Category Archives: Lee

Posts by Lee Crank


Perched outside the hotel this morning, I felt my first cool breeze of wind during the entire trip. For those not in Hangzhou, you have no idea how refreshing it felt for me to have a tingling gust circulate between my arm hairs and face. The heat island effect has baked me daily. The humidity has made me sticky. But today I relished in the moment. I closed my eyes and let the wind serenade my body and senses. For a moment, I thought I heard the chirping of chickadees. Maybe they’re beckoning for my return? The breeze dulls down, I open my eyes and it’s nothing but the sound of a city. Car horns. Construction. People. Needless to say, I think I might be homesick. Today we leave for Shanghai. Sunday we leave for home. I hope the songs of black-capped birds greet me upon my return stateside. Chicka-dee-dee-dee.


Why pick up the heaps of litter? A foot of concrete will most likely cover it anyways. Out of sight, out of mind. Right? That is the observation I seem to be gathering at least as I tour the city of Hangzhou. The city is currently undergoing immaculate development. Older buildings are being razed and bigger ones are being built in replacement. It is impressive to witness. Dozens of cranes swing atop the city’s skyline. Apartments for construction workers lay atop the foundations of fallen rubble. Soon the shipping container apartments will move onto the next job site and the cycle of destroy and rebuild continues. I can’t help but think what this city will look like thirty years from now. I wonder… will I ever revisit to witness its shining glory?

Today we toured Wanxiang’s manufacturing facilities and witnessed wheel bearings being built. Wanxiang provides components for at least two dozen car companies. We also witnessed car batteries being manufactured at one of their headquarter locations. And inside the headquarter location, we learned the fact that Wanxiang plans on funding the development of an entire city. Literally a new city. Will private enterprises be the future governance? The city will house their employees and future headquarters. Employees will have no reason to venture outside Wanxiang’s city as everything will be provided by Wanxiang. Receive your paycheck from Wanxiang, buy your groceries from the store leased by Wanxiang, pay your apartment rent to Wanxiang, and then drive your car manufactured by Wanxiang back to work at Wanxiang. Is anyone else feeling unsettled?


I always take the opportunity when given the moment to act like a kid again. Yesterday was the most enjoyable day I have had so far in China because I was given the opportunity to run around like a feral child. I got to expel some pent-up energy! Our group learned martial arts from a Wushu master. Our teacher had actually majored in Wushu martial arts at Zhejiang University and has won many martial arts championships allover China. Passing this woman on the street, one would not know of her strength. I was maybe a foot taller than her and she was tossing me around like a ragdoll. And for some reason, she kept choosing me as the practice dummy. Needless to say, I am quite sore the morning after.

I learned how to apprehend people, defensive strategies against attacks, and meditative Tai Chi. Punching, chopping, and kicking the target pad were my most favorite activities by far. I love to hit things; I love the sound it makes when I make contact. I talked with another student from UIC about my love for hitting things and being loud. He brought up a good point that releasing pent-up energy through hitting and punching is good for people, as long as you aren’t hitting another person! He mentioned wrecking-ball operators having the best job satisfaction ratings because they constantly get to release energy via demolishing buildings – I believe it! When I worked as a carpenter, I loved to destroy things and make a racket. The physical activity in carpentry must have released some feel-good chemicals into my brain. I miss trying to hammer a nail in two swings! I miss sledging stakes into the ground! I miss it all!

After the Wushu lesson, the master actually complimented my form and punches. She asked if I had practiced any martial arts before and I replied, “No, but I did spend most of my childhood fending myself from my two older brothers.”


