People Working for ALMA (6) Interview with Administrative Staff Working at the NAOJ Santiago Office
(Note: This interview was held in July 2018. The position and responsibility of the interviewees are as of that time. Former NAOJ Chile Observatory divided into NAOJ ALMA Project headquartered in Tokyo and NAOJ Chile in Santiago in January 2019.)
Each One Has Different Reasons for Coming to Chile
── How long have you been in Chile, Tsukano-san?
Tsukano: I’ve been here for 6 years.
── You’ve been to Mexico before, right?
Tsukano: Yes. I applied for the Japan-Mexico Government-sponsored study abroad program and studied at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) National Autonomous University of Mexico: UNAM). I had the experience at the government’s expense and a lot of help from the local people in Mexico, so I’ve always wanted to return the favor by working at an institution in a Spanish-speaking country.
── So, you wanted to come to Chile?
Tsukano: Yes. At first, I was hired by Shinshu University. When I heard the rumor that the NAOJ would open an office in Chile, I thought that I could be of service at the NAOJ by utilizing my Spanish skills. After that, I worked for three years at the Mitaka Campus (Mitaka City, Tokyo), where the head office of the NAOJ is located, and I was transferred to Chile.
── Does that mean you were interested in Chile, not astronomy?
Tsukano: Yes, I was wishing to work in Chile.
── Yamafuji-san, you have been in Chile for three months, right?
Yamafuji: Yes, I moved here in April 2018.
── Did you have interest in astronomy?
Yamafuji: No, not at all. But I like science. To be hired as the administrative staff of the NAOJ, we need to pass an exam for recruitment of the administrative staff at the national universities in Kanto and Koshinetsu regions. After passing the primary exam, we are allowed to choose where to take the second-stage exam. I found the NAOJ in the list along with other universities such as the University of Tokyo and I applied for the NAOJ, which was the most intriguing to me.
── I see. You chose the NAOJ as it seemed the most appealing to you.
── Did you express your hope to move to Chile?
Yamafuji: I did not specifically make a request to send me to Chile. There was a survey asking which locations we wish to work in the future. So, I wrote Mizusawa, Nobeyama, Hawaii, and Chile as my desired worksites.
── I see.
Yamafuji: Basically, I can go anywhere except Mitaka. I just didn’t want to be in Tokyo as I get tired of staying in the city all the time (laugh).
── Does that mean you wanted to do something new in a new environment?
Yamafuji: Right. To that end, I thought it would be good to go abroad once. Even so, I wish I could have had more time before my departure to Chile because it was a short notice. I wanted to have more experience in advance and make some more preparations for accounting work. It was good that I could at least get a qualification for bookkeeping while I was in Tokyo. I didn’t have enough time to study Spanish either.
── Ichiyama-san, how long have you been in Chile?
Ichiyama: In terms of work, I have been working here since February 2018, but the first time I came to Chile was in the winter of 2015. I was a graduate student at that time and studying wild animals living in Chile. For the research, I stayed here for a month. Even after that, I continued my stay for a few months and decided to move to Chile.
── There are many kinds of wild animals, but what kind of research did you do?
Ichiyama: I entered graduate school because I wanted to study carnivorous animals of the cat family that live in the Andes. However, it was difficult to find such creatures. When I was thinking what to do, I learned that the staple food of the endangered Andean cat is a rodent* called mountain viscacha. So, I decided to study this mountain viscacha after all. I guess you can hardly understand it (laugh).
*Rodents: A general term for animals belonging to the Mammalian rodents, characterized by teeth and jaws suitable for chewing. While many of rodents are herbivorous, some are omnivorous. Includes beavers, squirrels, mice, lemmings, jerboas, porcupines, chinchillas, and others. Different from Lagomorphs.
── It is an animal like a rabbit, isn’t it?
Ichiyama: That’s right. It is a rodent that looked like a rabbit. I was studying its ecology and the sounds it makes.
── I see.
Ichiyama: By nature, mountain viscacha rarely appears in the presence of people. I’ve met some Chileans who have seen it, but only a few. As its ecology is yet to be known even in Chile, it was almost like a “mysterious creature”. So, I found it interesting and decided to begin my research.
── Do they make loud sounds?
Ichiyama: Yes, they do. It is said that birds, chimpanzees, and other creatures have grammar in the sounds they make. In the research of rodents, it is assumed that there might be some context or meaning. Then, I thought, “I want to study mountain viscacha! (laughs)”
── So, did you first come to Chile for research?
Ichiyama: That’s right.
── And you liked the country.
Work of Administrative Staff Members at NAOJ Chile
── What kind of work do you do in Chile?
