Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
(1) Message from the American Embassy
Warden Message – Roppongi Security Notice: Drink Spiking
The U.S. Embassy continues to recommend that American citizens avoid frequenting bars and clubs in the Roppongi area of Tokyo due to drink-spiking incidents. (haha...awesome)
The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reliable reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in Roppongi-area bars. Most reports indicate that the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious or stuporous for several hours, during which time large charges are fraudulently billed to the victim, sums of money are charged to the victim’s credit card, or the card is stolen. Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street. Assaults on Americans have also been reported in connection with drink-spiking.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Below is a little blurb from one of my best friends of all time. She is so right on.
"My last adventure will be the one that i take when I transcend this world. Until then, life is one big adventure. it's up to you to decide how adventurous you want it to be. Once you lose the excitement of adventure is when your life should end......
Cheers, MNDN (you know who you are!)
Monday, July 6, 2009
The sun setting in front of my apartment....I love this.
These are snippets of my life over the past two months. Aw, Japan.
From drunken lab parties (yes, that is a breathalizer and IV you see), to endless birthday celebrations, to a Fat Boy Slim Concert, to an art festival involving half-naked dancing men, to shenanigans in Roppongi.......my toes be tappin'.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Time seems to have accelerated over the past few months, as my stay in Tokyo is quickly coming to an end. As I reflect on the dynamic experiences I have had, I realize just how much Japan’s culture, people, and rich tradition have shaped me. The “Fulbright experience” has truly made a mark on my character and I feel that I have evolved somehow into a person with more perspective and balance.
When I first arrived in Japan, I was incredibly excited about the potential oozing from this place. I was excited to explore a new world, dive into research/work, meet new people from all walks of life, and gain some perspective about the world while doing these things. It is strange for me to think that these thoughts were initially felt 10 months ago. It is odd primarily because these thoughts have not been dampened in any way, but only heightened to a degree that I could never possibly anticipate. Let me explain.
Exploring a new world. I have tried to capitalize on every spare moment I have in Japan. While some of these adventures have contributed to my missing the last train back to Kokubunji, many of these experiences have truly opened my eyes and contributed to my new and more cultured perspective on life. Recently, I have visited museums, art exhibits, music concerts, photoshoots, and even sat in on two incredibly well done independent documentaries (with English subtitles, of course). I have also explored new “areas” within Japan with friends and even alone, stumbling upon those hidden treasures that can only be discovered by a wrong turn or holding the map upside down. I have been amazed at many things I have seen and often take a second to step back and take it all in. This is a rare practice for me, but one I have come to embrace in order to mentally process all the intense stimuli around me. Tokyo offers a world where everyone can find his or her niche, I believe. While exploring this new culture, people, and environment, you become uncomfortably close to understanding yourself and what you value or do not value. You begin to question aspects of life that you have not considered before and find thoughts flashing in your mind that may have never had the chance to surface. I believe these experiences to be among the most important in life and an important part of evolving as a person. Indeed, it is through such experiences that we learn what makes us tick and how to be a better and more conscious global citizen.
Diving into research and work. While I am a strong advocate that only progress can adequately measure efficiency and commitment, I can also say that time facilitates these things in most cases. Working 10-12 hour days has been a grueling part of my experience in Japan, but an incredibly worthwhile one. It has been more challenging than originally anticipated to work on two studies at once, though I do feel that the time spent on these studies has been productive. As the results of both studies trickle in, I am finding my excitement about the potential impact of such findings to be significant. There is nothing better in the world (to me) than to truly believe that your research findings will contribute in some way towards the vast knowledge in the world, and maybe not be filed away amongst the many half-hearted attempts at discovery. The results of my stigma study, in particular, are very exciting. This is the first cross-cultural comparison study between Japan and the US concerning the stigma associated with schizophrenia and we can safely report that there are significant differences between the two cultures. Hopefully I will be able to discuss this in further detail soon, as the analysis is still underway. While the study has been more expensive than originally projected, perhaps the results will impact the world in a way that may lead to decreasing stigma associated with mental illness. This is my dream.
