Home University: The University of Texas at Austin
Field of Study: Electrical & Computer Engineering and Mathematics
Current Status: Sophomore
Expected Graduation Date: May 2019
Host Lab in Japan: The University of Tokyo – Dept. of Applied Physics and Quantum-Phase Electronics Center, Iwasa Laboratory
Why Nakatani RIES?
For as long as I can remember, it has always been a dream of mine to visit Japan. Especially because of the significant impact Japanese entertainment (i.e. video games, manga/anime, and music) has had on my life, traveling to Japan has been a top goal of mine for many years. The Nakatani RIES program provides not only an opportunity to live in Japan and explore the beautiful country over three months but also a valuable international research experience in nanotechnology. For these reasons, I applied to the Nakatani RIES program, an experience which truly is the best of both worlds.
Goals for the Summer
- Explore different areas of nanotechnology in research
- Gain a deeper understanding of the research process, particularly in an international context
- Develop Japanese language skills, specifically in reading and speaking
- Travel to various cities, sites, and landmarks in Japan
Excerpts from Joshua’s Weekly Reports
- Week 01: Arrival in Japan
- Week 02: Language Learning & Trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes
- Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
- Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
- Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
- Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
- Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
- Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
- Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
- Week 10: Interview with a Japanese Researcher
- Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
- Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
- Week 13: Final Report
- Follow-on Project
- Tips for Future Participants
Week 01: Arrival in Japan
“Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.” – George Bernard Shaw
It’s honestly tough to believe that a week has already passed. For the last couple of years (in fact more than I can remember), one of the biggest dreams of mine has been to visit and live in Japan. Spending everyday here seems so surreal, and as Savannah adequately put, I can’t help but sometimes wonder if this is really just a grand dream.
The Pre-Departure Orientation at Rice was very useful in preparation for our trip to Japan. Aside from the fun we had exploring the campus university and bonding more with each other, the pre-departure orientation also provided us with useful lab safety training and Japanese cultural perspective. I thought it was important how we were taught the hierarchical structure of Japanese social status, and it was amusing (but still very helpful) to know that in our research labs we would literally be at the bottom of the pyramid. Furthermore, safety training provided a good review of important procedures and precautions to take to ensure our safety in the research laboratories.
This first week living in Tokyo has already been an eye-opening experience. All 12 of the Nakatani students are staying at the Sanuki Club Hotel in Azabu-juban for these first three weeks during the orientation session of the program. Sanuki Club is a rather older hotel in the apparently more affluent neighborhood of Azabu-juban but is more than accommodating to our needs. Each of us gets our own single room, and breakfast is provided every morning. Personally, I love breakfast here at the Sanuki Club and haven’t gotten tired of any of their three options: western, Japanese, and udon. (Western is currently my favorite!) Speaking of the Sanuki Club, something that really shocked me in Japan was the degree of politeness and professionalism in everything everyone does. First off, almost every single person in Japan is dressed impeccably. On our adventures around Tokyo, we will often walk through masses of Japanese men and women decked out in suits or wearing very formal attire. It honestly, to some extent, seems as if everyone is wearing the same outfit. As for the service, Japanese hosts and waiters are extraordinarily polite, making it their priority that the customer is pleased. In fact, just in general, people in Japan are so kind and willing to help those around them. It’s only been the first week, and I have already lost count of the numerous amount of times we have had to ask someone for directions or help about even the silliest things (like which trash can to use). Because of the culture talks on the emphasis of harmony in Japanese society, I had prepared myself for this kind of behavior but definitely not to this extent. It really makes living in Japan just that much more lovely and enjoyable.
Tokyo is in the heart of Japan, and it is the biggest city in the world by population. Knowing this, I came in with expectations of an enormous city that was always hustling and bustling. And while Tokyo did indeed turn out to be a very busy and very big city, it also had a sense of peace, calm, and quiet that I would have never thought present in such large city. Whenever we walk through the streets of Japan as a group, we are always (unfortunately) the loudest group that you will hear. It has happened many times that we will all recognize our own American-loudness, start to talk softer, and realize just how quiet everyone around us is. Tokyo is also so expansive. We have ventured to many different areas like Shibuya, Asakusa, Akihabara, and many others, but it still feels like each place has a different vibe to it, and it’s hard to believe that they are all different districts in the huge metropolitan area of Tokyo. Furthermore, Tokyo is such a large city but also so well kept; you will rarely see trash anywhere littered on the streets (everything is so nice and clean!).
Personally speaking, I have loved the language classes so far. Every weekday morning on Monday through Friday from 8:30AM to 12:00PM, we have Japanese language classes. There are four different subgroups of classes, based on preexisting skill in using Japanese, and I was aptly placed in the lowest level Group 1. Initially, before coming to Japan I was worried that the classes would be composed of dry lectures and drills just forcing Japanese language into our brains. Particularly because anyone who knows me knows I am not a morning person in the slightest, I was very worried that I would have trouble paying attention in class for these large blocks of time. Thankfully, Japanese language classes have turned out much better than any of these expectations I had. The teachers all have very interactive lessons, and every single class has fun and unique moments that make the atmosphere very casual and light-hearted. Since our class sizes are so small, the Japanese language teachers are able to personally work with each and every one of us, and (in all modesty) I genuinely feel that I have already improved my Japanese so much in just the first week. Personally, my favorite teacher is Onishi-sensei. She’s such a sweet teacher and loves to encourage us through our language classes. There was one time where Onishi-sensei even completed a doodle I had drawn in my notebook while I went to bathroom! Instead of being a bore like I had worried about, Japanese language classes are lessons that I look forward to every morning and am continually encouraged by how they have helped make large strides of improvement in my knowledge of Japanese.
