Home University: Washington University in St. Louis
Major: Biomedical Engineering and Minor in Design
Current Status: Sophomore
Expected Graduation: May 2019
Host Lab in Japan: Osaka University – LaSIE, Kawata-Fujita Laboratory
Research Project: “Imaging Beyond the Diffraction Limit: Visible-light Two-Photon Excitation for Subtractive SAX Microscopy” (PDF)
Why Nakatani RIES?
As a fifth-generation Japanese American growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, it was hard to get a sense of where I was from. I began studying karate when I was five years old and became an instructor when I was thirteen, and while I am truly thankful for this exposure to a Japanese tradition, I am aware that it is only a small glimpse of a rich, deeply rooted culture. At the same time, my desire to participate in research stems from my interest in reducing the invasiveness and harmful side effects of medical procedures. Participating in the Nakatani program in Japan this summer represents a truly unique opportunity to fulfill both my research goal of making medicine safer and my cultural goal of gaining a deeper understanding of Japanese language and culture.
Goals for the Summer
- Contribute to the improvement of medical treatments
- Learn basic conversational Japanese
- Visit the Ghibli Museum
- Attend a summer festival
Meaning of Nakatani RIES Fellowship (Post-Program)
When I was applying for the Nakatani RIES Fellowship, I wrote that I wanted to try new experiences and learn more about a culture that has always been both mine and not – I saw myself in the way Japan pays attention to detail and repetition, but knew I was only seeing a fraction of the whole picture. Now I see that Japanese culture seemed to belong to me in a way that was always too concrete, rooted firmly in rituals and traditions and clothing rather than people and their ways of seeing the world. When we had our pre-orientation at Rice University, we were shown a diagram of culture as an iceberg, where the tip of the iceberg, the part visible above the water, is the physical manifestations of culture – the crafts, the festivals, the music, the events. But the much larger part, and the part that’s most important to understand, is more subtle, lying just below the water’s surface. I got a quick glimpse at the underwater part of Japanese culture this summer, from the incredible kindness and courtesy shown by the Japanese to their razor-sharp focus to their love of quiet beauty. And it’s these things that have influenced me the most, far more than just seeing the beautiful things and eating the delicious food. So at its heart, Nakatani RIES means these things that I’m bringing back. Nakatani RIES means the kindness, service to others, passion, and dedication that I want to live in my heart, and the peace found in nature that I’ve already gained. And Nakatani RIES means continually striving to understand other people.
Of course, many observations of Japanese culture came from the other US Nakatani Fellows and from speaking with the Japanese Nakatani Fellows. I have learned so much from these people, and they’re the other meaning of this program. They’re a family that I can count on and learn from. I am so thankful for their openness to new ideas and their willingness to share their own thoughts and feelings. Thanks to them, I’ve learned to see in new ways, question my own thoughts and self, and to grow.
Research Internship Overview
This summer, I worked on methods of super-resolution microscopy, specifically on increasing the resolution of laser scanning fluorescence microscopy by combining the methods of visible-light two-photon excitation and subtractive saturated excitation microscopy. One of the reasons I wanted to participate in the Nakatani RIES program is because I’ve never done any research outside of biology before, and wanted to try something in a field completely new to me. What I’ve learned from this experience is that I’m capable of adapting to different types of research, especially if I ask lots of questions to gain understanding, and that there’s always going to be a learning curve when learning new techniques – my understanding of how my setup worked and how to fine-tune it didn’t come quickly. I’ve also learned, from my own project and the projects of other Nakatani fellows, that I may have been hasty in thinking that I know what research topics I want to work in. My view of all the fascinating topics in modern scientific research has expanded magnificently, and I plan to continue seeking out new ideas and concepts that I would like to work on.
As for my lab, I loved working with them. Since the Kawata-Fujita lab works on a wide diversity of projects, the lab is divided into student groups, which meet with professors every other week to give formal updates on research progress and meet independently on the off weeks to help teach and guide each other. I really enjoyed the emphasis on presenting one’s work and writing up reports on one’s work with regularity. I believe this process allowed me to think through my work, understand it, and ask questions when I realized I didn’t understand something, both through receiving critiques and through the action of writing itself. The lab also tries to spend time together socially on a regular basis – there are monthly parties to celebrate the happenings of each month, from birthdays to arrivals at the lab. I was invited to a beer festival my first week in the lab, which allowed me to start talking to other people in the lab. The lab also has a yearly “summer school” retreat, which I was lucky enough to be present for this year – we went hiking and stayed overnight at Arima Onsen. I truly enjoyed talking with everyone in the lab; everyone was friendly, particularly the B4 (senior) students who were closest in age with me. And I was very lucky to work with my mentors, Oketani-san and Kubo-san. I felt honored by the trust they put in me to do good work without close supervision, and gained confidence from this experience, yet knew I could call on them if I really needed help (as I often did). Fujita-sensei and Kawata-sensei were also very kind to me, taking time from their very busy schedules to chat with me about how I was doing or to talk about science in general. Working in the Kawata-Fujita lab was an honor and a pleasure.
Daily Life in Japan
On a day-to-day basis, I didn’t interact with many people outside of the lab. On weekdays, I’d get up, shower and eat breakfast, and catch the bus to the lab. Lunch and dinner were usually provided by the school cafeteria and/or convenience store, and were absolutely delicious. (My favorite dish was hands-down the negitoro bowl, tuna and green onion on rice with an onsen tamago.) Every weekend was different, but I tried to maximize my time sightseeing – for the first half of the summer, this was usually day trips around the Kansai area, but after the Mid-Program meeting, I started taking some longer trips, such as to Hiroshima and Hakone. My favorite part of living in Japan was how Japan was able to surprise me and make me smile with something new almost every day. Whether this was a small thing – finding a new favorite drink in the vending machine, getting lost on the way to a bus stop but stumbling across a beautiful view, looking out the window of the bus to the lab and seeing rice paddies – or a bigger thing – meeting a kind couple who bought me ice cream while hiking, hearing beautiful accordion music at Tanabata and having the kind musician play an American song for me, seeing one of the biggest fireworks festivals in the world – delight was around every corner.
Experiences with Japanese Culture
Some of the most significant experiences I had with Japanese culture were the interactions I had with total strangers. The kind, middle-aged couple whose children were just a few years older than me, who often go hiking with their Chihuahua showed me something that I was starting to see that day, how important it is to spend time with nature and how rejuvenating it can be to just walk through the woods. They also taught me that sometimes the best act of kindness can be to just talk to a foreign girl who clearly thinks your dog is adorable and to let her play with the pup. Another time, an accordion player noticed me listening, asked me where I was from, and played John Denver’s “Country Road” so I could sing along. These simple connections with other people, through a love of dogs, nature, and music, meant so much to me, and represented true kindness that I aspire to.
A few other important conversations I’ve had were around research. My interview with Kawata-sensei inspired me to find something I love to study, and seeing the expertise of the B4 students and the Japanese Nakatani fellows inspired me to focus and work harder at the things that I do.
Honestly, it’s hard to pin my cultural experiences down to a few examples. But through interacting with Japan and its people, I can truly say that I learned something new every day, about Japan, the United States, and myself.
- My favorite experience in Japan was… either visiting Hiroshima or meeting the Japanese fellows. The Japanese fellows were really easy to relate to and made understanding Japanese culture a much more real and present concept. And visiting Hiroshima was an experience that gave me a lot to think about.
- Before I left for Japan I wish I had… started learning kanji! Even just knowing a few simple kanji is really helpful for traveling and for understanding the world around you in Japan.
- While I was in Japan I wish I had… talked more with my labmates. By the time I got over being shy, the summer was almost over, and I wish I had formed stronger bonds within the lab. Feel free to talk to people, especially since they often won’t talk to you first.
Excerpts from Katelyn’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
From the first moment I stepped foot on Rice’s campus for the pre-departure orientation, I was extremely excited and nervous about what the summer would bring; from the friends I hoped to make, to the sights I hoped to see, to the knowledge I hoped to gain. For me, these were critical days for getting to know the other Nakatani fellows and beginning to form bonds. There are two moments I remember in particular. One afternoon, many of us began discussing favorite science concepts, which ended with me becoming intimidated by the intelligence and drive of the others. At the same time, I felt hugely motivated – their enthusiasm for their different areas of expertise was absolutely infectious. I wanted to understand and know more about circuits, mathematics, fluid flow, organic chemistry. And, at another moment, when we were exploring Rice’s campus and playing with VR, I realized how similar we all are in our appreciation of learning and experiencing new things. Being around so many people with such a voracious appetite for knowledge is a truly incredible experience.
The pre-departure orientation was also very helpful for preparing me for what I would experience in Japan. Ozaki-sensei’s seminar on Japanese language and culture and Sarah Phillips’s seminar on communication abroad both gave me a glimpse of the foreign culture I was about to enter. Speaking to past program participants also gave me a better idea of what I might face over the summer.
Upon arriving in Tokyo, one of the first things that surprised me was how familiar it felt. I’d visited Tokyo once before, and it was odd to have a place and a country that still felt like they should be so foreign to me look so familiar. But in two short years, my impressions have changed enormously. I have been experiencing many things that I didn’t experience with my family – the very first night in Tokyo, we were able to walk to Tokyo Tower, just a few minutes away from our hotel. Walking around a foreign city late at night is something I would never do in the US, but it’s something I’ve done with some regularity here. The ability to explore via public transit is also a huge difference – it’s opened this huge city up to me entirely; something impossible in the US. Furthermore, my past experiences led me to believe that, for the most part, signage and packaging would be completely incomprehensible. The simple act of learning to read katakana has made a huge difference in my ability to navigate the city – I could distinguish the detergent and dryer sheets due to the katakana on the dryer sheets – doraiya.
Speaking of learning Japanese, the Japanese classes have been extremely engaging and quick-paced. It seems that every time I catch my breath, we’re covering a new grammar structure. I feel fairly prepared for classes from my self-studying over the course of the last semester (the Human Japanese app is great), but we’re already past the bounds of my self-study, so the coming weeks may be much more difficult. It helps that the teachers are used to foreigners – our many questions and jokes are met with thorough answers and laughs. However, it’s been a lot of fun finding ways to use my very limited Japanese, from asking for a spoon at the convenience store to asking a woman carrying a lot of luggage which floor she was stopping on so I could press the button for her. The more my language skills connect to my activities outside of class, the more excited I become about learning Japanese.
We also had the opportunity to visit amazing places and attend seminars, many of which provided much food for thought. On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to visit Tokyo University and tour the Tabata Lab, as well as the user facilities at Tokyo University. I found it interesting how much equipment was collected at one central facility that people from many different places could use. Wednesday afternoon we spent exploring Japanese culture, both at the Edo Tokyo Museum and at the Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grand Tournament. In what I’ve learned is a perfectly normal interaction with a Japanese person, a volunteer guide at the museum gave us detailed explanations of many of the exhibits, even apologizing for her newness as a guide and for not being able to give us details on engineering aspects of Tokyo’s history. Her incredible politeness and passion about her work was inspiring.
On Thursday, we had the incredible opportunity to hear a talk from Noriyuka Shikata, the Deputy Director General of the Asian & Oceanic Affairs Bureau in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). We also had time to speak to students and young MOFA workers about problems in international affairs, leading to discussion about the relationship between US politics and world politics. With the problem that my group examined, I quickly noticed that US interests took up a large part of the conversation. Since internal results are usually what I end up thinking of in terms of American politics, it was a strange and yet obvious realization that America’s interests have a huge impact on everywhere else in the world – I don’t normally think of the US as a world power so much as I think of it as the place where I personally live, and therefore I generally focus on the US’s internal issues. It was definitely an experience that showed me that thinking about the world as a whole is an important consideration. Just as significantly, we were able to make connections with the Japanese students and discuss differences in our educational systems. I’ve become friends with one of them on Facebook, and hope to continue learning from her.
Thursday also brought a talk from Cain Gibbs, an American who teaches science English at a science and math oriented high school in Japan. This was illuminating both coming from the perspective of a foreigner who has lived in Japan for a long time and because of the details about the Japanese educational system. One of the things I’ve loved most about college and high school has been the ability to try many different things and learn about a wide variety of topics – I’ve taken ballet classes and joined a Korean pop dance group, played Quiz Bowl, played the flute in symphony orchestras, taken classes in art and design, and played intramural Frisbee. In Japan, at least in high school, it seems like students are limited to a narrower focus much sooner, which I may not have enjoyed. Even in adult life, people are expected to work extremely hard – Gibbs spoke of teachers staying at work when they had nothing left to do because they needed to seem like they were working, and our Japanese teachers have told us that they take very little vacation and stay very busy. I wonder how much time they have for leisure and pursuing interests when they tend to work long hours and take few breaks. The students are also put under an incredible amount of pressure with entrance exams for both high school and college. However, the school system does push kids and doesn’t allow anyone to just get by, as each student is measured relative to others – such a system in high school may have pushed me to learn more. It was also interesting, and rather sad, to think about gender segregation in Japan. Although times are changing, there are still very few women in science and engineering in Japan, and it shows. The other Nakatani girls and I have noticed intense surprise from the Japanese when we state that we’re engineering majors. I can only hope that gender discrimination continues to decrease in Japan.
We spent this past weekend exploring Tokyo, visiting areas like Tokyo Midtown, Akihabara, and the Meiji Shrine, as well as Sensoji Temple for the Sanja Matsuri festival. We also returned to Tokyo University for their annual festival. Both festivals were incredibly busy and represented a high bar for planning, event quality, and student work. At the Tokyo University festival, the origami art included an almost-life-sized horse and incredibly detailed dragons, and a pop music performance took us by surprise as a favorite part of the day, and at Sanja Matsuri, we were able to visit beautiful temples, purchase good luck charms, and try lots of good food. I look forward to sightseeing more in the coming weeks.
Question of the Week
What are the specific religious beliefs in Japan and how do they blend together?
- For more on this, see the “Religion and Visiting Shrines and Temples in Japan” section of our Life in Japan resources page.
Introduction to Research Topic & Article Overview
In the Kawata/Fujita lab, I will be working on a project involving super-high resolution microscopy using fluorescent proteins, building off the work referenced in this paper. Essentially, I will continue developing the use of visible light (as opposed to the infrared usually used in two-photon excitation) to produce high-resolution images. I will also have the opportunity to learn about analysis of fluorescent proteins in living systems.
I read a paper from my lab entitled “Visible-wavelength two-photon excitation microscopy for fluorescent protein imaging.” While I am still having trouble understanding all of the implications of the paper, reading up on two-photon imaging in general is helping me to understand more completely. Essentially, what this article shows is that it is possible to use visible wavelength laser light and two-photon/single-photon excitation to concurrently excite multiple fluorescent targets. The ability to concurrently excite several fluorescent targets with a single wavelength makes it easier to accurately view the fluorescent targets and get a good image. This is exciting and important because viewing multiple fluorescent targets can help show how things in the cell interact, revealing cellular mechanisms and cellular function. Additionally, visible-wavelength two-photon excitation allows for better spatial resolution than conventional confocal microscopy.
First, the ability of various types of fluorescent proteins (FPs) to be excited by a deep UV wavelength (about 280 nm) was confirmed, and two-photon excitation was confirmed using a 525 nm laser (since 525 nm absorption is not strong with the chosen FPs). Autofluorescence was also confirmed to be much less than the fluorescence from the FPs. Since two-photon excitation was being done, the fluorescence signal was supposed to show a quadratic relationship with the intensity of the laser, which indeed was demonstrated. Then, point-spread functions were used to examine spatial resolution. Photobleaching and using single-photon excitation in combination with two-photon excitation were also examined.
This research has exciting potential for better understanding cellular structure and function.
Yamanaka, M., Saito, K., Smith, Nicholas I., Arai, Y., Uegaki, K., Yonemaru, Y., Mochizuki, K., Kawata, S., Takeharu, N., Fujita, K. (2015). Visible-wavelength two-photon excitation microscopy for fluorescent protein imaging. Journal of Biomedical Optics, Volume 20(10).
Week 02: Trip to Akita
Although I’ve had many fantastic experiences thus far in Japan, language classes have been a highlight of the trip. This week, we started getting into grammar material that was completely new to me, and it was difficult at times – I don’t deal well with uncertainty, and I learned that certain topics will take time to develop an understanding of. For example, “de” and “ni” are two particles in Japanese that indicate the grammatical purpose of the words preceding them, but they often have similar uses. I plan to continue working hard to understand and remember the different times to use each. I am excited to continue learning – we have learned so much in only two weeks.