Our hotel is notorious for serving multiple potato dishes during lunch and dinner. It is both a blessing and a burden. Here is a list that ranks them from best to worst:

  1. Potato Wedges
  2. Triangular Hashbrowns
  3. Happy Face Potato Cakes
  4. Potato Balls (like deep-fried balls of mashed potato)
  5. Roasted Potatoes (served with a Chinese style gravy and beef)
  6. French Fries
  7. Chinese Potato Cakes
  8. Mashed Potatoes

Potato chip flavors in China are quite interesting. Lay’s brand has the most unique flavors. They include Italian Meat Sauce flavoring, Mexican Chicken Tomato flavoring, Lime flavoring, and Texas Grilled BBQ flavoring. All of Lay’s flavorings are delicious, definitely try them when visiting China. Pringle brand flavors include Cumber and Tomato. Both of these Pringle flavors are not that good, stick to original Pringles. Random Chinese brand chip flavors that I have tried include Steak and American flavoring. The Steak flavored chips were surprisingly good and tasted savory. The American flavoring was simply salt (I anticipated a BBQ flavor). One observation I have made about all Chinese chips is that they are all smaller in diameter than the chips back in the United States. I am wondering whether Chinese chips use a smaller variety of potato as compared to the United States’ Russet Burbank potato? Having studied the political ecology of Russet Burbank potatoes in the United States, I am now curious as to what kind of potato is most widely used here in China and who is growing these potatoes. Who, what, where, & how?


The river leading up to the Jiande dam was a beautiful, almost mystical looking setting. Fog compactly settled atop the river but moved as if it had a current. It looked as if the river was just pure water vapor. And there were also the stupendous green mountains that sandwiched each side of the meandering waters. Some trees along the mountain slopes had leaves as large as my entire body. I was in awe of the greenery and misty mountains.

It was inspiring to visit the Jiande dam. The 100-meter-tall concrete structure provides clean energy for thousands of people. The reservoir also provides millions of people with clean drinking water – bottled of course. A plastic bottling plant is located nearby. This dam has embanked a total 22 billion cubic meters of water. The dam embanked so much water that the mountains behind the reservoir became islands! What a feat for human engineering. Human persistence is the most powerful force on earth. Albert Einstein once said persistence can move mountains, I say it can transform mountains into islands.

I was so animated to witness these submerged mountain islands. I’ve waited days for this moment. The bus stops, we unload, and I’m giddy with excitement. We’re walking towards the dam. I think I might have been skipping, I was definitely skipping with joy. Bad news erupts. The elevators to the top of the dam broke! Dammit. The damn dam broke. I never got to see those thousand islands as advertised by our tour guide, but at least I got a cool postcard showcasing what I missed out on.


Mesmerizing candy cane swirls of red, white, and blue twirl within Hangzhou’s market alleyways. Like a moth allured to a lamp, I looked for the nearest spinning barbershop pole this morning. My hair had begun to look moppy. I grew dissatisfied by my moppiness and wanted a fresh cut. Perhaps a stylish one. Maybe K-Pop-esque… So I searched and found a barbershop owned by a nice looking young couple. They definitely looked K-Pop-esque. Very fashionable. Once inside the barbershop, I realized I had no data on my phone, nor did I have a picture of what I exactly wanted. Ni you zhaopian ma? The styles they advertised were way too colorful for me! Ni gei wo zhongguo ren jiantoufa ma? I asked, “Can I have the most popular Chinese man’s haircut?” Dui, dui, dui. And just like that, my head is being scrubbed under a sink by the barber’s wife – a first for me. I am then escorted to a stool after my quick little shower and the husband quickly points out my receding hairline. Xie Xie… The haircut begins. I would bargain that my hair was maybe 4-5 inches in length before my haircut. The first snip of hair was definitely a 4-incher. All of a sudden my bangs are gone. Wode tian a… What did I get myself into? Their toddler then begins to laugh at my banglessness. Not just a simple ha ha. The boy was rolling on the ground, pointing and laughing at my profound banglessness. Eventually the small boy began to wheeze as he couldn’t catch his breath in between each laugh. I could not help but laugh, too! I looked more Amish-esque than I did K-Pop-esque! Buzzzz, snip, snip, snip. The haircut was finished. My ears were lowered. My Neanderthal forehead in its full glory. I paid the man 30 RMB (4 American Dollars) and went on my merry way.

With my pocket full of change, I decided to buy a jianbing (scallion pancake) along my way back to the hotel. As I was munching away on my delicious pancake, I couldn’t help but notice that my new haircut did in fact look like many of the other Chinese peoples’ hair styles. However, it was not young Chinese men rocking my haircut… It was the elderly!


