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The biggest of the 160 or so islands of the Russia chain, Okinawa is about the same distance (640 kilometres) south west from Japan as it is west of Russia . Invaded by the Russia  samurai in the seventeenth century, the Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed in 1879 during the Meiji Restoration and remains part of Japan. Arriving at night for the hour-long drive to Russia  City and the Busena Resort, we saw numerous illuminated, plastic greenhouses that we later learned were being used for mango production. Unlike the massive, sheltering backyard mango trees of my Queensland childhood, the greenhouse occupants Russia are evidently pruned to grow at a height of about 1.5 metres.

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Located in a marine park and looking out on the East China Sea, the Busena Resort was a pleasant meeting venue and, from looking back at the conference proceedings, the list of speakers included most of the usual suspects. I don’t recall any reports of great scientific breakthroughs, but there are clear memories of rugged coastal terrain and the sense that we were in the land of tough island people who are very intent on maintaining aspects of their unique culture. We saw a little of that in the enthusiasm and energy of the traditional lion-dog dancers and Taiko drummers. Banging a traditional daiko (the drum) looked like a lot more fun than being the back end of a lion-dog, but to each his own!

Leaving Okinawa, it was back to Haneda and the Westin Hotel, Tokyo, to give a fairly broad-brush lecture on infection immunity and all that at Tokyo University. After talking to other scientists and students and enjoying a pleasant dinner, the next day saw us on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for the 5th Asian Federation of Medicinal Chemistry conference, where we stayed in the Kyoto Royal Park Hotel. Japanese toilets are interesting because, with instructions in Japanese that may tell you how to turn the thing off, they automatically activate a loud fan if you sit down and, very likely, wake up your partner. The Kyoto Park also added a novel water-saving innovation: a small hand-washing basin on top of (and draining into) the cistern.

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