Tohoku University’s systemic massacre of 3,243 jobs

Exactly 50 years back, the streets of Japan boiled in revolution. The protests against the Narita airport and alleged collusion of then Prime Minister Eisako Sato with the United States in the Vietnam war brought the cities to a halt. Tear gas, water cannons and the occupation of University of Tokyo’s infamous Yasuda auditorium have been etched as vivid memories amongst people of that generation.

50 years later, the streets are silent or at least, the mainstream Japanese media projects it to be. Japan’s largest media corporations came under fire for deliberately not reporting protests and people’s opinions after the 2011 Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami. Not very long after that, in 2012, the Japanese government amended the labour contract law.

The amendment in the labour contract law implied that all fixed-term employees can give themselves a permanent status if they have been employed for over five years. The lawmakers have claimed that it is for enhancement of job security and were challenging the rising fixed-term employees at various institutions. As of 2015, Tohoku University has 5,771 irregular employees as opposed to 4,686 regular employees. Yet, institutions have found a way to exploit the loophole: To not renew a fixed-term employee beyond five years.

Since the implementation of the law starting from April 01, 2013, five years have been completed on March 31, 2018. This implies that institutions can officially decline to renew any fixed term contracts and prevent the irregular employees from becoming regular. Tohoku University, like many others in the country, has decided to do so.

With very little reporting about the same in the mainstream English media apart from the exception of Hifumi Okunuki’s op-ed article in ‘The Japan Times’ in 2016, the issue remains unclear and unknown, to the student community and the outsiders. The regular protests by Tohoku University Kumiai on the Katahira campus have attracted very little attention from the students. “We really want the students to know about it,” said one of the Kumiai members to the Sentinel who has decided to remain anonymous.

 

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Protests against the administrative decision near Kawauchi station

 

The university has already initiated the process of terminating the contracts of the fixed-term employees by not renewing them. It has substituted them with new employees who may face the same fate 5 years from now. “The university says that it doesn’t have any money to guarantee our employment in the future but they have been constructing buildings after buildings and a lot of them have also been for the sheer symbolism of reconstruction and revival post-2011,” the Kumiai member said. “The lawyer representing the university is from Tokyo. Appointing someone all the way from Tokyo costs a lot of money,” the member added.

Last year, the university put in place an examination for the irregular employees, some of whom who have worked for nearly a decade at the university. The set terms were clear: The ones who fail to clear it, would be terminated immediately. In a somewhat expected move, only 30% of the test-takers cleared the examination. “Everyone from the Ryugakuseika department cleared the test which could probably be reasoned for their ability to communicate in English,” said the Kumiai member.

This year also saw the shift in leadership as President Hideo Ohno stepped into the shoes of presidency, succeeding President Susumu Satomi. “There has been no change due to President Ohno stepping in. It is all the same,” the Kumiai member said. “He said he requires time for studying the topic deeply,” the member added. President Ohno replied the same when ‘The Sentinel’ asked him about this issue in an interview back in January 2017, few weeks after he was announced as the President-elect. ‘The Sentinel’ also tried asking this to President Satomi in an interview but the secreteriat refused to give us permission to ask him anything about the issue.

It is also surprising to note that most of these 3,243 employees are female employees. Since most of them have a family to take care of and the household expense is majorly supported by the husband’s income, they choose to take an irregular job. With Prof. Noriko Osumi stepping in as the new Vice President for Public Relations and Promotion of Diversity, it is expected that the gender imbalance will be seen with greater importance in administrative decisions. She is the first female professor at the School of Medicine and is also the Director of TUMUG (Tohoku University Centre for Gender Equality Promotion). Yet, the Kumiai member thinks otherwise. “She has focussed only on researchers and regular workers. She has not addressed any of the gender issues that the 3,243 employees who are on the brink of losing their jobs are facing.”

The fine prints and implications of this new law which was supposed to guarantee more jobs bring in new details. “After completion of 5 years, the fired employee can re-join the institution after a break of 6 months for another 5 years. So, some of the employees who left the university in March this year may be able to re-join in October. This is absolutely incomprehensible. I cannot do without 6 months’ pay,” said the Kumiai member. Questions like what would happen if the university hires new employees in the period between April and October remain ambiguous and no clear answers were found.