I have participated in a few conferences and meetings outside of my area of expertise that have been incredibly informative. Before I came to Japan, I was truly trapped in the A to B mentality that medical/graduate school tends to steer you towards. Living outside of this environment now, I can look at this type of mentality objectively and see that it does not promote creativity or foster individual development. It may be too standardized and formulaic to promote new neurons to fire in novel ways. In my opinion, you need to stimulate such neurons to fire in order to come up with the ideas that will lead to important discoveries. This inside-out approach was once novel to me, but it is one I truly endorse now after living the “Fulbright experience.” After all, if the formation of cortical layers in our brain develops with this idea in mind (“inside out” approach), there must be some hidden meaning to subscribing to such a notion. I am convinced. I have been particularly impressed with the conferences I have attended concerning soft power, global relations and diplomacy, as well as talks given concerning the environment and climate control. To be a conscientious global citizen, we must first realize that we cannot completely separate our lives from public policy/politics, the environment, other countries in the world, technology, and science. I believe these subjects to be imperative if we are to truly grasp the future direction of this world and to harness our individual potential to initiate progressive change. After all, it is when we open our minds to the GLOBAL consequences of our actions now that we can begin to understand that what we do today will affect future generations to come throughout the world. It is a very powerful thought that I feel might be novel to many American scientists who are trained to think in the A to B format.
Meeting new people from all walks of life. During my short stay in Tokyo, I feel so fortunate to have met so many interesting characters who have contributed to my overall impression that Japan is a wonder. Considering that I work at a psychiatric/neurological hospital, I encounter patients with schizophrenia (“togo shitcho sho”) and mental illness everyday. Moreover, I see patients with severe cases of epilepsy, brain retardation, and rare genetic diseases as they try desperately to make their way down the hall. Each step for them is careful, calculated, and seems to take just as much courage as it does energy to execute. These people are my heroes, for they are alive and functioning in a world that may not be as considerate as it could be in these modern times. The stigma, discrimination, and shame that are often associated with such illnesses permeates all cultures and all geographic boundaries, which is why it is a global problem to be solved and not one specific to Japan. We must understand – as scientists and physicians – that a major part of healing and understanding brain pathophysiology resonates in comprehending the integration of nature with nurture. We often neglect the nurture aspect of this partnership, which is comparable to looking through a window at the world with the shades only half drawn. Seeing these people at the hospital and learning their stories reminds me that it is essential to open the shades completely to let the sunshine – or lack thereof- stream in.
Moreover, I have met social scientists, artists, historians, half Asians, designers, professors, pilates instructors etc. who have shaped me in more ways than one during my brief stay in Japan. The breadth of knowledge gained from my interaction with these individuals delves deeper than any textbook or manuscript could ever take me. There is something to be said for looking at a person face to face, sipping on coffee together, while listening to their story and learning about life –and all it’s intricacies – through their perspective. There is no question in my mind that this has been one of the most valuable aspects of my Fulbright experience – genuine immersion in the Japanese culture. Many of these people I have met are native Japanese, offering a relatively foreign, yet interesting, outlook on things I may have taken for granted. For example, when an American sees a person with a mask on their face, they think, “Why is that person wearing that mask? Do they think that such a mask can prevent them from getting a cold?” We don’t think about things, necessarily, from the opposite perspective, which is how the Japanese may interpret such an act. You see, the Japanese may be wearing the mask to protect others from an illness they already have – they are a considerate people who often focus on community and how they fold into society. This is just a small example of how cultural differences run deeper than just language; in fact, this demonstrates why many foreigners often find themselves truly “lost in translation.”
Perhaps one surprising finding is the plethora of half Asian individuals I have met in Japan. They call us “hapas” or “halfus,” which can mean many things. For the sake of simplicity, we will say that “halfu” means ½ Japanese, ½ something else. While I am only ¼ Japanese – but a ¼ Chinese as well- I am still considered to be part of this “halfu” cohort to some extent. I have never felt ashamed or conflicted about my ethnicity, but was raised to embrace these drastically different cultures and try my best to integrate them to squeeze out the best of both worlds. Whether I have been successful in this endeavor or not remains to be established, but I sure have enjoyed the process. I was raised to be proud of my differences and to embrace the bright genetic forecast that heterogeneity may provide. It has been fun. Being in Japan is the first time I have met with a bunch of half people at one time. Oddly enough, the feeling I got was incredibly positive – I felt like I had immediately found my niche. Not to say that I don’t feel at home with people of other ethnicities, but there was something inviting about speaking with another person who looked like me, someone who similarly struggles with checking the “right” ethnicity box, and someone who was familiar with the odds and ends of being mixed race. Our interaction was immediately easy and many things often went unsaid. What a truly eye-opening experience.