Lastly, this past weekend was a great time of exploration by ourselves in Japan. On Friday night, a large group of us went to Shibuya for karaoke. Shibuya is known for being one of the busiest places in the entire world and is known for having famous crosswalks that flood with people trying to get past. We also got to visit the famous statue of Hachiko there too. On Saturday morning, many of us went to The University of Tokyo’s May Festival and were completely blown away by the event. The whole university grounds were filled with food stands and performance venues, and considering that the University of Tokyo has such a large main campus, this was an impressive sight to see. The food stands and performance
venues were all run by individual clubs, and it was amazing to see all the talent and dedication every single club had. As someone who loves to read manga and watch anime, I was thrilled to see a school festival in real life that almost seemed to mirror exactly what I had seen in Japanese entertainment. I even got to talk to a volleyball club and hope to play with them while I am researching at Todai. Later on Saturday, we walked to Akihabara, which is famously known as a hub for gaming and anime. Unfortunately, we did not stay there for long, but the time we were there at the huge Yodobashi electric store was an awesome experience. The 8-story building (give or take a few floors) boasted a large selection of games, electronics, anime, gundams, pianos, and honestly almost anything you could think of. There were also many themed cafes there (but I still haven’t seen a maid café yet sadly). Finally, on Sunday we went to check out the Sanja Matsuri Festival in Asakusa. This was the most packed event I had ever been to in Tokyo so far, and the streets and shopping areas were completely filled with people. Moving around was like trying to push through a sea of people, and I can’t count the amount of times we got separated from each other. Looking for a single friend was akin to a real life game of “Where’s Waldo?”. I got to try some takoyaki (octopus in fried dough balls) at the Festival, and it was an amazing (albeit very, very hot and sweaty) experience. Afterwards, we went to an owl and parakeet café and had a stupidly happy time playing with the birds. As you can hopefully tell, the rare blocks of free time we get on the weekends are truly so valuable and fun-filled.
The program activities we had in the past week varied in terms of content and subject focus. The first few days of our stay in Japan (while we were still jet-lagged), we went as a group to explore many sights like the Edo-Tokyo Museum and even went to the Sumo May Tournament. We also had the chance to tour the laboratories inside the University of Tokyo, which was a very impressive sight. It was quite mind-boggling how expansive their cleanroom is and was crazy to see all the technology and equipment the university had. Honestly, it made me just that much more excited to be researching there this summer. We also had many different seminars with guest speakers over the past week. I think the seminar that stuck out most to me was the discussion with Mr. Shikata, the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, over potential troubles with North Korea and Japanese-Chinese foreign relations. As a debater in high school that often covered topics that dealt with de-escalation of foreign conflict, it was thrilling for me to discuss these issues with members of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Question of the Week
Why are there so many vending machines in Japan?
- Did you know that Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capita, with about one machine for every twenty-three people? U.S. students often wonder why there are so many vending machines and how they can be profitable given that there are so many machines everywhere. The resources below might help give some insight to these questions but at the end of the day one key reasons – it’s super convenient to be able to get a cold (in summer) or hot (in winter) beverage whenever you want one because there is probably a vending machine just a few steps away.
Research Project Introduction & Paper Overview
Currently, I do not have much information on the project I will be working on in the Iwasa Lab at the University of Tokyo. I do know, however, that my project will be focused on MBE growth of 2D materials, so I am very excited to have the chance to work with the experimental instruments necessary for device growth. In general, my research on growing 2D materials may also allow for the opportunity to measure and observe unique behavior (which may then have varying useful applications).
The paper I reviewed was “Nonreciprocal charge transport in noncentrosymmetric superconductors”. This paper demonstrates that magnetochiral anisotropy, a phenomena caused by a lack of spatial inversion symmetry in crystals, is enhanced by orders of magnitude when the crystal material is placed into a superconducting state. This experiment was conducted by gating MoS2 to induce a two-dimensional superconducting state. MoS2 is an archetypal TMD composed of stacked layers with weak van der Waals interaction. Both spatial inversion symmetry and time-reversal symmetry are broken when an external magnetic field is applied to the material. The superconducting transition point was experimentally observed at 8.8K, causing the resistance the sheet to be 50% of that of the normal state. Next, the γ value was calculated and plotted against temperature. At normal-state temperature, γ was almost zero but increased by almost five orders of magnitude as the temperature transitioned into the superconducting state. This rapid increase in γ is also seen when using theoretical calculations. This paper believes that in general for noncentrosymmetric superconductors, anomalous enhancement of the γ value will occur. As a result, MCA (magnetochiral anisotropy) enhancement in these superconductors would enhance nonreciprocal responses that may lead to new functionalities like superconducting diodes.
R. Wakatsuki, Y. Saito, S. Hoshino, Y. M. Itahashi, T. Ideue, M. Ezawa, Y. Iwasa, N. Nagaosa, Nonreciprocal charge transport in noncentrosymmetric superconductors. Sci. Adv. 3, e1602390 (2017).