Like Tohoku University, Hokkaido  University and Osaka University are also amongst other centres for higher education who have decided to axe the jobs. On the other hand, the negotiations between the labour union at University of Tokyo and the administration has been somewhat successful and irregular employees are still holding on to their jobs. The union at Tohoku University is always in constant discussion with administration about important issues but the number of members have fallen over the years. “Many are not concerned unless their jobs are affected,” the Kumiai member said.

A part of this problem can also be traced back to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision in 2003 to turn all Japanese national universities into institutions with corporate status or, ‘national university corporation’, as they are now known as. This has pressured the universities to look out for their own funds. With MEXT reducing its subsidies to the national universities by 1% each year, the universities have responded by hiring more irregular staff and axing clerical jobs. United Kingdom adopted similar idea back in 1988 under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but responses from citizens have been mixed.

Back in July 1974, the Supreme Court delivered a historic verdict in the Toshiba Yanagi-cho Factory case where seven plaintiffs worked on revolving 2 month-contracts and one of them was renewed 23 times. The Supreme Court upheld it as jotai-setsu (Legal principle of abuse of the right to dismiss applies if circumstances suggest that employment is in effect permanent, even if written contract indicates a fixed term).

The court case between Tohoku University and the 3,243 workers shall witness its first hearing on August 22 this year. The workers are represented by a voluntary lawyer from Sendai city. “Well, the court case will take a long time,” the Kumiai member said.

Article 02 of Japanese Labour Standards Act says, “Working conditions should be determined by the workers and employers on an equal basis.” When asked if the goal of attaining this equality near, the Kumiai member responded, “There is a long way to go.”

For updates about the court case, visit the website of Tohoku University Kumiai : http://tohokudai-kumiai.org

The Sentinel shall also publish the official statement from the university once it receives. 

As reported by The Sentinel Bureau.

Photos Courtsey : Tohoku University Kumiai Facebook Page (Public)

References :

  1. No legal cure-all for fixed-term job insecurity (April 24, 2012): https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2012/04/24/issues/no-legal-cure-all-for-fixed-term-job-insecurity/#.WzWEu62B2qA
  2. Labour Standards Act : http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail_main?id=5&vm=2&re=
  3. ‘Five-year rule’ triggers ‘Tohoku college massacre’ of jobs : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/11/27/issues/five-year-rule-triggers-tohoku-college-massacre-jobs/#.WzWG8a2B2qA
  4. 1968 : The year Japan truly raised its voice : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2017/11/19/arts/1968-year-japan-truly-raised-voice/#.WzWzsa2B2qA
  5. Japan’s universities struggling under corporate status : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/05/14/commentary/japan-commentary/japans-universities-struggling-corporate-status/#.WzXbqa2B2qA
  6. Tohoku University Kumiai : http://tohokudai-kumiai.org

 

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

 

Tohoku University Festival: Annual updated series of Tohoku University

Generally, the same drama will lose its viewership if new episodes are not released. Harry Potter, one of the most popular novels of all time, would not be able to attract such a huge number of followers until now if it saw its end after the initial 7 books. Also, Starbucks, the most popular coffeehouse chain, would not be able to increase and retain their customers if no new flavors or new products are promoted periodically. In the same manner, because of annual updated contents, staff as well as activities, Tohoku University Festival is still alive until its 69th anniversary in 2017. In other words, Tohoku University Festival is comparable to an annual updated series of Tohoku University.

 

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Scenes from the festival day

 

Tohoku University Festival always comes up with new contents. The contents here are referred to as students’ work and performances from clubs and circles, special events as well as public relations. During the whole year, students seriously practice, obtain new wisdom, and finally create things they are interested in. Accordingly, every year, this festival gathers and exhibits all the new things. Since clubs and circles basically stay alive and are reformed from year to year, such outcomes will always get better and better continuing from what was done in the previous year. One conspicuous workpiece belongs to the Railway Research Circle. They are building the model of a railway system centered-around the Sendai based-one. It is interesting to see the progress of the model in one year. The project is extremely challenging and requires a lot of effort to be put in. It is because of such efforts that there is no doubt why Tohoku University Festival can attract such a large number of guests, approximately 33,000 people in 2017.