Onishi-sensei, who teaches Class 1 most days, is incredibly patient with us, putting up with many questions about the language and indirect methods of communication. For example, when we learned about inviting people to events and responding to such invitations, we ended up chatting with Onishi-sensei about how to make it clear that you’re actually busy as opposed to saying you’re busy in order to reject someone, which inevitably turned into a conversation about the differences between Japanese and American dating. Thanks to Onishi-sensei and the other teachers, we have a lot of fun in class while learning a lot. Onishi-sensei in particular seems to enjoy teaching us and always puts in extra effort, taking time outside of class to look up answers to our questions.
However, I frequently find myself frustrated by a simple lack of vocabulary. I also rub up against the inability to create grammatical constructions, especially since the grammar is so different from English. With Spanish, which I studied in high school, the grammar was similar to English and I knew enough of the grammar that I could construct sentences, even if I didn’t know the precise word for a concept I was looking to describe. However, with Japanese, I have no idea where to begin with a sentence or an idea, and that has been frustrating. I have also been struggling with the kanji everywhere. Especially since I know 0 kanji, even simple signs that I might be able to read and guess at the meanings of are completely incomprehensible. Almost nothing is written in pure hiragana and katakana, shutting a lot of the world away from me. However, it’s exciting to be able to use simple phrases like “Is there an English menu?” or “No, it’s okay” at stores and restaurants. This week, we also visited the AJALT office and worked on speaking with the Japanese teachers there. We had a full 45-minute conversation in Japanese, and while I wasn’t able to ask very many questions of Sawane-sensei, I was able to express most of the things that I wanted to say, like that my parents met at the University of Hawai’i Manoa or that I studied color in my art class. I hope to expand my grammar and my vocabulary so that I can communicate more in the way that I wish to. I am also looking forward to starting to learn kanji next week so that I can understand more of the written world around me.
Overview of Week Two of Orientation Program in Tokyo
On Monday, we visited JAMSTEC, a national research facility for seismology and deep ocean exploration. We learned about supercomputers that are used for modeling changes in the Earth and seismology networks for predicting earthquakes before they hit land. We even had the special opportunity to see the facility where the supercomputers are kept – it’s incredible how much detail goes into keeping the computers cool and safe. The entire facility is on top of a huge rubber damper so that even an earthquake won’t damage the building and its contents. Furthermore, JAMSTEC designs and builds equipment for undersea exploration. During our weekend trip to the area around Mt. Fuji, we were able to visit the Numazu Deepsea Aquarium. Here, JAMSTEC’s equipment was mentioned in reference to how many of the discoveries on display were made. The aquarium was incredibly interesting in its own right (my favorite was a fish that flips its bioluminescent organ over when it wants to hide its light), but also as a representation of how important and interesting the research done at places like JAMSTEC is.
On Tuesday and Thursday, we began our Intro to Science and Engineering seminar series with talks from Professor Kono from Rice, Itoh-sensei from Keio University, and Kawata-sensei from Osaka University. Professor Kono is a very clear and interesting speaker, and I enjoyed making connections from my general chemistry class to the nanoscience that Professor Kono reviewed. I particularly enjoyed Kawata-sensei’s talk because in just a week, I’ll be heading to Osaka University to work in his lab. Officially, Kawata-sensei retired in April, so I’ll be working under Fujita-sensei, but it was truly an inspiration to meet Kawata-sensei and to learn about his enormous body of work. He was so kind as well, offering his help with finding a project I could be passionate about. And with the breadth of Kawata-sensei’s past work, it would be hard not to find a project to love within the scope of his experience. Originally a physicist, his lab ended up doing a lot of work with biology, especially imaging. He gave a wonderful presentation spanning the many years of his career. One research topic that particularly caught my eye was the use of surface enhanced Raman scattering to track cellular pathways. I am getting more and more excited to begin working in the Kawata-Fujita lab.
Professor Kono also asked us to think about a material that we will be studying in our labs and the various characteristics thereof that we’ll be learning about. However, I will be working with a technique – two-photon excitation in the visible range for simultaneous imaging of multiple fluorescent proteins. As such, there is no specific material that I will be working with. I am continuing to learn about common types of fluorescent proteins that we may be using in our studies, autofluorescence of cell components that may interfere with imaging, and about optics in general in order to prepare myself for working in the lab.
This week also brought an incredible opportunity for cultural learning in the trip to Mt. Fuji with the twelve Japanese 2017 Nakatani Fellows. We almost did too much to recount, but I’ll try! Early Saturday morning, we met up with the Japanese fellows who live in the Tokyo area and departed. We visited Oshino Hokkai Springs in the morning and stopped at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja around lunchtime, where we met up with the rest of the Japanese fellows. From there, we visited the 5th station of Mt. Fuji, where we saw some incredible views of both the peak and the countryside surrounding the mountain. Afterwards, we made our way to our hotel for dinner and a relaxing dip in the onsen. It was the first time in an onsen for many of the US students, but fun was had by all!
On Sunday, we visited the aforementioned Numazu Deepsea Aquarium and were treated to an incredible seafood lunch afterward. Our Japanese friends referred to the style of cooking as “hamayaki” – a form of seafood barbeque in which we cooked deep-sea fish, oysters, and shrimp (among other treats) at a grill inset in our table. Lunch also included some of the best maguro (tuna) sashimi that I’ve ever had. But the day was far from over – we also visited the Mishima Skywalk, the longest pedestrian bridge in Japan, and went strawberry picking, which I’ve never done before. Strawberries with condensed milk are a new favorite for me. The weekend was full-to-bursting with incredible and new experiences.
However, the most notable part of the weekend for me was the opportunity to get to know the Japanese Nakatani fellows and speak to them about cultural differences between our countries, in serious areas like politics and education and in less-serious differences like slang phrases. To be honest, I was very nervous about this aspect of the weekend, both due to the language barrier and because meeting new people is always scary for me. Fortunately, the first person I began talking to, Tomoya, was very curious about us and had lots of questions – over the course of the weekend, we ended up explaining a number of different slang phrases (some common to US college students, some developed specifically among the odd subculture of the US Nakatani fellows) and discussing US college life. Tomoya picked up on our slang very quickly, and frequently made us laugh by using it. Some other conversations that stuck out to me were one I had over dinner about the differences within the Japanese and US educational systems. The flexibility that I greatly appreciate within my class schedule at Washington University is not present at Japanese universities – the Japanese students were surprised to hear that I have room to take art classes and music classes in addition to my engineering workload. They also had to choose their majors at the time when they were applying to university, which seems scary to me – many US students don’t figure out what they want to study until their second, third, or fourth semester of university. I personally changed majors during my second semester, and while I would have enjoyed the major I started in, I would have been frustrated at the inability to switch. One Japanese student expressed the sentiment that you end up forcing yourself to enjoy whatever your major is so that you can get through university, which made me feel truly fortunate to go to school in a place where change is freely made.
Another common topic of discussion was politics. Several Japanese students asked me what I thought about President Trump, and I gave them my honest, negative answer. They expressed surprise that President Trump was elected given the number of people they’d spoken to who disapproved of President Trump, so I ended up discussing the demographics of the US’s voting population and the implications of some of Trump’s policies with them. Even more so than last week, I am realizing how strongly the US’s politics affect the rest of the world, so I am hoping to continue to learn about world politics and develop my understanding of the rest of the world.
One interesting thing I noticed in terms of communication between the Japanese and American students was that the language barrier often made us seem more childlike than we actually are. For example, when we were exploring the aquarium, my Japanese comments on the fish and sea creatures on display were limited to “sugoi,” “kirei,” and “kawaii” (basically, “wow,” “pretty,” and “cute”). My limited vocabulary made me feel like a little kid, with no actual insights or real thoughts. Similarly, I noticed that the limited English vocabulary of some of the Japanese students also occasionally made them seem like children – for example, one unfortunate mispronunciation of “blue sheets” gave us all a good laugh, but the mistake was very akin to something a toddler might accidentally do. Some of these things may act as a partial barrier to forming friendships, but the similarities, shared fun, and mutual curiosity between the US and Japanese students were much stronger than the differences, and I am very excited to see the Japanese students again in July.
Question of the Week
What are the best ways to improve communication and cultural understanding among countries? In particular, what’s the best way to increase my own awareness of international affairs?
- You have already made a huge first step simply by being curious about this. The fact that you have chosen to study abroad is a testament to this curiosity and desire to learn about other perspectives an ways of being. You can build on this curiosity by:
- Enrolling in an international politics or relations course at your home university; particularly one that focuses on a region of the world you have no prior experience with.
- Looking up any local seminars or talks that various centers or departments on your university campus may have on topics related to politics and international relations. You may even find some seminars or guest talks given in English at Osaka University if you watch for flyers that may be posted around campus.
- Make it a daily habit to read Google News or another news aggregator at least once per day and read at least one article per day from different regions around the world. (Tip: Download the Google News app to your U.S. phone and you can change the settings so it shows up in English. If you just access Google News from the internet it may display in Japanese.)
- You should also make it a daily habit to read some English-language news written by Japanese media as well. This will give you a better understanding of what some of the local views of U.S. and world events may be. You may also learn about interesting activities or events in your host city this way. Some options include:
Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
This week flew by – as I’ve adjusted to life in Japan, I’ve felt the time going by faster and faster. It almost feels normal to be walking along the streets of Tokyo and taking the metro to get around. It’s a lot more walking than I do at home, but I’m getting used to it. But even as I adapt to this situation, my surroundings are changing again. Next week, I’ll be in Osaka, a totally different city with a totally different transportation system to learn. I’ll be doing research in a subject area I am unfamiliar with, living at least an hour away from any of the other Nakatani fellows. While I’m very nervous about this change, I am also excited to begin experiencing what the research environment is like in Japan and to see a new city.
One of the things I am most nervous about is using Japanese in Osaka. While I’ve learned an incredible amount over the last three weeks, the topics and grammatical constructions that I can understand and utilize are still very limited. My communications with people who don’t speak English have been very stilted, and I’m worried about simple tasks like checking into a hotel or getting directions. On the other hand, I’m extremely excited to continue learning the Japanese language. We began learning kanji this week, and while it’s a slow process and a very intimidating one, it’s exciting to be able to start understanding the world around me a little bit better, from exit signs (出口) to water bottles (水). I have been astounded by the kindness and hard work of our Japanese teachers for the past three weeks, but especially this week. They clearly have a great deal of experience and knowledge of teaching Japanese to foreigners, and are always extremely prepared for class – I can’t think of a single time when class was delayed because a teacher forgot something or needed to look for something. Furthermore, Onishi-sensei has been incredibly dedicated to ensuring that we have the best possible experience in Japan. She has made several incredible restaurant suggestions and even wrote one student a note to take to her professor, since the professor and Onishi-sensei are old friends. I will miss Onishi-sensei’s kind wisdom and guidance in the coming weeks, and am very thankful to have had such a rewarding experience with Japanese classes. We finished our time in Japanese classes by preparing and giving short speeches about a topic of our choice. While I had a hard time understanding the speeches given by the upper-level students, I was happy to be able to catch some of the jokes they were making or the general gist of their speeches. I hope I am able to figure out a way to effectively keep up with my Japanese studies in Osaka.
We had few evening activities planned this week, so we were free to explore the city on our own. As a result, we ended up visiting Shinjuku and Harajuku in our free time. In Shinjuku, we ate in a crowded alleyway full of small restaurants, and were able to find cheap food that tasted great. I don’t know that I’ve ever had such soft and juicy pork. Then, we hit the arcade. Japanese arcades are a truly interesting place. Many of the people you find there are clearly regulars – the mastery they show over complex rhythm games reflects many hours of practice. It definitely made me wonder what motivations a person might have to spend so much time and money in the pursuit of perfection of an arcade game. That being said, the various rhythm games were a lot of fun to try – my personal favorites included a DJ game and a taiko drumming game. At the end of the night, we piled into a photo booth, a very Japanese oddity that applies “beautifying” filters that make you look like an anime character and a J-pop star mashed together.
We also visited Harajuku, a center of shopping and youth culture. We probably ended up spending the most time at a four-story Daiso store – essentially, a gigantic dollar store. It’s interesting to see the price differences between here and America. For example, paper goods that would be several dollars in the United States are extraordinarily cheap here, while food often seems overpriced. I’m starting to get a better feel for prices here, and hopefully will be able to spend my money more wisely as a result.
With all our travels around the city, it’s impossible to not take note of the complex public transit system and public norms relating to the subways. First of all, it’s extremely quiet. A “reasonable” speaking volume in the US seems excessive here. And often, I don’t even notice. Surrounded by a group of other US college students, all speaking at around the same volume to each other, nothing seems out of place. But when I ride the metro alone or with one other person, it becomes extremely apparent that people are very quiet in public. The only exception to this seems to be busy restaurants, which are just as noisy as in the US. It has also been interesting to notice how busy the public transportation always is, even late at night. People generally show a lot of consideration for each other on the subways as a result. Even when the subways are extremely crowded, I haven’t had a problem boarding or getting off. I did run into trouble once – during one metro ride, I was standing right in front of the door and many people were disembarking. I didn’t realize how in the way I was until I got pushed off, and have since learned to ensure that I’m out of the way when I’m standing on the train. The general train activity of choice seems to either be doing something quietly on one’s smartphone or reading a book. Reading isn’t an activity I usually see on public transit in America, but I usually ride the St. Louis metro, which people generally have short rides on anyway. People are also much more willing to sit next to each other here. There are very seldom empty seats on a train here, whereas in St. Louis many people prefer to stand rather than to sit next to a stranger. This may be due to shorter train rides on the St. Louis metro or because the culture of the US is less trusting of strangers. For those of us not in the Tokyo area, we also got our first experience with the shinkansen. It was odd how simple the process was – we boarded almost like any other train, just with assigned seats. It was honestly very similar to flying on an airplane – generally pretty quiet, with many passengers choosing to nap.
The shinkansen has brought me to Osaka, and I am both excited for and scared of all the changes to come. I’ll be moving into a dorm and meeting other students there, functioning (or at least attempting to function) independently in a city where I speak little of the language, and most importantly, starting to work in the Kawata/Fujita lab. I hope I will be able to make a good impression on my labmates and make friends. Already I have been noticing that English is less omnipresent in Osaka than in Tokyo, so hopefully I will be able to continue navigating successfully as I have in Tokyo.
Overview of Week 3 of Orientation in Tokyo
This past week also brought our last round of Introduction to Science and Engineering seminars, as well as our last Japanese Culture and Society seminars. Our final Culture and Society seminars on Friday consisted of a look at the change in the treatment of women, particularly working women, in Japanese media, as well as a discussion of practical Japanese and Japanese manners for the lab. Ozaki-sensei’s talk on Japanese manners and culture will hopefully prove to be very helpful as I begin navigating through intercultural relationships in a work setting.
This week, our Science and Engineering seminars were led by Professor Stanton. We also had guest lectures by Ishioka-sensei from the National Institute for Materials Science and Futaba-sensei from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Through these lectures, I gained a deeper understanding of semiconductors and how they function, as well as how semiconductors are designed for different purposes. I know I wasn’t fully understanding or absorbing the information presented because I lack the necessary background knowledge, but I look forward to getting to know this material better in future classes and this summer. My current plan is to keep track of the many questions that I have so that I can continue exploring the subject matter on my own and with the help of my research mentors. Ishioka-sensei discussed her research using ultrafast spectroscopy for the observation of very short events. She also discussed her experiences as a woman in science in Japan. Ishioka-sensei noted that women are discouraged from entering the sciences in Japan, and was thankful for the circumstances that led to her having a science career. I was glad to hear that despite the difficulties involved in being a female scientist in Japan, Ishioka-sensei viewed it as a very freeing job, allowing her to travel all over the world and meet scientists from other countries. I hope that the gender divide in Japan improves in the future. Futaba-sensei discussed both his experiences as a Japanese-American who moved to Japan and his research with carbon nanotubes. While I won’t be working with carbon nanotubes this summer, I am now especially excited to see the results of the nanotube research being conducted by other Nakatani fellows.
As I prepare to begin my research, I am excited to learn more about optics and the process of improving optical resolution. I will continue to study in order to be able to best understand the work being carried out in the lab. I am also looking forward to learning about how imaging can be done on cells without impacting cellular function (e.g. minimizing photobleaching).
Question of the Week
What are the best ways to get involved in the lab?
- Great question and this depends a lot on the culture of your lab and the group you’ll be working with this summer. If you read some of the past student’s weekly reports you can get many good ideas from what they have done but some common themes include:
- Go to lunch with your lab members each day if they commonly go together to the cafeteria. Even if you are trying to save money, the time you have to talk together casually over lunch can be very important and may help you deepen your friendships with members of the lab you may not otherwise get to work with.