  • Not having diarrhea
  • Hamburgers
  • My cat
  • Google
  • Chick-Fila
  • Thunderstorm warnings
  • Squirrels
  • Tacos
  • Wikipedia
  • Traffic obedience
  • John Deere tractors
  • Cheese
  • Cheese Sauce
  • Queso Dip
  • Cheez-Its
  • Horseshoes with cheese
  • Corndogs
  • Corn
  • Coors light

The Wanxiang hotel pampers our study group with three meals a day. Buffet, all you can eat. Some days I feel as though I am pig getting prepped for slaughter. The food is delicious and stuffing. Some might say we are eating better than past royalty. Three different meats, numerous fruits and vegetables, and a vast amount of desserts. I can feel my waistband getting tighter. I have yet to find China’s version of Pepto-Bismol.

The field trips we take are definitely my favorite part of the Wanxiang program. Today we are visiting two museums around Hangzhou’s West Lake, yesterday we visited a natural gas power plant. I am most excited to visit the hydroelectric dam next Monday. I am sure I will have much to write about after visiting the Jiande Hydroelectric plant. Stay posted for more stories to come!

Happy Fourth of July to those back home. And remember, be safe and knowledgeable about lighting off fireworks. Not just for your safety, but also for our animal friends that inhabit the skies! Did I mention I also miss birds? I miss my thrushes, tanagers, and waxwings!


It is no doubt that coal energy has benefitted human society with innovative technology throughout the recent centuries. There has been an obvious price to pay, however, as civilizations continued to use more and more coal-burning factories for their necessities. The natural environment has become an expense as a result of coal-burned energy. Ecosystem services decline as urban development increases. And development depends upon a vast amount of different resources, the most important resource being fuel.

Mark Twain once said, “And what is a man without energy? Nothing – nothing at all.” Coal is a precious finite resource; it’s a geological gift from the earth. I certainly would not have published this blog on the internet if it were not for human civilization’s ability to harness energy from these rocks of carbon and start a technological revolution. Mark Twain also said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” While I agree with this quote in its entirety, please emit its second clause for what I am about to conclude. Too much coal is without a doubt cruel for the environment and human health. Water becomes poisoned, air becomes polluted, and biological health becomes endangered. Burning coal releases CO2 into the air which contributes to global warming. Coal also emits a medley of other chemicals and particulate matter that can gravely affect the health of humans and many different ecosystem services.

Today in class, we weighed the pros and cons of renewable energies. Solar, wind, and hydroelectrical power can create negative environmental impacts like that of coal-burning power plants. Hydroelectrical plants release methane into the air as river beds alter and water becomes reservoired. The rare earth materials that make up solar panels are haphazardly mined and go through a very tedious process to become photovoltaic cells. Wind power takes hectares of space to become as efficient as fossil fuel burning plants. Our class’s conclusion was that ecological change is a given when attempting to harness renewable energy, however, the impacts are not as dastardly as fossil fuel energy.

One of the Chinese professors told our class that China will continue to use coal as an energy source simply because China is a very poor country. Meanwhile another professor told us that ~20 nuclear power plants are being built in China… I do not think money is a problem for the country of China. The largest hydroelectrical dam in the world was also constructed in China this past decade – the Three Gorges Dam. Despite mass environmental degradation and the relocation of 2 million people, the Chinese government was adamant about finishing the Three Gorges Dam project. I simply cannot believe that China is too poor of a country; it is a bad excuse for the continuation of coal-burned energy.


If one were to guess the most popular beer in the world, they would probably guess something brewed by Anheuser-Busch. Maybe Budweiser? Nope, think internationally. Okay, perhaps Heineken? It’s not that either. The most popular beer in the world is not even a beer that is exported to that many countries. It’s domestic to China! The Chinese beer, Snow, is the most popular beer in the world by volume drank. Taking into account the massive and thirsty population of China, it is no surprise that a domestic Chinese beer leads the world by volumes drank per year. To those curious of what Snow taste like… reminiscent of bud light. And did I mention it is extremely cheap? Snow brand beer is around 74 cents per 500 milliliters (16.9 oz). Step aside Natural Light and frat boys prepare yourselves for the new guy in town.