Week 02: Language Learning and Trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
Two weeks in Japan have already flown by, and it’s hard to imagine that in just one week we will all have to split up and go to our respective labs across the country. While I am definitely excited to begin researching and living on my own in Tokyo, I can’t say that I won’t miss dearly the constant companionship of my fellow Nakatinis/Nakatanukis/Yakubza. Speaking of which, I had been meaning to talk a bit more in detail about our group as a whole but forgot to in my previous report. For anyone reading, this might come off as a bit sappy, maybe arrogant, and possibly boring, so for your convenience you can just skip to my overview of the past week if you want to (but it’s cool too if you don’t!).
I can say without a doubt that I have never EVER been surrounded by friends quite like those in this group of Nakatani Fellows. Honestly, each and every single one of us is just so indescribably… quirky? Silly? Nerdy? I’m not sure if any of those words are the right ones to use. I would say smart or intelligent, but I don’t feel like that comes even close to capturing the complete picture. Honestly, I think the only way to describe it is by giving examples of our group dynamic.
Just a few of the (stranger) things we’ve done together as a group are: discuss a wide range of topics from quantum mechanics to organic chemistry for fun; spend free time by drawing circuits, heat cycle diagrams, or even the inner workings of a planetary motor on the whiteboard; take long walks along rivers at night talking about mathematical concepts and proofs; and even conceptualize the physics behind a half-full water bottle falling in an amusement park tower drop (this conversation lasted for hours). I have rarely done, if even at all, anything similar with any other friends before, let alone with eleven other students who find so much joy in these seemingly trivial (yet oddly satisfying) activities. And yet, everyone still has such diversified interests in areas like music, sports, and life in general.
Real talk. I’ve never felt so stupid in my entire life. It’s actually really amusing in a kind of depressing way. I feel like for every topic that I consider myself knowledgeable about, there’s always someone else in our group who knows soooo much more than I do. I mean, just off the top of my head, in a skirmish of mathematics, I wouldn’t stand a chance against Jakob; and in a battle of electrical engineering, it would be shocking (hahaha) if I lasted more than a second against Alex. A modified quote from Diderot seems very apt for this situation:
“When one compares the talents one has with those of a [Nakatani Fellow], one is tempted to throw away one’s books and go die quietly in the dark of some forgotten corner.”
As someone who is used to doing well in academics and feeling decently competent among his peers, I had some trouble at first adjusting to this new “environment”. To some extent, when being “bright” or “smart” is taken away from my personality (because literally everyone else is just as or is much more intelligent than I am), I have some trouble explaining even to myself what makes me unique as an individual. I guess my ego is just so big that when my self-proclaimed attribute of “smartness” is taken away from me, I feel… lost, like I’m not even sure who I am.
I hope I’m not giving off a negative vibe about the other Nakatani Fellows. In fact, my feelings are the exact opposite. I feel like I fit in perfectly, that I’ve found a group of friends who are passionate about and in love with the same things that I am. Even more so, I’m constantly encouraged by how brilliant and hard-working everyone is, and it makes me in turn want to push harder for and strive with even more diligence towards my own personal goals. Iron sharpens iron, and I think we all have much to learn and gain from one another. In just these two weeks, I have already made so many deep and lifelong connections with my friends in Japan. And believe me, that’s one of the best feelings in the entire world.
Overview of Week Two of the Orientation Program in Tokyo
Whoo, now that we’re past that, it’s time to go over our adventures in our second week in Japan. This week, we started our introduction to science seminars, so less time was scheduled for cultural outings and events. Nevertheless, there were still many exciting events that happened throughout the week that were, in my opinion, quite memorable.
On Monday afternoon, we visited the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology (JAMSTEC), and Director Tsukakoshi gave us an introduction into how supercomputers, like the one used by JAMSTEC, work. This supercomputer is used by JAMSTEC as an “Earth Simulator” to model global changes and dynamics of the Earth’s interior. Afterwards, we even had the chance to tour the supercomputer facility! When we finished touring the Earth Simulator, we then had the opportunity to learn more about the DONET Back-up Site, which is important in detecting earthquakes and tsunamis as soon as possible. Later that evening, all of us as a group ate out in the Chinatown of Yokohama (I can confirm personally that it was authentic Chinese food).
On Wednesday afternoon, we traveled to Shibuya for a Taiko Drum workshop. Taiko literally means fat drum, so I guess the phrase taiko drum is a bit redundant. Anyways, we were led by an experienced taiko instructor and performer and had such an amazing time. I was worried at first that the Taiko workshop would be too advanced and difficult to keep up with, but the instructor taught us simple rhythms that were not only easier to learn but also super fun to play as well. He even taught us a quick “song” that was composed of six different sections, and we got to give a quick performance at the end! I never expected taiko to be so enjoyable, and it was actually quite a workout too (my arms and wrists were sore the next day). I think I may have been playing the drum incorrectly though because I got some blisters on my hands from the taiko sticks. Later, on Wednesday, some of us split off (me included) to go thrift shopping in Shibuya. I didn’t buy much, but there was a Mizuno dri-fit polo that I bought for 480 Yen, which was a pretty decent deal in my opinion.
