Home University: Carnegie Mellon University
Major: Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering
Expected Graduation Date: May 2020
Host Lab in Japan: Nagoya University – Dept. of Chemistry, Shinohara Laboratory
Why Nakatani RIES?
I applied to Nakatani-RIES because it is an amazing learning opportunity, from participating in cutting-edge research to immersing myself in Japanese culture. I have always wanted to study abroad, and have always been enthralled with Japan for it’s technological prowess and rich culture. It is exciting to be able to pursue my career goals of becoming a materials science engineer while experiencing Japanese culture firsthand. I hope to grow as both a student and global citizen this summer!
Goals for the Summer
- Meet a lot of new people
- Become fluent in Japanese
- Contribute in some way to impactful research
- Acquire a broader appreciation for Japanese culture
Excerpts from Shivani’s Weekly Reports
- Week 01: Arrival in Japan
- Week 02: Language Learning & Trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes
- Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
- Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
- Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
- Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
- Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
- Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
- Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
- Week 10: Interview with a Japanese Researcher
- Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
- Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
- Week 13: Final Report
- Follow-on Project
- Tips for Future Participants
Week 01: Arrival in Japan
It’s May 23rd. I’ve been in Japan for a week. This pretty much fits the bill when I recall my childhood dreams of being an ambassador and travelling the word. That said, my experience so far has been surprisingly anticlimactic. Tokyo’s just like any other city. Of course, there are small, unexpected details which I appreciate. The streets are clean, and safe at all hours of the day. There’s often the scent of flowers in the air, and I’ve passed a good number of Indian restaurants. Since I’ve never lived abroad before, I’m not sure if I’ll miss these things when I go back.
The moments that’ve really stuck with me this past week are the people I’ve met rather than the things I’ve seen. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. But I also feel that I haven’t been spending my time appropriately. I’ve Also, being alone, especially in somewhere as safe as Japan, is probably the most effective way to improve my Japanese. Granted, I’ll have a lot of alone time when I go to Nagoya. Unfortunately, as one of the master’s students I met said, “there’s not much to do in Nagoya”, so I might as well explore
Also, I think I’m easily the most clueless person on this trip. I know zero Japanese, and zero Japanese culture. While
For example, this past week we visited Todai Sai and were fortunate to be given a tour of the lab facilities. I have only minimal research experience, yet I was nevertheless amazed by the variety of expensive instruments available to researchers. Afterwards tour we spoke with master’s students from the Tabata lab. I enjoyed talking to them and learning about their lives, and one of them invited Kaylene and I to Todai sai this weekend.
The festival was seriously impressive—one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve seen so far (except Sanja Matsuri). Our friend had brought another friend who studies at Meiji University, and we walked around. I tried takoyaki for the first time, which I really liked, and we went to the origami club’s exhibition, which was so much better than CMU’s.
I thought it was really nice that the master’s students offered to show us around, and we had a good time. But it bothered me a little that the highlights of my experience weren’t the highlights of their experiences. I felt that they really enjoyed the Lego display and a J-pop performance we saw, which were great but not as interesting to me. It was also difficult to communicate due to my poor understanding of Japanese and the background noise of the fair.
I guess there are other reasons for why it was harder for us to connect. Only a few elements of Japanese and American culture have leaked overseas, so it’s less likely we’ll share superficial interests.
The experience reminded me of my interactions with master’s students on the CMU Hyperloop team. The engineering team consists mostly of master’s students from India, and though I felt awkward initially because I was the youngest, we all ended up being friends in the end. It was a bit easier since we had an engineering project to work on together, there wasn’t really a language barrier, and the Hyperloop students asked me more questions about my life. Was
One part of Japanese culture I’m having difficulty understanding is the “fun” part. Like, why is animated film more popular than films with real actors? Why do maid cafes exist? Why are water commercials so extra?
This “fun” aspect of Japanese culture was apparent in the festival as well. Each tent was extravagantly decorated with colorful banners, and club members dressed as cows and the like were advertising different types of food, shouting at you to buy it as if you were at an actual fair. It surprised me how seriously these students took their vendor roles. We have a “festival” at Carnegie Mellon which we call Carnival. It’s definitely smaller than the Todai one, but the atmosphere here was also incredibly different. It was so much more lively, but at the same time felt superficially pretend.
In other words, I thought it was sort of childish. I’m not sure if I’ll feel this way at the end of the summer; part of me doesn’t want to. In my application for this program I talked about the “real” connections I had with Japan: how I wanted to learn about the Shinkansen to get inspiration for Hyperloop, and how origami inspired me to pursue a career in materials science. At the very end of my essays, I added what I considered superficial details such as “I really like matcha and origami”. However, I’m realizing that having those seemingly superficial interests is an important part of how people here express themselves, perhaps to contrast a diligent and meticulous work ethic.
Question of the Week
I’m interested in why Tokyo is so clean. To what extent is this a cultural mindset and to what extent is this due to the fact that trash cans are rarely seen on the streets? If we took away street trash cans in America, would there be less trash on the streets?
Overview of Orientation Activities:
(Pre-departure) I enjoyed Prof Kono’s overview of the PIRE program and history of Nakatani-RIES, since it helped me see the big picture of my research project as both international collaboration and a stepping stone in my career. I also enjoyed talking to Nakatani alumni. I found their advice very helpful and true, even in the past week, such as “If you find yourself in a car, reconsider your situation” and “Black ”. I also liked Sarah’s talk about Japanese culture. One thing that resonated with me was when we talked about wa, or harmony in Japanese society. This just means that there is an emphasis on the good of the group rather than the individual. Similarly, I think I tend to have more of a “team player” attitude, since I like to see the big picture of things rather than just my own perspective.
My favorite organized event this week was our discussion of foreign affairs with Shikada-sensei. I’m not, generally speaking, interested in politics; however, Shikada-sensei’s talk, followed by our discussion with Maho-san, a recent graduate who works at the ministry, and Josh’s “three prong” speech was very informative and interesting. There were so many different aspects to the issues Japan is faced with, both internal (e.g. the fact that Japan is a nonviolent state) and external (e.g. North Korea has the support of two major world powers). Later, when we went to dinner, we had a very engaging conversation with Maho-san, who I and the other Nakatani Fellows believe is an amazing human being. We also asked Shikada-sensei his spirit animal, which is a bunny, and I got his autograph.
My second favorite program event was our visit yesterday to JAMSTEC. It was neat to see the actual earthquake warning system which Japan has in place. At first I wasn’t too sure how effective it could be, since our tour guide said it only gives people 12 seconds. But, in 12 second, people can turn off the stove, and trains can stop, so many disasters are avoided. I never realized that before, and it helped me appreciate
Introduction to Research Project & Paper Summary
I’m not too sure of what my project is right now. I’ve told Shinohara-sensei that I would like to study carbon peapods, which are nanotubes with endohedral fullerenes encapsulated inside. Specifically, I’d like to study peapods containing biological molecules to see if there are biomedical applications of the peapod material. However, it’s possible I will be studying peapods containing a different kind of molecule (e.g. metal), or even 2D materials, which both sound interesting to me. Right now I’m focusing on trying to read the research literature surrounding peapods. I believe that my exact project will be determined when I arrive in Nagoya.
Citation: K. Hirahara, K. Suenaga, S. Bandow, H. Kato, T. Okazaki, H. Shinohara, and S. Iijima, Phys. Rev. Lett. 5384, 5387 (2000).
This paper describes how peapods containing Gadolinium-containing fullerene molecules were constructed and characterized.
Methods: The peapods were made as follows. The metallofullerenes were created by running current through Gd-graphite rods; this created electric discharge which was collected using an extraction method called a soxhlet. Purifying methods were used, and the chemical identity of the desired metallofullerenes was confirmed using mass spectrometry. The nanotubes themselves were created using a technique called “pulsed-laser vaporization” on a carbon-Fe-Ni containing substance. The metallofullerenes were added to the nanotubes (SWNTs) by heating them up to create “windows” through which the fullerenes could enter and align inside the tubes. The resulting peapods were then characterized using electron microscopy.
This article described lab techniques used to create the peapods in detail, which I am excited to actually perform when I arrive at the Shinohara lab. The significant findings of this paper are that the alignment of metallofullerenes inside the nanotubes is regular, and that charge transfer occurs from the encapsulated molecules to the surrounding carbon nanostructures. This is important as researchers continue to discover different ways in which nanotubes can be altered to achieve desired properties. For example, creating nanowires with certain electrical properties could be achieved by switching the Gd atoms in this experiment for a different kind of metal. In the future, this could lead to optimized electronic devices.
Week 02: Trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes
We’ve been moving quickly in language class. We already covered daily language interactions, nouns, adjectives, and verbs, and learned all of the hiragana and katakana. I’m still having difficulty applying my knowledge, since ‘real Japanese people’ speak so much faster than my language teachers. Usually any conversation I have ends before I can actually process what they said. I feel my most stimulating experience was when we visited the AJALT office and had a 45-minute discussion with the teachers there. My teacher is from Nagoya, and she gave Will and I some suggestions for where to travel during our free time.
That said, I wish we could spend more time with the Japanese Fellows we met during our Fuji-san lakes trip. Then I’d probably get more practice, not to mention spend time with really amazing people.
I need to keep asking questions and applying what I know. I think from now on, every time I go to the konbini, I’ll ask a different question to the person at the front. Or I’ll ask someone what something is. That’s my new goal.
Weekend trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes
Wow. Fuji-san was amazing. Here are some things I did:
Went to 5th station: At the start of this program, I asked some other Nakatani Fellows “how long do you think it took people in Japan to realize that Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan?” I imagined that travelers would have to visit all of the mountains in Japan and then remember somehow the relative heights of each of them. After visiting Mt. Fuji, I have my answer: Not very long. Mt. Fuji is massive and majestic. I’ve seen mountains before, since Pittsburgh itself is sort of in the mountains. But I’ve never seen something like Mt. Fuji. I definitely want to climb it. I can’t believe I actually saw it. I first read about Mt. Fuji in middle school when I was going through my Magic Tree House phase; I never imagined I would actually visit.
I also tried this oishi soft-served ice cream made from berries that grow on the mountain; it sort of reminded me of cotton candy. I wasn’t going to try it but then Sarah told me that in general, if I come across something new, I should try it because even if I plan to come back, it probably won’t be there again. That was good advice I’ll remember for the rest of this trip, and probably my life. It relates a lot to “saying yes”, which is a big theme for this summer.
Consumed the largest amount of seafood I ever have in my entire life: It was great. My favorite was the sardine rice, followed by sashimi, which I’ve never had before. It was really fun grilling the deep-sea fish, clam, oyster, and salmon ourselves. I felt kind of bad though. I’m not a vegetarian, but my mom is so we don’t eat a wide variety of meat at home, so eating fish when I could still see their eyes was slightly off-putting. It tasted great though, so I got over it quickly.
Met the 2017 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows! They are really cool people. Here are some of my favorite conversations:
- Talking with Tomo: Tomo is a student of medicine at Nagoya (I didn’t realize Nagoya was that big) and is interested in the brain. I went through a neuroscience phase in high school, and so it was interesting to talk about what specific fields she likes and how materials science overlaps with neuroscience.
- Tomo also told me about the clubs she does at Nagoya. Apparently, there is a rifle shooting club, which I kind of want to try. From my understanding, Tomo joined because she wanted to try something new. Rifle shooting has never interested me before, but for some reason I want to try it now.
- Later I asked Tomo about the maid café, and if she’s been. She hasn’t but wants to go. This confused me, since I don’t think any of the US female Fellows are too keen about going to a maid café. However, when I asked, Tomo said she wants the experience not because she wants to be treated like someone’s master, but because she wants to watch how other customers interact with the maids. This was a new perspective I hadn’t considered, and actually made me change my mind about visiting a maid café. At least then, my opinions will be firsthand.
- I also asked Tomo the million-dollar question: Which side of the road are you supposed to walk on when you’re in Nagoya? She said that usually it’s like Tokyo, where people walk on the left-hand side, except when there are people who are not from Tokyo visiting. In that case, just walk where everyone else is walking. I feel slightly better with this information.
- Night at Fuji-san conversation: Our cottage consisted of me, Katelyn, Tomo, and Rio. I really enjoyed our conversation about politics. Tomo was telling us about how she didn’t like that President Abe has to “suck up” to Trump. I asked why this happens, and then felt kind of stupid. Tomo’s reply was that Japan is a peaceful nation (by Article 9 of their constitution) and “we lost WWII”.
- I realized during our discussion that I know so little about international politics, whereas Japanese students (and probably students from most other countries) probably know a lot more. I guess maybe today and in the past, that was ok. However, I feel that now, the US isn’t as far ahead of other countries in terms of science/ technology and military affairs. I don’t even know if we are ahead. So, another goal I have moving forward is to become more aware of international politics.
- We also talked a lot about the concept of “sabishii”. Not just in our cottage; it was a recurring theme throughout the trip. While walking around the fish market at Sugura, Etsuko and Nina asked if I wanted a boyfriend. I said that sometimes I think I do, but then when I really think about it, I don’t. I think it’s difficult for people our age to decide how much effort to invest in a relationship vs our work and career. During our cottage talk we agreed this causes people to be awkward and ambiguous in social interactions.
Talking with Shohei about MSE/ Sky walk: Shohei is from Tohoku University, which is apparently very famous for its materials science department. While walking across the Mishima Skywalk we talked about which classes we’re taking; I wish we had more time though, since I’d like to know more about his specific interests and how his classes are taught. He was also telling me about how cold it is in Hokkaido, which made me curious about how the climate in Japan changes as you go farther north. I really enjoyed Skywalk; I wonder if I could go early in the morning and just jog across. I was fascinated by how it sways a bit when you walk across, but it’s still structurally sound. I also liked the Kicoro forest and all the tiny kicoro wood blobs. I read online that the forest is supposed to promote interest in the environment; in fact, Kaylene told me that Japan’s percent of forest area is increasing.
