Returning Home

Home. For some of us, “Home” is a complicated subject. It’s hard to define at times. We often hear phrases like “Home is where the heart is” and “Home is where the WIFI connects automatically”; regardless of what phrase we use today, I am home. Those who know me understand my struggle, as for years I have been torn by the concept of “home”. It wasn’t till this morning, while drinking my coffee, breathing in the fresh Washington morning air and talking to my family about my adventures abroad that I realized home is Washington.

Japan was an amazing experience. I am so thankful that I could step out of my comfort zone and go abroad to meet new people, experience new culture and learn from those who I would have otherwise never had the privilege to speak to. I will always remember and appreciate how I was treated as a foreigner in Japan. Although it was obvious that I didn’t know the culture, customs or language, I was always met with patience, kindness, and respect. I will miss the subtle but constant expressions of respect and regard displayed to others. Although this might be local to Matsuyama, I will miss the more obvious sense and importance placed on community, and the genuine interest people had in one another.

For those of you who are wondering if you should do study aboard, I truly mean this: DO IT. I will not be able to truly express on paper all the benefits that this program has brought to me, personally and academically. Stepping headfirst into a culture which isn’t yours is a journey I would highly encourage everybody to embark on. The ways in which your will see your own culture and others will be changed completely. If you go in with an open mind, willing to learn and appreciate, I guarantee you will be blown away by what you encounter.

Going to Japan was an amazing experience. I would like to thank UWB Study Abroad for helping me make this trip possible, to allow me to experience a new world, a new culture and make so many new friends. I honestly believe this was a life changing experience.  I was glad I went, and I’m glad to be home.

Hiroshima – The Other Face of Nuclear Power

In my time in Japan, I have been able to realize the unique relationship and view Japan has toward Nuclear Energy. Not only has Japan been the only country to experience the destruction, loss, and pain of a nuclear bomb, but also one of the few that have experienced a catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdown. This was the first year that this study abroad program added a trip to Hiroshima into the schedule; I’m glad they did, as, for me, it was the most impactful trip of the program. Although there is no American who does not know of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are few of us who have seen it through the eyes of the Japanese, and to witness first-hand the wounds which are healing, and scars that remain from the event which took place 72 years ago.

A view into the past

The A-Bomb Dome

The inscription says please rest in peace, for [we/they] shall not repeat the error.”

To say the least, it was a difficult day. My eyes were opened to a different side of the story. Whenever I heard about the A-bombs in school it was “the bomb that brought the end to the war”, and that was the end of the story. What is not discussed were the approximately 140,000 lives which were lost, half lost in the first day, and the rest from the effects of radiation still taking lives to this day. As I walked through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum I read dozens of stories of people who were taken that day. For the first time in my life, the horror, destruction, and sadness of the bombing became a reality. This was no longer a chapter in a textbook: I was walking under the same sky where a nuclear bomb was detonated, reaching temperatures of the sun as atoms collided and released untold amounts of energy; I was breathing the same air which 72 years ago would have been so radioactive to took thousands of lives of a span of a few days; I walked past the ghosts of building whose concrete and steel beams were melted and vaporized by the heat.

The purpose of this memorial is not to blame, nor to create guilt, but to open our eyes to the past so we can clearly see our future. On The Memorial Cenotaph, the inscription reads “please rest in peace, for [we/they] shall not repeat the error”. The [we/they] is a subject up to the interpretation of the reader, and for me, it refers to the world: one people, one species; we shall not repeat the error.

This journey gave me a glimpse into the conflicting views Japanese have on nuclear power, as on one hand, you see the destructive and costly effects of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and now Fukushima, yet on the other, you see the benefits of having so much power produced through controlled nuclear reactions.


Group Picture at Hiroshima

Trip to the town of Ozu

Last Saturday, the 9th of September, a few of us had the day completely to ourselves as we were only ones who decided not to participate in home stay over the weekend. Personally, I decided to not go to homestay because I feared my lack of cultural knowledge would cause me to unintentionally offend my home stay parents. Regardless if my choice to not go to home stay was justified, the few of us had an amazing day as we traveled by train to a small, historically preserved city, two hours away from Matsuyama called Ozu. The ride was beautiful, as the train took us along the coast line for over an hour, and we got to see plenty of small villages, beautiful scenery and many locals who were interested in our visit. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t the best and I couldn’t get very many good pictures until later that day. Around 5pm,  the cloudy and gloomy day showed its other face and gave us the perfect lighting to take some amazing pictures.


