The program at Tohoku is focused around the idea that students will work closely with a Tohoku University professor on research in a field of their choice throughout the year. The lab you end up in becomes a large part of your stay in Japan, partly because of the time you'll need to commit to your research to make it a fulfilling experience, and then because you'll find yourself there even when you're not researching, as it becomes a home-away-from-home.
Inui-Okazaki Kenkyuu Shitsu
My lab, the Inui Okazaki Communication Science Laboratory (you can find the link on the right), is a computational linguistics (think computers + linguistics, things like having a computer auto-translate for you) research group with about twenty members. Undergraduate students at Tohoku are expected to join a research group in their fourth year so I'm not the sole undergrad in the group. I am, however, seemingly the laziest, as everyone else is typically in the lab before me and still there when I take off for the night.
The lab community is a tight-knit group. The typical student member spends not more than an hour or two per week in a class, and is otherwise putting in hours at the lab or lab-sponsored study groups. The lab really is a second home for most members, and that means that time spent there is half play and maybe (if it's crunch time) half work.
飲み会 & Other Extracurricular Activities
Since the people in the lab are the people you get to know best, getting together outside the lab is pretty common. In other words, I can't get away from these people! Tomorrow we'll be having a barbecue partly in honor of the new students (myself and a Chinese grad student). Rumor has it students also go out to nomi-kai (literally, drinking party, but without the negative English connotations) together more regularly than not.
The Inui lab is taking part in a inter-lab tournament and I've been drafted on to the team. Our first practice was today, and ended with a fun scrimmage against another lab's team. It was my first time playing soccer since my summer in Richland last year, but I showed for it well enough. My height and speed meant I was put up front as a forward, which felt a bit awkward for a guy who played defense all through high school. The match was held on a dirt field and I took a splendid slip into some mud in an effort to make sure I looked pretty for my presentation later in the day. We ended up losing 2-1, but the mud and blood meant it was a good game, right?
研究会 & Research
Every Wednesday we hold a research meeting (研究会 - kenkyu-kai) where three or four students present their progress since they last presented. These meetings start off with general announcements (for instance, that our next soccer game in the inter-laboratory tournament has been moved to a time when I have class...しょうがない) and then proceed into the presentations. The presentations switch between formal and jokes on a whim, and right now are all starting with recounts of how the summer vacation was spent. Today I'm scheduled to do a short self-introduction presentation. Hopefully a few months from now I'll be showing off my own research progress.
Speaking of, right now precisely what I'll be researching is undecided. I'm working my way through a textbook on the field to get more acquainted with it and will hopefully start narrowing things down after a discussion or two with Professor Inui.
研究員 - Members
I'll get more specific in future posts. For now, I hope a photo of the group will be sufficient. Note the terrific "white-balance" employed in the taking of this photograph.