- Observe what the other B4 (senior undergraduate) lab members do and then try to mimic/help them. For example, does the B4 student regularly set up the room for the group meeting? If yes, go to the room a bit early and help him/her. This way you get to know them a bit too.
- Does your lab regularly get together to play sports, go sight-seeing or hiking in the local area, or have other group activities? If yes, say yes and join in! Ask your mentor or lab secretary if there are any group activities that the lab has planned this summer while you are there and, if so, be sure you are there to join in (even if that means changing the date of a planned weekend trip).
- You don’t have to stay late every night, but try to stay late a few times here and there to see what the office environment is like in the evenings. Sometimes, if other lab members are staying late to support another student who is working on a project or paper they may be more relaxed and playful and you can learn a lot about your group members through engaging in casual conversation during this time.
- Ask for advice and lots of questions about Osaka. What is the best thing to eat? Where is the best place to buy groceries or the best 100 yen store? What do they do on the weekends and are there any festivals or events coming up that they would recommend? They are students too and likely also on a tight budget so asking your lab members for tips about your host city can be really useful but may also lead to other conversations about shared hobbies and interests.
- Bring your language books with you to lab and during any down time (such as when you stay late to see what happens to the group dynamic after hours) pull them out and do some self-study. Your lab members may get curious and ask you what you are working on and if they can help you. Using language learning as a bridge can be a great tool for fostering closer relationships with your lab members.
- Laugh and have fun! Remember, it’s not always cultural too. Sometimes we ‘click’ more with some people that with others and while you may not become close friends with all of your lab group members you will probably form some good friendships with at least a few.
Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
After three weeks in Tokyo for orientation, we are now all safely in our host cities for the rest of the summer. Monday was my first day at LaSIE (I’m specifically in the Kawata-Fujita lab – LaSIE stands for Laboratory for Scientific Instrumentation and Engineering), although no official lab work was done. My schedule was built around moving into the dorm – since I was unable to move into the dorm until 1 pm or later, I arrived at the lab in the morning and went through some paperwork. Fujita-sensei went over the basic principles of my project with me before I left to check into the dorm. The dorm manager didn’t speak English, so I was very thankful to have my research mentors, Oketani-san and Kubo-san with me. Oketani-san is very kind – he paid for my dinner on my first day and has been very patient with me as I learn to operate the equipment in the lab. My project revolves around two-photon excitation for fluorescence imaging and increasing the resolution of laser scanning fluorescence microscopy, so I will be doing a lot of work with lasers this summer. Since I have never worked with lasers before, I am working hard to understand the basic principles and methods behind doing research with lasers. Language presents a small barrier to understanding, as Oketani-san has an easier time explaining concepts and procedures in Japanese, but he and the rest of the lab conduct scientific discussions primarily in English, so I do not foresee the language barrier being an issue for my studies. Kubo-san speaks less English than Oketani-san, but we haven’t had any trouble talking about lab-related things either. My own lack of background information is likely a larger problem, so I will do my best to recover that deficit by learning more about microscopy in general and specifically two-photon excitation for fluorescence microscopy.
I’m lucky in that my lab has three B4 students and several M1/M2s, so there are many people at least close to my own age. They have been very helpful, taking me to lunch with them and teaching me Kansai-ben, the dialect of Japanese that is spoken in Osaka. I often have trouble thinking of things to talk about, given the limitations of the language barrier. However, I hope to improve my communication skills (both in Japanese and in English with non-native speakers) as I continue to get to know my labmates. I’ve already gotten to see some of them in a looser setting, as the lab attended a beer festival on Saturday. Although many of the lab members were mystified by my lack of interest in drinking, I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to lab members.
My housing is very different from what I’m used to in the US, although Washington University’s (WashU) housing is considered among the best in the country. The main differences that I have noticed are increased personal responsibility in terms of cleaning the dorm spaces (which is in line with Japan in general), less common spaces (although other Nakatani fellows have common spaces in their dorms), and less convenient dining halls. WashU’s dining halls are open from early morning to late at night, and I frequently find myself heading to the dining hall at 8:30 or later due to responsibilities with clubs, homework, or even classes themselves. The cafeteria nearest to my dorm closes at 7, so I either have to make sure I eat before the cafeteria closes, cook for myself, or walk to a konbini. While part of me feels aggravated with this change, I recognize that this schedule is much better for the people who work in the cafeterias and that here in Japan, it is very possible to find a meal at any time of day because konbini are so ubiquitous.
While I miss Tokyo (both because of the convenience of the subway system and the presence of the other Nakatani fellows), I am enjoying Osaka a lot. Osaka University has three campuses – Suita, Toyonaka, and Minoh. LaSIE is on Suita campus, and my dorm is on Minoh campus. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore the area around Suita campus, but Minoh campus is up at a higher elevation in a slightly more rural area. I have been enjoying walking around the quiet streets in the evenings and shopping at the local supermarket. Many birds can be heard around Minoh campus, and it’s truly lovely to wake up to their songs in the morning. My dorm on Minoh campus has no common areas except the cooking and laundry areas, so I have not interacted with many other students – so far, it has been limited to asking where I can get my mail and about the cleaning schedule for the bathrooms. I am looking into student organizations so I can hopefully make friends here. Some student groups are interested in practicing English, so I am hoping to meet people who will want to practice English with me and whom I can practice Japanese with in return! I am also looking into a group that practices Japanese traditional music. I have long been drawn to the sounds of Japanese folk songs, and want to learn to play the shakuhachi, a type of flute traditionally made from bamboo.
After being with the other US Nakatani fellows every waking hour for the last three weeks, it has been a little odd to not see them. Thankfully, our group LINE chat has been very active, and one of my favorite parts of the week has been hearing about the different experiences everyone has been having in their respective labs and university communities. For everyone, it seems like this week has been a combination of fun, new experiences, and taking the occasional L, but we are learning a lot. However, we do miss each other, so we decided to meet up in Kyoto over the weekend. On Saturday, I met up with Will, Savannah, Emily, and Erica (a 2016 Nakatani RIES fellow) at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine famed for the thousands of torii gates that line the mountain paths around it. Savannah, Will, and I hiked to the end of the path, getting a beautiful view of Kyoto in the process. That night, we stayed in a capsule hotel – partially because we did need a place to stay, but also because we wanted to try it. It was significantly more comfortable than expected – each capsule was spacious enough to move around comfortably in, the bathroom was well-stocked with toiletries, and the hotel was themed around comics. In fact, the capsules were woven among bookshelves full of manga. It was quite a comfortable accommodation for a relatively cheap price, and there’s a strong chance that I’ll return if stay in Kyoto overnight again.
On Sunday, we visited Arashiyama, an area famed for its autumn leaves, bamboo forest, and monkey park. We were able to meet up with Alex, Kaylene, and Emily in Arashiyama to enjoy the lovely scenery. I hadn’t realized how closely the monkeys interact with humans. Although people are not supposed to come within two meters of the monkeys outside of the feeding area, the monkeys frequently will walk closer on their own. There were even baby monkeys nursing and monkeys fighting each other, and I was surprised by the range of behaviors we were able to witness even in such a short time. We also walked through the bamboo grove. The whole area was very beautiful; I hope to continue visiting beautiful places on the weekends.
Reflections on Orientation Program in Tokyo
Speaking of sightseeing, we went to the Ghibli Museum last week and I completely forgot to make note of it in my weekly report. I have long been interested in Studio Ghibli’s work, from the music to the animation process to the stories they tell. The museum is an incredible place, showcasing works in progress and concept art from all of their beloved films, as well as special exhibits on the art of animation itself. In fact, you can see special short films at the museum. But even more so, the museum is its own work of art. Walking around the museum gives a sense of exploration, with twisty, narrow staircases, small passageways, and gorgeous architecture that hides surprises in the form of Ghibli characters hidden in the walls or the windows. Visiting the Ghibli museum was actually one of my sightseeing goals for this trip, and it did not disappoint.
Now that the orientation in Tokyo is complete, I can honestly look back on it as some of the best weeks of my life. The language classes were extremely helpful and well taught (currently missing Onishi-sensei’s wisdom and wit), and we were granted incredible opportunities, through both the many speakers who came to share their experiences and work with us and the planned outings, such as the taiko lesson. And even during downtime, I was exploring an incredible city with the other Nakatani fellows and developing close friendships. I learned a great deal about Japan and some of the societal expectations, such as how one behaves in public. Actually, being in the lab is a very different experience, but thanks to my last three weeks in Tokyo, I am used to navigating public transit, shopping at konbini, and have had some practice with communicating across a language barrier.
The orientation program also pushed me to learn and understand more. The introductory science and engineering seminars were largely on topics that I had very little background knowledge in, but I am now very curious about semiconductors, solid-state physics, and nanomaterials, and hope to learn more about them. One seminar, given by Cain Gibbs, focused on high school students conducting research projects of their own design. The other Nakatani fellows have been even more influential on me. Their passion for and deep understanding of their chosen subject areas is frankly incredible – I’ve been realizing exactly how often I’ve been able to do well in classes without developing a real, permanent understanding of the material, and am resolved to both push myself to learn more on my own time and to work more for understanding in my academic classes. However, I have also accepted some negative aspects of Japan. People here are supremely conscious of what’s best for the people around them, and while this leads to incredibly kind and considerate behavior, I believe the flip side of this attitude is the rejection of individualism. Expressions of individualism are rare. Schoolchildren wear uniforms, and fashions among grown and men and women seem to fall within narrow boundaries. Students are required to prove that their hair is undyed in order to attend high school. Additionally, the work ethic results in a high level of stress among students, and allows little room to explore a variety of interests or to change fields of study. When I go home in August, I hope to be able to combine what I’ve learned from both American culture and Japanese culture into my daily life – utilizing the Japanese work ethic and dedicating myself to gaining a deeper understanding of science and engineering while allowing myself American relaxation and room to explore different topics.
Research Project Update
Speaking of working hard and exploring new topics, I think my research was at least somewhat successful this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I helped Oketani-san set up and align the laser system for laser scanning fluorescence microscopy. In a process similar to that from a paper I read from my lab, I spent Thursday and Friday taking images of fluorescent microbeads (only 100 nm wide!), manipulating variables like scan speed and laser intensity to get the clearest images possible. Each bead was expected to appear about 150 nm wide in the images, and they were right on target. While I don’t have a clear timeline for the overall process of this project, next week I will be examining fluorescent proteins under different laser intensities for two-photon excitation to see at what point they saturate. For my overall project, in order to improve resolution of laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy, I’ll be taking images of the same samples under different conditions of fluorescence saturation giving a narrower signal. Consequently, much of my work over the next eight weeks will consist of gaining a deeper understanding of why this works on a theoretical level and of how this works on a practical level. I have learned a lot this week about the equipment in the lab, and am now working alone in the lab with lasers, which is both exciting and terrifying. Hopefully I will have more to report next week, as I will have more data/results and a deeper understanding of the work that I’m doing. I am currently somewhat concerned about my ability to understand this topic well enough to contribute to the lab in a significant manner, but will work hard to improve my knowledge on the topic and to become a useful member of the lab.
Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
This week involved more getting used to the lab and the equipment that I’m working with, as well as the social environment of the lab. Since I’m no longer the brand-new person in the lab, I’ve actually been even quieter since I’m not introducing myself to new people. I also haven’t been present when other people are eating lunch every day, or some days people might be eating while doing work. I’ve discovered that eating in the cafeteria, as I did with the other undergraduate students on my first day, isn’t that common – the first day I was here was the only day that we all ate there together, and since then it’s been the standard to buy a bento lunch and bring it back to the student room to eat. If I’m going to be honest, social interaction with my lab hasn’t been easy for me. Since the majority of the students and researchers in the lab are Japanese, Japanese is the language of social interaction, and my comprehension is limited to the general topic of conversation at best. Occasionally, someone will take pity on me and explain a joke or the general path of conversation, but not being able to follow and take part in conversations that are occurring has made it much more difficult to bond with my labmates. Part of this is due to my own shyness. I have discovered that while speaking in Japanese caused me no anxiety during Japanese class or among the other Nakatani fellows, I feel very self conscious among native speakers. Additionally, I have trouble thinking of things to talk about even in English, and consequently have had difficulties with starting conversations. That being said, everyone is the lab has been very friendly and helpful whenever I need to know where something is or how to use a piece of equipment. I hope to be more active about communicating with my lab in subsequent weeks.
This week, I had the opportunity to travel more within the Kansai region. On Saturday, I traveled to Kyoto and met up with Erica, a 2016 Nakatani fellow who has returned to Japan to conduct another research project! In the morning, we explored the Kyoto National Museum, where we had the opportunity to view their collections of swords, paintings, calligraphy, and more. We stopped by Higashi Honganji, a Buddhist temple, on our way to lunch at Honke Daiichiasahi, a restaurant known for its ramen and gyoza. Although we were in line for a while, the wait was well worth it – the gyoza in particular was perfectly savory and delicious. Then, we traveled to Kurama in northern Kyoto and began the hike from Kurama to Kibune. It’s a truly lovely path, flanked by many small shrines and finishing at Kifune Shrine, dedicated to a god of water. Here, I had my fortune told by placing a piece of paper on a pond (and then scanning a QR code because I couldn’t read the actual fortune) and drank pure spring water! Erica and I stayed in the area for a while to try to see fireflies, and while there weren’t many, we succeeded in our mission. We finished the night with dinner at a restaurant with a hilarious English menu. I ended up ordering a Western-Eastern blend pizza that supposedly incorporated mochi, and while it was very odd, I found that I quite enjoyed it.
On Sunday, Erica and Alex came down to Osaka, and Erica took us on a whirlwind tour of the best Osaka has to offer. We started the day by exploring Osaka Castle, then moved on to Kuromon Market, an incredible marketplace full of street food, where we consumed takoyaki, one of Osaka’s specialties. We then moved on through Shitennoji, a large temple complex, and visited Shinsekai, an area that retains old-world Japanese flavor. Here, we tried kushikatsu, which (you guessed it) is another culinary specialty of Osaka. We finished off the day in the Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi areas, where we met up with Aaron and consumed okonomiyaki (a further Osakan specialty) at a well-known restaurant. The entire day was wonderful, filled with interesting sights, beautiful scenery, and fun with good friends. I ended up catching the last train home, but was surprised to notice that I wasn’t too concerned about it. I’ve definitely gained confidence in my ability to navigate through Japan’s public transit system over the past month.
While I can’t necessarily think of a point of conflict that has come up because of cultural differences, there have definitely been many moments of confusion and many difficulties in conveying a concept. I have two main examples at this point – explaining that I don’t drink alcohol and visiting Osaka University’s traditional music club.
When I went to the beer festival with my lab last weekend and whenever alcohol comes up in conversation, I always get asked if I drink, and when I inevitably say no, I am asked why. My usual response, and the easiest to convey, is that I am underage in America. But as a B3 student (junior undergraduate), the lab has surmised that I’m of age in Japan, so the next statement is usually, “But you can drink here!” And truthfully, while I do strongly prefer to abide by the law of the land, the main reason that I don’t drink is personal, and lies in my wish to keep my thoughts and mind within my control as much as possible. Sometimes I struggle to convey these sentiments even to other native English speakers, so I usually just shrug and say “Osake o nomimasen” (“I don’t drink alcohol”) in response to continued queries. While I do get asked why I don’t drink in America, most people will take a “No thanks” at face value. I don’t want to overgeneralize – they’re different situations, since usually it comes up in America when I’m being offered a drink, and “no thanks” to a specific offer can come from any number of different reasons. Also, I can definitely attribute some of their curiosity to my foreignness, since they probably wonder if my attitude towards alcohol is representative of other Americans. Drinking is also more a part of workplace culture in Japan than America, so I may be more unusual in my refusal to drink. That being said, I hope that I will be able to attend if my lab goes out drinking together!
