Discovering the real Japan

“Learning from the past to give to the future” is the image with which “BOUNDLESS” pursuits not only the revitalization of Japan but also the creation of a sustainable world bound strongly to its culture and traditions. This ambitious project goes by the name of “Sosei Partners” and it is ready to welcome participants from all over the world, on a trip to real Japan; a place that is often blurred by its stereotypical image, and whose real treasures lie on its ancestral folklore.

Dennis Chia, the founder of “BOUNDLESS”, has managed to design a portfolio of workshops and activities that teach foreigners the local traditions, and simultaneously bring them closer to the community that has subsisted for generations thanks to them. Furthermore, this project also brings out to the public the innovative new plans that are reshaping the future of some of the rural areas of Japan. Particularly those taking place in Ishinomaki, a city that is bouncing back from the devastating tsunami of 2011, by using the creativity of its citizens as foci of success.

 

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During a walking tour of Ishinomaki city

 

One of the workshops, “Ishinomaki Learning Program”, focuses on promoting the customs of this coastal city, located in the northeast part of Japan. The trip starts by teaching the visitors how the 3.11 disaster affected the life of the locals, with real testimonies, anecdotes, and with a short hike to a famous hill where the scenic view tells an ineffable story.

The tour continues to the multi-purpose café “Irori”, a space that has become a trendy spot amongst young and veterans. This former garage has a conspicuous chimeric floor that blends with the cozy rustic appearance of the venue, and is where visitors and locals sit as family to enjoy international dishes, voluntarily prepared by the participants of the workshops.  Irori usually hosts the meetings of “Ishinomaki 2.0”, a group created shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake and intends to transform Ishinomaki into an inspiring city, even beyond its former self.

 

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At Ishinomaki Laboratory

 

A couple of kilometers away from the center of the city, “Ishinomaki Lab” gives every visitor a solid proof that innovation transcends any barrier, what started as a solution for a local problem has transcended into a multinational business with shipping to Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany and the U.S. This is the world’s first DIY furniture label, and its roots are embedded in the history of Ishinomaki.

Even further from city, “Fisherman Japan” takes on the task of teaching not only foreigners but also the new generations of locals that the fishing industry is not the “dirty, dangerous, and demanding” business it is commonly portrayed as. Their mission is to include fishermen into the modern society and promote a sustainable industry with fresh seafood products as their banner.

These are merely a glance of all the activities that form the “Ishinomaki Learning Program”. Moreover, this workshop is just one of the options that “Sosei partners” has to offer you. So if you want to experience the real Japan, be in contact with the ancestral traditions of the wonderful melting pot of customs that is this country, and have a first-hand insight of these rural communities, do not miss out on this opportunity.

As reported by Manuel Campos. Manuel is currently a student in the Graduate School of Medicine and serves as the Managing Editor of ‘The Sentinel’. 

Sosei Partners have held an orientation at Tohoku University last year. The founder of IRORI is an alumnus of Tohoku University.

Only In My Country: Thailand and the Art of Lottery Prediction

“Lottery”, from the Dutch word loterij, is now everywhere in the world. Basically, a lottery is referred to as a random-number ticket, which, like a bingo game, gives the buyer a chance to earn big money. Thus, buyers try their best guess to choose a number that may help them win. Talking about the way to get hold of that lucky number, some people may just choose the lucky number for themselves, for example, 8 (for Chinese) or 7 (for Japan). Some people choose from a lucky number list based on their zodiac signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini etc.), while some people seriously use scientific method such as probability and data science to calculate and get the number. By the way, the method used in Thailand is totally different. I can say that this unique lottery prediction which happened in Thailand is an unique art you can find nowhere else.