 

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More than 33,000 people visited the festival in 2017

 

A film production has a lot of things that goes behind the scenes. For example, photography, camera operation, film edition and sound engineering. In the same way, apart from the festival’s outlook, there are the stories of organizers, event preparation, public relations and students participating in the festival. “For organising the festival in November 2017, we began planning in December 2016”, said the organizing committee. The preparation starts just 1-2 months after the previous festival, including leader election, followed by theme and mascot consideration held around May or June. The 69th Tohoku University Festival is the first time that the public relations have become more internationalized; “Our idea was to create a school festival where foreign student can truly enjoy. To facilitate the same, we had an English website, signboards in English and also the map in English.”, the committee said.

It was not only the organizers but also participating students who put in efforts for the festival. Honoka, now a 2nd year student from piano circle, practiced piano everyday just for the festival performance for 2 months. Without a doubt, because of their efforts, the smile of the visitors were the most valued rewards for them. Also, the bonds of friendship formed during the entire year in the club (and amongst the group of organizers) are also precious things which, is irreplaceable.

 

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Main stage during the festival

 

Unlike J.K. Rowling who definitely knows here next piece of work, the festival committee doesn’t. In case of Tohoku University Festival, composers, who compose this unforgettable annual symphony, are everyone who are related to the festival. So, there are no hints about the future. However, everyone is looking forward for the 70th edition, the future of this unique Japanese culture. “Thinking about the next 20 or 50 years, I think there will be more attendants especially from foreign countries. Tohoku University Festival is the event where Japanese students and foreign students have some activities together.”, said Honoka. New clubs are also anticipated next year. Since society and people interest change from time to time, it is highly possible that new clubs will take birth as a response to the coming trend. Perhaps, E-sport will be one of the sports club in the near future. Food club will not be just a group of people who love cooking but also who are interested in the research field of Molecular Gastronomy. The scale of the club would expand to the social level, where the university club cooperates and are partly supported by outside companies.

Lastly, if we compare Tohoku University Festival to a novel, it is the novel whose new volumes are released every year, written by Tohoku University students. The story behind the novel writing process is full of efforts put in by organizers and friendship between club members. The future of Tohoku University Festival will probably be the next updated chapter of this unforgettable novel series.

As reported by Tanach Rojrungsasithorn (Tae). Tae was born and brought up in Thailand and loves to play video games. If you ever meet him, he might bake a crème brûlée for you. He is currently a third year student under the IMAC-U program of Tohoku University.

Students at Tohoku University are facilitating the national goal of ‘Study Abroad’

On 14th March, the Instagram profile @tohoku.ryugaku1 announced the launch of the website ‘Tohoku Ryugaku’.  Aimed at telling stories from study abroad programs and helping aspiring exchange students with country/course selection and applications, it is established by the students of Tohoku University who are currently studying abroad. “We are also planning to help aspiring students with reviewing of application documents,” the website wrote in its introduction section.

Japan has long battled the challenge of low and decreasing number of Japanese university students studying abroad. About 70% of Japanese companies with overseas operations have complained about difficulties in finding and nurturing of globally minded talent. With the introduction of the ‘Japan Revitalisation Strategy’ by the cabinet in 2013, the government aims to double the number of students studying abroad by 2020. In such a situation, support facilities such as experiences of other students plays a key role in leading the change.

With 718 partners as of March 13, 2018, Tohoku University’s global network provides plethora of opportunities for students to engage in study abroad programs. Yuto Katsuyama, a student of Chemistry at Tohoku University is currently studying at University of California, Berkeley (UCB) for one year. He shall be joining UCLA from May 15 this year as a visiting researcher. One of the first few students to write for ‘Tohoku Ryugaku’, he explains the procedures to enter UCB along with his experiences in California. “There are so many professors who have more than 6,000 citations! It is also easy to access them and have one-to-one conversations,” he writes in his blog on the website.