On Thursday night, we had a cultural discussion with Japanese students from the University of Tokyo about differences between American and Japanese culture. I learned a lot more about what Japanese students’ lives are like, and in all honesty, while there are still significant differences in culture (like politeness and work hours), I found out that our lives were more similar than I had originally thought. We discussed many kinds of topics, from involvement in clubs to gender equality in society. Afterwards, about ten of us (50/50 split between JP and US) went out to a nearby Ramen restaurant in Azabu-juban for dinner. It was a lively time, and I spoked a lot with Yasuhiro, a UTokyo master’s degree student, about sports and campus life (since I will be researching at UTokyo this summer).
Finally, on Friday Kento Ito, CEO of IINE Japan Corporation, gave us a short lecture on the cultural background behind the kimono and his Imagine One World Kimono Project. From his presentation, I learned that the kimono is more than just a type of clothing and represents even a lifestyle as well. It was interesting to hear about the pain-staking process of hand-weaving kimonos and about the tradition that kimonos played in emperor succession. Kimonos served to not only adorn one’s body but to also mesh harmoniously with nature in the environment. I also loved the company’s mission to create special kimonos for every country in the world (the US one was particularly beautiful). It also came as a surprise to me that the rich culture behind kimonos isn’t even common knowledge for the current generation of Japanese students.
Japanese language classes also continued throughout the past week. As we started to learn more and more Japanese, our classes started to also get progressively more and more difficult. It would be a lie to say that I wasn’t ever overwhelmed sometimes by the sheer amount of material we had to cover each day. However, despite this, Japanese classes have still continued to be an extremely enriching experience. Now comfortable with hiragana and katakana, I can ask many useful questions relating to directions, price, or even time. Admittedly, the grammar is still very confusing at times, but it has been useful for taking known phrases and words and constructing coherent sentences to fit the situation. Each of us even had a one on one conversation with an AJALT teacher (some that ended up using a lot of English in addition to Japanese) and had ice cream with them afterwards. As we head into our last week of language classes, I now see how much more we have left ahead of us in improving Japanese, and I hope to continue using it in my research lab at the University of Tokyo. I know that my Japanese can only improve so much in three months, but I hope to make the most of my time in Japan to developing my Japanese language skills.
Intro to Science & Engineering Seminar Overview
As I stated earlier in this report, this week we started the introduction to science and engineering seminars, given by Dr. Kono, Dr. Itoh, and Dr. Kawata. Dr. Kono’s gave two introductory lectures on solid state, quantum mechanics, and photonics on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Having only taken solid state physics this past semester, the introduction clarified any questions I had and made me feel more prepared and confident in heading into my research internship. Dr. Itoh’s lecture was focused on quantum computing, which was also a topic I was very interested in. As someone who even took some free time during the school year to take a quick online course in quantum computing, I was amazed by the research the Itoh Lab had done on silicon quantum computers. Lastly, Dr. Kawata gave a lecture on nano bio photonics that introduced a new side of nanotechnology that I had not heard much about before. The portion of his lecture that stuck out to me the most was when he discussed spectroscopy techniques like TERS and SERS (b/c currently at UT my research is related to TERS). The silver nano forest that his lab grew was also such a neat demonstration of self-assembly in nanotechnology.
Weekend Trip to Mt. Fuji with the 2017 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows
Lastly, we had an amazing weekend trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes. We left bright and early at 7AM on Saturday and boarded a bus with some 2017 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows. After a three-hour drive, we arrived in the Fuji Five Lake region (Fujigoko) at the northern base of Mount Fuji. As a group, we visited the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja (Shrine), and toured the area around it. In comparison to the urban landscape of Tokyo, the Fujigoko region was much different and was filled with lush greenery. Next, we met up with the rest of the Nakatani JP Fellows and had udon lunch with them in Fujiyoshida. Afterwards, we drove up to Mt. Fuji and got a splendid view of the majestic mountain up close. After seeing it in person, I really really want to climb it together as a group, even more so than before.
At around 7PM on Saturday, we arrived at the Gotemba Kogen Resort. After a delicious buffet dinner and a relaxing onsen, all the US and JP Fellows talked together in one of the resort cottages until it was time to sleep. The next day, after another buffet for breakfast (honestly this weekend had the best meals of our entire trip so far), we left the resort to head to the Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium. Afterwards, we ate a grilled seafood lunch (very delicious as well) and traveled to the Mishima Skywalk, which was 400 meters long, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan. Finally, we even got to go strawberry picking at a small farm before heading back to the Sanuki Club Hotel at night.
Honestly, the best part of the trip was not the sights we saw but instead the people we got to spend time with. This trip was our first time interacting with the all the Nakatani Japanese Fellows, and I have to admit, I was surprised by how well all of us got along. Initially, I had expectations that it would be an awkward trip with the US Fellows only talking amongst themselves and the same with the JP Fellows. To my surprise, however, every single one of the JP Fellows spoke English so well and were a blast to hang out with. Even for someone as antisocial as me, it was so easy to crack jokes with and make conversation with all the JP Fellows. I think personally, the biggest cultural experience of the trip was the onsen at the Mt. Fuji resort. All of the US Fellows were very uncomfortable at first with being completely naked around each other in the onsen, but the Japanese Fellows didn’t even feel a single amount of embarrassment. The onsen was crazy hot, but it was also relaxing to the point where I could tangibly feel any stress I had fade away. We then as a group (all guys of course) talked for almost an hour in the onsen, and it was in that moment that we all felt that there really wasn’t any kind of barrier between us, even though we were from two very different countries. I’m sure I speak for all of the Nakatani Fellows when I say that I can’t wait to reunite with everyone again at the Mid-Program meeting in Kyoto!