 

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A Thai lottery ticket

 

Thailand and lottery are close friends. Lottery began in Thailand in 1832 or about 186 years ago and was started by Chinese group. However, the lottery which exists today (Fig. 1), was first released (by the government) in the period of King Rama V (about 144 years ago). A Thai lottery consists of 6 numbers and costs around 80 baht (270 yen or 2.5 US dollars). Compared to the living cost, this price is not cheap at all. You can use 80 baht for 2-3 meals in Thailand! Moreover, the rate of winning the first prize (when all the 6 numbers get matched) is extremely low (0.0001%), with the winning rate of the cheapest prize being only 1% (when 2 of the last numbers are matched). Nevertheless, people still buy them a lot by parting a bit of their fortune inspite of the low winning rate. This has become one of the biggest sources of income for the government. And to compensate what they have paid for, getting the luckiest number is always a challenge in Thailand.

Thai lottery buyers have several funny and unique ways to obtain the number they believe would win. Here are some common methods that are still being used.

  1. People scratch bark of trees : Especially the old trees, such as a 100-year-old Ta-khian Tree (Fig. 2) or a one with a bizarre shape such as, a banana tree with dragon-like shape. Some Thai people believe that such trees hold spirits, fairies and god who, would help them get a lucky number. Of course, when the bark is scratched or rubbed, its surface is altered with a new wood pattern and people then try to use their imagination to find and read a number (supposed to be a lucky number). Some people also believe that sprinkling body powder during scratching will help them find the number easier! Every time the news about old trees or bizarre trees comes out, people would flock to it.

    Picture2
    A tree bark could be your path of fortune!
  2. People take the number on the car license plate into account. Not only their own cars but also others: neighborhoods, celebrities or even the prime minister, are all relevant. The most memorable news about this was back in 2013. At this time, the government was led by the first woman prime minister in Thailand’s history “Yingluck Shinawatra”. Occasionally, one of the winning numbers matched with her business car and of course, there were people who bought the lottery ticket based on this in advance and won the same! Since then, for several months, the numbers which matched with each of her car’s license plates were sold abundantly. Apart from celebrity cars, the numbers on car license plates of the ones involved in big accidents are also in favor. What a dark humour!
  3. People infer the number from their dreams. Sometimes the story that we weave in our dreams have no origin and absolutely not relevant to what we see in daily life. Since lottery has already become one with the people of Thailand, they can pop up a number from our dreams without any reason or logic. For example, in your dream, if you see a chicken or a dragon, it means 1 (one); if you see a dead body, a chair or a bed, it means 4. Meanwhile, if you see umbrella or you were cursed by a ghost in the dream, it means 6. Thai people who are experts in this field can infer everything from dreams to numbers and then interpret them for lottery purchases.

If you want to follow this Thai style lottery prediction, I recommend the second method since it is very easy to remember the number on car license plates. The next winning number may be your own license plate number or that of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who knows! Of course, I do not recommend you rubbing a tree bark yourself because it may not be worth your transportation fee and labour cost (You know, it’s not fun at all to scratch a bark with bare hands!). The third method may be possible but more than half of us cannot remember our own dreams. This Thai-style art of lottery prediction may earn you a chance to win a big prize in the next announcement!

As reported by Rojrungsasithorn Tanach (TAE). Tae is student under IMAC-U program at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering, Tohoku University. He enjoys playing games and loves to cook fine desserts from time to time.

Only In My Country is a new series under ‘The Sentinel’ where we ask people some unique things about their country. If you have something interesting to share with us, please send us an email at tohokusentinel@gmail.com

This series is ideated and developed by Rojrungsasithorn Tanach (TAE).

 

“Honestly speaking, this achievement exceeds our expectations.” – Prof. Kimio Hanawa

To dear all international students,

How are you doing?  I hope everything is going well with you.  I am Kimio Hanawa, the former Executive Vice President for Education, Student Support and Student International Exchange.

First of all, let me introduce to you my current situation. At the end of March, I stepped down as my position due to expiration of my term. At the same time, I retired from the university since my age reached the regulation age of 65 years. Now, as a Professor Emeritus, I spend and enjoy my time especially studying my research field, at the office of the Physical Oceanography Laboratory at the Graduate School of Science in the Aobayama Campus.