This week I also visited Osaka University’s traditional music club, which practices the koto (a plucked string instrument) and the shakuhachi (a type of bamboo flute) together. Their website indicates that they welcome visitors, and I was informed of when and where to go by email, so my visit wasn’t entirely unexpected. However, when I actually arrived, I found myself very unsure of how I would be expected to introduce myself. I discovered that the club members generally spoke little English, and with my limited command of Japanese, communication wasn’t easy. Several of the club members helped teach me some of the basics for the shakuhachi – I was embarrassed that it took me half an hour to even produce a sound. I was probably expecting it to be more flutelike than it actually was. However, I was most uncomfortable due to the behavior of the club members that I was not actively engaging with. For about twenty minutes after I arrived, the shakuhachi players were just sitting where they were when I had come in, some reading or chatting quietly, but not practicing as they had been. I was concerned that I was interrupting and disrupting their practice, but wasn’t sure what to say, if anything. Eventually, I did apologize and said something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt everyone’s practice!”, and shortly afterwards practice resumed, allowing me to feel a little better. I feel like this was their way of being polite, but next time I will speak out sooner to disrupt others’ activities less, as well as to feel less discomfort myself! However, some of my fears were assuaged after the meeting. I had added one of the club members who had been teaching me on LINE, and she sent me a very sweet message thanking me for visiting and expressing the hope that I would come again. I am glad I had the chance to try the shakuhachi and am looking forward to meeting with the club again in the coming weeks.
Research Project Update
This week, I continued working with laser scanning microscopy, and was working on getting fluorescence curves for fluorescent proteins, specifically monomeric super enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (mseCFP). While I was unable to get a curve this week, I developed a deeper understanding of the project that I’ll be working on and became more comfortable with the equipment. We determined that the photomultiplier tube (PMT) we have been using for laser scanning microscopy isn’t sensitive enough to get the fluorescence curve for mseCFP, so we will try again next week with another device, known as an avalanche photodiode (APD). Hopefully next week we will be able to get good fluorescence curves and start figuring out the details surrounding the cells that we hope to eventually be imaging.
The process with which I will be imaging live cells is known as subtractive SAX microscopy, utilizing two-photon excitation for fluorescence. Since there’s a delay between when fluorescent proteins are excited and when they emit, they saturate once they reach a certain excitation intensity, and cannot emit photons any faster. By taking two images, one at a fluorescence intensity below saturation and one at a fluorescence intensity above saturation and subtracting the saturated image from the nonsaturated image, one is able to get a narrower peak, thereby determining the location of a fluorescent protein with greater accuracy. Furthermore, I am applying two-photon excitation to this technique. With two-photon excitation, two photons of lesser energy must hit the fluorescent protein at approximately the same time to excite it rather than one photon of greater energy. Consequently, due to the lower probability of two photons hitting at the same time than one, only the region of highest excitation intensity shows fluorescence with two-photon excitation, further narrowing the location of the fluorescent protein. By combining these two techniques, I will hopefully be able to obtain super-resolution images of cells containing fluorescent proteins.
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
The weeks seem to be going faster and faster – this week passed by in an instant. It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through the summer already. I’m trying not to dread the end of the summer quite yet, but sometimes it feels like it’s sneaking up! That being said, here are some of my thoughts on the summer thus far.
Besides research, I think my personal development has been very interesting. With my hometown being Phoenix and with going to university in St. Louis, it was odd at first to walk around the streets and see Japanese people everywhere. Now, I don’t notice at all, and I see this as an improvement, since after all, people are just people. And before living in Japan (and especially before spending time with the Japanese Nakatani fellows and with my labmates), what I knew about the Japanese people was mostly limited to generalizations – that they’re very punctual, that they view shoes as unclean, that they have very indirect ways of speaking. While these generalizations are solidly rooted in fact, it’s extremely easy to overgeneralize and make assumptions about the people that one meets, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m frequently guilty of this. I think that the experience of being here and living among Japanese people has increased my ability to empathize and connect with people from other cultures without making as many blanket assumptions. I am also pleased with the increased perspective I have on American culture and specifically American research labs. For example, I have come to appreciate the Japanese practice of giving periodic semiformal reports on one’s research progress. While this is partially out of necessity due to the large lab sizes (all the labs I’ve worked in previously were much smaller), I believe it also gives one a reason to sit down and sort through their reasoning for their work and their interpretations of their data, while also providing the opportunity to get feedback from other lab members. Had this been a requirement in my previous lab work, I believe that I may have caught mistakes earlier or been able to gain a deeper understanding of my topic, since presenting on a topic requires that greater depth of understanding.
However, this summer has come with quite a few challenges as well. Probably the biggest challenge for me has been the research process and adjusting to working in a Japanese lab. I truthfully knew very little about either microscopy or lasers before I started to receive study material from the lab. Even after I started looking at papers, there were many things that weren’t making sense until I started working in the lab, and there have been many things related to the actual work of doing microscopy with lasers that I’ve had to pick up – things like safety practices, terminology, and many, many procedures. Imaging on such a small scale requires a precisely aligned laser, and it’s a long process to get the laser aligned involving a complicated setup on the laser table. I wish I had spent more time on basic optics before coming to Osaka, but my lab work has gradually been making more sense, and as it makes more sense I enjoy it more and more. It’s a wonderful moment whenever I start to understand better how the pieces of what I’m doing fit together, but the road there has been quite difficult. I’ll admit I breathe a little sigh of relief whenever I have work to do in the bio lab preparing samples, since that’s equipment and procedures I’m familiar with – I have to keep reminding myself that other people might have trouble with cell preparation in much the same way that I have trouble with lasers. Another challenge has been homesickness. Although for the most part I’ve been having far too much fun and enjoying Japan too much to miss the United States, there have been moments of intensely missing something from home, often when I’m already stressed because of lab work or something else. For example, I realized recently that I’ve never gone this long without playing the flute since I began playing in the 6th grade, and that it’s a form of musical expression that I miss more than I thought I would. As a mediocre pianist and an even worse singer, flute is the medium through which I can best express myself musically, and with long work hours and closely packed dorm rooms, I don’t sing much here either. Or occasionally, I feel aggravated from the degree to which I stick out in a crowd of Japanese people as an obvious tourist, despite being of Japanese descent. Of course, I very well may be creating some of this in my head, but I feel like I stand out in a way that makes me a little uncomfortable, especially since in Japan I dress in a way that I consider to be much more low-key than how I would dress at home. But on the whole, all of these challenges pale in comparison to the positive experiences I have been having.
Although research felt especially tough to me initially, I feel like I am on track to achieve my main goal of getting super-resolution images of cells by using a combination of subtractive SAX microscopy and visible-range two-photon excitation – I’ll hopefully start imaging cells this coming week, and will have the rest of the summer to work on getting the highest-resolution images possible.
My favorite part of the summer has been traveling and experiencing the sights of Japan, and I definitely did plenty more of that this past weekend. On Saturday, I visited Nara with Aaron and a friend Aaron met at his dorm. Our main stops were Nara Park and Todaiji Temple. In Nara Park, we fed the sacred deer “shikasenbei,” laughing all the while about how aggressive the deer are. Contrary to American expectations of deer, these deer have been around humans all their lives and are consequently unafraid – even before I bought shikasenbei, the deer walked right up to me, biting my shirt and even licking my hand. And once I had shikasenbei, they followed me constantly, knowing that I was holding food for them. Nearby Todaiji Temple was incredible, holding the world’s largest bronze daibutsu (large Buddha statue). Although it’s enormous, since it’s up on a pedestal it can be hard to tell from a distance exactly how large it is. One thing that gives some perspective is a hole in one of the building’s support pillars that is said to be the same size as the daibutsu’s nostril. Supposedly anyone who fits through the hole will achieve some level of enlightenment in their next life, so I gave it a shot. While I had to be pulled through, my future self will thank me! We returned to Todaiji later in the night to look for fireflies, but the weather may not have been quite right, and we didn’t see any. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to see a large group of fireflies in the near future.
On Sunday morning, I traveled to Kyoto for Kitano Tenmangu Shrine’s monthly flea market. An incredible number of stalls get set up very early in the morning, and while many of the stalls sell Japanese dish ware, traditional clothing, fabric, and crafts, it’s really an everything-including-maybe-the-kitchen-sink type of situation. There were clothes from H&M right next to yukata, Rubik’s cubes next to small bronze statues, and one stall had a large box of what I can only describe as electronics junk. Erica and I had a lot of fun wandering around the maze of stalls, stopping to look at whatever caught our eye. Of course, there were also plentiful food stalls, carrying everything from takoyaki to yakisoba, and the shrine itself is beautiful as well. The shrine is actually associated with the Shinto god of education, and features several statues of bulls that can be rubbed for good luck with school, something that Erica and I both made sure to take advantage of. Around lunchtime, I met up with Alex and headed back to Osaka for an afternoon of sightseeing, meeting up with Aaron and several exchange students at Osaka’s science museum. As a group of science students, the museum was basically a gigantic, nerdy playground. Tony, one of the exchange students, went with us to a Sega-themed arcade/amusement park located at the top of a department store. While pretty similar to most of the arcades I’ve been to in Japan, it also featured theme-park style rides. I’m going to have to figure out how to get my rhythm game fix in America once I go home! Tony also took us to a delicious ramen restaurant in the Umeda area. It was a long day with lots of traveling, but I had a lot of fun!
Question of the Week
What does it mean to have a variety of interests in a country where so often time limitations and societal expectations force you to narrow your focus early on?
Research Project Update
It was difficult to get a lot of work done this week, since the laser that I usually use was under maintenance for a lot of the week. However, on Monday, I was able to get fluorescence curves for monomeric super enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (mseCFP), demonstrating at least some degree of two-photon excitation. In order to do this, I had to use an avalanche photodiode (APD), a piece of equipment more sensitive for detecting photon counts than the photomultiplier tube (PMT) that I had previously been using. Mochizuki-san (who was actually the research mentor for Mayssa, one of last year’s Nakatani fellows) helped me set up and operate the APD to be able to get this data. This is important because my goal is to use two-photon excitation to improve the resolution of images of cells. This week, I also prepared and gave a presentation on my work thus far for Fujita-sensei and several other people who are working on super-resolution imaging. From this meeting, I learned that the fluorescence curve I had obtained wasn’t as close to a quadratic relationship as I thought it had been and resolved to obtain fluorescence curves for several different excitation wavelengths to see if I could get a more quadratic relationship (and therefore more two-photon excitation). I also learned how to figure out excitation powers for the actual subtractive SAX imaging – one way involves varying excitation power over one image and using constant, low excitation power to image the same cells, then comparing the two. Another way is just trial and error – getting multiple images at different excitation powers, then doing the subtraction and looking at which powers provide an increase in resolution. I was glad to hear that the PMT has been used for subtractive SAX fluorescence imaging before, since not having to use the APD to obtain the actual images will make the process go a little faster.
There will also be a few days of laser maintenance next week. However, I will start maintaining a HeLa cell line in order to be able to start doing cell imaging next week. I will also be learning about transfection and hopefully will be able to get fluorescence curves at different excitation wavelengths as well as start cell imaging, but if there isn’t time, I will prioritize cell imaging. I will also have more time next week to continue my study of optics and hopefully start putting together the basics for my final poster and research abstract.
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
The Mid-program Meeting was a truly incredible experience, one that I’ll remember for a long time. We all met up together on Saturday evening, and I was incredibly happy to see everyone again. It’s odd to know how much the other Nakatani fellows feel like family, and I’m trying not to think about the fact that in a few short weeks we’ll be back at our home universities and away from each other. But it was exciting to see the Japanese Nakatani fellows again as well, and we decided to go out to a bakery to celebrate Ryota-san’s birthday. Afterwards, I got to go to karaoke with Junpei, Tomoya, Miki, Jakob, Will, Trevor, and Savannah – I was excited to hear what songs the Japanese fellows would choose. We all had a good time, and I definitely enjoyed seeing the Japanese Nakatani fellows let loose. I think they may have been reciprocally amused by us screaming our heads off to Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
The next day began with a group meeting of the US fellows to discuss our experiences in the lab and our experiences living alone thus far. I was really thankful for this – we’ve already been discussing our experiences among ourselves over LINE and Skype, but I enjoyed having a facilitated talk where we could speak openly about successes and failures and hear about all of the communication difficulties that we have in common. After lunch, we got to wear yukata. I’ve been excited for that experience since I found out about it, and wasn’t disappointed. Although I wore kimono to summer festivals in Hawai’i when I was little, it’s been a very long time, and it was definitely a lot of fun to see other people wearing yukata for the first time. Experiencing tea ceremony and trying ikebana were also very special experiences, and not for the first time, I felt very cognizant of how lucky we all are to be able to try these things – how many visitors to Japan get to be dressed so expertly in yukata for tea ceremony? I’m very excited to see how the professionally done pictures turn out! Afterwards, I wandered around Nishiki Market with Etsuko, Aaron, Alex, and Miki while still in yukata, and we had a delicious okonomiyaki / yakisoba dinner that I was very careful to not spill on my yukata.
Mid Program Research Introduction Presentation
On Monday, we began the day with presentations on our research projects. I worked hard during the week to put together a good presentation, and I was extremely nervous to show it off in public. I presented on “Visible light two-photon excitation for subtractive SAX microscopy” (PDF). Public speaking is something that has always made me nervous, and I knew that I had a high standard to live up to. I thought my presentation went okay, but I can honestly say that I found the other Nakatani fellows’ presentations to be inspiring. The depth to which everyone has built an understanding of their research topic is impressive, especially shown in their ability to smoothly handle questions about their topics. I thought a lot of their research was really interesting, and I hope to both learn more about the types of research other people are doing and to gain a greater depth of understanding around my own research topic in the future.
We also toured a number of iCeMS (Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences) labs on Monday. I had a really good time seeing these labs, especially since many of the lab visits and presentations we’ve had so far have been focused around physics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering – the iCeMS labs tended to have a chemistry or biology focus, and were more familiar to me while still being in areas of research that I don’t have any experience in. These researchers were very clearly passionate about what they do, and I really enjoyed seeing their work. Most impactful to me was the Sivaniah lab. This lab was one of my top choices for the summer, and it was exciting to see the lab and equipment that I had read about online in the person.
Monday evening, after stopping for Indian food (more ookii naan! Huge bread!), I walked with Jakob and Will along the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a place with quiet beauty – not particularly showy, but just a nice path to walk with friends. Afterwards, we went bowling at Round 1 near the hotel. I am solidly convinced that Japanese bowling alleys reset pins much faster than American bowling alleys, and hope that American bowling technology catches up sometime in the near future. Bowling honestly went about as you’d expect with a big group of Nakatani fellows – there were low scores, lots of cheering and screaming and jumping up and down, and some very amused onlookers. It’s nights like this that make me realize how much I care about my Nakatani family. To be honest, I spent most of the weekend feeling like Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec, wondering when and if this group of people is ever going to be together in the same room after the program ends. I know it’s unlikely that we’ll all be together again someday, but the amount that I think about this is a testament to the friendships formed over the summer thus far, and I’m glad that video chatting will at least make it easy to stay in touch.
Tuesday was a solid day of sightseeing, beginning at Kamigamo Shrine. We were incredibly blessed to have a private tour and to be able to see the construction area for the renovation of some of the structures. I was interested to hear about the history of the shrine and how often it has to be renovated, and how many times it’s been reconstructed. When I see these structures, I think of them being ancient and historic, and while they retain history and tradition, it’s interesting to think that the buildings aren’t actually as old as I tend to assume they are, and that despite having to reconstruct and renovate buildings time and time again, the meaning of each structure remains intact. We also received special coffee from the shrine – I look forward to trying it someday when I really need a boost of energy. From there, we visited Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, and Kitano Tenmangu, a shrine specifically associated with education and good luck for exams. I purchased omomori (a charm) for artistic skill, which will hopefully come in handy for my design classes. We also visited the Gallery of Kyoto Traditional Arts and Crafts and the Kyoto International Manga Museum. I loved the gallery; it was full of beautiful lacquerware, pottery, metalwork, and other Japanese crafts. It’s hard to believe that many of the pieces were created by students. Although I often marvel at the work of art students at my home university too, much of that work is in more modern media, such as print design, cut paper, etc. It’s hard to imagine being trained in arts that I perhaps view as more ancient, such as pottery or lacquerware. It may also be that due to the Japanese school system, people interested in arts start getting trained on these types of crafts at an earlier point in time. It also may be true that as a young and heavily mixed-culture country, the United States has no such indigenous traditional arts that students might end up interested in pursuing. I also love that the gallery features an area where you can watch artists at work; asking questions about the creative process was an experience that greatly heightened my appreciation for the resulting pieces. In the evening, dinner was provided at a shabu shabu restaurant, which was absolutely delicious. Although we didn’t do anything else in the spirit of the Fourth of July, we definitely did one very American activity – stuffing our faces. The night before, I spent several hours making red and white layered Jello for the group using the hotel electric kettle, some bento boxes we bought from the local supermarket, and the hotel minifridge, and so I was able to share one of my favorite summer foods with my friends as well. We finished the night by taking another long walk.
