Farewell, Yoshiue-san!

“I have a dream for you,” Yoshiue-san wrote to me this morning. I had returned home in the wee hours after a late night cookie party at my seniors’ place. Yoshiue-san’s message was the first one I read during my morning ritual of checking social media. He announced that he shall be leaving the university library by the end of March and join another as an associate professor. The sudden announcement and especially during the weekend somewhat saddened me.

I always loved librarians and the temples they nurture. I always needed a library but never had an access to a wide variety of them. My desktop used to be filled with shutterstock images from the Congress Library in Washington, Trinity College Library in Dublin and the Clementinum National Library in Prague. My school librarian was one of my best friends and I always ran to her during sports periods because I never enjoyed sweating and gasping for my breath. Learning the classification system and helping organise the library soon became my past-time. I started making lists of books that I wanted in the library and had my eyes hooked to my favourite cupboard which housed the classics. On the opposite wall, Radhakrishnan and Ambedkar seemed to smile at me.

Yet, Yoshiue-san made a special place in my heart.

It was only in the first few weeks after I entered the university back in October 2015 that I started spending a lot of time in the library. Using computers to find a book amongst over 4 million that were stored in the 5 campuses of the university was overwhelming. After all, I was used to cards and ball-point pens. On one such day, I saw a man, somewhere around the age of 40 walking towards me. Wearing a plain white shirt and hands folded in Namaste, he asked me if I was Indian. I replied in the affirmative. This was followed by a moment of wow accompanying sounds expressing his ardour which I was still getting used to whenever I met a Japanese. He was quick enough to bring out a picture of an old man with greyish-white hair wearing glasses from the 50s or the 60s. The man looked Indian. “Do you know him?,” Yoshiue-san asked me. I remembered him from my conversations with my school librarian. “Oh yes! Dr. Ranganathan! The father of library science in India,” I identified. At that moment, he was taken aback. He was not expecting me to identify Dr. Ranganathan. “You are the first one,” he said and handed me a little white booklet which he wrote about him.

What are the odds that I travel 5,000 miles crossing seas and rivers and Shanghai sparkling below me like a moonlit bride to meet a man holding a different passport show so much love for Dr. Ranganathan? All his life he spent researching on this one man’s vision of library which has enlightened so many and yet so few. He spent some of his time as a student in Baroda and had also found his way to the then-famous Maharaja Club in Tokyo’s upscale Roppongi area. If you talk to him, he has so many stories to share while he sits at the reference desk in the university’s main library, binding us all through his strings of reminiscence.

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Yoshiue-San at the library

It was just last year that he became excited over a mail that he received from IIT Madras. “They have invited me to give a talk,” his face blushed as he spoke. After all, apart from Chennai, he would get a chance to visit Sirkazhi where his hero Dr. Ranganathan was born. “You must definitely go,” I encouraged him. “I should ask my wife,” he laughed. For the next few months, our discussions surrounded around spices and curries and he showed me Dr. Ranganathan’s books which he bought back in India where he has marked the key words and translated them into Japanese. I could imagine Dr. Ranganathan smiling and the gleam in his eyes reflecting from his glasses. It is rare to find such romances.

At times, he used to thank me for a box of white tea that I got for his wife during one of my visits to Delhi. It is rare even for us Indians to have knowledge about the white tea. Sometimes he used to wear his favourite kurta which he bought at the Delhi airport and paired it with his dupatta. Once, I helped him in getting some pictures from the Asiatic Society in Mumbai and he sent me the paper where he published the pictures with credits given to me. His elation was evident. He was always surrounded by his Japanese colleagues who learnt their India from him.

After my September 2016 trip to India, I met him in the library. “You got to meet Amitabh Bachchan!,” he shrieked after he saw my pictures on Facebook. These are the moments when I wear my cloak of modesty and try not to run away out of embarrassment. He almost pulled my hand and took me to the bulletin board near the library’s reference desk. There was an A4-size print out of my picture with the Big B holding a copy of ‘The Sentinel’. He looked at it with a broad smile. I could see a sense of satisfaction and admiration for me in him. To almost every new Japanese person he met in the library, he told them about me and showed them the Amazon web link of my poetry book. I am very unreactive in such situations as I still do not know what to do when someone praises you. But, I always wanted to tell him ‘Thank You!’.

When he finally visited Chennai, he sent me his pictures with students at IIT Madras and pictures of the library. He sent me his paper which he presented there. The title read ‘Transformation of academic libraries through higher education reform in Japan: becoming realized what Dr. S. R. Ranganathan would want to see’. He always talks about active learning spaces and complained since the IIT Madras Central Library had no place for active learning or group work. 58.2% of university libraries in Japan have already incorporated active learning, he stated in his paper. When he returned, he looked happy. He enjoyed eating with hands during a traditional South Indian dinner and kept on revisiting the pictures from his talk. “They were laughing and enjoying it a lot,” he said to me. He also got to visit his spiritual home in Sirkazhi. I really wonder what did the locals think of him visiting this small town to find someone’s footprints who remains largely unknown amongst our generation.

