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
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
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
Coming this summer!
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
Coming this summer!
Return to Top
Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
Coming this summer!
Return to Top
Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
Coming this summer!
Return to Top
Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
Coming this summer!
Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
Coming this summer!
Return to Top
Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
Coming this summer!
Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
Coming this summer!
Week 13: Final Report
Coming this summer!
Coming this summer!
Tips for Future Participants
Coming this summer!