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Strange Tales─Part 2

What does it really mean when someone tells you to "use your head"?

In Japan, a TV show broadcast by the national broadcaster called Chikochanni Shikarareru is enjoying popularity. In the show, a five years old girl who named Chiko puts questions to the show’s grownup guests for testing on their knowledge of trivia in the show. These questions sound really straightforward and normal at the first, but they are actually impossible to answer. When the guests get stumped, Chiko berates them for being airheads and tells them to "use their head". and the CG performance is really interesting at that time.

I take a lot of things for granted, both at work and in my life outside work. Often, when I sit down and ask myself why these things are the way they are, I realize that I don’t know. Of course, if you question everything in life that you don’t understand, you will never get anything done. The show’s grownup response to these situations is simply to say, "I don’t know why─it just is". At least, we can get away with that while we’re young, because people realize that we lack life experience. When you are older, however, the reaction is more like, "you don’t know that at your age?"

Strictly speaking, the only requirement of a professional person is to perform his or her job. However, I believe that if we don’t take an interest in anything outside work, we end up shallow human beings. While work is important, there’s more to life than just work. I’m not saying that you should aim to become a trivia expert by the time you retire, but I do believe that making a point of finding out about things that puzzle you, both at work and in your life outside work, will serve you well later in life.

In today’s article, I will not be discussing bespoke power supplies. Rather, this article concerns a simple question that was put to me that piqued my interest. The experience made me realize that simple questions, far from being trivial, can make you aware of perspectives that had not occurred to you before.

My Encounter with Bamboo

The wrong side of 60, I was still trying to find my place in the community. I didn’t want to retire and simply end up another old man with time on his hands who is looked down on by his family. I started to volunteer for a local "friends of the park" group, clearing the bamboo that grows behind the school that my children used to attend. While the bamboo forest is not in the school grounds, its location just behind the school makes it a convenient location for outdoor education classes, which I would sometimes assist with. And thus, my relationship with bamboo began.

The school’s fourth grade curriculum includes a section where students get to experience clearing bamboo as part of their integrated studies class. The children harvest bamboo shoots, observe the growth of the bamboo plant, explore the forest, and have a go at cutting down bamboo. Finally, the students use bamboo they have removed to make handicrafts, to mark their being 10 years old and therefore halfway to adulthood.

Photograph 1. Students learning about bamboo

Stumped for an Answer

After we explored the bamboo forest, I asked the students if they had any questions. At first, no one put up their hand. Eventually, a student from the special class who had a developmental disability asked two questions: "Why is bamboo hollow?" and "What is the white powder around and the ridges of the bamboo plant?"

Not expecting such difficult questions from a class of10-year-olds, I had not done much research before the class, and was unable to answer. It just goes to show the danger of complacency! However, I was pleased that a student from the special class had shown an interest in bamboo and been the first one to ask a question.

For what it’s worth, here is the answer:
Each joint of the bamboo stem contains a doughnut-shaped growth ring. This ring undergoes rapid vertical growth, causing the hollowing of the internodal area. The structure of bamboo differs from that of other plants, in which growth occurs not in a band but at a single point at the apex of the stalk.

The white powder is an amino acid named tyrosine, which is used to synthesize lignin, a compound contained in hardwood. The nodes of the bamboo plant contain large stores of the tyrosine that they need to grow, which makes them appear white. The white power is only observed on young plants, as it comes off as the plant matures. If that student had not asked that question. I might never have found this out. As they say, there is no shame in asking.

Photograph 2. Old and young bamboo plants

It’s The Little Things that Make You Who You Are

Later, I showed the children how to cut the bamboo using a saw. (The saw is usually pulled backward when making the cut.) The students then cut the bamboo they needed and carried it back to school. We harvested four lengths for each of the three classes, or 12 lengths in total. With each length being about 10 meters long, this is no easy task, even for an adult, but 10-year-olds are surprisingly strong, and the children managed to carry the bamboo back to their school. While the handicraft lesson did not go entirely to plan as we were short of time, the children did manage to make bamboo vases, savings boxes, pen stands and even lampshades with the assistance of father helpers and PTA volunteers. This type of volunteer work gives me a sense of achievement that one doesn’t get at work, and makes me realize the importance of life outside work. Of course, I also love seeing the children’s smiles.

My message here is not that you should take up volunteering. Rather, I wanted to give an example of how the little things you notice in the course of your life make you who you are. They say, "you are what you eat." It is the same with life experience. These little experiences make us who we are in five or ten years’ time. That is why I think we should make the most of not only our work but also our life outside work, rather than just thinking of it as time off.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about changing working styles. I think we should be talking about changing the way we live. When people tell you to "use your head", they might really mean rethink the way you live your life.

TEXT BY
Yoshiharu Itagaki
Solutions Development Division, Solutions Development Department

[Major achievements in product development]
PAL, PAK-T series regulated DC power supplies
Custom built regulated AC power supplies; made to order charge/discharge power supplies
Custom built electronic load devices; custom built bipolar power supplies, etc.

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