I do not know how would I describe my relationship with him. I revere him as a mentor, colleague, friend and family. When he finally decided that the library should also have its own English newsletter, a first time at the university, he reached out to me and my team to lead the project. “How does the name ‘The Concierge’ sound?”, he asked me. I smiled and gave it a nod. The team of ‘International Concierge’ at the library which is responsible for helping foreign students in different languages on how to use the library is something he deeply associates with. He finds himself as its part even though there are not many who come to seek help at the desk. Yet, he smiles. That keeps the library alive each time I go.

I look back at the message again. He wants me to collect farewell messages for him from the colleagues at the library. He wants to be missed deeply and wishes to take a piece of memory home with him. In this world of real and solid objects, his little wish takes all our space in our hearts. I will miss Yoshiue-san in the fragrance of the books stocked in the basement. I will miss him in the threads of his kurta. I will miss him in the skies that keep both my homes across the seas connected. I will miss him whenever I talk about falling in love with India all over again.

Farewell, Yoshiue-san!

As expressed by Trishit Banerjee. He was born and brought up in India and is currently a third-year undergraduate student of Advanced Molecular Chemistry at Tohoku University. He is the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Sentinel’.

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Tête-à-tête with President Ohno

The new academic year is almost around the corner and Sentinel is excited for the new President. Arunava Acharyya, Manuel Campos and Trishit Banerjee asked some fun questions to the new president. 

  1. What are your hobbies?

I often mix my work with hobbies but I still enjoy skiing once or twice a year. I am not sure how good it is for my health though. I also like to go on a day-or-two driving trip with my wife to onsen or nearby places like Urabandai in Fukushima.

  1. Which is your favourite food?

I really like Inaniwa Udon of Akita. I also like steak. I remember visiting a restaurant in Switzerland where I had Argentinian beef and I am still trying to find it again. I also visit Sindur once in a while to have Indian curry. I prefer the mild ones though.

  1. Do you like J-Pop? Which is your favourite J-Pop Band?

I guess the J-Pop of the 1970s. My tastes haven’t evolved since then. Since my wife is a piano teacher, she has influenced me a lot and I take keen interest in classical music like the piano sonatas of Mozart and others.

  1. Which is your favourite book?

I really enjoy the work of Shiono Nanami. She lives in Italy and she writes about the ancient Roman empire. I enjoy it because it is not scholarly dry and she is an amazing story-teller. You can get a grasp the life very well as if you are re-living the history. It’s imaginative too. I find it highly entertaining because it tells a story, not just information.

  1. Which club/circle/activity did you pursue when you were a university student?

I was involved in the automobile club rally as a navigator as I was not brave enough to be a driver. This was while I was at University of Tokyo.

  1. Lastly, where were you born and brought up?

I was born in Tokyo but brought up in Sapporo.

My Little World

I am a lab secretary who works for two different labs. I ease their workload by providing administrative support and also helping them organise their time. My liking for supporting others probably comes through my parenting experience as I am also raising my 6-year-old boy. I believe that each Lab member is very unique and I always feel honored to assist such eligible colleagues. I also help international students with their personal lives. Since the are living far away from their families, I sometimes feel like being their mom.

There are several female students in my lab who are called ‘Rikejo’ in Japanese. It roughly translates to ‘female students(researchers) with science background’. I always had the image of them being very efficient yet cold but, they are really balanced and thoughtful. I really hope that they are able to build their careers as they wish to. In Japan, the burden of housework and raising a child tends to fall mainly on women of the household (called ‘Wan ope ikuji’ in Japanese, which means “one-person operation”). Even for me, as a part-time staff, it’s hard to juggle between work and motherhood (Our husbands are much busier). During the flu season, an epidemic spreads in Japan and all working moms feel the burden because they have to take time off from work and nurse kids alone. I believe that the university is open to men and women equally so, I want it to support researchers and staff along with their children. If you ask me, I would definitely like to support such a system in the future.

As expressed by Mika Kobayashi

In Search of a Better Me

“I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

Back in my country, studying biotechnology, public health and working were not the only responsibilities I had. Becoming a public figure at the age of sixteen, as I became a singer/performing artist and an actress, allowed me to get involved in various fields of work. I became engaged in different capacities starting from volunteering at orphanages and hospices to being an ambassador for children’s and women’s rights with local and international organizations, such as the UNDP, United Nations and Good Neighbours –  which is an international non-profit, non-religious, humanitarian development NGO in General Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Leaving behind my long-built career, shutting down my newly launched business, and most importantly leaving my son for a certain period of time to pursue my studies in Japan was a step of faith. Yes, we are here to achieve our academic goals but, building both academic and personal aspects equally are important. I believe that we all need to live the life of leaving our comfort zone. Whenever we take good risks we are stretched and eventually advance on to the next level of understanding, competence and maturity. It is never easy but, it is the life of adventure and rewards. Life with its ups and downs is an amazing journey after all!

