I’m writing this on Thursday evening, August 23. Right now it is almost 2:00 AM for everyone in Las Cruces. In Japan we are exactly 15 hours ahead of MDT. It took us probably 3 to 5 days to get fully adjusted to the time change. It is also daylight for about 14 hours a day, maybe more. So it can be hard to get into a regular sleep pattern. The kids usually wake up around 8AM, which is actually late for us, but they have also been staying up later than usual. This will change when they start school next Monday. 😉
Our kids are pretty lucky this year because their summer is 2 weeks longer than usual owing to the difference in the Japanese school term. You probably noticed with the start of the fall semester that the Las Cruces Public Schools also started up and have been back for a couple weeks now. Everyone in NM seems to be back into the full swing of school—from what I glean from here in Japan. I do hope your semester is starting well, and I welcome all new freshman to CHME!
So, for my short recap of our continued Japanese adventures, I wanted to share with you activities over the last 2 weeks and tell you more about my gracious host and colleague, Dr. Miho Suzuki. We were very fortunate to be able to celebrate the Japanese Bon Festival with Dr. Suzuki and her family. This is a 3-day holiday in mid-August which the Japanese take to celebrate and honor their ancestors. For families in Tokyo, it took place August 14, 15, and 16, and Saitama University shut down during this time. For this celebration, the Japanese have various customs starting the weekend before. By the way, as a side note, the month of August and late July are filled with Firework Festivals every weekend all over Tokyo, which are AMAZING! We saw so many huge and incredible firework displays from our 7thfloor apartment both north and south of where we live. Anyway, back to the Bon festivities—Miho took us on Sunday August 12 to Chiba Beach, which is on the bay of Japan in Chiba prefecture. We met her sister, Chiho and her husband and son and had a traditional Japanese BBQ (see picture). The Japanese are very good hosts and we gladly experienced this hospitality when we realized what the BBQ was about. Miho had reserved a large tent with two large tables and several chairs. The two tables each had a square cutout in the middle that was used to place a charcoal grill for cooking meat, vegetables, and yakisoba (stir fried noodles with pork). So your grill is right there, in the middle of the table. You sit around the table, visit, and using your chopsticks to place marinated and thinly sliced chicken, beef, and pork on the grill. Also included are onions, bell pepper and carrots. When families reserve these tables the entire set comes with a cooler full of all of your food, and hosts are there to help you with any needs including accommodations for hand washing. It was a huge spread. We each grilled our own meat and sat around visiting. Although, I have to admit it was incredibly hot because the weather here has been around 35oC with 90% humidity. Therefore sitting around a hot grill was pretty tough. However the food was amazing! Miho had bought tons of food and later took us around the beach. Her sister gave us gifts (giving small gifts to each other frequently is very popular and common). We also brought a gift for Miho’s nephew, a special baseball from NM.
Miho is very kind, quiet, and likes talking with Joaquin, Kaleb, and Kyraluna. She doesn’t have her own kids nor is she married, and it is apparent that she is very close to her sister’s family. Miho speaks really good English so it is easy to talk to her, although there are times when she doesn’t quite get our questions. It could also be cultural because it is common for Japanese people to be somewhat ambiguous with answers. Her sister and her family spoke OK English but not as well.
Miho, being in science and engineering, has a job that requires English speaking for conferences and presentations. Miho helps her research students (see picture) with English (I can tell by observation); in fact she said that she’s going to start group lab meetings in English-only! I thought that was great for them and hoped she wasn’t just doing it on my behalf. Miho is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry and her research involves bench-top experiments in which she synthesizes specialty fluorescence labels for cells to be used to understand various intracellular mechanisms and pathways. I won’t get into the details here but maybe at a later time. Anyway, she is a great mentor to her students and during group meetings it’s obvious she challenges them with questions and engages them in a discussion about research papers they read. At the first meeting we attended, I noticed she stood the entire time, even though myself, Kevin, and all of her students were sitting down. I asked her about the standing and if it was because of her accident. She got into a bike accident when a car hit her earlier this year; she broke her ankle and had a concussion. She told me “no, it’s not the accident, it’s just my style.” So, imagine her standing around the table during an entire 2 hr. meeting and looking down sort of bent over her notes. She would lean on the table with her elbows sometimes. I was impressed because my feet have been hurting with all of the walking and standing around on trains that we’ve been doing.
Anyway, I have so many positive things to say about Miho as my Fulbright host. She is helping us get access to the building and research facilities, access to university facilities such as the pool, and helping us get into Japanese classes. Thank you, Miho!
Well, it is now almost 3AM for you and getting to be dinner time for us; therefore I won’t go on any longer. Thanks for reading and Go Aggies!
~Jessica P. Houston, Ph.D.
Affiliate faculty, Saitama University Graduate School of Science and Engineering