Perspective. This is the best word to summarize my Fulbright experience. This is the priceless gift I have received from this cultural immersion experience and I would not trade it for the world. It has helped me become more centered, helped me realize what I value and what I would like to learn more about, while also helping me understand a culture that is very near and dear to my heart. My grandmother (Fumie Fujimoto) is one of the most amazing women I have ever known and I am forever indebted to her for planting this seed of curiosity that has now blossomed into something beautiful and sustainable. Japan feels like home to me. I will maintain my relationship with Japan over the years and continue to integrate it into my life at every logical opportunity. The politeness of the people, the rich tradition, the amazing efficiency, the bright lights of the big city that make the rock gardens and streams seem even more peaceful have enraptured me. I am grateful and humbled at the same time, realizing that there is so much more to learn about the world. I am excited, more than anything.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
I love long flights. I think I may be one of the only people in the world to feel this way, but my momma taught me that it’s important to be “original.” I have been following these instructions since I could walk, much to her dismay ;) Love you, mom.
Here is why I love long flights:
(1) It’s a great excuse to watch horrible movies.
There is no other opportunity to take six hours outta my day to watch back-to-back B movies that apparently went straight to video. And guess what? I LOVE these movies. I just finished watching a movie about some obese mall security guard who saves the entire mall from the bad guys. It’s a total slapstick and I am the only person on this flight amused. In fact, it is completely dark on this flight (I am on it right now), but then there is this one little light on, just bright enough to annoy the people around it. The person under that light is me. And the snorting laughter is also me. I actually have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. Man. Good stuff.
(2) I love plane food
Considering that every night in Japan I eat rice and soy sauce, the plane meals offer a nice change of pace. This stuff is GOOD! I be grubbing, yo!
(3) I have no internet access
I can not be tempted by the evil seductress named email, who always captivates me and eventually devours me. I will start writing back to emails with the intention of doing so for an hour or two, then get caught up with the momentum and lose eight hours (no joke). Email is my weakness – it is SO efficient!
(4) I can get hardcore work done
I set up a little office during my flights. Ya’ll would laugh. I get out my laptop, I get out the latest book I am reading, I get out the research articles I want to peruse, I begin writing the articles I want to write……the people next to me must think I am on speed. I will tie back my hair, put a pen behind my ear, order some plane coffee, get out my ipod, then JAMMONIT. I never turn my little overhead light off ;)
(5) I can listen to good music
Again, I am the biggest advocate that music is the best mood stabilizer known to man. It can chill you out, rev you up, or help get your creative juices flowin’. I am all about Robin Thicke right now, and we are in a serious and committed relationship. I am one of those people who will listen to the same song on repeat 42 times in a row and love it EVEN MORE the 42nd time. Awesome.
(6) I actually have an excuse for looking homeless
Seriously, if I could look homeless all the time and have it be socially acceptable, I would. I love flying bc I get to put on my sweats, tie my hair back, get all grunged out, and feel super greasy and gross at the end of the flight – this state is my most comfortable state and how I often end up looking in the privacy of my own home after working for several hours. I feel sorry for my neighbors on this flight as I write….
(7) Flights are the best form of birth control
Not that I have anything to worry about in this department (trust me, I ain’t that cool). When you look to your left to see a poor mom battling her two year old to eat a spoonful of flight-tray food, you can’t help but sympathize. I just watched this interaction take place and I can safely say that the mom lost – BIGTIME. The little tike not only knocked the food off of the spoon, but he threw the entire tray on the floor. Then, he proceeded to scream bloody murder just to top it off. All the mom could do was laugh nervously and try to secretly drug her child with Benadryl (you know she was trying to do this before and prolly slipped some into the food he knocked on the floor). Damn. He is sleeping silently now. So I guess mom won in the end ;)
(8) I love landing in NEW places and seeing NEW things.