 

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On the cover of ‘Cosmopolitan’

We never know what impact one may cause if a foreign student or a researcher becomes a temporary but a true citizen of Sendai.

Our first years in Japan usually are the time to learn, discover, and adapt to the new culture. Frankly speaking, Japanese people possess the qualities that we don’t see much in other nationalities. We are happy to be the chosen ones to receive the benefits of Tohoku University as well as the ones that the city of Sendai extends to us. That’s why, out of my thankful heart. I want to contribute back to the city – my city of Sendai!

Thus, as I live in Sendai during my academic years, I chose to view Sendai as my home in Japan and not just the place where I am obtaining my doctoral degree. Sendai is my home city that has become inseparable from my life during these years. In the 21st century a lot of people can experience “global citizenship”. Now, home for many people is not necessarily one geographical location and one neighborhood but, can be several places on earth with international community and friends that transcend geographical, ethnical, linguistic, cultural, political and religious differences.

 

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Being awarded on the 70th anniversary of the United Nations

Even though I lived most of my life with my family in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we decided to live locally with a global perspective. My mom and dad spoke Russian to each other and English at home (besides Mongolian), especially to my younger brother to make him a global citizen from his childhood. So, English has become a part of our family culture since I was little. We had American, Swiss, Finnish, Russian, Korean and Japanese people as family friends. I went to Russian secondary school, and later Mongolian International University in UB (run by Koreans), and had exposure to Russian culture and language. Now since I am in Japan, I want to integrate the best Japanese culture and language into my daily life and me.

 

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With members of my department and Prof. Ken Osaka at School of Dentistry, Tohoku University

My allegiance and loyalty is not primarily to one country, nation but to the ideology of building bright future where people with pure hearts genuinely love each other and make the earth a better place. I am a Mongolian but, there also is some American, some Russian and some Japanese in me too – I am a GLOBAL CITIZEN!

Regardless where life may take me in the future, Sendai will always be the place in Japan I would call home with the familiar streets I walked, the places I went, the University I studied, and the friends I made! It is in my best interest that Japan as well as Mongolia, Sendai as well as Ulaanbaatar would prosper and become better places for its citizens and foreigners to live!

 

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People lining up for autographs before I arrived in Sendai

We spend tons of our time to master our pieces trying to build our future with academic skills. Just as we enter academic research, have we ever researched ourselves? Are we doing research for its outcomes only or are we searching our hearts to discover the better ME that may or may not achieve great academic heights but, still would choose to give more than receive? Do we have a BIG vision and mission beyond our own selves that may inspire and impact many for good? We need to pursue excellence in all the things we do but we should never forget that we are a man (human) in the first place!

With love,

Tselmuun

As expressed by MPH Tselmuun Chinzorig. Tselmuun was born and brought up in Mongolia and is currently studying as a PhD candidate at the Department of International and Community Oral Health, School of Dentistry, Tohoku University.

The featured image of the writer and her son was published in the magazine ‘OK’.

 

“Take full advantage of what Tohoku University provides”: The Dawn of President Ohno

In January this year, Arunava Acharyya, Manuel Campos and Trishit Banerjee of ‘The Sentinel’ sat down with Prof. Hideo Ohno, the newly appointed President of Tohoku University for an informal conversation about his research, his vision for the university and his favourite Udon from Akita. He shall succeed Prof. Susumu Satomi this April as the 22nd President of the university.
  1. First of all, heartiest congratulations on being appointed as the 22nd President of Tohoku University. Are there any changes expected in your term and where do you see Tohoku university in the future?

Thank you. I will follow on from my predecessors in continuing the work they have started.

As you may be aware, Tohoku University was one of three universities given the Designated National University status by Japan’s government last year. We are considered to be one of the top research universities in Japan. And in order to stay a top player in the global arena, we need to strengthen our research capabilities, shape education to make it in line with the globalized world, and increase social engagement including academic-industry collaboration. So a major role is to maintain the current framework, while building on what we have to adapt to society’s changing needs.

  1. What are your thoughts on english-language programs, the government’s G30 project and the overall internationalisation of Tohoku University ?

Well, I would like to see it enhanced further but I can’t tell you about any specific programs right now. We need English language courses to prepare our students as global citizens. Since the majority of the undergraduate students are Japanese speaking, a good portion of the undergraduate classes will still be continued in Japanese, however. On the internationalization front, President Satomi has worked hard and I will do the same to make the on-campus processes transparent to non-Japanese speaking students. I would also like to see a one-stop service established for providing such support in all administrative processes in my tenure as president.

