2017 Katelyn Miyasaki

Katelyn Miyasaki
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

Fun with plates at Rice University ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Tokyo Tower at night. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Tired Nakatani students returning home after a long day out, on Tokyo’s beautiful (and clean!) metro. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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?

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).

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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.

The full group together! ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

View from Mishima Skywalk ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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:

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

Class 1 with Onishi-sensei ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Fun at an arcade in Shinjuku ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

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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.

An impromptu lesson on Kansai-ben (the dialect spoken in Osaka) from my labmates. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

When your height creates a quantum well in a bamboo grove. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Making friends with monkeys. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

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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.

Gorgeous greenery up in the mountains by Kyoto ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Eating okonomiyaki at Ajinoya with Erica, Aaron, and Alex. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Takoyaki was delicious :’) ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

Cultural Reflection
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.

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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 new friend ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Found a pretty haori for only 500 yen at the market. ~ Katelyn MIyasaki

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?

Hanging out in Osaka with our new friend Tony ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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

Nakatani kazoku (family) as illustrated by Savannah. Kawaii ne! ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.”

Everyone all together one last time. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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 

The 2017 Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows, some Japanese Fellows, and a few alumni at their Mid-Program Meeting Research Intro Presentations held at Kyoto University on July 3, 2017.

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.

Every goofy photo is a character photo. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

Gorgeous pottery in progress at the Gallery of Kyoto Traditional Arts and Crafts. Look at that line work!!!! ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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?

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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 

Sending my wishes to the stars: Osaka’s Tanabata festival! ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

The gorgeous (if cloudy) view from atop Miyajima Island ~ Katelyn Miyasaki
When you’re way too excited about an entire building full of your favorite food. ~ Katelyn Miyasaki

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.

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

Coming this summer!

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

Coming this summer!

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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

Coming this summer!


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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

Coming this summer!


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Week 13: Final Report

Coming this summer!

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Follow-on Project


Coming this summer!

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Tips for Future Participants

Coming this summer!

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