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A screenshot from the ‘Tohoku Ryugaku’ website

For Katsuyama, there were several experiences that were new to him. “It is a bit scary when barricades are put up and you can see police officers with rifles whenever there are protests on the campus but the classes on these days are cancelled too,” he writes. In all, the overall experience is something he cherishes the most as he gets to step into the world of elite. One exchange student at University of California, Irvine has written how his baseball friends got to practice with Shohei Otani, the professional Japanese baseball pitcher and designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels.

The statistics from MEXT, JASSO and JAOS have shown an increase in the number of outbound students by 15% between 2015 and 2016. As more and more students apply for outbound programs, support websites like ‘Tohoku Ryugaku’ by the current batch of study abroad students will surely act as a pillar of strength and motivation.

References

  1. More than 200,000 Japanese students aborad in 2016 : http://monitor.icef.com/2018/01/200000-japanese-students-abroad-2016/
  2. About Tobitate! (Leap for Tomorrow) Study Abroad Inititaive : http://www.tobitate.mext.go.jp/about/english.html
  3. Tohoku University Partners, International Exchange Division : http://ie.bureau.tohoku.ac.jp/partners?lang=en

As reported by Team Sentinel

The featured image is a screenshot of the website’s homepage.

Inspiring ‘Blueprints’ at TEDxTohokuUniversity 2018

“The cornerstone of everything that we do is part of the blueprint to build a better world,” President Hideo Ohno of Tohoku University remarked in his welcome address as he opened the 2018TEDxTohoku University on April 08 at the Qatar Science Hall, Aobayama Campus.

TEDxTohokuUniversity is the brainchild of Chanon Pornrungroj who is currently a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Science and his team who have breathed life into the event. It began in 2017 when the first TEDx was held at Tohoku University with the theme of ‘Opening Doors’ and with the aim of creating spaces for sharing ideas. This year, the team of 40 students who worked for over 6 months, chose ‘Blueprints’ as their theme.

“Blueprints of our communities, blueprints of the human minds and blueprints of technology is what we are going to present today. Let’s realise that for a better future for all of us,” said Pornrungroj in his remarks as the executive director and the licensee for the event. “You (the audience) are the main component to make this event a great success,” he added.

The event brought together 7 speakers and one performer from different walks of life with their blueprints in their hand. Jess Hallams, a former participant of the JET programme and currently a media producer for Sendai Television’s ‘Go! Go! Tohoku!!’ programme spoke how the Tohoku region made her realise a reverse Paris syndrome. “The media painted Fukushima as a nuclear wasteland but that just accounts for the evacuation zone which comprises of less than 3% of the area of Japan’s third largest prefecture,” she said. “ Fukushima is naturally beautiful and culturally rich. Therefore, to attract a potential tourist, we need a right blueprint,” she added as she emphasised on the overtly negative image of Fukushima which hides the reality.

The Go! Go! Tohoku!! Program has brought together 200 international students out of the 54,000 foreign nationals who call Tohoku their second home from 30 different countries in order to contribute to Tohoku tourism through social media, blogs, etc. “Tourism is perspective. What might look like as a point of interest to the locals might not be the same for foreigners,” she said. “Tourists look Tohoku as one and therefore it is more beneficial for all the prefectures in Tohoku to work together,” she suggested.

Kentaro Ono, on the other hand, had a different story to tell. His growing obsession with Kiribati reached a point of no-return when he was a high school student. “I used to watch a cartoon in my childhood which showed Kiribati. I loved it so much,” reminisced the founder and President of Japan Kiribati Association (JAKA). Yet, he made an impassioned plea asking everyone to cut down their carbon footprint. “Since 2000, the impact of global warming is serious. Look at these coconut trees! Their roots are exposed. This clearly shows the damaging effect of soil erosion,” he said. “Kiribati has no rivers and mountains and so, the only source of water is the rain. But with sea entering our homes, the ground water is becoming impotable,” he expressed his concern.

Ono believes that the problem is not political but human. “Do you really need fried chicken at 2 a.m? It costs so much carbon. What will we tell the children when they ask in the future why they had to become refugees?,” he questioned. He shaped the end by leaving something for everyone to ponder, “Opposite of love is not hate. It is the ignorance and indifference. If we cannot secure our children’s futures, how will they draw blueprints?”