Yamafuji: I am in charge of accounting. It’s been three months since I came here, so I haven’t done so much work related to the ALMA project. Basically, my main task is to check payments and slips in Chile.
── Is it the same job as the accountant at Mitaka, where the head office of the NAOJ is located?
Yamafuji: It’s almost the same as what we do at Mitaka but the difference is that we have to keep accurate accounts in the Chilean currency peso. In Chile, money is managed in a peso account unlike Mitaka’s financial accounting system that implements money management in Japanese yen. I think there is a little difference from Mitaka in some procedures that require consideration of exchange gain or loss.
── NAOJ operates ALMA jointly with the ESO (European Southern Observatory) and the AUI (Associated Universities, Inc.) under the Joint ALMA Observatory, and they also have offices in Santiago. Do you have opportunities to work with the administrative staff of other partner institutions?
Yamafuji: Not yet. Going forward, there might be more opportunities to work together in some joint tasks such as sharing the goods to be purchased.
── Thank you very much, Yamafuji-san. What kind of work do you do, Ichiyama-san?
Ichiyama: I am in charge of accounting like Yamafuji-san, but I am an accounting assistant. Basically, I am doing payment work for received invoices, organizing and creating slips.
── Do you have a task unique to Chile?
Ichiyama: Well, there’s nothing particular about it, but if anything, there are times when the invoice hasn’t arrived, or when it has arrived but the address and amount are all incorrect. It is one of my important tasks to ask the sender to recreate the invoice when such things happen. It often takes a lot of time, and it sometimes takes months after back-and-forth interactions with the sender.
── Oh, no…(laugh)
Ichiyama: In addition, we also manage monthly payments for accommodation for those who are assigned to Chile and the common service fees of the office.
── Thank you very much, Ichiyama-san. How about you, Tsukano-san?
Tsukano: I am in charge of general affairs. Calculating travel expenses is part of my job. For business trips in Chile, we can complete a series of procedures within the Santiago office, but for business trips outside Chile, the expenses will be calculated by the accounting staff at Mitaka and the payment will be made in Chile based on the received statement. Other than that, there are various things to do such as checking the working hours of the employees at the Santiago office, checking the allowance, and purchasing overseas travel insurance. I also provide support for new members when they arrive in Chile or when they return to Japan.
── It seems there are many people who will be appointed or returned. I guess it takes a lot of work to make arrangements for a move.
Tsukano: When a person is assigned to Chile from Japan, the person will arrange an initial meeting with the moving company. After the meeting, the subsequent procedures will be taken over to the Santiago office. As the moving luggage from Chile to Japan is free from taxation, we work with the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the exemption procedures. This procedure on the Chilean side is being handled by local staff.
── There are various tasks.
Food, Commuting, and Spending Holidays in Santiago
── How about living in Chile, everyone?
Yamafuji: Well, it’s better than I had imagined. There are a lot of things I have to be careful about in terms of safety, but I can live comfortably as it’s easier to get ingredients for Japanese food than I expected. Having said that, living in Japan would be the best option to me.
── What do you feel about living in Chile, Tsukano-san?
Tsukano: I lived in Mexico for a year, so I could have imagined how it would be living in Latin America. Unlike Japan, appointments are not so reliable. For example, if you ask for cable TV or internet settings in your apartment, they will never come in time for the appointment (laughs). It’s normal to get a call for postponement or cancellation or, in most cases, not to come with the first appointment. So, I’ve learned that that’s how things go here in Chile after 6 years. I got used to it.
── How about the weather in Santiago?
Ichiyama: It doesn’t rain at all in the summer. As the humidity is very low, the laundry dries quickly in about an hour.
── That’s good.
Ichiyama: It’s convenient. Unlike summer in Japan, it’s very dry.
── How do you commute from your home to here (the Santiago office)?
Tsukano: It takes about 20 minutes by bicycle.
Yamafuji: Since I live nearby, it takes about 10 minutes on foot.
Ichiyama: I’m taking two city buses, so it takes about 40 minutes to an hour one way.
── The traffic is terrible, isn’t it?
Ichiyama: It is awful. During peak hours of commuting, the bus stops completely.
── What are you eating? Earlier, you mentioned that you can get ingredients for Japanese food.
Yamafuji: There is a district called Patronato, which is a kind of foreigner’s town. In that area, there are Asian supermarkets with various Japanese foods, and you can find soup stock, Japanese noodle soup, dried bonito flakes, doubanjiang, and other seasonings like the ones we use in Japan.
── I see. Do you cook your own meals and make Japanese food?
Tsukano: Yes, I cook my own meals and bring my lunchbox.
Yamafuji: I always eat cup noodles for lunch. It’s not easy for me to make a lunchbox.
── Don’t you have any problem with your health? (laughs)
Yamafuji: I cook my own dinner. Well, I’m doing well.
