It’s been almost one week since my arrival to Matsuyama and I’m having an amazing time, every day learning, experiencing, and appreciating new things. I’m going to write this post in two sections, one focusing on cultural and daily life aspects which have really impressed me and the other on topics discussed in the engineering sections of the program.
Culture and Daily Life:
I can say that I’ve never walked so much in my life. The first day we covered over seven miles in less than six hours. Thankfully, on the second day of the program, we were given the keys to our bikes, and my fears of my legs falling off immediately faded. Matsuyama city is quite flat, which makes biking a very convenient, cheap, and compact source of transportation. There are also plenty of laws to keep pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists safe on the roads and alley ways. For example, listening to music while riding, riding under the influence of alcohol and riding while holding an umbrella can all result in fines up to 500 USD. Of course, you still see those who choose to be rebels and ignore the rules, but in general, people obey the laws. Drivers are also very considerate to bicyclists and pedestrians in general; not once have I been honked at or felt I was in danger when riding around town.
Classmate Jon and I parking our bikes and heading to lecture
If there was one store you needed to know about to survive in Matsuyama it would 7-Eleven. There is almost consistently one 7-Eleven within 5 minutes walking distance from any place I’ve been in the city. Unlike in the US, 7-Eleven is not a gas station, instead, it is a small store with everything from basic first aid products to pre-made meals. The service is always amazing and the cashiers incredibly helpful, considerate, and polite. Any meal (with in reason) will cost you no more than six dollars, and there for extremely affordable. Even when going to local restaurants, meals typically range from $4.50 for breakfast, to $13 for a full meal at a nice establishment. This brings up the most mind-blowing part of Japan for me: the service provided at restaurants. Never in my life have I consistently been given such amazing service until my arrival to Japan. To my understanding, it is expected for restaurant employees to always provide their best possible service. Because of this, it is considered unnecessary to thank or praise restaurant employees and extremely rude to attempt to provide a tip for great service.
Matsuyama prides itself in its history. Two of largest attractions would be Matsuyama Castle, located five minutes away from the university by bike, and Dogo Onsen, a historic hot spring establishment. Natural hot springs have an enormous impact on Japanese tradition and culture. Although the building was only constructed in the late 1800’s, mentions of the local hot spring date back over a thousand years. A trip to the healing and refreshing hot springs is a common way to either begin or end one’s day. Matsuyama Castle was much larger than I anticipated. There are at least three large gates to breach before reaching the main tower. The builders also placed hidden doors and gates to allow the castle’s defenders to go behind the enemy and flank them if necessary. While never being attacked, Matsuyama Castle was built to spot the enemy long before they were to arrive. At the top of the main watch tower, you can enjoy the 360-degree view of Matsuyama City.
View from the top of Matsuyama Castle
Group Picture Under one of the main towers
If there was one word to describe Japan’s power situation it would be: vulnerable. In a worst-case scenario, if Japan were to be blockaded and no imports allowed in, their oil reserves would only last 198 days. After that point, it would be lights out for almost all of Japan, as there would be no means to create electricity for the public. Even with all things going smoothly, Japan is pouring out money to be able to import unbelievable amounts of oil, mostly from the Middle East, which is taking a toll on its economy. So basically, Japan is in a pickle. Power companies in Japan desperately want to start up some of the nuclear reactors which were shut down in 2011, however, there is still a strong resistance coming from the public and government. Although it doesn’t quite solve their dependency problem, Japan is hoping hydrogen fuel cells will be a more reliable and greener alternative to their current system. Essentially, hydrogen can be used as a battery and as long as they have a big enough tank, they can store the energy with ease.
Ideally, power from a renewable energy power plant would produce electricity to isolate hydrogen from water, the hydrogen stored and oxygen released into the air. With the help of some chemistry, the hydrogen would be turned into a liquid and shipped to Japan. Japan would receive it, vaporize it, and run it through their fuel cells to create water and power. They could also leave the hydrogen in its liquid form for storage, which would solve their reserve problems as this method would be able to store much more potential energy.
Great! Problem solved! Oh wait, not really. Because of the multiple changes the energy has gone though you are only getting a fraction of the power you started with. With current technology, hydrogen power required massive government subsidies to be competitive against fossil fuels. Japan is currently one of the few, if not only country still developing hydrogen fuel cells. In the US, companies like Tesla are putting their money on batteries to store energy, which is much more efficient but can’t hold as much power as hydrogen can. It’s almost as if the world is at this slightly awkward stage where we know we have to get away from fossil fuels but can’t see far enough down the road to know the right choice.
I apologize for the lack of pictures, I’m having some slight trouble with my camera at the moment. I’ll attempt to fix the problem and post pictures sometime early this week.