When fellow alumni texted me “Hey, congrats! We are going to Japan!” I went blank for a while, and could not really understand what is happening. Few moments later it hit me and I checked my email to see if it was for real and it was. I was too excited, too happy and too overwhelmed with emotions which are really hard to put into words. Now, a month later after the trip writing this report feels like recalling a magical adventure that happened to me. The whole trip was nothing like I have experienced before. I expected Japan trip to be something truly different and it was so much more than that.
My flight from Baku to Tokyo was through Moscow and it was the longest flight I have ever had, but that was no obstacle for my joyful mood, not even losing my luggage and getting it after 3 days of arrival could have ruined this trip. Right after the landing I could feel how different and amazing Japan trip is going to be. How smoothly everything is run and managed at the airport already pointed out why Japanese have excelled in many important areas. Everybody is so dedicated and focused on their jobs and responsibilities that it makes everything nearly perfect.
The first day in Tokyo was an absolute blast as any other day in Japan. After settling in to the hotel, which was really tidy, nice and well located in the heart of Akasaka area, we went for a quick lunch, had a short walk and discovered there was a Hie-jinja Shrine nearby. Our first day was already exceeding the expectations. Finally, around dinner time we met with Kyoko-san and she took us to sushi place where fish tasted heavenly, so fresh and rich with flavor that it still gives me thrills. Not only fish, but every food that we had in Japan was amazing, I could never imagine that our trip would turn into such an amazing gastronomic experience for me.
Next we headed to Daitoku-ji temple which was more like complex with temples and zen gardens. It was different than Kinkakuji temple but very beautiful and filled with serenity. One of the gardens Totekiko and what it represented caught my attention. It’s the smallest stone garden in Japan with sandy ripples. It shows the truth that the stronger the power of the stone thrown into the water is, the larger the ripples are.
The third temple we visited in Kyoto was Kiyomizu temple. It was located very close to geisha district so we saw many women in kimonos and geisha outfits which made the whole experience even more cultural. The temple itself was located high at the hill, surrounded with green mountains, thus spreading very peaceful vibes to all visitors.
The next stop was Tsukuba, the largest science city in Japan. We took an express train from Tokyo to Tsukuba and it took about an hour to reach the main station. Once we settled in the hotel, which was quite close to the station. Sensei Matsushita picked us up and drove us to the campus. It was raining that day and somehow I caught myself remembering the times I did an exchange semester in Netherlands. Green campus, modernly designed department buildings, students riding their bikes, all too similar and very different at the same time. We started our tour from the university hospital and proton therapy research center. This research is the oldest one in Japan dating back to 35 years ago and it’s been up and running after the reopening for the 18 years now. Professor Takeji Sakae director of Proton Medical Research Center has presented very interesting material on how cancer is generally treated, what is proton therapy is about and how is it different. We had an opportunity to see the room where ginormous equipment that is used to create the proton waves that are aimed to ill cells. Proton therapy is focused on treating cancer on a cellular level, thus, is considered as one with the minimal side effects. They are treating both adults and children and children treatment room is designed so that kids will feel less scared. Proton therapy is gaining popularity all over the world, therefore, there have been many international research centers working on perfection of this treatment method as well. However, he also told us that they are working on a new method which will hopefully be even less harmful to healthier cells. I’m almost certain that we will hear good news about this breakthrough in the near future.
The second visit point was International Institute for Integrative sleep medicine. Prof. Toshio Kokubo gave us an interesting presentation on how sleep is vital for health and why is it important to understand sleepless condition to be able to contribute for a fuller and healthier life. IIIS is one of the 13 research centers all over the japan and it’s doing immense amount of study in order to understand the effects of insomnia and sleep in general, so that they can help to develop better solutions. Moreover, the building itself had a really eye catching design, and there were many interesting art pieces used to complete the interior design of the building, some of them made by the students of art school. Furthermore, there were several art installations, like sleeping pigs floating through air, installation visualizing the transition from consciousness to unconsciousness.