── Is there any delicious Chilean food?
Ichiyama: Everything is delicious in general. But there aren’t many that I definitely recommend (laughs).
Tsukano: Pastel de Choclo* may be unique to Chile.
* Pastel de Choclo: One of the traditional dishes unique to Chile. Meat, boiled eggs, olives, onions, and other ingredients are covered with corn paste and baked in the oven.
Ichiyama: Besides that, there are really many Chilean home-cooked dishes.
── You have no problem about foods here. I hear it is difficult to live abroad if the food does not match your taste preferences, but do you sometimes feel like returning to Japan early?
Ichiyama: No, not at all.
── Not at all. (laugh)
Ichiyama: Rather, I don’t want to go back to Japan. (laughs)
── Are you planning to settle here?
Ichiyama: I don’t have such a plan. However, for the time being, I’m really interested in Chile, not just Chilean animals, but also nature, culture, towns, and many more. So, I’m thinking about where to go next when my curiosity cools down.
── How about your life in Chile, Tsukano-san?
Tsukano: After 6 years, I have enjoyed it enough.
── How about you, Yamafuji-san?
Yamafuji: There are both good and bad things… I try to enjoy the good part while staying in Chile, but personally, it could be a negative point that I can’t participate in events held in Japan.
── Is there the Japanese community in Santiago?
Ichiyama: Well, there are many Japanese people who work for natural resource-related projects and trading companies. We have several Japan-related bodies such as the Japan-Chile Chamber of Commerce. We meet regularly to have dinner, climb mountains, and get together in various events.
── Is there any place you often go to in Chile?
Tsukano: Speaking of it, I often go to hot springs.
── Hot springs?
Tsukano: Yes. In the south of Chile, there are hot springs built by famous architects, hot springs that draw water from the Andean mountains, and a hot spring that has holes dug on the ground for bathing in.
── That sounds nice.
Tsukano: The facilities of Termas El Corazón, located in the north of Santiago, are well maintained. Also, there is a site of a former saltpeter refinery called Humberstone, designated as a World Heritage Site, and in a short distance, there is another hot spring which is surrounded by rocks and full of wilderness in a town called Pica.
── I didn’t have the image of hot springs in Chile, but there must be hot springs as the Andes mountains have a number of volcanos.
Tsukano: That’s right.
── Is there any place you often go to, Yamafuji-san?
Yamafuji: I am about to explore. I hear from people around me that they enjoy skiing and mountain climbing.
── I see. Have you ever been to the Operations Support Facility (OSF) and Array Operations Site (AOS) where the ALMA telescope is located?
Ichiyama: Not yet.
── You haven’t been there yet.
Ichiyama: No. I’m looking forward to visiting there for the Tanabata event next month.
── What is the Tanabata event?
Ichiyama: Every year, we hold a Traditional Tanabata Festival event in San Pedro de Atacama, a town near the OSF. According to the lunar calendar, we hold the event about a month behind the Tanabata festival in Japan (July 7).
── Do you decorate bamboo grass with colorful strips of paper?
Ichiyama: Not sure whether we use bamboo grass or other plants. We hold the event in the central square of the town of San Pedro de Atacama where local residents and visitors write their wishes on strips and decorate them.
Each One Has Different Reasons for Coming to Chile
── Lastly, please tell us about what makes you feel fulfilled and challenged about your work in Chile.
Tsukano: Well, there were times when it was difficult to get our local staff members to understand the difference between Japanese and Chilean ways of handling things We are in Chile, but we need to follow the rules established by the Japanese institution NAOJ. So, I had to explain the Japanese rules to the local staff.
── Is it a cultural difference or difference in way of thinking?
Ichiyama: Well, as the proverb says, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. If we come here, Japanese people could get used to the Chilean way. I personally think, the difficulty is that we need to get the Chilean staff to adjust their way to fit in the Japanese procedures while we have an understanding about the local practices,
── I see.
Ichiyama: As I came here without having sufficient work experience in Japan, my standard was established mainly based on what I’ve learned here. So, I’m worried about what happens when I return to Japan. But I am able to work with various risks in mind, and that’s a good thing.
Ichiyama: There are some difficult things, but we can work with peace in mind as our Santiago office has a home-like feeling.
Yamafuji: I agree. I would recommend everyone to work here (laughs). Of course, I think it depends on individuals whether they like it or not, because there are differences as to what they like to do in their holidays.
── Through this interview, I’ve learned that you are doing important job to support astronomical research activities while acting as a bridge between Japan and Chile utilizing your extensive knowledge of cultures and lifestyles of both countries. Thank you for your time today.
Tsukano, Yamafuji, and Ichiyama: Thank you very much.