I’ve noticed that much more care is given to preserving the environment in Japan than in the U.S. When we were talking to Ayaka on Saturday, she told Trevor, Aaron and I that she is interested in environmental issues. Also, Kento Ito during the IMAGINE ONE WORLD KIMONO PROJECT presentation told us that he was interested in environmental issues as an engineer. I’ve never really heard engineering students my age say that back at home.
I really enjoyed walking around the Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium with Etsuko. She lived in Germany for two years, which I think is really neat. I think I want to visit Germany next, if I have the chance. She and Nina gave me advice about which tea to buy for my parents from Suruga, and we saw some neat deep sea creatures. Our favorite was a squishy sea star which looks like Patrick from Spongebob.
- I also really like Etsuko’s sense of style. All of the Japanese Fellows dressed really well and I feel somewhat inspired to put more effort into my own fashion sense.
- Tried an onsen for the first time. Two days ago, if you invited me to an onsen I’d probably tell you “onsen wa chotto….” Now, I’d be like “Ee, zehi!!”
- I knew I’d feel super awkward when I went into the onsen. Part of the reason why I tried it is that I want to feel more comfortable in my own body. Fortunately, the awkwardness only lasted for a minute or two. After that, I realized that all of the other people had done this many times before and I was the one making it awkward by thinking about it. So, I just stopped and it felt really nice.
- As much as I enjoyed onsen-ing, I could’ve handled it better. Not only was this my first time, but Fuji-san onsen are understandably very hot. So, after about five minutes I was boiling and had to walk around, and then after I left, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and my heart was beating really fast. Katelyn explained that this is because when you’re in the onsen, your heart starts beating really fast in order to pump blood to vessels closest to the surface of your skin. This way, heat can transfer out of your body. Clearly this isn’t successful when you’re sitting inside a hot spring, but the flow of blood to peripheral vessels means that less blood flows to the brain, which can make you feel dizzy. Tl;dr, I stayed longer than I should have and extracted myself from the onsen too quickly. Drinking water helped, and even though my head felt weird my body felt very relaxed and clean.
- I was a bit surprised to find that the Japanese fellows have onsened often. Tomo, who is from Nagoya, told me that her family usually goes every summer and she likes to onsen with her friends. I guess the most awkward part about the onsen is being nude in front of other people. That said, I wonder why people are more open about nudity in Japan and Europe, but not in the U.S.
- Went strawberry picking: I was surprised to find that strawberry picking is quite common in Japan, and I was even more surprised to find that people eat it with sweetened condensed milk. My only experience using condensed milk has been when making dulce de leche with my sister; I thought it was only for baking purposes. The other US Fellows were equally surprised by this. That said, it was soooo good. It’s definitely something I’ll take home with me.
- I asked Nina if she liked the strawberries and she said that her hometown is famous for its strawberries, and that these were a different type. They did taste different from the ones we have in New Jersey, but still very fresh and sweet. I want to visit Nina’s hometown now!
Overview of Week Two of Orientation Program in Tokyo
I really enjoyed learning how to Taiko. It felt pretty satisfying, although I wish I could speak Japanese better because I’m curious to know more about how our teacher became a taiko drummer. Someday I want to learn the technique behind Taiko in greater depth.
I also found the kimono presentation interesting. Two highlights were when Ito-sensei talked about how indigo is often use as a die because of its supposed healing powers, and when the speaker told us that he was an engineer before he decided to complete this kimono project. I asked him what he was going to do after he finished making kimonos, and he said he’ll probably go back to being an engineer. This reminded me of something I heard during our discussions with Japanese students, about how in the US, arts and sciences are often explored together (i.e. as double majors), whereas in Japan, people see them separately. I don’t know if I agree with this though; in my opinion, creativity and progress stem from combining two completely different fields together. If I were the speaker, I would try to find ways to bridge kimonos and engineering. He hinted at this when he talked about how kimonos are environmentally friendly, but I wished he took it further.
Question of the Week
What initiatives has Japan taken to take care of the environment? In what ways are they better/worse than US initiatives?
- Wow, this is a very big question and I think you may want to consult Google-sensei as you can probably keep diving down into lots of different aspects of this topic depending on what you are most interested in. Here are a few links to get you started:
- Environmental Issues in Japan (Wikipedia)
- Ministry of the Environment: Environmental Protection Policy in Japan
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Environment Policy in Japan
- Japan International Cooperation Agency: Environmental Policy
- Ministry of Economy, Trade, & Industry (METI): Energy & Environmental Policy
- Japan Times: Environment Articles
- Japan: Environmental Issues, Policies, and Clean Technology (AzoTech)
- State of Japan’s Environment at a Glance
- Japan Is Obsessed with Climate Change: Young People Don’t Get It (NY Times)
- Struggling with Japan’s Nuclear Waste, Six Years after the Disaster (NY Times)
- Quake in Japan Causes Costly Shift to Fossil Fuels (NY Times)
- Challenges Facing Japan’s Marine Fisheries (Scientific American)
- Natural Environments, Wildlife, and Conservation in Japan (Asia-Pacific Journal)
Research Project Update
I started reading another paper sent to me by Shinohara-sensei. This one was about how a new method was created to produce nanowires encapsulated in CNTs. I spent a lot of time writing down all of the questions I had; I think I had more questions than actual notes about the paper. I also asked Will to teach me about chromatography, one of the experimental techniques used to produce the CNTs. I have a feeling my project will be related to synthesis of new materials, and so I want to have a conceptual understanding about how each of the processes work before I arrive. My last chemistry class was AP Chemistry in high school, and we only performed a couple labs, so I want to put more effort into understanding the methods I may need to use during my research.
Professor Kono’s talk on photonics/ nanotphotonics was probably my favorite one so far. I thought it was really amazing how light can be confined and manipulated to create circuits. I haven’t studied photonics, and I don’t think it is related to my research, but I am curious to know about photonics research related to carbon nanotubes. If there is, maybe I could talk to Shinohara-sensei about incorporating it into my project when I arrive at Nagoya.
I also found Kawata-sensei’s project on mimicking nature very interesting. I thought his “metamaterial” silver (Ag) forest was really neat; it reminded me of how made 3D fractals from origami in high school.
Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
People are more subdued on the subway. They take up less space than people do in America, and do activities which do not inconvenience others, such as reading a small book or working on a smartphone instead of a laptop. This aligns with the Japanese value wa, or harmony within a group. I was surprised that the subway is a lot busier later at night than I expected, around 9-10pm, which I guess is due to later workdays people may have. The ‘rules’ don’t change very much.
Occasionally, men give up seats for women, especially for younger women. I’ve read in previous blogs that giving up seats to elder passengers is not practiced here, which I’ve noticed. Also, I was surprised that elderly people in Japan seem much more mobile than in America.
I’ve been told that Japan has an aging population; I’m curious to know more about seniors and senior living homes in Japan. Are the elderly more capable of living independently? Do they face fewer health (both in terms of body and mind) issues than seniors living in America? What is the proportion of elderly people living alone, with family, and in nursing homes in the U.S. vs in Japan? In American nursing homes, often seniors are left by their families even if they have debilitating mental health, and do not receive proper care. Is this also an issue in Japan? I spoke with Tomo-san about this during our bus ride to Mt. Fuji; we both have had similar experiences at nursing homes. Tomo-san visited to sing for the seniors, while I was part of a small instrumental ensemble in high school which travelled to local nursing homes to perform.
- Japan Times: Aging Society Articles
- Aging of Japan (Wikipedia)
- Japan Shrinking Population (Bloomberg)
- Meet the Youngsters Helping to Solve Japan’s Caregiving Crisis (Washington Post)
- How is Japan Dealing with the Impacts of Supporting the Oldest Population in the World (NPR)
- Aging Japan Faces Rising Dementia and Caregiving Shortage (Newsweek)
- Caring for an Aging Population: US-Japan Comparative Research (East-West Center)
I read in a Japanese students’ blog from last year that they were surprised at how many ads there were in public, since in Japan ads are plastered everywhere, especially inside the subway trains. This is in conjunction with people not talking. In contrast, in the U.S., there are fewer subway ads but people talk more freely and loudly. I guess I prefer this presentation of advertisements over others. I haven’t watched Japanese TV yet, but I wonder if they also have commercial breaks that last 5+ minutes. I feel the subway gives companies the opportunity to advertise more in a non-invasive way. People can choose to spend their time looking at ads, if they want.
Overview of Week Three of Orientation Program in Tokyo
I found Ishioka-sensei’s discussion on being a female scientist in Japan very surprising and interesting. I liked when she talked about the LCM of the five-year and 12-year cycles in Chinese and Japanese culture, and how this resulted in an observable dip in birthrate during the year she was born.
I was already aware of the scarcity of female scientists. I didn’t know there were so few in MSE. I was also confused that MSE was ranked one of the “least stressful but highest paying jobs”. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Does that mean we’re not challenged enough? Or that we don’t get enough credit? Or that materials scientists are just really good at handling stress? All three of those options worry me, especially the last one since when it comes to handling stress I have a lot of room for improvement.
I noticed that Ishioka sensei also had some great experiences in Germany. This reminded me of the Japanese Fellow Etsuko; I wonder if it is common for Japanese people to work in Germany. Also, what is the female to male ratio in STEM like over there?
Another country which comes up a lot in Japan is India. There are a lot of Indian restaurants here, which an AJALT teacher told me are often run by immigrants form Nepal. For this reason, the cuisine is primarily North Indian. I’m not too sure how accurate this observation is. I was pleased though that many Japanese people seem to like Indian food; it gives us something to bond over. I’ve actually eaten more Indian food during my first month in Japan than I did during my first year at CMU; I think my mom would be proud. Also, people in Japan seem surprised at how well Indian people speak English. I was a bit surprised by this too when I met all of the Indian master’s students in Hyperloop. [mention talk about how they speak English more than hindi in india]
Finally I’m grateful that getting a Ph.D. is often paid in the U.S. rather than the other way around, since Ishioka sensei told us that companies are less likely to hire PhD students for this reason.
I also enjoyed the talk we had on Japanese films and women in Japanese society. I actually would like to watch a few of the movies which were discussed.
Kappabashi (plastic food): When I first heard about how prolific plastic food is in Japan, I wondered why. However, now that I’ve had many meals here, I am grateful for plastic food. It’s so convenient to go to a restaurant knowing the size and appearance of the dish you want to eat; I wish this was a thing in America.
Interestingly, there are many Indian restaurants in Japan, but I’ve never seen plastic food for Indian cuisine. These restaurants usually resort to pictures; I wonder if plastic food for Indian cuisine exists in other parts of Japan?
My favorite talk was Prof. Jan Gert-Bekker’s from Osaka University. In Science Olympiad, a club I did in high school, there was an event called Protein Modeling where we had to create 3D models of proteins using files from the Protein Data Bank and a 3D viewing software called Jmol. I really enjoyed playing with Jmol to highlight different elements of a certain protein; Prof Bekker’s “Molmil” is basically Jmol, but it works on your smartphone as well. I found this really amazing; I didn’t know that somewhere in the world, people were working on making graphics a larger component of how biology is communicated and studied.
I also enjoyed Don Futaba’s talk, since he gave some valuable career advice, and he talked about CNTs. One thing that stuck with me from his advice is that we should take control of what we want to do. He emphasized that he was very lucky throughout his career, but he also didn’t anticipate where he would end up. I’d like to take his advice seriously; at the end of this internship, I hope to have a clearer idea of whether I prefer research or industrial work, and which specific field of materials science I enjoy.
Fashion: As much emphasis as is placed on fashion in Japan, I often see people wearing the same kinds of clothes. One time, I was walking across the street and found myself in the way of two bikers riding toward me from opposite directions. I then noticed that both bikers (who were of opposite gender) were wearing the same exact shirt: half-sleeve and white, with dark blue stripes. As I stood staring, both bikers had to swerve to avoid hitting me and almost crashed into each other instead. Oops.
Anyway, this confused me—we learned during the Kimono presentation that a person’s clothes are considered an extension of who they are. If that is so, why do so many people wear similar clothing: white shirts with dark stripes, similar cardigans, style of pants, etc.? Is there actually less variety or am I just noticing general stylistic differences between Japanese fashion and American fashion?
Subway Tunes: What is meaning of all the subway station tunes? I searched this and found the “Train melody” Wikipedia article. I didn’t realize so much effort was put into creating station tunes. I want to read the referenced articles later for more information. I think it’d be cool to research what all of the subway tunes mean.
Having a train melody instead of an alarm makes sense; it reminds me of how in this thrift store we went to in Shibuya, dondondown, articles with different price ranges were tagged with a different fruit. They’re examples of the amount of thought put into many details in Japanese society.
- Tokyo’s Subway Stations Use Theme Songs to Put a Jingle in your Crushed Commute (TimeOut Tokyo)
- These Japanese Pop Songs Will Replace Departure Jingles on Tokyo’s Subways (Quartz)
Tokyo Tower: On our last night at Sanuki, we were on the roof and noticed that Tokyo Tower was colored blue. I was really curious to know why this was, and was sort of disappointed to find that every Saturday, Tokyo Tower is colored differently. The colors themselves have meaning, but in America, coloring buildings often happens after an important current event, sometimes as a statement of activism.
Self Exploration: Another thing I did during Week 3 is spend my last day in Tokyo completely alone—it was incredibly satisfying. I mentioned before that I thought I was spending too much time with my other Nakatani fellows, and that I wanted to explore on my own to learn more about myself and my interests. So, on Saturday, I decided to walk to Sengakuji Temple by myself and see the graves of the 47 ronin. This actually wasn’t a difficult task; I had Google maps and I think Kaylene already did it when we first arrived in Tokyo. But, after walking alongside a freeway under the scorching sun for about 40 minutes, I felt pretty proud of myself. And, Sengakuji did not disappoint. It felt pretty amazing to be standing in front of the grave of Oishi Kuranosuke, leader of the 47 ronin who lived 300 years ago. I was pretty surprised at how well the graves are maintained; back in America, tombstones that old would have faded a long time ago.