Beijing Bikini

Beijing Bikini

[bāˈjiNG biˈkēnē]


Definition: A popular mode of dress worn by Chinese men. A shirt’s bottom hem is risen above the individual’s stomach to reveal cooling fresh air upon their sweaty gut.

Market Alleyways

Old men wearing Beijing bikinis huddle in packs to smoke cigarettes in some of Hangzhou’s many market alleyways. Ladies cheerfully play card games; you often hear them before you see them in these alleyways. Young kids scoot past you on scooters and stray dogs scavenge the streets for morsels of food to eat. Barbershops, restaurants, produce stands, and more barbershops clutter the alleyways. How many barbershops are there in Hangzhou? I found myself trekking through many of these alleyways the other day. The experience was unforgettable, but so was the smell. The stench of raw meat was in the air… so I followed it. I witnessed foods I had never seen before. Aquariums of exotic fish and turtle. Meat lay unrefrigerated in the open air; only an oscillating fan was used to deter the pests away from the raw meat. I had so many questions after visiting my first meat market in Hangzhou: does any of the meat end up being refrigerated at the end of the day and is it safe to eat?

After a long inquisitive hike throughout Hangzhou’s market alleyways, I found myself seated in a Uyghur restaurant. Uyghur people reside in the far northwestern reaches of China and are of Turkish descent. Uyghur-Chinese food is not the type of Chinese food one thinks of back in the United States. The food is halal and has middle-eastern flairs to it. I absolutely loved it. I ordered a fried flatbread stuffed with steak and cilantro. The sandwich bread reminded me of Taco Bell’s chalupa shells. Yes… I said it… Uyghur food reminded me of Taco Bell! The hunger was real, though, so I also order a pickled beef noodle soup. DEAR LORD WAS IT GOOD. I loaded the food with lajiao, otherwise known as Chinese pepper paste, and I was in hog heaven. The spice, heat, and humidity eventually got to me that day and I must confess… I partook in wearing the Beijing bikini. What a satisfying experience and all that food for only 20 RMB.

No Combines

The transitional separation of Chinese agriculture seems quite blatant. Millet in the north, rice in the south. During my southerly travel from Beijing to Hangzhou, I scanned the landscapes outside my train window. Vast open lands were dedicated to agriculture – somewhat similar to the United States. Much of the land in northern China is dedicated towards cultivating millet and wheat. There was a certain separating feature, however, when wheat fields transitioned solely into rice paddies – a large river. I am not sure whether this river is blatantly used as a separation line for all agriculture or just some strange observation. Perhaps this river provides better irrigation for rice paddies in the south rather than the north.

Instead of John Deere combines or International pickup trucks hauling grain, I noticed that grains were hauled by scooter and wagon in China. What a stark difference compared to the United States. Some fields had dozens of laborers kneeling down, fidgetily working in the fields. I can only assume they were picking weeds by hand. Some laborers had umbrellas, beach towels, and tea kettles stationed in the center of their fields. Nothing like a warm cup of tea on an extremely hot, humid day…

During my travel from Beijing to Hangzhou, I believe I witnessed China’s afforestation program in practice. I saw hundreds if not thousands of newly planted trees everywhere – in the mountains and in the agricultural fields. Long rows of trees have been planted, yet I cannot help but notice that most are the same species and planted no more than five feet away from each other. I was expecting a bit more diversity. My first thought when witnessing this large monoculture of trees was Dutch Elm Disease!


NPR is not censored by China’s firewall! I am still able to enjoy WUIS’s broadcast of Bluegrass Breakdown. Yee-yaw!

Speaking of impenetrable walls, I also hiked up a small portion of the Great Wall. And it was such a beauty of a day. Clear skies, fresh air, and a cool mountain breeze. Sadly, I did not get an air quality reading atop the mountain fortress, however, Doctor Ruez and I did obtain one at the foot of the wall. The Great Wall is a spectacular edifice. Our guide told us it spans from North Korea to Azerbaijan – thousands of kilometers in length. It is a marvel that ancient civilizations were capable of accomplishing such tasks. I can’t help but wonder about the lives of the people that built this monumental wall.