For six years from academic year of 2012 to 2017, as an Executive Vice President, I have engaged to accelerate the internationalization of the university from various points of view: increase in number of international students, preparation of various courses taught in English fit for international students, and construction of University Houses (UHs), among others.  One result of such changes is, international students increased from 1,431 as of May 1st, 2012 to 2,027 as of May 1st , 2019.  We are now able to accept more international students than before from various countries and regions.  Honestly speaking, this achievement exceeds our expectations.

I absolutely think that this tendency of internationalization should be continued at Tohoku University.  On this point, I strongly believe that new executives led by new President Hideo Ohno will endeavor towards the same direction.  Actually, President Ohno mentioned in his message which appeared on the English website that “I want to continue that growth, to make Tohoku University an institution that is universally respected for the quality of our research and educational standards.”  I also trust that the university will provide more comfortable environment and occasions for your studies, research and campus life. As you must be knowing, UH Aobayama with 752 rooms will be open from this October. Some of you will have a chance to enter this dormitory.

Finally, I would like to say that, I strongly hope and expect that all of you can achieve your purpose of study abroad at Tohoku University and enjoy your university life as well as life in Sendai.  After graduation, most of you may leave Tohoku University but, you are members of the Tohoku University community.  The friendships you have nurtured on our beautiful, green campuses, and your relationships with your instructors, will be valuable assets.  I hope that you will think of Japan and Tohoku University as a home away from home and build bridges between your home countries and Japan, and in particular Tohoku University.

As expressed by Prof. Kimio Hanawa, Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University. He is the former Executive Vice President for Education, Student Support and Student International Exchange at Tohoku University.

E-mail address: hanawa @ pol.gp.tohoku.ac.jp

 

Tohoku University sweeps top honours at BIOMOD 2017

When Richard Feynman infamously remarked, “There’s plenty of room at the bottom” during an APS meeting at Caltech back in 1959, the world of nanotechnology was on the brink of discovery. 58 years later, Murata-Kawamata/Nomura laboratory at Tohoku University celebrated its stunning streak of winning awards at the BIOMOD competition yet again.

BIOMOD is an annual bimolecular design competition curated at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Established in 2011, each year, teams from all across the globe participate in making biomolecular nanorobots, DNA computing, bimolecular self-assembly amongst many others.

The Murata-Kawamata/Nomura Lab first participated in the BIOMOD competition in 2011. Since 2012, the projects by the undergraduate students (mentored by graduate students) have secured one of the top 3 places each year. This year, the team developed the idea of an autonomous self-healing DNA hydrogel using branched hybridisation chain reaction.

The team used the principle of complementary bases in DNA to develop a DNA gel-structure. With conventional HCR (Hybridisation Chain Reaction), it was possible to form a long linear DNA strand but, in order to form a DNA hydrogel, it was necessary to form a cross-linked structure. Therefore, the team designed a gel formation method based on conventional HCR, calling it Branched HCR (BHCR) to differentiate between the two. Such a material can be used to synthesise self-healing materials made up of biocompatible molecules/polymers such as DNA.

The team brought home a total of 5 prizes which includes the 2nd Overall Prize, 1st in Website, 1st in YouTube Video, Project Award (Gold) and Game Engine award. The members consisted not only from the molecular robotics laboratory but also from material sciences, chemistry, agriculture and chemical engineering. Interdisciplinary method was put in use to bring the project to life.

Paul W.K. Rothemund, Director of BIOMOD Foundation, was quoted as saying. “As every year, it was a great pleasure to see the work and enthusiasm of Team Sendai”.