After Sengakuji, I went to Harajuku. Fortunately, I did not board any wrong trains. I went to the famous Takeshita street, and went into about half of the stores. I liked the architecture of the Tokyu Plaza mall; it reminded me of how crystal grains are arranged in metals. Clothes in Harajuku were really expensive, which was a pity since I was hoping to purchase some nicer-looking clothing to wear to my lab. I guess I’ll just have to find something in Nagoya.
I did find a really nice café while searching for an otearai. It was called the Brook’s green café. In addition to an oteari, Wifi, and an emphasis on healthy, natural foods, it had a really
nice internal décor, with cardboard cylinders on the ceiling and deep water culture plants as wall separators.
Question of the Week: I’m interested in the origins of the Japanese writing system. We started learning kanji last week, and I was confused about why the Japanese writing system is so strongly influenced by Chinese (kanji) and English (katakana and romaji) words. How did Japanese people write in ancient times? Also, given that Japan went through a period of isolationism, why is it that Japanese writing seems to be more influenced by foreign characters/words than other languages?
- History of Kanji (Tofugu)
- Hentaigana: How Japanese Went from Illegible to Legible in 100 Years (Tofugu)
- The Kana: They are A’Changin’ (Tofugu)
- Japanese Writing System (Wikipedia)
- The Changing Role of Katakana in the Japanese Writing System (Doctoral Dissertation)
- JapanGuide.com: Katakana
- JapanGuide.com: Hiragana
- JapanGuide.com: Kanji
Research Project Update
After speaking to Nakanishi-sensei yesterday, my project is much more defined. I originally thought that encapsulating metallofullerenes inside CNTs to produce peapods could be used to create nanowires. I learned yesterday that since the peapods would be connected to a circuit via electrodes attached to the walls of the peapods, if the walls were semiconducting (semiconducting CNT), then the conductivity of the peapod would not be sufficient for the circuit to function effectively.
Instead, peapods containing metallofullerenes are being studied to create “1-dimensional spin systems”, a concept which I don’t yet understand. However, they are important, according to Nakanishi-sensei. And, in order to experimentally determine their properties, peapods need to be created such that they are well aligned. Currently, when peapods are constructed, they look like a pile of spaghetti.
Fortunately, the Kono and Ajayan groups at Rice recently used a method called ‘slow vacuum filtration’ to create well-aligned CNTs. Nakanishi-sensei wants to apply this same method to peapods to produce well-aligned peapods, so that the 1D spin systems can be studied. So first, we’ll prepare the peapods, then ship them to Prof. Kono’s lab to be well-aligned. However, in order to prepare the peapods, we need to separate two kinds of peapods that we produce at the Shinohara lab: metallic peapods (metallic CNTs containing metallofullerenes) and semiconducting peapods (semiconducting CNTs containing metallofullerenes). This separation has been done with normal CNTs, but never with peapods, since peapods are a more recent development of carbon nanomaterials. This is my project.
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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
My introduction to the Shinohara Lab started when I stepped off the Shinkansen at Nagoya station. There, Ayano-san and Yuka-san, both female master’s students, greeted me and took me to my dorm.
After four subway stops we arrived at Yagoto Nisseki, and then walked for five minutes to the Ishida Memorial Residence for International Students.
There, I was given a lengthy and meticulous orientation by a man from management. Over the past week I have found that he is super nice and always willing to help me. However, during his careful explanation of the dorm rules, door locking mechanism, microwave function, the laundry room, and how to take the garbage out, I felt myself growing impatient. Many of the instructions were written in English, and I already knew how to operate microwaves and laundry machines. Why did he have to go through every detail? When we were finally finished, he slid each sheet back inside the folder one at a time, while saying something I couldn’t understand in Japanese. It was painful, and I wondered if this sort of orientation is customary in Japan.
At least, that was my initial impression. After the colossal number of Ls I’ve taken this past week using the wrong card to open doors, using a different wrong card to operate the laundry machines, and accidentally leaving my garbage in the wrong location for the crows to devour, I changed my mind. I really appreciate that orientation and wish I’d listened more attentively.
After visiting the dorm, Ayano-san and Yuka-san showed me the nearest supermarket. Aeon is a supermarket chain, and the closest one is in Yagoto, one subway stop away. Ayano-san bought me ice cream from Baskin’ Robbins, courtesy of my mentor Nakanishi-sensei. In Japan, Baskin’ Robbins is called “31” because of the logo (look it up!). I really appreciated this. Even though I’d learned that hospitality is a strong value in Japanese culture, I was still surprised.
Ayano-san and Yuka-san are awesome. During orientation, we learned that the gender gap in STEM fields in Japan is about 30 years behind the U.S. Because of this, I wasn’t sure what to expect at my lab. However, Ayano-san, Yuka-san, and Miho-san (the third female student) are all very confident in the lab, and I look up to them as role models.
I’d brought some pastries from the Mont Thabor bakery in Azabu-Juban for Ayano-san and Yuka-san, as a thank-you gift for receiving me at the station. In hindsight, I wish I’d wrapped them. My omiyage situation was a small L. I was a bit embarrassed of my omiyage since other Nakatani Fellows brought unique gifts like jam or chocolate from their hometowns. In contrast, I brought merchandise from the Carnegie Mellon school store. I wish I brought something more personal. I also didn’t bring a gift for the entire lab, such as a box of cookies. I am planning to get something during one of my excursions in Nagoya, but I’m not sure where to go yet. I could also bake something for my lab, using the lab kitchen.
In the end, it wasn’t too bad. I made a last-minute decision to give Shinohara-sensei my copy of The Last Lecture, which first-year students at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) receive after being admitted. He found the background story interesting, and he appreciated the large mug which I also brought. I gave Hattori-san, the lab secretary, a plush Scotty dog and one of my mom’s silk scarves from India. I’d told her during my cake party (see below) that my mom visited Japan last year and really loved it, so there was some connection there. I was nervous about my mentor’s omiyage, because all I had left after Shinohara-sensei’s and Hattori-san’s gifts were a smaller, engraved CMU mug and a CMU shot glass. They’re both nice but not very meaningful. However, Nakanishi-sensei seemed to like them a lot; he said he’d use the mug right away.
On my first day, Ayano-san met me at my dorm to take me to the lab. The walk from Yagoto Nisseki to Nagoya Daigaku (University) is about 15 minutes. [From this point on I will refer to Nagoya Daigaku as it is called in Nagoya: Meidai.] During our walk, I talked to Ayano-san about her career. She said she is going to work in Osaka this fall as a systems engineer. I asked if that was related to her research on CNTs in the Shinohara lab. It isn’t, but she wanted to work in Osaka since it is close to her home. Is this common in Japan? Do master’s students (and Ph.D students) often find jobs related to their research, or unrelated? Nakanishi-sensei told me that he wants to become a professor, and that it is easier to become a professor in Japan than it is in the U.S. I guess that’s because fewer people obtain Ph.Ds in Japan than in the U.S.
I was surprised to find that the entrance to Meidai is a bit…plain. There’s no large statue or aesthetic scenery, as there usually is at American universities. Another thing I noticed is that Nobel Laureates are very famous in Japan. Last week, I was sitting in the lab and Yuka-san handed me a cookie with a man’s face on it. Yuka-san told me it is Toshihide Maskawa, a professor at Nagoya who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008. Also, while walking on campus I saw a glass building with banners containing the faces of Nobel laureates hanging from the walls. Are Nobel laureates this celebrated elsewhere in the world? Also, if they are this famous, why don’t more people want to become professors in Japan?
When we arrived at the lab, we entered a room full of desks, with no separators. I had only a few seconds to feel intimidated by the openness of the lab setup and shown my desk before I was introduced to my mentor, Nakanishi-sensei.
Nakanishi-sensei is very cool. He’s the tallest person in the lab but everyone calls him “Junya-san” (as in, junior) because there is another person named Nakanishi in the lab who came first. He speaks English well because he studied at Rice University last year before returning to become the Designated Assistant Professor at the Shinohara lab. He’s very patient, has a good sense of humor, and is unimaginably helpful. For example, today he took me to the library to find a specific solid state physics textbook. He is also going to take me to Kyoto later this summer, just for sightseeing.
We introduced ourselves and then he took me to Shinohara-sensei’s office. Shinohara-sensei has a deep voice and mischievous grin, and is my new idol.
During the traditional cake party which is thrown for newcomers, I had a long conversation with Shinohara-sensei. We talked about the differences between speaking Japanese and speaking English; he said that when he switches he feels he is either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. We also talked about his love for Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, he publishes papers about the texts. I really admire how, throughout his entire career, Shinohara-sensei still maintained his non-scientific interests in stimulating ways. I want to be able to do that as I grow older.
Anyway, during our first meeting Shinohara-sensei asked how my stay in Tokyo was, and told me about the history of Nagoya. I told him I live near Princeton and he told me that like Princeton University, Nagoya Daigaku has an Institute for Advanced Research, of which he is the director.
Then, I went to my assigned desk in between Yuka-san and Masataka-san. There was some insurance paperwork for me to fill out; I didn’t expect this but luckily I had my passport and the necessary documents with me. Shinohara-sensei stopped by and gave me some maps and coupons for sightseeing places, as well as the March newsletter of the Nagoya Daigaku Institute for Advanced Research. Then, Nakanishi-sensei took me around campus near the Shinohara lab, to the convenience store, cafeteria, and bookstore. The bookstore had neat books, such as a compilation of TED Talks and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Nakanishi-sensei and Ayano-san also gave me a tour of the Shinohara lab. I was surprised at the number and caliber of instruments in the Shinohara lab; they exceeded those in my previous research lab in high school. Or maybe I just didn’t understand what all of it was back then. Anyhow, I am very excited to learn how to use everything (and yes, I mean everything).
Then, we went to lunch. It was me, Nakanishi-sensei, Ayano-san, Masataka-san, Yousuke-san, Yuka-san, and Shohei-san. We talked about our hobbies and favorite foods. The language barrier made it slightly awkward; I think the lab members were a bit shy to speak to me since they were afraid of not knowing English well enough.
After that, Nakanishi-sensei told me about my research project, and showed me how to prepare CNTs. Finally, there was a very long lab meeting which started at 4:30 and lasted until around 7. It was all in Japanese. I stayed until around 8, and then went home. I was going to join some lab members for dinner in Motoyama, but I had a headache (I didn’t sleep too well Sunday night) and my luggage had just arrived so I stayed home. I felt bad for cancelling, but he seemed ok with it. The way he says “it’s ok” is “don’t care”, which was a slight mistranslation, but I’m pretty sure (I hope) that’s what he meant. In the future, I need to be careful with keeping commitments I make.
Other slight mistranslations I’ve noticed are when people mean to say “yes”, they say “Ah, ok ok ok” instead. And when they say “so”, since so in Japanese means good, they really mean “yes”. Also, when people say “maybe”, they often mean “probably”, and when they say “please” they mean “make sure”. Since these words are usually cues as to whether a person is satisfied or annoyed, I’ve been paying close attention so I don’t misinterpret people.
The rest of this week was very enjoyable. I really enjoyed the cake party. Both Nakanishi-sensei and Shinohara-sensei warned me that Japanese cake isn’t as sweet as American cake, but I think I prefer Japanese cake. My piece had strawberries, custard, and some crust for the “cake” part which reminded me of the corn flakes in Raisin Bran. I happen to like Raisin Bran so I enjoyed it.
On Friday, my lab participated in an annual softball tournament against other labs in the chemistry department. This was my first time playing softball, so I was a bit nervous. We went to batting practice on Tuesday at a rundown arcade a few subway stops from Meidai. There, it cost 200 yen to make 20 shots. My first round, I only hit three out of 20. I asked the lab members for advice, but they weren’t sure how to say it so they just said “mm, muzukashii” (they either say this or “ahh…nan dero?”). So then, I watched a video on “how to hit a softball” with Hotta-san. During my second round, I hit about 7. I was happy about the improvement but still a bit worried.
Since Shinohara-sensei is really into baseball, I asked him for advice on Friday morning. He said I should swing the bat level, so it moves parallel to the ground, and try to hit the ball straight, not too high or too low, to make it harder for people to catch. I spent the first two games learning how to distinguish balls from strikes until Ayano-san told me that for girls, there are no strikes or balls. We just keep swinging until we hit.
Lucky for me, I hit the ball on my first swing. Unluckily for me, the pitcher caught it pretty quickly so I was out. But Shinohara-sensei said I did a good job which made me happy.
After softball, we had an onigiri picnic. Nakanishi-sensei said I should speak with Hotta-san, since in three weeks he has to give a seminar in English. At first I thought Hotta-san was shy, but now I think he was just nervous about speaking English. After asking my generic “what’s your research on?” question and getting the standard “carbon nanotubes” response back, I asked Hotta-san if he plays sports besides softball. He said no, but he plays bassoon. After that all we talked about was composers and their symphonies. I realized not for the first time during this trip that I need to listen to more symphonies.
After lunch, we chilled in the blazing sun. I was excited because Ayano-san brought the lab’s badminton rackets, and I really like badminton even though I’m pretty bad at it. At first I just played with Ayano-san and Miho-san. However, I must’ve seemed really into it because I ended up playing with many other lab members, and after that I feel they were more open and talkative.
When it got too windy for badminton we played Frisbee. If I’m bad at badminton, I’m terrible at Frisbee. Usually when my friends play back at home, I do something else. However, Sarah told us to keep saying yes, so when Tsukasa-san threw me the Frisbee, I caught it. I taught him how to throw the Frisbee by flicking your wrist toward you, which Emily and Rose showed me during our week at Rice. I still can’t do it, but Tsukasa-san got it pretty quickly. He then showed me how he does it, and I think I improved.
While we played Frisbee, I realized that my mindset towards failure is not as proactive as I’d like. For my whole life, I’ve been avoiding Frisbee because I hate not being good at something. But not being good at something is the starting point for everything. Before it wasn’t, since I was younger and life was easier. But moving forward, I’ll need to become accustomed to doing badly. See, I knew this already, but I never realized how poorly I practice what I preach.