  1. What are the major challenges that you feel the university needs to address?

Naturally, there are multiple challenges that we face. In terms of education, the challenge is to make sure that students are ready to contribute as global citizens following graduation. We also want to facilitate studies, which are not just curriculum-based, but that also nurture entrepreneurship and teach aspects such as those used by nonprofit organizations. In regards to research, although we have played a major role until now, we still need to strengthen our research base. Finally, in terms of social engagement, we have to improve our support for members of the faculty, students and staff who are keen to work on innovative projects with collaborators outside the university.

  1. The university implemented the labour contract law in 2012 and did not renew the fixed term contract of 3,243 workers as reported by The Japan Times in November 2016. What was the reason behind such a drastic step?

I am going to look into how it developed. My understanding is that the university is working very hard to ensure that the people who are working here are happy. We are striving to help our staff maintain a work-life balance too. If there is something that the private sector is able to do which we are not, I would like to learn from this and improve our policies where possible.

  1. You are an established researcher in the field of spintronics. Would you like to elaborate on the research you are currently involved with?

Electron has mass, charge and spin. In many cases, we utilize charge and mass. In other cases, we use spin but the basic idea of spintronics is to use charge and spin together. I started basic studies of spintronics in 1988. At that time, the study was curiosity-driven. We started doing experiments at 5 K or 50 K, which is much below the freezing temperature, but were able to show a proof-of-concept device that utilizes electric fields to manipulate magnetism, thereby using charge (electric field) to control spin (magnetism). I expanded my horizons during the course and we started to develop spintronics devices, which can be used in our modern integrated circuits. We developed material stacks which are now a de facto standard being used in the industry.

The reason we could make such developments was due to what we learned from basic research mostly done at low temperatures. The spintronics technology we have developed will shortly be commercialized as big players in the semiconductor industry are all involved. The CIES (Centre for Innovative Integrated Electronic Systems) at our university in the Shin-Aobayama campus is capable of implementing our spintronics devices in semiconductors so that we can combine it with transistors and demonstrate functionality. We can design such circuits using our own material stacks that we have developed which can help in realising new integrated circuits based on Tohoku University’s novel design. As a matter of fact, Tohoku University is the only public-sector institution in the world where you can do this.

The development of new semiconductor integrated circuits is a huge area. I have asked colleagues on campus to participate in the effort. Together, we design the circuit, process magnetic materials among other things. We aim to show the world that this is the way to build the integrated circuits of tomorrow. These circuits are high-performing circuits and consume considerably less energy which makes it particularly suitable for IoT (Internet of Things) and artificial intelligence. This is something that I am still involved in and our university is leading the world in this field.

  1. Considering the current advancements in nanotronics, what possibilities do you see in the development of nano sensors for medical research?

So far, I have spoken only about the spintronics research I am involved. Other people like Prof. Ando of Applied Physics at our university are involved in developing highly sensitive magnetic spintronics sensor. Prof. Ando has succeeded in capturing magnetic fields generated by a heartbeat. He is now working in capturing magnetic field changes in the brain. Today, it is done by devices requiring liquid helium, but in the future, his device enables us to do the same at room temperature and therefore, without using liquid helium. His sensor is extremely inexpensive and highly sensitive at the same time. This could lead to branching out of this idea into different fields for other potential applications. After all, until we show our results to the world, we do not know the value of our research.

  1. Tohoku University has contributed extensively in the revival projects after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Are there any other steps the university plans to take?

People are continuing their work in rebuilding the region. We are working together in the process and at the same time hoping to take it one-step further. Living in Japan, we have to face disasters such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes. Our society must always be disaster-ready. We have to recover and rehabilitate in a short period of time and take care of those who have suffered. We have to develop this in the form of a package to help our communities prepare. It is our responsibility and Tohoku University is committed to contributing its expertise in disaster management.

Also, in relation to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a center (Center for Fundamental Research on Nuclear Decommissioning) has been established, which is developing technology on how to shut down the Fukushima plant and other nuclear plants around the world. Such studies will be conducted on our campus too.

Green energy is essential in preparing us for a sustainable future and more research has to be conducted in this field. Tohoku University will definitely play an important role here as well.

  1. Any message for the students and our readers?

I would like to see our students take full advantage of what Tohoku University provides. We are here not just to disseminate knowledge but also to provide a ground to play and to use the knowledge gained so that students are fully ready for the next stage of life after university. The environment here is of a high standard for conducting research activities. While we are working very hard on this front, if you find any room for improvement, please let us know.

As spoken to Arunava Acharyya, Manuel Campos and Trishit Banerjee