Summer Internship with University of Tokyo – Ila Banerjee from NIT Durgapur

Daily Winner for: –  12th August 2013Ila

Name of the intern: – Ila Banerjee

Institute: –  NIT Durgapur

Organization interned with: – University of Tokyo

Manga, Samurai, Hello Kitty, Geisha, iconic avenues of Cherry Blossoms, paper palaces… I’ve always been extremely fascinated by Japan. So much so that I even insisted on learning Japanese (not an easy ride by any means) when I was a kid so I could watch anime without subtitles! So naturally, when I got the opportunity to spend the summer doing a research internship at the University of Tokyo, I didn’t look left or right – I simply grabbed it!

From the moment I stepped on my sixteen-hour flight from Delhi to Tokyo, I was a tsunami of suppressed excitement. May is the best time to visit Japan and the difference between the weather in Delhi and that in Tokyo is like that between a sauna and an air-conditioned room that’s “just right”. I stayed in Japan from mid May to late July. June and July are their monsoon months or “tsuyu” when the weather becomes humid and sticky and you don’t really feel like staying outdoors for too long.

My project was assisting Professor Narutaki on top-secret chemical experiments. If I told you, I’d have to kill you. No, not really – I was actually working on polymer materials chemistry. It involved a lot of lab work – periodically visiting the lab to check on experiments and sometimes those periods coincided quite unfortunately with the time I wanted to go to sleep! My mentor was extremely polite and this seems to be a general characteristic of all Japanese people. They are the absolute opposite of us Indians culturally – noisy and boisterous and always ready to poke our nose into everyone else’s business. But though they are very polite to foreigners you sense that it is a distant kind of courtesy – they would take an extremely long time to really warm up to you.

I bonded with my “corridor-mates” in the university-allotted housing. They were from South Korea, Vietnam and France. On weekends we did a lot of exploring, all around Tokyo and we even went up to the old Imperial Capital of Japan – Kyoto. Our clothes – simple jeans and t-shirts – actually made us stand out rather than fade in in Japan where everyone dresses as crazily as though they’re auditioning for a real-life anime show. You might see a girl in a Sailor Moon costume complete with a blond wig walking down the street, or Spiderman even, and no one bats an eye. Most of the geisha we saw in the “Willow World” districts weren’t really geisha – they were just Japanese tourists dressed up. Real geisha hate having pictures taken of them – and wouldn’t you if you were working? – but the tourists enjoyed it.

Tokyo is as busy-busy as you expect and I, primed up by years of reading about my favourite non-Indian country, dragged my new-found friends all over the place. I never really got the hang of eating sushi though – food is not meant to be eaten raw in my opinion! However I did start loving Japanese sweets or “wagashi”. Tokyo is not a cheap tourist destination by any means – except for the pre-made noodles you can buy in any corner shop. They even have “complete meal” versions of instant noodles! My Japanese wasn’t as great as I expected but people knew enough English for us to get by. My professor was not exactly strict but he certainly piled on the work whenever he saw me. I began to dread meetings with him a little because then I’d have to cut short on my sightseeing for a few days.

In the end, when I left, I was almost crying. I couldn’t believe that I still hadn’t managed to get my fill of that crazy, beautiful, fascinating country in two months. I really hope I can go again someday – there’s still so much left to explore there, for me!

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