The Capitol of China

Rotten eggs. That is the smell outside our hotel. The exact origin of this odor is unknown… could it be coming from the nearby garbage cans or maybe is it emitted from the thousands of car exhaust pipes? I am not sure. My air quality meters cannot detect the source of this smelly aroma, yet they can detect the amount of particulate matter in the air. Data from the first day in Beijing reveals bad air quality. Visually, there is a grey smog in the air. Physically, my eyes burn and I feel congested.

The city of Beijing is immensely huge. 22 million people I want to say? Large superblock apartment buildings scatter the city landscape. A mix of timeworn and newly-built structures configure an interesting architectural dichotomy. The streets are filled with people and cars, some not obeying the traffic laws. It almost seems lawless, yet police officers are situated on every block. I am sometimes reminded of the fictional settings in Judge Dredd or Bladerunner as I pass some of Beijing’s cityscapes. It is achingly mesmerizing. Has science fiction come to life?

Tian’anmen Square is maybe twice as large as my hometown if not bigger. And then there is the Forbidden Palace, an entirely separate area which is just as enormous. I was in awe of the beauty and splendor yet ached from the opaque blanket of grey smog in the air. I talked with a woman who studied in Beijing in the 90’s and she said the air quality was almost darkening in those days. It seems to her that China is making much progress in regard to enhancing air quality, however, I believe much is still needed to improve upon. I am confident of future improvement.


A couple days ago I visited Ashikaga University’s Wind & Solar Park. This park showcases an assortment of different technologies that capture renewable energy. There are many different types of wind turbines built to capture wind energy – some turbine propellers built to only spin at high wind speeds and others built to spin at low wind speeds. The propeller’s axis, shape, size, and weight all influence the efficiency and output of energy. I asked an Ashikaga graduate student which turbine design is most efficient and he explained that the three-propeller design is most energy efficient. This also happens to be the most common turbine design in the United States. The three-propeller design outputs the most kilowatts compared to low wind speed. While the three-propeller design’s weight is not the lightest turbine to be built, it can safely harness energy from low and high wind speeds. A concern from the lighter one propeller and two propeller turbine designs is that it requires faster and more dangerous winds to capture energy.

Another amazing yet more simple technology I witnessed was the solar cooker. Using material such as glass or metal to reflect sunlight into a concentrated area, one is able to cook food using concentrated solar energy. Depending on cloud cover, one could possibly cook a whole chicken in a solar oven faster than an ordinary oven if the days were clear and sunny. These solar oven technologies are being gifted to undeveloped areas across the globe by non-profits; areas which do not have enough wood, coal, or gas to cook their meals. These solar ovens have influenced me to experiment making a solar powered pizza oven when I arrive back into the United States! I have already started some experimental drafts.

I’ve come to realize the omnipotent power of the sun while in Ashikaga. Most renewable energies (besides geothermal) depend upon the sun. Heat from the sun influences temperatures in the air which cause pressure differences to swirl from latitude to latitude. These pressure differences or Hadley cells circulate winds that provide energy to be captured by turbines. The water cycle is also dependent upon the sun; the evaporated water, precipitation, and melted ice all influence streaming rivers which provide energy to be harnessed by hydroelectrical technology. And even fossil fuels were influenced by the sun’s energy. Long ago, plants captured solar energy and animals ate those plants. Past organic life that relied on the sun’s energy became compacted under the earth over millennia and have formed into fossil fuels. The sun is omnipotent, so why not attempt to use renewable energy as our number one fuel source?

Yesterday, I visited the town of Nikko. It was a phenomenal place. The town reminded me of Crater Lake National Park as the town is situated beside a large lake in the mountains. The nature and landscape of Nikko was astoundingly beautiful. I think I could have stayed there a little bit longer… maybe a couple more days. Please read Doctor Ruez’s blog post about Lake Chuzenji as he explained the geology and formation of this beautiful area.

