M9 Earthquake? Not a Problem for Sendai

Tohoku University Summer Science Program 2013

In July 2013, I participated in a 10-day research expo program hosted by Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. My experience at the land of rising sun was phenomenal, despite the short duration. I had a chance to learn from the brightest researchers at Tohoku University and make friend with a group of friendliest individuals from across the globe. The experience has taught me to be more iWakabayashindependent, self-sufficient, and confident.

TU Science Summer Program

Established in 1907, Tohoku University (TU) has been regarded as one of the most prestigious universities in Japan. It is a member of the National Seven Universities, a highly recognized group of research institutes in science and engineering. This beautiful campus is located in Sendai, Miyagi in the Tohoku Region. In March 2011, Tohoku Region faced the catastrophic M9 earthquake and tsunami. That fact was hard to believe when I visited Sendai roughly a year after the disaster because the community’s reconstruction was surprisingly quick. One of the volunteer students at TU even told me: “Please tell your friends at home that the earthquake had little effect on us! Don’t hesitate to come and study at TU!”

Living up to one of its core values, “Open-Door” (門戸開放), TU always welcomes international students to live and study in Japan. 2012 was actually their first partnership with UCSD. The program was designed to be a short research expo for engineering students whose inflexible schedules might prevent them from going abroad. During the 10-day period, I visited 9 researchers’ facilities to learn about their projects and research interests. On the weekend, I went on a field trip to Wakabayashi Ward to study the after effects of the M9 earthquake and toured the beautiful Matsushima Bay. On our free Sunday, some new friends and I paid Tokyo a visit!

Research Expo

The 9 research projects were:

  • Seismological study of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Robotics
  • Introduction to Spintronics (my favorite)
  • Modern Physical Chemistry
  • Computer Vision
  • Neutrinos
  • Carbon Nanotube
  • Genetic Engineering
First day at TU
Prof. Toru Matsuzawa demonstrating a software platform that records real time seismological data
Prof. Kazuhiro Kosuge’s Partner Ballroom Dance Robot — TIME’s 2005 Best Invention
Prof. Koichi Hashimoto showcasing Intel’s OpenCV, a known computer vision open source library
Prof. Riihiro Saito’s carbon nanotube model

Wakabayashi Ward and Matsushima Bay

Busing to Wakabyashi early in the morning

Wakabayashi ward was severely damaged when the tsunami swept through. As many as 2,700 homes were turned into Wall-e trash blocks. Although the greater part of Sendai had already recovered from the damage, Wakabayashi ward still had a long way to go. There were very few inhabitants when I visited; a local student told me it would probably take a few more years for them to rebuild.

In front of Zuigan-ji Temple in Matsushima

We spent the rest of the day cruising Matsushima Bay, one of the Three Views of Japan (日本三景). To be honest, I was too busy feeding potato chips to seagulls rather than paying attention to the cruise’s descriptions of 260 tiny islands in the bay.

Fun Daily Activities

TU volunteer students would pick us up at our hotel early every morning. We would bus together to different campuses to visit different research facilities. For lunch, we got to taste the authentic Japanese cafeteria food; I really wish UCSD had one of those… Our days ended around 5 PM, so we had the rest of the evening to explore Sendai!

Typical breakfast
Fantastic dinner
Decision making has never been tougher
More fantastic dinner
Everyday is cheat day…
Fireworks provided by TU volunteer students
And of course, Pokemon Center!

Tokyo

The capital city was very hot during July; the temperature was as high as 84 degrees. A few friends and I rode on the bullet train (Shinkansen) from Sendai station to Tokyo station. This lightning speed vehicle traveled up to almost 200 mph (320 km/h) but made no noticeable noise whatsoever. This is not to mention the fact that Japanese Railroad network operated on an extremely timely manner. When the sign said “12:56 PM”, they really meant “12:56:00 PM”.

KitKat addiction

Tokyo was definitely more lively and active than Sendai; everyone seemed to be running to or from work. We spent the entire day walking and touring the many shopping districts around Tokyo Station.

A busy corner of Tokyo

Wrap Up

On the 10th day, my group and I had to do a presentation on the topic assigned to us prior to the program. Our topic was fortunately Spintronics. I had an easy time recapturing this project because of its relation to computer processors. Spintronics presents a potential solution to power consumption, heat exhaust, and cost inefficiency that processors manufacturers are still facing today.

My team’s presentation

TU volunteer students wrapped up the program with a farewell party for all of us. I took the train to Sendai Airport the next day, concluding my first awesome, solo trip to a foreign country. The experience was so positive that upon my return, I immediately discussed with my adviser at UCSD’s International Center, Rachel Rigoli, about my next adventure in another country!

Last night in Sendai
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