On the final day of the Mid-Program meeting, we visited the headquarters of Sysmex in Kobe. It was interesting to see their wide variety of medical instruments, and especially interesting to see some of the techniques I’ve used in biotechnology classes applied so quickly and efficiently by a machine. Unfortunately, when the tour was over, we all had to go our separate ways once again. Rose and I ate our feelings in Kobe by visiting a steakhouse. We spent probably more money than I should say, but were able to try A5 steak for the first time. A5 steak is the best possible grade, and we had both tenderloin and sirloin cuts. Let’s just say it was magical. Unlike American steakhouses, the steak was prepared on a grill in front of us, along with a number of vegetables. The chef gave us recommendations for what to put on the steak, and I was incredibly pleased by how well the salt, pepper, garlic, and mustard complemented the flavor of the steak. Easily one of the most memorable meals I have ever had.
The Mid-Program meeting as a whole was a nice break from full time research. I think it was a really good chance to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve experienced thus far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again at the end of the summer when we’ve completed our research experiences. Seeing the presentations from the other Nakatani fellows was probably the most impactful experience I had during the meeting. This is truly an incredible group of people and students, and they definitely motivate me to be better through their own work ethics and deep love of understanding and knowledge. The biggest challenge of the trip was probably just sleep deprivation, since I was trying to balance sleep with having time to spend with friends, or walking around in geta – wood in the rain doesn’t make for a very comfortable shoe!
Research Project Update
This week in the lab, I wasn’t able to get a lot done due to some maintenance being done on the laser that I’m using – the laser was being worked on from Monday through Wednesday. However, I was able to learn how to culture and transfect HeLa cells from Kubo-san, so I can now prepare my own cell samples to use for subtractive SAX microscopy using visible light two-photon excitation! Because the laser I’ve been using had to undergo maintenance, I spent Thursday and part of Friday realigning the laser path. This is something that has been very difficult for me – when Oketani-san and I first set up the laser, I largely just watched and took notes, without much comprehension of the hows and whys of what was happening. I knew some of what I had to do, but without comprehension of what it was doing. At this point, I know which mirrors in my setup I can move to affect the light path through a specific part of the setup, and I know in what order to adjust components in so that everything is simultaneously aligned. While I still frequently have to ask Oketani-san for help, since I’ll often notice something I haven’t seen before and don’t know what to do with, I feel like I’ve gained a lot of independence in being able to do my work. I was able to spend a little time working on getting actual images of cells containing mseCFP in their nuclei on Friday night, and had difficulty getting a clear image because the cells were very dim unless I turned the excitation power up, in which case photodamage very quickly occurred. It might help to look at the low excitation power images with higher contrast. It also may help to use the more sensitive avalanche photodiode (APD) instead of the photomultiplier tube (PMT) to detect the fluorescence from the cells if I can figure out settings on the APD that would work for imaging. Hopefully, the APD would allow me to get a higher signal to noise ratio at lower excitation powers. Next week, I’ll only be working on Thursday and Friday after the Mid-program Meeting, so I may not be able to get a lot done, but there’s a chance I’ll be able to image cells again. I’ll be working to optimize excitation powers and also learning how to do the normalization and subtraction for subtractive SAX.
Research Host Lab Visit
Kono-sensei, Sarah, and Ogawa-san also visited this week, immediately prior to the Mid-program Meeting. I was very happy to see them – they’ve been so incredibly supportive and kind through the entire summer. Their visit really hit home how lucky I am to have been placed in Kawata-sensei’s lab. For one, the lab has plenty of funding due to Kawata-sensei’s great success in his career. Someone in my lab recently mentioned that most labs don’t have as nice of a biology facility as we do if they have one at all. It makes me wonder how other labs get samples to image; it must be a bother to have to ask other groups to prepare them. Also, the Kawata lab is very open to international students. On Tuesday, one of our lab’s collaborators invited me to visit their lab (I had a wonderful tour – he was very kind to invite me), and he actually mentioned that there’s almost always new people or international collaborators in the lab. I also feel better about my project since the visit. I’ve been concerned about my slowness with getting work done, especially with laser alignment, but I am feeling more positively about my progress with learning how to use all of the equipment, and hopefully will be able to do a lot more over the next few weeks. I’ll go into the second half of the summer with a newfound appreciation of my lab and with a strong drive to fully understand my research subject and to do good work.
Question of the Week
I’m curious about the traditional crafts at the gallery we saw during Mid-Program. How much, if any, training is available in crafting with traditional methods and materials in high schools? Are many students in university for art from art-specific high schools, just as there are “Super Science High Schools”? Does one have to choose a specific track within art (e.g. pottery, lacquerware, etc.) early on in university? Are these students respected by society?
Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
We’re already halfway through the summer and about halfway through our lab work – it’s hard to believe. I think I’m starting to get used to my lab and how it functions, especially with collaboration between group members. One thing that’s been surprising to me is that I don’t spend a lot of time with my research mentors. I have been expected to function relatively independently in the lab since the end of the first week, and while I’m still not able to be completely independent (questions always pop up about the correct order in which to align laser parts, or the laser will start functioning oddly, or a particular mirror will have to be moved a lot), it feels like independence has been the expectation. If this had been my first research experience, I would have been incredibly intimidated. As it is, I still find the freedom and limited guidance to be rather scary. I actually assumed that this was normal for the lab, but Mochizuki-san, who mentored Mayssa during the 2016 Nakatani program, has made several jokes about Oketani-san leaving me on my own. In some ways, I’m grateful for the independence, since it seems to communicate some level of confidence in my abilities and my competence in the lab, but I’m also concerned that it has resulted in me not being as productive as I might be otherwise – I often find myself without knowing what I can do to be productive. I am resolved to take the initiative for finding the things I can do to be as productive as possible.
I think Japan gives a greater emphasis on presentations and formal reports of work done than in America, specifically in English. I and most of my fellow Nakatani students give regular reports or presentations to our labs, or at least to our professors/mentors. In my lab back home, everyone has a short weekly meeting with the PI, but I think less of an emphasis is given on presentations. Of course, we do practice presentations on each other and get helpful feedback, but usually when there’s a relevant presentation coming up. Students here are held accountable through formal, biweekly presentations, enforcing some level of productivity and, perhaps more importantly, a level of critical thought. If someone doesn’t utilize the advice received from professors in a previous meeting, they WILL be called out on it, and I personally am a little scared of that. While presentations in my lab back home are often met with questions, criticism, and suggestions, it’s always friendly and given on a relatively equal playing field – a suggestion from a grad student is taken seriously, just as a suggestion from the PI, and my PI is not harsh with students. I think I prefer the American system in that people are more free to work together and give feedback and suggestions, regardless of rank, and I think that’s helpful because good ideas can come from anyone. The B4s in my lab group also practice presenting papers, giving both a summary of a paper and comments or criticism they have on it. I think part of the emphasis here in Japan on presenting is largely due to the need to practice English. Many members of my lab, while able to communicate well about science, stumble significantly more in casual conversation with me, suggesting discomfort with the language. Since English is the lingua franca of science today, it’s critical to be able to converse in it to attend international conferences, etc. I’ve been feeling more and more fortunate to be a native speaker. Although I’m not a very skilled public speaker and actually get very nervous when I am asked to speak in public, I am still able to speak decently well in my lab because I am speaking in my native language, not trying to juggle speaking about science and speaking a foreign tongue. In fact, one of my labmates is going to be traveling to the United States in August to participate in a program geared towards improving English skills for science. I think I would like to have a greater focus on public speaking in my own science education back home, since the ability to give presentations that are clear and concise is extremely valued.
Actually, the style of presentations given here seems to be very different also. In America, we are frequently told that the slides for our presentations should be an outline, and that our talk should be the meat of the material; in other words, the slides themselves do not have to stand on their own. Here, possibly because giving and understanding spoken English talks is a more difficult task, an emphasis is given on making slides understandable. My mentor has told me, “One slide, one idea” several times, and has asked me to make my slides such that they could stand on their own. Other Nakatani students have told me similar stories from their labs, further emphasizing the contrast between presentation styles. I think it’s an important consideration and a good skill to be able to work in both styles. If I happen to be giving a talk to an international audience, I recognize now that it may well be helpful to include more detailed and self-explanatory slides.
Research Project Update
This was a short week in the lab – just two days after the Mid-program meeting. One of my lab members had a presentation to give this weekend and needed to gather data, so I was unable to access my setup either day. As such, I studied optics, heard about other people’s progress, learned about how to manipulate images in MATLAB, and looked at some big picture things for the next few weeks. Hopefully I will be able to figure out specifications for getting good laser scanning images using visible light two-photon excitation and subtractive SAX, and from there will be able to move into simultaneously looking at several fluorescent proteins or something further.
Other Sight-seeing and Experiences in Japan
Tanabata, Japan’s Star Festival, is a day once a year when Vega and Altair, two stars representing the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, meet in the sky. The story is actually quite a sad one – they are lovers who neglected their heavenly duties, and have therefore been punished to be separated throughout the year. Different areas of Japan celebrate Tanabata at different times and in different ways – the most famous is in Sendai. Osaka’s happened to this week, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at Shitennoji Temple. I actually hadn’t realized that the Tanabata celebrations were starting on Thursday until Sarah posted something about it on the Nakatani Facebook page. When I realized it at about 7:00 PM, I packed up and left the lab (thankfully I didn’t have any experimental work left for the day) and hopped on a train towards the temple. Although I got there too late to participate in all the festivities, I’m very glad I went. The colorful Tanabata decorations were beautiful, as were the lights displayed by the temple to represent the stars of the Milky Way. And as is Tanabata tradition, I wrote a wish on a strip of paper to hang, in hopes that it would be heard by the stars. My wish was something I honestly desire, and hope to help make real through my own actions and feelings. After hanging my wish, I spent time walking around enjoying the festival atmosphere – the food stalls, the ring tossing games played by young children, the girls (and some boys) dressed up in yukata, the beautiful temple at nighttime – until the festival closed down for the evening. While walking around, I encountered an older man playing the accordion, and I stopped to listen. When he finished his song, I applauded to express my appreciation for his music, and he seemed pleased and asked me where I was from. When I told him I was from America, he launched into a pleasant rendition of John Denver’s “Country Road.” Recognizing the tune, I sang along as best I could, and while I’m no singer, he seemed to appreciate my efforts. I thanked him and continued walking, glad that I was able to connect with someone through music. Music has always been an important part of how I experience and move through the world, and many of my favorite moments of connection with other people have been through music.
This week, I also visited Hiroshima and Miyajima Island with my parents, who are visiting Japan and me. We left Friday evening after I was finished at the lab for the day, and headed out to sightsee early the next morning. We spent Saturday at Miyajima Island, known for Itsukushima Shrine, which appears to float on the water during high tide, an otorii gate that similarly stands in the water, and for the views on top of the island, reachable by cable car. There are also many deer on the island, and while I’ve been told that they are much friendlier and passive than the deer in Nara, I don’t believe it. They are just as unafraid of humans – one walked up to me and licked my hand, and another bit a brochure out of my dad’s pocket – and if they had any sort of inkling that we had food for them, I’d be willing to bet that they would pursue us just as relentlessly as Nara’s deer. We started the day by taking the cable car up near the top of Mt. Misen, known for its beautiful forests and gorgeous views of the bay. Although it was very cloudy, we were able to get a decent view of the Seto Inland Sea, and the cable car trip also offered some beautiful sights. We also hiked a little bit around the top of Mt. Misen, stopping by the Reikado Hall, where a flame has been kept burning for over 1000 years. It’s hard to believe that this flame has actually been around for that long. We also walked through the famous Itsukushima Shrine and, at low tide, walked around the base of the otorii. I found a moment of peace there, out past the otorii, with water all around. Miyajima is truly a special place.
On Saturday evening, I met up with Rose, who was also in Hiroshima, and we went to Okonomi-mura, a building full of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki restaurants that Sarah had mentioned to us. Now when I say full of okonomiyaki restaurants, I literally mean: FULL of okonomiyaki restaurants. Within one building, there are more than twenty restaurants dedicated to serving okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is my favorite Japanese meal, so this was basically heaven. And this was my first time trying Hiroshima-style, and while I still prefer Osaka-style (these are the two main types of okonomiyaki), I waddled back to the hotel in quite a cheerful mood.
On Sunday, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I’m still trying to put into words the feeling conveyed by this place. To be honest, this was the first time I have felt truly ashamed to be an American. Even over the last few weeks, when I have been continuously making social gaffes and standing out because of how I dress and talk and stand, I have never felt ashamed to be American, only different. Seeing the results of that destruction and the effects it had on the people of Hiroshima and Japan, especially with the greater understanding and empathy I have developed with other nations over this time in Japan, was truly horrifying, and made much worse by the fact that my country was the perpetrator. I was astounded by the spirit of peace that pervaded the whole area – instead of inspiring fury and anger and bitterness, Hiroshima and everyone I witnessed seemed to be consumed with a desire for peace and an end to war. Forgiveness is so difficult, and witnessing the calls for peace increased my sense of guilt, that repeated cry of “How could we?” I feel a compulsion to do something in the spirit of peace and Hiroshima when I return to America, although I don’t know yet what I can do to carry on that ideal. A few moments in particular stuck out to me from the museum – the careful planning of where to strike by the Americans; seeing the belongings of the young children killed in the blast, recovered by their parents; hearing a talk given by the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor, who entreated us to keep her mother’s story alive and to keep working until atomic weapons were gone from the earth altogether; reading about the Lucky Dragon, the Japanese fishing boat hit by the effects of the American A-bomb test at Bikini Atoll. I realized quickly that I had actually played a piece of music inspired by these events (Eternal Memoir: Saga of the Lucky Dragon by Hirokazu Fukushima) but hadn’t even known or remembered the tragic story behind it. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and the ending, which depicts the Lucky Dragon’s ascent to the heavens, is a fitting representation of the way Hiroshima has revived and become a symbol of peace in the world. If I take nothing else away from Japan this summer, I hope I can carry with me the great spirit, fortitude, and love displayed by the people of this city.
Question of the Week
Even separated by the events of World War II by several generations, I felt disgusted with America for its actions in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I viewed small samples of the destruction and heard stories from survivors at Hiroshima Peace Park. How were the citizens of Hiroshima able to so quickly forgive America and focus on peace, and how did Japanese Americans deal with internal conflict regarding the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
- This would be an ideal paper topic for any history or Asian-American studies class you may take in the future. I would encourage you to research this more. Also, look into some of the devastation caused by the fire-bombing campaigns as well. These were done to both Europe and Japan and really did devastate the local populations and cities. If you haven’t already watched it, I’d also strongly encourage you to watch ‘Grave of the Fireflies’.
- You may also want to review some of the articles posted under the WWII section of the History in Japan section on our ‘Life in Japan’ page.
Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
I’ve definitely spent a lot of time contemplating the Japanese language and the language barriers that exist between civilizations, or even just between people with different communication styles. As someone with essentially zero experience speaking or communicating in Japanese, and limited experience communicating in a foreign language at all, it’s been very interesting seeing how language use reflects upon culture. One language pattern that we’ve all noticed is that Japanese speakers, when conversing in English, tend to append the word “maybe” to the beginning of statements, seemingly to avoid stating anything too strongly. For example, “Maybe that would be okay” translates to “Yes, that would be fine” in most cases, and “Maybe that’s not a good idea” translates to “You shouldn’t do that.” This seems to be related to the indirectness of the Japanese language. We spent time during language classes in Tokyo discussing invitations and how to respond to them, and I was surprised to find that when someone is asked out, saying “Tuesday is a little…” basically translates to a rejection, and you must make it completely clear if the time/day is actually the problem and you actually do want to go. In English, “Tuesday is a little…” is a very unclear statement – it could mean anything from “I don’t want to, but I don’t want to say that directly” to “The day isn’t ideal, but I can make it work” to “Maybe we could do another day.” So, in some ways, English may even be more unclear, since Japanese indirectness seems to be easily translated by the listener.
One of the most striking things about learning the Japanese language for me personally has been realizing how strongly some of my speech patterns are in line with Japanese. For example, I’ve been seeing how I prefer to speak indirectly in many situations, using phrases like “Don’t take my word for it, but I think it’s like this” or “I might want to if that’s okay.” I wonder how much of my personal alignment with Japanese language and speech patterns is cultural and how much is just coincidental. My family has been in the United States for several generations now (my dad is the third generation of his family in America, and my mom is the fourth generation of hers), but since they live in Hawai’i, where there is a large Japanese population and a heavy Japanese cultural influence, some Japanese influence may have stuck with my family. Another example is the Japanese phrase “sou sou sou sou” which is approximately “Yeah, I see, that’s right, I get you,” and which I usually express in English as “yeayeayeayeayea,” which has been pointed out to me several times as being quite odd – this is a personal expression, not one I got from my family, but I’m pleased anyway that there’s a phrase I can use in Japanese to approximate my English speech patterns.