Later, during the softball after-party back at Meidai, I was talking more to Tsukasa-san and he told me that he also likes futsal, which is like soccer except there are fewer members per team. I asked if we could play, and he said Motoki-san organizes futsal games every Friday in the lab. So, we asked Motoki-san to teach me and he said yes. I never thought that I would bond with my lab members over sports, because I don’t consider myself a “sports” person. Now though, I guess I should reconsider. I also want to play more badminton, so next week I’m planning to ask some members to play with me during lunch.
As a side note, there are a few lab customs which I’ve learned about. One is Monday lab meetings at 4:30, where people give updates about their research or about recent developments in our field. Another is lab cleaning on Tuesday, which I almost missed but luckily, I was paying attention and asked Nakanishi-sensei how I could help. We also have this kawaii whiteboard with magnets for each person, and boxes labeled “home”, “lab”, “business trip”, etc. It reminded me of Mrs. Weasley’s clock from Harry Potter. On Wednesday Yuka-san showed me the circular red magnet she’d made for me. Later, Nakanishi-sensei was taking me to the TEM and I found it funny that everyone else has colorful circles but his magnet is a small rodent. Oh Junya-san.
Back to the softball game. We didn’t go back to Meidai right after Frisbee. We were taking a yasumi when I decided to teach Tsukasa-san and a few other members how to play “Ghost”. I liked how it turned out to be chemistry-themed, since words like “Ketone” and “graphene oxide” were the first English words people thought of.
I talked a lot more with Tsukasa-san, a B4 student. He told me that he plays electone, an electric organ, and invited me to the Electone club’s concert at Meidai Sai on Saturday.
Meidai Sai didn’t seem as extravagant as Todai Sai, but I probably just didn’t explore enough. There was a surprising number of stands selling clothes, whereas at Todai, most of the stands sold food.
The Electone concert was really neat. An electone is sort of like an electric keyboard, except it has the pedals and keys of an organ. The concert was very long; I only stayed for the first half. I got to see Tsukasa-san play, and he was very good. I liked his expression. One important aspect of being a musician is your body language; Tsukasa-san was good at showing how he was enjoying his own music. He played a jazz song, but there were other songs as well.
After Meidai Sai I decided to visit Sakae, a popular shopping center in Nagoya. It is also home to the Nagoya TV Tower, based on the Eiffel Tower but built before Tokyo Tower, and Oasis 21, the Spaceship of Water. It took about 20 minutes to get to Sakae via subway. I arrived at Sakae station, which opens into “Central Park”, the underground mall. I then walked around Oasis 21. I got lucky because on that day, the Aichi Arts Fiesta was taking place underneath the spaceship. It was really nice; there were live artists painting on rectangular columns scattered around a central stage where dance and jazz performances were happening. The artists were really good; I wanted to buy their work but I wasn’t sure if it was on sale. I thought it was really neat watching artists work, and I want to attend this sort of event more often. I wonder how difficult it is for artists to make a living in Japan?
I spent the rest of the evening in Sakae, exploring the different shopping stores in Central Park. I purchased a nice shirt for $10 at a thrift shop. I was really proud of this purchase because a) all of the other shirts I liked were > $50, and b) I desperately needed more nice clothes to wear to lab.
Research Project Update
My research project involves separating semiconducting peapods. I am excited to be working with peapods, since I’m already learning core techniques used for synthesis, which will be invaluable if I decided to continue working in this area of materials science later on in my career. However, I feel that my project is more of a transitional step to help the Shinohara lab produce and study 1D spin systems in well-aligned peapods. I’m preparing separated peapods to send to Prof. Kono’s lab so that alignment can be executed on them. Studying the actual properties of the peapods will be conducted much later.
I understand that I am only here for 2 months, so there is nothing too groundbreaking I can accomplish on my own unless I get very lucky. In fact, I entered this program with the mindset that I’d like to learn the most I can.
However, that sort of changed when I read the March newsletter for the Nagoya Institute for Advanced Research which Shinohara-sensei gave me. In it, there was an interview with Prof. of Emeritus Tsuneko Okazaki, who discovered Okazaki fragments with her husband in the 1960s. I learned in high school and again in college about how important this discovery was to the field of genetics. I never imagined I would find myself at the same university as the two scientists behind such an important breakthrough. Furthermore, I’d never realized how strong of a woman Prof. Okazaki is. Her husband died at an early age due to leukemia, an after effect of the Hiroshima bombing during WWII. However, she persevered through both her personal and professional life. One of the questions in the interview was “How do you think university students and graduate students should prepare when aiming to be a researcher? What is your advice to them?”
Her answer: An important thing is that the starting point of a research project is to have a question asked initially by the researcher himself/herself, who then attempts to clarify it. It is not something that you can be told by someone else to do.
First, the researcher should think about what he/she wants to seek, and discuss it thoroughly. Some people avoid discussion to keep some matters secret, but it is important to engage in a lot of discussion with people around you.
Because of this advice, I really want to try something small on my own during this internship. So, I hope I get time to do some of my own background reading and come up with a small question or project to test on my own once I learn all of the techniques related to CNT/ peapod synthesis and processing.
The methods I intend to use for my project will be peapod synthesis using vacuum heating, which I just learned today. I will then attempt to separate semiconducting peapods from metallic peapods using aqueous two-phase extraction (ATP). If that doesn’t work, I’m not sure at this point what I will do. I will receive more instruction about this on Thursday, when Nakanishi-sensei’s friend is going to come talk to us about CNT separation. I believe I will also need to use the TEM to obtain images of the separated peapods and assess the quality of my work.
As for my timeline, this depends on how the separation of peapods goes. Nakanishi-sensei says he isn’t sure if separation can be done using ATP, since no one has tried it before. So, I am simultaneously working on the alternative, which is to separate CNTs first and then use only the semiconducting ones to make peapods. I am not sure what will happen after that. Maybe I’ll have time to explore some of my own questions, since by then I will have learned many new techniques. I could maybe try optimizing a few of them.
Reflections on Three-Week Orientation in Tokyo
I kind of wish I’d taken more time to explore Tokyo myself. I absorbed more from my language classes than I thought I did. Initially, I felt that I didn’t receive much direction from the science lectures, since much of it was either review or heavy in math which I haven’t learned yet. However, today I acquired three different textbooks which cover the topics that we discussed, and I look forward to reading them in more detail so I can learn what I didn’t understand during the lectures.
I really enjoyed getting to know the other Nakatani fellows. I hope our friendship lasts after this summer.
I am very thankful to the Nakatani Foundation for providing the funding and programmed events. Our trip to Mt. Fuji was really incredible, probably the most culturally immersive experience I’ve had in Japan (and actually anywhere, since I never travel) so far.
Probably the most helpful and interesting aspect of Japan is it’s robust subway system. I use it so often now, yet every time I wonder how it is maintained so well and how it was started in the first place. I’d like to do some additional research on this topic, and bring some ideas back to the CMU Hyperloop team when I return home.
I’m learning new things about myself every day. Mostly, I’m grateful for this opportunity to focus on how I react to different situations and how I can improve my life and state of mind after this internship ends.
Question of the Week
In her interview, Prof. Okazaki mentioned how the childcare system in Japan is not robust at all. Why is this? What measures are being taken to improve this?
- This is a very challenging problem for women in Japan and one that can give us some insight into why so many Japanese women choose to stay home after having children. Since it is so difficult to find childcare in Japan, this also has an impact on the low birthrate as if a woman wants to return to the workforce it is much easier to do after her children have entered public school.
- Japan Times: Childcare Articles
- Will More Daycare Help Boost Japan’s Sluggish Economy (NPR)
- Inside Japan’s Unregulated Childcare (Vice)
- Daycare Crisis is Forcing Moms to Stay at Home (Huffington Post)
- How Shishedo Keeps 100% of Its New Moms Amid a Childcare Crisis (Quartz)
- Solving Japan’s Childcare Problem (Stanford)
- Shinzo Abe Pledges to Fix Japan’s Daycare Problem (Time)
- Worker Shortage Drives Japanese Companies into Childcare (Bloomberg)
- What A Japanese Childcare Center is Like (Video)
- A Day in the Life at a Japanese Daycare (Video)
- Desperate Hunt for DayCare in Japan (NY Times)
- Daycare Options in Japan (Savvy Tokyo)
Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
As I mentioned earlier, the guys at my lab are really into sports. During the lab softball game, I was talking to them about this and Tsukasa-san told me that they play futsal every Friday. So, we asked Motoki-san, who organizes the games, if I could play and he said yes.
After the softball game, I felt I knew the lab members much better and so I thought it would be less awkward when I returned to work on Monday. This was true for a few members, but on the whole, I was disappointed to find that many members whom I’d spoken with during softball didn’t look at me or say hi in the office. On Tuesday, I was sitting at my desk and a bunch of the guys came in from playing futsal. I realized they must play on Tuesdays as well, and I felt a bit hurt they didn’t invite me.
On Friday, I brought a change of clothes and asked Motoki-san in the morning if I could play futsal. He said yes right away (or rather he said “ok” and gave me a thumbs up, which is what people in my lab do when they mean “yes”). I walked with Michi-san and Masataka-san to the soccer field, and was again surprised to find that during our walk they were much more talkative.
Futsal was super fun. Like I said before, I usually avoid sports but my lab mates made sure to include me. They were really encouraging, and didn’t refrain from passing me the ball due to my lack of experience. After meeting the same indifference when we returned to lab that afternoon, I realized that this change in demeanor was due more to different social settings than to how my lab mates felt about me. I remembered our lessons about how sometimes Japanese people sometimes seem “inconsistent” during orientation, and figured this was an example. In fact, today, Motoki-san approached me and told me they were playing futsal tomorrow (Tuesday). Also, I asked Masataka-san if he wants to play badminton on Thursday and he said yes.
I’ve been learning to push myself outside of my comfort zone in other ways as well. Last week I was walking to lab when a guy passed me carrying a violin. I caught up with him and asked “sumimasen…violin?” It was pathetic but fortunately he spoke English very well. His name is Shinichi, and he is a B2 electrical engineering student at Meidai as well as the vice-chief of the Meidai bluegrass club.
On Friday I asked if he was free in the evening, and he was. We were going to go to the Toganji temple which is ten minutes from Meidai campus, but it was closed, so I asked him to teach me how to play bluegrass violin instead. Since all of the practice rooms were being used, we ended up standing in a hallway but this seemed to be pretty normal for him. He taught me one really short song which I was surprised to find I could play, and then we went back and forth playing various classical and jazz violin pieces. I am really eager to learn jazz violin, and was surprised to find that he knows a little, since bluegrass and jazz have many similarities. I really admire his ability to play different styles based on what he hears from a recording. I’ve tried to do that myself but the players usually go so fast that I can’t keep up. I asked him about this and he said at first, it’s hard, but he got used to it. I hope I can learn more from him during these next few weeks.
This weekend spoiled me. I spent most of my time with Will, the better half of the #nagoyasquad. Since Will’s Japanese is more advanced, he was in class 4, he did most of the work when it came to speaking Japanese during our excursions.
Our adventures began Saturday morning, when we met Tomo at the Brazilian festival in Yabacho. Actually, what happened was we met at Hyasa-odori station, spent some time on the sidewalk dying from reading the list of Ig Nobal Prize winners, and then walked in the wrong direction for 20 minutes to Yabacho park. When we finally turned around and arrived, we had ‘Brazilian’ food and ice cream with Tomo. There was also a capoeira performance, which was interesting. One thing which surprised us was why the pigeons in Japan are so fat, if no one eats in public.
After that we set out for Nana’s green tea cafe, which I’ve been dreaming of visiting since Rose and Emily went in Tokyo. We took the subway to Aratama-bashi, and realized that NGT was actually in the Aeon mall there. I love Aeon. We also realized that we’d each been to this Aeon before: me when attending batting practice with my lab mates, and Will when in pursuit of cheese and peanut butter. It must have been fate which brought us here again. Will had taken up the responsibility of navigation, but I think it was by luck that we happened upon NGT while he was lecturing me about chloroform and its many uses. We tried to talk about philosophy again while eating our parfaits but it’s always difficult to come up with a philosophical question when you’re trying to come up with a philosophical question. And when you’re distracted by so much matcha goodness.
At some point before this we had decided to cook dinner together, and so after NGT we went shopping for ingredients for coconut chicken. I was pleased by my ability to locate the ingredients; I guess my 3-hour trip to Aeon last Sunday helped after all. However, we had difficulty finding the coconut milk, and when we asked one of the shopping attendants at a sample stand, she apologized and said it was her first day on the job. There was a woman trying the sample who heard and tried to help us find the coconut milk. At the Thai cuisine aisle, which did not have coconut milk, she turned to me and said something in Japanese which went completely over my head, so I left it to Will. After that I found myself in the familiar situation of not knowing what was going on. Will later told me that she was offering to search the entire store for coconut milk if we could wait there. Luckily, he told her it was ok, and we found the coconut milk a few aisles down. We also found peach calpis, which got Will really excited, and matcha spread for toast, which got me really excited.
I reallly wish I could speak Japanese better. Whenever I ask my lab members to speak to me in Japanese, they tell me “Ohaiyo gozaimasu” or “Konnichiwa”. I think I should practice more with Will. My konbini resolution hasn’t gone too well. I am not a big fan of the Lawson near my dorm because there’s this grumpy cashier who always speaks to me in Japanese even though he knows I can’t understand. He doesn’t make an effort to speak in English either, which confused me. I’m pretty sure he understands English because one time I asked him to show me where the hand soap was and he did, though he seemed angry about it. I really don’t know.
Anyway, in the evening Will and I met at his dorm to cook dinner in his kitchen. This summer is the first time I’ll really have the liberty to cook on my own, and I am excited about it. Will seems slightly less enthusiastic, but we still had a good time. The chicken ended up a bit dry, and the hummus could’ve used more seasoning, but it was a start. After dinner, we sat and talked for about three hours. Among other things, I really enjoyed our conversation about university education. I think it’s cool that Will is a TA, and I hope that I can become one at some point in college, if only to practice the results of education research I know about.