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L-R (Stage) : Kentaro Ono, Marty Kuenhert, Kenichiro Nakamura, Rio Saito, Jess Hallams, Aya Takahashi, Yosuke Hara and Gregory Trencher

President Ohno had said in his opening address that for different goals, different blueprints are required. For Aya Takahashi, it was through managing share houses. A high school graduate, she now manages 5 houses in Sendai which she has been using as share houses. It was undoubtedly difficult in the beginning because no bank would treat her seriously. “Today’s generation faces stress due to isolation. Doesn’t it look good if the lights are on when you enter your house?,” she remarked. She believes that the idea of share houses fulfills the bottom three blocks of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and hence converted her love for a shared community to a sustainable business. With so many international students now staying in these houses, she says, “It is like travelling around the world while staying in Sendai.” She believes that having communities outside family can lead to a bountiful living.

The letter ‘E’ in TED stands for entertainment. This time, the organisers invited the 17-yr old child prodigy Rio Saito who plays Ukulele. Three years back, he picked up the Hoku award which is considered to be Hawaii’s equivalent to a Grammy. Before he started strumming and enchanting the jaw-dropped audience, he said, “My first blueprint was when I picked up my Ukulele.” The performance was a tribute and a celebration playing in the hands of Saito. He selected ‘Hana wa saku’ as his first piece as his remembrance for the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and then cheered the audience with his energetic second selection ‘El Cumbanchero’. At times, he posed for the photographer Nguyen Chi Long and at times he also donned a modest style showing his maturity that he balances with fame and surely doesn’t let go of the honesty in his creativity.

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Aniko Karpati, Treasurer and Co-Founder of the event with members of the audience

The event had also organized for speaker’s café where the attendees could ask questions to the speakers directly and thereby facilitating a two-way conversation.

President Ohno had remarked that sharing, learning and growing is what defines education and university. Marty Kuenhert, who is a professor at Tohoku University and Sendai University is a prime example of the same. He is surely a sporting celebrity in Japan. “My love with Japan started in a bathroom,” the first foreign general manager of Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Pro-Baseball team opened his talk.

In what followed to be an edgy and a witty conversation with the audience, he spoke about his life at Stanford University. “I first came to Tokyo on a spring exchange program in the 1960s,” he reminisced. He spoke how important it is to have the wealth of friends which is an invaluable asset in the blueprint of success. He came in touch with the famous ‘Cappy’ Harada which later on benefitted him as Harada appointed Kuenhert as the general manager of Lodi (CA) Orions. “Laughing is the best way to get friends,” he remarked. “So, Learn abundantly, Adapt endlessly, Understand openly, Give ceaselessly and stay in Harmony with your hosts,” he said as he expanded the acronym LAUGH. He ended his talk as he threw some coins at the audience reminding them of an anecdote that he mentioned during his talk where he would say to the person on the other side of the counter, “Keep the change.”

On the other hand, for Kenichiro Nakamura, success came at a later stage. He wanted to make a career in music and dropped out of his university after entering it on his second attempt to play music in Tokyo, much to the dismay of his parents. “I came to Tokyo but couldn’t earn enough through music,” he recalled. It was during that time when he saw a Microsoft site and became excited about programming. “Many people didn’t believe that I can join Microsoft,” he said. Yet, through his perseverance in learning to program, he earned 17 Microsoft certificates and finally entered the company of his dreams. “Do you really know where will you be in the next 10 years?,” he asked. “I cared too much about what others thought about me but now, I pretend that I did not notice,” he remarked. If you ask him now what would he want to do in the next 10 years, he confidently says, “Street workout.”

The event was emceed in English by Pelonomi Moila, a South African student at Tohoku University and in Japanese by Eri Watanabe, an alumni of Tohoku University, Class of 2015 and also the curator of TEDx Nihonbashi. With ice-breaking events and constant interaction, they did not allow the audience to lose any interest.

It is rather remarkable to realise how far the idea of a ‘Blueprint’ can be stretched. For Yosuke Hara, an otorhinolaryngologist at Tohoku University, it is about taking the leap forward. “When the 2011 earthquake struck, I was performing a surgery. I thought I would not be able to make it,” he remembered. After this, he began questioning if it is ok to continue his lifestyle the way it is. He then joined Stanford University’s medical entrepreneur program and also worked in Silicon Valley. People started questioning if it is too risky for a doctor to enter business but he had a simple answer for all, “To do things outside of your work is what leads to innovative solutions.” “Have the courage to leave your comfort zone. Do what you really want to do,” he appealed.

