|USIA Fulbright Scholar in Japan|
Hello, or "Kon'nichiwa" from Japan! My name is Ryan, and I'm one of this year's Fulbright fellows. I am conducting research in the field of biochemistry, and combining this with a program of language, culture, traveling, and fun!
Living in a foreign country, it's always nice to find mail in the box! Yes, I would very happy to share my experiences with the community back home. The fact is, even till this very day, and ever onwards, I feel so very fortunate and thankful to Fulbright to receive this wonderful year here in Japan. It's a tremendously fun and enlightening experience - to be totally immersed in a culture and society that I previously only daydreamed about living in. It's truly a 24 hr classroom, everytime I step outside my door. The Japanese language and history that I studied at UC Berkeley in California, comes alive immediately. I like to challenge myself to go out there to try something new, whether it's using a new Japanese phrase, eating a wildly different appetizer, or wandering into new terrritory that wasn't really described in my tourist maps.
Currently, I am conducting biochemistry research here at the Biosignal Research Center of Kobe University. My project is to study the properties and function of a particular protein molecule called "Protein Kinase B", or affectionately "PKB" for short. This protein acts as a central controlling point in cells, directing the traffic of information and chemical signals being sent in all directions. PKB might be likened to one of Tokyo's subway stations - points in the city where lines of trains, traffic, and people pass by to get to where they need to go. Everyone needs to get to the right places, and get there on time. Similarly, in order for the cell to be healthy, PKB must take in all the lines of information, and transmit this information to other proteins in the cell, to keep things chugging along. PKB controls many functions, such as sugar metabolism, the synthesis of proteins, and also the ability to block programmed cell death, or "apoptosis". Thus, cells with active PKB are able to live longer. It's believed that some cancers may involve malfunctioning PKB, allowing the cells to live longer, and grow uncontrollably.
As for lab culture, it's very interesting! In general, it seems to me that Japanese scientists are super-duper "majime", or dilligent! People arrive early in the morning, and leave very late. One time, as I was leaving the laboratory at around midnight after a long experiment, one assistant professor arrives, assuring me that he's ready to go all the way until 10am the next morning!! People work hard, but they also know how to enjoy themselves. The lab acts like a family, as we eat together (Japanese people eat fast!), go to "nomikai" drinking parties together, and help each other on overall laboratory research projects. I really do feel a sense of "groupism", quite unique from the laboratory culture and philosophy back home in the States.
On my free time, I enjoy pursuing one of my hobbies which I started when I was a student at Berkeley: I compose and perform chemistry rap music. I think of rhymes, and then combine it with rap music melodies to produce a wacky fusion of science research and lyrical rhythms and beats! It's been really fun, and I've recently performed this chemistry rap here in Japan on several occasions. I rap in English and in Japanese, putting to use all those good technical biochemistry Japanese terms that I've learned: like "protein" is called "tan-paku-shitsu", and "phosphorylation" is called "rin-san-ka"! Doing the experiment on stage, grabbing the microphone, and getting down to the rap has been a great way to share my personal version of American culture with my friends here in Japan and from around the world! Last month, I performed chemistry rap at the Osaka Earth Voice '98 International Music Festival. I had an absolute blast! Along with fellow foreign students who performed things like Korean traditional drums, Brazillian salso, Saudi Arabian love ballads, German dance, I shared a little about science in a fun way. I like to carry my message not only about rap as an American culture, but also about rap as a form of expression that anyone can use and enjoy. I like to leave ideas open, because I believe that's how we can learn new things. People have stereotypes about what science is about, and they have stereotypes about what rap is about. When you mix the two together, people don't really know what to expect, and you start off with an open mind. That's when I invite people and "welcome them to the world of chemistry rap": "Kagaku Rappu no sekai e yookoso!!!" Here at Kobe University, I have met some fellow hip hop and rap fans, and we now are practicing some dance moves. Dance is our next big challenge. Rhymes and music are ok, but it's even better if you can express the rap Visually!
Thank you to the folks at USIA and Fulbright and to everyone who believes in learning more about yourself by learning about others.