A Bridge between Young Asian Scientists by Sakura Science Program

Systems Neuroscience Prof. MUSHIAKE, Hajime

Japan-Asia Youth Science Exchange Program in Science, “SAKURA Science Program ” in short, was launched by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) from April 2014. The mission of this program was to facilitate short-term visits of competent Asian young people to Japan and to increase the interest of Asian students and young researchers in studying science and technology at leading Japanese universities. When this program was announced by the JST we believed that the SAKURA science program would help to promote an “open door policy” at Tohoku University. Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine (TUGM) joined the SAKURA science program in collaboration with Tohoku Tabunka Academy (TTA), an incorporated foundation that supports short-term study in Japan from abroad.

Planning Sakura Science 2016

Professor Hajime Mushiake, Department of Systems Neuroscience, who accompanied the trainees, reports his experiences from the SAKURA Science Program, 2016:
Since this SAKURA Science program began in 2014, three of participants are now in graduate courses at Tohoku University. Announcements about the 2016 Sakura Science Program at Tohoku University were sent to more than twelve of our partner universities and institutes in China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia to recruit competent young students from a number of institutes in various Asian countries. We accepted 13 short-term trainees; eleven women and two men, included undergraduates, graduate students and researchers from seven universities and institutes in China, Mongolia and Indonesia.
Our version of the SAKURA science plan is unique in that we provide an opportunity for the participants to visit their preferred laboratories at TUGM, with preferences based on the mutual research interests of the laboratories and individuals. Prior to the visit, interested individuals provided a written English description of the reasons for, and motivation behind, the selection of their laboratory.

Welcome to Tohoku University and Autumn-colored Sendai city

On August 22, 2016, an opening ceremony was successfully held in the presence of  Dr. Shimosegawa, the  Dean of the Graduate School of Medicine and Ms. Oshitani, president of TTA. Assist. Prof. Wan-Ting CHOU, from International Exchange Office. The participants were welcomed by all the faculty members. Dr. Nakayama, Associate Dean, Master of Medical Sciences and Dr. Fukudo, Associate Dean, Course of Disability Sciences, presented the educational programs of the Graduate/Master and Disability courses, respectively. Dr. Osumi introduced a Neuroglobal program, a new international graduate course. Senior students who had participated in the 2014 SAKURA Science Program and are now graduate students at the university were introduced: Qiu Jiahe from China, Nguyen Chi Long from Vietnam. They shared their experiences from the Sakura 2014 program, as well as those from their study at Tohoku University and life in Sendai. We were impressed with their stories of how that SAKURA science program had changed their lives and brought them back to Tohoku University as graduate students.

The main aim of the program was to provide the participants with a four-day visit to their chosen laboratory. All laboratories warmly welcomed the participants and allowed them to join various laboratory activities; we were especially grateful to the laboratories for their hospitality. Participants also visited the Tohoku Medical Biobank and observed the latest technology and facilities for a large-scale genomic cohort study. They visited skills laboratories housing various types of medical simulators for clinical skills training.  The participants visited Katahira campus, a main campus of Tohoku University, to see the preserved lecture room of Lu Xun, a leading figure of modern Chinese literature who studied at the medical school of Tohoku University from 1904 to 1906; Lu Xun is a symbol of friendship between Tohoku University and China. During this campus tour, all participants seemed to understand the three missions of Tohoku University: the “Research First” principle, the “Open Door” policy, and “Practice-Oriented” research.

After the four-day laboratory visit, the participants left Sendai to have a lecture at  Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, a designated disaster hospital. Following that visit, all participants joined a homestay program at local Japanese family in Minami Sanriku, it was also the big affected area in March 11th,2011. Four local family accepted all the Sakura Science participants and offers local cuisine and rural living in Japan. They also enjoyed a beautiful natural scenery of Matsushima, visited Godaido and Zuigan-ji temple and even made their own Kokeshi doll at Matsushima on Sunday.

Closing ceremony and the beginning of new relationships

On 29 August, the last day at Sendai, a report meeting was held. Each participant briefly summarized his/her laboratory activities, including research or any other exciting experiences. Everyone appeared to be satisfied with their research experience and appreciated the hospitality they had received during their stay. Each participant received a certificate from Dr. Katagiri and Dr Fukudo. We believe that the visit had allowed the participants the opportunity to develop a better understanding of their mentors’ research interests and direction, as well as to cultivate friendships with other participants. We were very happy to hear that some of the participants had expressed their intention to return to Sendai. In the closing remarks, Dr. Katagiri emphasized the importance of integral medical research from basic and clinical perspectives. Although three typhoons hit Japan during their stay, all events were successfully conducted. All the all participants left Japan on 30 August.

Everyone involved agreed that the Sakura Science Plan provides a basis for developing close relationships based on mutual trust and respect; thus, the closing ceremony was not the endpoint, but the beginning of new relationships and future collaborations.

We are grateful to all of the TUGM faculties for joining the Sakura Science Plan 2016 and especially appreciate the continued efforts of the international exchange support office and public relations office. We also appreciate the person-centered care provided by TTA staff members, particularly from volunteers Yujiao Yu. Finally, we express our gratitude to all the participants of our programs. We hope that continuing this type of short-term visitation program will raise awareness of TUGM programs among Asian youth and increase the rate of enrollment of foreign students in the future.


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