It was 11:30pm when we realized I should probably head back lest I miss the last train to Yagoto Nisseki. Will walked with me to the station and asked the person in the office if I had enough time to get back: another conversation during which I felt completely lost. Will’s great and I was really thankful for that, I just feel like I need to put more effort into learning Japanese.
The next day Will and I met Tom and Tomo at Osu kannon, where we walked around for about three hours. It was really nice to catch up; Tom was like “recently I got a girlfriend whose name is ‘reports and assignments’ and I’ve been spending most of my time with her.”
First, we went to the Sunday marketplace in front of the temple which sells a variety of wooden, glass, and stone trinkets. Tomo told me that Osu kannon temple is distinct because it is incorporated into the city of Osu kannon; there’s no gate or wall. There was some nice street art along the side of a building surrounding the temple; at first I called it graffiti, but then Tom pointed out that it is more street art. It was definitely a higher caliber than the graffiti we’ve witnessed elsewhere. I was reminded of the mandatory writing class CMU first-year students have to take. At the end, we have a research project and one of my classmates whose major is design did his on the difference between street art and graffiti.
Osu kannon temple leads into the marketplace, which reminded me of Sanja Matsuri. Here though, there was more of an emphasis on bourgeoisie t-shirts and international food. Here’s an interesting cross-cultural experience. We were walking past an Indian restaurant and this Indian guy who worked there was giving out fliers for it. He saw me and excitedly held out a flier; I didn’t take it though because I didn’t know if Will, Tom, and Tomo felt like having Indian food. “Huh??” the guy asked, visibly surprised. I thought it was funny that he was surprised that I didn’t want Indian food.
We kept walking and came across many shops, including Alice on Wednesday, which was really neat, and the bourgeoisie t-shirt shops where we found spirit t-shirts for all the Nakatani Fellows. Then we came across a restaurant for Hong Kong cuisine, but which ironically had a samosa stand in front of it. We got samosas there, and were heading back toward the Indian restaurant to exit this street when I saw the guy again. In perfect English he asked “you don’t like Indian food?” I said “I do but I just had some back there.” After this we went to Komeda’s coffee, where we had Ogura toast. Will started laughing about the Ig Nobel prize again, and Tom told us about his many girlfriends.
Our day then took an unexpected turn when we decided to go to a maid cafe we’d passed earlier. It was everyone’s first time except Tom’s, which he claims was not his idea anyway, but we know better. I can’t believe I went to a maid cafe. But now that I did, I’m glad, because it wasn’t at all what I was expecting.The cafe we went to wasn’t as extravagant as one you might find in Akihabara. There was no music, and there were only two maids. The setup of the store sort of reminded me of a conveyor belt sushi place, with a central circular table and one on the side. A large tree decorated with streamers and wishes tied to its branches occupied the second table.
When we were given the menu, Tomo explained to us that there were four types of drinks: Tsundere, Yondere, Deredere, and the “special maid drink”. We each got a different one and waited. When our drinks came, I found out what the names meant. They describe the characters which the maids portray when they serve you your drink—and our maids were really good actors. Tomo got the Yondere drink, where Yondere is what Tom and Tomo described as an “obsessive” character. I couldn’t understand what the maid was saying, but she walked up quickly to Tomo, dropped to her knees and started talking furiously and rapidly. Tomo told me that she was giving a long rant about how Tomo hasn’t been giving her enough attention, e.g. “why have you been visiting other maids?” Both of us were impressed at how skilled the performance was. My original impression of the maid cafe was much different than this, so I’m thankful to have had the experience. Since I ordered the special drink, I didn’t get a performance but a letter from the maid telling me to come again. We also took a kawaii picture with our server, and got to hang wishes on the tree. My wish was “I wish I could meet Tsuneko Okazaki”.
After that Tomo and Tom had to leave, so Will and I walked around a bit more and then went to our favorite place: the Aratama-bashi Aeon. I finally purchased a lab omiyage, a set of mooncakes. Today I gave the mooncakes out, as well as a set of Alice on Wednesday fortune cookies for Miho-san, one of the lab members who basically taught me 3/4 of what I’ve learned so far. The gifts seemed to be very appreciated, which made me happy. It also gave me an excuse to talk to Shinohara-sensei, and we had an interesting conversation about his research career.
Research Project Update
This week I achieved more independence in conducting experiments necessary to my project. For example, I can now use the absorption spectra machine by myself, as well as conduct aqueos two-phase extraction. Below is a table of methods which I’ve learned and what they are used for:
|Burning CNTs in furnace||Remove caps from pristine CNTs to make encapsulation possible|
|TEM||Used for taking images of peapods|
|Separation of metallofullerenes and empty cages using TiCl4||Used to isolate metallufullerenes|
|Aqueous Two-phase Extraction (ATP)||Used to separate metallic CNTs from semiconducting CNTs|
|Peapod synthesis using H-tubes||Synthesize peapods using sublimation of C60 (?)|
|Absorption Spectra machine||Used to determine relative concentration of metallic and semiconducting CNTs in sample|
|CNT dispersion in dichloromethane||Used to remove PEG polymer from CNT dispersion, which was used during ATP to separate, but may interfere with encapsulation|
|Separation of CNTs using Gel column method||Used to separate metallic CNTs from semiconducting CNTs|
|Filtration of CNT dispersion||Used to remove solvent from CNTs|
This week I was still learning new processes and hadn’t yet hit the point of starting something new. So, the only setbacks were when I screwed up. For example, spilling CNT solution on my lab notebook or not being exact enough with the micropipette. This resulted in imperfect separation of semiconducting and metallic CNTs, and not enough yield to filter the CNTs from the solvent. I was supposed to try the “novel” part of my research this week. However, a number of events occurred and now I have a different project.
Last week, Shinohara-sensei sent me a paper which he published in 2012 called “In Pursuit of Nanocarbons”. It described his decision to change his research focus on fullerenes and eventually carbon nanotubes. After he sent me the article, I found myself thinking a lot about research. Shinohara-sensei spent most of his career on just one topic, and the material he studies *still* haven’t been implemented into the devices we use every day. Could I find satisfaction in a career like that? Would I want to have a more direct impact on our lives? Was I even enjoying my ‘research’ now?
I’ve been trying to focus on learning as much as I can, rather than thinking of what I am doing as “research”, as per what I described last week. Because of this I’ve been taking very meticulous notes, as seen by the picture below. However, sometimes research, even real research, is just plain boring. Nakanishi-sensei himself made this very remark when we were waiting for our CNT dispersion to filter through the column when learning the Gel column separation method. When he said that, I began questioning my decision to become a researcher yet again.
In the end, I Skyped with my parents and they told me that sometimes life is just plain boring, and I just have to keep going. So that was my answer, but I still felt disinterested in my project. I recalled my conversation with Will over the weekend, when he said that very few people know how to use the TEM well. I decided that I needed to pursue this goal harder, and so I texted Nakanishi-sensei and asked if I could accompany him whenever he uses the TEM for his own research.
To my surprise, Nakanishi-sensei responded that he was surprised by my motivation thus far and has decided to change my project to one which requires more frequent use of the TEM. Here is the summary which we discussed today (Monday 6/19):
- I will be trying to synthesize MoTe2 nanoribbons by encapsulating them in CNTs, and then isolating them by decomposing the CNTs. This has not been done before; MoTe2 is currently being studied as 2D nanosheets. However, similar to how graphene nanoribbons and graphene itself have different properties, the same is predicted for MoTe2. It is speculated that MoTe2 nanoribbons would be semiconducting.
- To synthesize the nanoribbons, I’d either have to use sublimation in tubes to encapsulate bulk MoTe2 inside the CNTs and subsequent heating to create a nanoribbon. However, this method has not worked with graphene or MoS2, so I may need to use chemical precursors instead of bulk MoTe2 instead. I will be working with three members of my lab who are conducting related experiments to make this happen.
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
My wish from the maid café came true! On Wednesday morning I received an email from Shinohara-sensei that Prof. Tsuneko Okazaki would be at Nagoya Daigaku and was happy to meet with me at 4pm. Words could not describe how excited I was. I’d learned about Okazaki fragments first in middle school while studying for Science Olympiad, and I’ve learned about them many times since in high school biology and in college. As my former biology professor said when I told him of the meeting, “There are few discoveries more fundamental than the mechanism of replication!”
I summarize my conversation with Prof. Okazaki here. I tried to ask her more personal questions to better understand her life, though I found her career advice from this interview very helpful as well.
I consider my meeting with Prof. Okazaki a personal accomplishment. I am very honored to have spoken with her, and I am glad that I wasn’t shy to approach Shinohara-sensei and ask if it was possible to meet her. In general I feel I have been reaching out to people more than I normally feel comfortable with. Nakanishi-sensei said I am not shy to approach people, which I took as a compliment.
Still, I have much to improve on. I feel that it is easier to approach people when you barely know them. At that point, you have no relationship so if you screw up there are no consequences. As Watson says just before meeting Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, “If we don’t get on it will be easy to part company.”
However, after you know someone, asking for help is more difficult. I experienced this last week when I had to constantly ask Miho-san questions about how to conduct ATP Extraction. Maybe it’s that they don’t smile as much when you go up to them, or you feel as if you have a limited number of chances to approach them for help before it becomes a one-sided relationship where all you do is take. Or maybe it’s just easier to make excuses for being shy, like telling yourself “this person looks busy, I shouldn’t bother them.”
Whatever it is, I’ve encountered an energy barrier for approaching my lab mates and it’s been difficult for me to get over it. I think it was a contributing factor to the largest L I’ve taken on this entire trip.
Like I said before, I really want to learn how to use the TEM, so my mentor gave me a new project which requires more frequent use of TEM. He told me to ask other lab members for help, since it’ll help them practice English and he’s busy. On Thursday, I went with Motoki-san to the TEM machine. As we walked to the building, he wasn’t very talkative and so I thought maybe I’d disrupted him from his work. I recalled that earlier while playing badminton, he’d left early because he was busy.
After we arrived, I prepared for TEM imaging using the notes I’d taken. [I should say here that if meeting Prof. Okazaki is my biggest personal accomplishment thus far, taking meticulous notes comes in second. During my previous research internship in high school, the notes I took were poor and illegible, which I regret since I couldn’t study them later for reference. However, I’ve already filled 30 pages of a notebook I got from the konbini with step-by-step instructions on how to conduct each method I’ve learned so far. I also rewrote Nakanishi-sensei’s TEM Manual in Latex, and am incorporating my own notes from when he taught me as well. As we will see, despite my diligence, said notes failed me at a time of utmost importance.]
Thanks to my notes I got surprisingly far on my own, but then came the beam adjustment part. When I practiced with Nakanishi-sensei, the beam was already a regular triangle so there was not much for me to change. But this time, the beam was an oval and the center point was shaped like a slit. Motoki-san looked at it and said that the person before us wasn’t good at using the TEM, so he would reset the beam himself. After a few minutes of watching him turn knobs, I picked up where I’d left off, using the perfectly aligned beam.
This was like how when I hang out with Will, I don’t learn Japanese as well as I should. In hindsight, I should’ve asked Motoki-san how he fixed the beam, since these instructions weren’t in the manual Nakanishi-sensei had given me. I didn’t because I knew it would have taken him longer to explain things and I didn’t want to take up more of his time.
When we got around to taking images of the CNTs, we were a bit confused about what we saw. Unfortunately, that was also the part which I find most difficult about using the TEM—taking clear images using the Focus knobs.
When we were taking the probe out, I pulled it too fast and that made the pressure inside the chambers in the TEM go out of whack. Motoki-san said it was ok, and we finished and left.
The next day everyone was super busy. Nakanishi-sensei had said we could go over the images in the morning, but we didn’t get around to it until after lunch. He said that the images were promising but unclear, and that for practice I should take images of the 600 sample again. However, Motoki-san and other people who are skilled at TEM were all busy, so I would have to use it myself.
I didn’t feel confident in doing this. Maybe I should have told Nakanishi-sensei this explicitly. I only said that I felt uncomfortable inserting or removing the probe. He came with me to insert the probe, and told me to call Motoki-san or Yuka-san if I needed help. I told him I felt bad for bothering them, but he didn’t say anything in response. I’m not sure if he understood what I meant or not; his non-reaction confused me.
It was going alright until I arrived at the beam adjustment part and again found that the beam wasn’t a regular triangle. I wasn’t sure if this was because of the previous user or the pressure imbalance which I’d caused the day before. In any case, since Motoki-san had done the adjustment, I didn’t know how to fix it. I thought what he did was just repeat steps from the manual, so I tried that.
As Will would say, “it was a disaster.” I kept repeating the steps I knew from the manual to make the beam a regular triangle, but it didn’t work. I ended up turning the condenser aperture knobs too much and by the end I couldn’t even locate the beam.
I wish I’d asked for help earlier. The problem was, I couldn’t text Nakanishi-sensei because a) he was busy and b) there’s no cell phone service in the basement. He’d told me to call the lab but I was reluctant to do so and interrupt someone’s work. I had asked Motoki-san if he would be free that afternoon and he said no. I did try calling at one point from the telephone but I couldn’t read the kanji labels so I didn’t know how to press “call”.
When I lost track of the beam I realized I could not wait any longer. I pressed some different buttons on the telephone and eventually got through. Michi-san was there and came over to help. He looked at the screen and said he’d never seen this before. After a few minutes of knob fiddling we located the beam, but it was completely disfigured. He called the office multiple times, spoke in Japanese, and fiddled with the knobs, but to no avail. We left the TEM as it was; he said someone from Jeol would come fix it next week. Devastation.
Now, no one can use the TEM until Wednesday and I feel that I’ve broken the trust Nakanishi-sensei placed in me by allowing me to use the TEM alone. I’m not sure how to make amends. This weekend I apologized to Nakanishi-sensei, and asked if I could accompany the Jeol guy next week to learn how fix the TEM. However, he said this was not recommended and in an unsuccessful attempt to make me feel better asked if I’d yet taken a picture with Shabani, the gorilla at Higashiyama Zoo. Sadness.
