Wednesday, 9 December 2015

PechaKucha, Androids and Line: Science Communication in Japan

The last week of my Churchill Fellowship was spent in Tokyo, Japan. I learnt an immense amount about Japan, it's attitudes to science, engagement initiatives and its use of social media ... did you know Japan has a social network called Line? No, me neither... My short trip also included a PechaKucha presentation, a debate about whether we could love robots and a meeting with the ultimate in robots, ASIMO.

Tokyo was incredible. I completely fell in love with its chaos, speed and the people.

During my week I went along to the PechaKucha nights and spoke about my Fellowship and my journey in science communication. You can watch it below. If you don't know what PechaKucha is, you have 20 images and 20 seconds to talk about each one. It's a challenge but great fun.



The night was really enjoyable and there was about 250 people there. I really enjoy running the PechaKucha nights in Aberdeen so it was fantastic to meet with the founders and organisers of the nights. It's amazing that PechaKucha nights now run in over 800 cities around the world. All the PechaKucha team have been great to chat to via email and they were just as great in person. The other talks from the night were really fantastic too so you should check them out.






ASIMO and how the Earthquake changed how Japan interacts with science



I was privileged to meet with staff from Miraikan, Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Also, the home of ASIMO.

I learnt how after the 2011 Earthquake the centre was closed due to some damage and during this time the team started to think about how they could still interact with the public without a physical science centre. They set up a Facebook and a website to gather science questions from the public and the sites were inundated with queries. Responses were created by the science communicators and scientists who they approached to answer questions. This dialogue seems to be ingrained within Miraikan as there are an unlimited number of opportunities to share your own views on science and our lives.

The team at Miraikan, Tomonori Hayakawa, Yuko Okayama and Chiharu Yamada from the science communication, office of International Affairs and Public Relation sections.

The exhibits include the science and scientists too, you can participate in real experiments. My favourite exhibit was about the future of data and technology, Anagura: "It is a research laboratory for sharing people's information and turning the connections into a powerful force for humankind."


The Anagura exhibition, the round projections on the floor followed you as you moved around and interacted with the stands.



I got a little excited about the shop...


Could we fall in love with an android?

My first few days in Tokyo were spent at Tokyo Tech with Professor Kayoko Nohara and found out more about her work into research into translation and science communication. They have run a number of science cafe's but created a new, more interactive format that fuses art and science in a 'creative cafe'. These Creative Cafe's involve the audience in the event and sound like a fantastic exploration of science beyond the lab and lecture format.

I also met with Professor Tom Hope at Tokyo Tech and was lucky enough to attend his 'Think Aloud' session where I debated whether we could ever fall in love with androids and what it means to be human and the concept of love with students who are practicing their English skills and discussing science and societal issues at the same time.

The students also chatted to me about how they use social media (Facebook, Twitter and Line). Line is a little like Whatsapp and WeChat but is used to plan social events and connect with others of similar interests. It's also popular because it's 'stickers' which include dancing rabbits and other things..



How many graduates from your university have traveled to space?




Later in the week I met with the public relations team at the University of Tokyo. They have developed a bilingual digital resource to connect people with the UToyko Research. Discussing with them I learnt what happens when one of the Professors you work with is awarded the Nobel Prize, how the general community in Japan is pretty interested in science and technology and is also trusting of science and scientists. GMO's, climate change, vaccines are not topics of 'debate' in Japan.

We had a great discussion with a wider group of staff about interactions via social media and the challenges of having to ensure that both English and Japanese translations are included. Many manage not one, but two social media sites that are the same but differ in their language. It's also challenging because the descriptors and language used for a Japanese audience aren't always what they would like to host in English.



They had a great shop on their beautiful campus too. The shop sold not only University of Tokyo branded goods but objects, items and information about spin out companies from the University and their own branded Sake, created from a strain of yeast they thought was destroyed but was found in the university archives many years later.

The University of Tokyo campus


Participating in an experiment looking at walking styles at Miraikan











See you soon Japan!


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