I truly learned so much in Professor Ikawa’s laboratory. One piece of advice I would give to STEM students who are applying to the Japanese Government Scholarship or are on it now is to keep learning! I regret not learning more lab techniques. Don’t be afraid to fight for the same treatment as your Japanese colleagues. Absorb as many lab techniques and experiments as you can and continue to ask for more so that you can help people in their research to get an authorship in their papers!! Also, make sure you ask about going to conferences. I missed out on the opportunity to go to conferences because I didn’t ask. However, also make sure that you value work-life balance. Working in a lab in Japan is difficult because your Japanese peers will be working incredibly long hours late at night. Whether or not you choose to follow that schedule is up to you (and your Professor) but I highly suggest choosing efficiency over long hours if given the option. Yes, lab is important, but enjoying Japan is also just as important. This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity so don’t waste it by spending 24/7 at work!
My first memory of Japan is taking the highway “limousine” bus from the Kansai airport to JR Ibaraki station, where my Professor and two PhD students in the lab picked me up. One of those students would become one of my best friends in Japan! I remember going to my very first conbini, a Lawson, right next to where I would stay for the night. I bought chocolate donuts (so sweet!), Luna yogurt (so delicious!), and green tea (so bitter!). The next day, the lab administrator took me to Tsukumodai Dormitory, where I would stay for the next 6 months. That summer, I would be awoken at 4am by howling cicadas and blood curdling chirps of the Japanese Bulbul.
I arrived in Osaka right as the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. While the Bay Area has cherry blossoms, I was blown away by the sheer amount of them in Japan. Wherever you went, the light pink petals that fell like snow surrounded you. Cherry blossoms continued to be a reoccurring symbol in my Japan journey. From being woven into my yukata’s obi, to finding a pressed cherry blossom flower in my textbook, to graduating in a kimono embroidered with the flower, I hold those experiences dear to my heart.