Question of the Week
Why are there almost no water fountains in Japan?
- Because there are vending machines everywhere that allow you to easily buy ice cold water for just 100-120 yen. 🙂 Comparatively, in the U.S., bottled water from vending machines can be quite expensive so most people prefer to carry a reusable water bottle with them on a day-to-day basis. Actually, there are many free public sources of water in Japan, most parks have a water tap or fountain, and water is served free at any restaurant.
- In buildings, water fountains may not be so prevalent as most offices have tea kettles that are filled up at office sinks/kitchens so workers can drink hot tea throughout the day. Also, the building owner might receive a small percentage of profits from any vending machines sales, so there is a slight economic incentive for them to install vending machines rather than water fountains.
- Niponica has a really interesting article on water in Japan, including the history of free municipal tap water.
- In the U.S., it was a huge infrastructure and public health accomplishment when municipal water treatment facilities starting disinfecting water in the early 1900s. Kohler, a water faucet and fixture company, actually installed some of the first public drinking fountains in the late 1800s to promote their product but also to highlight the cleanliness and convenience of tap water.
- Today, some are concerned that there are fewer public water fountains and many people don’t use them as frequently due to an, incorrect, belief that bottled water is cleaner or tastes better. So, it is possible you may see fewer public drinking fountains in the future in the U.S. too.
Research Project Update
As of now, I have not yet received any updates on my project, which will be focused on MBE growth of 2D materials. However, judging from past research done in MBE growth, my project will most likely focus on transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) monolayers. I plan to speak more with my research mentor at the Iwasa Lab to discuss further details about my research project.
Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” – Sean O’Casey
I’m not a big fan of my immune system. I know it really does try its very best to keep my body healthy, but even so, it still doesn’t always do a great job. Before we left for Japan, Sarah told us that if we didn’t get enough sleep, getting sick would change from a matter of if to a matter of when it will happen. When I heard this, I thought to myself, “Same, except it doesn’t matter if I get enough sleep”. As someone who gets sick quite often (as a lot of my friends back at home can attest to), I care much more about the timing of the inevitable cold that I end up catching. In fact, I was so proud of myself for not getting sick the first two weeks that I even considered bragging about it briefly in my week two report. I decided not to because I didn’t want to jinx myself, but it looks like that didn’t help much. Unfortunately, it appears that I have come down with a rather annoying cold the day before my research internship starts. Bummer.
While my health kind of sucks, this past week most definitely did not. As the last week in Tokyo that all the US Nakatani Fellows would get to spend together, these past few days have been filled with evening outings and lots of exploration. However, while everyone was pumped to make the most of our last week together, everyone was also starting to feel more and more tired. I think Will put it best when he said, “I really want to hang out with everyone, but I also just want to sleep”. Anyways, here’s a recap of our final week together in Tokyo:
On Monday afternoon, right after Dr. Bekker’s lecture on adjusting to Japanese culture, most of us planned to head out to Harajuku for some delicious gyoza. I really wanted to go. Like seriously, really, really wanted to go. Yes, part of it was because I wanted to spend quality time with everyone (sure), but another huge part of it was because I love gyoza. And I love eating a lot of food, which I could do because the gyoza was pretty cheap (やすいですね). However, I did not realize that everyone would be leaving for Harajuku so early, and I had mistakenly decided that Monday afternoon would be the perfect time to do laundry. Because the gyoza restaurant was popular and might have long lines later in the day, the Harajuku-goers left without me ☹. Oh well, life goes on, so I, by my lonesome, traveled to Shinjuku later that night in search of good food and a brace for my uncooperative shoulder. The shoulder brace search was a bust (I went to like five different stores and everything was way too expensive), but I had some success on my search for food. For dinner, I ended up eating unagi (so tasty) and beef donburi. That was the first night that I had gone out exploring by myself, and looking back on it, I think that experience will help me a lot with adjusting to these upcoming weeks at research.
On Tuesday night, we went to, you guessed it, Shinjuku again! Of course, for mostly everyone else, this was their first time there. Even though I technically had a bit more experience exploring this city than the others, as a bandwagoner, I still ended up following everyone else around. Right when we got off the Shinjuku Metro station, we headed straight to the sixth (or was it fifth) floor of BICQLO (what a clever name for Bic Camera + Uniqlo) and sat in massage chairs for half an hour. I said this about the onsen before, but this time I could LITERALLY feel any stress I had fade away. A half-hour very well spent if I do say so myself. Next, we all split off to eat our own meals in a famous restaurant alleyway called Memory Lane (or Piss Alley, I prefer the other name). The ramen (pork, mushrooms, beansprouts, onions, more veggies, and amazing broth) I had at a small shop there was the best I’ve had so far and the cheapest too. We even met Toshuki-san, a Tokyo rail worker, who amusingly taught us how to properly slurp ramen. Afterwards, everyone met up to head to the Taito Station, a large game center in Shinjuku. There were five floors of arcade games, including a Taiko no Tatsujin (my personal favorite), DDR, and so many other ones that I had never seen before. What was personally awesome about this experience for me was that I recognized a lot of the music in the rhythm based arcade from Japanese pop, anime, and games (something I could rarely ever hear in the US).
