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My Summer in Japan by Emiko P. '25

Tokyo, Spaceships, and Lots of Ramen

ようこそ、みなさん!01 Welcome, everyone! It is my pleasure to welcome you to Japan: the country of neon-lit karaoke bars, culture spanning thousands of years, and heated toilet seats.

This summer, I interned at a lunar exploration company called ispace. They are a Japan-based company in Tokyo who attempted to be the first private company to land on the moon earlier this year. While their first attempt, Mission 1, may have unfortunately hard-landed02 This is a very nice word for crashing into the moon. , their success in at least arriving to the moon is incredibly impressive. 

But don’t worry, ispace didn’t give up there.

As part of my internship, I was working on ispace’s Mission 2 attempt as a part of the MISTI Japan program03 A program that connects MIT students to fully-funded research opportunities and internships in Japan!! . I was interning with two different teams: The first being the Avionics team, which could be compared to the nervous system of the lander. We were in charge of the electrical system and the power consumption of the mission, so I worked on analyzing a lot of data from Mission 1 to better inform our sensors and equipment during Mission 2. We also tested several sensors to make sure they were space-grade — which basically means we heated them up to a mind-boggling temperature to mimic the sun’s heat and then shook them around a bunch to mimic take-off. 

The other team I worked with was the Assembly, Integration, and Testing team. In order to work with them, I commuted two hours away to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (or JAXA, Japan’s version of NASA). Here is where the 2-meter-tall lander was actually built. Every day, I put on my lil’ uniform consisting of a white lab coat, special shoes, super sick hairnet, and gloves and went to work in a clean room. Another MIT student, a graduate from the Class of 2022 that is doing her masters at MIT for Manufacturing, was interning on this team with me. Together, we got to install electrical equipment in the lander. Every once in a while it hit me that: Woah. I’m touching something that’s going to the moon. 

I loved my coworkers and my job, and I often told my family that I felt like I was in an episode of The Office whenever I came to work. I mean, my mentor was a 6 foot 5 Argentinian who loved listening to country music and would often bust out singing some random Morgan Wallen song. My other coworker was a Frenchman who only drank his meals in liquid form and made fun of me whenever I put a drop of sugar in my coffee (I always put in two packs of sugar… sue me). Another coworker was an MIT Class of 2016 graduate in Course 1604 Aerospace Engineering , and she was the one that actually flew the lander in Mission 1. Not only was she kind enough to show me the Mission Control room and teach me some of the flight commands, she was also really fun to go to karaoke and sing Jay Z with!

On top of the fact that my job was epic and quite literally the stuff of childhood dreams, I also got to live in Japan! My grandma is Japanese, so I have visited quite often before (even going to Japanese elementary school for two summers when I was a kid), but I would usually always stay in the quiet countryside amidst the mountains and rice fields.

Tokyo is, well, the opposite of that. Tokyo is home to 14 million people05 Which is 3 million more than the entire population of Sweden! , and the city, with its towering skyscrapers and screeching trains, can be overwhelming. However, slowly but surely, I became immersed in the daily life of a Tokyoite.

After work, I would often take the train home and go play pick-up soccer. It was usually about two dozen men from the age of 25 to 50 years old… and me — a curly-haired American girl that was usually taller than them. After playing for two hours, breaking some ankles, and all of us getting oddly competitive, it was time for me to grab dinner. I’d usually read a book (I was reading The Stormlight Archives series all summer!) and eat ramen or Japanese beef bowls06 I miss Japanese foooood. at the local shops by my apartment in Shibuya. 

On the weekends, I would go on adventures. I went on the bullet train to visit my family in Nagano and Kyoto; I would go to karaoke bars and firework shows with my coworkers; me and the other participants in the MISTI program helped make a hand-forged katana; I visited old shrines and played in interactive art museums with friends. The Tokyo train system became second nature, and its web of twisted, multi-colored lines are now engraved in my memory.

I am so happy that I took the gamble to live in a new city for these 2.5 months of summer, to be one of the 14 million going about their daily life. I am happy that I got to go to firework shows with the MIT kids in our program, eat ramen by the gallon, and call this place home for a bit :)

While I appreciated the heated toilet seats and liveliness of Japan, I also missed the abundance of Targets and the excessive use of cheese in the US. To the US: It’s good to be back! And to Japan: またね!07 See ya!

  1. Welcome, everyone! back to text
  2. This is a very nice word for crashing into the moon. back to text
  3. A program that connects MIT students to fully-funded research opportunities and internships in Japan!! back to text
  4. Aerospace Engineering back to text
  5. Which is 3 million more than the entire population of Sweden! back to text
  6. I miss Japanese foooood. back to text
  7. See ya! back to text