Center for Cybernics Research was another center that we visited on the same day. Acknowledging the fact that human capabilities are limited Cybernics is centered on human, robots and information systems, hence, developing robotics that are not only assisting the people with physical limitations but also improving the quality of life for all human beings. Therefore, we could say Japan is rapidly moving forward towards “Society 5.0”. Cybernics research center is collaborating and cooperating with several different departments within The University of Tsukuba, as well as other domestic and overseas university and organizations. Our guide Prof. Kenji Suzuki who is the manager of the center pitched an interesting presentation and gave us a tour of the facility, therefore, we had the chance to have a closer look on the robots developed to assist people with limb disorders and weakening legs.
The next day started with a visit to Empowerment Studios, where we had an augmented reality experience which was so exciting and fun. At some point I really got confused, ran away screaming from the tram which did not really exist.
Just before the start of Japan Central Exchange Forum we had a special lecture about innovation by Shuichi Tajima who is director of the board at Tx Entrepreneur Partners, TEP. His topic on “Innovation Achieved by Startups” gave brief description about startup and innovation change the business and many other infrastructures. Also he mentioned Asian Entrepreneurship Awards which is overlooked by our countries and should be used as a great advantage to get the investment. Lastly, it was suggested that Japan’s accumulated technology and know – how, relationship driven economy, large corporations initiative for new innovative opportunities should be taken into consideration by Asian startups.
The second half of the day was dedicated to Japan Central Exchange Forum concentrated on human resources and innovation. Opening remarks by Kyoko –san was followed by very inspiring presentation by prof. Hiroichi Kawashima on ideathons. JACAFA members including myself have delivered very informative presentations around the topic but with focus on our countries. In my presentation I tried to understand the reasons behind some of the most innovative countries and try to analyze current situation in Azerbaijan and what week spots needed improvement in order to catch up with world leading innovative economies. The scholars of The University of Tsukuba also presented very thought provoking topics, which was later discussed with great enthusiasm over the dinner reception.
Upon our arrival to Tokyo we visited Nippon Foundation and met with the chairman Yohei Sasakawa. It was such a great honor to meet him again, as he is such humble person who has accomplished many great things. We have also visited The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center which has left a great impression on all of us due to the immense amount of work they have done in order to raise awareness about Paralympic games. The whole office space was designed to facilitate physically limited people in a best possible way. With Tokyo 2020 Olympics approaching the center is preparing promoting Paralympic and supporting the athletes even more than ever.
We were lucky enough to visit the special advisor to PM of Japan Dr. Taniguchi. I haven’t met many high ranked government officials in my life, but our brief encounter had great impression on all of us, as he was an absolutely brilliant and sincere person. He answered all of our questions with great precision, patience and honesty. I’m pretty sure this meeting gave us clearer perspective on Japans’ current economy, and personally for me what can be adapted to better the economy in my country.
The official part of our program came to an end with dinner in “Century Court” the membership restaurant together with Mori-san, James-san, Kyoko-san and other members of Nippon Foundation as well as JACAFA alumni. We had delicious meal, extraordinary dining experience and talked about many different topics, like peace projects in Myanmar, future of JACAFA and so on. All of us received DARUMA doll as a gift, which will always remind me of that night and this special trip.
One of the last things planned for trip was a visit to TeamLab Borderless digital art museum. I was struck with emotions, the whole space was like a maze, different rooms, and different light, sound, visual installations. In my opinion, everybody who wants to experience futuristic art which enables you to become a part of it should definitely visit TeamLab Borderless.
Last few days in Tokyo was a true blessing, we went to famous Shibuya, took bunch of photos in that popular intersection, strolled around Harajuku, bought many souvenirs and matcha kit-kats, had plenty of sushi, shochu, yuzu and so on.
The departure day approached and I was already feeling that I am going to miss these days. Every single day was filled with new experiences, sightseeing, delicious food and sincere conversations with amazing people with whom I got to share this trip with. The last day I and fellow alumni from Kazakhstan had a late brunch with Kyoko-san, who really put great effort to make this trip special.
Last couple of hours we decided to check the Toyokawa Inari Temple and I left to see Ueno Park afterwards because her flight was earlier than mine. Ueno Park is a national park with many museums, monuments, gardens, temples. Both locals and tourists enjoy spending time here as I did on my last day in Japan. It was my last day and the first time I was alone the whole trip and I was already feeling nostalgic. In one of the temples I caught myself wishing for coming back here again. Even if won’t happen anytime near in the future, I will always carry Japan in my heart as it was something spectacular that I have ever experienced in my life.