I think I will be prepared for the Mid-Program Meeting despite this setback. I’m just not sure what else I should do to make up for the TEM incident. I guess it’ll just take time and not screwing up Raman spectroscopy.
The rest of my weekend offered a nice break from the TEM disaster, as well as ample time for reflection and reading Sherlock Holmes. I’ve gotten back into it since I discovered Shinohara-sensei’s interest. When I showed him my summary of my conversation with Prof. Okazaki, I said “Perhaps one day my abilities will match those of Watson; I hope I didn’t leave out any details”, and he responded “Yes, I’m pretty sure they will!”
I am determined to make the most of this week before the Mid-Program meeting. Today (Monday) I asked Shohei-san to teach me how to do Raman Spectroscopy, and he said we can do it tomorrow. I also asked Motoki-san how to fix the beam when it’s an oval, and he said next time the beam is like that he’ll show me how. Finally, I was talking to Teru-san about the TEM and he said it was under maintenance, which fortunately means that the entire lab does not know I am the person who overturned the knobs. I told him anyway, and he laughed, which made me feel a bit better.
Question of the Week
I finally decided to resume my daily workouts. I was running around Yagoto Nisseki this morning when I came across a graveyard that spanned several acres. I haven’t seen a cemetery this big even back home in the suburbs of NJ. Why are cemeteries so huge here when Japan already has limited land space?
- Japanese Funerals: What Happens When you Die? (Tofugu)
- Grave Hunting in Tokyo’s Realms of the Dead (Japan Times)
- Cemeteries in Japan: How do the Japanese Honor their Ancestors (Japan Info)
- Graveyards in Japan (Japan Guide)
- Video: Japan’s High-Tech Cemeteries (Reuters)
Research Project Update
My main goal this week was to synthesize MoTe2 nanoribbons @CNTs (MoTe2 encapsulated in CNTs) using sublimation at different temperatures and take pictures of them with the TEM. The synthesis process isn’t too difficult, yet I did make quite a few absent-minded mistakes. For example, when burning the Pyrex tubes containing the CNTs, I almost set off the alarm because I thought one of the buttons was the light switch to the fume hood. I also forgot to light the gas and was confused for ten minutes why I saw no fire. And when I finally got the fire going, I burned the tube but the MoTe2 ended up in the opposite half as the CNTs.
I noticed these mistakes mostly occurred in the afternoon. I need to build up better work stamina, or ingest more caffeine.
I want to test 5 different sublimation temperatures: 600, 700, 800, 900, and 1000 degrees C. However, I only synthesized 600 because the 700 tube was the one I messed up, and Nakanishi-sensei said I should wait until we get clear TEM images of the 600 tube before proceeding with higher temperatures.
So, then it was a question of using the TEM. See above for details. Until Wednesday, I will try to learn how to do Raman spectroscopy.
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
One thing I’ve begun to contemplate more during my stay in Japan is magnitude of devastation the country faced in the aftermath of WWII. I was obviously aware of this before coming to Japan, but several experiences have sharpened this awareness. The first was during our international relations discussion back at Sanuki Club, and later during Mt. Fuji, when I was discussing politics with Tomo and she shared her opinions on Japan’s relations in response to the outcome of WWII. The second was when Prof. Okazaki told me to visit Kanazawa, one of two cities left untouched after the war was over.
After visiting Kyoto, the other city, I feel quite perturbed. Unlike Tokyo’s typical city landscape or Nagoya’s middle-of-nowhere feel, Kyoto’s atmosphere exudes cultural depth. I haven’t been everywhere in Japan, but I don’t know if you can find so many bright red shrine gates, or traditional houses mixed with modern apartments, just anywhere. Visiting Kyoto and experiencing its rich culture just by walking up the street made me wonder sadly at what Tokyo and Nagoya would look like today if WWII hadn’t happened. What did they look like before WWII? How would Japan be different if it had been on the winning side? These thoughts were prevalent throughout my experiences during this past week.
Before I left for Kyoto, I went to a beer garden with members of my lab. It cost 3900 yen, but I’m glad I got to spend more time with them outside of the lab setting. A lot of people express confusion when I tell them I went to a beer garden. It’s really just an open tent with colorful lamps and entertainment where people eat barbeque (Hibachi-style) and drink beer. Of course, I drank orange juice instead.
This sort of reminded me of the barbeque lunch we had after visiting the aquarium near Mt. Fuji; there were so many different types of meat which I got to grill. I was sitting across from Omachi-sensei, whom I hadn’t gotten the chance to talk with much. He showed me pictures of his baby boy, who was totemo kawaii. My favorite food was probably karage, fried chicken. Maybe Japan can’t get French fries right, but they sure know how to do friend chicken. I sat next to Yousuke-san and he said that was his favorite thing to eat as well.
After the beer garden, we went to Motoyama because Yousuke-san and I wanted matcha ice cream and the other lab members wanted to drink more (3900 yen only cover 2 hours). We went into a restaurant and spent the next hour or so talking. Here, I had a conversation with Ayano-san about whether or not she would consider working in the U.S. She said she wouldn’t, since she loves Japan and it is safe here. I felt a bit disappointed; at the very least, if she’d said yes, that would have been an easy conversation topic. Also at first I just didn’t understand. America is the best at everything, why didn’t people want to come? As soon as these words crossed my thoughts, I became aware of just how American and ignorant I am. I was still staring at Ayano-san but I forced myself to accept her viewpoint and nodded. It was definitely more informed than mine, and truthfully, I’m not sure if I would want to work in Japan either (see below).
I’ve asked other members of my lab this question and have received similar responses. Their reasons were “I don’t speak English well”, “I love Japan”, and “U.S. isn’t safe.”
True, I’m an American, so this was bound to unsettle me regardless. But when I was talking to a member from Alex’s lab about this, he said Japanese people tend to value stability and safety in their lives. Many prefer to stay within their comfort zone in Japan. Was this simply the call to home which people felt? Or is this due to Japanese culture and history, such as its roots of isolationism? Was part of this perspective reinforced by WWII?
I guess another reason why I found this surprising is that the majority of master’s students I know back in the U.S. are Indian students studying to obtain their degrees in the U.S. But now that I think about it, many of them told me they want to get a job in the U.S. for a couple years, but then return back to India. I guess the call to home is strong for everyone. But is stronger for U.S. and Japanese citizens? Sarah told me about this article which ranked the U.S. and Japan as the top two countries where their respective citizens tend to stay to work.
After observing this response, I had a really interesting talk with Tom on Saturday night during the Mid-Program meeting. Not only have my lab members expressed disinterest in working in America, they’ve also been reluctant to visit. I then asked them which other countries they’d like to visit, and they listed a few. When they asked me, I said “everywhere”, and they seemed shocked. I was confused why people seemed unwilling to explore the world. I asked Tom if he would consider working in America, and I was surprised when he said yes right away. Then he described to me his goals of working in the Aviation industry in the U.S. He has a very solid plan. I asked him if most people his age are of that opinion, since I figured maybe the difference in answers comes from a difference in age. He said they are not, but he wants to be the best at his job, and he knows he can accomplish this where the aerospace industry is strongest.
Tom’s monologue surprised me. Even I don’t have such clear goals. Should I? Later, when I was talking to Tomo, I found she also has a clear plan which involves her obtaining a medical residency in the U.S. I guess all of the Japanese fellows were probably selected for having a similar mindset, since it takes that kind of courage to study abroad. When I was younger, I wanted to be an ambassador so I could travel everywhere. Now, I still want to travel everywhere, because visiting new places will help me grow as a person and learn so much. It’ll also help me accomplish more:
“Creativity happens when you bring together disparate worlds. If you just do the one thing, and you meet people very similar to you, I think this often reinforces certain ways of thinking and deepens ruts. But where does creativity come from? It comes when you have different approaches intersecting.” —Suchitra Sebastian
When talking to my lab members though, I didn’t encounter this mindset. One of the reasons why the master’s students in my lab said they wouldn’t visit the U.S. is that they don’t have enough money. I couldn’t argue with that. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in that position—in a few years, when I am in graduate school, will I give up my goals of traveling the world? It will definitely be harder since I’ll have to support myself. Also, during my conversation with Alex’s lab mates, I heard not for the first time that priorities change as you grow older. Especially after you settle down and have a family, it’s harder to accomplish your goals, so people tend to give them up. Harder, but not impossible, as I learned from Randy Pausch.
Anyhow, this trip made me more aware that I have limited time left. I’m 19 right now, so 11 years before I turn 30. What do I want to accomplish by then? Will I finally start that business from when I was 10? Will I finally play a violin concerto in front of an orchestra? Will I be ‘published’?
I wouldn’t say I’ve wasted my life up until this point, but I can definitely recall moments when I wasn’t focused on how much I want to do, and cognizant of the short amount of time I have to accomplish it all. Maybe it’s the child still inside me, but I still want to do everything. This was reinforced during our lab visit to Kyodai on Monday. But I think it’s better that I go back to the beginning.
Reflections on the Mid-Program Meeting
Probably the best part of the Mid-Program meeting was catching up with all of the other Nakatani Fellows, both U.S. and Japanese. I feel we grew closer, seeing each other after a month-long respite.
I left for Kyoto on Saturday morning. When locating Kyoto Traveler’s Inn after stepping off the Shinkansen (J), I ran into Trevor. I didn’t expect to be so happy to see everyone again, since our group chat was always active on LINE and it’d only been a month. Trevor and I had so much to catch up on and we talked incessantly about our labs and research experiences as we traveled to the hotel. Our experiences were highly relatable, and helped ease some worries I had myself.
After we arrived, more people trickled in, and we had many happy reunions. I enjoyed the discussion we had with Kono-sensei and Sarah; it was interesting to learn from the other fellows’ experiences. I was relieved to find that both Dad’s and Mom’s lasers were under maintenance, so the guilt I felt from the TEM subsided a bit. One thing which stuck with me from our discussion was when Alex shared how he’s been realizing what research really entails. He said that the experience of doing research 24/7 and being treated like a graduate student was different than the research he does as a student in college: “In school, you can study hard, get an A, study for a test, but research is a totally different process that doesn’t reward you linearly.” I haven’t done research yet as an undergrad. I’ve done research as a high school student, and I had a similar insight. I know that school is a lot different from real life; in fact, I think school should be more like research, where students are given questions and have to search for the answer rather than given a set of equations to memorize.
However, this concept of being rewarded nonlinearly stood out to me. I’ve been realizing lately that there are few things in life which reward you linearly. I guess there’s a lot of patience involved in research which I never really considered before. I get frustrated a lot at having to abruptly stop working because I have to wait for a machine to be repaired or for my sample to heat for two days. I think this can be avoided by careful planning and more efficient habits. However, since research is uncovering new truths about our world, actual dead ends are unavoidable.
After the discussion, we had dinner and got to reunite with the Japanese fellows. Our dinner was delicious and enjoyable. Afterwards we went walking to find a panya to celebrate Seiya’s and Miki’s birthdays, but after that I was super tired so I went with half of the group back to the hotel. We then chilled in Shohei’s room, and talked about music we liked, the competitiveness of undergraduate education, and many other things. One thing we discussed is whether or not Japanese people should speak English around a non-Japanese speaker. Nina and Tomo thought not; we are in Japan, after all. However, Tom considered it rude. I agree with Tom, having been on the receiving end of this kind of communication and knowing how it feels.
However, I myself am guilty of exclusion. When Trevor and I went to the konbini with Etsuko to get onsen tamago, we were talking in English really fast and I don’t think she caught everything we were saying. However, I subconsciously let it slide because it wasn’t an important topic. That’s exactly what I dislike in other people’s habits, and reflecting back I feel really bad for doing it to Etsuko. Anyway, after the karaoke crowd came back, we discovered that Shohei is an amazing beatboxer. We went to sleep after that. I got to spend some more time talking with Tomo, with whom I always have enlightening conversations.
The next day was really busy. Breakfast was great, but after that we returned to our rooms to get dressed in yukata. I really enjoyed being dressed in a yukata. It was interesting to see the colors they picked for each girl, and how the yukata is folded to fit. I also enjoyed the tea ceremony a lot; I am excited to record what I learned and perform it again for my sister’s birthday after the program is over. The flower arrangement was also really fun; I really liked Savannah’s since she cut her leaf into thin strips.
That evening we went bowling together in our Nakatani-RIES shirts. It was sooooo fun, and I really hope we can go bowling with the entire gang when we get back to Texas. By far the best bowler was Trevor, to nobody’s surprise.
I really enjoyed the Kyoto Handcrafts museum. The incredible detail of Japanese society was amplified in the artwork we observed. I liked how there were both traditional objects and carvings, but also a floor which solely focused on architecture. I’d really like to see some of the ideas presented be realized in the physical world. I took a picture of one landscape, which reminded me of the “twisted bilayer” which one of Alex’s lab mates researches in the Matsuda lab at Kyodai.
After that we went to the Manga museum. I was surprised to find that the Manga Museum was more of a library, where people could just sit down and read the whole day, with museum element incorporated among the bookshelves. I thought it was a really interesting setup. We even saw a few of the manga discussed during our orientation in Tokyo. After we’d all looked around we sat down to draw our own manga. My artistic abilities range from stick figures to crystal structures, so I drew a body centered cubic unit cell. Savannah drew a nice picture with all of the Nakatani U.S. Fellows. I am in the lower right and am holding a scroll, which is the quotewall I’ve been keeping. Interestingly, during my lab visit they asked Prof. Kono to sign one of the whiteboards in the downstairs lab. I’d observed that previous occupants and well-known professors had signed it but I never really gave it much thought. In fact, I wondered why it was in the basement all the way in the back of the room. However, Sarah said this was a good extension of my quotewall idea into a lab setting, and I agree. Maybe if I become a famous professor one day I will also have one, in a more conspicuous location.