The team was led by Kensei Kikuchi, a second-year student at the Department of Material Science and Engineering. Being his second year of participation he says, “Based on my experience, I knew BIOMOD is really tough. Also, I was the youngest leader of the team so, I was reluctant to do the job. However, I decided to prepare myself and worked as a leader. For the next 4 months, we faced several challenges about what we can and what we should do for our project. Finally, we came up with idea of self-healing system at the end of July. All members knew what they should do and worked hard to realise the project goals.”

The team is currently working on officially publishing the results and have already started working for BIOMOD 2018.

The official video made by Team Sendai can be seen at https://youtu.be/aMsyQ9d59PE

 

How can Japanese Universities become Leading Universities in the World?

Japanese top universities are at last coming of age and visualizing themselves to rank among the world’s top universities. I believe that this can happen, although, not without some major changes both in infrastructure as well as in educators’ and students’ consciousness.

One thing that is already beginning to happen now in Japanese top leading universities is for certain subjects to be taught directly in English. In order for students to be successful, they will need to increase their ability to understand English. Also they will need to increase their reading skills in English, as many of the best and most up-to-date, new textbooks in all subjects are written in English. I feel that bright students at elite universities in Japan will be able to overcome these obstacles in a relatively short amount of time.

There is, however, another very crucial aspect of the classroom experience that students will have much more difficult overcoming in order to become real world leaders of the future. At the crux of this is a big black box of CAN’T DO and CAN’T SPEAK that is very difficult to explain in words, although I experienced it daily with my students.

One student presented a paper titled “Japanese nature.” He listed four major aspects that he felt characterized Japanese nature: 1. Japanese are negative, 2. Japanese don’t like difference [I think he meant to use the word ‘diversity’]. 3. They themselves don’t want to stand out as different, and  4. They also shun others who are different.

Because I have been living and working with students in Japan for so long, I have learned various techniques that work well to get passive, reticent Japanese students to speak out in English, even if their language proficiency is very low, and also even if they are very withdrawn and shy. I can even do this quite well with large classes of 45 or more students. For example, I might call on a student by name, ask them a direct question, and then guide them with a few prompts. If they just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, further prompt them with, “because . . .”.  I usually go down the attendance list (in a random fashion) and call on each student during every class at least once, or I go down a list of their names on a seating chart and use eye contact to encourage them. There is peer pressure to answer correctly. Elite students reflect deeply on themselves when they are not able to answer well. They also look to their fellow students who can answer well as models that they strive to emulate. Techniques like this and peer pressure help to stimulate learning in the classroom.

However, this is not getting anywhere near to the problem of the black box. What is that thing that is so different in a Japanese classroom among the Japanese students compared to, for example, most of the foreign students in the same class? What is different that I see in the Korean, Indian or Bangladeshi foreign students in that English class from the Japanese? Could it be their worldview perhaps? What is it that holds back even the brightest of Japanese students? And how can this problem be overcome? Do Japanese people hope to ‘overcome’ this ‘problem’? Do they see this as a problem for themselves? Are they even conscious of what this is? I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that if they can overcome this inability to come out of themselves, so speak up, to rally themselves that they will greatly benefit in the end.

As expressed by Prof. Laurel Kamada. She worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth from 2009 until she retired in 2016.

Presumption of Innocence

“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty”. Universal Declaration of Human rights, article 11.

Though it may appear that everything has been said and done regarding the drug-related incident that involved students of Tohoku University last year, the circumstances of the arrests are still a blur. In order to clarify on what grounds the students were taken under custody, the team of The Sentinel contacted one of them for an interview. The student, decided to stay anonymous.

  • According to the police reports, all the students involved in the incident consumed an illegal drug, allegedly cocaine, in parties either in a night club or in the University dorm. Were you actually in one of these? If so, what happened during the event?

“It’s true that all detained students consumed illegal drugs at some point. We did it in the club one night where we got it from Australian guy who was arrested first. None of us planned on doing that, it’s just that we were pretty drunk and at some point he offered us drugs. Also that night, other people who were not found by the police used drugs that he possessed but they were not students and known to me.”