Even if I have visited the final destination before, there is something about the act of traveling and the anticipation of landing that makes me smile from ear to ear.
Ah. Just had to say that. “Lunch” will be served soon – Yes!
Ideally, this blog was supposed to be used to document random events throughout my year in Japan. It has served it’s purpose to some extent, though I haven’t had as much time as I would like to write down the cool day-to-day things that make me think, “WTF?” And I think this EVERY DAY while walking to and from work in Japan. No joke – EVERY DAY. How lucky am I? Haha. Have I mentioned that I am full on IN LOVE with Tokyo. I have advanced through the infatuation stage – I am now ready for serious commitment. Woah. Robin Thicke had better watch out.
I have tried to write some of these things down on a post-it note, but now that I am looking at the post-it note, it doesn’t make complete sense to me. So, I am gonna try to quickly list off some of the more interesting moments/things I have noticed while living in Japan. Warning: randomness ahead, folks!
· I teach English to a post-doc who works with the Yakusa periodically. He is an addiction counselor. They promise to “hook him up” if he ever gets into trouble. I road the elevator with six of them the other day – intimidating. They all had tattoos and slicked their hair back like woah. Badasses. I said “Ohayo gozaimasu” to them and they just grunted.
· I ate the worst salmon ball thing the other day and had to literally regurgitate the salmon back into the rice ball without people noticing. Skills. I was successful. I practiced this technique during childhood, so I am a pro (I will not provide further comment, as this will be completely incriminating).
· My boss is awesome. He says funny things from time to time that make me laugh inappropriately. The other day he was talking about “libido” problems that people have when taking psychiatric meds (he is a psychiatrist), and I had NO idea what he was saying. I thought he was saying, “Lipid.” Our conversation was a complete disaster, as you can imagine. He also pointed to another psychiatrist at our institute and said, “He like dumb blond.” Wow. How to respond?
· We had a lab party a week ago. They decided to have a BBQ outside, which started at 7pm. Everyone got hammered. I did too (off of one beer), as everyone kept chanting, “Gaijin! You must drink!” Damn. This is my first Japanese relatively “forced” drinking experience – chalk it up, homies. Luckily they came armed and ready with a breathalizer and IV (no joke – what a bunch of nerds we are!). We all played with the breathalizer and racked up some pretty intense numbers. The IV was used on the one doctor who wore the apron that said, “American Cowboy” who wore a towel on his head (literally) to look like “Al Qaeda.” The police were eventually called and we retreated back to our lab. Awesome.
· I have received a massage with my Japanese sensei two times so far. At the end of this relaxing experience, they karate chop your head – repeatedly. No joke. I burst out laughing the first time, which was not well received. Interesting.
· I went on an accidental date with a random Japanese guy who helped me buy my washer and dryer when I first moved to Japan. He took me to a Japanese-alternative-yodeling-karaoke bar. People had dreadlocks and BO like woah. Enough said. Yes, I did try yodeling.
· A while back the power went out in my little shoebox of a home. I had NO idea how to fix the problem and it was pitch black. So, I wandered into the hallway outside. I moseyed on downstairs, where I saw this GINORMOUS switch that seemed to be a logical solution to my problem. So I switched it DOWN. I should have known. The power went off in the entire building. I did the logical “Gaijin smash” thing and ran. Far away. When I came back, all the lights were on ;)
· At the gym, people line up for something called “The Rodeo.” People climb on this thing, and all hell breaks loose. They start gyrating like WOAH and have the most serious expressions on their faces. It is priceless. It looks like they are getting their butts kicked in a major way, but they endure. I will not try this machine, as I feel like it would be more appropriate in the middle of a seedy bar with drunk people and sawdust.
