Category Archives: Fun

NAIST Sports Club

Amidst the peaceful quiet of NAIST, there are times you can hear the sounds of joyous cheers and balls bouncing on concrete. On these nights, you can trace the sound to the multipurpose outdoor court of NAIST. Upon looking, you may see several people from different countries and continents come together to enjoy a game of volleyball (and other sports). This is volleyball night and everyone is welcome here to come and join.

Established in the spring of 2022, the NAIST Sports Club has evolved into a regular weekly session of destress, rest, and relaxation. Though some would argue that playing volleyball for over 3 hours is not rest; it is definitely a much sought-after break from research and work.

What started off as a purely casual game for beginners, volleyball night has transformed into a fun competitive match between friends with moments straight out of the manga Haikyuu. At first, people didn’t even know how to receive the ball properly. A mixture of different hand gestures and positions were used to play volleyball; sometimes even feet were preferred. “It didn’t look like volleyball at the start,” says Maria from Colombia, “but eventually people started learning.” True enough, rallies became longer and matches became more intense. Despite that, funny flops and hilarious moments are still a natural occurrence. “Though we’re improving a lot, beginners are still welcome and we still make a lot of mistakes that we just laugh about.”  

Not even storms and rain can stop people from playing. On several occasions, the players would continue forth and enjoy the game under the rain. “It’s a perfect way to cool off during the summer,” says Aimé from France.

Since only one volleyball court is available and only a limited number of people can play at once, others also play various sports while waiting. You can see people playing basketball or soccer on the sidelines while waiting for their turn. Thus, even though some aren’t too good at volleyball, they can still enjoy other sports or also talk to people on the side.  

“It really brings people together,” says Kostja from Russia. At NAIST where often it becomes too quiet and isolating, volleyball night allows students to get together and have some fun. “I met my friends at NAIST because of volleyball. Despite it not being an official club, it’s the biggest and most popular one in NAIST.”

“As an internship student, volleyball club was the perfect opportunity to make friends at NAIST,” shared Berat from Turkey. “The club welcomes players regardless of their experience and everyone is always happy to share their knowledge.”

“The best decision in my entire time in Japan!” exclaimed Daniel from Germany. “Everyone here is the same, no matter where you are from, no matter what gender, no matter how good at volleyball. Having fun together is what counts.”

Indeed, no matter the season, weather, or temperature, students from all over NAIST come together to enjoy a game of volleyball and play some sports. It’s definitely one of the things people look forward to during the week.

(All NAIST members are free to join volleyball every Tuesday and Thursday from 7pm)

Research respite

Every end of April and early May, there are a consecutive number of holidays which the Japanese refer to as “Golden Week”. For some at NAIST, it is a chance to take a break from the busyness of daily business. It is the time to take a rest from research and have a remarkable relaxing respite.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to visit the Okinawa islands for the holidays. Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, is known for its beautiful beaches, tropical vibes, and accommodating people. Though part of Japan, their unique culture and history distinguish this place from the mainland of Honshu.

From Okinawa-ben of saying haisai and mensore instead of konnichiwa and irrashaimase, to their special cuisine and distinct architecture – this tropical paradise would be enjoyable for any tourist, (especially stressed-out students) to visit, relax, and take a break from mind-bending research.

From NAIST, it takes around 2 hours to the Kansai International Airport (KIX) where one can take a domestic flight to Okinawa for another 2 hours. Surprisingly, the flight is cheaper than a one-way shinkansen (bullet train) ride to Tokyo! Then, upon arriving at the Naha airport, you can take a bus or monorail into the city center.

Within Naha, you can visit several places such as the Kokusai Dori shopping street and the Shuri Castle. You can start to enjoy Okinawan cuisine such as varying Okinawa soba places and steak houses. I frequently visited Yappari Steakhouse for their affordable and tasty steak, in tandem with their tabehoudai or unlimited serving of rice and salad.

Unlike most of Japan, the other parts of Okinawa are not as accessible via trains, and buses may be a bit sparse at times. So if possible, travel via rental car is the most convenient option — just make sure to have a license and a couple of friends to split the bill.

Then after a 30-40 mins drive from Naha, you can reach Chatan which has the famous American Village of Okinawa. Neon lights, lively music, and a cheerful atmosphere — you may forget that you’re still in Japan. This place offers multiple foreign eating establishments and shopping boutiques that are unique to the area. It is located by the seaside with a nice blend of Japanese and Western culture that gives such a memorable experience. Personally, my favorite area in the American Village is the Christmas Land where it feels like Christmas every day because of the decorations and beautiful lights.