On Wednesday afternoon, instead of the usual cultural lecture we would have, we had our last group scheduled outing to make plastic food replicas. When we first entered the store, I was amazed by how realistic everything seemed (lowkey it gave me a hungry appetite), and there was obviously clear attention to detail. We all ended up making a wax tempura dish; mine was tempura shrimp & eggplant, with cabbage on the side. Afterwards, we went as a group to get the world’s strongest matcha ice cream and ate at a sushi restaurant recommended by Onishi-sensei. (Quick aside here, our Japanese language teacher’s name is actually Ōnishi-sensei, in hiragana as おおにし, but for convenience I’ve been using and will continue to use Onishi-sensei). On Thursday night, we went back to Harajuku, and I immediately split off from the group eating takoyaki to eat at the gyoza place I missed out on (bless). We ended up going to a three-story Daiso shop (100 Yen store) and got some beautiful crepes before going back home.
On Friday afternoon, after our language speeches in the morning (mine was on volleyball!), Professor Saeki gave a talk on the Japanese cultural background with regards to changing images of new women in Japanese popular culture. Her lecture demonstrated the way that stereotypes have changed through Japanese entertainment in areas like manga, anime, or even dramas. Later, Dr. Ozaki gave us a final farewell lecture detailing tips on living by ourselves and working in our host labs. The next day, on Saturday, Emily and I went to Harajuku yet again to thoroughly explore the area one last time before everyone left. We got Kyushu Ramen, checked out the Calbee store, saw some massive coils (puffs? Bunches? I don’t know the right word to use) of cotton candy, bought more crepes and boba too, went to the Daiso store again (she bought socks and almost lost them), and visited the Meiji Shrine. My feet were killing me by the afternoon, so we ended up taking a JR Train to the Ghibli Museum later that day. As a whole group we went around the Ghibli Museum, which was less like a museum and more like a confusing house to navigate. Seeing the direction and conceptual precision placed into every piece of animation and artwork was astounding, even for someone like me who hasn’t seen that many Studio Ghibli movies (which I plan to fix in the future). Finally, after an extraordinarily long day, we all went up to the rooftop of the Sanuki Club and just gazed at the stars and skyline while chatting the night away.
Honestly, I’m going to miss (and already do miss) everyone a lot. I’m going to miss the silly talks and the spontaneous adventures. I’m going to miss being able to walk into the conference room and immediately chat with anyone working there. I’m going to miss the consistent presence of all the Nakatani Fellows. I mean, it’s been just a few days, and I already miss language classes (especially Onishi-sensei). Living by myself for nine weeks is definitely going to be a tough challenge; nevertheless, I hope to practice my Japanese, research real hard, and make many more friends in lab. Here’s to hoping for the best!
After having taken the Metro subway and JR trains many times by now, I have slowly begun to pick up on certain informal aspects of daily life in Japanese culture. In general, particularly with regards to public transportation, it appears that there are a few rules that everyone follows. Firstly, strangers do not talk to each other. Even among friends, there seems to be rarely, if any conversation between one another on the subway. People will instead be sleeping, using their phone, or reading books (sometimes manga). The only times people will speak up is to apologize (すみません) or offer a seat to an elderly individual. In fact, the train rides home are almost in complete silence, and the only voices audible are between our rather noisy group of Nakatani Fellows. As we discussed briefly in the pre-departure program, this is a bit different from American culture, where staying in silence can even be sometimes seen as hostile and where small talk is often encouraged. Secondly, boarding and leaving the train generally happens in a very orderly manner (almost systematic even), and empty space will always be taken up if necessary. Furthermore, many passengers will carefully attempt to take up as little space as possible. Only rarely have I seen empty seats on a crowded Japanese subway, and in rush hour empty space is virtually nonexistent. This order and regularity helps keep the subways very efficient and almost always on time. Other than these two aspects and rules, I would think that public transportation is rather similar to that in the US. However, I personally only use the metro bus on a daily basis (since I live in Austin, not NYC), so I cannot speak for the constant commute by subway in the United States.
Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminars
This week we finished up the introduction to science and engineering seminars, given by Prof Stanton, Prof. Ishioka, and Prof. Futuba. Prof. Stanton gave two introductory lectures on semiconductor nanostructures & optics and on femtospectroscopy and its uses. The first lecture on semiconductor nanostructures & optics built off of Prof. Kono’s introductory lectures about semiconductors, and gave us (at least me personally) a clearer and more complete understanding on photo-voltaics, opto-electronics, LEDs, and the advances made in each area. His second lecture on femtospectroscopy built off of Prof. Ishioka’s in-depth presentation, and both lectures focused on the importance of femtospectroscopy in comparison with slower or faster spectroscopic techniques, building up to implementation and useful applications like terahertz radiation. Lastly, Prof. Futuba presented an overview of his work with carbon nanotubes at the CNT application research center. His presentation was very casual and engaging, with useful advice about pursuing research in the future.
Question of the Week
Why are a large majority of Japanese people non-religious? (or consider themselves to be)
- For more on this, see the Religion in Japan section on our Life in Japan resources page. There are a number of articles at the bottom of this section relating to the role of religion in Japanese society today.
Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” – Margaret Mead
(Okay real talk, I’m not sure if this quote is motivational or sarcastic, but I like it either way)
My first day in the Iwasa Lab at the University of Tokyo went more or less as how I had anticipated it. I did not, however, expect that my cold would get even worse, and I definitely did not expect to be LATE to lab on the very. first. day. (Though in hindsight, this tends to happen a lot more than it should) But before you start judging me as an irresponsible individual who is never on time, let me at least explain my situation.
I live at a shared house in Akihabara, which is about a 30-minute walk from the University of Tokyo. This distance is just at the point where it’s a bit long for a walk but still too short to justify taking the subway every morning. Since it was my first day of research, I thought I would walk it at least once to see how it was. Adding some more context, the only way that I can access internet without connecting to Wi-Fi is through the JP phone that the Nakatani Foundation lent us. Furthermore, the location services on that said phone are pretty darn bad. Even though it works well enough to pull up Google Maps and find a route, it oftentimes has rather spotty current locations that jump around the place and has no clue which direction I’m facing. To make matters worse, I had to carry two bags full of omiyage with me. Because of this, a 30-minute walk to campus ended up taking me around 40 minutes.
Now this alone wasn’t too big of a problem, for I had left early enough that I still had 15 minutes remaining after arriving on campus (see, I am a responsible individual). The real issue was that I had absolutely no clue which building my lab was located in. I remembered in an email (with a map of the campus) that the Iwasa Lab was located in Engineering Building 8, a building marked with the number 80. With this in mind, I looked for the closest map sign, located where building 80 was, and immediately started heading in that direction. It took me the whole 15 minutes before I realized that this building was in a separate campus and was definitely not where the Iwasa Lab was. It turns out, the maps on campus are labeled with slightly different numbering than the map I had in my email. Engineering Building 8 was actually marked as building 79, and because of this small and silly blunder, I ended up rushing into lab 10 minutes late, greeting Iwasa-sensei with a flurry of “すみません”s. To my relief, Iwasa-sensei just laughed, told me not to worry about it, and led me to the office.
The rest of the day went much better. Even though I honestly felt and probably looked terrible because of my cold, everyone in the Iwasa Lab was cheerful and welcoming (the omiyage might have helped). Because my mentor Kashiwabara-san, an M1 student, had four classes that day (and he’s also busy this week with PPMS measurements), Nakagawa-san, a D1 student, gave me a quick tour of the lab facilities. Aside from that, there were no other special welcoming activities to lab, and everyone continued to work as they would on any regular day. As more and more lab members cycled in and out of the office, I eventually got to meet everyone. Which reminds me, whenever I shook hands and introduced myself to a lab member, I would always notice how considerably flimsy their handshake was (especially compared to the firm handshakes in the US).
Afterwards, I got lunch with Saito-san, a D3 student (the most senior student in the lab), and a few others at the main cafeteria. The food there was surprisingly cheap (and good too), but I guess it makes sense when you consider the budget that most students are on. I got the Akamon Ramen, which is named after the Akamon Gate (literally Red Gate) at the entrance to Todai. For the next few hours, I was free to do whatever I wanted, so I spent that time reading through more research papers on 2D TMDs. Later that day, Wang-san, an M2 student who was Sasha’s mentor from last year, let me shadow him for a couple of hours while he prepared the substrate wafers and used the Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) Machine. We then got dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby and came back to lab to work a bit more. By the time I left, it was around 9:30PM, and I was completely exhausted.
The rest of the week ended up being very similar to the first day. I would get to lab (on time) by 10:00AM, fan myself for a bit because of the hot weather outside, learn how to use the lab equipment from Wang-san, get lunch with Saito-san + some others (I swear I’ve had lunch with Saito-san every single day), read papers and books in free time, shadow Wang-san a bit more, then head home around 7:00PM. Honestly, research during the first week was a bit slow, but I came in expecting that, so I didn’t mind it at all. I do have to say, however, that I absolutely hate substrate wafer preparation with a burning passion. I’m just so bad at it! The painful precision involved in cleaving and cleaning the wafers using diamond pens and tweezers is just too much for my lackluster motor skills (there’s a reason I want to pursue a PhD, not an MD). I have, however, been getting better at it, and it’s now an official dream of mine to become a substrate preparation pro by the end of this research internship. Anyways, thanks to Sasha’s 16-page in-depth equipment guide from last year, it only took me a few days of shadowing Wang-san before I came to understand the entire film-growth process and the steps involved. (Seriously though, her guide is a godsend. Future Nakatani interns at Iwasa Lab, you’re in luck!!) Even though I haven’t started directly on my project (growing WSe2 monolayers on SiO2 substrate), I am very happy with all the training I have done so far. I should be able to start growing thin films independently by myself in the next few weeks.
Funnily enough, ever since I started research at the Iwasa Lab, the amount of Japanese I have had to use has gone down drastically. Partially because nearly everyone can speak English, and mostly because I’m awful at speaking Japanese, English is the main language that I use to communicate in the lab. I think I’ve actually spoken more Chinese than Japanese here (Wang-san and Feng-san are Chinese), and I even got two compliments this week on how good my Chinese was. The most Japanese I’ve used was probably during my quick self-introduction at the welcome party. Not going to lie, I’m a little bit disappointed by this, but regardless, I plan to continue to initiate conversations in Japanese and to continue to study the language on my own. Although, I must note that while Kashiwabara-san’s (my mentor) English is miles ahead of my Japanese, it still has a little bit to go, so I guess we’ll see how that plays out when we begin to work more closely together.