Thankfully, there aren’t any particularly difficult moments I can think of with speaking the Japanese language – I’ve been fortunate in traveling in areas with lots of English speakers. However, I’ve had lots of interesting moments in conversation with my lab. Since basically all of my labmates speak English primarily for scientific purposes, trying to converse with me in English isn’t easy. I speak quickly, even for native English speakers, so I’ve been working hard to slow down my speech or to express things in Japanese when I can. It’s also been interesting to note that my English has picked up some of the idiosyncrasies of English spoken by native Japanese speakers when I speak to my lab members. It’s interesting to see what phrases end up getting used for communication – when a labmate was trying to describe a pastry filling as “smooth,” what ended up coming out was “particles ja nai” – “there aren’t any particles.” Frequently, they’ll discuss briefly about how to tell me something in English, which I find to be amusing and a little bit embarrassing, since I feel bad that they have to work so hard to keep me in the loop of a conversation. To be honest, my biggest challenge has been just getting involved in conversations. To that end, I’ve learned that just saying “____ wa nan desu ka?” or “Eee, nani?” (essentially, “what?”) can be pretty effective for inserting myself into a conversation – just expressing curiosity in the goings-on at my lab is usually enough to get some conversation going. Another frequent conversation starter is when there is difficulty in expressing something; discussions will often start about how different things are expressed in Japanese vs. English, or about English idiomatic expressions, or I’ll get a lesson in Japanese dialects. A few days ago, I ended up trying to describe a “meme” to Nakayama-san, one of the B4s in the lab and discussing catchphrases in Japanese and English. Another time, students in my lab noticed the Oddish (a Pokemon) sticker on my laptop and commented upon it using its Japanese name, Nazonokusa, prompting a conversation about the different Japanese and English Pokemon names.
As for continuing to study Japanese, I’ve mostly been working on learning kanji. I felt some frustration about reading Japanese during orientation in Tokyo (although I was working on reading kana quickly at that time), and have been enjoying the way that learning kanji helps me understand the world around me. Even if I just know one kanji on a sign for a train station, knowing 中 (a character meaning inside, or middle, and often pronounced “chuu”) allows me to identify a sign for Senri-Chuuou station. I use WaniKani, a spaced repetition/mnemonic system for learning kanji, and have found it to be quite effective. It feels like I’m learning to understand a secret code in some ways, which makes it more fun. When I have time, I’ve also been working on expanding and solidifying my knowledge of Japanese grammar using the Human Japanese apps. I’d fully recommend these apps for future Nakatani students, by the way – they explain grammar in a very clear way that I found very helpful for getting the most out of the Tokyo orientation. It may be difficult to continue my study of Japanese in the fall, since Japanese classes at my university are all five credits. However, I would like to continue studying kanji and grammar, especially since learning Japanese has been an effective way of considering the English language in a different light, and maintaining/increasing my ability to speak Japanese will definitely be helpful for any international collaboration I may have in the future. While English is the main language science is conducted in, I have seen that Japanese people tend to appreciate my efforts to speak and understand their language, which helps to break down barriers to collaboration.
My parents were still in Japan during the first part of the week, and I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with them! On Monday, we went to an Orix Buffaloes baseball game. I’ve been told that Japanese baseball games are a sight to see, and at first, it just seemed like a regular baseball game, strange anthropomorphic sausage characters and all. But then I noticed the cheering sections – there were dedicated cheering sections for each team, doing constant cheers featuring whistles, perfectly synchronized noisemakers, and even brass instruments. Nothing this organized exists in America; to my knowledge, the best we can do is the wave. I was especially surprised that this happened for both teams, not just the home team, and noted that there were some posters for the away team around the stadium as well. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to travel around Japan than America, or perhaps fans of Japanese teams are either more enthusiastic or more geographically spread out. Either way, the enthusiasm was infectious. At some point, both teams’ supporters inflated long balloons of their team’s colors with the team logos on them, waving them around in support of their respective teams. At some point (I think the end of the inning), they released their balloons simultaneously – the balloons were specifically made to make noise as they flew up and around, which created quite a spectacle. Furthermore, Japanese ballpark food is significantly better than American ballpark food (in my personal opinion), featuring kushikatsu, takoyaki, and other dishes like yakiniku.
My parents also got lunch with Fujita-sensei, Oketani-san, Kubo-san, and I on Tuesday. It was interesting to see how my parents interacted with my mentors, and I was glad to be able to spend a little bit more time with them before they left. Fujita-sensei made reservations at a restaurant on the top floor of one of the buildings on campus, and we were able to get a nice view of the whole campus! It made me think that I should try to explore campus a little bit more before I leave. I’m very happy that my parents were able to come visit Japan while I’m here, and I’m glad they had a good trip!
On Saturday, I went for a hike at Minoo Park, one of the most famous spots in the city I’m staying in (while I’m in the Osaka metropolitan area, Minoo is the actual city)! I missed the bus and ended up walking to the park, which allowed me to see a lot of the local streets and shops. Walking around Japan is something that I’ve grown to love and something that I hope to do more of before I leave. It’s nice that I’m able to walk around at all hours of the day, alone, and not worry too much about my safety, which is something that I can’t do in America. I actually find it quite disappointing that in the fall, when I want to get out of the house, I won’t be able to walk around St. Louis freely. The park itself is gorgeous – full of lush greenery, animals, and flowing water. I actually saw an owl and a crane in the park, and enjoyed walking along the river up to the waterfall that is the park’s primary attraction. The waterfall was a very nice place to listen to music and enjoy the sounds of nature. At the waterfall, I ran into a couple with a cute Chihuahua, and since this is my reaction to basically every dog I come across, I asked to pet the pup. The couple was very kind, and I ended up sitting and talking to them for a while. They spoke very little English, so this was actually my first full conversation primarily in Japanese with people who don’t speak English – while I do try to converse with people in my lab in Japanese when possible, my Japanese isn’t advanced enough to understand the conversations that they have amongst themselves, and so I typically speak Japanese to them (when I can) while they speak English to me. I found myself very pleased that with a little bit of Google Translate, I was able to talk to them about their dog, why I am in Japan, and their kids. They even bought me ice cream and offered to get lunch with me. It made me very happy to have met such nice people.
Sunday was one of the nights of Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, one of Japan’s biggest festivals. We wanted to attend wearing the yukata we received from the Nakatani Foundation, but there was one problem – putting them on. Emily, Kaylene, and I met up at Emily’s apartment near the festivities to put them on together. We watched some videos on putting on yukata, were completely mystified as to how the woman in the video managed to tie an obi by herself, and eventually got ourselves looking decent. We met up with Will, Aaron, and Alex at the festival and walked around for hours. The festival seemed to go on forever – the streets were closed specifically for the festival, and were filled with endless booths. Mostly food and drink (tamasen, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, yakisoba, seafood, yakitori, snow, cotton candy), but also some children’s games. I bought a yo-yo balloon – a small balloon filled with mostly air and a little bit of water attached to a rubber band, which can be bounced sort of like a yo-yo. While this probably doesn’t sound very interesting, it’s something I often played with when I was little. These toys are common at Hawai’i’s summer obon festivals, and I have many happy memories of playing with them. It was wonderful to explore the festival with friends; the streets were full of people in their full festival regalia and the streets were filled with the giant parade floats that are carried through the city the morning of the 17th.
I returned to Kyoto on the 17th to see this parade. An incredible number of people must have to coordinate to make this work – there were many people inside the big “hoko” floats playing bamboo flutes and percussion instruments being pulled by even more people. While the smaller “yama” floats could be lifted and turned to be maneuvered around corners, the big “hoko” floats had to be very carefully turned using rollers. The teamwork required was extremely impressive – people with fans standing on the front of the float directed the timing of the many people pulling, a few people worked to redirect the giant wheels to keep the float moving straight, people played music inside the float, other people followed at an appropriate pace, and a few people sat on the roof of each float, possibly to keep the tall spires of the floats upright. Furthermore, the road closures and police officers everywhere must have also required an insane level of organization – Kaylene and I wondered how the organizers know at what time to shut off which part of each street. We really enjoyed seeing the many beautiful floats pass by. I also visited Kiyomizudera, which I’ve been hoping to see for a while. Walking around Kyoto is always fun – I think it’s the most beautiful of the big cities in Japan that I’ve seen, especially with the rivers running throughout. And Kiyomizudera is extremely beautiful itself, so I had a nice day just wandering around the city.
Research Project Update
This week in the lab, I continued working on cell imaging, which has proven quite difficult! I tried imaging HeLa cells transfected with mseCFP (my fluorescent protein) in the nucleosome twice this week, and couldn’t get clear images either time. The first time I tried imaging this week, I was using an incorrect filter, but I was unable to get good images the second time either. There are many issues that I’m currently working through – ensuring that I know where in the view from the eyepiece corresponds to the laser scanning view, getting the correct excitation power at the focus, and getting the focus, correction collar, and pinhole placement correct for the cells. My main problem is that the cell signal is so faint that I have been having trouble adjusting everything else. I think I should be spending a little bit more time working through some of the theory of how the scanning microscopy works and looking at the parameters of previous experiments with imaging – building up my basic knowledge even further should be quite helpful. I may also ask Oketani-san, Mochizuki-san, or someone else in the lab with lots of experience with cell imaging for help. I am starting to feel nervous about the amount of time that I have left to work on this project, and am hoping that I am able to get good images in the next few days so that I have a result to report. On the other hand, I now feel comfortable with doing the laser alignment by myself and am quite pleased with how much better I know my setup. I remain optimistic for the coming weeks!
Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
This week I interviewed Kawata-sensei, who officially retired in April but is still very active with the lab and with his business! I was lucky to get the chance to talk to him – he had come back from China a day or two earlier, and was planning on leaving for Korea the next day. We discussed a variety of topics, and I had the chance to talk to Kawata-sensei for about an hour, so I won’t transcribe the whole conversation here. I’ll summarize some of the highlights:
The first thing we discussed was what’s unique about Kawata-sensei’s lab. Kawata-sensei’s lab works closely with several other professors’ groups, which he was noted is not a typical Japanese system. The labs share equipment, research spaces, and even funding. Students exchange among the labs and work together. I actually remember my first day at the lab – there was a paper review session that I arrived during, and when I first introduced myself to the lab, I was actually introducing myself to members of all three of the labs.
The labs work like this because all three professors prefer the system of sharing and working together. The students enjoy having the chance to meet many other students and are able to learn a lot from each other. Furthermore, Kawata-sensei’s lab is known for being highly international. A few weeks ago, our lab’s collaborator Nicholas Smith very kindly gave me a tour of his lab, and at that time mentioned to me that there are always foreign visitors and interns such as myself around the Kawata-Fujita lab. This is essentially an extension of the lab’s spirit of sharing with other groups – Kawata-sensei likes having diversity inside the lab, whether that be with other labs in the university, with labs from other universities, or with foreign students. He noted that different backgrounds and ways of thinking can be helpful to have around, and that it’s especially nice for the Japanese students to meet foreign students and get some practice with foreign languages.
I was particularly interested to hear about how and why Kawata-sensei has worked to make his lab welcoming to international students. He spent several years as a research associate at University of California Irvine, and says he was very influenced by that culture – he worked in a lab that was run by a Russian-American Jew and supervised Turkish and Yugoslavian students. At that point in time, Japanese labs usually consisted of 100% Japanese students, so this was a very new experience for him. Also around that time (the 80s), airfare was very expensive, so traveling to conferences or to visit other labs wasn’t something that Kawata-sensei could do often, and it was easier to host people in his lab than to go out himself. I was surprised to hear that at that time, English was not yet as widespread in science as it is now, so students who came to Osaka University actually had to learn Japanese to work. Consequently, PhD students had to do a half-year intensive language course before they could start research. Kawata-sensei changed the main language of his lab to English in order to communicate about science better with a larger number of people, and even promoted non-Japanese within his lab to encourage the presence of more international students.
On a related note, I was also curious about what Kawata-sensei saw in students from different countries. One of the first things he said was that Japanese students tend to be shy, while American students tend to be more open. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, but the next thing he mentioned made me laugh. If asked to complete a difficult task, like writing a ten-page report on one’s research progress for the next morning, German students will always initially say “no,” but will make an attempt at completing the assignment or ask to modify the parameters of the assignment. On the other hand, Japanese students always say “yes” as their first answer, but will follow it up with “I will try” or another modifier, with the results essentially being the same between Japanese and German students from very different initial answers. (American students are less homogeneous in their responses.) This definitely made me feel appreciative of American society, where we may be less constrained by cultural and social norms – I feel like either response would be completely normal and acceptable in America, if qualified with reasons.
One of our other major topics of discussion was how research has changed over the years. Kawata-sensei spoke at length about how he felt that the Internet was making science less fun. When he started doing science, even sending packages by airmail was prohibitively expensive, so he’d receive scientific journals by surface mail, which could take months. As a result, science was much more of something that involved deep thinking about something you were interested in, with help perhaps from the people around you – he specifically noted that he wasn’t sure if the internet is good for science, since keeping up with trends isn’t good for developing new ideas and thoughts. Before the internet was commonly used, there was less pressure to publish and to keep up with scientists around the world. In the modern world, the number of scientific journals is rapidly increasing, and research results flow instantaneously across geographical boundaries, which Kawata-sensei believes is a cause of research worldwide becoming more about duties and results rather than fun. He said that when you do experiments, you won’t always get results, and that should be perfectly okay and accepted. Pressure to show results makes research less fun to him. In his PhD students, he looks for enjoyment of science and for thinking – he believes that its most important to think and find a good idea to study, and that publishing is just about sharing your results when you have something interesting. This is an attitude that I truly admire.
In America, there’s a lot of pressure put on students to get into a good university and to get a good job, and this often results in partaking of activities for building one’s resume or for improving one’s chances of getting into a school. While I’ve always felt driven to be successful and have to work to not get sucked into these kinds of things, I do believe strongly that people should work hard at what they’re passionate about, and that the strengths of different kinds of people should be respected. On a related note, I asked Kawata-sensei about his hobbies, thinking that perhaps since he’s been so active and successful in science, he may not have had time to pursue other things, and wondering how he balanced other parts of life with his incredible career. I was happy and surprised to hear that he enjoys a truly wide variety of activities, including art, seeing kabuki performances, and going to concerts. He apparently went to many classic rock shows back in the day, from Elton John to the Rolling Stones to Eric Clapton, which honestly reminds me a lot of my dad. It’s cool to see that he has such varied interests, and I really like that he doesn’t like to push publication and results as the main goal of science. The last thing I asked him was if he had any advice for me in the coming years, and he told me that doing science is something you should do because you enjoy it, and because you’ve found a topic you’re curious about. “Science isn’t business,” he said. I hope to follow Kawata-sensei’s path of doing what I personally enjoy, and perhaps I’ll find a small fraction of the success he’s had along the way.
We also briefly discussed his experiences in business. In 2003, Kawata-sensei started NanoPhoton, a company that makes laser microscopy equipment. What I didn’t realize is that before 2003, professors in Japan were strictly prohibited from having any relationships with private business, much less have a business themselves. But in 2003, this policy changed, reflecting that attitude that professors could potentially serve society better through business. Kawata-sensei was one of the first professors in Japan and the first professor at Osaka University to start a company – he wanted to do something new, and noted that the desire to start a business likely reflected upon his time in America, when the PI of his lab was running a small business through his garage. It seems like international experience has had a strong positive effect on Kawata-sensei’s career path, and I am sure that my international experiences this summer and future international experiences that I hope to have will influence my career trajectory as well. A big thank you to Kawata-sensei for making time in his busy schedule to talk to me! I really appreciated and enjoyed our talk.
Experiences in Japan
This weekend, I traveled all the way to Hakone, by Mt. Fuji! In order to get there, I had to buy Shinkansen tickets – I learned that you can buy Shinkansen tickets at the Osaka University campus store, which was highly convenient and saved me a long trip to Shin-Osaka station. Hakone is near Tokyo, so I had to travel quite a way to get there. Half the Nakatani fellows were able to get together for this trip, and it was really nice to see everyone. We spent the first afternoon just walking around – the Hakone Ropeway was closed due to volcanic activity, so we ended up walking around a park and getting soba for dinner. After dinner, we went down to the river and had some fun sitting on the rocks and playing with sparklers. It was a really pretty and peaceful spot. I found that I really enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of Hakone in general. I’ve spent the vast majority of my time here in cities, and while Hakone is still a town and still a major tourist destination full of people, the sidewalks weren’t crowded, the streets were quiet, and the buildings were small. Actually, Trevor and I both felt that Hakone had a similar atmosphere to Hawai’i, which was very calming and nostalgic for me. After the river, we walked to a hotel with an onsen to bathe outdoors in the warm spring water. The onsen was impressive; there were five or so different baths, all at different temperatures and some with different compositions (one bath was notably cloudy). I left feeling refreshed!