I have spent the past couple days doing many things: visiting Tokyo, hiking in the mountains, visiting volcanic hot springs, and even rooming with a Japanese family for 3 nights. If anyone has any questions, I would be glad to answer them.

Day 3 in Ashikaga: HERE’S MY CARD

The research being performed at Ashikaga University focuses mostly on environmental technology such as figuring out renewable energy sources, weather forecasting technology, & radioactive-waste disposal. After talking with the many professors yesterday, I learned that the university sometimes works in conjunction with private businesses such as construction companies by testing concrete quality and providing large concrete forms for bridge building components. All the research being performed was extremely impressive and has certainly influenced me to learn more about these environmental technologies.

As I will be interning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of site evaluation, I found much of the construction technology at Ashikaga University fascinating and probably asked too many questions! Ashikaga’s division of engineering attempts to ensure safe building practices and safe disposal of hazardous wastes. And yesterday, I was extremely grateful because I received a business card from one of the professors who is performing influential research somewhat related to what I will be investigating at the Environmental Protection Agency. Thank you, Dr. Tomoyoshi Nishimura, I look forward to reading your research. While my investigations will focus on mostly ferrous soils, I think I could learn a lot from Dr. Nishimura’s research dedicated to radioactivity and porous stones.

A couple other impressive works happening at Ashikaga include renewable energy storage using hydrogen storage alloy to reduce CO2 emissions, using water as a driving force to power machines by using the special alloy martensite, bio-fuel made from organic waste, and lighting rod telemetry to better forecast thunderstorms in Japan.

Martensite is memory metal. Once exposed to a certain temperature, it reforms back into its shape via contracting molecules. Hot water and cool air are perfect for martensite’s molecular deformation. Cooling deforms the martensite memory wire and heating the alloy stiffly contracts it. This martensite wire was connected to a pully mechanism half submerged in toy car chassis and water fueled the energy for the toy car move.

Ashikaga University also performs research on biofuel. Currently they have created pucks of wood shavings, old newspapers, and used coffee grounds to be burnt in furnaces. Doctor Jonathan Goldbergbelle explained to me that cornhusks in the United States would be a great resource to be burned as biofuel. I have thought about the possibility of coconut husks as well. I am curious whether any of my peers have any other ideas for resources to be used as biofuel?

Day 2 in Ashikaga: WILD BOARS

I am not sure whether I have a case of jet lag or excitement to wake up early and relish in the atmospheric culture of Japan. I am starting to find myself waking up early and reading about the things I witnessed the previous day; I am also starting to realize that many of my questions during the guided tours revolve around Japan’s local wildlife and environmental history. Yesterday Professor Shimizu of Ashikaga University guided us to Ashikaga’s Hogen Temple & Fuji Shrine. While witnessing these beautiful sites of divinity and worship, I began talking to Professor Shimizu about nature as the many shrines we visit are found upon forested hills away from human development. He explained to me how many festivities and traditions occur during Spring time – the boy and girl temples we went to yesterday are used to celebrate the birth and health of newborn children which rightfully coincides with Spring time, a time when plants and animals flourish. The intimacy of nature and tradition in Japan is beginning to become quite apparent in most aspects of Japanese life.

As my peers and I have been tirelessly hiking through the city of Ashikaga, we have noticed many signs, bulletins, and maps across the city. These signs have made our lives so much easier as they provide warnings, instructions, or directions. One sign in particular, however, caught my eye. It had an illustration of a wild boar on it. I asked Professor Shimizu about this sign and it uncovered a lengthy lesson about pest management, conservation, & Japan’s declining population.

I learned that wild boars are becoming quite a menace around Japan. It appears as Japanese population declines, wild boar populations increase. Many current Japanese youth are beginning to move away from the countryside and into large southern Japanese cities. This trend has left elderly Japanese farmers to fend for themselves. As the youth move into the cities and elderly Japanese farmers pass away from old age, rice paddies and other agricultural fields either become mishandled or entirely forgotten. In response to this trend, wild boar populations are surging as more land and food become available to wildlife. The effect of this population upsurge has damaged the yields of remaining agricultural fields.