Of course, it would be foolish to go to Okinawa without visiting the beaches. With numerous coasts to choose from, it would be difficult to choose the best beach to go to. Nearest to the American Village would be the Araha beach which may get crowded at times but offers a lively coast with nice white sand and clear waters. Other places that I visited were the more secluded Azama Sun Sun beach, Manza beach, and Cape Maeda which is famous for divers who want to visit the Blue Cave.

In addition to swimming on the beaches, one can enjoy a kayaking experience along a mangrove forest in the Yambaru National Park. The Yambaru kayak club offers a guided tour along the forest while kayaking, and it was quite fascinating to row through the undergrowth. Then, if you’re feeling adventurous (as I did), you can flip your own boat and just enjoy the cool waters.

Another popular destination is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It contains hundreds of aquatic species, among the most famous of which is the jinbeizame or whale shark. It also features different rays, sharks, and dolhpins, in addition to beautiful coral reefs and deep-sea creatures.

Truly, Okinawa has so many sites and experiences to offer that spending more than a week here and its neighboring islands is definitely worth it. But personally, what made traveling here most memorable were the people I went with and those whom I met along the way. Without them, traveling in Okinawa would have been much different. Friends from NAIST made it such a fun and remarkable experience, and even the locals were so kind and friendly. So make sure to go with good company – or if solo travel is your thing – to greet the locals pleasantly. By doing so, you may enjoy a respite from research.

NAIST Study Abroad Fair 2021

Last October 9, 2021, NAIST held an online international study fair. Students from all over the world joined in a virtual gathering to learn and ask about life and studying at NAIST. Over 100 participants joined, and several of the NAIST faculty, staff, and student ambassadors attended in order to carry out the event.

At first, the NAIST President recorded a message for the event, and Masako Shimamoto, Ph.D. from the Division for Global Education gave a general introduction of NAIST. The presentation showcased the campus demographic, and as of writing, the Graduate School of Science and Technology accommodates 697 Master’s and 349 Ph.D. students, 196 faculty, and 167 administrative staff. This high staff-to-student ratio is one advantage of being in a tight-knit community like NAIST.

Proudly, NAIST is part of two flagship projects of MEXT, namely: the Program for Promoting the Enhancement of Research and the Top Global University Project. These programs fund NAIST to promote international and global research and higher education. In addition, NAIST has also produced thousands of graduate alumni who went into careers in academia, industry, and other worthwhile professions. Aside from the top-notch academics and research, Dr. Shimamoto also presented that NAIST has a sizeable international community that is well taken care of. Thus, the prospective students and applicants were very excited to know more about NAIST, and afterward, they were given useful information on the admissions process.

Each division then gave a brief overview of their research and laboratories. Prof. Taku Demura gave a presentation about the Division of Biological Science which features research areas in Plant Biology, Medical Biology, and Systems Biology. Prof. Demura highlighted that NAIST’s biological research tackles multiple levels of life from single molecules to whole organisms, and from basic to applied research. Next, Prof. Yoichiro Hosokawa gave a talk about the research of his division: Materials Science, which studies the structure, properties, and functions of materials — ranging from the subatomic scale to entire molecules and whole devices. Researchers interested in the fields of physics, chemistry, biomaterials, device engineering, and materials informatics will find a good program here with a focus on interdisciplinary photonic nanoscience. Finally, Prof. Keiichi Yasumoto presented the Division of Information Science, which was the first established graduate school in NAIST. The division offers a wide range of courses and projects covering Computer Science, Media Informatics, and Applied Informatics to any of those interested. With an internationally oriented program and the latest research facilities, NAIST truly offers a very good place to pursue graduate studies.

Finally, the most fun part of all was when the participants were able to go into different breakout rooms based on the three divisions and other extra topics. They were able to meet first-hand the faculty, staff, and students of NAIST for Q&A. Here, many of the interested students were curious about further details regarding both academic and non-academic life. Evidently, prospective students looked for a strong balance between research work and extracurricular activities such as campus life and international events. Thus, the organizers exhibited facilities such as the NAIST University Union, student dormitories, sports facilities, and leisure spaces. Overall, the event was a great way for NAIST to attract new international students and gave the opportunity for people abroad to see what life in NAIST is like despite the pandemic. This virtual event was a nice way to connect with those from far away, and hopefully, we get to see them in person once they become part of the institute we all know and love— NAIST.

An Afternoon Tsukimi Walk

(This article was created in September 2020 before VSP took a hiatus.)

Last September 2020, I joined an afternoon Tsukimi Tour, one of the interesting tours by Nara Prefecture International Exchange Saloon. are Japanese cultural festivals belonging to Tsukimi (月見, “moon viewing”) honor the mid-autumn Moon. However, this tour is a bit different than the others as it involved several tours of different places in the afternoon, capped off by the Moon Viewing in the evening.