One of the speakers Etan Ginsberg had to leave for Cambodia urgently on a business trip and hence his talk was cancelled. The event came to a close with Gregory Trencher, an associate professor at Tohoku University asking everyone to preserve the planet and achieve full human potential by upgrading to Homo Sapiens 2.0. He quoted research about individuals experiencing near-death situations and questioned the existence of soul. He also contrasted Rene Descartes’ idea that mind and body are separate by quoting researches and examples where we understand that both are interdependent on each other.

The curtains were pulled down with group photographs and visibly inspired crowd moving towards the after-party. Prof. Ryoichi Nagatomi, the Vice Dean of Biomedical Engineering department and the supervisor for the event, congratulated the organizing team for the event’s success. “This is a small event but definitely a melting pot,” he remarked.

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Prof. Ryoichi Nagatomi delivering the ‘Kampai’ address

This year, it was for the first time that live translation service was introduced for the audience. It is a rare service even across TEDx community in Japan. “I couldn’t participate last year but I realised that without translation, it is difficult for many to understand. I went up to Chanon and I said I want to do it. Our team had 18 meetings and though we had the speakers’ scripts with us, we were prepared for on-spot changes should the speaker make any on the day of the event. I am really satisfied and extremely proud of my team,” said Evdokiia Okhlopova, leader of the Translation team.

On asking about his thoughts about the event, Drew Borders, leader of the Speaker team said, “It is a very good experience. I learnt to organise people. It looks very easy but it is a tough job as you need to manage schedules and differing ideas. Next year, I am looking forward to an even more clarified theme. In the end, the audience should go home with open ended questions in their mind.”

The teams are already trying to conceptualise the next TEDx event in 2019. Before then, smiles and a small glass of limited ‘Blueprint’ labelled Nihonshu Sake shall keep the ideas spreading.

As reported by Trishit Banerjee. Born and brought up in Mumbai, he loves to chase words and Chemistry at the same time.

Drugs and controversy in Sendai

The reality, in which all our lives take place, is a complex system subdued to a seemingly chaotic algorithm responsible for creating stories that could deride even the most gifted of writers.  Albeit it concedes, among other altruistic pleasures, joy, realization, and satisfaction; it also leads to their counterparts, deception, anguish, and agony, among other crippling misfortunes. When this dichotomy is balanced or tilted towards pleasures, existence is a perennial gratification. Nevertheless, it can also become an endless punishment when life’s vicissitudes accumulate without enjoyment.  Naturally, for those living in the latter condition, a temporary escape can be the only way to subsist. This ephemeral transition to a blurred reality comes in form of drugs; substances that are able to numb the senses by altering the brain’s chemical equilibrium.

As logic ought to dictate, this dilemma has existed as long as humans have but, interestingly, it is not limited to our species.  From wallabies getting intoxicated on opium, by nibbling on poppy flowers, up to dolphins that have been recorded squeezing a puffer fish, with the intention to make it release a small dosage of trance-inducing neurotoxin, and even without taking into account the consumption of alcohol, observed in several animals, it appears that the dulling of the senses is a natural phenomenon. However, despite occurring naturally, numbing senses and taking hallucinogenic trips for recreational purposes is an extremely sensitive topic in our current society.

Virtually, every sovereign country of the world has laws to punish, the possession, consumption, and commercialization of a myriad of drugs. In some of these nations, the debate on which substances are dangerous enough to be banned, and which can be legally consumed, is on its apogee. Yet in others, like Japan, there is no debate. While some drugs (dangerous and statistically innocuous) are indisputably taboo, from the social and legal perspective, alcohol (responsible of an estimated 6,000 violent deaths on 2017) and Tabaco (linked to several diseases that cause approximately 157,800 deaths yearly) are available throughout the country.