Sunsets and Castles

Us students who for some reason or another decided not to go to homestay

Taking advantage of great lighting


Ozu emerged during the Edo Period (1603-1867) originally being a castle town. Today, there are still nostalgic alleys and shines which bring you back to the times of the Edo and Meiji Periods. It was amazing to walk around the small town and see the old and modern styles of houses and streets side by side.

Shout out to our amazing travel guide and friend, Yuka-san, an Ehime University student studying education, for making this trip and many like it possible.

Renewable Energy in Japan – Week 1

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.


Renewable Energy in Japan – Pre-Departure

September 1, 2017 Blog by: Derek Flett, Mechanical Engineering, Renewable Energy in Japan and US

Greetings! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Derek. I am senior in the Mechanical Engineering undergraduate program at the University of Washington, Bothell campus. Although I was born just a few miles away in Everett, when I was two, my family and I moved to the small country of El Salvador, were I grew up and lived for sixteen years. Once I finished High School I moved back to Washington and started taking classes at Cascadia with the intention of getting the prerequisites necessary to apply to the ME program at UWB. Currently, I’m planning on going into power generation industry (preferably renewable power) upon my graduation. This hope and aspiration brought me to this program, officially called Renewable Energy in Japan and United States. Although we don’t arrive in Japan until September 4th, a group of eleven students and I (picture of the group below, I’m wearing the black Columbia jacket) have been taking classes for the last two weeks which have dived into not only technical aspects of various forms of renewable power generation but also the beautifully intricate and complex Japanese culture, history and language. It has been a long two weeks, but I’ve learned more than I could have imagined and am even more exited to go to Japan continue to learn.

Not only is this program’s theme extremely relevant to me as my plan is work in the power generation industry upon graduation, but also because there is no better example to learn from than Japan when it comes to renewable energy. In 2011, after the disaster in Fukushima, Japan’s government make the decision to shut down all their nuclear reactors to avoid any further catastrophe. Unfortunally, that meant stopping over 40% of Japans power generation over the span of a few days. To make up for this massive scarcity in power, Japan was forced to begin importing oil and coal as fuel for their combustion power plants to make up for the recent shortage of power. As their national deficit grows, Japan’s economy has suffered and will continue to suffer until a more economic and renewable source of power is implemented in a large scale. This brings me back to why Japan is the perfect country to learn from as they rapidly expand their renewable energy grid. Hopefully, the United States will undergo a similar change in the decades to come, as we shift from being a society filling the gaps of our power needs with renewables while depending on fossil fuels, to a society that depends on renewables while filling in the gaps with fossil fuels. When this time comes, we can look back to Japan, having already conquered the challenges that arose, learn from their example, and ultimately, follow in their foot steps toward a clean, efficient and renewable power grid. This study abroad will allow me to get some insight into the challenges Japan is facing, with the hopes of be able to address similar challenges in the US in the years to come.

This will by my first time I will be going to a foreign country while only knowing a grand total of thirteen common word/phrases in the native language. Not being able to communicate effectively without the aid of technology or a translator is quite scary for me. In the weeks prior to my departure, I’ve started practicing a few useful phrases in Japanese. Once I begin to feel comfortable with the pronunciation, I turn to the world most powerful tool for conquering language barriers: Google Translate. Unfortunately, when I try translating my new Japanese phrases back to English, I discover that my mispronunciation has changed the context and meaning to either nonsense or something completely offensive. Thankfully, most Japanese are more than understanding and forgiving when it comes to a foreigner’s attempt to speak the language; often, the attempt at respecting another’s culture and language speaks volumes, and is highly regarded and praised.

I look forward to updating you all on my adventures in the days to come. I know that I will learn volumes and only hope that I can apply that knowledge in a later day to help our nation move toward a better future.


Snoqualmie Falls Field Trip – Taken in front of Original Generator Installed in 1898