On Sunday, we did a lot of sightseeing! We got up early to catch one of the first boat rides across Lake Ashinoko, but didn’t realize that the ropeway was open for business! So, we started the day with taking the ropeway across Mt. Hakone, stopping at Owakudani. This is an active volcanic site, and you can see sulfur fields and smell the sulfur in the air. I thought it was exhilarating, with the strong winds and beautiful view. Plus, we got to try the famed onsen tamago – boiled eggs cooked in natural hot springs containing sulfur and iron, causing the shells to turn black. I sent a picture to our Japanese teacher Onishi-sensei, who told us this joke: If you eat one onsen tamago, you’ll live seven years longer. If you eat two, you’ll live fourteen years longer. If you eat three, you’ll live until you die.
We then went to Gora, the home of the Hakone Open Air Museum. This was honestly one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been to. Sculptures and art installations fill a big park, surrounded by greenery. A large number of Picasso works were featured in their own building. Some of the highlights for me were a statue of a man and Pegasus, precariously balanced, several mobiles and kinetic sculptures, and a tower composed of stained glass. I particularly enjoyed the kinetic sculptures by Susumu Shingu, and had a wonderful time just walking around and looking. The lighting on the cloudy day lit the museum just right, and though I have trouble putting anything related to art into words, it was a wonderful afternoon.
Our final stop of the day was Lake Ashinoko, to do the boat ride across the lake. It’s a gorgeous place, and even amid the clouds and fog and rain, the light fell on the lake in a way that I’ve never seen before. I’ve been to Japan with my family once before, at which time we crossed Lake Ashi by boat, and this was simultaneously the same and a completely different experience. It was equally gorgeous, but with the rain and wind, it was quiet and reflective on the top deck of the ship. It’s hard to describe how it felt, so here’s a picture that hopefully captures a small amount of how lovely this was.
Research Project Overview
In the lab this week, I continued trying to get SAX images. I looked through papers and tried to figure out what I might be doing wrong with my imaging and discussed some tactics to improve my image quality. Some of these included slower scanning speeds, imaging broken cells that might be flatter and therefore easier to focus on, or adjusting the sensitivity of the PMT/changing the pinhole size (or removing the pinhole altogether). On Wednesday, I presented at the biweekly group meeting, where Fujita-sensei and other students had further suggestions for me. Some options might be trying rhodamine or ATTO dyes instead of the fluorescent proteins I have been using, or perhaps even using plant slides that have a strong autofluorescence. I already have attempted to image a different type of cell than I have been using – fixed cells stained with EGFP (enhanced green fluorescent protein) at the Golgi bodies.
With these cells, I can use an oil-immersion objective lens as opposed to the water-immersion lens that I use for living cells. As a result, I am able to adjust the PMT’s pinhole and the correction collar of the objective lens using fluorescent beads, rather than attempting to do these using the cells themselves, which is very helpful! I took a number of images of these cells and am currently investigating whether performing subtraction on these images will produce an improvement in resolution. I am also trying to get a fluorescence curve for EGFP to confirm the second-order response we expect from two-photon excitation and to determine an approximate excitation power that might result in saturation so that I’ll have a better idea of how to optimize excitation powers for SAX imaging. We tried getting a fluorescence curve using the PMT that we usually use for imaging, but the PMT wasn’t sensitive enough to get a clean curve, so we will have to try again with the avalanche photodiode (a more sensitive piece of equipment) next week.
Several members of my lab have mentioned that doing the type of cell imaging I’m working on is quite difficult, and I’m not sure if this is completely true or if they were hoping to make me feel better about my current lack of progress, but I am hopeful that I’ll have better results next week, in time for the results to make it onto the poster. The week after next, our lab and some of our collaborators will be taking an overnight trip to Arima in Kobe, where attendees will be presenting on our progress. I didn’t realize before that most undergraduates are not attending this trip, so I’m a little bit nervous to be the clear outsider and youngest attendee of the trip. I will also be presenting my poster, which I’m quite nervous about as well. However, I am hopeful that some of the images I took this week might at least point me in the right direction for getting successful SAX images.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
Even as my time in the lab draws to a close, it’s difficult to think of a particular critical incident in the lab – there hasn’t been a particular source of conflict or any sort of difficulty that resulted in a communication problem. However, small problems tend to present themselves constantly, so I’ll discuss a few of them here. During a lab party, several members of the lab were gathered around a big computer monitor looking at photos. I had actually been about to leave when I passed by them, wondering what they were up to. One of the lab members saw me looking and made a gesture with his hand that I instinctively interpreted as “shoo, go away.” I was surprised to see this – after all, I had my backpack on and was clearly on my way out. But he was smiling as he gestured, and after a couple seconds of staring confusedly, I realized that what he actually meant was “come here”! I was glad that I got to enjoy looking at photos with the rest of my lab.
Another communication slip was sarcasm. I’m curious about what tone of voice or signal conveys sarcasm in the Japanese language. In response to a friend in the lab saying that he was tired from doing laser alignment and that alignment is difficult, I said that alignment is “chotto muzukashii,” or “a little difficult.” I meant “a little” sarcastically, which my friend didn’t realize, so he was surprised. I quickly explained what I meant, and he’s been quick to pick up on my sarcasm ever since.
On Tuesday, I went to Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri festival with Alex, Kaylene, Erica, and Aaron. The festival, as is typical in Japan, contained many food stands with everything from sausages to okonomiyaki. Of course, everything we tried was delicious! This festival is particularly known for its fireworks and for the procession of boats that go up and down the Okawa River – some carry portable shrines and the people responsible for transporting them and some carry mostly onlookers but also some drummers/musicians. We were surprised at how easy it was to get a good seat by the riverside and enjoyed sitting for a while, watching the boats go by. We thought that the fireworks were just starting late, but eventually someone noticed fireworks off in the distance – when we checked online, we realized that we were in a great place to watch the boats, but wouldn’t be able to see the fireworks at all from where we were sitting! We ended up walking to a site where we could see the fireworks, but since the fireworks show was about two hours long, we still got plenty of viewing time. Honestly, I really appreciate the festival atmosphere; Tenjin Matsuri was much more casual than Gion Matsuri, where it seemed like everyone had put a lot of work into looking their best, but there were still many people dressed up in yukata having a wonderful time. The festivals I’ve been to have just been very cheerful, and I’m glad I got to experience major festivals in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
We had a lab party on Friday – it was the monthly party that the Kawata-Fujita lab has to celebrate birthdays in the lab and the arrival of new lab members. Last month, the food purchased was pizza, sushi, and other foods that are easy to share. This month however, the lab made dumplings together. We made a few different types of dumplings, from more traditionally Japanese gyoza to dumplings with Chinese flavors. Several members of the lab were surprised to hear that I’ve made dumplings before, although my experience is limited to fried wontons (which I didn’t realize until writing this are an American Chinese dish). The wonton wrappers my family usually uses are square, unlike circular gyoza wrappers, so I had to learn how to fold gyoza in their classic pleated shape. I actually found this to be quite a lot of fun, and I think my labmates enjoyed watching me improve as I folded.
Saturday brought a trip to Nagoya! This week, Nagoya hosted the international RoboCup competition, where robots (humanoid and not, and in different size classes) are programmed to play soccer against each other in teams. There were also a large number of other types of robotic competitions, from robotic arms moving various items into boxes (for shipping applications) to a robotic trash can to a robot Segway that can follow its user around. My favorite thing was a large exoskeleton that could be worn by a human and copied the movements of the human inside it – it seemed just like a battle suit that you’d see in the movies. A number of food trucks were also in attendance at the event, and I wasn’t too surprised to see that steak is a common offering at Japanese food trucks, in addition to Mediterranean food and karaage. The steak was really good!
In the evening, we headed to the Higashiyama Sky Tower and got a beautiful view of the city. The observation deck has a really interesting spot for getting your fortune told/making a wish, where you write your wish on a sheet of paper that dissolves in a small pool of water. And the sight of Nagoya from the top of the tower was honestly incredible. You can see in all directions, and the sun was setting while we were at the top. Somehow, the sun was behind clouds or somehow setting such that it was easy to look straight at it, and it was a radiant circle of bright red. I’ve felt very fortunate in the number of beautiful places that I’ve been able to visit this summer.
Sunday was a chill, relaxed day – I had a lot of work to get done to prepare for leaving the lab, so I spent most of the day at home in the dorm, working on my computer. In the evening, I went for a walk in the area and got dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant in the area. I wish I’d done this more throughout the summer, especially on weeknights, although I suppose I’ve usually been getting home tired and after it’s already dark outside. But just walking around and seeing the city that way has been one of my favorite things to do in Japan. It’s very peaceful, and in Japan it seems like there’s a beautiful view around every corner. I’m actually really going to miss the rivers in Japan, which are seemingly everywhere, providing a nice place to walk wherever I am. Furthermore, there’s something new and interesting to see around every corner. I stopped by a shoe store and was surprised to see how cheap many of the shoes were (which potentially helps explain why I have yet to see a Japanese woman in ugly shoes). Just seeing the differences in shoe stores or supermarkets has been a great source of amusement for me. I’ve been meaning to visit a nearby park all summer, and finally got to explore it on Sunday. The park is beautiful and whimsical, with a big praying mantis playground structure and a really long slide. I’ve honestly never seen a slide like this before – instead of a smooth surface to slide down, it has rollers. This allows you to control your speed pretty easily if you so choose. I chose to go down as fast as possible, but my legs and bottom quickly regretted this. Either way, it was a really cool experience, a small corner of delight tucked into a corner of Minoh city.
Research Project Overview
This week was pretty successful in the lab! I started the week with trying to get SAX images of fluorescent beads, with some difficulty until we realized that our newer stock of fluorescent beads is actually weaker than the older stock that we have. I was able to greatly increase my signal to noise ratio just by switching to a different bead sample. On Tuesday, analyzing the line profile of a fluorescent bead on several of my images, I was able to determine that the width of the bead was smaller on the SAX image than on the raw images, showcasing resolution improvement. After adjusting both the unsaturated and saturated raw images to not contain raw values less than zero, I used the excitation powers used for both images in order to calculate the coefficient that I needed to multiply the unsaturated image by. I then obtained my SAX images by multiplying the coefficient by the unsaturated image and subtracting the saturated image. Using a Gaussian fit to determine the full width at half max (FWHM) of the unsaturated, saturated, and SAX curves, I was able to determine that the SAX images indeed showed narrower beads and therefore resolution improvement. We also obtained fluorescence curves for EGFP, the protein that we were using previously to try to image cells. At 525 nm (and even longer wavelengths, like 600 nm) we were unable to see evidence of a second-order relationship between excitation intensity and fluorescence intensity, indicating that two-photon excitation may be difficult to achieve with EGFP, which may explain why attempting SAX imaging with EGFP stained cells expecting 2PE didn’t work. Accordingly, we then tried to get images of different cells. Thanks to Nawa-san, we were able to obtain samples of fixed HeLa cells with rhodamine 6G attached to the actin and got some images of these cells using excitation wavelengths of 606 and 700 nm. Hopefully we will be able to use these images for subtractive SAX, but at least the bead images show that these techniques can be combined.
Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
I can hardly believe these are our last few days in Japan. I’ve actually been very sad the last few weeks seeing the end of the summer coming up on us, but now that it’s practically here, I am able to feel more of a sense of grace and thankfulness for these incredible opportunities that I’ve had. I can say without a doubt that this has been the best summer of my life, and that I am coming out of this program a very different person from when I came in.
When I first came to Japan, I was excited to see the big cities, the crowded streets, the fast trains, and the food. I fully enjoy all of these, especially the insanely good public transportation and the delicious food available on pretty much any street. However, over the course of the summer, I’ve come to appreciate the quieter side of Japan much more. I love the quiet rivers that run through the cities, the vast expanses of green, the people’s love of nature. And I’ve also come to appreciate the connection between Japan and Hawai’i. My parents grew up in Hawai’i, the US state with the highest percentage of Japanese-Americans. As such, most of my experience with Japanese culture prior to this summer came from spending summers in Hawai’i. Being in Japan for an extended period of time has allowed me to notice little similarities between Japan and Hawai’i, some of which may be purely coincidental, but which make me feel very peaceful and at home anyway. For example, Hawai’i doesn’t have strict neighborhood association regulations on what colors homes and buildings can be painted, so there are quite a few more brightly colored buildings than I’d see in Phoenix or St. Louis. Japan also has many buildings in lively colors; just the other day I saw an apartment building in a very interesting shade of pink. Furthermore, carports are uncommon in the contiguous states, but common in both Hawai’i and Japan. Beyond residential architecture, it’s interesting to see how interested Japan is in Hawai’i – I’ve seen many Hawaiian coffee shops, jewelry stores, and even restaurant specialties. Anyway, the resemblance to Hawai’i is strongest to me in the quiet residential areas of Japan, especially in Hakone, and I think that nostalgia has contributed to the love I have of these spots.
As for the United States, my perspective has changed enormously. While I’ve always known that the US is a world power, the implications of that never really hit home for me until now. I might’ve mentioned this in a previous weekly report, but I was surprised about how closely Japanese people pay attention to US politics. It really struck home how much the actions of the US affect the entire world. It also hardened my resolve to pay better attention to politics, both within the US and in the world, so that I can better understand other countries. Furthermore, I appreciate the variety of cultures within the United States much more. While there’s definitely a wide variety of styles and ways of dressing in Japan, it seems like there’s a more specific standard to adhere to – I’ve seen very few women walking around in shorts or leggings, as I do almost constantly at home. I’m looking forward to being able to blend in and wear my usual ridiculous combinations of patterns without feeling self-conscious, and I think that the culture of America is pretty encouraging of a wide variety of styles.
As for what has changed about me personally, I could write an entire weekly report just on this. I’ve been influenced very heavily both by my experiences in Japan and the other Nakatani fellows. I’ve already touched on one change I’ve experienced from being in Japan – I didn’t realize before I came that I would be so ready to be in a quieter neighborhood after only three weeks in the big city of Tokyo. I feel like I’ve developed a more adventurous side from my stay in Japan; even after a busy week in the lab, I wanted to go out and explore as much as possible on the weekends, whereas I might’ve wanted to just stay in and recover if I was at home. While I’ll have more responsibilities to fulfill at home, I plan to retain some of the same adventurous spirit that I’ve been able to have here by doing one new thing every week, whether that’s trying a new sport, going out to try a new food, or exploring a new place.
Furthermore, Japanese people are incredibly focused on whatever they do. From only doing one club in school to choosing a major at the beginning of university to the long hours put in at work, Japanese people tend to have an incredible focus on the few things that they do. This is pretty much the opposite of the way that I’ve lived for the past few years, and I think I’ve been mediocre at too many things to become actually good at any one thing. In Japan, people develop incredible levels of skill by being intensely focused on whatever that thing is. To some extent, I think this is reflected in their pop culture, including manga and anime. Most of my favorite anime revolve around nice people working very hard at the one skill they wish to master, whether that’s cooking, volleyball, animating, or calligraphy. So, something I’ve learned from both Japan and from the other Nakatani fellows, who are also extremely knowledgeable about the things they’re passionate about, is that it’s important to focus on what’s important. I do think that it’s good to have a variety of interests, and it’s not like my other interests will go away, but I’m planning to narrow my focus and cut the number of things that I do this semester in order to better focus on doing things well.
As for the other Nakatani fellows, I don’t even know where to begin on how they’ve changed me. When I first arrived in Houston, I was immediately struck by how I very quickly felt like I was the dumbest person in the room. Not in a self-deprecating way, but in a sense of overwhelming awe for the other Nakatani fellows and their passion for and deep knowledge of whatever they were studying. I’ve spent the whole summer thinking about this, and trying to use it to learn and grow. The biggest thing I want to take away from this is a stronger drive to learn about and understand different types of science, and to develop a really deep and strong understanding of whatever I choose to study. In particular, whatever type of research I end up doing this semester I want to really understand.