This austerity was brought out into the light when 7 Tohoku University’s international students were linked to drug consumption.  These 6 men and a woman, from ages between 20 to 26 years old, came from 6 different countries, and, except for one, were short-term exchange students who lived at the Tohoku University’s Sanjo-Machi dorms complex. Peculiarly, while all the students confessed to the same misdeed, only 4 suspect’s names were fully disclosed, whereas 3 were kept anonymous. According to the police report, one of them, a 20 year old male originally from Australia, received an international parcel from the UK with 0.98 g of heroin and 6.99 g of MDMA, on last year’s October 29th. This student was taken into custody on December the 6th of the same year; during the raid to his apartment, the police found 0.07 g of heroin and 6.53 g of cocaine.  In addition, he allegedly distributed cocaine, without charge, to all the other 6 students involved in the case. The police stated that the drugs were distributed in the University’s dorm, and in an undisclosed local night club.

Despite the verdict of his trial has not been made public, if found guilty of the imputed charges, he could spend 3 years in an Australian penal facility. The home university of this student refused to comment on the matter. Regarding the 6 remaining suspects, even though they were not charged with possession of any illegal substances, according to the Japanese law, their confession was enough to grant them an expulsion from the university and a consequent deportation. As it could be expected, due to the historical significance of the event, the news became national. A few articles were written in English. However, in contrast with their Japanese counterparts, the discretion, regarding the details of the case, was kept; the names of all the students remained anonymous.

As controversy arose in the city of Sendai, the local Japanese community, despite isolated comments backing up the closing of the university’s dorm, showed support to the uninvolved foreign students of Tohoku University.  Concurrently, the institution issued the following statement, in Japanese: “As the police strive to elucidate the details of the event, we will work thoroughly to strengthen our criteria for accepting international students and provide them with education regarding prohibited drugs”.

Among rumors, gossips, and anecdotes, all conflux on an incident that took place during a trip to Ishinomaki (Approx. 50 kms from Sendai). The Australian student allegedly showed off syringes and a substance he stated was heroin. Others confirm that he was openly stating he was in possession of illegal drugs. Whether these are speculations or not, it was ratified what everyone knows but only a few understand, despite Japanese judicial procedures may seem irregular to some, immigrants are judged by the laws of their new country of residence.

As reported by Manuel Campos. Born and brought up in Venezuela, Manuel is a senior writer for ‘The Sentinel’.

Discovery of Another World of Japanese Culture

“The 65th Tohoku University Festival”, held on October 28th-30th, 2016, has greatly ended. In this festival, Tohoku University students organized exhibition, performances and food stalls for their own clubs or circles. Thus, not only visitors can enjoy activities, shows and foods they served us, but also it was a great chance to survey which clubs or circles they are interested in, and, perhaps, decide to join in the next semester. I guess many of you have already experienced this fantastic event; by the way, I would like to gather information and re-display impressive moments in the 65th Tohoku University Festival which is one of the most unique festivals I’ve ever seen. Let’s explore  another world of Japanese culture together.

In this festival, students from a huge number of clubs and circles organized their own exhibition showing what they have done throughout a year. Also, relevant information and pieces of works were provided. Although you did not have any information which clubs were being exhibited and where it was, it was still fine since there existed brochures sticked on the wall everywhere. All of classrooms of A, B and C building at Kawauchi Campus were used for exhibition. Accordingly, if you go through a walkway in the building, it would seem like you have teleported to another world, the world of clubs’ exhibition as you can see them from both sides of your sightseeing. There were several clubs and circles I would like to introduce. The first one is Photography circle. Here, the exhibition of photos, gathered from members,  was organized. The interesting point was that some photos were taken by just only a mobile phone. Thus, for this circle, just good ideas, content, emotion and components can bring out a good photo without using expensive cameras. Next is Model club; Gundams, tanks and figures were formed and exhibited here. If you are a fan of figures, you would know that constructing a figure takes a very long time (sometimes more than 10 hours). And, you know, a number of figures was displayed; it showed how much effort that members  have paid for these things. The last club I would like to talk about is Train club. In this club, they research about Japanese trains: types, routes, environments and station construction etc. According to those information, they created a model of local train station as well as its route, and it can realistically move using battery—that was fantastic! Apart from these clubs and circles, there were still a lot of exhibition there, for example, Astronomy club, Card circle, Robot club, Social outreach club, Cartoon painting circle and Chess circle etc.