Mid-Program Meeting Research Introduction Presentation
As part of the Mid-Program Meeting, on Monday, July 3 our 12 U.S. Fellows gave a presentation at Kyoto University introducing their research project and future plans. Shivani presented on the research she is doing in the Shinohara Laboratory at the Nagoya University entitled “Encapsulation of MoTe2 nanoribbons @ CNTs“. Click here to download a PDF of her presentation.
On Monday, we gave our research presentations. There were elements of everyone’s presentation which I thought were great ideas; I hope to incorporate them into my final presentation at the end of the summer. My biggest takeaway was that I needed to practice my presentation more. I didn’t mess up per say, but I feel that when I present my actual results in August the stakes will be much higher.
After the presentations, we had another beautiful and delicious lunch. Also, I got the chance to speak to members of Alex’s lab at Kyodai. Alex had said his lab was serious, which I misunderstood. Maybe they don’t play futsal every Friday in the blazing sun, but I really enjoyed talking with them. I was surprised to find that one of the postdocs in Alex’s lab used to work at Shinohara-sensei’s lab with my mentor, Nakanishi-sensei. I had a very interesting conversation with him about Japanese viewpoints on travel and working abroad. He was from Malaysia, but I had a similar conversation with one of the Japanese members as well during the tour. He accepted my viewpoints and said maybe he should change his mind, but he is also older.
Then we had the lab tours. These were super interesting and I was excited that they incorporated so much biology. I was able to ask a lot of questions. I thought that I’d be interested in researching at these labs in the future. My favorite was the Pureosity Lab. There, Sivaniah-sensei gave one of the most unique perspectives on research which I have encountered so far. He was showing us one of the systems used to make porous membranes, and described how it took a while to figure out how to make them in bulk. He said that many labs are focused on producing publications or patents, but his lab focuses on real-world impact. This involves going out into developing nation and asking cities to test the lab materials and provide feedback. I felt that this method was unique because it bypassed the industry which usually develops a product further before putting it on the market. I found this inspiring; I want to do this kind of research.
That night we had dinner at the Gorilland near Kyoto Traveller’s Inn. Aside from reminding me of my unfulfilled duty to visit Nagoya’s famous gorilla, this was a really great experience. I got to talk more with Erica, and learn about Emily’s aversion to almonds over shabu shabu.
I really enjoyed visiting all of the temples. My favorite was Kamigamo, where we got to see the reconstruction up close. It was raining about half the time, but this meant that the temples were mostly empty. Walking along various paths, under bright red gateways and across stone arrangements was a serene experience. I wish I’d read more about the history behind each temple before we went though; that is something I intend to do before going to Kiyomizudera tomorrow with my lab mates.
Our visit to Sysmex was pretty awesome. From the chic graphics during the presentations to the real-time demos, beautiful grounds, and automatic lunch charging system, I felt like I’d walked into some futuristic scifi movie. I can’t believe the care which the Nakatani Foundation has put into this program; Endo-san and Ogawa-san are so helpful and kind. I really appreciate all of their thoughtfulness and work.
Moving forward, I have two goals: Speak more Japanese, and work harder in my lab. I’ve been inspired by the other Nakatani fellows to learn even more and try to accomplish as much as I can in the short time I have left.
Question of the Week
What lasting cultural impact did WWII have on Japan?
- You might want to read some of the articles on WWII that I’ve posted under the History in Japan section on the Life in Japan resources page.
Research Project Update
I organized my notebook much better this week to clarify my plans. At this point, all of the samples are either in the furnace or finished, which means that I finished synthesizing MoTe2@CNTs for the entire temperature range which I first intended to test. Now, all that remains is characterization with Raman and the TEM. I was able to use the TEM yesterday with Nakanishi-sensei. It was really great, since he held my laptop with my Latexed notes open while I operated the instrument fairly autonomously. Most of his comments were explanations of why we do something, and what he learned from the TEM repairman. I corrected many mistakes which I’d made before, and now I think the only part which I am subpar at is focusing the images and interpreting them.
We took images of the peapods which were synthesized at 700 degrees Celsius. We were able to identify encapsulation of some substance, but it was difficult to discern what exactly that substance was. We therefore need more pictures at different temperatures and EDS. Nakanishi-sensei also wants to teach me something called EDS, which I don’t understand but allows us to observe individual elements in a sample. He says he’ll teach me that next week.
Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
My lab is more casual than I expected, based on our orientation in Tokyo. In terms of speech, everyone uses polite form and addresses each other using the correct honorifics. However, there are small exceptions which give off a more friendly ambiance, such as my mentor’s nickname “Jr.-san.”
There are typical lab routines, such as cleaning the entire labs on Tuesday at 5, logging when you use a machine, and updating whiteboards on your whereabouts and time slot for using different instruments. Also, members have designated roles, such as “tech person” or “cybersecurity guy”. I had to visit Shohei-san when my WIFI wasn’t working and Teru-san tracked me down when we received word of a virus infecting the system (it wasn’t me fortunately). People say traditional greetings when they walk in, which I still haven’t had the courage to do myself. Update: I felt bad about writing this so when I left today I said “Otsukare samadesu”. It was like I’d stepped into an alternate world; two seconds earlier you could hear a pin drop and suddenly everyone was grinning and returning my salutation like we were in America or something.
I’m not sure what happens when people disagree since our lab meetings are in Japanese, so I miss most of the discussion. However, when someone (exclusively Shinohara-sensei or an assistant professor) asks a question, a conversation ensues for the next five or ten minutes, so I figure this is a time where everyone is trying to reach a consensus on the topic. My lab mates seemed to nod and say “hai” a lot, so I guess the conversation is more one-sided and consists of Shinohara-sensei providing suggestions. I’ve never observed any of the B4 or master’s students asking questions.
That said, during the lab meetings people use plain form, even when talking to Shinohara-sensei. I have not observed the process of bowing and saluting upon leaving his presence, though I might just not have had the chance.
On the whole, Shinohara-sensei is a very chill professor. When I was talking to a Shinohara-lab alumnus from Alex’s lab, he acknowledged this and said Shinohara-sensei runs his lab in a very casual, comfortable manner, which he enjoyed. Some of the members of my lab seem more formal than Shinohara-sensei himself.
Having said all this, there’s still a barrier of formality during daily activities within the lab. The casualness I referred to above occurs when people are talking with each other; actually beginning the conversation is a whole different story. People don’t smile at or acknowledge each other when crossing paths, which bothered me more than I would have expected.
I hope I haven’t been doing things which aren’t appropriate, but no one has called to my attention. I haven’t yet presented at a lab meeting, and I asked Nakanishi-sensei but he said I don’t have to because one month isn’t enough time to produce results. I guess that’s a universal truth of research, though.
The Shinohara-lab is pretty big. The lab I worked at in high school, as well as the labs which I’ve encountered at Carnegie Mellon are all smaller than this. However, I like the large lab setting because it allows for group activities and an almost household-like organization, where people clean together and have designated chores. If I work in a lab in the future, regardless of my age, I think I will introduce some of these elements since they seem to have a positive and efficient impact.
I’m curious about why the labs are so big in Japan. I also noticed during the lab meeting today that many members’ projects are highly interrelated, and so maybe this allows for quicker progress. Instead of spending time searching for literature about a certain topic closely related to your research, you can just ask the person sitting next to you who happens to be an expert.
Sight-seeing In Kyoto with my Labmates
This Sunday, Nakanishi-sensei and a couple of my other lab mates took me to Kyoto to go sightseeing. It was super fun and I really appreciate the thought they put into planning this trip for me. Here are some highlights:
Question of the Week
If friendships take a long time to build in Japan, how do I maintain the relationships I form with my labmates (and with the Nakatani-RIES Japanese fellows) after I return to the U.S.?
Research Project Update
The TEM was being fixed again today. I think because there are so many small components, the repairman has to come in for multiple days and fix a small part each day. However, I hopefully will be able to use it tomorrow. Nakanishi-sensei told me that using the TEM correctly will be more valuable in my future career than publishing a paper, which I asked about. I know he’s right, but publishing a paper sounds pretty cool. Anyway, he told me to focus on using the TEM so that’s what I will do. I feel that he and Shinohara-sensei don’t have too many expectations of me since my stay is so short, and I feel motivated to disprove that mindset in any way that I can.
Anyway, I now have all of the samples prepared, although I made a few small errors for the 800, 900, and 1000 samples so I may need to heat them again. This is a slight setback, but at least it’ll give me more samples to take TEM images of. I also have yet to master Raman spectra and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy.
I know what needs to be done but at the same time I feel a bit lost. I think it’s because I’m now at a new phase of my project which involves analysis rather than just doing things. I have to remember that the goal is to learn as much as I can.
One thing I’m glad that I did today was read previous literature about TMD nanoribbons. Nakanishi-sensei told me they’re important because they’re “just interesting”, which, despite all of his helpfulness so far, was a pretty unsatisfying answer to my question. I guess he said that because the research is so cutting-edge that TMD nanoribbons@CNTs probably won’t be implemented in actual materials for many years. It’s nice to think about though, and I was really intrigued by the possibilities listed in the research literature. One notable application was in photocatalysts, where the authors had discovered that the edges of 2D materials were efficient catalysts, and so nanoribbons could replace nanosheets in these devices in the future.
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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
My linguistic experiences have not been too difficult to handle, since people typically speak English well enough that I understand, or they use visual aids to help with their explanations. At Nara, I tried asking some people for directions but my first response was “We are Chinese….”, and my second response was in English. The most challenging times are when I’m not actively communicating with anyone, but in the midst of a conversation that is going completely over my head. For example, when people in my lab speak in Japanese around me or about a topic that involves me, they don’t give me the full details in their subsequent translation. This bothers me; even if the details were unimportant, I’d still like to know.
It’s also challenging when the person I’m talking to looks grumpy, like the cashier at the Lawson near my dorm. When they’re grumpy, people mumble so it’s even more difficult to catch what they’re saying. I then feel pressured and take the easiest way out of our interaction, which usually involves leaving my receipt or having to ask Will afterwards what was said.
I haven’t continued to study or use Japanese in lab, because it’s much more convenient for my lab mates and myself to speak English. My initial attempts to learn Japanese from my lab mates were unsuccessful. I asked them to teach me Japanese and I got “Ohaiyo gozaimasu” back. After I labeled the waste containers in English since I couldn’t remember the kanji, two lab members went around the entire lab and added English labels to every cabinet and drawer.
I know learning Japanese will enhance this research internship a lot. I just need to try harder.
My experience in Japan has greatly heightened my desire to learn Japanese. There are so many interesting components of the language which I want to familiarize myself with further: the power to use polite vs casual form, the phonetic basis which is much like Spanish, and the entire corpus of Japanese media (poetry and yes, maybe anime).
This past weekend Will and I went to Nara. My mentor tells me that Nara is less popular than it used to be, and usually the visiting demographic is families with small children and foreigners. This was accurate when we visited, and for a very specific reason. But I’ll get to that.
I’d visited the daibutsu near Meidai— Toganji— and loved it. When we arrived at Todaiji in Nara, I was not disappointed by the size. However, I liked the Meidai daibutsu better. The Nara Daibutsu is sheltered under a wooden temple (actually, one of the largest wooden temples in the world). It’s difficult to get a nice picture since it’s hidden in the shadows.
If I were a designer, I wouldn’t let this fly. The daibutsu near Meidai has no covering; you can see it clearly against the backdrop of the town of Motoyama. I appreciated the merging of ancient shrines and modern life. It reminded me of Sengakuji, where the graves of the 47 ronin lay right in the middle of Tokyo. Maybe that does not align with the purpose of a temple, which primarily is a place for worship and contemplation. I guess it’s interesting how Japan has both. I wonder why certain rulers who commissioned these temples made their decisions differently.
The other major point of interest at Nara is the tame deer. We had a lot of fun with the deer. Will bought bread beforehand which the deer desperately wanted, as you can see in this picture of Will hugging a deer and holding the bread behind his back.
Me: Will, do you have any pets?
Me: Oh, what kind?
Will: We’re not sure.
Will: Oh wait, I meant to say ‘a dog’ before that.
I was going to go to Gion Festival but I also wanted to come home in time to sleep at a proper hour, since although it was a national holiday yesterday I wanted to go into lab for part of the day at least to show commitment. Ironically, when I got to lab the next day, the door was locked and no one else had come (my mentor said he was coming at 2) so I finally got to visit my namesake at Higashiyama Zoo. Can you spot him in the picture?
My favorite ape wasn’t Shabani though. I really enjoyed watching the gibbons, which make an amazing variety of sounds with their bulging throats. I was staring up at one when a news reporter (at least, I think he was. He had a camera and said something about TV) came up and asked me why I came to the Zoo today. I kind of blanked and instead of saying something insightful, like “I want to observe the treatment of killer whales in Japan”, I said “I want to see Shabani because I am Shivani.” Rip.
It was extremely hot so I didn’t get to visit the killer whales or the botanical garden, but hopefully I’ll have time to return and do that as well. I was a bit disappointed by the cages for the lemurs, monkeys, and birds. I felt they didn’t have enough space to move around. Also, I arrived just before they were fed breakfast and observed the oddest behavior. One of them was just running wildly around in circles in its cage for a full five minutes. Another rattled the bars of its cage as the zookeeper passed by. I wonder if that is normal in other zoos and if the animals are ok.
My visit to the zoo was enjoyable, but after that I had to return to lab and get some work done. I washed two samples in nitric acid in preparation for Raman Spectroscopy and using the TEM. My mentor said I can use the TEM by myself now, which I feel much more comfortable with doing but still nervous about.
After that, I went to Aeon, my favorite place, to buy food for the week. I think I’ve succeeded in one goal I had this summer, which is to learn to make food for myself. However, more importantly than buying food for myself, I had to buy ingredients to fulfill a promise I made earlier in the summer.
I was sitting at the lunch table eating warabi with Hotta-san and Miho-san one day, when we started talking about desserts we liked. Hotta-san said he likes strawberry shortcake, and later when our conversation shifted topics I learned that his birthday is July 18. So, we agreed that I would make strawberry shortcake for his birthday. There were a couple problems with this. First, I don’t have an oven. Second, I’ve never made strawberry shortcake before. Third, my cooking utensils in Japan span the wide range of a mug, fork, and butter knife.