· I almost got assaulted by the most famous hula hoop girl in Tokyo (she looks like Pink). No joke. She was putting on a crazy show at a Shibuya night club. She wore a fluorescent bikini thing that glowed…as did her hula hoop. This random Japanese dude rolled up and we were innocently talking about Japan and all that jazz for 10-15 minutes. Turns out homedude was her boyfriend and she is insanely jealous. She saw us talking, and then got this crazy look in her eye. I was like ,”Woah, dude, what’s her deal.” He replied with, “Yeah, that’s my girlfriend and she gets jealous if I talk to other gaijin girls. You should watch out for her.” At this point, her show just ends and she is coming straight at us with a vengeance. I grab my friends and we haul butt outta there. He is now my friend on Facebook. Oi.
Woah. This entry is developing into a novel. I can assure you, however, that there are A TON of other stories of the “magic” that is Japan. Never a dull moment! Ever. It is just too funny. Oh. And never miss the last train – usually around 12:30am or so. That is a guaranteed adventure EVERY TIME (and I have missed the last train on multiple occasions….)
Here is also a random slideshow - YATTA! I went to Tokyo Disneyland and saw Zed with Marc (on his birthday). TOTALLY RECOMMEND ZED!
Ja ne for now!
Thursday, April 23, 2009
As I walked to work, I couldn’t help but notice that it was raining. It was not the usual rain consisting of cold, wet droplets that would ricochet off my black umbrella. This time, I saw flashes of pink and white, dancing like feathers as they found their way to the pavement. I stood in the middle of this dance of nature and couldn’t help but feel mesmerized. The petals of the infamous sakura were even more beautiful than I had imagined.
As I flip another page on my monthly calendar, I realize that 8 months have passed since I first stepped foot in Japan. I do not recall time passing as swiftly as this before, but then again I do not remember a place as enchanting as Tokyo, Japan. I feel like I am caught in a dream of sorts – a perpetual journey through Disneyland, as one of my Fulbright friends says. I love this country, this culture, and the people. Though I am working hard, I feel like I am working relatively smart (I hope), and that my time and experience here is being completely maximized.
The American Medical Women's Association (www.amwa-doc.org) & Engeye (www.engeye.org). I am in a serious open-relationship with both of these non-profit organizations. They both consume me in the best of ways and I often find myself falling asleep at the computer with either a Skype headset on, or with a cup of coffee nearby. I wouldn't have it any other way. The amazing people I have met through both of these organizations INSPIRE me to push forward, especially when times are tough. These movers and shakers not only talk the talk and walk the walk, but they bring the heat like I have never seen in my life. Through the people I have met in these organizations, I can safely say that the world will be a better place. And that's just friggin' cool.
Work. The life of a basic researcher is not glamorous in any country or culture. Perhaps one of the greatest epiphanies I have had yet is that though the faces change along with the location, the nature of science remains static somehow, almost like some conserved sequence of DNA (ummmm). People work long hours, focus almost too hard on one specific question, and analyze from when the sun comes up to when it goes down. This is the culture of basic science research and a culture I have adapted to both in America and Japan. The main differences I have noticed in Japan are that it is absolutely essential to be present. I do not mean the presence that requires mental astuteness or even the phenotypic presentation of neurons firing, but more of a physical presence. You must show up early to work and leave late. What you do with this span of time is relatively up to you, though you must make yourself seen, though rarely heard. Interesting. Even if you do not have work to do in the laboratory, you are expected to sit in your chair and demonstrate your work ethic.
Needless to say, work has been fast and furious since I have arrived in Japan. I have been working an average of 8-12 hours a day and find that I love this part of the Japanese culture. Perhaps this is a major reason why I am drawn to this culture – for their strong belief in the importance of work. While there are times when people are not productive in the laboratory, the people still feel the need to be present and to eventually have something to show for each and every day that they work. It is an entity that has been sometimes absent in my experiences in American laboratories, and one that I have abided by since I picked up my first pipette. People often describe me as “intense” and a “workaholic” in America, but here they fondly refer to me as “superwoman.” I laugh at this! While I am definitely not superwoman, it demonstrates that the Japanese place extreme value on working hard, producing results (whether good or bad…in my case, more of the latter), and progressing up the long career ladder that every young scientist must do. Alas, I feel at home, even though I am indeed tired.
