by Julie Chang
This summer, I embarked on an experience of a lifetime in Japan thanks to the generous scholarship provided by the Friends of UTokyo foundation. Though I have previously visited Japan with my family, this trip was especially special and unforgettable. I had the rare opportunity to meet other global scholars and venture through Japan with them, creating memories filled with scrumptious food and breathtaking sights. Japanese culture has always fascinated me, with its universally-loved cuisine, vibrant lifestyle, and rich history. Having taken “Japan’s Modern Revolution” during my Fall 2013 semester at Yale University, I felt an even stronger urge to visit the country I studied the entire semester.
From July 9th to July 24th, I had the privilege of participating in the Global Summer Program (GSP) at the University of Tokyo organized by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). I took the Nanoscience course, which complemented my studies as a biomedical engineering major at Yale. Every morning, we attended lectures taught by top professors from the University of Tokyo. Following the classes, we toured the university labs headed by the speakers until 2:30 PM. After, we were free to explore Japan!
The variety of topics taught by the course was astounding. Some I was familiar with, such as the drug discovery process and biodevices fused or medical applications. Others were completely out of my comfort zone, including quantum computing and biophotonics. Yet, each lecture captivated my attention as I learned about the most current and ground-breaking discoveries in nanoscience. Each professor was an expert in their realm of research and touring the laboratories they conducted their research in enhanced the overall learning experience. Observing the differences between Japanese and American research laboratories was quite fascinating. The practice of wearing slippers exclusively used in labs was completely foreign to me! Even so, the research conducted at UTokyo was truly groundbreaking and novel.
The course concluded with a study visit to the Terumo Corporation Headquarters. Terumo is a top Japanese medical equipment company that manufactured the first Japanese-made thermometer. When our class toured the facilities, we were in awe of the state of the art hospital training devices and equipment. We tested a medical training robot that could help medical students detect pneumonia while listening to the breathing irregularities when pressing a stethoscope against the robot’s chest. We also practiced threading a catheter through a synthetic vein. The technology we saw was something I envisioned professionals would use in the future. The second stop of our study visit was the Meiji Seika pharmaceutical company production plant. After learning about the drug production process and observing the massive machines, the company gifted us with a bag full of Meiji chocolates and snacks. What a perfect way to end the course!
Venturing through Japan was everything I imagined it would be and beyond. My friends and I feasted on takoyaki, ramen, okonomiyaki, and of course, sushi. One of our favorite meals was yakiniku– we never had beef so tender before. During our free time, we visited the countless shrines in Tokyo, played arcade games in Odaiba, shopped in Asakusa, endured the long and early wait for the Tsukiji fish market tuna auctions and revisited our childhood in Disney Sea. We tried to squeeze the most out of every second in Japan, knowing that we may not have another opportunity to enjoy each other’s companies. I am so grateful for the friends I made from all over the world, including Australia, England, Singapore, and Switzerland. As we immersed ourselves in the Japanese culture, we shared tidbits of our own cultures with each other.
Another highlight of my trip was climbing the majestic, 3,776 meters tall Mt. Fuji. When a friend from Yale who was also studying in Japan invited me to partake on this expedition, I could not refuse. Even with the rain slightly dampening the earlier hours of our journey, we enjoyed each other’s companies that made the two day hike seem much shorter. As the second “serious” mountain I have hiked in my life, the journey through the cold and great heights was well worth it. Though we were sleep deprived and our muscles ached, reaching the peak during sunrise was a surreal experience that words or pictures could never describe. Also, when would a bowl of 900 yen instant ramen ever taste so good? Our trip concluded with my first visit to a Japanese onsen– a perfect remedy for my aching muscles.
I cannot be more thankful to the Friends of UTokyo for providing the funds for me to experience this remarkable opportunity. The food was so delicious, the people were so hospitable, and the views were so breathtaking. My trip to Japan is one I will always remember and the friends I made during the IARU GSP Nanoscience course are ones I will cherish forever. When I return to Yale, I will be sure to tell my colleagues to apply for the course and the Friends of UTokyo scholarship.