  • When the police took you into custody, were you, at any moment, told the reason why you were being detained?

“It’s their obligation to tell you why they are detaining you and explain it all, so yes.”

  • Were you in possession of any illegal substances when you were detained?

“No. None of the other 6 students possessed or bought drugs. Only the guy who was arrested first and who bought them had drugs when police came.”

  • Did someone, at any moment, told you the charges you were accused of?

“After police arrested a couple of our friends, we suspected we might be next. Also some other students were just brought in for questioning and we were informed that police might arrest us too.”

  • Did the police provide you with a translator?

“Yes. Even during the arrest, and later when I was held in custody, during every interrogation there has to be a translator. “

  • Were you subjected to any form of mistreatment while you were under custody?

“No. Police was nice to me. They tried to help even though communication was a bit difficult due to the language barrier. “

  • Did you have a trial? If so, were you allowed to contact a lawyer?

“We had government assigned lawyers but we didn’t have a trial. On the second day of the custody, police took me to talk to the prosecutor and judge where I admitted that the thing I was accused of was true.”

  • Under what conditions were you left free?

“I believe me and my friends were pardoned by the judge since it was our first crime and it wasn’t anything serious. I wasn’t convicted of anything or paid any fine to be released. Also, I think university assured police that I and my friends will leave Japan after we are released. I also wrote an apology letter to the judge where I stated my intention to leave Japan if released.”

  • Were you officially expelled from Japan?

“I’m not really sure cause after I got out, people from Tohoku University helped me with moving out and all that and after that I went to Tokyo for the airplane. I wasn’t under any surveillance by the police, I met with friends and even spent a day in Tokyo before I left. Also my lawyer told me that we can return to Japan as tourists if we want. Maybe it will be more difficult to get a job and a permanent stay but I don’t think there is a problem to come back and I intend to do that one day.”

As per this statement, the student was treated with respect and kindness while under custody.  However, all of the 6 students were arrested without any physical evidence against them. Whether or not they were presumed innocent is, perhaps, a point open for discussion, but the crux of this matter is if there is no incriminating evidence against someone,  on what grounds is this person arrested?

Disclaimer : The Sentinel is unbiased regarding any incident that takes place within or outside the university. It seeks to state the facts and not take any side. It respects the law of the land but at the same time, seeks to have an open discussion about the same from opposing perspectives.

The Sentinel is not obliged to reveal any details about the interviewee to anyone. No requests regarding revealing of details shall be entertained.

One Professor’s Rediscovery of India

Dr. Hiroshi Yamashita undoubtedly loves his kurtas, a traditional garment from India. If you ever meet him, there is also a chance where you can see him flashing his shirt with caricature of Rajnikanth (a famous film actor from south India) printed on it. Over the years, he has become a fascination for people in the state of Tamil Nadu back in India. A professor at Tohoku University, his undying romance with Sanskrit, Tamil and oriental culture takes him down the memory lane.

“It was at school when I got interested in Indian philosophy. I had a teacher at Sendai Niko school who taught us philosophy and was from Kyoto,” he recollects. “Back then, I was very pessimistic about the world around me and certainly did not enjoy Japan’s increasing inclination towards the west.” His interest in Buddhist philosophy naturally led him to India. Those days, when he joined Tohoku University as a student, ‘Indology’ as a subject was offered which was based on Sanskrit and Pali languages. It was obligatory to master the Tibetan language as a part of it. After this, he began studying more about the Sanskritic philosophy in ancient India but soon decided to change his subject focus.

“Sanskrit focuses majorly on ancient Indian philosophy and not the modern aspects of it,” he says. In late 1970s, western and Japanese archaeologists assisted in the excavation of new sites belonging to the Indus valley civilisation. “Though divided but, archaeologists believe that probably the civilisation was Dravidian and not Aryan. It was then I decided to study the Dravidian religions, languages and cultures,” he says.

