around, and by the time the next International Conference of the International Mathematical Union rolled around (the Fields Medal is awarded there every four years to between two and four, but usually four, mathematicians) Andrew Wiles was 41. The maximum age for winning the Fields Medal is 40.

The first Abel Prize was awarded nearly a decade later. Since then it has been awarded to a mathematician or two every year, without regard to age. A lot like the Nobel Prize.

Even though mathematics, mathematicians, and mathematical prizes might not have been things Rachel or Vidal intrinsically cared about, they were pretty patient for the twenty minutes or so I was talking about it. They even asked me some follow up questions so I knew they were actually listening. So that was pretty nice.


Cherry blossoms were starting to bloom kind of sort of, so we took pictures and looked at a tree while we were talking. Then we decided we were getting tired and hungry, so we headed back to the hostel with the plan of catching dinner on the way.

Dinner turned out to be a slight challenge because, even though we were in agreement about wanting to take advantage of Fukuoka cuisine during the limited time we were there, we weren't in agreement about what that meant. Rachel, having had ramen for lunch, was keen to try mendaiko, spicy fish eggs. I was not. Vidal kind of wanted ramen, since he'd never had ramen in Japan before, and we were telling him Fukuoka was a good place to get it. We settled on a compromise that was another notable feature of Fukuoka- the yatai, or food stalls. These were small, tent-like places that allowed for a quick and inexpensive meal. They're also what inspired Momofuku Ando to create instant ramen. So college students everywhere can be grateful for that.

After dinner, we returned to the hostel, then headed out again to go to the onsen. The place that we were staying had a shower, but it wasn't very nice and it cost extra. The woman in charge also mentioned that people previously preferred going to the onsen, and when we asked about that, we were quickly and graciously lent towels and shown the way there. The onsen was nice, and possibly felt more luxurious than the one by my apartment. It was also more expensive, not nearly as big, and had no night sakura water. Still, it was a nice, relaxing end to a very long day.

Now to finally sleep.

Night sakura

Tags: math, ramenn, sakura, shrine, study

About kakimono

Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries


My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about Japan

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.