The research on my stigma study as well as my basic science research is progressing along nicely. We have established a way to distribute our questionnaires to thousands of patients in Japan, even though it is a bit pricey. In the end, we feel our large recruitment numbers will truly heighten the power of our study and ensure a solid finding that can be published in a reputable journal. We will see. We have all of the questionnaires translated into Japanese and back-translated again into English. Furthermore, we have passed all the Internal Review Board requirements established by our hospital. Now that all the potential logistical road blocks have been overcome, we are releasing our questionnaire to thousands of schizophrenic and depressed patients next week, in hopes of receiving at least 30% response (robust estimate in clinical research). With this information, it is our hope to draw significant conclusions about the level of stigma experienced by patients suffering from schizophrenia and depression in Japan. Once we compile and analyze this data, we will aim to perform the same or a similar process in America. The combined results of these studies represent the first cross-cultural study on this subject and between these two nations ever recorded. The results could be valuable in the mental health community, elucidating the effects of stigma on schizophrenia and depression diagnoses and treatment in two of the most developed countries in the world.
Regarding the basic science work – It has been the most labor-intensive aspect of my time in Japan yet. I am working on studying the effects of Olanzapine (an atypical antipsychotic) on the consequent transcription and translation of the Kruppel-like Factor 5 (KLF5) gene in the brain of female rats. The presenting phenotype of chronic treatment with Olanzapine is obesity, as this drug induces metabolic syndrome (manifesting as obesity) in humans. We are curious as to how this drug will affect KLF5, a gene of known importance in neural proliferation and differentiation, and will test this question once the treated rats become sufficiently obese. We hope this drug might increase the overall expression of KLF5, which would putatively stimulate proliferation and differentiation of neurons. Now that you are all asleep, let me turn back on the lights......
When I am not at work on the weekends, I do my best to venture into the heart of Tokyo or experience treasures of the Japanese culture. I try to capitalize on every waking moment, as I realize that my time here is coming to a rapid close. I think I realized this (or felt this way) the moment I stepped off the plane; like each second was precious and I needed to embrace each moment. Over the past two months, I have celebrated many birthdays, which has brought me to night “hot” spots in Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ueno. Here, my Japanese friends and I enjoy lounging and talking while enjoying views of the Tokyo skyline. Thus far, I have appreciated the Park Hyatt Hotel the most. Not only is the view absolutely incredible, but the ambience of it all is truly unparalleled. My friends and I sat there for a night, feeling like actors in the movie “Lost in Translation” and enjoying the glamour of it all.
Moreover, I have had a few friends come visit me in Japan from America. It has been lovely seeing them, even though I have little time to spend with them. Nonetheless, we have managed to visit many places, including Hakone (note to self: never bring your digital camera into a hot spring!), climbing Mt. Takao, Asakusa, various parks throughout Japan, and Kichijoji. The natural beauty of Hakone and Mt. Takao is in stark contrast to the bright lights and big city feel of Shinjuku and Shibuya. I found myself getting lost in the quiet of it all; entranced by sounds of running water, birds chirping, and the echoes of the wind whistling around trees that have been standing longer than any skyscraper. Instantly, I felt at ease with life and truly grasped one of the largest dichotomies I have yet to witness – the collision between concrete, bright lights, and crowded streets and mother earth, the elements, and serene silence. Strangely enough, I find that I appreciate both environments and that both bring me incredible joy. Japan is a wonder.
Finally, I have met many incredible artists in Japan. In a strange series of coincidences, all of these artists seem to know each other, demonstrating the close connection between people of the Tokyo art world. The lady that makes my Starbucks coffee every morning is a passionate doll artist. A worker at the Mori Museum just happens to be one of the most phenomenal Chinese chalk artists in all of Tokyo. The “hula hoop girl” performing at a trendy Shibuya lounge just happens to have revolutionized the art of “hooping” in Tokyo and is well-known through the community. Finally, one of my Fulbright friends just happens to be a graphic artist who captures Japanese culture through her art by exploring concepts such as “kawaii (cute)” and the Japanese obsession with attacking everything with jewels and stickers. I was able to see all four of these talented individuals at an art event in Roppongi recently called the “Super Deluxe,” where artists have the opportunity to display and discuss their work. It was a very special time, indeed. Surrounded by good friends, amazing art, and the beauty of Tokyo, I couldn’t help but smile. Tokyo is pure magic.