I honestly loved living in Japan, so daily frustrations were pretty few and far between, or at least weren’t things that were specific to Japan. Not being able to read kanji was consistently annoying, but this improved as the summer went on and I learned some basic characters. Also, it was a little frustrating to get to places from where I lived, since I had to take a bus or the monorail for half an hour to get to anywhere central enough to travel to other places from. It took longer for me than my friends who were staying in Kyoto to get home from downtown Osaka, which altogether meant that I spent a lot of time on trains. However, I generally really enjoy public transportation and often took advantage of that time to listen to podcasts, nap, or read. As for what I will miss the most about being in Japan, I think it’ll be the beautiful scenery, the food, and the abundant chances to try new things.
This experience has definitely expanded my view of the interesting research that exists in the world. I’ve stuck with biology research before this summer, so both being in a cutting-edge optics lab and hearing about the research done by the other Nakatani fellows, and particularly seeing how passionate and excited people were about these projects, really influenced me to consider these and other research topics for future work. This will definitely be important for the future as I look into what topics I want to study during graduate school.
Final Week in the Lab
For my final week in the lab, I ended up doing less experimental work and spending more time finalizing my poster. However, I was able to get fluorescence curves for rhodamine 6G that support my previous imaging results with rhodamine 6G, suggesting that the images we obtained were truly the result of two-photon excitation and that we were successfully able to perform visible-light 2PE SSAX. There wasn’t anything in particular in the lab this week for my last few days, but for a very good reason – this week my lab and our partner lab groups had our annual “summer school,” an overnight trip where students present on the research they’ve been working on.
On Thursday morning, the lab hiked Kobe’s Rokko-san, which I found to be quite difficult, as parts of the trail were very steep and I am quite susceptible to altitude sickness. Rokko-san’s summit presents famous views of Osaka, Kobe, and the sea. It’s known for the night view, but by the evening we had hiked down to Arima Onsen, a town known for its hot springs. After being served a delicious dinner, we had an informal poster presentation, with posters being given by primarily doctoral students (and me!) I was highly amused by both the fancy dinner and the poster session, as drinks were served at both parts of the evening’s activities, and many of the male students attended in the yukata provided by the hotel. Since we were told by language teachers that yukata are like pajamas, and are usually worn strictly for summer festivals or for sleeping, I was shocked to see them in this setting.
However, I enjoyed chatting with people about my research and looking at the posters demonstrating the huge variety of research topics pursued by the lab group. I was especially amused to hear that one student from another lab thought that I was a PhD student, although this guess was probably based on my presenting my poster with the PhD students. Dinner was also amusing since the students I was sitting with thought it was very funny that I used phrases from Kansai-ben (the dialect spoken in the Kansai region), asking who taught me those phrases and commenting that I spoke more Kansai-ben than they themselves (since they were not originally from Kansai).
On Friday, the day was occupied by presentations and questions from many different students in the labs. In order to check out of the dorms, I had to leave during lunch, and had to walk around the lunch tables in order to say goodbye to Oketani-san, Kubo-san, and Fujita-sensei. It was tough to say goodbye, especially since I’ve only started feeling more comfortable socializing within the lab recently. I really like my labmates, despite my troubles in communicating and starting conversations, and will miss them in the weeks and months to come. Because I left summer school early, I actually brought my gifts for the lab in on Wednesday, arriving at the lab early to leave them on the desks of my mentors. I’ll probably write about this several times in the coming weeks, but I am so incredibly thankful for the research experience I got to have. Working in a physics/photonics lab was very scary to me, especially coming from a strictly biological background. I’ve learned a lot about microscopy and imaging this summer, and I think the structure of the lab allowed me to get plenty of help from other students during meetings. To my lab, if you read this, thank you so much. どうもありがとうございました。
Final Days in Japan
I found checking out of my dorm to be a painless process, although I’ve heard that it involved a lot of cleaning for some of the other US fellows. After I checked into my hotel on Friday evening, I visited Osaka’s Redhorse Ferris Wheel, which I believe to be the tallest in Japan. Getting a view of the city from up above was a nice way to say goodbye to Osaka. On Saturday, I traveled back to Tokyo, and had the opportunity to attend a bon odori near Tsukiji Station with Etsuko and Jakob. Since it’s in Tsukiji, near the famous fish market, this bon odori is supposed to have the best food! Attending bon odori was one of my hopes for the summer, so I’m really glad I got to go. While bigger and busier, the scene was overall very reminiscent of the bon odori I often attended during the summer in Hawai’i when I was little, and I had a lot of fun trying to follow along with the dances.
On Monday, we had our closing ceremony with the Nakatani Foundation. I’m glad we had this chance to talk about what we’ve experienced and learned this summer. The Nakatani president was very kind and I enjoyed talking to him at lunch. Honestly, I got very emotional thinking about and talking about the experiences from this summer; it’s been truly life-changing and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Week 13: Final Report
I really enjoyed the Re-Entry Program, and found it to be a very valuable experience on the whole. Immediately upon returning to the US, we all noticed a few things: the bathrooms were dirty, there were public trash cans everywhere, and the vending machines were sparse and overpriced. It was even surprising to hear English-speaking voices and to see greater diversity of people in public. I’ve never felt particularly like an outsider in America, but compared to being in Japan where almost everyone was Japanese, I felt quite odd. Being back wasn’t as odd as I expected, because it really was just coming home, but it also was stranger than I expected, in that it felt odd for these things that I’ve been around all my life to feel new and different.
During the poster presentation, I found myself having to constantly adjust the presentation I prepared – the basic 90 second rundown that I had prepared to give an overview of the purpose and results of my project didn’t go into what most people were interested in hearing about, although the feedback from the poster presentation session really helped me give a concise intro to my project. However, I really enjoyed talking with people about my work, especially the people who worked on similar things and were really excited about and interested in what I did. I thought that my project and results were pretty cool and interesting, so being able to share that with likeminded people was a great experience. Their questions also made me consider different aspects of my project, and pointed out holes in my understanding of my research that I am now very curious to learn about, and will be talking to my research mentor about. In the future, I think it would be helpful to do practice sessions with people who understand the research if possible, since this would help me find such holes before the official poster session begins.
The sessions during the Re-Entry Program were also really helpful for me. Our first session, a de-briefing on the summer experience, was like many that we’d had before – an open discussion of and reflection on our experiences. It helped me think through and put down on paper many of the things that I’ll miss about Japan, but also to see all the things I’ll enjoy about being back in America. It was honestly really helpful to hear about different graduate programs and future summer opportunities, and definitely kick-started my planning for grad school applications and for next summer’s adventures. I especially enjoyed the chance to talk to current grad students and to visit their labs; Shivani and I ended up talking to two of the members of the lab we visited during the poster session, and it was helpful to talk about what they enjoy about science.
It’s hard to put into words what I’m taking away from this program. On a professional level, I think Alex phrased it really well at the Mid-Program Meeting – we knew coming into the program that we would be learning about the importance of international collaboration and how to interact with people across cultural boundaries, but these things have a real, personal meaning to me now. I understand how much cultures have to learn from each other and what we have to gain by understanding each other, because I’ve gained so much from my time in Japan. And on a personal level, I see now how many equally valid ways there are to view the world, and how maintaining an openness and flexibility and willingness to examine your own ideas closely are critical to understanding others and to growing as a person. I’ve also gained a stronger sense of who I am and where I’m from, an increased sense of my own and the US’s place in the world as a whole, and a stronger drive and motivation to be the best that I can be. And I’ve also gained an incredible network of people to help me figure out my path in science over the next few years and through the rest of my life. I can’t possibly say how thankful I am for all of these experiences, friendships, and lessons.
So as a result of this program, I am hoping to get more experience in international research and international collaboration. I want to expose myself to as many different ways of thinking and cultures as possible and learn from as many different people as possible, both in terms of science and in terms of being a person. And from the Japanese, I learned how valuable it can be to have your focus be on one or two things, so I’m planning to spread myself less thinly this semester and focus more on achieving deep understanding and mastery over the things I am working on.
While I still have a lot of questions about Japan and Japanese culture as they are right now, I think my final question of the week has to be: How will Japan change in the future? Japan maintains a fine balance between tradition and modernity, and especially as the population ages, I am curious about how this balance will shift. I am also interested in other ways that Japanese culture may change – ten years ago, you wouldn’t see any Japanese people wearing shorts, but some do now, suggesting a change in acceptable modes of dress. I just learned recently that Japanese women don’t eat certain foods, including gyuudon (so I definitely showed my gaijin colors with all the gyuudon I ate…). And of course, there are very few Japanese women in the sciences. Hopefully some of these standards and norms will continue to relax in the future.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but the Nakatani RIES Fellowship was a life-changing experience, and I am forever thankful for it. I am thankful for my lab, the Japanese Nakatani Fellows, the US Nakatani Fellows, Ogawa-san, Endo-san, and everyone else from the Nakatani Foundation, Kono-sensei, and Sarah, as well as all of our guest speakers, tour guides, everyone who made this summer the incredible experience it was. どうもありがとうございました。またね！
Final Research Project Overview
Project: “Imaging Beyond the Diffraction Limit: Visible-light Two-Photon Excitation for Subtractive SAX Microscopy” (PDF)
Host Lab: Kawata-Fujita Lab, LaSIE, Osaka University
Mentored by: Ryosuke Oketani and Toshiki Kubo
Introduction: Techniques for imaging beyond the diffraction limit, especially those that do not damage cells and can image multiple targets simultaneously, are particularly relevant to viewing biological processes. Since no perfect imaging technique exists, scientists work to optimize imaging processes for different situations. We were able to surpass the resolution achievable with either subtractive saturated excitation microscopy or visible-light two-photon excitation alone through combining them, thereby improving biological microscopy studies.
Approach: Many of today’s super-resolution imaging techniques rely upon nonlinear relationships in fluorescence emission. We combined two techniques for super-resolution fluorescence imaging, subtractive saturated excitation (SAX) microscopy and visible-light two-photon excitation (2PE), in order to ascertain the level of detail that can be obtained. To this end, we developed an optical system to acquire scanning fluorescence images and obtained fluorescence curves for fluorescent molecules to confirm 2PE. Then, we imaged a number of different samples, including fluorescent beads and cells containing fluorescent tags. Using these images, we produced subtractive images in search of a nonlinear response that would confirm the effectiveness of subtractive SAX.
Results/Discussion: We were able to successfully demonstrate resolution improvement in multiple types of samples.
Unsaturated (A), saturated (B), and SSAX (C) fluorescence laser scanning images of fixed HeLa cells containing actin stained with ATTO Rho6G. The laser power at the focus was 0.479 and 0.958 mW for the unsaturated (A) and saturated (B) images, respectively. The pixel dwell time was 100 µs for both images, with a pixel size of 97.7 nm. Resolution improvement seems highly likely from observation of the three images, especially when considering some of the brighter sections. In order to demonstrate resolution improvement in a more concrete way, line profiles were taken of many segments of the image. On several of the line profiles, one of which is shown (D), two separate peaks were visible in the SAX image that were not visible in the unsaturated image, suggesting that the SAX image differentiates between structures that are close together better than the raw images.
Unsaturated (A), saturated (B), and SSAX (C) fluorescence laser scanning images of 100 nm wide fluorescent beads (Thermo Fisher, F-8797). The laser power at the focus was 0.439 and 1.06 mW for the unsaturated (A) and saturated (B) images, respectively. The pixel dwell time was 100 µs for both images, with a pixel size of 19.5 nm. The SSAX image (C) was obtained in the same manner as with the cell images. Although resolution improvement is not immediately evident by observing the images, taking a line profile of the same bead in each image allows one to quantify the resolution improvement. (D) shows the points from the original line profiles of the same bead on both the unsaturated image and the SSAX image, as well as a Gaussian fit done to each line profile. The background has been subtracted from each, the heights normalized, and the peaks centered to make the differences in widths as easy to see as possible. From the Gaussian fits, the full width at half max (FWHM) was calculated for both peaks, and it is evident that the FWHM is lower for the SSAX image, suggesting a resolution improvement.
Future Research/Conclusion: We have successfully demonstrated in multiple samples that combining visible-light 2PE and SSAX is possible and does result in an improvement in image resolution. Future steps may include comparing the theoretical possible resolution and the actual resolution achieved, imaging fluorescent proteins using this technique, imaging multiple fluorescent tags simultaneously, imaging live cells, and taking laser scanning videos of live cells.
Follow-on Project Plan
For my follow-on project, I plan to give a ten-minute presentation to a class of freshmen from an engineering freshmen seminar class. I am also thinking about presenting at a hackathon WashU runs (I’m part of the organizing team) or at an event leading up to the hackathon about international research experiences and why cross-cultural communication is important. Ideally, for an event at the hackathon, I would be able to either find a professor to talk about cross-cultural communication or to be able to explain some strategies for cross-cultural communication myself. Another potential place I could present is at a session on undergraduate research opportunities, since I know several of these happen throughout the year, particularly near the beginning of semesters.
Tips for Future Participants
- Pack as lightly as possible – you’ll hear this a lot, but honestly, don’t bring anything you don’t expect to use a lot. I brought some clothes that I wore exactly once and wished I had just left them at home.
- Definitely look into some places you want to travel! Not just around Japan, but around Tokyo during the orientation program.
- Check out schedules for things like summer festivals, firefly viewing, etc. before you leave, or at least have them on your radar.
- Work hard in your classes, enjoy Tokyo, and enjoy being with the other Nakatani fellows. Seriously, just enjoy this time as much as possible.
- And get enough sleep so that you don’t get sick.
- Spend as much time with the Japanese fellows as possible – if the schedule is the same as our year, this is your last time to spend as a full group.
- Try Kobe beef. It’s worth it.
Working with Your Research Lab (Kawata-Fujita Lab)
- Don’t be afraid to approach people!
- Try to learn some Kansai-ben phrases (Kansai-ben is the dialect spoken in the region). The B4 (senior) students taught me some my first week and everyone in the lab was continually amused whenever I used it.
- Work as hard as you can on understanding the basics of your project before you arrive, and on understanding some of the techniques you might be using and the theory behind them.
Living in Osaka
- If you’re staying on Minoh campus, the Kansai Thru Pass is your best friend. Pick up a few weekends’ worth. It doesn’t have to be used on consecutive days, works on the monorail, and will be very frequently worth your money.
- Also if you’re staying on Minoh campus:
- Check out Rikuro-ojisan’s bakery and go out on the terrace.
- Saito-Nishi park is actually really cool, definitely go down the slide at least once.
- Osaka is pretty fun! It’s a lot more casual and relaxed of an atmosphere than Tokyo. I particularly recommend Shitennoji Temple, Shinsekai, Shinsaibashi, and Kuromon Market.
What Gifts to Bring
- I don’t have much to add on this topic that hasn’t already been said, but certain things are hard to find in Japan / more expensive, so things like these (e.g. See’s Candy) or local specialties from your hometown are really great omiyage.
- Don’t be afraid to give out lots of gifts – I gave some omiyage to my dormmates who helped me figure out where to throw trash and stuff, and they really appreciated it.
What to Eat
- Black Thunder!
- Curry buns from the bakery in Azabujuban
- Use Tabelog to find good food. Japanese people are really picky, so any restaurant with a rating of >3.5 on Tabelog is going to be really good.
- I’m pretty biased but Osaka has the best food!! Kuromon Market in particular is great. Try okonomiyaki wherever you go though, there are different styles.
What to Buy in Japan
- I took full advantage of the hyakuen store – there’s a four-story Daiso in Harajuku that I highly recommend, but there are hyakuen stores everywhere. You can get a lot of things here that are much more expensive in America – socks, origami paper, notebooks, pens, glue, nail wraps, whatever. They also have really interesting art supplies (sumi ink, colored hot glue,
What to Do in Japan
- Go see live music! If you want to do this – definitely get tickets before you go, they tend to sell out really quickly in Japan. Think of any artists you might wanna see (including K-pop) and check if they’re playing anywhere near you!
- Todai-sai! This is the University of Tokyo’s annual summer festival, and it’s crazy intense. (Ask the Japanese Fellows from UTokyo about this)
- Summer festivals – there are many big ones, including Sanja Matsuri, Gion Matsuri, and Tenjin Matsuri, as well as many smaller ones. I particular enjoy bon odori – visitors can join in on the traditional dances.
Places to Visit in Japan
- I ended up really loving the nature in Japan, so I highly recommend visiting Hakone and Miyajima Island at Hiroshima. There are also a lot of beautiful hikes around the Kansai region (Kurama and Kibune, Takao, Rokko-san). Go early in the summer if you can, it gets hotter.
- Hiroshima’s Peace Park
- The train times on Google Maps and the kanji next to the train line will give you good hints on which train to board – sometimes, the first train heading in the right direction won’t be the fastest.