I was determined though, since it was a promise. After a month of contemplation (I could use crushed Graham crackers? Buy premade cake? Use pancakes or crepes instead?), and failing to find real strawberries at Aeon, I decided that it was time to explore the final frontier of my living space at Ishida Memorial International Residence: the microwave. I was going to make a mug muffin strawberry shortcake.
I was planning to attend the Nagoya Port Fireworks Festival with Will, but fortunately his lab members were going anyway so I stayed home last night and experimented. There may or may not be written instructions on how to use the microwave in my room. If there are, I couldn’t find them yesterday. And anyway, perhaps in line with the research mindset I’ve come to adopt during my stay in Japan, I wanted to figure this out empirically.
The thing about my microwave is that 1) the labels are in Japanese and 2) it doesn’t function like normal microwaves. It has a “preheating” phase for like 30s before it actually starts heating. I don’t think it’s a microwave oven though, because it has a rotating plate and I can’t (at least I think I can’t) control the temperature.
Point is, it took me a couple of tries. Below is my first attempt; the dark spots are burnt mug muffin and the brighter spots are also burnt mug muffin. This was better than when I tried making a mug muffin earlier and couldn’t get it to solidify. So, I view this attempt as my most successful.
From the previous attempt, I estimated how long to heat the muffin for my second attempt. I don’t mean to brag but my estimation abilities are on point. Here is my second attempt:
This had the consistency of cake, though not shortcake. However, it was more than I’d hoped for so I decided to stick with it. I felt really proud; this was my first time making a mug muffin and it reminded me of that scene from Star Wars when Rey heats up her dinner.
After that I frosted the cake with strawberry buttercream frosting which I made using strawberry jam, butter, and powdered sugar. Decorating is my favorite part of the dessert-making process. At home when I bake cakes with my family, they always let me decorate. I like to think it’s because I’m creative, but it’s probably just that no one else wants to spend so much time frosting a cake.
Anyway, I decorated the mug cake with matcha powder in the shape of a dragonfly. When I went to Kiyomizu with Nakanishi-sensei, Hotta-san, Ayano-san, and Yuka-san, there was this massive dragonfly which Hotta-san thought was fake. It was a bit blurrier by the time I delivered the cake to Hotta-san though, so I’m not sure if he recognized it.
I gave it to Hotta-san, and he said ‘thank you very much’. I was kind of disappointed by his anticlimactic reaction, but I could tell he appreciated my efforts. I hope it tastes good.
I’m proud of the mug cake because it’s also an example of me failing but learning from my mistakes. As much as I am aware of this fact, it’s so difficult to practice in real life. At Todaiji in Nara, there’s a pillar in the wooden temple with a hole at the bottom said to be the size of the Buddha’s nostril. If you crawl through it, you supposedly get enlightenment in your next life.
From the moment Will-san set his eyes on the hole, I knew how the rest of the day was going to go. We waited in line behind scores of small children and foreign tourists for ten minutes, and Will told me to take a video of his attempt. He didn’t make it, and it was a sad video. It was only after seeing Will fail, and being encouraged by him to try myself, did I decide to go through. I was surprised (and relieved) when I made it through, but I was even more impressed that Will could laugh at himself so easily.
We got in line again (“I know I can make it through, I just need to stretch”), but when I was taking the video, a LINE notification popped up just as Will’s head popped out the other side. And so, we waited for a third time, which hopefully went unnoticed by the many Japanese and foreign onlookers. Everyone seemed amused by Will’s attempts, but he didn’t care at all. It was admirable and definitely something to learn from.
Question of the Week
Japanese products are super high quality, but why are they often so complicated?
Research Project Update
My research is going well. Today I am going to use the TEM entirely by myself, which I feel ready for. Last week I operated it almost autonomously, with Nakanishi-sensei sitting behind the curtain in case I needed help.
I need to give Shinohara-sensei a presentation on Friday about my research so far, so at this point I have two more samples left to image and characterize using Raman Spectroscopy, the 900 and 1,000 samples. I hope to complete this by the end of today, so that for the remainder of the week I can focus on analysis and learn new techniques. I want to learn how to create computerized images of CNTs and TMD nanoribbons, as well as any optical characterization which is needed to further research on TMD nanoribbons. Maybe I could learn about extraction of nanoribbons from CNTs.
My presentation on Friday wasn’t even a thing until last week, when I asked Nakanishi-sensei if I should also present at the lab meeting. He said I don’t have to, since one month isn’t enough to get results, but then the next day he told me that he spoke with Shinohara-sensei about my project and that I will present on Friday. I was surprised to learn that Shinohara-sensei didn’t even know what my project was until Nakanishi-sensei told him, which only happened because I asked about presenting. I didn’t know that’s something I had to do. If I hadn’t, would Shinohara-sensei have gone the entire summer without knowing about my project?
Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
I decided to interview Shinohara-sensei. It was a very interesting conversation.
He described how he attended Shinshu University, a national university in the Nagano Prefecture. Shinshu is the older name of Nagano. As an undergraduate he really wanted to go to graduate school at Kyoto, since it had the best graduate program. This was not a popular decision, as most students want to stay in the same school. At first I thought this was weird, but the way Shinohara-sensei explained, if you stay within the same school for both undergraduate and graduate courses, the curricula may be tailored accordingly, so students wouldn’t need to adjust or fill in any gaps they missed at a different school. I still agree with Shinohara-sensei’s decision though; all-in-all I believe the new experiences a student could gain by attending a different graduate school would outweigh this one.
Anyway, Shinohara-sensei was doing research as a B4 student at Shinshu Daigaku when his professor invited a Chemistry professor from the University of Florida to give a guest lecture. He was so interested that he approached the professor and asked to work in his lab. Since Shinohara-sensei was a good student, he eventually had the choice of attending graduate school at the University of Florida or Kyoto Daigaku. He chose Kyoto, since he liked their graduate program. This was the first big decision of his life.
At Kyoto, he was working on low-temperature optical spectroscopy of copper chloride. He was working with a professor who had studied at the University of Chicago and Stony Brook in the US before coming back to Japan, and so he spoke to Shinohara-sensei entirely in English.
One day, before Shinohara-sensei even got his Ph.D., his professor came in and told him to apply for a research position at the IMS, the Institute for Molecular Science. He didn’t think he was qualified but he applied anyway, and was shortlisted. After he interviewed, he was accepted.
There, he found himself as a newly minted professor in charge of a lot of money. Since he was young, he collaborated with an older professor who suggested that he study nanoclusters made from supersonic molecular beams. This was the second big decision of his life, and led him to build his own molecular beam machine. He researched nanoclusters until 1985, when he heard about C60 fullerenes made through a similar molecular beam process by Smalley and Kroto, of Rice University, and decided to change his research topic again. This was his third career-changing decision. He feels content with his decisions, since nanocarbon materials research has grown so rapidly over the past 30 years.
I asked him why he decided to do research as opposed to industry. He said he never even considered industry, since he was highly influenced by the first Japanese Nobel Laureate, Hideki Yukawa, a particle physicist who discovered the meson. This made him decide to pursue fundamental science (though, earlier I asked Shinohara-sensei if his interest in Sherlock Holmes, an avid chemist, also influenced his decision, and he answered yes). Now, Shinohara-sensei feels more interested in the applications of his research.
I guess this is a difference between me and Shinohara-sensei. I never thought about doing research as a career until I reached high school. Before that, I always wanted to be an ambassador or start a business or be an activist. I was all over the place. I still am.
- Did you know there is an Office of the Science & Technology Advisor at the US Department of State? There is also the Office of Science & Technology Policy at the White House that has an internship program and many public policy fellowships that seek to bridge academic research in STEM and policy. At Rice, we also have a Science & Technology Policy program within the Baker Institute for Public Policy. You may want to see if your home university has a similar program.
We talked about the differences between research in Japan and research in the U.S. He said that there are good and bad things about both systems. In the U.S., if you have a grant, you can basically do anything you want with it. But, you need to apply for a grant in the first place, and that’s very difficult since it’s so competitive. In Japan, Japanese professors don’t need to apply for grants. However, they do have administrative positions which are difficult to reject and require a lot of managerial work.
He said that Japan and the UK are alike in this regard, but Korea and China are more like the U.S. However, the system of having more than one professor in a lab is carried over from the German system. In Germany, the system is like a pyramid, with the head professor, a few associate profs, then the assistant profs, etc. This allows labs to publish lots of papers. It also allows for projects which continue for extended periods of time, instead of 2-year intervals depending on post-doc projects, as is what happens in the U.S.
This reminded me of how in Hyperloop, they want more undergraduates since the master’s students only stick around for 2 years. It also made me realize that I should get involved in research right away, because then I’ll have 3 years to accomplish something at university, which is fairly long term even for older students.
We talked about Sherlock Holmes (finally, I was waiting for this point to arrive in our conversation). He asked me why Holmes and Watson don’t call each other by their first names, even though they lived together in the same room for so long. I said it might be because it takes away from the mystery of “Sherlock Holmes” if he’s just called Sherlock. And with Watson, if Sherlock called him “John”, that’d be a level of friendliness inconsistent with Sherlock’s character. He seemed to disagree. He had asked Prof. Eleanor Campbell, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, who came with her husband here for 4 months, what she thought, and she said that she didn’t know, but this may have been the custom in Victorian times. This is also what the Internet said when I looked it up.
We also talked about how Holmes would be out of his element if he were to go to a different country, because the customs would be completely different. For example, he wouldn’t be able to identify different soils if he came to the U.S. since they’re different from London soils.
Shinohara-sensei was particularly excited about his Honorary Degree at Edinburgh; he said he’s won many awards but this is probably the most special. He will be giving a speech there during the commencement next year, and is excited to mention Sherlock Holmes. His favorite long story is A Study in Scarlet. He said he started reading Sherlock Holmes at a young age, “a knee-high tot”, but he doesn’t feel the stories are appropriate for kids.
After this, Shinohara-sensei had to go to the Institute of Advanced Research, of which he is the director. However, I emailed him these questions and he provided more of his insights on maintaining an international lab. He said that virtually all of his postdocs have been international students, and that “an internationally-mixed research team is extremely important (or mandatory even) when it comes to finding new things out! “Heterogeneity” is one of the post important elements/factors for managing a first-rate lab.”
Other Reflections on this Week
I was running the other day and came across a butterfly which I’ve not seen in the U.S. By the shape of its wings I guessed it was a swallowtail. After further research I think it’s a Red Helen, or Papilio Helenus. It’s such a small detail but reminded me once again that I am in Japan, which is amazing.
Last week I was engaged in my favorite pastime here at Meidai: eating lunch at Craig’s Café and reading Sherlock Holmes. The café is quiet and dimly lit, with interesting baked sweets and extremely tasty bagels. I was reading Sherlock Holmes, as I said, when the door opened and in strode the loudest man I’d heard in a while. He spoke one word then stopped, as if realizing the rest of the café was quiet, then repeated the word three times, as if acclimating his voice to interrupting the peaceful ambiance. Definitely American.
I tried to ignore him and his posse of friends, but since they were speaking in English and were also very loud, this was difficult. I gathered that they were staying with Japanese families for their time in Japan, though I don’t know the purpose of their stay. Probably to study abroad, since we were at Meidai.
The first guy was complaining about how Japanese people don’t speak English. He said that even his Japanese family doesn’t speak English, and wondered why they agreed to house him if they knew there would be a language barrier. He also complained about people speaking Japanese around him, when they know he can’t understand what they’re saying.
Obviously, I could relate closely to his experiences and frustrations. What I could not share was his sense of entitlement and ungratefulness. Why should Japanese people speak English? This is their country, after all. I’d bet Shinohara-sensei’s TEM that if this guy were in America and some Japanese person arrived in his town without knowing any English, he’d probably complain about how immigrants come to America without knowing English. And anyway, Japanese people do know English, as we learned during our Orientation. They just don’t apply it regularly. Cuz they’re in Japan.
His rant was also pretty rude considering both the staff and majority of Craig’s Café customers speak English very well, so they probably knew what he was saying. Maybe this guy didn’t realize this, or maybe he just wanted to rub it in passive aggressively. I had half a mind to say something but then I figured he probably wasn’t worth it.
I’m glad I had this experience though. It’s a reminder of which perspective I should take when faced with daily frustrations of being a gaijin and not understanding what people are saying around me.
I don’t have a picture of the offensive gaijin but I do have a picture of the excellent lunch I was enjoying during his interlude. However, having a bagel every day is not healthy. I’ve been taking advantage of my time living alone to cook my own food, including these beetroot tofu cutlets:
Research Project Update
Last Friday, I gave Shinohara-sensei a presentation on what I’ve done so far. We had observed that both pure Te and MoTe2 can be encapsulated inside CNTs, depending on the temperature. We hoped to see a gradient as the temperature increased of the encapsulation yield and material. However, due to a mistake I made while preparing the 900°C sample, all of the 900 CNTs were empty. Shinohara-sensei advised me to try the experiment again, with a few adjustments. First, I’ll use Meijo SO CNTs instead of EC 1.5. SO CNTs are made using arc discharge, while EC 1.5 are made using CVD. The arc discharge CNTs are higher quality.
Second, we realized that the encapsulation material I’ve been using is a mixture of Te and MoTe2, rather than pure MoTe2. This is because synthesis of pure MoTe2 via CVD is difficult, and must be done with excess Te. However, when it was prepared in our lab, too much Te was used, resulting in the mixture. So, Shinohara-sensei wants me to try the experiment again with pure MoTe2 and pure Te, separately. Or rather, he wants the experiment to be tried again, by someone.
There is little time remaining in this internship, but if I can accomplish twice the work I’ve done in a month in the next two weeks, we will have achieved two important milestones: encapsulation of MoTe2, and encapsulation of pure Te. I am determined to do both, even though Nakanishi-sensei warned me it’ll be difficult.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
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Week 13: Final Report
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Tips for Future Participants
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