The story of a genetic researcher From a closed space to an open world
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “Yap-Japan Cultural Exchange Program” we have started a column series “Seeds sown in Yap” . Here we are going to introduce the subsequent stories of participants, so that we can look back on the value and meaning of Yap island once again and get some hints on how we live and contribute to the creation of a sustainable society in the future.
Our second story teller is IWASAKI Mao who participated in 1999 and 2001 when she was a junior high school student. Now, she is a Program-Specific Assistant Professor at the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University which is headed by Dr. YAMANAKA Shinya, Nobel Prize-winning stem cell biologist.
She joined the program during the midst of Adolescence. We asked her how her experiences in Yap island gave impact on her life and research work today.
Attracted by the world of gene
“I’m researching several types of genes. Even if the genome is the same, the appearance is completely different if the cell type is different. I feel the differences are interesting.”
iPS Cell attracts attention after Dr. YAMANAKA Shinya received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012. It is expected to take a crucial role for regenerative medicine.
She speaks calmly and introspectively during the interview, but once she talks about cells, she looks like a bit excited.
Mio got interested in the human body when she was in the 4th and 5th grades of elementary school. “My niece is 10 years younger than me and she was born with a disability in her eyes. I was wondering why it is happening.”
After she got interested in humanities and science through her relative, the NHK documentary program she watched when she was in junior high school accelerated her interests and had a great impact on her future.
“I knew about the word “Gene” in the TV program for the first time. Humans have around 30 trillion cells and each of them contains information as same as a thousand encyclopedias. The information is properly extracted in each place, such as the brain, liver, and bone, to maintain vital functions. It was interesting to know that each cell contains enormous information. The TV program mentioned that a lot of things have not been cleared yet. That time I thought I can do something or I have to do something for this.”
In this way she aspired to be a genetic researcher when she was in middle school. On the other hand, she was struggling with a lot of suffering and frustration at that time.
ECOPLUS conducted snow camp from March 20 to 22 in a mountainous village, Shimizu in Niigata, Japan with 12 participants including high school, university students and young adults. TAKANO Takako, executive director of ECOPLUS, Shimizu villagers and 2 other staff supported the program.
Due to extraordinary warm weather condition of this winter, snow was far less than normal. We only had 50cm to 1 meter of snow at the filed where it should have more than 2 meters. However, wet snow and strong wind suddenly came when the participants began to set up the tents, toilets, the fireplace and other facilities.
Finally they set up the living space. Creative boys’ and ladies’ toilets were built in snow decorated with leaves and trees. Cooking was also done on the snow. They cut vegetables on the snow table and made fire on the snow.
On day 2, we enjoyed snow shoe hike under the blue sky. Using traditional Japanese snow shoes, called “Kan-Jiki,” we started walking. On the surface of snow, many animal footprints were spotted. The villager, ABE Kazuyoshi, taught us they were raccoon’s or marten’s. We also found marks of hares, squirrels and others.
During three days, we spent time on the snow; cooking, eating, talking, playing, sleeping, and so on. Villagers offered us a big pod of wild bore stew and wild deer curry and rice. They talked about life and nature now and then. We concentrated our senses on listening, watching, communicating, without being annoyed by modern devices. By simply using time just for living, participants had rich and dense learning experiences.
On 26 and 27 May, ECOPLUS conducted “a weekend farming workshop; rice planting” in Tochikubo village in Niigata Japan. Under the limitation of lodging space, we had eight participants from Niigata city and Metropolitan area.
We had water shortage caused by extremely small snow in previous winter in 2016, and low temperature and wet condition in 2017. This year we had enough snow as same as usual years but temperatures went up after March and it melted snow substantially. Farmers are worrying again the shortage of water.
On Saturday, we started planting seedlings in a smaller paddy which has around 800 square meters. Those paddies which have been growing rice without any chemical materials, the area was filled with so many creatures, like tadpoles, dragonflies and butterflies.
Thanks to the strong sunshine, surface of the mud is very warm. We set 4-6 seedlings in one position 1 centimeter under the surface.
One of the participants was came from Thailand but she was from the central part of big city, Bangkok. She and his Japanese husband were so good at planting works although it was the first time for them.
At the dinner so many dishes using wild vegetables just harvested by the chef from their hills were appeared. Some were boiled and mixed with sesame source or vinegar source, some were fried as “Templa”. We enjoyed the gorgeousness of the life in the mountain.
It was also very nice weather on Sunday and one of the participants succeeded to see the beautiful sunrise at 4 o’clock in the morning.
After finishing rice planting using one hour and so, we had open air lecture from Mr. FUEKI Akira, a veteran farmer. He explained that in old days when the paddies were much smaller and narrow, they conducted rice plantings one paddy to next one moving water from upper paddy to lower one. He also taught that normally 20 pesticides, weed killers or other chemicals were used for rice growing in one season but for this totally organic rice paddy he uses no chemicals. Because of this, he needs to weed by hands at least three times before harvest in each paddies.
After the Yapese students gathered with their host families in the morning 18th March, they had a social gathering. We saw their big smiles in the pictures during homestay, so that we could immediately find they had a wonderful time. Also, Yapese students gave a presentation and introduced about Yap, and their host families listened carefully.
After that, they enjoyed making ice-cream by making good use of snow, and playing with snow. Then, they had a reflection session about these days, and shared their findings and thoughts from their own perspectives.
For dinner, they ate more than the first day. We kept laughing during dinner and seemed to get to know well each other through these eight days.夕食では初日より食べる量が増えていたり、笑いが絶えなかったり、8日間もの間一緒に過ごしてきたことを実感しました。
In the morning, the Yapese students visited Yabukami primary school and learned Japanese traditional games and calligraphy from the school children. The Yapese students had an opportunity to give a presentation about Yap to the students and enjoyed school lunch for the first time.
In the afternoon, the Yapese students experienced Japanese traditional rope making and handicrafts with straws. Since Yap has similar tradition to make ropes, they did well. They had opportunities to introduce Yapese culture such as making ropes with the fiber of coconuts, as well as splitting coconuts.
After the fruitful day, the Yapese students left for another homestay in Niigata.
After farewell to the host family, We left Tokyo to Niigata. We shared the precious memory of a fun homestay and the feeling of expectation for the first snow in the bus.
After the Kanetsu tunnel, the snowy landscape showed up.The beautiful scenery took our breath away.
In Niigata, the local high school students came to meet us. We shared our own culture and the problems what we have each other.
In the evening we walked around the snow. We enjoyed the snow by throwing the snow balls each other and drinking the water from the melting snow.For dinner we ate local cuisines and self-made miso-soup and rice, After the dinner, we went out again and tried to make snow-candles. All of us made our original snow candles.