We first met as a group in Kintetsu Nara Station together with our tour guides.

The tour had several locations: a choice between Irie Taikichi Museum and Shin-yakushiji, Yugayama Enchi, and Ukimido Pavilion.

Our tour guides for the day discussing where the tour spots are.

As the start of the tour, our group was split into two as we were given a choice of which places we wanted to go: either the Irie Taikichi Museum or Shin-yakushiji. The group I joined in was more interested in photography so we chose the Irie Taikichi Musuem. Unfortunately, taking photos inside the museum was not allowed.

The only thing you can take a photo of inside the museum 🙁

The museum was built to honor Irie Taikichi’s work in photography, where majority of which are landscape photography that captures the beauty of Nara. Before he died, he donated his works to the Nara Prefecture Government which consists of around 80, 000 photos.

We regrouped with the others and went to the last spot of Yugayama-enchi, a garden with a bamboo grove and the nearby Ukimido in Sagi-ike, the pond where people can enjoy moon viewing at night.

My friend doing the influencer style “look up” pose!
The view on Ukimido Hall is perfect for Moon Viewing late at night

However, the weather was a bit cloudy and did not cooperate. Still, we did not let this be a letdown so my friends and I who joined the tour decided to cap it off at Monks on the Moon for a western burger experience!

Ultimately, I found the trip fun and spontaneous. It was far from what I expected but I definitely enjoyed the experience and learned so much more about Nara. Being a student in NAIST is not just all work; there are a variety of adventures one can pursue and the community around the university has these opportunities for students to participate in.

International Students Tour: An Excursion in Tawaramoto Town

In a recent tour led by the Nara Prefecture International Exchange Salon, twelve international students joined other universities located in the Nara Prefecture. The tour is based in Tawaramoto (田原本町), a town blessed with great history and rich natural environment, including Karako-Kagi archaeological site (唐古・鍵 総合サイト) and Momotaro’s birthplace (桃太郎生誕の地).

Continue reading International Students Tour: An Excursion in Tawaramoto Town

A Trip Back to Ancient Japan: Tamba Sasayama International Students Excursion

Old and new NAIST international students were in for a treat as the International Student Affairs brought them to Tamba-Sasayama, an old castle town located in the heart of Hyogo, on May 12, 2019. A group of 41 eager students, from all three divisions of NAIST, joins us today! The event opens with soba-making lessons, followed by a refreshing afternoon walk around the garden, all conveniently located at Eitakuji.

We tried our hand at soba-making at Eitakuji Soba Dojo, under the guidance of a master soba maker. We were taught that traditional soba-making follows a rigorous procedure, which can be categorized into three major steps: (1) dough-making (水回し, mizumawashi), (2) flattening (丸出し, marudashi), and (3) cutting (切り, kiri).

Step 1: mizumawashi — thoroughly mixing buckwheat flour and water to make a dough.
Step 2: marudashi — rolling out the dough to make a large thin sheet.
Step 3: kiri – cutting the sheet evenly into thin soba noodles.

As a reward for our hard work, for making fresh soba from scratch–a hearty soba and tempura lunch!

Students enjoying the soba that they have just made themselves, along with some tempura and rice.

After lunch time, the group then went to the Sasayama Castle Great Lecture Hall (篠山城大書院), which is said to be comparable to Kyoto’s Nijo castle in terms of architecture. It was built on the orders of the 16th century shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Inside the structure are replicas of samurai armor, which are said to weigh around ten kilos each. Although this already sounds heavy, the original ones used in the ancient times are believed to be twice or thrice this weight.

Samurai armor replicas displayed in the Sasayama Castle Oshoin.

Following this is a stroll around the Aoyama Historical Village. Housed in this area is the Tamba Sasayama Dekansho Museum, where students got to enjoy a VR experience featuring a dance to the “Tamba Sasayama Dekansho Song – The Memory of One’s Home Sung with Folk Song,” which became a heritage of Japan in April 2015.

An attendee tests out the VR experience at the museum.

The last stop was the Samurai Residence Anma Family Historical Archive Hall, where the participants took a glimpse of a samurai’s humble abode. Descendants of the samurai are said to still reside in some of the houses within the vicinity.

An old samurai head gear displayed at the Samurai Residence Anma Family Historical Archive Hall.

To cap off the informative and enjoyable excursion, the students enjoyed some ice cream made from the popular Tamba Sasayama black soybeans.

Tamba Sasayama black soybean ice cream being enjoyed by the students.

This excursion is one of the many activities organized by the International Student Affairs for the NAIST international students. Such activities are aimed towards promoting camaraderie among international students while deepening their knowledge of the Japanese culture. Come join us next time!