Research Internship Housing
As I’ve said before, I’m living in a shared house in Akihabara. I think I have five suitemates (shared housemates?), but to date I have only met four of them. I have a private room about the same size as the room I had in the Sanuki Club Hotel, so the transition has been relatively smooth. While the room is a bit on the small side, I can’t say that I’m displeased with my living arrangements, and I am very glad the expensive rent (rent in Tokyo is so expensive) is being paid generously by the Nakatani Foundation. I’ll talk more about my shared housemates in future reports, but they all seem like really nice people, even if I only occasionally talk with them.
Other Excursions In Tokyo
Since research takes up a lot of time, less has gone on outside of lab, but I think it’s still worthwhile to briefly go over the excursions from this week. On Monday night after lab finished, I met up with Savannah (Sabanana-chan’s lab happens to also be at Todai) at a temple near Shinobazu Pond. Since it was our first day, we ended up talking for around an hour about our respective labs and life in general. It was kind of nostalgic actually, because that temple happened to be where we took one of our first group photos in Japan. Apparently, the temple lights turned off just as I got there, but the night was beautiful nonetheless. Over the next few nights, with some breaks in between, Savannah, Rose (who is at Keio University), and I revisited areas like Shibuya and Tsukishima together, simply enjoying the presence of each other’s company. We walked through cities, crossed many bridges (Savannah accidentally asked to take photos of two Japanese strangers), explored a library… We even went to a maid café together! (Cross that off the bucket list) Our maid waitress was リープ (Lip), and she did her best to make us feel like “princesses and ma[gi]sters”. I must say, however, that although I enjoyed the cringey cuteness of the café, I don’t think I will be coming back anytime soon. On the weekend, I met up with a friend from back home at UT (Texas not Tokyo) and had tsukemen (dipping ramen) for the first time. Speaking of which, I actually had a lot of ramen this week because I was really craving it. I’m not sure why. I just did. I also walked to late on Sunday night, and the relaxing scenery did wonders for my mood.
Reflections on the Orientation Program and Language Classes
I miss the orientation program a lot. The seminars were interesting, the lectures were informative, and the cultural events were entertaining, but above all else, I miss the people the most. Even though I have met up with those living in the Tokyo area, and even though I have a wonderful group of lab mates, I still can’t help but miss all the time we spent together during the first three weeks. Life feels a lot lonelier now. Sadder even. And because of it, my mood has suffered significantly over the past week, swinging from highs to lows and everything in between. I hope I’ll slowly get more used to living by myself in Japan over the next couple of weeks.
The most helpful thing I learned about Japan through the orientation program was the culture. It’s hard to put it directly into words (with all the unwritten rules, customs, actions, etc.), but I feel much more accustomed to Japanese culture now, and it has allowed me to fit in a bit more this past week. Language classes are also still very useful, and I use Japanese often outside of the lab. The most helpful thing I learned about myself through the orientation program is that there’s a lot I don’t understand about myself. I know it’s a vague answer, but that’s really all I can say for now.
Question of the Week
In Japan, is it common to greet someone with a handshake? (Oops)
- In Japan, most people will bow upon first meeting and exchange business cards; handing them over using both hands. However, when greeting foreigners, it is common for people to shake hands and it will not surprise anyone when you reach out your hand to shake theirs.
- The typical handshake in Japan may be weaker that the firm/strong handshake Americans are expected to use with direct eye contact. When in Japan, it is good to ensure that your handshake is not too firm as this may seem aggressive (and could be painful) to those you are greeting. Try to go a notch or two down from your American-style handshake to be somewhere in the middle from what you have been experiencing.
- Just be careful you don’t mix the two and employ the bow-handshake which can feel, and look, a bit awkward for both sides; but is quite common because people get confused about what to do and try to do both at the same time. 🙂
Research Project Update
I will be growing thin film transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), specifically monolayer WSe2, on SiO2 substrate using Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE). Successful growth of high-quality WSe2 on SiO2 substrate by MBE would have important ramifications on photoluminescence in electronics.
The equipment I will need to use to grow and characterize WSe2 (to my current knowledge) are an atomic force microscope (AFM), a molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) machine with a reflection high energy electron diffraction (RHEED) monitor, and an X-ray diffraction (XRD) instrument. The process and individual steps are very precise and procedural.
Over the past week, I have been exposed to the entirety of the thin film growth process. I have already begun to prepare substrate by myself and have experience in operating the MBE machine. I currently have the least amount of familiarity with the XRD instrument, but with Sasha’s notes, I have no doubt that I will be able to pick it up quickly. Overall, I have a relatively solid understanding of the intuition and reasoning behind each procedure.
Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
Coming this summer!
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
Coming this summer!
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
Coming this summer!
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Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
Coming this summer!
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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
Coming this summer!
Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
Coming this summer!
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
Coming this summer!
Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
Coming this summer!
Week 13: Final Report
Coming this summer!
Coming this summer!
Tips for Future Participants
Coming this summer!