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Dr. Yamashita sports an Indian kurta which is amongst his favourites.

Even though Dr. Yamashita took a major step in changing his focus, Japan at that time, did not have any department offering Dravidian languages. It was around that time he used to visit a family from the Tamil Brahmin community in Tokyo to learn the language. The family then introduced Dr. Yamashita to the Madras University’s department of philosophy which he believes had better academic standards than today. “With the caste movement, the majorly Brahmin professors were replaced even though Sanskrit has been traditionally a language spoken only by Brahmins, the upper caste community,” he reminisces.

 

After spending 6 years in Madras University, he was appointed as an associate professor at Yamagata University before he joined Nagoya University.

But, with changing times, subject focus needed a shift. “Not just in Japan but all over the world, the emphasis on classical studies has fallen. Today, Greek and Latin philosophies are no longer popular. Research has become more pragmatic,” he says. He soon shifted his focus to contemporary India and in the process, he made many Indian friends. He finally wrote his thesis on pre-Bhakti literature in Tamil Nadu.

Though his research is India-centric but it took him to several places around the world. “My research then took me to places where Indians are settled to study about the Hindu diaspora and how it has transformed from the place of origin,” he says. “In south east Asia, Hinduism has been preserved in its original language and no record of influence from the local languages have been found,” he explained. “NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) are extremely strict about observing the rituals,” he added.

Like Dr. Yamashita, there are several researchers studying the southern Asia in depth. “Previously, the disciplines were divided but, with the establishment of the Japanese Association for South Asian Studies (JASAS), these disciplines have come under one umbrella,” he explains. With JASAS, the interdisciplinary research approach was facilitated. Now, researchers in the field of south Asian economics and politics are also collaborating under this umbrella.

This year, JASAS completes 30 years since its founding in 1988. To commemorate this event, a symposium is being held on May 26 of this year at Tohoku University’s Kawauchi campus. People from different areas ranging from anthropology and musicology to yoga and media studies are expected to gather for the event. Dr. Yamashita is steering this ship to its destination.

When asked if the Japanese population is interested in knowing about south Asia, Dr. Yamashita said,” Traditionally, Japanese people have embraced Buddhism with about 98% people associating themselves with it. With India growing economically on the global platform, people are getting interested from various perspectives.” Yet, the interest levels amongst the population of majorly agricultural Tohoku region, about south Asia is low. “It has a pro-west inclination,” Dr. Yamashita notes. On the contrary, the interest about India is growing rapidly amongst the people in Nagoya.

In 2015, the then education minister of Japan, Hakubun Shimomura, had sent a letter to all the 86 national universities of Japan which asked them to take active steps for the abolishment of social science and humanities organisations or convert them to serve areas that better meet the society’s needs. Yet, Dr. Yamashita feels that it is still not difficult to get funds for research centred around India. “Japanese government provides funds for important regions of the world. It is third-easiest to obtain funds related to research in south Asia followed by middle eastern and Chinese studies,” he explains.

In the future, Dr. Yamashita would love to see enhanced interdisciplinary approach such as in areas combining business and philosophy. He is excited for the event this weekend and he definitely brings the flavour of fragrant spices both in his research and interaction.

 

発注済みチラシ(ラスクル)
Poster for 30th anniversary JASAS Symposium

 

Event : JASAS 30th Anniversary Symposium

Date : Saturday, May 26, 2018

Time : 13:00 – 17:00 Hrs

Location : Room 206 – Multimedia Hall, Multimedia Education and Research Complex, Kawauchi Campus

Map : https://www.tohoku.ac.jp/map/en/?f=KW_A05

Program details (in English) : https://drive.google.com/open?id=10cKTdQR9GxHZYl6s_f7lIQ69dxqtdCj9

Program details (in Japanese) : http://jasas.info/new/5月26日開催-日本南アジア学会30周年記念連続シンポ/

As spoken to The Sentinel.