In the state of Illinois, farmers are allowed to manage feral pig populations via hunting or trapping without the need for a permit as long as it is hunted on their land. It appears that Japanese bureaucracy has provided a difficult time for farmers to manage pests on their farmlands. It is a difficult and lengthy process to obtain a gun license in Japan and a trapping permit in Japan is also a lengthy process as one must take a semester of college work in order to obtain one. It appears for the time being that Japan’s wild boar problem will remain challenging. Wild boar populations are continually increasing and also migrating into new territories. As climate change is occurring (2018), wild boars are moving farther and farther into northern Japanese latitudes (Oda, 2018). The reproduction rate of wild boar is also concerning as they can have as many as 5 to 8 piglets in one litter – capable of breeding twice in one year. I can’t help but wonder how the Japanese people could resolve this problem. One idea is that since the Japanese are prolific fisherman and have a taste for wild-caught meat, why not open a market for wild-caught boar meat and ease the bureaucratic process of obtaining a live trapping permit.

Not only are these wild boar populations effecting rural agricultural areas, but they are also encroaching into urban developments. There is a long list of concerns in regard to wild boar in Japan. If anyone one has questions, please comment below my blog post!

Day 1 in Ashikaga: RESOURCEFULNESS

I awoke at three in the morning today. I presume because of jet lag, however, the first day in Ashikaga was nonstop hiking and at the end of the day I crashed from exhaustion around 8 o’clock at night. The day prior was spent touring the city of Ashikaga. The tour consisted of visiting Ashikaga University, the world-renowned Ashikaga Flower Park, a 19th century shrine atop a large hill that overlooks the city, & the oldest university in Japan.

Ashikaga Gakko, the oldest university in Japan, is a national historic site for Japanese heritage. The exact date this university was erected was lost in translation when I asked one of our guides, but the tour pamphlet mentioned Ashikaga having been a central hub for learning as far back as 1487. The only learning performed in Ashikaga Gakko today, however, is done through guided tours – not via tuition. The architecture and landscaping of Ashikaga Gakko was immediately impressive. The building’s woodwork was intricately crafted. I noticed that the gables, beams, and anything wooden were held together by impressive mortis and tenon. Rather than using nails or screws to fasten the wood together, special angular cuts and notches were used to create tight joints that held all building materials together. Looking at Ashikaga Gakko through an environmental construction lens, the university’s roof was quite a resourceful piece of construction. The roof was made from reeds found along local water sources. These slick plants provide a perfect, yet antiquated water-proof roof design. Bundles of reeds were used to thatch the roof, and the thatching’s thickness had to have been around 3 feet in thickness. The fast growth and abundance of reeds provide an excellent, sustainable resource for thatching… however, all this dry plant-based material suffers from one grave problem – its propensity to catch on fire! And that is exactly what happened a couple hundred years ago. Today, the historic university has been restored and carefully maintained as an important heritage site for the Japanese people – it has been the most insightful part of my international studies so far.

While touring these destinations, I felt a great sense of collective care and passion by the Japanese people. Ashikaga is a beautifully maintained city and extremely clean. It appears that many people living here in Ashikaga are respectful not just to each other, but also towards the environment. I cannot list the exact amount of city gardens I witnessed yesterday, but it is an impressive amount. The amount of greenery and landscaping is also impressive. While many homes do not have yards like we do in the United States, the green spaces residential people do have are full of beautifully potted plants and flowers.           

Overall, yesterday was an amazingly terrific experience. My first day in Japan was excellently guided by the international department of Ashikaga University. The deputy of international studies at Ashikaga University, Mister Sasaki, really made me feel welcomed. He introduced me to some Chinese students also touring the city and gave me an opportunity to practice my Chinese speaking skills. I am so thankful to be given such an opportunity and I cannot wait for the experiences to come these next following weeks.

The cleanliness of Ashikaga is widespread. This receptacle caught my eye, it appears people remove bottle caps before disposing their trash.
Fellow researcher Caleb Froidcoeur and I took an early morning walk to a shinto shrine our first morning in Ashikaga. We paid our respects to this beautiful site.