Another major group exhibited in this festival was music  and street dance circles. Actually, there are many ways to categorize these clubs. If the criteria is types of music, there were Jazz, Classic, Pop and Japanese folk song etc. Also, if the criteria is types of musical instrument, there were mandolin, brass instrument and woodwind instrument etc. You can see there was a large number of music circles here. Generally, many music circles here opened cafes and showed their performances inside. Visitors can pay money (just a little amount) for drinks, sitting and listening to music inside. Because types of music circles were very various, visitors can choose what kind of music they like or what type of   music instrument they prefer, and then relaxed there. There were some bands performing on the central stage, too. Apart from these music shows, there was a dance performance by street dance circle, which was one of highlights of this event. This circle is composed of many lines of dancing: jazz, house, hiphop, lock and pop. I had watched it on the first day which was held on a stage near the bicycle parking; it was so awesome actually.

University festival would not be complete if there is no food stalls. Food stalls here were also organized by students. Some club and circles that did not make exhibition would do food stalls as  another way of their clubs’ income. The food was various until you may not be able to try them all, for example, yakisoba (Japanese stir fried noodles), takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake), sausages, crepes and grilled chicken etc. Moreover, the price was not expensive at all, just around 200-500 yen per serving which allowed you to try many kind of traditional Japanese street food. Because of this perfect food stalls, this event was able to attract visitors to stay for all day—when they felt tired from exhibition, they bought foods, recharged the energy, and  then continued to visit other clubs and circles more. It was such a perfect loop!

In conclusion, the 65th Tohoku University festival was very exciting and full of great components: attractive clubs’ exhibition, awesome performances and nice foods as everyone devoted themselves and heartily organized this event. In fact, I have never seen any university festivals that can showed students’ effort on what they are interested in as much as Japan’s. I bet this kind of culture is exotic and attractive for foreign students including me. Thus, anyone who have not join this event yet, please come again in the next year “the 66th Tohoku University Festival” and discover another world of Japanese culture together.

“…From my perspective, the festival is probably the best chance you could have to observe the talents and interests of Tohoku University students. All over Kawauchi campus, everyone can take part in enjoying the local food made by students, and watching shows and exhibitions that can only be seen in the festival. I personally enjoyed watching the WHO dancing circle’s street dance performance. If you happen to have a chance to join, please make sure to go to their shows…”

Ratthanan Ratthanasupapornsak

Faculty of Engineering (IMAC-U)

Visitor

“…I think the Tohoku University Festival is a very good opportunity to experience the interest and talent of Tohoku University Students through various performances. Furthermore, there are a lot of freshly made food and drinks for sale which you can enjoy in the festival. It also benefit those who intended to join a club or circle to be able to choose from their interest accordingly…”

Chayapol Beokhaimook

Faculty of Engineering (IMAC-U)

Visitor

“…In this university event, I had a chance to perform a jazz song at one of the classroom which my club occupy as a club room. I am a guitarist, and I start to practice a month before the event, but unfortunately, me and my band only had practice together one time because of our schedule were not match. I was a little bit nervous before the show, but it turned out really fun and my friends came to watch me on that day which made me really happy. This event gave me the chance to show my potential and also good memories, I really looking forward to next year gakusai…”

Pathomchat Piriyakulkij

Faculty of Engineering (IMAC-U)

Performer

“…I’ve had a chance to perform in the university festival with WHO street dance circle. We practiced for around 2 months before the event. I heard that the circle is not very serious but to be honest, this is not the case at all. Around 2 weeks before the event, we practiced 5 days a week 6-8 hours a day. However, no matter how hard the practice was, I still enjoyed it. In this event, I participate in 3 stage, including 1st year 1st stage, House stage and Hip hop stage. I was very nervous since this is my first time going on stage. Fortunately, I didn’t make mistake during the show so I was quite relieved. I really feel my hard work is paying off in term of my dancing skill and really looking forward to improve myself even more!…”

Kanbodin Kechacoop

Faculty of Engineering (IMAC-U)

Performer

 

Tanach Rojrungsasithorn